(Dave Gibbons)

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



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