For the first time, I am reading the Watchmen. It is everything that I was promised- mysterious, dark, morbidly fascinating. But I realized that the first character who isn’t Caucasian, is the African American who reads ‘The Black Freighter’ who first shows up in chapter 3. Is there significance in the fact that none of the superheroes have dark skin and that even the people on the street are primarily all Caucasian?
The comic ‘Tales of the Black Freighter’ serves the purpose of overlapping comics and real life. The text of the comic and the dialogue of the newsstand man connect, melding the worlds.
But, focusing on the reader, why is he the first character who isn’t white? He doesn’t have many spoken lines. He doesn’t seem overly important; in fact his comic seems more important than he is. Are we supposed to be aware that he is the first character with dark skin? Are we supposed relate to him in spite, or because of, that? He could be us; he is a comic reader, absorbed in his other world. He is innocent but will have to face the consequences of the world and the impending war.
Or, he really is not important at all and the lack of people of color is due to the writer and illustrator’s own culture. Anecdotally, my sister met a Russian man at college and married him last year. During a discussion, he said that his friends at home would ask him if he “really saw black people” in the States? Like they’re a novelty. Because they are in other places. In Russia, there is a very small minority of people who are not Caucasian. The same is true with England. Even in 2011, just over 3% of English people considered themselves as “Black” on their census. So, rather than a covert theme of racism, Moore and Gibbons may have just not considered America’s more diverse demographics.
Still, by the fact that I noticed it, race in Watchmen is an aspect of the novel. The patch on the man’s jean, his unwillingness to pay, and his use of the word “ain’t” stereotype him. On the other hand, he isn’t violent like the pony-tailed gang that attack Laurie and Dan in the same chapter. Overall, he is bland. He would be totally uninteresting if not for the color of his skin.
Images from The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Copyright 1987 DC Comics