The Boredom Festival

Musings on Coding, Comics, and Caving.

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Tales Of The Black Freighter

Posted by boredomfestival on December 11, 2007

(Originally posted August 2006. Tweaked and re-published in blog form December 2007.)

What’s The Deal?

Let’s get this out of the way up front : I’m a huge comic-book geek. I still make weekly pilgrimages to my local comic shop (Comic Relief in Berkeley, CA) to pick up waaay too many comics. I grew up reading the usual litany of Superman and Batman comics in the 70’s, but not surprisingly, fell out the habit in my early teens.

Then, my sophomore year in college (1986), a friend of mine showed me the first two issues of Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.


Watchmen was a truly ground-breaking achievement in the world of comics. Originally released in as a 12-issue series, it’s since been reprinted many times in book form. It’s one of the few works in the comics medium (that I’m aware of, anyway) which can compete with “traditional” literature in terms of depth and complexity (and I’m not the only one who thinks so: Wikipedia reports that “Time Magazine placed Watchmen on its list of the 100 Greatest Novels from 1923 to Present.”).

It’s an absolute must-read for anyone who enjoys comics of any sort (or any science fiction or fantasy, for that matter)… but by no means should it be limited to that audience.

Watchmen has a multilayered plot that holds up well to repeated readings. It’s set in an alternate-reality world of 1985, but one only slightly skewed from ours: there are costumed “heroes”, but (with one exception), none of them have any superhuman powers. What they do have is the same set of drives, motivations, frailties, and general behaviors of normal human beings… meaning that there are no “good guys”, and not really any “bad guys” in the classic sense. This is all set against a backdrop of impending nuclear peril between the United States and the Soviet Union (which may seem like a dated plot device these days, but was extremely relevant in 1986).

Please note: the storyline involves an ongoing mystery that takes several curious twists and turns, including an extraordinary ending that should not be spoiled by advance summaries. If you are going to read Watchmen (and I hope you will), I strongly advise you to avoid reading the Wikipedia article (or other articles on it) in full, lest plot details be revealed. (I don’t think that my reconstruction of Marooned will spoil the main story’s plot, though, so feel free to go ahead and look at it here, even if you haven’t read Watchmen yet.)

I’d also like to advise that it’s best to avoid reading it in one sitting: try reading no more than one chapter per week, then putting it down. Feel free to go back and re-examine earlier chapters, but don’t read ahead. (If you can’t manage this, then please consider at least one chapter per day.) Why, you ask? Well, keep in mind that it was released in 12 chapters, roughly one per month. The authors skillfully reveal only bits and pieces of the mystery over the course of the story, and allowing yourself time to ruminate over just what the hell is going on here, anyway? will make the payoff that much more rewarding.

In addition to a superb script by Alan Moore, the artwork by Dave Gibbons is understated but brilliant. He defies some comics conventions (e.g., the near-total absence of “motion lines” and thought bubbles) while working in an abnormally restrictive and regular panel structure (at least by 1980s standards).

If you don’t have a copy, you can buy one from most good booksellers (including If you have a local comics-specialty shop, please patronize them; if you like Watchmen (and I’m sure you will), they are a great resource to recommend other things you might like. (Don’t know if there’s a shop in your area? Within the United States, try this website to see what’s close to you!)

Over the years, there have been rumors of various plans to make Watchmen into a movie. Frankly, I hope this isn’t attempted, as I don’t know how it could possibly be compressed into a 2-hour film without losing the subtleties that make it so special. (I suspect that it could possibly be made to work as a Sopranos-style TV series, with an hour devoted to each chapter, but I happen to think it’s just fine as-is and doesn’t really need movie-fication.)

(Note added Dec 2007: filming is already underway on an adaptation, directed by Zack Snyder. Snippets I’ve seen so far look visually interesting, and he swears he’s going to keep the original ending. So maybe it will work after all…)

Tales Of The Black Freighter

One of the many subplots of the storyline involves a sidewalk newsvendor in New York City, talking with various passersby (some of whom turn out to be major characters). A boy sitting nearby is reading a pirate-themed comic book that he’s apparently borrowed from the newsstand, and as the story progresses, we see various panels (or text bubbles) from this comic interposed with the “real” storyline.

