Anarchy Via US Mail

By Kevin Leslie

I never read Watchmen or V for Vendetta during their original run. I guess I should disclose that.

I read them much later in high school as collected works. I did read them back-to-back, though, which is an interesting way to experience them, and probably not the most common.

I got these books when I was fully immersed in comics again after a decent layoff. I acquired them through one of those book club mailers. It was a sci-fi and fantasy book club, and when you joined you could pick out a number of books with the promise that you would continue buying other books at full price over the next year. If this sounds familiar it was the same concept used for CD clubs. As an aside, they would also send you a book or CD each month whether you asked them to or not and if you didn't send it back right away they charged you for it. Awesome mail scams!

Anyhow, I needed to order some books to stay current with the mail order book gestapo, so I asked for Watchmen and V for Vendetta, which in turn would become Christmas presents for myself. I'm sure that I became aware of Alan Moore and his work through Wizard Magazine, which I was reading at the time. This is kind of like saying, "I saw a piece on Dostoevsky in People Magazine, so I think I'm going to check him out." I guess I should go easier on my teenage self. Where else was I going to discover this stuff? The primary periodical in my house was Reader's Digest. I did enjoy Drama in Real Life, but there was no mention of the writer who raised comic books to literary heights.

I sat on the couch (love seat if you want to get specific) in our living room that Christmas Break and read both books. I remember the tree lights blinking on the pages and the silence as I pored through them.

These comics were a revelation.

One of the wonderful things about my mom that I'll say over and over again is that she never censored what I read. She didn't care as long as I was reading. V for Vendetta is about anarchy. Even as a high school kid, I was a rule follower, but Moore's arguments against rules made sense to me.  Both works mention homosexuality in a compassionate light. Embarrassingly, I probably thought homosexuality was a mental illness at that age. These were books full of ideas and full of politics. They were dressed up in genre, but they also transcended the silliness. Reading these works signaled a shift for me. I needed more from my reading afterwards, but the lack of a decent comic book store left me isolated from good comics. Crappy superhero comics with adult themes were plentiful in the wake of Alan Moore, but comics for adults were still many years off in my future.

I still have my hardcover book club copies of both books. I’ve probably loaned these to more people than any other books I own, especially since the movie versions came out.  Someone would see them on the shelves and say: “I saw the film. Is this any good?”  And I'd let read for themselves.  It’s amazing that I didn’t see either of those films in the theaters. Alan Moore’s issues with the films have been well documented, but I’m not sure if that's what kept me away. I didn’t need to see someone trying to recreate greatness.

The first time I read Watchmen and V for Vendetta lives as a perfect memory in my head. I felt like I was floating, my mind buzzed with Moore’s ideas, the excitingly non-American artwork; even the smell of the pages is burned in my head. The movies looked like every other action movie out there. Burn your DVDs and read the books, preferably by a Christmas tree with a cup of cocoa (alcohol optional).