Dave Gibbons drew Watchmen over 20 years ago, and now he’s collaborating on the film adaptation of his seminal comic creations. We, and several other reporters, sat down with Dave and talked about the experience at this year's Comic Con in San Diego.
There’s been talk about this for twenty years. Did you ever think it would finally get done and done so well?
Gibbons: Probably not done so well. To me, it’s never been a thing like, “Oh my God, I wish they’d just make a movie of Watchmen. If they just make a movie of Watchmen my life would be complete!” It’s much more like having a ticket in the lottery that might come up and you might win a fantastic prize or a very small prize or a booby prize. I’m really pleased. And there’s been an element of serendipity, coincidence, and timing. And it seems to be that this is the good time for it to happen.
And Zack Snyder happens to find himself in the right place to do it properly. And with something like Dark Knight which is to me in spirit is really very like Watchmen and they ask some difficult questions. You come away thinking about what you’ve just seen. I think its timing is fantastic.
I would also say that I’ve never really been particularly involved in the previous attempts of ideas to make it into a movie. My mum used to call me up having read something in tabloid newspapers saying, “Oh, David! They’re going to make a film of your comic. And it’s very good! It’s that funny Monty Python man.” So I’ve never been involved, I haven’t sat in the sidelines wishing for it to happen. But if it is going to happen, and it is going to happen, I’m glad that it’s being done well.
Dave, one of those things people don’t talk about anymore probably because I guess they take it for granted, is how different the industry, the comic industry was when you made this comic.
Could you sort of talk about the experience of going out on this limb, that nobody had ever done before. Did you feel like it was a ballsy thing at the time? I’m sort of curious of where you’re coming from.
Gibbons: I don’t think when we did it we had that kind of standing back reflectivity about it. Alan [Moore] and I have known each other by that point, probably five or six years and had worked on stuff together for English comics and a few things. For American comics, maybe not at that time. And we knew we liked working together. And we just [said] “This is great! Let’s do something together.” And it played to my strengths, I could draw in a way that would play to what Alan wanted to do and it kind of went like that. It didn’t feel ballsy. They just let us do what we wanted to do. You could say it was ballsy on DC’s part. But not ballsy enough to let us get a hold of the Charlton Characters and kill a few of them a long the way. But got, more or less, carte blanche. We did it like a cottage industry; Alan wrote it, sent me the scripts, I drew it. My friend John Higgins, up the road came down and colored it. We sent the whole thing to NY. We designed the covers, we did everything. So I’d have to say it was pretty ballsy of DC. We just loved doing the kind of comic we always wanted to read.
How different would it have been if you’d had the Charlton Characters? Would it resonate in the same way?
Gibbons: No, it wouldn’t. It would have been worse because on some level we would have been tied to what we knew of the continuity. And I’d have been trying to draw it like Steve Ditko, you know? So it was completely liberating. What we could realize is what the Charlton characters were the archetype hero characters. There was the Superman, there was the Batman equivalent. There was the masked psycho vigilante. There was the gorgeous woman. So it was actually very liberating. We got all the basic toys. We can put them together anyway we like.
Did you have a favorite of any of your Watchmen characters, design-wise?
Gibbons: Well, somebody’s asked me about the very beginnings of Watchmen, what was the original journey? It was an idea for a story Alan came up with when he was still fourteen, you know how you make up stories. And that’s where that gem came from. The only character that Alan couldn’t readily come up for a name when we got rid of the Charlton characters was the character that turned out to be Nite Owl, and that was actually a character that I made up when I was about 14, and actually the costume that the Golden Age Nite Owl’s got is the costume I drew when I was 14. So, I guess he’d have to be my favorite character, because of that. Makes me feel warm and fuzzy, you know.
Dave, what do you think about the fundamental idea that this is a comic that deals with New York and American superheroes? Everybody knows about Jerry Schuster being displaced from where he was. How was it when you got the script in your head and you were drawing it? Did you envision, putting it to paper, that here is an idea that’s wholly American but written and drawn by Brits?
Gibbons: Well, yeah. The thing about America to Brits is that it’s always been like this kind of fabulous far off country like Byzantium or Cathay. Even something that you take for granted like a fireplug or one of those water towers on a New York roof like Steve Ditko used to do. And it’s like the outsider can always see things, I think, more clearly than the person who’s actually in the thicket. And a lot of British culture has been second hand American culture.
We’ve often bemused we need to ban American comics, ban American movies. Have our own movies. Just like the French do. Inevitably, Alan and I grew up reading American Comic books in the same way you did. So it’s like a shared culture. But I think the fact that there was something accessible about it to us, perhaps if only in names and things, the kind of ethnic names that you have in the USA that we don’ t have in England because it’s been settled long ago. We have more of the Millers and Smiths and Browns. None of these really European names, so that the whole thing had a richness to it that I think we conveyed hopefully.
What do you think about in terms of where the world climates gone since 1985 up until now? And knowing that you have that piece of fiction out there knowing its still relevant today, especially with the way we are questioning our government, questioning so many things. Vigilantes kind of thrive when there is no real order, so as you look back at how life played out, what do you think about your piece of fiction as its compared to art imitating life in a sense?
Gibbons: Do you want the short answer? (chuckles) I suppose we were reflecting what was happening at the time and in the eighties there was a lot of paranoia about the Cold War and was it going to escalate and what would happen if it did how fragile our society was, how very little would have to be done to completely wipe away everything that we had. And that was very real to me and Alan when we did it. And that’s receding a bit. And there are new fears of mass destruction, of terrorist attacks.
So I think that paranoia is always going to be there. It’s about paranoia, that whole “who watches the watchmen” is an expression of paranoia. Because you’re aware of where it comes from? When the Roman army was going to war they were worried about their women at home. And the Spanish said, “We’ll appoint watchmen to take care of your women.” So the question then is, “Okay. Who watches the watchmen? They’re watching the women, who’s watching them?” So it’s all about paranoia. And I think that still persists, this ebb and flow.
I think probably there was a time in the 1990’s when there was Glasnost and a year or so in Russia when it all seem rosy and then fundamentalists, terrorism went off again. So I think there area always going to be those concerns. I think it’s a very bold thing that Zack has set it in the eighties, kept it in the eighties. Because I think that gives it a kind of a timelessness that it wouldn’t have if it was very contemporary.
7.31.08 Source: WatchmenComicMovie.com
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