As we learn from the postscript to Chapter 5, this is intended to be from an immensely popular pirate comic series called “Tales Of The Black Freighter”, which is essentially a horror comic themed on the concept of a pirate ship captained by an evil figure, and manned by the damned. The specific story being read has the title of “Marooned”, and recounts the story of a sailor who survives an attack by the Black Freighter and is marooned on an isolated island; he frantically attempts to escape the island in order to warn his hometown of the impending assault of the evil ship, which he presumes is headed there to destroy his friends and family. It’s a chilling story that still gives me the creeps today, even given the dozens of times I have read it over the years.

One of the fascinating bits about this story-within-a-story is interleaved such that the action of the inner story reflects what is happening in the outer story. Consider the following sequence from Chapter 5, where the newsvendor is reflecting on news of a military invasion by the USSR:

Watchmen Panels

Marooned (The Reconstruction)

I’ve re-read Watchmen dozens of times, and I always wondered if Marooned would hold together as a story in its own right, if isolated completely from the Watchmen context. Eventually I decided to scan the issues in, do some rearranging, and see if it would work. I humbly refer to this as “Marooned (The Reconstruction)“.

But first, a disclaimer: all of the artwork presented here is the property of DC Comics and is used without permission. I make no claim whatsoever to have any rights to this, and am kindly asking DC to allow this page to continue to exist, in the spirit of “Fair Use”. (In point of fact, I’m not attempting to make any money off of this, and I’m even actively encouraging you to go out and buy a copy of Watchmen… see, here’s the Amazon link again… so this is really more like free advertising, right?)

OK, I’ve Read Enough! Let Me See Marooned (The Reconstruction)

I scanned the artwork from the original 1986-87 single-issue comics (hence the slight yellowing) at 300 dpi on an Epson RX500 scanner. I downsampled to 100 dpi from there (to minimize moire effects) and edited using Photoshop Elements 4 and Photoshop CS2 in more or less arbitrary fashion.

As I put this together, I had the following goals in mind:

  • Nothing from Watchmen should intrude: only artwork and text from Marooned itself should be present; the numerous “overlap” panels and speech bubbles should be eliminated.
  • Don’t add anything: Mrs. Moore and Gibbons are far more talented that I will ever be, at least when it comes to making comics. For the many panels that are represented only by a “speech bubble” (well, a parchment bubble really, but you get the idea), only the bubble remains. (The one exception I made to this rule was for the page number blips in the lower corners of the page; I synthesized these from other numbers within the art.) This does have the unfortunate consequence of pages with weird speech-bubble-shaped holes in the panels, but without Mr. Gibbon’s original art to fill in the gaps, I felt this was the least objectionable tradeoff.
  • Try to stay true to design principles: anything that needed rearranging should try to make sense within the style Mr. Gibbons used, if possible.

Not surprisingly, there were tradeoffs to be made. The most significant is that the story is described as being in two parts (“issues twenty-three and twenty-four of the book’s run”), but there are not nearly enough panels to fill up two modern-sized comics. Eventually I decided to overlook this bit and try to lay it out as though it was a single issue, and ended up with a 20-page piece, which seems reasonable (most modern comics have 22 pages of artwork). I also am not happy with the final layout of page 19, which has a panel structure that really doesn’t match any of those used by Mr. Gibbons in Watchmen; unfortunately, I wasn’t able to figure out a better layout that wouldn’t require more significant changes elsewhere (if you have suggestions, let me know).

Tales Of The Black Freighter: The Series?

On the off-chance that someone from DC Comics sees this (and doesn’t instantly hit me with a cease-and-desist order for posting their copyrighted material), let me make a plea:

I’d love to see Tales Of The Black Freighter exist as an ongoing monthly horror series. There are various excellent horror-themed comics being published today, but none that I’m aware of that have the same excellent setup for short (single or double-issue) storylines. Even cooler would be to strive for it to be an ensemble book, where different writers and artists could contribute just an issue or two here or there. (For instance, I’d love to see the storyline “The Shanty Of Edward Teach” completed by having Brian Azzarello scripting and Mike Mignola penciling… hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?)

