Who Will Watch the Watchmen?

Jeffrey Lewis, That's Who



As anyone who has ever flipped past the blood-splattered smiling yellow face that adorns the cover of the Watchmen knows, this is no ordinary comic book. Writer Alan Moore's masterwork—originally released as a dozen issues in 1986 and 1987, and later compiled in one volume—deconstructs the very nature of superheroes, analyzes the surreal cusp of a mirrored universe's Cold War meltdown, and generates an artistic wake that has rippled throughout pop culture for the past two decades.

Jeffrey Lewis is well aware that the influential shadow of Watchmen stretches far beyond the print pages of mere comic books. The New York anti-folk hero teeters between dismantling the genre of folk music—he might be best known for shining a light on the artistic process, insecurities and all, in the dizzying "Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror," or his most recent release, an album of reconstructed Crass covers, 12 Crass Songs—and incorporating his comic book artwork into the songs themselves.

Much like Moore, a perennial outsider who skewed the predictable nature of comic book heroes in the pages of Watchmen, Lewis is a punk rock tourist in the folk music landscape, an artist more comfortable with dismantling and reassembling the genre than merely coddling it. Influenced at a young age by Moore's finest work, Lewis wrote his college thesis on Watchmen (more on that later), and now will grace the intimate confines of the Artistery with a rare lecture and performance dedicated to the world's greatest graphic novel. Not for beginners, Lewis is downright professorial in his multimedia, analytic breakdown of the Watchmen; thus making this evening the rarest of nerd-culture perfect storms: comics, music, possibly a pie chart statistically investigating the ink blot patterns on the mask of Rorschach.

MERCURY: Can you discuss how your lecture will work? Will there be music along with the slides and discussion about the graphic novel? Have you ever written a song about the book itself, or the characters?

JEFFREY LEWIS: I'll just be talking about things that I've found in the book and my theories on what they mean, hopefully sufficiently backed up by evidence from the book so that people don't just think I'm crazy. I'll be projecting slides of certain panels that I refer to, but just using projections when it's necessary to point out certain details or certain panels or compare certain panels. Mostly I'll just be talking. I suppose I'll do a Q&A session after the talk. It's definitely for people who have read Watchmen, probably boring (and definitely a "spoiler") for those who haven't.

What grade did you get on your Watchmen thesis?

I think I might have gotten an A-plus, but I don't remember. I did win third runner-up for best liberal arts senior thesis for the Watchmen paper, and first place for best senior essay (but that was for surrealism). Of course this was at Purchase College, State University of New York, not exactly Harvard! I have no idea what my competition might have been.

I know it's out of your hands, but what if the movie is terrible? Would this event be akin to a lecture on Daredevil right before that horrible Ben Affleck movie?

The movie doesn't really have anything to do with my paper or the lecture, it's just timing. I'd been meaning to dust off, reedit, and reprint my paper for many years. I figured with the renewed hype around the Watchmen it'd be a good motivating factor for me to actually get this back in action.

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