Nerd Date: Watching the Watchmen Mar06

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Nerd Date: Watching the Watchmen

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a blogumn by Clark Perry

watchmen20ad_giantChances are a lot of dates will spend time watching The Watchmen this weekend. It’s a blockbuster superhero movie that die-hard comics fans have waited more than 20 years to see. The epic tale’s promise of an adult take on costumed crimefighters will certainly lure in viewers who flocked to last year’s smash The Dark Knight.

And when I say “adult,” I mean that in a grown-up sense. In 1986, comics writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons painstakingly fashioned an alternate universe where superheroes bleed, have sex and wrestle with middle-age crises. They also get outlawed by a government led by the still-in-power Richard M. Nixon. When one of these has-been heroes turns up murdered, the others pull their cowls out of storage and go back into business.

Scripted by David Hayter and directed by Zach Snyder (300), Watchmen promises to be a very faithful adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel. Advance word has been mixed, with most of the nay-saying arising from critics who never seem to appreciate comic-book movies in the first place. It may or may not be the weekend’s perfect date movie, as the story does feature loads of graphic violence.

But Watchmen is further proof (as if we need it) that the world of comics offers more than meets the eye. It may provoke discussion with your date about the obvious fact that comics aren’t just for children anymore. In fact, if you poke around, you’ll quickly find that lots of comics aren’t even about superheroes. That’s why I’m suggesting something most dates would never think of doing: take a trip to a comic book store.

history_of_violence

The History of Violence

It’s true that the cliched Comic Book Guy in The Simpsons is still out there: overweight, socially inept, and quite the satisfied snob. But most comic book stores I visit are pleasant, family-friendly and staffed by knowledgeable people who take the art form very seriously. My favorite stores here in Los Angeles — Meltdown, Secret Headquarters and Golden Apple — are hip and funky places that invite casual browsing. If you can’t find something as date-friendly near you, try the Graphic Novel shelves of Barnes and Noble or Borders. They’re surprisingly well-stocked, and will let you drag a stack of books to their coffee shop. Just don’t spill anything on ’em.

Here’s a list of some unusual graphic novels you and your date might enjoy.

road1Think of the domestic turmoil and hidden secrets in David Cronenberg’s hit film A History of Violence, based on a graphic novel written by John Wagner. The story of an average American father and husband who finds himself the victim of mob violence feels like something you’d expect from crime writer Elmore Leonard. But this gripping tale was first realized as a comic book. If you liked the movie, you may be interested in the very different climax found in the source material.

Another comic-based crime story that made it to the big screen was Max Allan Collins’ Road to Perdition. The story of a young man in the 1930s who discovers his father is a mob hit man, Road got a solid adaptation by director Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road) and actor Tom Hanks.

fablesThose two titles are admittedly rather male-centric in their view of the world. You and your date might find that gets old pretty fast. That’s why I also recommend Fables by writer Bill Willingham, an ongoing series that features strong female characters. Willingham takes well-known figures from folklore — Snow White, Cinderella and Sinbad¬† — and recasts them in our modern world. It’s an imaginative tour de force that continues as a monthly comic, but you’ve got years of back issues collected into handy graphic novels.

Did you know the 2002 movie Ghost World was based on a graphic novel? Dan Clowes’ low-key look at a teenage girl growing into adulthood was an unlikely story for the medium, but he succeeded with sensitivity and offbeat humor.

jaroffools_coverJar of Fools by Jason Lutes is a book I’ve put in the hands of many friends and they always thank me afterward. The intriguing and sometimes downbeat story of a young man practicing to be a magician and dealing with an errant girlfriend, Jar of Fools is like a magic trick in itself. It sneaks up on you quietly and before you can blink, this simple story suddenly transforms into an emotionally shattering love story. Wonderful artwork, too.

A graphic novel that should receive much more attention these days is Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse. It’s a story about growing up gay in 1960s Alabama, and it draws strong connections between gay rights and the more visible civil rights crusade of that era.

Stuck Rubber Baby

Stuck Rubber Baby

And of course, where would the reputation of comics be without Maus? Art Spiegelman’s unforgettable take on World War II won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992. He retells the story of his father’s experience as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, and draws the Jews as mice and the Germans as cats. It’s a dense and tragic piece of work. It also proves without a doubt that the medium of comics is an art form equally equipped with film, theater and literature to take on any subject matter.

These are just a few of the marvels you and your date can find on a comic book shelf near you. I know there are many more. What are you favorite comics or graphic novels. Please sound off below and help us build a “must-find list” for our dates this weekend.

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Clark Perry regulary writes about even more clever and nerdy things at clarkblog