If you're a regular reader of this column, then you already know about my love for comic books. For as long as I can remember, I've always read comic books. I've been fascinated with the (4-color or B&W) adventures of my favorite super-heroes, or even some not-so-super heroes. I'd marvel at the fantastic rogues' gallery, the dynamic artwork, and the captivating stories.
In 1986, that all changed. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's groundbreaking comic book series WATCHMEN was released, and helped usher in a new era of comic book collecting. Not because of the great story (which it has), or the great artwork (which is has), or the unique twist on existing characters (the main characters are based on the old Charlton Comics super-heroes, which DC Comics had just purchased the rights to back then). No, what enthralled me (and so many of my fellow comic book fans) whas that WATCHMEN showed us what comic books could be.
I was first introduced to WATCHMEN with issue #3, and I was instantly hooked, heading back to the only comic book store around that carried them. See, back then, comic books were sold at 7-11s, drug stores, or supermarkets. Comic Book Shops were not very common, and in my area, the closest store was a few towns away. So, I'd either ride my bike each week or take a short drive (once I got my license, of course!) to see what the latest comics were. Several titles, like THE NEW TEEN TITANS and THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, were "direct-sales" only issues, and these were not available on newsstands. Granted, there were titles that reprinted those books, but they were a YEAR behind! Who wants that? I had to get my comics fix NOW! So a trip to the comic store two towns away was required...
But hey, this is a website about TOYS, not comics, right? I'll get to that in a moment... :)
First I want to get something off my chest that has been bugging me with nearly every report I've read about the movie. WATCHMEN did NOT start out as a 'graphic novel'.
The original WATCHMEN run was a 12-issue series that was later collected into a single volume, of which there have been MANY collected editions over the years: hardcover, softcover, oversized, absolute...my personal favorite being the leatherbound slipcase edition by Graphitti Designs.
Today bookstores use the term "graphic novel" for all comics that aren't the standard comic book size. They used to be called "trade paperbacks". Think of it like this:
Comic Book: typical standard issue. Size can vary
Presitge Format: a comic book printed on slick paper with a cardstock cover
Graphic Novel: a magazine-sized comic on slick paper with a cardstock cover
Trade Paperback: a softcover collection of previously-published comics (paper and cover quality varies)
Hardcovers: self-explanatory (size varies)
Digest: a small-format collection of previously-published comics (mostly for Archie and "kiddie" comics at 7-11 stores)
Over the years, the definitions have changed and/or blurred between formats. I guess it doesn't matter what it's called, just that it's a good story.
And Watchmen is, without a doubt, one of the best comic book stories ever told.
Watchmen Metal Figure Set
So, what does this have to do with TOYS? Well, there hasn't been a lot of WATCHMEN toys over the years, as disputes between the creators and publishers have prevented it, and also the often-adult nature of the series prohibited it from being marketed to younger readers. There are also those who believe that there simply shouldn't be any merchandise tied into the series, and the work should stand on its own.
However, back in 1987, a company called Grenadier Models created a series of WATCHMEN metal figures for Mayfair Games role-playing game series based on the DC Universe. This set included 9 unpainted lead figurines and "Archie" the Owl Ship with a stand. I was never a big RPG player, but when I saw this set at the comic book store, I just had to get it, because I had never seen anything WATCHMEN-related besides the comics before (or until recently, since). So while you couldn't pose them or play with them really...and I didn't want to paint them myself...I just had them set up on my DC toy shelf, where most people wouldn't even recognize them. But *I* knew they were there, and that was all that mattered.
Be sure to stay tuned all day long for the NEW toys based on the film. But I couldn't let today go by without turning the spotlight back onto this rare set of lead miniature figures that I've had as a prized piece in my toy collection.
See you next time!