Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Thursday, 8 October 2009
11. Can you describe your average working day? How many hours do you typically work? Is it like a regular day job, with a precise working schedule or you just follow your Muse? Are there days when you are really productive and other times when you simply recharge your creative batteries?
G.: This is very appropriate because my working day is coming to an end, any minute!
My average working day: I try (and I have always tried) to work regular office hours because I find this work much better, integrating yourself with the rest of the world, with your wife, your family, your friends. So I generally try to be in the office by 9 o’clock, and I generally leave around 6, and I have an hour in the middle, where I have my lunch.
These days, I probably spend another hour, at least, messing around on the internet, sending emails or checking up on what’s going on. That kind of standing around the water cooler or having a cup of coffee moment.
The productivity will change from day to day. Some days I get very little done, it seems, other days I get a lot done: I mean, to be honest, today I haven’t really done much other than doing this interview today, I have done some emails, I spoke to an editor on the phone, I have written a few notes on things.
(On the other hand) I had one day, last week, when I pencilled three pages in a day, which is as fast as I have worked on anything.
You can wait on the Muse, but you really have to be there, in front of the computer, or in front of the drawing board, with a pencil in your hand, or with a mouse in your hand, because things are not going to happen when you’re lying around in bed at home.
Although, having said that, sometimes going for a walk or whatever can be very productive when it comes to incubating the germs of ideas.
So, it is a regular day job, although the output is by no means regular. Over the years, and over a long stretch of time, you get to know how things average out. I wouldn’t be able to pencil 3 pages every day. If I did pencil three pages in a day, I would probably be so tired the next day that I would probably do just one, so that would average out at the two pages a day, which would be something I would be quite happy with, anyway.
As it happens, today, because I went away the weekend of the (Bristol) Comic Convention and I was working quite hard before that, I guess I am “recharging my batteries”.
12. What about your studio? What kind of tools do you use? I know you have a Macintosh computer since early 90’s: what is your relationship with technology?
G.: At the moment I am working in an office, not at home. I’ve moved house a few times, so I have had different homes. I did share a studio with Mick McMahon in the early 80’s, which was a good experience. I wouldn’t mind sharing a studio again if I could find somebody as “simpatico” and nearby. It’s not a very big room here. It’s maybe 4 meters square, something like that, mainly full of books. I have got a drawing table, a trolley with my drawing equipment in it, and a computer with all the bits and pieces, a printer, a large scanner and so on.
On the computer I use Photoshop®, Illustrator®, Painter®, Poser®, Manga Studio®, Word®, and I am using a thing called Wiretap Pro® to record these little interviews…
To draw, I use Colerase blue pencils, which are nice, because you don’t have to erase them after inking, although you can erase them while you are working so you see more clearly what you are doing. I tend to draw on the Bristol boards that the companies supply. I used to ink with dip pens and brushes, but now I use disposable pens, mainly because the drawing pens and the brushes are nothing like the quality they used to be, so I use a Fountain Pentel pen, which has a nice thick and thin nip, and I use Fineline markers, and I use Faber-Castell Pit brushpens, which put down a nice Indian ink line. That’s about it, really: very simple, what you need to draw comics with.
I have had a Mac since the early 90’s. My friend Angus McKie kind of got me turned on to them.
I had a Quadra, then a PowerMac 8500. Now I have got a G5 dual processor, with a nice big screen. I like to use graphic tablets, and what I really have got my heart set on is a Wacom Cintiq tablet, which is like a pressure sensitive monitor, so you actually draw straight onto the image. I have had one of those on loan and it’s a fantastic tool to use. Maybe when I get a big check, I will buy myself one of those.
13. In the Originals GN you used a lot of digital techniques and the result was quite unique and stylish. Was that style you used in the Originals a one-off or do you plan to move to fully digital art in the same vein of someone like Brian Bolland?
G.: I suppose I used a lot of digital techniques in The Originals, but I still drew everything on the Bristol board.
The digital technique was that I actually scripted the whole thing using FinalDraft™, and then imported in into Word™ (actually first as a movie, without breaking it into pages).
Then I broke the whole thing down into pages, and I printed out some little grids (because I wanted it to be based on a grid, in order to have some kind of a formal feel). The grids were then enlarged in Illustrator™ (with Illustrator™ vector grids you can do that without any loss of quality) and I combined the grid panels so that they would form the shape and the size of the final panels I wanted to use. My son did the typesetting: I gave him the script and he cut it and pasted it from the script, using a font that Richard Starkings at Comicraft made for me. I then arranged the lettering the way I wanted it, and then I printed it out at art size (with the grids) in non-reproducing blue.
I then drew in them (in blue), then inked over it, scanned it back into the computer, dropped that into a kind of composite file in Photoshop, which had the lettering and frames on one level, and under that the line drawing, and underneath that the layer that I would use for the grey tones. And I stuck to a kind of a limited palette of grey tones, and some blends and some gradients. And then I added some noise, so that it wouldn’t look too computer-ish, but rather like it was painted.
The kind of look I was going for is the sort of thing you would see in the Warren magazines. I was very impressed (as most people I know were) with what Alex Toth used to do with duotone board or wash, so that was the kind of feeling that I was after.
I have got no plans to move to fully digital art, although, as I said, if I can get one of those Cintiq graphic tablets and get used to drawing on that, then it might become more of a natural thing to do. I still really feel (using regular graphics tablets) that you need to do the line drawing on paper, because it feels more informal, more direct.
Also, I tend to move my hand in a reasonably quick way when I draw, whereas Brian, for instance, has always moved rather slowly, and so he probably doesn’t experience the same difference drawing on screen, where you need really to draw using a separate tablet and then look at the screen. You have to move in a rather (I find) cautious kind of way, or be forever undoing and redoing the strokes. So, I use digital techniques whenever I can to make the work quicker and better in quality. I’ll see how things go.
