A couple of weeks ago we posted the first part of an extended interview with comic book artist and Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons. (You can read Screen Rant’s SPOILER-FREE version of part 1 of the Dave Gibbons interview here.)
And now, for your reading pleasure, Screen Rant presents the abridged, SPOILER-FREE versions of parts 2 and 3 of the Dave Gibbons interview, in which he answers fan-submitted questions about the process of first creating Watchmen, and the mysteries still surrounding the Watchmen lore. It’s quite an interesting read, check it out:
Tiffany Ngo: It is often noted that you and Alan Moore were among the first few interested in pursuing serious careers in the American comic book industry. What do you find attractive about the American comics industry…and have you experienced conflicts and controversies within the industry similar to those Alan Moore has had?
Dave Gibbons: When I was growing up, I loved American comics…The first ones of those that I saw just…blew me away…there was a real magical quality, this sense of being an artifact from a fabulous alien civilization that attracted me to them. I know that was so for…Alan Moore as well…so we were really exposed to quite a wide cross-section of comic art.
In the early seventies, 1973, I went to New York to one of the early comic book conventions and took my samples up to DC and Marvel…Then I worked in British comics for ten years or so…And then amazingly, America came calling. Dick Giordano and Joe Orlando from DC came over here and invited various others whose work they’d seen…and they offered us jobs freelancing for DC…and I’ve worked for DC on and off probably ever since. More than 25 years now. So it’s funny how things happen. They came for me, rather than me coming for them…
As far as Alan was concerned, he and I actually tried to do stuff with DC, after I’d been working for them…I actually got a call from [Watchmen editor] Len Wein asking me for Alan’s phone number because they thought he might be able to do something with Swamp Thing. So that was how Alan ended up working for DC. Again, they came looking for him.
“Have I experienced conflicts and controversies within the industry similar to those Alan Moore has had?” Well, probably not similar to those Alan has had. I think you have to respect the fact that Alan, Frank Miller and possibly very few other people are in possibly a different league than most of us who work in the comic book industry…I think the pressures on him and the conflicts that he’s been put in have been in a slightly different league than a lot of the rest of us.
Having said that, to me, it’s just like another day at the office…I try not to take things personally, I try to always communicate if I’m unhappy with something. I have had discussions with DC. Always polite, always to-the-point…But then, it’s to say that I haven’t the pressures put on me that I know Alan has from time to time.
Craig Baillie: Watchmen presents an extremely layered approach in the way it is illustrated. There were many hidden smiley faces, clocks approaching midnight, and other visual puns in the background of many of the comic’s panels. Was all of that preplanned, or did you go back to make adjustments to previous panels in order to get those things in there?
Dave Gibbons: There is a lot of layering and again, that’s great fun to do. If you can strike a chord or hit a rhythm, that’s quite a nice thing to do in a piece like Watchmen.
The similarity of the clock face and the smiley face became evident quite early on and indeed, the exact angle of the blood splash does relate to the clock ticking up to midnight. And then, various things would occur to me, where I think “Why not just make that into a smiley face motif? Why not have something hidden that the readers can get a kick out of when they see it?”
…There’s one actual appearance of the smiley which until it was pointed out to me, at the very end of drawing the whole series, I didn’t even realize was there! That’s the plug on the spark hydrant, the electric hydrant, where if you look at it, the two slots where the plug goes into and the thickness of the thing at the bottom, the thickness of the recess actually makes itself into a smiley face as well. So, there’s stuff in there that even I didn’t plan that the Powers That Be put in there.
As for going back to make adjustments to previous panels, I’m afraid we didn’t have the luxury of doing that…When we came to do the Absolute Edition, I did make one adjustment to the artwork. There are also some continuity errors in there which not many people have noticed, but things that I’m aware of that were tempting to be changed, but I’ve resisted that temptation because once you start changing things, you’ll be doing it for the rest of your life.
Will: How much Christian symbolism in the comic series was intentional? Is the back of Adrian’s chair at Karnak a Star of David, or just a stylized Masonic square and compass?
Dave Gibbons: I’m not really aware of there being any Christian symbolism in there. Certainly, I didn’t attempt to put any in there. I don’t think that Alan suggested any…As far as the back of Adrian’s chair…yes, it is reminiscent of a Masonic symbol…
Jeff Davidson: Which character from Watchmen was your favorite to draw and which was your least favorite? Have you ever redesigned or redrawn any of the characters or costumes in your private time?
Dave Gibbons: Wow. Well, I tried to design the characters so that they were all fun to draw. I’ve worked on some stuff where the characters are being designed by other people and I really haven’t liked the design. And it’s a real pain, day in and day out, to have to live with a character who you really detest the look of.
…If I had a favorite character to draw, anybody out there who’s ever gotten me to sign their Watchmen trade paperback or whatever knows that…the one that I’ll draw is Rorschach…“Have I ever redesigned or redrawn any of them in my private time?” Well, I’ve sort of drawn them enough that I have done odd little doodles where I’ve done funny versions of them, just to keep myself going…But no, I’m very happy with the designs that I spent time coming up with in the first place and I’m happy to stick with them.
Tony: Were there any panels or pages in Watchmen that were particularly tricky to draw?
Dave Gibbons: Many of them. Many of them were tricky to draw. I mean, if it’s not tricky, in a way, where’s the fun in it?
I certainly had to know what I was doing as far as composition was concerned, because there were a lot of elements in some of the pictures to put in a very small space…So I would say it was all tricky to draw, but I enjoyed doing it.
Lawrence Rocha: We follow the Comedian’s descent from happy-go-lucky Edward Blake to a sort of sympathetic psychopath. All of this is accompanied by the changes in his facial features. Why did you and Alan Moore choose to showcase his inner state through the violence which causes his face to change as his story goes by?
Dave Gibbons: I think it’s almost inevitable that people change as they age…One of the challenges of drawing the Comedian and a lot of the other Watchmen characters is we do see them change with time…With the Comedian…Because he’s rather a vain man…it’s like “No, no, not the face!” So we see him getting scratched by Sally Jupiter when he attempts to rape her and then he gets his face cut open by the pregnant Vietnamese woman in the bar with the broken bottle. Then of course, the blood ends up across his symbol, which is the smiley face. And so that was a recurring motif, which I think gave the character an extra dimension.
I suppose another thing that occurs to me is that it’s said that peoples’ characters are shown in their faces…I think that’s an effect that you’ve identified there…So, good call. I think what you’re talking about there is a good example of that.
Sean B.: Amongst the more intense fans, there is much debate over the specifics of The Comedian’s murder. Some people seem to think that he fought back, while others feel he just gave up…Is there a definitive answer, or is the reader supposed to draw their own conclusion?
Dave Gibbons: I think what you’ve got to remember is that the Comedian, when we see him at the time of his murder, is quite a lot older…not as strong as he once was…I think he puts up a fight…I don’t think he willingly dies. But I think he reaches the point where he’s seen it coming. I think he says as much to Moloch and I think he knows his day has come.
There’s an Arabic saying that “Until my day comes, nothing can harm me and when my day comes, nothing can save me…”
Christian Cogan: There’s a question I have always wondered about…why is Dr. Manhattan’s skin blue? Was it just a stylistic choice or was there some deliberate story-related reason why you chose that color?
Dave Gibbons: Actually, Dr. Manhattan is not the only blue character that I’ve created the look of. I co-created a character called “Rogue Trooper,” who appeared in the British weekly comic 2000 AD, and he had blue skin. Rather reptilian skin.
I like blue because it kind of reads the same kind of tone as skin…but looks completely different from it in its hue. I think it also relates to the way you might visualize electrical energy or atomic energy. That it’s a kind of blue, pure energy. A cold energy, unlike fire or flame, which is what a red color would make you think of.
That was really why I chose blue. I think I just came up with the color and Alan incorporated it in the story… blue was the right color for him. And it worked very well with the colors of the costumes of the other characters…So I think for that reason, it worked.
Steve H.: In the scene where Rorschach is holding Nite Owl’s hand on the Owlship for just a little too long, were you and Moore commenting on the character’s sexuality, just trying to show that he’s lonely, or something else?
Dave Gibbons: What it was really about was like an embarrassing moment. It was like Rorschach, not really being very much of a social animal, didn’t know quite how long to hold on when he shook somebody’s hand. It was actually holding on too long.
I’m sure we’ve all met people like that, who maybe stand too close to you, or speak too loudly or too softly, or who touch you inappropriately — not in a sexual way at all — but there’s just something about how you deal with people in a social or an intimate situation, that if you’re not practiced at it, you can easily just go wrong.
AYBGerrardo: We’ve all heard that you have seen Zack Snyder’s rough cut of the movie. How long was it? Were you pleased with what you saw? Was there anything that you weren’t particularly thrilled about?
Dave Gibbons: I’ll try and answer this comprehensively and clearly because I know that people have been very concerned about reports that have come back about the movie…
I have seen the rough cut of the movie. I saw it the Tuesday after the San Diego Comic-Con, in Burbank in California. I was at the same screening as Kevin Smith and his buddy…Zack was there with his wife Debbie…It was what they call a “friends and family screening,”…[long pause] What can I tell you…Many, many of what I think are the best scenes that we did are in there.
Some scenes aren’t. The cut that I saw didn’t have the “Black Freighter” material in it. Although…this is being produced and, for all I know, one time will be integrated with the rest of the material.
