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Gibbons Galore

Last week we ran part one of a two part interview with Watchmen co-creator, and friend of, Dave Gibbons.

In part one, Dave gave us his final thoughts on the movie adaptation of his classic work, and in this week's part two, he talks about some of the other projects he has his hands in lately including his work on the re-release of Beneath a Steel Sky for iPhone and iPod Touch, an upcoming project he has with Mark Millar, what comics he's read recently, and much more.

So, here you go, part two of my gripping interview!

With Watchmen it seems you've sort of been bit by the Hollywood bug. I know there's been some rumors about a film adaptation of your work Martha Washington with the possibility that Rosario Dawson might play Martha. Are any of your other comics creations in film development or has it all been just talk?

Dave Gibbons: As far as Martha Washington's concerned, it really is just speculation. In fact, strangely coincidentally, one thing that I hope to do when I'm briefly in New York this weekend is to meet up with Frank Miller because we need to talk about Martha. I let Frank deal with all of this because he really is the man who knows Hollywood much better than I do. I'm not aware that anything has been signed or "inked" as I believe they say in Hollywood.

The thing about Rosario Dawson was actually that someone asked me "Who would play Martha?" and I just kind of said "Well, I know Rosario Dawson's a big favorite of Frank's and she'd make a great Martha Washington." As far as I know, nobody's talked to her about it so it’s purely internet speculation, but it may well be that once I've spoken to Frank that we'll have a slightly clearer idea of where we might want to go with it.

Martha Washington

As I've said often on these press junkets, I think that comic books don't have to be made into movies in order to be legitimized and I'd be quite happy if my things just remained as comic books. I think if you can have them made into a movie and it can be done well, then it really helps comics as much as anything else. As you may be aware, we sold hundreds of thousands of copies of the Watchmen graphic novel as a result of the movie, which has led people who wouldn't otherwise be in comic book stores into comic book stores and has led them to pick up other stuff that Alan's written and hopefully other stuff that I've drawn. Alan and I have both shared in the success of that. In principle, if it can be done properly, with the correct control and with sympathetic creative partnerships, then I'm pretty happy about movies being made out of comic books.

Another rumor floating around is that you might be working on a project with Mark Millar. Is there anything official along those lines you could discuss?

DG: We talked about that for quite a while and because we didn't have anything definite figured out, I was restrained from saying anything about it. But as you might be aware, Mark's an even bigger publicity guy than I am and he unveiled the fact on his website that we'll be doing something together as indeed we are. The only thing I know about it so far is the title and I don't really think I'm going to tell you what the title is because it may change, basically. It's always very difficult when things are in this kind of embryonic stage. If you say too much, you can kind of ground them too much too early.

But the story that Mark tells about is that he wrote me a fan letter when he was about 16 or 17. I was considerably older and at that time I'd been working professionally for a while. Apparently, this fan letter was to try to convince me that I ought to draw this script that he'd written. I have absolutely no memory of this, but apparently, I sent him back a very gracious letter and a drawing and he's never ever forgotten that. So I guess this collaboration, certainly from Mark's point of view, has been a long time in the making.

And I do love Mark's work. I must say that Ultimates was one of the comics that I would get the guy in the local comic book store to call me about whenever a new issue came in. I also love what he did on 1985 with Tommy Lee Edwards. I'm really looking forward to working with him and we're due to meet later this month to sit down and hammer out exactly what we're going to do, for whom and how we're going to do it.

Beneath a Steel Sky is sort of a cult classic video game you worked on and now I hear that you'll be working on a sequel or an updated version of that video game. Is that true?

DG: Beneath a Steel Sky I worked on a long time ago, maybe fifteen years or so, with a friend of mine called Charles Cecil, who runs a company called Revolution. It was something that I did after Watchmen the first time around and I really enjoyed the collaborative nature of working in video games, at least with those particular guys. I did designs for it, created characters, I had input to the storyline, and it was a really satisfying experience. And just recently, they've been converting it for the iPhone and they got me to do some new graphics for that and they've also animated a comic book that I drew way back when, rather in the style of the Watchmen Motion Comics. We've done a little teaser animated sequence on it as well that can lead into a sequel.

Dave Gibbons artwork from Beneath a Steel Sky

Depending on the success of Beneath a Steel Sky on the iPhone and other formats, we'll hopefully then move ahead and do a sequel to it. Obviously, we're in a different world now, but the thing that I love most is to collaborate with creative people and I've had a chance to do that with them. I think it's an interesting new arena to be in, this arena of handheld devices and the kind of synergy between comics and movies and games and so on. Hopefully, I'll be pursuing that over the next couple of years as well. What I'm hoping to do is have a few things going at the same time and what order these things are going to appear in, I'm not sure yet.