14. Let’s talking about comics and comic-based movies. What do you think about the current, close “relationship” between comics and Hollywood? Do you see it as something good, which will have a positive effect in attracting new readers? Is it something to finally get some sort of recognition for comics as a “true” Art form? Or, on the contrary, do you see it as something that will result in comics still considered as a minor Art form, something that “exists just because there is a movie based on it”?
G.: Comics and movies are two completely different media. Superficially, they seem to be the same, and a lot of the terminology seems to be used in both media, but they are very different. I think it’s generally good for comics that Hollywood movies are going out there. Certainly, it makes people more receptive to the kind of subject matter that you get in comics. How many of they would actually go out and buy the comics, I don’t know. I think with something like X-Men, or Spider-Man, it’s a question of: “where do you start buying the comics?”. There are the novelisations of the movies, I guess, but then you are reading the story that you have already watched, and you are reading it kind of in reverse: you have seen the movie, now you are seeing a kind of a static version of it, which is kind of unsatisfying, no matter how well done the comic is, and a lot of them have been very well done. I am thinking of Jerry Ordway’s Batman movie adaptation, and Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson’s Alien, which was amazing.
So, I don’t know how many people pick up a comic because they have seen a movie, or if they even know which comic to pick up. It’s a little bit different with something self-contained like V For Vendetta or, I suppose I have to say, Watchmen, because in those cases you have something which is a complete graphic novel, a book-size book: you don’t have to buy years of continuity. And they are things which already have a kind of artistic integrity on their own. So if you have seen the movie, to actually see the original version, you are getting a different treatment. It’s actually interesting in that you are seeing the seed or the prototype for what eventually ended up in the movie. You can make you mind up whether what you saw in the movie was more satisfying than what is in the comic book.
So, I don’t think it really helps the recognition of comics as an artform. Hopefully, it gets people to read certain comics, and they then appreciate it as an artform. Basically, anything that gets people reading comics is something that I would have to be in favour of. I suppose the reverse side is the movie is so dire that people think: “Oh, comics is crap, they have this kind of banal stories and very obvious characterisation”. I think for instance, about the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which, I have to tell you, I didn’t watch all the way through. I paused it half an hour before the end to go make a cup of tea or something, and I actually never watched the rest of it, in contrast of the comic book, which is wonderful and fantastic work by Alan and Kevin O’Neill. The movie just doesn’t do it justice, but I imagine the sales (of the comic) have improved, so that’s some consolation.
15. Back to Watchmen and… Hollywood, again.
Watchmen has been in the process of becoming a movie for almost as long as the book has been in print. At one point Terry Gilliam was set to helm it but the project fell away, as did one a couple of years ago with Requiem for a Dream's Darren Aronofsky attached. In 2005 it was in Greengrass' (director of The Bourne Supremacy) hands and it seemed to become a real thing but it didn’t. Now, it’s Zach Snyder’s turn who’s fresh of the huge and a bit unexpected success of his adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300. There are unofficial news that he will start shooting this summer with an esteemed budget around $150 million dollars and that the movie will be released in 2008. Also, it’s known that comics artists Adam Hughes and John Cassaday are at work on some costume re-design.
So, first which is your feeling regarding a silver screen version of Watchmen? I am also keeping in mind that Alan Moore has always been pretty critical on his works adaptations. Are you involved in any way? Did they ask you any supervision or any suggestion? E.g., David Lloyd was pretty supportive about the V flick.
G.: Referring to my previous answers, comics and comics-based movies are completely different beasts. I basically wish the Watchmen movie well, and I think that every point the people have been involved with it have genuinely been respectful of it and wanted to do the best job they can. I think this is so in Zack Snyder’s case. I have spoken to Zack several times, met him and we’re both very enthusiastic about it. I have read the screenplay that David Hayter wrote a year or two ago and met him. He was very enthusiastic and certainly had done an amazing job with the adaptation, boiling things down into a two-hour movie.
I believe that the current script has had some further re-writing by I guy named, I think, Alex Tse. I haven’t read that script yet, I hope to read it soon.
I basically expressed to Zack Snyder and Warner Bros that I am happy to help. If they need visuals, I would consider doing that. I am perfectly happy to be positive in the publicity, because I do respond to enthusiasm and I do genuinely believe that they are trying to do right by the movie.
Now, how satisfied the fans would be with their adaptation, I really don’t know. I think the thing is with any item that has a huge fan base, they are never going to be satisfied with any adaptation of it, because it’s never going to hit all the points that they love. There are always going to be revisions, there’s always going to be boiling down, there are always going to be things cut out. I think what I would be concerned about is that it was done in an intelligent way and that it was true, at least, to the spirit of the book.
How much of Watchmen will end up on the screen I don’t know. There is all the pirate stuff, which is integral to the book, but isn’t absolutely essential for the movie, although nowadays of course we have DVDs that can hold large amounts of extra footage and stuff, so… It’s always possible that that might be included in that incarnation.
I am not sufficiently close to the production to really be able to talk about it in any detail, so, in some ways, I am as interested to see what comes over the internet as anybody else. It was a complete surprise to me to see the frame that was kind of “sneaked” into the 300 trailer that was up online, and that seems to have created an amazing amount of interest.
I am obviously more aware than anyone else of Alan Moore’s attitude towards screen adaptations of his work, and I completely respect his take on that, and he respects my point of view as well.
Although I like to think we are very good friends, Alan and I are very different people. We have had different careers, the demands upon us have been different, our experiences have been different, and there is nothing, in my experience, which makes me feel, that I need to distance myself from the movie. Obviously, there is a line, and if I become unhappy about the way I see things going, that might well happen in the future [laughs]. Alan’s aware of my enthusiasm and we both hope that we can maintain our individual positions without coming into conflict with each other. I am sure we can.
There’s one thing that I am sure will happen with any adaptation of Watchmen into a movie: it’s bound to increase the sales of the graphic novel. Certainly, this was the case with V for Vendetta, in a very dramatic way.
