In early 1998 I was thrilled to snag Dave Gibbons to be the feature interview for Meanwhile…‘s second issue. It was only a quick conversation by email but I was still elated to have the co-creator of Watchmen appearing so early in the life of my little web ‘zine. It was also pretty cool that Dave was working with Will Eisner and Kitchen Sink Press to bring back one of my favourite comic strip characters of all time, The Spirit. And, boy, did they bring him back!
This interview was only the third that I had ever done and it is pretty evident looking at it now. There’s a coldness to an email interview if you don’t know what you are doing and, while I’m still pretty jazzed that I was able to run a piece with Dave, all I can see is its brevity and all the missed opportunities. The questions unasked and the follow-ups lost to not wanting to rock the boat. In hindsight, I think I would have pursued a little more back-and-forth just to flesh the piece out a bit.
I think Dave might have scared me a little bit with that last answer, though.
Ten years ago, Dave Gibbons, with collaborator Alan Moore, helped redefine how people looked at ‘comic books’ with their ground-breaking maxi-series, Watchmen. While not as prolific as some creators, he has collaborated on many critically acclaimed works, and has been paired with some of the most respected creators and characters in the field. Most recently, Dave has once again teamed up with Alan Moore to chronicle the all-new adventures of Will Eisner’s masked vigilante, The Spirit.
MIKE JOZIC: What was it that first sparked your interest in comic books?
DAVE GIBBONS: I think I wanted to know for myself what the characters were saying in nursery comics my parents would read me.
JOZIC: Was 2000 AD and Rogue Trooper your first professional comics work?
GIBBONS: The first thing I got paid for was a page of lettering I did on lunch break from my ‘real’ job. The first drawing work was an obscure British one-off called The Dead Are Awake and Walking!
JOZIC: How exactly did you come to work for DC Comics?
GIBBONS: DC VP’s Dick Giordano and Joe Orlando came over here headhunting after they’d seen 2000 AD and Warrior.
JOZIC: Were you a fan of Green Lantern previous to your working on the series?
GIBBONS: I bought the book as a kid. The first issue I bought was around #7, though I later filled in the early issues and had the whole run, including Showcase, ending with the final O’Neil/Adams issue.
JOZIC: At the time, the changes in the title were considered pretty sweeping. Did you have any say over what went into each issue story-wise?
GIBBONS: I was a little disappointed that GL was essentially an earth-bound soap opera during my year’s run. I’d have liked to focus more on the ‘galactic policeman’ aspect. Len Wein pretty much set the direction, but I did have input into a couple of the plots.
JOZIC: After your time on Green Lantern, you moved on to Watchmen with Alan Moore. What was it that attracted you to the series?
GIBBONS: Alan and I had enjoyed our small-scale collaborations in 2000 AD and had come up with some ideas to pitch to DC. In the meantime, Alan had started on Swamp Thing and DC asked him to come up with a treatment of the Charlton Comics heroes. I heard about this, Alan sent me a copy and that was that!
To answer your question directly, we wanted to do something together and this was the perfect opportunity. Little did we know…!
JOZIC: It’s been roughly ten years since Watchmen first hit the stands and people still find it to be cutting-edge and relevant. How does the work stand up for you?
GIBBONS: I can just about look at it objectively after ten years and I think it stands up very well. There are things I’d like to have done a little better, of course…
JOZIC: Were there any plans to do a special anniversary reprinting of Watchmen like we just had with The Dark Knight Returns?
GIBBONS: …there’s…an idea in the air that we might do a CD-ROM version of it, with all the opportunities that gives. We’re both up for it, as long as the integrity, in the true sense, of the original isn’t compromised.
JOZIC: In retrospect, does it feel like you’ve helped change the way people look at comic books?
GIBBONS: Never really thought about it like that. It’s clear that Watchmen will always merit a mention in any history of comics and I’m enough of a fan to get a kick from that!
JOZIC: Enough history, let’s get on with some new stuff! So how did you get involved with Judgment Day?
GIBBONS: Alan sweet-talked me into it! I had no idea who any of the characters were, then…
JOZIC: Will you be contributing any interior work to the series or are you just sticking to the covers?
