1. Arts & Entertainment

Clearwater artist reworking 'Watchmen,' Silk Spectre in new comic book series

Millions of comic book fans have been watching the Watchmen for the last quarter-century, but few have been so detail-oriented as Amanda Conner.

The Clearwater artist has been poring over panels and word bubbles, teasing context and plot threads from the seminal 1980s superhero saga, so much so it's keeping her up at night. Rewriting history will do that.

She's part of a team of artists and writers tackling the most ambitious comic book project of the century so far: DC's release of Before Watchmen, a collection of miniseries fleshing out backstories for the most dysfunctional collection of superheroes ever put in print — or on the big screen, if you've seen the 2009 movie. The first issue of her four-part chapter, Silk Spectre, hit the stands last week, but that doesn't mean she can rest.

"This is a huge thing to try to bite off and chew," she said. "Even though I studied Watchmen a lot, you really want to show a lot of respect, too. I'm not getting a lot of sleep."

Conner, best known for her pencil work on Vampirella and Power Girl, is working with writer Darwyn Cooke and colorist Paul Mounts on the project, which is slowly being pieced together from the Clearwater bungalow she bought in 2005 with her husband, comic book writer and inker Jimmy Palmiotti. (Her mother grew up in Port Tampa, so the house served as a respite from Brooklyn until they moved full time in 2008, said Conner.)

Counting Elfquest's Wendy Pini and artist Jan Duursema among her influences, Conner said Silk Spectre has allowed her to not only expand her considerable resume of bringing ass-kicking women to life, but stretch her chops as a co-writer, too. And given the rabid devotion of Watchmen fans, she really needs to know her character.

In the new series, Silk Spectre is 16-year-old Laurie Juspeczyk, the daughter of crime-fighting mom Sally Juspeczyk, a.k.a Sally Jupiter, who expects her little girl to one day take over the family business. It's only one story in a classic rogue's gallery of personalities from Brit writer Alan Moore's original 12-issue opus with artist Dave Gibbons, but to Conner, it was a monumental opportunity to see what the made the legendary heroine tick.

"She seems like a really secure person who has spent the last 18 years with a big blue guy who could do anything," Conner said, noting Silk Spectre's relationship with atomic superman Dr. Manhattan in the 1986-87 series. Her re-reading of the series when she took the job gave her the insight she needed to proceed. "I tried to remember what it was like being a 16-year-old and going at it with your mom."

While that's a story any mother or daughter could relate to, it was what made Laurie different that made her story so vivid: "What sets her apart from other kids her age is, her mother has been training her to be a superhero since birth. She's more interested in being a kid that she is in inheriting her mother's mantle as Silk Spectre."

Examining the past of such an iconic figure, in the context of so many other iconic figures — DC is also releasing series based on the Comedian, Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, Ozymandias and Rorschach, plus a one-shot of their predecessors, the Minutemen — has drawn criticism from fanboys and creator Moore alike, although Gibbons, whom Conner has met, has given the experiment a mild blessing.

"There's no way I am going to be able to repeat what Dave and Alan did," Conner said, noting Moore's outspoken opposition to the project — a stance he's taken since DC wanted him to write spin-offs for the characters back in the '80s. But rather than dwell on the controversy her new series is generating among fans, she prefers to focus on the opportunity she and those fans have been afforded.

"If you're really interested in a character, you want to know more," she said. "I love the book and the characters so much, it would be hard to say I wouldn't want to do this. … It's not just Alan's book; it's Dave's book. I hope the work that I'm doing would make Dave proud."

Meanwhile, she's hard at work in Clearwater; issue No. 3 comes out in September.