Watchmen has always sold very well over the years anyway, and proved popular, so even if you take the absolute worst case scenario, Watchmen is going to find its way into the hands of people who otherwise wouldn’t have seen it and I think one of the reasons Watchmen has been such a good seller over the years for comic shops and for regular book shops is that it’s considered to be an introduction into graphic novel or modern comics, and so I would like to think that the movie would sell more Watchmen and Watchmen would sell more comic books and graphic novels in general. And of course I am also reminded of a quote concerning Raymond Chandler, speaking to someone saying: “You know, the movies ruined my book” and he answered: “Well, there’s a bad movie, but look, your book is still there on the shelf”.
I don’t want it to be a bad movie, and my feeling is it won’t be a bad movie, but even if it is, well, at least it will get the book out to a few people.
16. In USA, as well as here in Italy, there is a big debate about comics slowly evolving into a “graphic novel” format. Incidentally, this is something you explored with The Originals, a work I absolutely love. Is the graphic novel format the natural evolution for a medium finally reaching its maturity?
G.: I think there is some kind of evolution going on, here. Certainly, when I was growing up, there were weekly and monthly comics, which came and went, and never had any longevity at all. Although they were serials, were kind of self-contained, which didn’t rely on you knowing any particular background about the characters (there would always be a recap in the panel as to what had gone on before). Somewhere along the way, comics started to be collected and sold as “graphic novels”. I believe a lot of things that are sold as graphic novels actually aren’t: they are just collections of episodes. I think Watchmen is a genuine graphic novel, because although it appeared in episodes, the story was always conceived as finite, not just a thing that kept the pot boiling, but something that had a beginning, a middle and an end. So I think that Watchmen, and V For Vendetta, and A Contract With God, and The Originals and a lot of other things are genuine graphic novels and I think that even in the monthly publishing there is this almost de rigueur way of telling the continuing stories that you have story arcs of maybe four or six, or eight or twelve issues, which can later be collected together and provide something which certainly is a long way towards being a novel. Although you probably need prior knowledge of the characters, at least what they are involved in does have some sort of dramatic structure. And I think that the fact that most major bookstores you walk into (an a lot of minor book stores) do have areas dedicated to graphic novels, and the fact that even a lot of comic book readers prefer to read their comics in the graphic novel format, because it’s handier, it’s a thing you can keep on the shelf, all those factors are inevitably attracting the medium towards that format. I don’t think it has necessarily got to do with the maturity of the medium, because I like to think that there will always be a place for throwaway episodic comics, just like there is room, in music, for singles that come and go, and albums that you like to keep on a shelf or on your computer hard drive.
I think certainly for the publishers it makes sense, because basically with the monthlies that you put out you cover your production costs, the costs of paying the writers and the artists and the separations (and so on), and really the book collection is all gravy. And also because it means that when there is a movie or some other exploitation of comic book material in another medium, you have got items that are readily available for sale. I think there is an evolution of work, and I think it’s a very good sign, because I think any medium, which stagnates, is on the way out. As the Taoists say: “That which does not change is dead”.
17. Which comic series or artists do you currently follow? Are there people that still inspire you?
G.: One of the other wonderful things about comics, nowadays, is that it’s all there. People talk about the Golden Age of comics: I don’t think there’s ever been a time with so much varied comic material being available, both current stuff and stuff from the past. I am thinking about stuff as diverse as The Complete Mort Cinder by Alberto Breccia, which I picked up when I was in Barcelona the other year (it was a series I’d had in bits for a long, long time, but this is the complete thing in a book, it’s fantastic). I also got the Complete Rip Kirby by Alex Raymond, which is again something that I have been looking for a while. There is Popeye, there is Prince Valiant, it just goes on forever. And of course there’s the Archives stuff that the American companies are doing. I mean, to have all The Spirit issues in a consistent format is wonderful and the runs of things like All-Star Comics, which was something I lusted after as an adolescent. These were the great, distant Grails of superhero comics.
As a digression, I personally like the end of the Golden Age. I kind of like comics from the very late 40’s and the early 50’s, that’s my kind of ground zero, the kind of area that sort of Darwyn Cooke carved in with The New Frontier.
As far as current stuff is concerned, I really tend to follow creators, rather than actual titles. I love everything that Brian Bolland does, Garcia Lopez, Mike Mignola, Frank Miller, Alan Moore… Again, talking about influences, the danger of all this is that there are people you’re going to leave off!
I always find something in the comic shop to inspire me, and if there isn’t anything out this month, as I said, I can always go to my shelf and turn back to some great Golden Age artists, or some book of illustration and get inspiration from there.
18. What about your comic projects in the pipeline? There are rumors that you are going to write and draw a run for one of the Superman series. Is it true?
G.: No. I did do some covers for Action Comics but there are no plans that I am aware of anyway to write and draw a Superman run. As I said before, I love Superman but there is nothing on the table at the moment.
19. Or do we have to expect a new graphic novel in the same vein of The Originals in the next future?
G.: No, The Originals was kind of a heavy duty thing because it took me quite a lot of time just working on my own. And I actually find I like the kind of to and fro of working on a current kind of book, something that has to come out every month or or at least has got a finite time before appears. It was something like more than two years from when I started on The Originals to when I finished it - I did odd bits and pieces in the meantime – that was a really long haul and I had many crises of confidence along the way and many misgivings about whether I was wasting my time or not. As it turned out I don’t think I was, and I am very happy that I was able to express my feelings about the subject matter exactly in the way I did and I wasn’t spooked into doing something that was more flashy or sensational. I have kind of got an idea for… it’s not a sequel, it’s a kind of a companion volume to The Originals. It’s kind of unformed at the moment and I don’t’ think it’s something I will do in the very near future, but hopefully somewhere along the way, before the light fades [laughs], I’ve got an hankering to work on that… so, you know, you will find out when you find out.
