Dave Gibbons: looking back on the Watchmen movie

The graphic talent behind Watchmen talks to us in an exclusive interview about nearly two years of involvement with the Watchmen movie, and possible new projects...

Dave Gibbons

Ahead of next week’s release of Watchmen on DVD and Blu-ray, I had the chance to chat with Dave Gibbons, comic artist and co-creator of the landmark graphic novel. Unlike Alan Moore, the writer who has asked for his name to be removed from any big screen version of his comics work, Gibbons was an early advocate of Zack Snyder’s adaptation, visited the film set, and appeared in many interviews during the lead up to release. He also penned the lovely coffee table book Watching The Watchmen, a personal, retrospective look at the book’s genesis and publication, to coincide with the film.

Now that time has moved on, and the hype has dissipated, we spoke about Watchmen, and how it has grown after repeat viewings, as well as Gibbons’ crazy, jet-set year of promoting the film, the experience of having one of his creations adapted to screen, and his latest work – namely his contribution to the currently ongoing (and brilliant) Wednesday Comics project, Kamandi.

With the Watchmen DVD coming out in the next week, it’s a good time to take stock, and have another look at it after it was released at the cinema. In your case, you were very involved in the pre-release interviews, and the production. I was wondering whether, a few months down the line, you have any different perspectives on it.

Yeah, I mean, I have seen the movie several times, from seeing a rough cut of it last year to the most recent time, which was in a wonderful old cinema called The Rex, in Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire, which is like a 1930s cinema that’s been done up, and I actually watched it with an audience of ‘civilians’, as it were, and they thoroughly enjoyed it. I also saw it at the IMAX, and again I was amazed at how much people who were clearly unfamiliar with the source material enjoyed it.

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I also recently saw an extended cut of it, which had all of the animated Black Freighter material in it, for the purpose of doing a DVD commentary. With that in it, as well, it’s an amazing experience. So, the more I see it, I have to say, the more I like it. And even the most recent time I saw it, I was still noticing things that I hadn’t noticed before, which, of course, is something that people have always said about the graphic novel.

So, I’m sure once it’s on DVD and Blu-Ray and people have got the opportunity to watch it at their own pace – to have a bathroom break in the middle of it, to freeze frame stuff, and also to look at all the wonderful supporting material that are going to be on these versions – I think it will become an even richer experience. I have a unique perspective on it, obviously, the first time I saw it on screen, I was just sitting there thinking ‘It’s Watchmen, it’s happening! It’s there!’ and I think that might have been the reaction of a lot of fans. When I watched it the second time, I became much more absorbed in it as a film, and I thoroughly enjoyed it the second time, and, as I say, every time I’ve seen it since, I’ve discovered new stuff and it hasn’t got old for me yet.

Exactly. One of the things I did when I got a copy of the DVD, was sit down and watch the opening sequence over and over, because that is such an amazingly dense sequence. I think that was Zack’s absolute master-stroke, that opening montage. It filled in so much of the backstory. And I think it credited the viewer with a lot of intelligence and familiarity with the things that it was showing. Yeah, I think that got the movie off to a fantastic start.

How has the last year or so been for you? Of course, you’ve been well-known in the comics world for a while, but now you’re credited as the co-creator of this big film. Have you noticed a big shift at all? Yeah! Way back at the beginning of this, I was having dinner with Mike Mignola, who created Hellboy, and we’ve known each other for a long time now, and I said to him “Mike, you’ve been through all this movie stuff, it’s about to start for me, what advice can you give me?” And he said, “Well, the thing is Dave, at the end of the day, there probably won’t be as much money left as you might think.”

And he was absolutely right there, because the deal that Alan Moore and I had with DC, and the deal that DC had with the movie people was not very favourable. But the next thing Mike said was “You’re going to have some nice travel, and you’re going to stay in some nice hotels and meet some interesting people; just enjoy it!” And, really, that’s what I’ve done for the last year and a half or so. I’ve just really enjoyed the experience. From the very start, I had a really good gut feeling about what Zack was going to do, and everybody I’ve met who’s had anything to do with the movie, from Zack right down through the technicians, the actors, the people in charge of publicity and promotion, have all been such great fans, and have been so committed to doing it right. On every level, it really has been a great experience. Kind of tiring.

And back in February, I was backwards and forwards to America three times, which on one level is great, and it’s all very jet-set, but on the other hand can be quite gruelling – and obviously I’ve been asked thousands of questions, or to be more accurate, I’ve been asked the same questions thousands of times! [laughs] But, no, it has been a great experience, because I genuinely do like the movie.