[pause] There are scenes in the movie that weren’t in the graphic novel. And when you think about it, this is inevitable as well…sometimes you have to amalgamate stuff. This, I think, has been done very successfully in the Watchmen movie…I don’t want to give any spoilers. I don’t want to say anything that’s going to be misleading. Not that anybody at the studio or anybody connected with this has told me anything I must or mustn’t say.
I really enjoyed it as a movie…It was a long movie, I think the cut I saw was about two hours and fifty minutes…And I enjoyed every minute of it. I could have done with more of it. I mean, as you can appreciate, I’m unique in all the world sitting in the dark watching this…So many of the images in there are the essence of what I saw in my head when I came to design scenes based on Alan’s script. So, there was a really, rather dreamlike and surreal quality to it.
The film is very rich. It moves backwards and forwards in time, just as the graphic novel does, so each time period is very clearly delineated and very clearly identifiable, which means there had to be huge attention to set dressing and cars and costumes and hairstyles and music, all those kinds of things. A lot of almost subliminal things that you don’t really realize are necessary to set something in its correct time.
All of the performances, I really enjoyed. I think all of the actors made their characters come very convincingly alive for me. I wouldn’t want to pick out one over anybody else, but I don’t think there’s a weak performance in there…
…It is very violent and it is very sexy…It isn’t a violent sex film, it just happens to have those amongst the other elements, just as the comic book did. In that respect, it’s very, very true to the comic book. It undoubtedly deserves an adult rating, and certainly there are some very brutal scenes in it, and – as you know, from reading the graphic novel — things that you don’t normally expect heroes to be doing.
“Was there anything I wasn’t particularly thrilled about?” Yeah, I started to get an uncomfortable feeling in my bladder about an hour from the end, but I managed to overcome that. Funnily enough, the first time I got the chance to say anything to Zack after I’d seen it was when we were both in the men’s room, having made a run for it. I wanted to shake him by the hand, but it wasn’t really appropriate.
…I did give some extensive feedback…But even in that rough state, I really, really enjoyed it. It was unlike any movie that I’d seen before. It did have that richness, it had that sense of sweep across time and across space as well, going from the forties up to the eighties and from New York City to Antarctica to Mars, and a kaleidoscope of characters major and minor. I really did think that it is an experience and a kind of a movie-going experience that hasn’t been… experienced before [chuckles].
I can’t wait for everybody to see it…I really can’t wait to get feedback on it…
So rest easy. Rest easy…I really don’t think you’re going to be disappointed. I certainly wasn’t.
Nathan: So many other directors have tried to make a Watchmen movie. Have you ever met with any of them? Were you invited by any of them to consult on their films?
Dave Gibbons: I did meet Joel Silver, way back after the graphic novel I think had just been released as a graphic novel. Alan and I met Joel and Jeanette Kahn, who was then publishing DC Comics. We had lunch in London and we talked about the movie. Joel was just… he was like a Hollywood movie guy from central casting. He was loud, enthusiastic, rather brash… not quite talking about the same thing that Alan and I were talking about when we talked about Watchmen. But we had a cordial lunch and we concluded it as friends. He suggested, memorably, that Arnold Schwarzenegger should play Dr. Manhattan…
Anyway, that was the meeting with Joel Silver, and then, the movie got passed around a little bit. Terry Gilliam, at one point, was in the frame to direct it. I know that Alan met with him briefly, I never had the chance to meet him. So really, until Zack came on board, I hadn’t really had a lot to do with the movie adaptations of it. My mum, when she was alive, used to read me snippets from the tabloid newspapers. You know, “Oh, the Monty Python man’s making a film of your comic! Oh, that’ll be funny!”
But once Zack got on board… I actually introduced myself to him at the premiere of 300 in London and immediately hit it off with him. The guy was very enthusiastic. I knew from the very beginning, seemed to me to completely get Watchmen. And since then, I’ve consulted… I suppose quite a lot. I was shown an early draft of the script and asked to comment. I have done a little bit of production storyboard for him in the form of drawing sequences in the style of the comic — and having them colored by John Higgins — that hadn’t actually appeared in the original graphic novel, because he wanted to see how we would have handled them if they had. Which I think shows a commitment.
As you know, I got to go to the set and see a couple of scenes being filmed…Do believe me, everything that I’ve said about attention to detail and everybody’s commitment… I’ve got my hand on my heart, it’s absolutely true. It’s not blowing smoke at all. It was quite staggering to see how much everybody was into it and how much they were using the graphic novel as a shooting script and a bible.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
Wow. That is a pretty glowing endorsement. Makes me feel like I can trust that swell of heart and soul I experience every time I watch that latest Watchmen trailer. Will March 6, 2009 just get here already so I can see this flick?
When you’ve read your fill, let us know what you think–do you believe Dave Gibbons’ assessment? Or do you remain skeptical that a Watchmen movie can ever rise to the exceptional heights of the graphic novel?