20. Also, some years ago, maybe it was Bristol Con 2002, you told me about a huge project you were developing with Alan Moore. Any chances that it could materialize, or would you say it is a lost project?
G.: Alan and I have always enjoyed collaborating and I think we both have done some of our best works when we have collaborated. The thing we did talk about for a little while, and this was a while ago, this was in the late 90’s, was the idea of doing something on a kind of a CD game, a computer game… to use their abilities to weave complex worlds and try new kind of storytelling techniques, where there were alternate storylines. We kicked the idea around for a while and put some thought into it but I think what we eventually realized was that we were getting into something that would probably be as fraught with problems as, say, doing a movie, and also into something that we didn’t completely understand or hadn’t completely grown up with.
Computer games nowadays are as big business as movies and therefore there are huge amounts of money involved, which means that the are huge amounts of people that want protect investments and want to maximise profits, so I think we would actually find ourselves in a situation of really just doing some kind of treatment or outline for a movie and then having it taken completely out of our hands. Also, as I said, there was a certain lack of experience in the medium. I mean, I know people in the game industry, and they have the same kind of passion and encyclopaedic knowledge of computer games that us comics fans have of comics. Certainly, I watched my son play computer games, I have dabbled myself, but I am not an expert: I would not know what a state-of-the-art computer game is.
So that faded away, and obviously Alan has got projects that he is working on and he is very enthusiastic about. As you might know, he is writing a novel called Jerusalem at the moment, which sounds fantastic, and I wouldn’t want to take him away from that, even if he wanted to be taken away from it [laughs].
So, we have no plans to do anything in the future but, who knows, when the stars are in the right position, something could happen.
1. I am curious to investigate a little the beginning of your career in comics, when you were in your early 20’s. At that time you had a regular day job as a building surveyor, is it right? And then your started working with Brian Bolland on a book called Powerman, which was a production for the Nigerian marketplace. It was 1975 and shortly after that you began working full-time in the comics business. What can you tell us about that experience - I suppose - in an unusual foreign marketplace? And what was Powerman about?
Gibbons: I started having stuff published in fanzines when I was maybe 20, Fantasy Advertiser in particular, and some other British fanzines.
I was working as a building surveyor in London, that’s correct: and it was quite fortunate because I worked round the corner from IPC Comics (or Fleetway comics, as they had been). They were close enough so that I could go there in my lunch hour, hanging out with the comic guys and making a nuisance of myself. I was looking over people’s shoulders and seeing upcoming work and meeting people who were also fans.
Really, this was the beginning of lunatics taking over the asylum, with people like Steve Moore, Steve Parkhouse, Dez Skinn, Kevin O’Neill and other people like me trying to get into comics, and ending up at IPC comics either as freelancers or on the staff.
There was a really good feeling of being part of a movement, a kind of an “esprit de corps”: we thought that we really understood and loved comics and, if we were lucky enough, one day would be able to produce our own.
I started drawing professionally in 1973, after a kind of a false start, when I did a single digest-sized comic book, which was called The Dead or Awake and Walking and vanished without trace. It didn’t make me enough money to keep me going and I had to go back to being a building surveyor. Then in 1973, an agent found me some work, first of all for DC Thomson in Dundee, who published things like The Wizard and The Victor and then he met up with people who wanted to do a comic for Nigeria, which up until then had imported British comics. And although Nigeria is almost exclusively a black country, the comics they had were typical British comics with blond cricket captains and WW2 flying aces.
These people actually ran an advertising agency and I suspect had an ulterior motive in wanting to use these comics to advertise their goods.
They came over to England and met up with my agent, a guy called Barry Coker, who had a company called Bardon Press Features, and spoke to him about doing what was essentially a superhero comic book for Nigeria. Actually, there were two comic books: one was called Powerman, and the other one I think was called Pop.
I and Brian Bolland alternated with the lead strip in Powerman,.Another strip told the story of an alien invasion, invading Africa, rather than Europe or North America, as usual. Drawn by Carlos Ezquerra and it was really good. A third strip was about a black sheriff.
The comic called Pop had a nurse character in it, and I think at one time it was drawn by Ron Smith, who later on went on to draw Judge Dredd in 2000AD.
As far as Powerman was concerned, I came up with the design of the character. I had met Brian in 1972, at the first British comic convention I attended. We hit it off straight away as friends. I was a little bit ahead of the curve from him: I’d got a start and I had already been working professionally, but obviously he was very talented and ready to get going. So we decided we would alternate Powerman between us. The scripts were written by a guy called Don Avenell and a guy called Norman Worker, long-standing writers of British comics. So every month Brian and I would each do 14 pages, because the book came out twice a month. It was black and white but with a colour overlay of red, which was the predominant colour of Powerman’s costume and also we could use it to brighten up the rest of the drawing. We had to put numbers on the pictures, which we were never very happy about, because the layout was very clear: they were six-panel pages and there was no overlapping or any kind of sophisticated storytelling technique. We thought this really underestimated the intelligence of the people that were reading (the comic), but the advertising agency (the experts!) told us that we had to number the pictures. So, part of the job was going through the story with self-adhesive circles and letter a number onto each panel.
I did a lot of the lettering. I lettered all my stuff and also some of Brian’s as well, and a couple of times we worked together on the artwork. Once, I remember, Brian’s father died and he was very much behind and I remember we did an all-night session, with me inking in backgrounds and stuff like that.
Powerman, as I recall, got his powers from eating a particular kind of food: I can’t remember if it was some kind of food these people were trying to advertise. It was the equivalent of a magic word.
It took me and Brian a little time to get used to how we actually depicted that kind of society. For instance. we were told the way to show that some people were rich and successful was to make them fat, which were the opposite of the skinny women and toned men that you tend to see in our culture. We were given lots of references for the stuff we had to draw.