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From the extras on the DVD, and the interviews at the time, it just seemed that everybody was really into it. Another good thing that came out of this was [Gibbons’ book] Watching The Watchmen. I got that back in December, and it’s a great trawling of the archives. And then on the extras they have interviews with Jenette Kahn and John Higgins. It’s good to see the history, and hear from the people behind Watchmen.

I find it hard to see how there is any downside to this for fans of the comic book. I know we’ve been very lucky that there have been very staunched, committed fans as well, and they naturally fear the worst when Hollywood comes into the frame, but I really do think that the movie has done nothing but good for Watchmen in general. It’s exposed the book to hundreds of thousands of new readers. I think it’s given readers who want merchandise and things to enrich the experience, it’s given them some wonderful things. I must say, when I saw that photograph of the Minutemen, who are the Golden Age super-heroes, the fanboy inside me fainted, because it was such an evocation of all that those comics stand for. And I think that now there’s so much historical material available, including Watching The Watchmen and the extras on the DVD, about the original comic book, I think that for fans of the comic book, it’s like Christmas.

So you’ve had such a good experience with this film, would you be positive about an Originals film? Or anything like that in the future?

Well, yeah! I would never say no to anything. I think The Originals would make a great movie. And of course Frank Miller and I have got the collected adventures of Martha Washington coming out, it’s all going to be in one volume called The Life And Times Of Martha Washington In The Twenty-First Century, and that’s going to be out this August as an Absolute-sized book, larger than the comic book format. And that will contain every single Martha adventure, and hopefully every single piece of artwork that’s been in print – although, no doubt we’ll miss some – but it’s a really comprehensive collection of everything Martha.

And, given Frank’s profile in Hollywood right now, I wouldn’t rule out some sort of movie interest. I mean, I think I tend to deal with things like this on a case-by-case basis. And of course it’s difficult – when you do something like Watchmen, it takes a couple of years of your life, and you become very protective of it. I think you have to accept that things are going to be done to it by movie-makers, that you’re just going to have to grit your teeth and bear.

I think I’ve learned some interesting things from being involved with the Watchmen movie, that I could bring to movie versions of comic books that I’ve been involved in. I have to say, I don’t think that being turned into a movie is the ultimate wish that you would have for a comic book property. I like to think that Watchmen and Martha Washington and The Originals stand as complete and fulfilling things in their own right, and the movie would just be a different way of experiencing those stories and those looks, and that material.

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It’s the nature of adaptation. It’s just a different spin on things.

Yeah, and as long as you’re careful that it doesn’t make a mockery of the original material, then I’m very happy – and I mean thrilled – to see how these things turn out as movies.

That’s one thing that I feel some people overlooked or didn’t notice about the Watchmen film – how the use of montage, music and cinematography was fantastic – as a film.

Well, Zack Snyder himself would say that the movie is a completely different beast than the comic book, and he would say ‘don’t just watch the movie, buy the comic book as well’. So, I think it’s great that it’s brought some exposure and attention to something that I’d like as many people as possible to read.

Hopefully, they will. One other thing I want to mention, Dave – Wednesday Comics. I know we’re only two weeks in, but I’m really enjoying it, and I’d like to know how you got involved in it, and what it’s like working in that style.

Well, I’ve known Mark Chiarello up at DC Comics for a long while, and I’ve got a great respect for his vision and his novel way of presenting comic book material. When he asked me if I wanted to be involved – I’ve always loved those big old Sunday comics as well – I said yes. And then he told me it was Kamandi and I thought ‘wow, that’s a character you could really do something with!’, because Kamandi has that mythic feel of a Prince Valiant or a Flash Gordon, and I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to approach it like one of those classic comic strips.

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The artist, Ryan Sook, is absolutely fantastic, and gives it all the grandeur and graphic interest that the material warrants. And I think that it’s just a very refreshing read – and it’s very interesting that the newest and most exciting thing – I think – about comics in these weeks is something that harks back to the very beginning of it all. And it shows, I think, that you can put new wine in old bottles. [laughs]

Well, we’re looking forward to seeing how it pans out! And, as you say, it’s so interesting at this point, where there are all the debates about the future of the 30-odd page issue, in the face of digital distribution and all that, that this project comes along.

Oh yeah, and I think that at this time it’s essential that the comics industry does try out new formats, and new ways of delivering material to people. I do think this is a very good example of that.

I hope it gets read!

Me too!

Dave Gibbons, thank you very much!

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