Get Under the Hood of Watchmen…
Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons gives his own account of the genesis of a graphic novel masterpiece in this spectacular dust-jacketed hardcover. Follow Dave as he delves into his personal archives to reveal excised pages, early versions of the script, original character designs, page thumbnails, sketches, posters, covers and rare portfolio art. Featuring the breathtaking design of Chip Kidd and Mike Essl, this is the unparalleled inside story of a landmark in graphic novel history. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? We do!
Dave Gibbons Interview
Titan Books: What can fans expect to find in Watching the Watchmen?
Dave Gibbons: Lots of sketches, lots of notes, lots of previously unpublished artwork. There are some finished and semi-finished pencil pages that were never inked, there are some frames that I redrew, there are rough versions of covers, there are color guides, there are costume designs, there are pages of script, pages of proposal, thumbnails, various portfolios that were done, bits of merchandising, watches, badges, lead figures, all kinds of stuff that even surprised me when I discovered it! You’ll also find my commentary on it, which is very much my story of the beginnings of Watchmen, the creation of the comic and what later became the graphic novel and a really nice piece by John Higgins about what it was like to be involved with the creative team. The book is designed by Chip Kidd, working with Mike Essl. Anybody who loves this kind of behind-the-scenes scrapbook will realise that Chip is the perfect guy to be designing it. He happens to be a huge Watchmen fan so I’m really looking forward to the way he dresses it all up.
Was it a strange experience looking back into your archives and how do you feel you’ve evolved as an artist since drawing Watchmen?
It was kind of strange; I kept everything from the time, put it into boxes and folders and hadn’t looked at it in quite a while. I was surprised at how much I had kept. I have the actual envelope that the first script arrived at my house in; that’s kind of a strange artefact but interesting. And a plastic bag that Archie Goodwin wrote on. So there was stuff there that I just don’t know why I kept but I’m really pleased I did. I hope the fans will be pleased that I did as well. I think by the time I came to do Watchmen, I’d worked out pretty much the way I drew and my talent and my limitations. Watchmen was very well tailored to my particular skills; I’ve always liked a lot of detail, a lot of clarity in drawing and storytelling. Things I’ve done since haven’t been quite so obsessive in detail, although I think the attention to detail is still there and certainly as the years progressed, drawing does become in some ways easier and in some ways harder. I’ll leave that as a rather gnomic, Zen statement!
How did you first become involved with Watchmen?
I’d known Alan for a while and we had tried to get things off the ground with DC and hadn’t really succeeded. Then Alan finally broke into DC with Swamp Thing and I guess I must have heard on the grapevine that he was doing a treatment for a new miniseries. I rang Alan up, saying I’d like to be involved with what he was doing. He said ‘Oh, yeah great’ and sent me the outline for it. Then I was at a convention in the US and asked Dick Giordano, Managing Director of DC at the time, point blank whether I could draw this thing Alan was writing. He said ‘How does Alan feel about that?’ I said ‘Yeah he’s fine with it’ and Dick said ‘Yep, OK, it’s yours!’
How did you come up with the character designs, and are any of the final versions drastically different from the original sketches?
I suppose I went on the descriptions that Alan had provided. I did some rough roughs and later went on and did some more finished roughs. I can’t remember any great difficulty with it and I can’t remember any versions I did for it that were drastically different from what I finally came up with. I knew that I wanted them to have a classic superhero feel but be a little bit stranger. I wanted them to have a sort of operatic look…an Egyptian kind of a look to complement the story.
Were there any ideas/drawings you wanted to put into Watchmen that had to be cut due to creative or pacing issues?
Alan and I would talk in great detail about what would go into each issue and if there was anything that either Alan or I wanted in there. Any drawing that I felt would work, I would mention it to Alan and he would either find a way to accommodate it or I’d come to the conclusion that it wasn’t such a good drawing after all. We were very focused when we did Watchmen, we knew what the story was and everything we came up with was working towards a certain end. It wasn’t like an ongoing series where you evolve characters or come up with new looks for things. We stuck very closely to the original drawings and the original synopsis.
Is there a panel or page in Watchmen that you’re particularly proud of?
Watchmen was about the telling of a story so I’m proudest of the panels and pages which tell the story the best. I think of the panels in the first issue, the silent sequence where Rorschach is in The Comedian’s apartment, looking through the wardrobe and the draws and things like that are good. I’m very proud of the way that works without any dialogue. I suppose some of the intersection drawings at the end and some of the bigger pictures took a bit of drawing but work quite well. The picture where Rorschach and the Nite Owl are climbing out of the Owl-Ship that’s bobbing around in the harbor are particularly poignant because the twin towers of the World Trade Center are in the background. I think it’s the sequences of events, the way that we go through something happening, which stand out to me as proudest moments.
Watchmen is set in an alternate 1980s. Do you feel the themes in the book are still relevant today?
Well, uncannily so. It’s not a Cold War that we’re involved in now but there is the same kind of threat of destruction and the same kind of exercise of American foreign policy that we talked about in Watchmen. I think because we also set Watchmen in an alternate 1985, it’s not rooted entirely in the fashions and the objects of that time. So there was universality in the themes that Alan was writing about. It’s interesting to notice how much cars these days look like those electric cars we came up with for Watchmen, the things that haven’t got a huge engine compartment.
Are there any artists both past and present that you take inspiration from?
Well it’s the list of usual suspects. I won’t mention artists working today of whom some are quite magnificent, but really my style evolved out of my love for the Mad Magazine artists like Wally Wood and Will Elder. British artists like Frank Hampson, Frank Bellamy, Don Lawrence, Ron Turner I like a lot too. Looking at 1960s comics, Steve Ditko has a huge thumbprint on Watchmen. I think illustrators like Noel Sickles, Norman Rockwell and Dean Cornwell are great too. They led into people like Alex Raymond and Hal Foster, who were the foundations of what has evolved into today’s comics.
Time Magazine placed Watchmen on its list of the 100 Best Novels. When creating the book, did you have any notion of how successful it was going to be?
There wasn’t any question in those days of Time Magazine taking any real notice of comics other than to be condescending towards them. So it’s a great thrill and we’re very proud to be placed amongst that list. I think ‘best’ is always a little bit of a difficult word though, how do you judge what is ‘best’ in an absolute sense? Certainly when Alan and I were doing the book, we were trying to do something that we would enjoy and that we felt other people who had our kind of taste would enjoy. In the course of doing it, it came to our attention that people were raving about it and eagerly awaiting the next instalment. That gave us some inkling that we weren’t wasting our time and that all the effort that we were putting into it was being repaid by people’s interest. I don’t think we had a clue that more than 20 years later, people would still be talking about Watchmen. Or that a fabulous new edition would be done and sold at a high cover price and indeed that the graphic novel itself would still be in the top 30 graphic novels in any given month. It does seem to have become one of the staples of the medium, which as a lifelong fan of the medium, I find very gratifying and it does still give me a thrill.
Watching the Watchmen Bookmarks
7/27: 09:00 - 17:00
Watching the Watchmen Panel
7/26: 11:00 - 12:00
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