Later, the thing was reprinted in South Africa, which of course put a rather different twist on it. I do recall that the Comics Journal had a little dig at Brian and I for participating in apartheid, which was ridiculous, because we had no prior knowledge the comic would be presented in South Africa and rather than it being comics for a segregated black community we had done this comic for a black marketplace, with no sense of being any racial divisiveness about it. In fact, the only white person we ever showed in a Powerman comic was some kind of blond, Aryan property developer called Boss Blitzer, who was a really unpleasant character that Powerman brought to justice.
We also felt as well that maybe there were black artists living in Nigeria that would be able to draw this stuff: we were told there weren’t any, but maybe inspired by us they would come forth. Later, I met a guy called Siku, who did some great stuff for 2000AD in England, and he had actually grown up reading these comics and he was inspired by us, so maybe there was some truth in it.
2. Then it was 2000AD time! How you did get involved with the magazine? What was working for 2000AD like, in the early 80’s? [Note: 1st issue was published in 1977]
G.: In my previous answer I mentioned the idea of lunatics taking over the asylum: 2000AD was definitely, absolutely, that. I mean, a lot of us who had recently started in comics, although we hadn’t enough experience, we had enough enthusiasm to really want to do something that was going to make a mark. And because a lot of us had actually grown up reading American comics as much as British comics, science fiction was very much the kind of thing we were interested in. This was just before Star Wars really blew the whole science fiction thing wide open. So, the timing was just amazing. You know, sci-fi has notoriously been a bad seller in British comics: there would probably be one story in one of the weekly anthology comics. One of the series of digest size libraries, called Super Detective Picture Library, had a character called Rick Random, whom I loved, drawn by an artist called Ron Turner, who was a huge influence on me. And of course, Dan Dare being very popular in launching the Eagle, but, with the exception of those, sci-fi was not a big seller. War and football were the big sellers for boys, and of course romance and school stories were the things for girls. Anyway 2000AD was dreamed up by an editor at Fleetway called Kelvin Gossnell. He teamed up with a guy called Pat Mills, who was a writer and also had done some editorial staff for Fleetway at the time. He had actually made his start doing romance comics for DC Thomson, along with his friend John Wagner. I remember being taken over to the Fleetway/IPC building by my agent, being introduced to Pall Mills who was incredibly enthusiastic, a live wire of a guy, with ideas pouring out of him, and a really anarchic revolutionary kind of feel to the things he was interested in doing. He was there with art editor Joan Sheppard and Kevin O’Neill who had worked his way up to be an art assistant with her. They basically showed me the kind of things they had in mind, the things they were trying to emulate. Interestingly one of them was an American comic, Red Sonja, drawn by Frank Thorne. They really liked his kind of layouts and the way he was very much in your face in the way he told stories. The thing they gave me to draw was called Harlem Heroes, which was basically a science fiction version of the Harlem Globetrotters. They had pages of this done by Italian and Spanish artists - who were very much mainstays in British comics at that time - but they couldn’t get the kind of glossy sci-fi feel that they wanted. And I suppose, maybe, the fact that I had just being drawing black people flying in Powerman… somehow they though I might be able to do something with this, and I think Kevin had been showing a lot of stuff that I had done for fanzines, shown that I could draw spacemen and things like that.
Anyway, I basically drew this Harlem Heroes story and they liked it and said they would get me to do the rest of them. The first story was actually printed, I think, in about the 12th-14th issue of 2000AD, when I was having a holiday.
Working for 2000AD in the early 80’s was great because it was all us guys who kind of knew each other through fandom, we were all of a similar kind of age. It was also 1977 and there was a feeling of “punk” in the air, although, frankly I was were already a bit too old for that. And then as I said Star Wars came along and gave the whole science fiction field a tremendous boost. So, we felt we were in the place to be. There was a tremendous sense of esprit de corps, a friendly rivalry between us… as I said, we were friends and we just wanted to match what the other guys were doing and didn’t want to let the team down. It was a really, really exciting time and it persisted like that– for me anyway – for the first three or four years, or something.
3. During your stint at 2000AD you drew popular characters such as Judge Dredd and you started collaborating with someone called Alan Moore on some short stories. I think it was an exciting time for British comics. What are your memories about that time?
G.: Actually I never did draw Judge Dredd. I drew one episode, which frankly I did not really like. The problem with Judge Dredd is… the way I naturally draw is sort of “like Brian Bolland”, or at least I can understand the way Brian draws.
We have grown up on very much the same influences, American comic books, mainly those edited by Julie Schwartz, so our work has a sense of similarity.
But the look I really love on Dredd is actually what Mick McMahon did. Later on, I shared a studio with Mick, and I could never understand how he drew, never in a million years could I draw in the way he does.
So it was a slightly unsatisfactory experience for me: I wanted to draw like Mick, but I ended up drawing like Brian, I couldn’t help it [laughs].
I did ink some of Brian’s stuff, on the Cursed Earth, and that was kind of interesting. I had done that before, and he inked a couple of spreads that I did when I was drawing Dan Dare, so we had experience in collaborating with each other, we knew each other very well by that time. So that was my Judge Dredd experience. I also inked a single picture that Mick drew: it was a pin-up with the Angel gang, and that was a really strange experience to put my inks over Mick’s very crisp and idiosyncratic pencils.
My only other claim to having anything to do with Judge Dredd was when Mick and I shared a studio. He was really tight on a deadline during some colour stuff for a British annual, so I helped him by laying a few skies and blacking in a few areas and stuff like that.
The collaboration with Alan Moore actually came after my main involvement with 2000AD. I believe by that time I had moved on to drawing Doctor Who for Marvel UK.
I only had time to do a few odd things here and there for 2000AD. I met Alan in about 1980 at a convention in London and registered that he was this tall guy with long hair, and he was introduced to me by a guy called Steve Moore. There is a tale about this on Alan Moore: Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman, it tells the tale… From the beginning I loved what Alan did: again, we had the same kind of references, we read the same comics (we loved Mad Magazine and stuff like that).
I think that probably the best thing that we did for 2000AD was called Chrono-Cops, which again was a really interesting experiment in storytelling, as we went backward and forward in time, used Xerox panels and stuff, and I suppose it was then that we realised that we could handle the kind of complexity that we both found entertaining.
I did another story with Alan called Billy the Squid or something like that [Note: it was titled, “The Wild Frontier”, 2000AD #269] and I remember when the editorial people from DC came over here to recruit artists and writers from British comics they wanted to see what we were working on at the time of this interview. I recall showing to Dick Giordano this thing with squids riding horses in a weird science fiction-Wild West sort of setting, and I really don’t think he had an idea of what was really going on, although he was interested enough. A couple of years after that, Dick was happy enough to give Alan and I the go-ahead to do Watchmen…
You ask me about my memories about that time: it was a really exciting time, because new stuff was happening, and that led into British artists and writers being very much flavour of the month in American comics. And many of us had the ultimate ambition to work in American comics: indeed I had gone over there in the early 70’s, unsuccessfully trying to get work…
We felt really happy: right place, right time, British Invasion. We are the Young Turks, I guess you could say.
4. Taking a step back, what were your influences in terms of comic artists and comics reading? I know you have some Italian creators in your list of favorites, too... What was the reason that inspired you to try and get a career in comics?
G.: One of the problems of listing influences is that you leave out somebody you really wish you put in there. Anyway, among my influences were some of the very best British artists… Ron Turner, who I mentioned earlier, author of sci-fi stuff in the ‘50s and later to draw some Judge Dredd for 2000AD, but it was kind of… I don’t think it was his best work, I don’t think even he would think that. He has a wonderful design sense, in fact there is an incredible gallery upon - I think - Flickr - I am not sure - which has some amazing vintage sci-fi covers of his.
Probably if you google “Ron Turner” you might be able to find that.
Frank Hampson, the creator of Dan Dare, just an incredible artist, somebody who was absolutely dedicated to his art and fortunately had the budget and the assistance to do some - I think - absolutely timeless comics art stuff I would think would be hard to ever better.
Frank Bellamy, who also drew in Eagle, whose works, to me, had a kind of Transatlantic feeling. Wonderful researched, excitingly drawn, incredible use of black. Both him and Frank Hampson, I was lucky enough to meet, later on. Actually I, along with Dez Skinn, did the only published interview with Frank Bellamy, I believe. He was like a lot of these top creators I have been lucky enough to meet: his work and his character were just of the very best.
Let me think about any other appreciated artists… Brian Lewis, a great illustrator. A guy called Ian Kennedy, who drew wonderful Air Ace comics - War World II in the air - just an incredible artist when it came to draw any kind of warplanes. And a lot of artists who actually worked for the British comics world, Italian and Spanish artists like Gino D’Antonio - as I later found his name to be – he drew some fantastic war comics. He was one of those artists who made it all look so simple, he was a great influence on Mick McMahon as well… Tacconi who again drew a lot of Air Ace comics, wonderful air war artist… Spanish artists like Victor De La Fuente, and Jesus Blasco who drew things like Steel Claw in British comics. At the same time I was really enjoying a lot of American artists. The first artist I really noticed was “the good” Batman artist who was Dick Sprang… and Jack Kirby whose work was printed all over the place when I was a kid… Steve Ditko, I really loved his story-telling and the strangeness of his art… I can really go on and on… I loved the Mad artists, particularly the ones who drew Mad Comics like Will Elder, Wally Wood, John Severin, Jack Davis… and I loved Will Eisner’s work from the first time I saw it as well… so really I have a kind of transatlantic taste… Joe Kubert, I have to mention his work. Again, a kind of transatlantic artist, an artist whose work fitted in American comics but fitted equally well in British or European comics. So these are some of my influences.
What inspired me to try and get a career in comics? One thing was that you didn’t need much to be able to do what all these guys did. You basically need a piece of white paper and a pen… and that was it: the rest was up to you and your talent. It was not like trying to get into movies where you have to have an infra-structure of cameras, screens and staff and film… or like music where you need to actually get an inexpensive instrument and learn how to play… there was something really immediate about comics … and the fact that you can go more or less straight from the writer’s or the artist’s mind to the reader’s mind through a very informal and easy medium. I think that maybe that was something that inspired me.
5. In the 80’s you moved on to US market. If I remember correctly, you were probably the very first British artist - in what was later called “the British invasion” - to work for a major American publisher. How did you get in touch with the US publishers? You drew a run of Green Lantern, a character who has a special appealing for you, doesn’t he? In fact, currently you are the writer of the Green Lantern Corps series...
G.: Actually, I wasn’t the first one to break into American comics. The one that inspired me was Barry (Windsor) Smith, because I saw something he drew for Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., where it was mentioned that he was a British artist and that he was about the same age as me. Up until then, I believed you had to be a member of some Mafia, or brotherhood if you will, to get into American comics. I had this idea they had these hard bitten guys in New York City, with eyeshades, chomping cigars and unless you were in that situation you probably wouldn’t be able to have anything to do with American comics.
But obviously Barry Smith broke in, so I thought: “If he can do it, I can do it, and, you know, he’s not even as good as I am”. That was an opinion that I later revised…
There are two other points of interest there: he was actually probably born in the same hospital as me, certainly the same part of London as me, within about a month of me.
The other thing was that I then redrew this S.H.I.E.L.D. story that he had done, and that was one of the pieces I took along and gave to Dez Skinn, when I was trying to get work in his fanzine or, hopefully, in the professional comic he worked for. Sitting in the next desk to Dez was a guy called Steve Parkhouse, who had actually written this story, and was Barry Smith’s best friend.
I discovered, even back then, that comics are a very small world.
Apart from Barry, who was certainly working for the US market before me, there was an artist called Ken Barr, who had drawn some war comics in America, like Our Army at War and stuff like that.I think he was Scottish.
Lee Elias was actually born in England: he drew a lot of Golden Age comics. He used to draw Green Arrow. And actually Brian Bolland had his stuff published in the States before me: he did some Green Lantern covers.
The first thing that I ever drew for the US was for Marvel’s Black and White magazine and it wasn’t published until later; it was published in colour at the wrong size. The kind of grey wash halftone drawing that I had done was converted to a line drawing, so that ended up really murky and horrible.
Actually, I got the original artwork back for that: I think it was earlier this year or last year, which is probably 30 years after I drew it, like a lost puppy that finally came home [laughs].
As for how I got in touch with the US publishers, I went there in 1973, left my stuff with DC and Marvel. Although Roy Thomas at Marvel said nice things about it, they never got back in touch (I realise now I should have pushed them a bit more). At DC, I was just handed my stuff back by a guy called Michael Uslan, who later went on to produce the Batman movies: he was just one of their interns, at the time, but I didn’t get any work from them.
I did get some British work with the samples that I did, that probably led to me beginning to work through an agent.
In 1980 or 1981 Dick Giordano and Joe Orlando came over to England and got in touch with several people like myself, Mick McMahon, Garry Leach, maybe Kevin O’Neill, people like that, and basically offered us jobs. They offered more money, they offered the return of artwork, they even offered the pre-ruled board to draw on, and all that was hard to resist.
I am still not quite sure why they did it: I like to think it was because they realised there was a bunch of people here who had enough professional experience and enough knowledge of American comics to do something that looked acceptable to their market, but maybe could give it a bit of a twist, some British “flavour” that might make a change.
Some cynical American artist later said to me that it was because they were fearing a strike or a revolt by American artists and they wanted to have a whole load of offshore people that could do the work, to step in and take up the slack. As it turned out, the British people that worked for American comics (I’ll name no names!) were among the most militant people that they had working for them, although, by and large, I like to think that we are also very good and professional comic artists.
As far as Green Lantern is concerned, I always liked Green Lantern when I was a kid. I didn’t like him quite as much as the Flash: that was because of the artwork. Certainly in the early days Gil Kane drew him, and he was not as dynamic as Carmine Infantino’s version of the Flash.
I always like the idea of the set-up of the series, with some kind of intergalactic police force. It was based on good science fiction premises, all of which I liked. It was a Gil Kane Green Lantern cover that pulled me back into comics when I’d drifted away in my teens.
I enjoyed drawing Green Lantern for about a year, back in the early 1980’s. It was written and edited by Len Wein and I got to do a few of the classic Green Lantern characters.
The other thing about that was it was my fan-boy chance to be a DC Comics artist for a year, to see what it felt like to work on a monthly ongoing book. I must say, part of the reason I wanted to do some more writing recently was to see what it felt like to be a DC writer doing a monthly book.
A lot of the things I tried to do in comics are based around things that as a kid I always wanted to do, like being a DC Comics artist, or being a DC Comics writer, drawing Green Lantern, drawing Superman, drawing Batman, drawing even The Spirit, for instance, which would have been a seeming almost impossible thing to do.
Green Lantern does mean a lot to me, and although Superman is possibly my favourite comics character of all-time, I have been really happy to contribute to the Green Lantern mythos.
6. Afterwards, you and Mr. Moore made comics history with Watchmen, without mentioning one of the best Superman stories ever, “For the man who has everything”…
G.: Well, if you don’t want to mention it… I have to say that it was one of my favourite things I ever did. It was Superman – as I said in my previous answer he’s just about my favourite character – written by Alan - who has to be one of my favourite writers and would be even if I hadn’t worked on stories by him – and it was done for Julie Schwartz, who edited some of my all time favourite comics, The Flash, Green Lantern, Atom, Justice League… just my favourite editor, I guess. So the chance to work on that character with those people was just amazing. And it was a great story… the fact it was an annual meant it was a stand-alone thing and it became memorable because of that. So that was a great thing to get the chance to do and of course it gave Alan and I the chance to get used to working with each other on the American stage as a precursor to doing Watchmen…
7. I am pretty sure you have already been asked all kind of questions about the subject, but there is a thing I am curious to know - in retrospective - from the voice of the co-creator of Watchmen. What do you think is the “key” element of the graphic novel? I mean the “key” factor, maybe under both a narrative and visual point of view - which marks W as a masterpiece, a milestone in comics history?
G.: It was maybe a question of timing. We came out with it at just the time when comics were maybe ready for a bit of deconstruction. You might say that the lunatics were ready to find out how the asylum they’d taken over was actually BUILT. And the other thing was structure: the writing was very structured, the drawing was very structured, very focused, very concentrated… there is a lot of a precision work in there. Imposing the grid on it meant that things couldn’t just spill out or take up whatever space Alan or I just happened to feel they might do based on the spur of the moment decision. From the very beginning we had a kind of a bigger plan, we had the grid that we had to fit everything into. I think that possibly was something that made it notable apart from any artistic or literary content. I mean, that was really the thing that contained the art and the story. I don’t know if I can answer any better than that. I don’t know if I quite understand your question, to be honest, but, anyway, that’s is my stab at an answer!
8. Also, a provocative question ;) I know that often you are identified as Dave “Watchmen” Gibbons. How do you feel about this? Is it a “blessing”, or a kind of “curse”, a limitation for an author who did many important other things?
G.: Watchmen has always been good to me. I have been offered things that I wouldn’t be offered if I hadn’t been a part of Watchmen. And I’ve earned some money from it [laughs]. I don’t know if I would have been accorded this status I have if it wasn’t for Watchmen… probably not. I suppose it can be a bit of a curse because it is kind of: “OK, Orson “Citizen Kane” Wells, follow that!”. I think if you think about it like that, it is a curse.
