Thursday, 8 October 2009

DAVE GIBBONS interview [2]

Interview by smoky man and Antonio Solinas. Answers received as mp3 files the 15th and 16th of May 2007.
Transcription by Antonio Solinas in collaboration with smoky man
Originally printed in Italy on Lezioni di Fumetto: Dave Gibbons (October 2008, Coniglio Editore).
An interview excerpt was previously printed in Italy on Scuola di Fumetto magazine (N. 54, September 2007, Coniglio Editore).
Presented here in English for the first time with the permission of the author.

Above: Watchmen sketch. Watchmen is published by DC Comics.

DAVE GIBBONS interview [1]

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?

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?

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?

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”?
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?

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.


Bob Byrne said...

Good stuff, really enjoyed that.

smoky man said...

thanks for the visit Bob!

Anonymous said...

A rather interesting interview, especially the stuff about Powerman, and about his work methods. Thanks for sharing :-)

smoky man said...

thank u, bristel, for the visit and the nice feedback!

Joshua said...

That was a great interview. You really get in depth. Keep up the great work!!! -Joshua