Dave Gibbons started out drawing for comic publications in Great
Britain - notably 2000 A.D. and Doctor Who
Weekly/Monthly. DC came calling in the early 1980s, and set him to
work on projects such as Green Lantern and the famous
Superman story, "For the Man Who Has Everything." But it was his
collaboration with Alan Moore on the groundbreaking Watchmen
for which he has become the most famous, and though Moore has publicly
distanced himself from the recent film adaptation, Gibbons remained an
enthusiastic supporter from the get-go. He's even produced a book,
Watching the Watchmen, which recounts many of the behind-the-scenes
aspects of the graphic novel's production. He recently sat down for an
exclusive interview with the Sci-Fi Movie Page to talk about his
experience with the movie and the creation of the original book.
Question: Can you talk a little bit about the process
of putting Watchmen together? The steps you and Alan Moore took when you
were creating it?
Dave Gibbons: Alan and I had known each other for
four or five years, and we'd collaborated on stuff for 2000 A.D.,
the English science fiction weekly. We wanted to do something more
substantial, because we had a really good working relationship and we
seemed to be on the same wavelength. We tried to get a few things off the
ground with DC and eventually Alan started writing
Swamp Thing for them, which he did
wonderfully. I'd heard through the grapevine that he was doing a treatment
of some characters that they'd bought from the Charlton Comic Company,
some rather second-string heroes. I spoke to him about that, and he sent
me the outline he'd written up, and I loved it. He thought it would be
just the thing for me to draw, and I mentioned it to DC, and they said
"fine," and we were off to the races.
However, that very quickly changed, because DC didn't
want us to murder and mutilate these characters they just paid good money
for. So they asked us to come up with new characters, which was a
wonderful liberation, actually, because the Charlton characters were kind
of archetypal. What Alan and I were able to do was come up with even more
finely tuned archetypes of these characters, through which we could
explore lots of different facets of the costumed hero. We also had some
time to do that; we didn't have to hit the ground running. We had a few
months where we could kick ideas about. So we honed and refined these
characters until we got them just right. Once we'd done that and cleared
our other commitments, we'd speak on the phone for hours, then Alan would
go and write the script. I'd draw it and I'd get John Higgins to color it,
and we'd send it off to DC.
That was one of the important things about it: we were
kind of left alone by DC. We were in a bubble in England, and we would
just send them the finished thing. That was one of the strengths about it:
it was our vision. That's one of the strengths of the movie as well.
Because Zack had just done 300, which
was unexpectedly successful, I think he was trusted by the studio to bring
his unadulterated vision to the movie. It's not done by consensus, it's
done by personal vision, and I think that's very much to its benefit.
"I based The Comedian loosely on Groucho Marx!"
- Dave Gibbons
Q: Do you ever use actors or specific people as the
basis for the characters you draw?
DG: I based The Comedian loosely on Groucho Marx,
with the mustache and the cigar. He's that kind of comedian. But I don't
draw them in the sense that I look at a picture of an actor and use that
as a template. When you're drawing a character, if you have a cloudy,
misty version of how they might walk and move, you can go from there. But
they're more jumping off points than they are attempts to cast a
particular character. It can be important with drawing because you are
setting a specific image of the characters in the viewer's head. With
straight writing, it's based solely on the reader's imagination, but
artists catalyze it into a specific form. That's why character design is
very important, and why it meant so much to have the time to design
Watchmen's characters properly. They all have their own silhouette. A lot
of comic book characters are the same square-jawed guys, but we really
wanted to make our figures distinct.
Q: Can you expound upon some of the quiet changes in
the film? How did you react to them?
DG: You have me at a slight disadvantage because
I haven't actually seen the final cut of the film yet. I saw a rough cut
back in August. There are changes towards the end of the film - the
MacGuffin, the gimmick is different. I'm quite happy about it, actually. I
think it has the same effect. It leaves you with the same sense of
ambiguity and the sort of unresolved resolution which was the hallmark of
the graphic novel. Scenes have been omitted, as they have to be, but I
think it's a very clever and intelligent amalgamation of other scenes, new
scenes put in. I particularly like the title sequence. It conveys an
amazing amount of information, and I think it makes the audience feel
smart. The little touches it adds. So yes, there are some differences, but
the important thing to me was that the texture and the meaning of the
whole thing remained completely intact, even if some details in particular
scenes have been changed.
Q: The journey of this book to the screen has been a
long one, and at times a very painful one. How closely did you monitor its
progress through the years?
DG: We conceived of
Watchmen as a
graphic novel; it being made into a movie wasn't something we desperately
longed for. It wasn't like, "this won't really be important until it's a
movie." We were happy with it as a graphic novel. The movie thing always
felt a bit like having a ticket in the lottery. Your number may come up,
it may not, you may win a big prize, you may not win any prize at all. So
I've never been anxious about it being made into a movie. And because of
the contract that Alan and I signed, there was no reason for anybody to
tell us what was going on with the movie. For the most part, they didn't.
We both met Joel Silver way back in the early 90s. Alan met Terry Gilliam,
and they had a brief and inconclusive talk. I didn't know anything about
the Paul Greengrass version, though I happened to speak to David Hayter
whose script survived to the final version. It wasn't really until Zack
Snyder that I became involved or had any connection at all. It has been a
torturous process, but I think it's been worth it. I think this is the
right time and that Zack is the right director.
Q: I'd agree, although some part of me will always
pine for the Terry Gilliam version we'll never see.
DG: We can only imagine. You can get a sense of
it, given Terry Gilliam's incredible vision. I have the hugest respect for
him as a filmmaker. At the same time, his filmmaking process would have
gone on forever. And I don't think the audience then is what the audience
is now. The audience now is very familiar with superheroes and the idea of
graphic novels. They can accept what's going on in Watchmen without
feeling lost or requiring an explanation.
Q: Do you feel a sense of connection to other
superheroes you've drawn and written about, or to movie or TV versions of
them, such as Judge Dredd or Green Lantern?
DG: Well I only actually drew one Judge Dredd
story in my life, but I think what happened with the Judge Dredd movie is
what hasn't happened with Watchmen. Watchmen has a very strong cast, but
they're not overly familiar faces. So it's not like Sylvester Stallone or
Tom Cruise walks in and unbalances the whole thing. I certainly feel a
great sense of ownership over Watchmen, and I think I would have been
heartbroken - as Alan has been heartbroken over previous versions of his
work - if it wasn't up to snuff. I feel really lucky that this has been my
first real experience with Hollywood, adapting characters that I've been
closely involved with. I just feel very grateful that it seems to have
been done right.
- Rob Vaux