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The comic man cometh | Dave Gibbons

One of the most enduringly in-demand comic book artists working in the field today, Dave Gibbons – best known for his groundbreaking collaboration with Alan Moore on the cult-classic mini-series Watchmen – speaks to us ahead of his participation in this year’s edition of Malta Comic Con.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
10 November 2012, 12:00am
Dave Gibbons got his start in comics with the British anthology 2000AD, before being catapulted to fame with Watchmen in 1986.
Dave Gibbons got his start in comics with the British anthology 2000AD, before being catapulted to fame with Watchmen in 1986.
Does the legacy of Watchmen still haunt you? How would you describe the effect that particular mini-series has had on your career, especially with the film having been released in 2009, and, more recently, DC's prequel series Before Watchmen?

I'm replying to this on the day after Halloween, so 'haunted' is a well-chosen verb! But despite that, I wouldn't say Watchmen has haunted me, in fact it has benefited me greatly - and when my obituary is finally written, I'm sure Watchmen will appear in the first lines. But yes it's certainly done me no harm, it has sold a lot over the years, and my connection with it has opened many doors for me.

Speaking as a fan, however, I'm just really pleased that Alan and I managed to do something notable within the medium, and that we've created something many people have gotten such pleasure out of.

And obviously the release of the film has had a beneficial effect on the sales of the graphic novel, so if nothing else, at least it's ensured that a lot of people have gotten Alan's words and my pictures in their hands and been able to enjoy them when they otherwise might not have done. And I don't think it's a bad film by any means, I think it's actually a pretty good film. So, no complaints!

READ MORE: Watchmen – Film Review

Watchmen by Dave Gibbons

Watchmen – Gibbons's breakthrough.

You are one of the many British creators who have cut their teeth on 2000AD before making big in America. What was it about that working environment that helped foster so much talent?

I think the thing was that it arrived at just the right time. There was a whole generation of us who grew up reading comics, and wanted to do it as a career, which was kind of unique because up to that point, people saw comics as just a kind of stop-gap job before they went on to write their own novel, or became a fine artist or whatever. 

But we were the first generation that really wanted to do comics for their own sake. And I really think we arrived at the right point... I've been working professionally for two or three years, but I was still young and full of energy, and wanted to change the world, and 2000AD was the perfect outlet for this.

The fact that it's still going strong after all these years is a testament to the energy it always had, which is due in no small part to its editor Pat Mills, and John Wagner, whose work on Judge Dredd has remained popular for all this time.

The Originals by Dave Gibbons

The Originals: Gibbons's zany sci-fi re-imagining of 60s 'mod' culture.

Your career spans many decades. What would you say is the secret to your enduring success, given how frequently the industry has changed ever since you first jumped aboard?

I just try the best I can to draw stories the way I want them to. I mean, things go in and out of fashion, but I think that good storytelling and accessible art that can appeal to a wide readership will always be there. And I think I can be quite versatile as well - just compare my work on 2000AD with Watchmen, or Martha Stewart with The Secret Service... I make sure that my art evolves to suit the project. 

What's the key difference between working on established titles - both superheroes and film properties like Alien and Predator - and more personal projects like Martha Washington and The Originals? Would you be more invested in the latter, and do you view the more commercial work as a purely professional necessity?

No, I greatly enjoyed having  a chance to work on Batman, Superman, Dan Dare, Doctor Who and so on... but once you've played with all the toys in the toy box, as it were, then maybe you start thinking it's time to create stuff that's your own (this was certainly true in the case of Martha Washington and The Originals). Also, with properties increasingly being spiralled into various media, owning your own characters is becoming an even more essential thing. Another aspect to working on other people's 'brands' is that if you do it successfully enough, you become a brand in your own right, and after you achieve a certain amount of fame doing that, it might make sense to exploit what you own and have a large degree of control over.

Did you have to adjust your working methods in any way for the iPad and iPhone comic book Treatment? How did it feel to work on something for this new platform? Do you think this is the future of comics?

Because of other commitments, I didn't do actual artwork for Treatment, but I scripted quite a bit of it. The process itself was quite interesting because I remember sitting down to write 'page one, panel one' but then I thought: hang on, there are no pages! So I just had to get used to working with this new system, a more 'movie-like' way of working - you have all these possibilities open to you, so you start thinking in terms of timing, sound... and it's a very exciting area of comics to go. I believe comics are moving in this direction... whether the 'print purists' like it or not.

2000AD work by Dave Gibbons

Juvenilia: Gibbons started off at 2000AD, the enduring British anthology.

What advice would you give to aspiring comic book artists?

Well first of all you have to genuinely love drawing it, because you'll be spending many hours doing it. Be sure to learn how to draw... I myself wish I had learnt more thoroughly, as I'm kind of self-taught.

You don't necessarily have to go to art school, but be sure to give yourself a solid grounding in anatomy and perspective. Watch movies, read books, read comics - go back to the classics, things which seem to be new tricks often go back decades.

Go on the internet, get your work seen and do your best to be published in print. I once heard there are three important qualities to keep in mind if you're a freelance artist (and they're well worth following): be good, be reliable and be a nice person. And if you can be any two of those, you will have a career.

READ MORE: Comic book legends head to Valletta | Malta Comic Con 2012

Are you looking forward to Malta Comic Con? What kind of vibe are you expecting?

I'm looking forward to it very much. I agreed to come because I've already been on holiday to Malta a couple of times and I like it very much - I like the country, the culture, the people. I'm expecting it to have a nice, intimate vibe.

Having been to the big American 'Cons this year - in San Diego and New York - I also visited a small Italian village called Tarni, which had a really nice, 'human'-scale convention, where my wife and I were very well looked after - and I'm expecting a similar atmosphere in Malta.

I'm also looking forward to meeting the fans: it's always instructional to meet fans who come from a different country and culture and to get their perspective on your work. I'm also looking forward to weather that's a bit warmer!

Malta Comic Con will take place over December 8 and 9 at St James Cavalier, from 10:00 to 18:00. Tickets for one day are at €10, €15 for two days. Children under 11 enter for free. For more information log on to: http://www.maltacomic-con.com/.


teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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