Marooned (The Reconstruction)

45 Responses to “Tales Of The Black Freighter”

  1. please alen and dave, let s finish this thing.

  2. […] novel itself at this website. There are also two sets of annotations, a reconstruction of the Black Freighter comic-within-a-comic, and the ever-present […]

  3. […] of you who have read Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen will be familiar with this comic, it’s the pirate story that appears throughout the series broken up to fit the other story […]

  4. Eric said

    Man…that was powerful. I nevr really appreciated the depth of his madness..just sort of took it for granted about him going nuts as it ran parallel with the main story. Frightning, and a fantastic read in itself. I’m glad that you posted this!

  5. Steven Parkton said

    Awesome job.

  6. gabe said

    Your wordpress theme has a scalable middle column css element that’s cutting off the edges of the images in resolutions lower than 1200 pixels wide.

    Great job, otherwise.

  7. Carpool said

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Carpool!

  8. Danny said

    Really good! I skipped the comic whilst reading watchmen, so i feel content after reading this

  9. Andrej Panjkov said

    Interesting project, thanks for this.

    For a moment, I thought there was some material from the end-issue essay about the Black Freighter comic that you could use, but when I checked my Watchmen set, the extra page of artwork was clearly from the story about Edward Teach alluded to in the text.

    I notice in the Watchmen film website video blogs that the kid at the newstand is holding an *actual* printed copy of the Black Freighter comic! Be interesting to see that…

  10. ZeroCorpse said

    Danny— You SKIPPED it while reading Watchmen?

    Why the hell would you do that? Did you skip the non-comic parts, too? The excerpts of Hollis Mason’s book? The journal entries?

    It’s meant to be taken as a whole, in the order presented. Skipping parts to get to the “main” comic is like skipping past the first reel of a movie. You might get the basic story, but you’ll miss all the best storytelling elements, and the whole picture will be flawed.

    Go back and read it again. ALL of it. And to anybody thinking of reading Watchmen I say: Do Not Skip Anything!

  11. Lia said

    Wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing! Reading TOTBF just by itself was so intense – gave it a deeper feeling and understanding. The story really reminds me of a Greek tragedy – like Oedipus Rex … in trying to avoid his fate Oedipus actually makes it come true… sad irony …

  12. Ryan said

    You didn’t read the Watchmen if you skipped the Black Freighter. It’s integral to what is happening.

  13. […] En este blog alguien se puso a la tareas de extraer el comic de piratas “Tales of the black […]

  14. Adam said

    I’m absolutely no Gibbons, but I would love to offer my assistance in helping you finish this project by completing new artwork for the blank panels to match the style and color scheme. I’ve always wanted to actually hold a copy of The Tales of the Black Freighter in may hands…almost like an artifact from the Watchmen Universe. I feel confident enough in my abilities to offer them up for the project, with the intention of having it all done by the opening weekend for the movie. I’d love to help create some fake advertisements to go inside as well using traditional paint, drawing, and photoshop. Perhaps an ad for Adrian’s action figure line of retired superheroes? Let me know what you think… my email should be available to the moderators of this board and if not just leave a reply and I’ll get in contact with you.

  15. Kirsten said

    I read some chapters in high school, ganked off a friend that didn’t own the complete collection. I’d really love to read the entire thing before the movie comes out. But is my only option to buy it or is this something I can find at a library???

  16. Adam said

    I got back a enthusiastic response from the moderator and have set out to finish the artwork. The only difference between whats on this site and what I intend to do is page layout. In Watchmen, we are privy to eavesdropping over the kid’s shoulder to see glimpses of the panels that remain missing for us. I want to keep the structure of the comic as if we were really reading it. This will hopefully make the story either a full 22 pages or more. I will post completed inked pages up on my deviantart page as I finish them:
    But don’t expect anything too quickly! I’m in grad school and midterms fast approach!

  17. Kirsten: a *good* library should have a copy of it. If not, you can buy the collection for less than $20… if you don’t have a good local comics shop, you can find it at online retailers like (But if you do have a good local comics shop, I urge you to patronize them!)

  18. n0 said

    Someone needs to CBR this!

  19. we love this!

