The art of coherence: an interview with Dave Gibbons, part2.
Part2 of our exclusive interview and Dave Gibbons explains how the masterpiece Watchmen was born, what was his approach to Alan Moore’s massive script, and also his main challenges creating such a length and coherent artwork.
Wellington Srbek: “Chronocops” for 2000 AD and “For the man who has everything” for the 1985 Superman Annual are two of my favorite Moore/Gibbons collaborations...
Dave Gibbons: Mine too.
WS: Nevertheless, nothing can be compared to your masterpiece Watchmen. It was a “quantum leap” in the quality and complexity of the work you were doing then. How and when the project was born?
DG: Is kind of a long story. I have actually written a book called Watching the Watchmen -- which is published by Titan, which I don’t know if has any plans for a Brazilian edition, although that tells you the complete story. Alan and I met in a convention in 1980, over the following years we become friends, and we worked on shorter stories for 2000 AD together, which have culminated in “Chronocops”. Ahn… We really wanted to do something longer together, which was why we wrote the proposals for the Challengers of the Unknown and Martian Manhunter for DC, but none of this ever came to fruition, because the characters have already been promised to other writers and artists. So, you know, when we got the chance of work on something bigger, we jumped at it. And Alan has always been happy to tell people the stories he was working on before he has even started. He tends to work things up in great detail before had -- he used tell me about things he was working with other people. But I actually learned about Watchmen from a mutual friend, a guy called Mike Collins -- to the best of my memory -- ah, who said: “Oh, have you heard that Alan is working on a thing that is gonna treat the Charlton characters for DC?” I immediately phoned Alan, and he sent me the synopses, and I really liked it, said I would like to draw it, and he said: “Great!” A couple weeks after that I went to the USA, and on a convention I met up with Dick Giordano, who was the managing editor of DC, and I said: “You know this thing Alan is doing with the Charlton characters, I really want to draw it.” And Dick said: “How does Alan feel about that?” And I said: “He wants me to draw it.” And Dick said: “It’s yours!” So, that was really how the project was born.
WS: Looking at the script pages in the end of the Absolute Edition, it seems to me that you’ve developed a system to work with Alan Moore, marking his text with different colors -- yellow for the main visual information, red for details and blue for the dialog. Anyway, what was your approach to the Watchmen script?
DG: Well, Alan’s scripts are always very wordy, very conversational, very much giving you options, very much talking around the subject, and, you know, giving you probably more information than you can ever actually use. So, one of the things you have to do is to take control of the script, and take from it what you need to draw it the way you see it. So, I found a highlighting was a very good way to do that. And also after a couple of readings I wanna do some thumbnail drawings, which meant by then I could transfer those to the finished art board, and I could letter in the dialog. And I was sufficient familiar with the story by then, I probably didn’t have to look at the script again, I didn’t have to read three dozens of pages to find out what I had to draw. So, yeah, in many ways my part was one of selection.
WS: Watchmen is a complex realistic super-hero comic book, a award-winning work that many people consider to be the best graphic novel ever created. My question is: what was your main challenge creating the book?
DG: Ahn… Well, I suppose it is the challenge, as a comic book artist, you always have, that is to tell the story in pictures. And in this case it was a very detailed, very complex, very rich story, with lots of nuance, and requiring characters to be draw in different ages, in different locals. So, it really tested my drawing skills, and my ability to pick characters consistently believable, my background symmetry, dimension of real. And really, you know, just an exaggerated version of what the challenges will be on any other book.
WS: Reading Watchmen cover to cover we have this feeling of a complete 360° reality. You are of course a very skilled artist, but it’s amazing how the 400 pages plus of the book have always this coherent look, with the moody colors by John Higgins. How did you manage to achieve that coherence in such length work?
DG: Well, again is like the answer to the last question. Really what drawing comics is about is achieving coherence, making things consistent, and never pulling the reader out of the story by drawing something that doesn’t fit. I mean, I did… Again, in my book Watching the Watchmen you can see diagrams, plans, schematics of things like the perfume bottle falling through the air -- after Lauren has thrown it on Mars -- to make sure that the movement was consistent, and that it moved believably against the fix background of stars. Probably not a work that anybody will notice, but nevertheless something that in a subliminal level it does give that feeling of somewhere that actually exists or something actually happened. There was a British comics called Dan Dare -- science-fiction strip -- where they actually had the time and the budget to build models and everything, and when you read that you really felt that you were seeing something drawn from life, you know these incredible things had been drawn from life. And although I drew Watchmen in a stylized way I wanted it to have that internally consistent feeling. And, you know, when you are drawing comics you are translating reality into code anyway, and to my way of thinking the best comic artists are people like Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko, who clearly don’t draw realistically, but who have a consistent code for interpreting reality. So, that is the kind of thing I tried to do when I drew Watchmen. And, as you say, John Higgins’ colors are amazing, and certainly he had a great trouble to keep those consistent, and very much relate to what was going on in the book… in the story rather. Sometimes, you know, he had already colored something, before he realized it had to be colored in a different way. But fortunately with the Absolute Edition he was able to address those concerns, and make the coloring finally completely consistent.
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