While British comic artist Dave Gibbons is best known for his collaboration with Alan Moore on the Watchmen graphic novel miniseries, comic book fans worldwide also know him for his work on Dr. Who, the 2000 AD anthology, and the "Green Lantern Corps" stories. Recently, ReelzChannel sat down with Gibbons to talk about the soon-to-be-released film adaptation of Watchmen.
ReelzChannel: What was your involvement in the movie? Did you work with Zack Snyder and the producers at all?
Gibbons: Well, I guess I was more of an adviser, or a kind of a guiding light, I like to think. I got to read an early draft of the script and give them some feedback on that. I did some storyboarding with Zack -- there's a sequence in the movie that isn't in the graphic novel and he just wanted to see how I would have drawn it.
RC: Are you talking about the opening credits?
Gibbons: I'm talking about the very end of the movie, the climax of the movie. I also got to see a very early rough cut of it and again was asked for my comments, my observations on that, which is great. I think there's a problem with the original creator, or one of the original creators, of getting too close to it. You know that you need to get a bit of distance, and certainly I couldn't look over Zack's shoulder and tell him what to do. He knows perfectly well what he's doing without me fussing around like a mother hen.
RC: Did you go to the set?
Gibbons: Sure I did. I was tremendously thrilled and energized by all of it -- to actually see these things that I just draw become solid and real. It's 3-D and tangible. You can smell the cigar smoke and everything. I actually felt like I was kind of -- I don't try to be religious about it but -- some kind of prophet that came down and looked at what the mortals were doing and blessed them. You know, "You have done well, my children." I was pleased to be able to do that because, really from the very beginning of meeting Zack and hearing what he had to say about it, I had a very strong gut feeling that it was going to be done properly. Everyone on the set had a copy of the graphic novel and was referring to it. Zack's storyboards have whole chunks of the graphic novel in them.
RC: If you visited the set, you saw that the book was always there in this huge binder of everything to refer back to, like a football coach's book with all the play notes and everything.
Gibbons: Yeah, people have said to me, "So have you done any drawings for the movie?" and I say, "Thousands, but I did them years ago." I like to think because we did have the time and we did want to make everything really work, in every sense, that you could have built sets from what I drew. Anyway, there's a consistency to them and it, hopefully, made it easy to visualize.
RC: It's funny that you came in to give your blessing. But at the same time, I think fans will want to know that someone involved with the graphic novel is giving blessings. Zack, I'm sure, is pleased that you are there. Alan Moore has been very verbal about not ever wanting to see this movie made. Why did you want to see it made?
Gibbons: Well, I think to be absolutely clear about it, Alan's problem is with the kind of Hollywood machine, in general, because it's not treated him very kindly in the past. Alan's written some wonderful comics, and there's been some pretty dire movies versions -- I won't say League of Extraordinary Gentleman -- but I think we know what we're talking about. Alan decided he didn't want to play ball with Hollywood anymore.
Now most of us that say we don't want to play ball, we just wouldn't answer the phone calls, but we like our name on it just in case it's any good. And we like the money, just in case it's any good. Alan doesn't want any of that. He's a man of strong principle, and he's completely distanced himself. That distance isn't because of this production of Watchmen at all. It just happened to come along at the time when he's decided that [he's not going to play ball] so he doesn't want to hear about the movie. He doesn't want to talk to anyone about the movie. And I can completely respect that.
He also respects the fact that I haven't got a major beef with Hollywood and, in fact, as it happens, I'm being very well treated. I mean contractually, they don't have to even talk to me and bring me along to the set and have to take any input. But because I think it is being done properly, and I think it's doing my work justice, and Alan's work as well, I'm happy to support it. There's a spin off, as well ... since the trailer's been out, the sales of the graphic novel have gone through the roof. So that means hundreds of thousands of people are reading Alan's work in its original form and, hopefully, will read other examples of his work, as well. So I feel good about that aspect of it.
RC: Do you think, depending on reactions to the movie, that he may change his mind and at least watch the movie?
Gibbons: I hesitate to even guess about that. I really don't know. I think one thing about the movie is it's kind of inescapable. Even in the relatively remote part of England where I live, you can't walk into the local corner store without seeing movie magazines with Watchmen plastered on it. I really don't know. I know that Alan hasn't seen the movies of some of his other works and if he says he's not interested, I take it he's not interested, yeah.
RC: Can you explain in a nutshell, for people who aren't familiar with this story, what Watchmen is about?
Gibbons: Well, it's a multi-layered story. On one level, it's about investigating murders --somebody's killing these costumed heroes. And Rorschach, who is kind of our main protagonist, wants to find out who and why. Discover what's at the root for it. All along the way, we get to investigate and possibly deconstruct the whole notion of costumed characters, the question of vigilantism -- you know, who gives anybody the right to just decide to put on a costume and go out and beat up the bad guys? Who decides who the bad guys are?
And on another level, the kind of global situation [Watchmen explores] is if there really was a Superman, how would that change the world? The character Superman has been around forever, but apparently he lives in a world where everything is exactly the same as this world. If there truly was a Superman, the whole balance of humanity would be shifted. I mean, you can be the fastest guy in the Olympics, but [here's someone] who could go to the moon and back in the time you can run around the track. It would have a kind of demotivating effect on humanity, probably. The view of humanity [toward] costume heroes would be one of suspicion and paranoia. So we go into that as well, and we also investigate how the world came to be -- how just luck and happenstance can undermine careful planning. So it works, I think, on several levels.
RC: And add in that the Cold War is happening and Richard Nixon is still president. Are you afraid there are aspects of the story that wouldn't translate or be relevant today?
Gibbons: Well, I think one of the master strokes of the movie is to set it in its time, to make it a period piece, to make it 1985 when the threat of nuclear war -- it's easy to forget now, but for those people who were around in 1985, it was really quite a terrifying time. It's been supplanted by other fears about possible global war and loss of life and destruction. But  was a very frightening time and it was very clear-cut where the Americans were -- their weapons -- and the Russians were -- their weapons. They could mutually destroy each other. I think by setting it in its time it actually becomes timeless.... I think also that era, and the decades preceding it, were very vivid times historically, particularly for the USA. On the one hand, you had something like the moon landing and you had the cultural revolution of the '60s and '70s, wonderful things, but you also had Vietnam and the assassination of JFK and Martin Luther King -- so it's a really very contrasted, very highly charged time. I think also the fashions of the time were quite close to comic book fashion with big shoulders and everything. That also gives it a distance.
RC: Almost a built in caricature...
Gibbons: Yeah, really. And superheroes just fit fine in those worlds, you know.
RC: Lastly, this novel that's been around for more than 20 years has been considered unfilmable. Zack Snyder is the one that finally got the challenge. