Friday, 19 November 2010
Dave Gibbons Q&A
What first prompted to you to move into the worlds of graphic artistry? Were you a fan of comics yourself when you grew up? Did you have any particular favourites? Did you base your style on a mixture of others artists work that you admire?
I really just always wanted to draw comics from the first time that I saw a comic, I just thought they were so good. Such a great way to get an idea over more interestingly than a single picture. You could actually take up somebody’s time with a comic strip. You can get them to look at one picture, and then another picture and another picture and have a narrative effect. I don’t know that I would have put it into so many words but I just thought the fact that you could tell a sequence of events with pictures was great and obviously very economic. You only needed a pen and some paper which fortunately in my house growing up there were lots of pens and paper so that was pretty simple. I had my first Superman comic when I was about seven and probably I’d seen the Eagle even before that and certainly the Beano and the Dandy and kind of nursery comics. I loved the Eagle, I liked the Lion, they were the weekly comics, I liked the wall picture library comics. Once I started to see American comics I loved Mad magazine which was reprinted as comics when I was an impressionable young age and then the imported American comic books, all the Julie Schwartz edited ones…Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League, Mystery in Space, Strange Adventures, Fantastic Four and those kind of stories. And I suppose inevitably you base your style on artists you admire. I loved Frank Hampson’s precise way of drawing, there’s another guy call Ron Turner who used to draw a thing called Rick Random, a space detective, whose designs and brushwork had a huge effect on me. And also from America people like Wally Wood and Will Elder who did work in Mad comic. Generally I think when you’re at an impressionable age you soak everything up like a sponge.
Your first big break was in the first issue of 2000AD, can you tell us something about how that came about? Was your work on Harlem Heroes good practice for what came next?
2000AD had been working for three years or so professionally and it came along at a really good time when a whole load of us who had grown up as comic fans were ready to get going. We were young enough to be enthusiastic and old enough to have the experience necessary. People like myself and Brian Bolland, Mick McMahon, Kevin O’Neill and various others…we were in the right place at the right time. Basically I worked through an agent and one day my agent took me over to IPC and introduced me to Pat Mills who was the editor and everything kind of went from there. The first I knew about it was when I bumped into Mick McMairn, he lived in the same town as me at the railway station and he had a bunch of pencils and paper under his arm. He got to know because they had done an article about me in the local paper and the paper under his arm was the very first Judge Dredd episodes so I knew there was something going on and I’m not sure if I said to my agent that I wanted to be involved in this. It wasn’t very long before being aware of 2000AD than I was actually being signed up for it. They had difficulty finding somebody to try and draw Harlem Heroes the way they wanted, they wanted a clean line superhero look which I was able to contribute. A lot of the other artists they had got had done it in a slightly more clunky kind of way. I guess my love of superhero comics and the fact that I had been drawing a character called Powerman who was like Superman for Nigeria obviously meant that I had the necessary skills set.
Tell us your thoughts on Dan Dare, your artwork for the comic and your love of the original series. You were the most prolific artist for 2000AD contributing artwork for 108 of 131 issues. Do you have any particular examples you are especially proud of?
It was a great thrill to get Dan Dare. It was somewhat of a disappointment that I didn’t have much input into it, it was pretty much a fait accompli by the time it was handed to me. I would have incorporated a lot more of the elements that I loved as a kid. Nevertheless it was a good experience to be associated with that character. I was pretty prolific back in those days, I had just got married and I really needed the money to pay the mortgage! There was a great excitement about 2000AD and I loved to be in it every week. Its weird I’ve been getting these phone book sized reprints and some of the bits I saw I had forgotten about. There was some good stuff but there was some other stuff I had to rush a bit to get it out of the door but I think it was very much a learning experience for me.
Do you remember your first Doctor Who strip? Tell us something about how you got the gig at Doctor Who weekly? Were you a regular artist at the time or did you work on various magazines/comics at the time? Were you a fan of Doctor Who or did you come to the show fresh when you started working on it?
I got a call from the editor up at Marvel UK and they wanted to start Doctor Who and the original idea that it would be pencilled in-house by Paul Leary who was the staff artist and that I would ink it in. I wasn’t very keen on doing that because it was only four pages a week and that wasn’t a complete weeks work, it would have given me some problems so I said I would like to draw the whole thing. Des said that would probably be okay. The other thing I suggested was that Pat Mills and John Wagner write because I knew as a writing team they had submitted stuff to the BBC which hadn’t been successful but they certainly did have quite a few Doctor Who ideas worked out and ready to go. So I got them on board and I think Des really like the coup of having got me and two of 2000AD’s top writers working on Doctor Who. When it went down to being a monthly I had to scrabble about and get some other work and I was able to do that quite easily, they were quite happy to give me work up at 2000AD. Was I fan of Doctor Who? Kind of in the way that most kids were, really to me William Hartnell was the Doctor and I vividly remember watching that in black and white when I was a kid an finding it really creepy. I wasn’t a huge fan of Doctor Who and I must say I’ve got the latest series stacked up on disc on my video recorder but I haven’t really watched any of them yet.
