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Exclusive interview with Dave Gibbons

September 21, 2017

Exclusive interview with Dave Gibbons

Comics giant Dave Gibbons, best known for his work on Watchmen, has created a new book in collaboration with acclaimed writer and editor Tim Pilcher. This book is How Comics Work, an authoritative guide to how comics are made. With hundreds of previously unpublished illustrations, notes, and rough drafts from throughout Gibbons' career, this book is as nostalgic as it is contemporary. Here, Tim Pilcher interviews co-author Dave Gibbons about the new book and his comics career exclusively for Wordery:

Tim Pilcher: Looking back over your career what was the most helpful advice you were given when starting out?

Dave Gibbons: That’s a difficult one, I can hardly remember that far back! I think what was impressed on me was that work had to be in on time, and I’ve always found deadlines are my friend as they help concentrate the mind. It gets you actually working rather than just thinking about a project. Weekly deadlines were a particularly hard school for that, but they served me well.

I’ve often said you to either need to be a) a genius, which means you can get away with anything! b) reliable and c) a really nice guy. If you can be any two of those three you stand a reasonable chance of making it as a comic artist. Hopefully, starting out, I got the work in on time, and was a nice guy, so that made up for any lack of genius!

TP: If he hadn’t gone into comics what would the Dave Gibbons on Earth-2 be doing now?

DG: I’d be the super-powered saviour of the universe, of course! No, I started off as a building surveyor and if I’d been a little more focussed and upped my game at that point I would’ve become an architect - that would have been a pretty good marriage of my love of art and of technology. You’re also dealing with other people and making things in the real world and I always found that rather attractive. So, yeah, Dave Gibbons, Associate of the Royal Institution of British Architects (RIBA).

TP: Looking through your archives did you discover any surprises that brought back any memories?

DG: Loads! I was absolutely gobsmacked at some of the things I’d kept. There’s a Starsky and Hutch story which I only have the vaguest memories of doing and I’m amazed I still have the roughs for that after all these years. There were lots of surprises, and what I genuinely like about the finished book is that there are bits of work I did at various stages in my career, and they’re either good, or they’re bad, or they’re inexperienced, or they’re rushed, or they had more time spent on them - so they are genuine documents, rather than things I’ve created specifically for this book, which might have been more polished and finished, and drawn with all the skill I have nowadays. So I think the main surprise was how much confidence I had back when I didn’t have quite so much expertise!

TP: There’s over 240 previously unpublished drawings in the book, is there anything that you wished we could’ve squeezed in?

DG: Flicking through the book I’m amazed at the variety in there. I suppose there’s always a favourite page, or something that might’ve illustrated a point very well, but I like the idea that they were more your choice, although we discussed them together. It really helped to have your objective eye, rather than my very involved eye. So I’m very happy with what’s in there.

TP: What do you hope readers will get out of How Comics Work?

DG: Well, I hope they’ll understand how comics work [laughs]! I think it’s a book that hits on several levels. It’s not a “how to draw” book and it’s not a book about anatomy, or composition, or perspective - although it touches on all of those things - I think it gives you are really good overview of what it’s like to work in the world of comics, and what the various stages behind the scenes look like. Things like the mind maps and the index cards, that no one’s ever seen before (apart from me in the process of creating), and I think that will be of interest to people. And there’s hopefully a sense of enthusiasm that comes through from both of us. It’s not a dry manual about something really boring that we’re begrudgingly sharing our hard-won wisdom. I think it’s pretty clear that we both love comics and hopefully that transmits to the readers, whether they have any aspirations to make comics or not. And I hope we’ll get general readers drawn into a field that perhaps they don't know that much about.

TP: How have comics evolved for you personally, and as an industry as a whole, and what do you think lies in store for the future?

DG: I came in at the tail-end of traditional comics, the weekly rag that every kid would get, that had been a staple of childhood since the 1930s. But that was coming to an end [in the late ‘70s/ early ‘80s] and the hobby of collecting comics and fandom was starting to emerge. So the newsstand was in decline, but the comics for the fans and the aficionados were growing. Nowadays, most major towns have a comic shop, but when I was a kid I had to cycle round from newsagent to newsagent in the hope of finding some comics there. 

The Internet has changed comics hugely, and the fact that you can live anywhere in the world and do comics. There’s no restrictions for someone living in the Home Counties working for a publisher in New York, or Mumbai, or Sydney. The whole world has opened up. And computers have also changed comics production, right from word processing for scripts and editing, through to creating artwork digitally, through to delivering it digitally, and right up to being published and read digitally. As for the future, I’m sure more and more comics will be devoured digitally and there are some very interesting developments in the field of motion books and augmented and virtual reality. However, I think there will always be that strong individual vision that goes straight from the mind of the creator to the mind of the reader without too much mediation.

  • How Comics Work cover
    How Comics Work

    A masterclass taught by Britain’s first Comics Laureate, Dave Gibbons, this is the most authoritative guide on how comics are made today. Written in collaboration with award-winning writer and editor Tim Pilcher, this unique guide takes you through each stage of the comic’s creation process

    View Book

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