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Talking With Mike Essl

The “ultimate companion” to the comics masterpiece, Watching the Watchmen is award-winning artist Dave Gibbons account of the genesis of Watchmen.

In it, Gibbons opens his vast personal archives to reveal never-published pages, original character designs, page thumbnails, sketches and more.

Recently, we had the privilege of interviewing Mike Essl, one of the designers tasked with bringing the colossal book to life.

How did you come to work on the book?

Originally Dave Gibbons approached Chip Kidd to design the book, but at the time Chip was busy wrapping up Bat-Manga. I think Chip mentioned this to Licensed Publishing editor Steve Korté at DC comics and Steve recommended me.

I've been lucky enough to work with Steve and fellow Licensed Publishing editor John Morgan at DC for a few years now, and I know Chip from a show of his work I curated at Cooper Union in 2006. I think I said yes before they were finished asking me if I wanted to do it.

Watching The Watchmen

What was it like working with Dave Gibbons? Did he come into the project with how he wanted the book to look, or did you collaborate on the design?

Dave was great to work with. He didn’t make any specific design requests in the beginning, which freed us up to experiment. Chip suggested we start with the opener, so we designed that first, showed it to Dave and he was onboard after that. Dave really helped out with sorting out the art, and confirming that our selections matched his text.

With all of the wealth of images and information on Watchmen, how did you decide what to put in and what to leave out?

We tried to include it all. The only time we really edited was when we could put more color in the book. (Selecting the color versions of something over the inked version, etc.) We actually ran over by a few pages and Titan helped us out with an extra signature.

The images in the book of Dave's early sketches and art are displayed in a very raw form with no adjusting or formatting. Why?

Scanning the images would take away all the warmth and detail, and wouldn't communicate that this is a collection of materials and objects. It also shows process, which is what the book is about. Also when you show the entire page, you can see one idea evolve from sketch to sketch. We also wanted the look of the book to be different than the Absolute edition, or the upcoming movie books.

Watchmen Colourcast

What was the biggest challenge in creating a book like this? Is there anything that you wish made it into the book that had to be cut?

The hardest part is finding the book in all the materials.

There is a spread in the book where we show how Dave planned how the perfume bottle would spin against the position of the stars. I had no idea what that was. And finally after looking at the material for weeks and weeks I realized it.

Also, after reading about how detail-oriented Dave is, I was so paranoid I would make a mistake. A few days ago I caught one mistake, but I'll never tell what it is.

What's your next project and when can we expect it to be released?

My studio, ME/AT, is about to design a book about the artist, and inventor of the Joker and Robin, Jerry Robinson. The author is N.C. Christopher Couch and it will be released by Abrams in Fall 2009/Spring 2010.

1.15.08 Source: WatchmenComicMovie.com

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