How ‘Watchmen’ started

DC Comics’ “Watchmen” was first published as a 12-issue miniseries in 1986 and ’87. It was collected the latter year as a trade paperback called colloquially, if not strictly accurately, a graphic novel, and has never gone out of print — selling about 100,000 copies in 2007 alone. This year, coinciding with the movie, DC’s print run will be about 1 million.

By 1985, British author Alan Moore was an industry star, thanks to his literary-horror revamp of DC’s Swamp Thing. Then he proposed a murder mystery that would anchor a story deconstructing the superhero mythos, taking it to its logical conclusion as authoritative paternalism — of the Nietzschean, small-s superman dictating how things must be, for our own good.

Moore wanted to use existing heroes DC had acquired from the defunct publisher Charlton Comics, but managing editor Dick Giordano instead suggested Moore create new ones. Artist Dave Gibbons came aboard, and their creation became a classic that won four Eisner and seven Harvey Awards, the industry’s two highest, in 1988, and became the first comics story to win the Hugo, the Oscar of sci fi.

In addition to the film, the CGI-animated DVD “Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter,” adapting a comic-within-the-comic that served as counterpoint, comes out March 24. Warner Premiere’s “Watchmen Motion Comics” Webisodes, which began appearing in July, are being collected on DVD and will be released today.

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