Watchmen #1, September 1986, DC Comics, Cover by Dave Gibbons.
The POP Retro Cover Of The Week continues its exploration and celebration of iconic comic book covers from the 1970s through the 2000s, this week returning to the Eighties. The last time we visited that totally rad comics decade, our featured cover was issue #1 from The Dark Knight Returns, and this time our focus is also a #1, from the other major, influential ‘80s megahit, and timeless classic, Alan Moore’s Watchmen.
The central icon and metaphor for the 10-issue series was the smiley face button worn by the Watchmen’s antihero, The Comedian. The cover for Watchmen #1 featured an extreme close-up of the button, marred with a simple, artfully designed spatter of blood. The blood-spattered smiley face symbolized the duality present in many of the themes and characters in Watchmen, as well as representing in a single image the two sides of classical drama: comedy & tragedy. The button lies in a street gutter, surrounded by a flowing current of more blood, the image foreshadowing the events of the story: the violent murder of The Comedian.
The trade dress (the comic’s title logo, issue number, pricing, etc.) for Watchmen was revolutionary for the time. Since the beginning of comics, the placement of the trade dress followed standard magazine formatting, restricted to the top one-third of the comic book, for maximum visibility on the newsstand and on spinner racks. However, Watchmen’s bold and boldly placed title logo ran sideways up the edge of the cover, encased in a black bar, creating two strict vertical spaces, for a very different and modern looking design. The WATCHMEN title logo was symmetrically bookended by the round DC logo and a round clock face, whose minute hand crept closer to midnight with each issue. Together with the extreme close-up visual, this cover design would have been a retro standout even if it the story hadn’t become a classic!
Next week: A cover from the 1990s!