Watchmen’s Silk Spectre Returns

By Melissa Bull talks to the cowriter and illustrator of Watchmen’s controversial prequel, Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre

The original Watchmen, a limited comic book series published by DC Comics between 1986 and 1987, was written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons and colored by John Higgins. The series was not only adopted immediately by comics fans, but it is credited as being the comic with the largest crossover appeal in terms of bringing non-comic book readers to love the genre.

The comics, with their cinematic long-shot frames, noir vibe and cloying sense of mystery, later provided, over Moore’s protests, the groundwork for the movie Watchmen (2009). Notoriously anti-capitalist, Moore washed his hands of the film, even going so far as not wishing to be credited as the original source.

Despite his misgivings, many of Moore’s most cherished works have become major films. They include From Hell (2001), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) and V for Vendetta (2005).

Into this melee steps Amanda Conner, the comic artist hired to illustrate and, alongside Darwyn Cooke, cowrite the Silk Spectre prequels to the original Watchmen.

A graduate of New Jersey’s The Kubert School, Conner started out working in comic book stores, freelancing in advertising and then finally hit the comics jackpot and began drawing some of the characters she’s most known for: Conner is the illustrator behind the notoriously well-endowed Power Girl, as well as Atlee. Is it peculiar to step into another illustrator’s shoes and reimagine their work — is the work you’re doing with Watchmen comparable to what you did with Power Girl in that sense?

Amanda Conner: We’re not really reimagining Watchmen, I would say we’re adding to the mythology. Because there is nothing that we want to change about the original story. The original story stands as it is, and all the people working on this book think it’s pretty darn perfect and wouldn’t want to touch it. So what we decided to do was go into more detail about each character. And hopefully it will just enhance what’s already there. How do you keep the characters true to their original incarnation but still put your own spin on them?

Conner: I like the idea of keeping what makes them them. For instance, with Power Girl I didn’t want to change who she was essentially, I wanted to amp her up even more. This is an enormous project, writing a many-armed prequel series for the beloved cult series Watchmen. Were you at all nervous about stepping into a project that’s been so surrounded in controversy?

Conner: I know that there’s a lot of controversy going in, but I just try to keep my head down and work. Maybe the best thing that’s happened to me so far is that I’m not on Facebook and I’m not on Twitter, much as I want to be. In what way does your prequel version parallel the original?

Conner: Darwyn and I, when we started Silk Spectre, we wanted to pay homage to the way (illustrator) Dave Gibbons had laid everything out, so we laid everything out with the nine-grid panel. Have the other prequel illustrators made the same style choice? Is this something you’ve all agreed on?

Conner: I don’t think the other guys are doing that. And right now I’m kind of kicking myself for doing it! It is a lot more drawing, and I enjoy it, but it’s a lot of work. But it’s incredibly fun, because you can cram so much action and reaction — a lot of storytelling — into each page. You’re doing more writing on this project than you normally do, right? You’ve been credited as a cowriter alongside Darwyn Cooke.

Conner: Yeah, I’m doing a lot of writing. I told Darwyn last night it was sort of the equivalent of growing my first baby teeth and then having someone drop a porterhouse steak in front of me. I’ve just written some small things here and there, like short stories and stuff, but never anything this big. This is definitely a huge project.

Conner: A huge project! Sometimes I go, “What was I thinking?!’’ I guess sometimes there’s no better way to learn than by putting yourself at the mercy of a project with something really big at stake…

Conner: Exactly, yeah. And I realize how important it is. So I’m trying not to mess up. There’s a lot of collaborative work going on with comics. How have you found that process on your other projects?

Conner: I like it a lot. I like working as a team. I always say, “I’m a good soldier!” Give me the story and I’ll run with it! Are you in touch with the other artists who are working on the Watchmen prequels?  

Conner: Aside from Darwyn, I was a tiny bit in touch [with some of the others]. I actually called up [illustrator] J. G. Jones, who’s working on Comedian. That would make sense, since The Comedian is Silk Spectre’s father.

Conner: And J. G. and I, we’ve known each other somewhere between 12 and 15 years. He’s great. I called him up and somehow we started talking about how great Lincoln Continentals are, because we both have them in our books. So you guys are concerned with making things historically accurate — like a Mad Men of the comics world?

Conner: It’s one of the reasons this project is so difficult — I’ve never had to do so much heavy research. When this story happens, in 1966, I was one year old, so I don’t remember a whole lot. It’s a great year, though.

Conner: Yeah, I keep calling up my mom and my aunts because they were teenagers and in their early 20s around then, so I try to pick their brains about what they were up to. And I am using a lot of the elements of that year in the book, but I’m also keeping in mind that Watchmen [exists in] an alternate reality. So I’m trying to make it a very realistic 1966 but also tweak it so that things are starting to look different — the Lincoln Continental that I’m drawing is actually an electric Lincoln. That’s cool. How would a ’66 electric Lincoln look?

Conner: I twist it a little. I’m rounding off the edges a little bit. Also it’s a station wagon, and I don’t think they had actual Lincoln station wagons. So it looks real but it’s not quite real. But it’s not all sweet cars you’re drawing — Silk Spectre looks pretty smokin’, from the little I’ve seen. How did you feel about giving Silk Spectre that kind of sex appeal?

Conner: We know that she grows up to be a totally smokin’-hot woman. And I’m thinking that she was a gorgeous sixteen-year-old girl. You can tell because in the original Watchmen, the men are just sort of smitten with her, they’re like, “Wow, she’s great, she’s beautiful.” Even The Comedian is looking at her and going, “Yeah, you’re a looker! Just like your mom.” So I wanted to make her an absolutely gorgeous teenage girl. And one of my favorite styles is 1960s style; anything that looks mod totally turns my crank. I did a lot of research on what people would have been wearing in 1966, and I developed the perfect outfit for her. I wanted her clothes to still look like a Silk Spectre costume, but I wanted her to be a really cute girl in a tiny go-go dress. Is this kind of a woman’s take on comics? This love of clothes showing up in the story?

Conner: I’m such a comic book artist, but I’m also such a girl. I will obsess over the [character’s] footwear. What kind of shoes is Silk Spectre wearing? Is she into go-go boots?

Conner: She will be wearing go-go boots, but she doesn’t acquire them until a little later because she’s kind of a poor hippie kid who can’t run out and buy designer boots. But I research footwear a lot. And clothing. Usually when I design a costume I draw something that I would want to wear. And that’s kind of dangerous because I end up on Etsy going, “Oh, I could buy these!” So you like to dress like a superhero?

Conner: Absolutely. Not like one of my superheroes, because by the time I was doing my own I was like, “I don’t know if I can pull this off!” But when I was in my 20s, I was dressing like Rogue, with the giant hair and everything. You dressed like Rogue every day? Or just sometimes, for special occasions?

Conner: For Halloween. And She-Hulk, too. She-Hulk is quite the woman. Did you paint yourself green?

Conner: I did. It was a lot more work than I thought it would be. So is this the kind of life you thought you’d have when you were a kid?

Conner: When I was young I was hoping to become a lion tamer. But, you know, we didn’t have a lot of lions to work with — I had cats and dogs, but no lions. So I sort of scrapped that. And then I went through the “I wanna be a racecar driver/I wanna be an action movie star”… and all the while I was drawing all the things I wanted to be. And it turned out that drawing was my strong point. Probably illustration would have been too quiet for me. I needed something crazy, and I think comic books was just the right amount of crazy for me.

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre hits comics stores June 13. Buy it HERE.


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