  20. […] de mer minneverdige delene av Watchmen er sidehistorien “Tales of the black freighter”. Her kan du lese den. Uavhengig av selve […]

  21. Stevie said

    Very very nice work… I didnt skip any of the watchmen comics but i am printing out each of these images jus as an extra for my watchmen collection.

    again.. very nice work. thanks

  22. betcha can’t wait till the short comes out, you can finish the comic!

    you might enjoy this:

  23. Adam said

    I just finished up Christmas Break and am almost done with original illustrations for the the first couple of pages. But I thought you all might get a kick out of this…I just got back from Manhattan and went to W 31st Street and 7th Ave, which is where Dave Gibbons says he modeled the newsstand corner after. It was uncanny how much it was exactly like the he drew it…right down to a green news stand.

  24. jamozvan said

    wonderful! i put together a slideshow of the pages here >> here!

  25. Jamie said

    Maybe the 20 pages of story are spread out over two issues because Tales of the Black Freighter contains multiple stories in each issue.

  26. Kevin said

    Absolutely awesome, thanks for taking the time to do this. It encapsulates everything you need to know about the ethics of Watchmen.

  27. Daniel said

    I’ve been looking around for a compiled script of the whole thing sans pictures. I think it would make a wonderful dramatic monolouge. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  28. Watchmen: A Response to Radar…

    [If you don’t know how Watchmen ends, stop reading now. This is a good rule of thumb for my blog: I have no qualms about “spoiling” – if you’re reading an article discussing a subject, you’d darn well be familiar wi…

  29. colin said

    found page one of marooned which was drawn by dave gibbons for the black freighter comic for the movie.ckeck it out on flickr.

  30. colin said

    sorry,got the link wrong.i’ll have one more!

  31. The Wolf said

    You did a lot of great work. I was thinking about doing this awhile ago and didn’t get past the layouts.
    One correction I would make is that that the layout of the panels in the Watchmen comics don’t necessarily match the layouts of the Tales of the Black Freighter comics.
    A good example is shown on page 25 of issue (chapter) VIII when you see the comic page the boy is reading you’ll notice that the 1/6 size panels number one and three of the Watchmen page are the number one and two panels that are 1/4 size in Black Freighter comic over a 1/2 size panel that appears to be advertising two pirate comics.
    I hope my explanation isn’t too confusing.
    I would love to see where this goes from here.

  32. Sry for writing OFF TOPIC … which WordPress theme are you using? It looks stunning!

  33. Rapscallion said

    Nice work, but not great, i mean, the black freighter is as much of a graphic novel as watchmen is, and SO many blank frames kinda breaks the ambient.
    Maybe you should try to get the original comic, it is suppossed to be a comic series from the fifties,
    Well, best regards and your works is appreciated even though not great, it’s still pretty cool.

  34. […] Tales of the Black Freighter reconstruction boredomfestival […]

  35. Mikel Midnight said

    I love love love this page … but now that you have a Gibbons-drawn splash page (as posted above), isn’t it time to rework it, and add it in at the top?

  36. Mikel Midnight said

    And there’s now a cover!

    • Cool. I think I saw this at the Watchmen exhibit at the Cartoon Art Museum (concurrent with the Watchmen movie)… but it was in a glass case and so no way to confirm that it was merely a cover, alas.

  37. […] A guy who has taken the “Marooned” plot and isolated it from the Watchmen context &#8211… […]

  38. Marvel also decided that he had a long enough run and had him face Deadpool.

    Really, all us comicbook movie fans can do is wait and see which approaches Marvel chooses for
    its future movie projects and hope that their decisions meet with both critical and box office success down the road.
    This will give you a rough indication of what price you can expect.

  39. Scott said

    Great work here! I had read the book in German (trying to learn the language) and I really couldn’t get my head round this sub-section, as the language was a bit archaic.

    A great idea to do this. My thanks and congratulations… I hope both Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons have seen it!

  40. […] explicitly in that 2017 interview is pretty easy to find in the comic itself. There’s literally a comic within the comic, in which a shipwrecked sailor tries to save his family and town from pirates and ends up killing […]

  41. […] explicitly in that 2017 interview is pretty easy to find in the comic itself. There’s literally a comic within the comic, in which a shipwrecked sailor tries to save his family and town from pirates and ends up killing […]

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