And certainly, immediately afterwards, when Frank Miller and I did Martha Washington we both had a lot of expectation upon us, so what we kind of did was to go in a completely different direction, we didn’t do another deconstruction of superheroes, we did a kind of “Perils Of Pauline” kind of thing. We took a completely different kind of character, an extrapolated her into the future rather than just within a superhero kind of setting. So I have to say, on balance, it’s been much more a blessing than a curse. And I suppose as a life long comics fan, I am just really proud to be associated with something that undoubtedly will always have a place in the history of comics (I say it in all modesty: it is just clear it WILL have) and that has brought a lot of pleasure to a lot of people. And I suppose the only thing I would regret is that because Alan and I set out to do exactly the kind of comic that we would want to read, I must be the only person on the planet, apart from Alan, that hasn’t been able to read it as something fresh and new put in front of me!
9. You worked with Moore, but also with Frank Miller on the dystopian political sci-fi saga of Martha Washington.
G.: Moore and Miller, definitely two of the best writers working in the field today and probably two of the best of all times. From your point of view, what are the differences and the similarities in the approach to comics writing between the two? From my point of view, I see more energy, more “guts” in Miller and, on the contrary, more brain, more attention to structure in Moore…
G.: I have got a really quick answer to this. As I have done some long answers, this might be the best answer to give! I think Alan is like a great classical composer (a Mozart, a Beethoven), who has in his head the whole symphony worked out, who knows where every note will be, who, yes, will change it as it goes along, to a degree, but creates something which has a wonderful, complex structure which will absolutely fit and, when you have heard it, seems predictable, inevitable: great classical music, which you have to love.
Frank, on the other hand, is like a great jazz virtuoso, he’s like a Dizzy Gillespie or a Miles Davis, where he has great skills, great focus, but rolls with the moment. If he hits an unusual note, he will immediately incorporate it into what he is doing, and it’s much more on the hoof, much more instinctive.
You mention in your question more “guts” to what Frank does. Alan’s stuff is visceral, is felt, but, yes, Frank comes more from the guts possibly than Alan. You could say Alan is the head, Frank is the guts. It’s an over-generalisation, because both have qualities that the other one has: within what Alan does, there is a lot of improvisation, within what Frank does, there is a lot of structure, but in broad terms, I think that’s how I see it (much the way you do it, in fact).
10. You also collaborated as writer with several top artists: for example, I am thinking to Steve Rude and Mike Mignola. Recently you wrote the Thunderbolt Jaxon miniseries, resurrecting a lost British hero with art by John Higgins, and you are the regular writer of Green Lantern Corps series…
What is your approach to comic scripts, now that you are on the other side of the barricade? Do you write full scripts? Do you also include thumbnails or preliminary page art or what else?
G.: I have been very lucky. I think initially I was offered writing gigs because of the “marquee” attraction of my name. In other words, as I had worked on Watchmen (despite the fact that I drew it, rather than wrote it), my name was associated with something that was very successful and very critically revered.
So the hope was that my name on another book would drag a few of those people over. Anyway for whatever reason it was, the first thing I was offered to write for DC was a Superman and Batman story: something that I just could not say no to. That was drawn by Steve Rude, whom I have immense admiration for, very dedicated, very focused, an incredible draughtsman. He added things to my scripts that I just was just amazed at. Mike Mignola was the same: because they have got such a distinctive style, I was able to visualise the kind of thing that they would like to draw (I think). Nevertheless, he brought such a vision to it, and gave it such authority that I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Steve really made me look good. One of my favourite things that I have written was Superman: Kal, which was an “Elseworlds” story where Superman comes to Earth in Britain in the Middle Ages. That was drawn by Josè Luis Garcia Lopez, who has always been one of my favourite artists, whose work I actively seek out (I think I must have everything he has drawn for American comics). What I said to somebody about what he had done on Kal was: “He drew that story just as I would have drawn it, if I could draw as well as him”. He just did an amazing job on it. One of the bonuses was I got to look at a lot of full size Xeroxes of his original art, pencils and inks: it was almost like a masterclass on how to draw comics: his technique, his ability, his anatomy and his staging are just amazing. He really is one of those unsung artists: he should be a lot more popular than he is.
Thunderbolt Jaxon was great because it was a fairly low-key kind of thing that wasn’t particularly intimidating because nobody had a clue about who Thunderbolt Jaxon was and I could really only take it upwards.
It was a great chance to collaborate again with John Higgins, who is a good friend of mine, and has been for many years (and we worked successfully together on Watchmen).
On Green Lantern Corps, again, I have been very, very lucky. In fact, the original idea for Green Lantern Corps was that I was going to draw and write it. By the time I got to draw something, Patrick Gleason, the artist, had so much made it his own that I personally felt that I didn’t really match what he was able to do.
He had given it the authority, so I was quite happy to let him be the lead artist on it.
As far as my approach is concerned, I always write a full script. As an artist, I have always wanted to have a full script: I’ve worked “Marvel-style” (plot-art-script), a few times, and I really don’t like it. Nobody quite knows which way the boat’s headed… I like to consult with the artist, I like the artist to have a hand in what he is going to be drawing and certainly I try and see things (as much as I can) in the way I think the artist sees it, to give them stuff that they want to draw and that they are good at drawing.
I do write pretty full descriptions, not as full as Alan (but then very few people do), but I like to make it clear. I think what I find is what Alan finds (and I think it is one of the reasons he writes such full descriptions): I don’t want to miss anything that occurs to me that might just be the key for the artist to draw the thing. I mean, sometimes, the things that really gave me the key to pictures that Alan was describing were almost quite incidental things, so I always try and put down my full thoughts, and if it runs on a bit, it runs on, and if it doesn’t then that’s fine. But I would never include thumbnails or layouts or sketches, because I have had that done to me as an artist and it completely clouds your thinking. The minute you have seen a version of it drawn, it kind of imprints itself into your brain, and it’s very hard to get away from that.
DAVE GIBBONS interview