'Watchmen' producer explains white supremacist "appropriation" of Rorshach

At New York Comic Con, Damon Lindelof reveals how white supremacists adopting Rorshach's mask emerged in the writer's room.

DC Comics

Of the many words to describe Watchmen, “layered” is one of them. The acclaimed 1988 comic book series Watchmen, from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, will continue in a new HBO series from producer Damon Lindelof that continues to explore the complex morals and messages of the original comic through the lens of the modern neo-nationalism.

While not strictly a sequel, the series does take place 30 years after the events of the comic. This leaves one character’s legacy, Rorshach, to be heavily tarnished by a violent group of white supremacists. At New York Comic Con, Lindelof explained the show’s approach to the concept of appropriation, which the writers of HBO’s Watchmen, actually feared they were doing to the iconic comic books.

“We had to be aware as writers in the writer’s room when we were appropriating Watchmen,” Lindelof said at the screening and Q&A panel, which was held on the Javits Center Main Stage on Friday. “That somebody else created [it] and we were taking it. Sometimes when you appropriate something, you make it out what you thought it was and that the original intention [of] the artists who made it in the first place, was secondary to you enforcing your will.”

Lindelof said that, “on a meta, pretentious level,” the writers found it interesting to include the concept of appropriation into the series.

“We thought that, on a meta, pretentious level, it would be really interesting to show characters who had done the same thing to Rorshach. The Seventh Calvary are appropriating Rorshach.”



In the original Watchmen comics, an alternate 1986 sees a United States populated by realistic superheroes. One of them, the ruthless vigilante Rorschach, donned an inkblot mask throughout his superhero career. At the end of the comic, the nuclear superhero Doctor Manhattan (spoilers?) mercilessly kills Rorschach.

HBO’s Watchmen series picks up 30 years after Adrian Veidt’s destruction of New York City. While the world kept spinning, it’s also spun out of control. Society has become severely hostile towards superheroes and even the police forced to keep their identities hidden.

There’s also the rise of the Seventh Calvary, a roaming vigilante group that wears Rorschach masks to carry out severe hate crimes against people of color. As Lindelof said, it wasn’t Rorshach’s choice to be an icon for white supremacists to appropriate his image into their message of hate.

“He’s been dead for over 30 years, he doesn’t get to say, ‘You misunderstood me. No, I wasn’t a white supremacist.’ They decided what he was,” Lindelof said. “We felt that was a really interesting idea to embed in the show because we were doing it ourselves.”

Watchmen premieres October 20 on HBO.

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