Who was easier to capture in print, the fourth or fifth Doctor? You helped to create the first Doctor Who companion, were you aware of the importance of Sharon at the time? If you could select two examples from the fourth Doctor and one from the fifth Doctor, which strips are you especially proud of and why? You Stockbridge stories have gone on to become some of the most popular Doctor Who strips, what do you think is their enduring appeal? Have you taken a look at subsequent visits to Stockbridge in the eighth and tenth Doctor strips?
Without a doubt the fourth Doctor if that was Tom Baker who was very distinctive; curly hair, big nose whereas Peter Davison was quite bland looking, fair hair, fair eyebrows…kind of a blamange! No disrespect to him but quite a difficult guy to get although after a bit of a disastrous experience without much reference they were kind enough to let us go and take pictures of him at BBC Centre and after that it was a lot, lot easier to draw him. I had a really good library of pictures. Sharon was a good character, Pat Mills suggested her and really interesting late down the line that one of TV Doctor’s gets a black female companion, I don’t know if that was inspired by what we did. I know the people working on the show were big fans of the comic books so…maybe. I really like The Iron Legion, that was a big favourite of mine and The Star Beast…both of the Pat Mills ones I really synched with Pat. I think those were two really strong stories. For the fifth Doctor I think the Tides of Time saga certainly gave us a lot of scope and I was able to try a few interesting graphic effects on that one. (The Stockbridge stories appeal): I think its their Britishness and I think there was a really interesting character we had, the kind of eccentric, dowsing Ufologist on his moped. It had a great sense of humour; Steve Parkhouse is one of the unsung talents of British comics. I haven’t really looked at the subsequent visits, I’ve probably glanced at them in the collections.
How much involvement do the various editors have in the artwork? How much of collaboration is the artwork?
Back at the beginning Des tried to give me some direction and let me know if he was going to accept it but as an artist you are employed for your vision and unless you’ve done something really wrong, say missed a character out or drawn something absolutely wrong. I like when I’m left alone to get on with the artwork, I think you get the best work like that rather than be micro managed. I always like to talk things over with the writer before I start drawing I think that leads to the best product. The writer has to do the writing and artists have lots of ideas but they don’t always fit with the story that the writer wants to tell and I’ve certainly discovered that since I’ve done some writing myself. I used to get a bit upset that I’d make suggestions to Pat or John and I’d get ‘Good idea Dave, but…’ but now that I write stuff myself I realise that even the very best idea in the world isn’t a good idea unless it fits the story you’re working on. The collaboration is usually that, you chat things over with the writer and you leave them to write and they leave you to draw it.
Since leaving the Doctor Who strip your career has rocketed. Can you tell us something of what you have been up to since then? Superman, Captain America, Watchmen, Star Wars, do you have a favourite comic that you have worked on. Can you tell us something about working with such iconic characters?
I was recruited from Doctor Who to go an work for DC and I started doing back ups for them and then I worked on the Green Lantern league strip and then I did a Superman story with Alan Moore and then I did Watchmen. Then I did various bits and pieces; some short stories for Vertigo, an original graphic novel called The Originals for Vertigo, I’ve written and drawn some Green Lantern stories, I did Marta Washington for Dark Horse with Frank Miller which is just finished and has just come out in a big fat collection which is rather nice to see it all in one place. I did a Star Wars set for them, Captain America…haven’t done much for Marvel, I drew a Dr Strange story which Walt Simonson wrote and I wrote a Captain America story which was beautifully drawn by Lee Weeks, it was kind of a ‘what if the Nazi’s had won the war story.’ Watchmen has been the Everest of my career I suppose and I got a lot of pleasure from doing that. It’s treated me very well since. That Superman annual that I did with Alan Moore Call for the Man who has Everything was a great chance to do the best character with arguably the best writer with arguably the best comic book editor. Certainly my favourite comic book editor, Julie Schwartz. That really was a dream come true. It’s very nice working with iconic characters but it’s a bit like playing with somebody else’s toy box. I think after a while you want to play with your own which is why I was really pleased to do The Originals and certainly anything I will be involved with in the future will be creator owned.
What do you think stands up as the best comic?
I really don’t know. When you’ve been involved with the creation of something quite often the thing you like the best is the thing you’ve had the best experience on and it came out the way you really wanted it. It’s very hard to say what absolutely is the best.
With the reaction that Watchmen has had you would have to go a long way to top that. I’ll sometimes do an odd cover and I’ll think that’s really good, that’s exactly how I wanted it to be, I’m really very proud of that.
And what is on the horizon?
I’m working on a little creator own thing for Dark Horse a short episode of a fragment of an idea that I’ve got. I’m working on a computer game for Revolution Software which I’m really looking forward to, we’ve re-released some of there stuff on the I phone which has done very well and this is again for Casual Games. I’ve also got some ideas in development with some other writer friends of mine. I’ve had a kind of a fallow year since Watchmen but I’ve got a lot of things bubbling under. I met up with Mark Miller the other day just to confirm we are on course to do a creator own series between us. Hopefully all this stuff will be out in 2011.
Dave, thank you very much for your time.