Watching the 'Watchmen'

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Attorney/author annotates classic graphic novel from 1986

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

 It took lawyer/author Leslie S. Klinger 36 years to annotate “The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes” and the 10-volume “Sherlock Holmes Reference Library.”

According to Klinger, a Chicago native who lives in Malibu, Calif., and a two-time alumnus of the University of California-Berkeley, he began this massive undertaking when he first read William Baring-Gould’s “Annotated Sherlock Holmes” in 1968 and finished when he published his volume in 2004.

“Some would say I was working on it all my life, reading everything I could find about Holmes,” Klinger said about fiction’s greatest detective, who was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887.

“When I was in law school, I received the Baring-Gould ‘Annotated Sherlock Holmes’ as a gift. I was immediately hooked – not just on the stories but on the world of Sherlockian scholarship,” he said.

“I discovered that there were 60 years of essays and books by hundreds of Holmes fans, and I wanted to be part of that world. My first response was to become a collector of books about Holmes. It was not until the mid-1990s that I had the time and inclination to add to that scholarship.”

Klinger continued: “About 23 years ago, I had too much time on my hands – the kids were grown – and my wife suggested that I do something with my large book collection. I had done legal writing before (tax and estate planning essays) but had never considered adding to the large body of amateur Sherlockian scholarship. I decided to try my hand and enjoyed it immensely! I had dreamt back in law school that someday I might be the person who would update the massive Baring-Gould ‘Annotated Sherlock Holmes,’ and I began working on it in the mid-1990s. This eventually led to publication and the determination to do more writing!”

Subsequently, Klinger, who won numerous awards for his Holmes’s work – including an Edgar Award and an Agatha Award – annotated Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman,” and his latest project: “Watchmen.”

In “Watchmen: The Annotated Edition” (DC Comics $49.99) – released in December – Klinger gives new insights to 1986’s seminal graphic novel by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons.

A commercial and critical success, “Watchmen” deconstructed the super-hero genre and greatly contributed to giving legitimacy to the comic book medium. It even made Time Magazine’s “List of the 100 Best Novels” as one of the best English language novels published since 1923. In 2009, it was adapted into the movie of the same name directed by Zack Snyder (2016’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”).

“After I finished annotating ‘Sandman,’ I was out at DC Entertainment (in Burbank, Calif.) having lunch with my editor,” recalled Klinger. “I said to him, ‘You know, my dream project would be ‘Watchmen,’ and he said, ‘Make us a proposal!’ I did, and the rest is…well, a book!”

According to Dan Merritt, co-owner of Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, “Watchmen: The Annotated Edition” is selling far greater than expected. “It’s a fantastic package with top-notch quality and a very affordable price,” said Merritt. “‘Watchmen’ always sells well for us, but the timing of this edition’s release coincides with a new series called ‘Doomsday Clock’ that brings the characters of this classic graphic novel into the DC Universe proper.”

The plot of “Watchmen” depicts an alternate 1985 where Richard M. Nixon is still the President of the United States, the world is on the brink of World War III, and super-heroes have been outlawed. Yet a select few still operate in the shadows, attempting to uncover a deadly conspiracy that extends to the highest echelons of government and resulting in the deaths of several super-heroes.

“There were so many innovations wrapped into the book: The auteur-like, masterful use of points of view, the unique fugue-like simultaneous dialogue, the symphonic use of motifs and themes, the wealth of material stuffed into the backgrounds of the panels,” said Klinger.

“I really believe that Alan Moore is a genius, and the ‘Watchmen’ scripts are magnificent. Moore was incredibly fortunate to work with Dave Gibbons, whose art perfectly fit Moore’s needs and who stimulated and supplemented Moore’s genius. All those things that made it unique have really never been duplicated, even 32 years later. And, unfortunately, the story about a world on the brink of nuclear apocalypse has become relevant again.”

Merritt agreed with Klinger’s assessment of “Watchmen.”

“It taps into an era of social-political upheaval that fills us with unease,” he said.

Klinger explained what books he chooses to edit and annotate.

“First and foremost, it has to be a book that I love to read. Second, we want books that make an impact – that have a ‘built-in’ audience. That usually means that there is already a lot of passion generated by that particular book, and so that interests me,” said Klinger.

“I want to read what other people found in the book. Of course, sadly, some of my favorite books don’t have a big enough audience, but maybe I’ll get to them someday anyway; and some of my other favorites require the consent of third parties that I haven’t been able to get – so far (such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’).”

For Klinger, the best part of his job is the meticulous research involved when annotating these classic works of fiction. He stated the amount of time varies in terms of how long it takes him to annotate and edit a particular book. For instance, it took him two years to annotate “Frankenstein.” With “Watchmen,” it took him nine months.

His next project is “Classic American Crime Writing of the 1920s.” This tome will consist of fully-annotated versions of Earl Derr Biggers’ “House Without a Key,” which is the first Charlie Chan novel; S.S. Van Dine’s “The Benson Murder Case,” which is the first Philo Vance mystery; Franklin W. Dixon’s “The Tower Treasure,” which is the first Hardy Boys novel; “The Roman Hat Mystery,” which is the first Ellery Queen mystery; and W.R. Burnett’s “Little Caesar,” which is the first gangster novel. This book is slated to be released in October.

“My aim in annotating is to enhance the reader’s experience of the books,” said Klinger. “None of these classics need my help to succeed, but I hope readers get a little extra from my notes and the illustrations I assemble.”

When asked if he would ever write a novel of his own rather than annotating someone else’s, Klinger replied: “I don’t know that I actually have the talent. It’s very different from researching and annotating, and I do love what I do.”

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