I also found out that you are involved in the Digital Artists 2009 Awards as a judge. Can you tell us something about what that is all about?

DG: Sure. This is a joint venture between Intel, who makes computer chips as you know, and Future Publishing, who publish a lot of computer magazines over here and a lot of computer graphics magazines, and they've got this competition going. I think the deadline for it is now past, but it's basically inviting digital artists to submit their work with a view to winning an award and being able to showcase their work.

As you know, I've always been a huge evangelist for using computers to do comic book art and it was great to be asked to be kind of a spokesman and ambassador for this and it means that I get to look at some wonderful entries and I get to do some judging as well. It's just a way to point people toward the wonders that you can perform these days with a computer. I've used computers since about 1992 to do comic book artwork and in the beginning, the people who knew how to draw couldn't work a computer and the people who could work a computer couldn't draw. But now, it's become so much an everyday tool with so many artists and it's a tremendously liberating thing that I increasingly use.

I still draw stuff with pen and paper, but it's amazing how much stuff is done digitally nowadays. Once you get over the kind of obvious things you can do with a computer and make it part of your regular, natural creative workflow, it can be a tremendously positive thing both in time saved and ability to explore possibilities. So yes, I was very happy to be part of the movement to raise the visibility of digital art.

Well, now I have to ask you the pressing question: Is Dave Gibbons a Mac or a PC?

DG: Well, it's got to be a Mac, hasn't it? I mean, a Mac with an Intel chip, obviously. But I've used Mac since I started and although I can drive a PC, very much my weapon of choice is a Mac and a Wacom Cintiq Tablet. I really love Manga Studio for drawing comics in, so that's my kind of dream set-up which works very smoothly for me. I'd recommend it for everyone.

And after that plug and this interview gets out, you won't have to pay for any of that stuff. You're gonna get a big box from all those companies.

DG: Well, I have to tell you that I don't pay for Manga Studio or the Wacom Cintiq tablet anyway!

Alright, then!


DG: Also, Apple Computers has been host for several talks that I've done and they've been quite generous to me as well, but I'd still say those good things even if I didn't get the goodies, you know that.

Absolutely. I've got Mac here and I've got a Wacom tablet — one not as fancy as yours, but I'm with you on that — I'm on your side.

DG: Good.

There's something else I read, and I don't know if there's any fact to this, but apparently the typeface Comic Sans was derived from your lettering in the Watchmen comic?

Dave Gibbons

DG: Yes. That is absolutely true. It was a very strange admission for the designer to make. I mean, I'm not a litigious kind of person and I haven't researched the question of copyright on such things, but the guy who worked on Comic Sans for Microsoft said quite recently that he based it on my handlettering and also that of John Costanza, who was one of the first credited letterers with work he did for DC Comics in particular.

On the one hand, I'm flattered because it's nice to know that my work is so widely seen. On the other hand, it's such an appalling-looking font. I did also read that, apparently, it was originally only done for internal use at Microsoft and they hadn't intended to release it, but I wish they just released my handlettering, or even better, John Costanza's handlettering because Comic Sans is so ugly and you do see it everywhere. The major sin about it that really bugs me is that it only includes — as far as I know — the uppercase I, the one with bars on the top and bottom, which as you know, you only use in comics for the first-person pronoun. You don't use that I in the middle of words, so that's the thing that particularly burns me about it. I haven't instructed my legal team yet, but if I had a cent for every time it's been used, then who needs Hollywood, you know?

But the thing that did please me was that we have a very venerable old established comic in England called "The Dandy" and that's been going for 75 years. I picked up a copy a little while ago and the whole thing is lettered in my handlettering font. They'd obviously bought the font from Comicraft and they now letter the whole comic in it! They do still commit the sin of using the uppercase I in the middle of words, but I was so thrilled to see that I've now taken over this great institution of British comics.

But no, there are so many much better handlettering fonts around that I think to use Comic Sans is a great shame for all concerned.

I think I do have some of those Comicraft fonts, because not being happy with Comic Sans, I did some research to find a font that did match Watchmen. You're sort of known for your lettering in Watchmen and I think a lot of people don't believe it's actually done by hand.

DG: Actually, it was quite a crucial thing to the way Watchmen turned out, because if I hadn't done the lettering, it wouldn't have had the same kind of graphic integrity that it's got. If I'd had to guess spaces and leave spaces for lettering, it wouldn't have been so seamlessly done as it is. The fact that I could actually letter the pages and re-adjust the drawings to fit meant that the composition of things was exactly nailed down and there was none of that approximation you get when the lettering is added after it's drawn. The fact that I cut my teeth and actually found my way into comics professionally by doing handlettering certainly paid off when it came to Watchmen.