GIBBONS: Originally, I was to have done one or some of the flashback sequences, but time didn’t allow.
JOZIC: You said somewhere that after doing the covers you now have all of the characters in your skull and you could draw them with no problem even though you may never have to again. Are there any plans right now to do any more projects for Awesome?
GIBBONS: No. But I like Supreme…
JOZIC: Was your decision to take the assignment affected at all by the hubbub surrounding Rob Liefeld right now or did you look at it as an opportunity to work with Alan again?
GIBBONS: It was just a favor to Alan. I have no interest in Rob Liefeld’s affairs.
JOZIC: A lot of people are hyping Judgment Day as a reunion of sorts for you and Alan, but the offer to do The Spirit for Kitchen Sink Press came first, did it not?
GIBBONS: Yes. In a way, I regret the Judgment Day work, or rather the disproportionate capital that Awesome made from it. The Spirit stories are the real thing!
JOZIC: So, what’s it like to play in Will Eisner’s sandbox?
GIBBONS: Will is very kind, but it’s kind of scary. Nevertheless, we enjoyed it and I hope that will come over to the reader.
JOZIC: Are there any more Spirit stories in the future for you? Maybe even writing a few?
GIBBONS: With Kitchen Sink in such a state of flux, I can’t say. If things have settled down, as I believe, maybe the talk of me writing and drawing one, or some, will come to pass.
JOZIC: Is there a preference for you between drawing a project or writing it?
GIBBONS: That’s a bit like saying do you prefer pizza or beer! I like both, depending on the project.
JOZIC: You don’t often illustrate what you yourself write. Is this primarily due to time constraints or do you prefer to collaborate?
GIBBONS: No, it’s fear! I wanted to establish, in my own mind if no one else’s, that my drawing wouldn’t be selling my writing. Now I’m more certain of that, I really should be writing and drawing the whole shebang. However, the chance to collaborate with Alan Moore or Frank Miller is a great disincentive to do so! I’ve got a couple of short one-offs for Vertigo coming up that should get my toe in the self-determination water again.
JOZIC: Throughout the years, you’ve been a part of some spectacular collaborations. Is there anyone you haven’t worked with that you would like to?
GIBBONS: I’ve been very fortunate. I tried to get something going with Stan Lee, but it fell through. He’s probably the last of the legends that I’d kill to work with, but there are so many wonderful writers and artists around today that I’d hate to exclude any of them!
JOZIC: When you’re not redefining your art form, whose books do you like to read?
GIBBONS: I’ll let the compliment pass with just a gracious ‘Thanks!’ I enjoy lots of people; again I wouldn’t want to inadvertently exclude any of my favorites. [José Luis] Garcia-Lopez is probably the most under-rated of my must buy list, though.
JOZIC: Who are some of the major influences in both your art and writing?
GIBBONS: Most of the EC artists – particularly the Mad crew- most of Julie Schwartz’s stable from the ’60s, most of the Eagle artists, a whole slew of magazine illustrators and science fiction writers…and real life, of course.
JOZIC: You’ve done a lot of non-comic book work – like the Beneath a Steel Sky CD-ROM and the Kula Shaker album cover. How did you get involved with these projects?
GIBBONS: The Steel Sky developers wanted some of the attention to detail and pacing that they’d seen in my work. As for Kula Shaker, they asked the design agency for ‘someone like Dave Gibbons’!
JOZIC: What’s a typical workday for you?
GIBBONS: I like to start around 9.00 am and finish around 6.00 pm. I don’t like working nights or weekends. I find writing more exhausting than drawing, and pace myself accordingly.
JOZIC: Are there any characters you haven’t worked on that you’d love to take a crack at?
GIBBONS: Only my own. I’ve pretty much played with my favorites in the toy-box, although I used to love the Fantastic Four.
JOZIC: What’s the one thing you want the world to know about Dave Gibbons?
GIBBONS: That there are plenty of things I don’t want the world to know!
JOZIC: Any parting thoughts?
GIBBONS: Interviews over-emphasize the ego.