The Comedian's iconic smiley badge was almost left out of Watchmen

Contributed by
Jun 16, 2017

It’s become one of the most iconic images in comic history, but it all started out as a little throwaway sketch to add some color to the Comedian’s ultra-dark costume.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, artist Dave Gibbons looked back on the legacy of Watchmen and how the Comedian’s yellow smiley face button came to be. Gibbons said he sketched the little badge after realizing his early design for the Comedian's suit was too dark, hoping it would add a splash of color. When writer Alan Moore got ahold of the designs, however, he decided to work the badge into the narrative itself — turning it into a critical piece of canon and an enduring symbol.

Here’s an excerpt from Gibbons’ comments:

“So I drew this black character and he had a star on one shoulder and red and white stripes on the other. But he looked very serious so I thought, ‘I wonder what would lighten it up a bit?’ So on the sketch that I did, I drew a tiny little yellow smiley faced badge, almost as a throwaway, because I thought that’s a really interesting contrast. This big hulking dark character, with this little splash of bright, silly color.

Alan saw that and he liked it. And when he wrote the first issue it had to start with the death of the comedian. So he thought, ‘How about the comedian’s been thrown out the window [and] the first thing we see is just that badge with some blood on it? And then we pull back and see more?’ So he wrote that into the first script. But then we realized that what we had in that smiley face badge was really the ultimate cartoon. The simplest cartoon. A black and yellow smiley face, with a splash of really realistic blood on it. It was like the real world imposing itself on a cartoon, which is what we were trying to do by treating comic book characters as if they were living in a real world…

Oh sure. When I came up with that I had no idea what Alan would do with it. So he turned it into what it was. But if it hadn’t been for the symbol in the first place that just popped up in my head, then we wouldn’t have gone that route. It’s like all things in the creative process. You just throw as much stuff out as you can and sometimes something just fits.”

As DC fans are well aware, the Comedian’s button has become a critical linchpin of the larger Rebirth relaunch, designed to incorporate the Watchmen into the larger DC Comics universe of Superman and Batman.

(Via Entertainment Weekly)