I couldn't possibly imagine the section where Adrian does his entire monologue with all of the text that Alan gave you… if you weren't lettering that, I don't know how you could possibly have drawn it.

DG: Interestingly enough — and as I say, every word that Alan writes is gold — but that was one sequence where I called him up after the script arrived and said "Alan, this won't fit." Not only wouldn't it fit space-wise, but Adrian also wouldn't be able to say all of that in the time that the fight took. So Alan said to me [in an Alan Moore voice] "Dave, you're right. I thought that as well. Leave it to me, I'll rewrite it." He then proceeded overnight to rewrite it to say exactly the same things in almost exactly half as many words. Which, again, shows you what a wonderful writer he is, because the soul of comics is brevity and conciseness and he certainly was able to make some very complex sentences very much simpler the second time around. So that's a very memorable sequence on a couple of levels.

Compared to all the others you've worked with, how easy or how challenging was it to work with Alan Moore?

DG: It was actually very easy. I had to do a lot of hard work, but I've never minded doing hard work if the result is worth it. When you draw comics, you have to fill the page up with something and the most annoying thing in the world is to have a script that's been kind of tossed off, done without much care or thought. Because you have to spend four or five times as long, or if it's a really quickly-written script, ten times as long as the writer actually drawing it. And if you're not sold on it yourself, it's really difficult to draw because you feel like you're trying to gold-plate crap. With Alan, I'd always feel that this script is so well-written that I have to give it my best shot. It's always been really inspiring for me to work on Alan's scripts because he puts so much thought into it and so much care and craft that it inspires me to put an equal amount of thought and care and craft into it.

But although he would always write a very definitive final script, we would talk at great length before he did that and he would always be very happy to have input from me, talk things over, to hear my concerns, to expand on things I suggested or reject things which I really didn't like. After that, he would take charge of it and write the script and then I would take charge of it and draw the pictures and make it all fit and work graphically. The best collaborations are like that, where you can be very giving and flowing at the appropriate point, but when it comes down to it, you then buckle down and do the best you can individually with the material. And that's why I'd much rather work from a full script that someone's thought about very carefully than work Marvel-style, which appears to be more collaborative but actually isn't. I feel it's a much more approximate way of working and a much more hit-and-miss way of working where at any given point, nobody's actually quite got both their feet on the ground.

Do you have a wish list of comic writers that you would like to collaborate with? People working right now that you've read their material and thought, "If they called me up and said 'Would you like to work on something with me?', I'd jump at that chance?"

Dave Gibbons

DG: I'm lucky enough to have a very long wish list with ticks next to most of the people on it. I've worked with Alan [Moore] and with Frank Miller, I've worked with Stan Lee, I've worked with Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, all these incredibly talented people. As far as artists are concerned, I've written stuff for people like Mike Mignola, Steve Rude and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. So I've almost worked my way down my wish list. As I've said, I'm really happy to be doing something with Mark Millar. I'd love to do something with Ed Brubaker, I love his stuff. There are so many great writers out there today that to list any leaves a whole lot off. But Ed Brubaker certainly has threatened me that we will be working together at some point, so that's a threat that I feel quite happy to have been given.

One final question: As a comics aficionado, what's Dave Gibbons reading now?

DG: Ah, another one of those on-the-spot questions which if I'd done my research, I'd have half a dozen really worthy things that I could say. But I'm sitting here, looking at my bookshelf and as I've recently tidied up my studio, I can actually see the books that are on it. I'll just reel a few of the recent ones that I've been reading off, if you like.

I really love a graphic novel called Alan's War, by Emmanuel Guibert, which is kind of a biographical memoir of World War II, published by First Second. I'm looking forward to reading his next book, called The Photographer, which I've got on the shelf but haven't read yet. And I greatly enjoyed David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp, which was out a month or so ago. It's an incredible book. It's something I'm going to have to read a couple of times because it's so dense and it really is a great graphic novel in the true sense of the word.

I've also got some collections of old British war comics, these little war digests they used to do. The collections have names like "Let 'Em Have It" and "Against All Odds" and "Aces High" and I love that stuff, which I used to read as a kid. I've also been reading the collected Harvey Kurtzman Humbug which Fantagraphics just brought out. They've also got out a really wonderful new collection of Prince Valiant, which has been good reference for when I've been writing the "Kamandi" strip that Ryan Sook has been drawing in Wednesday comics. Those are the few books I can see in front of me at the moment, so that gives you a flavor.

10.13.2009 Source:

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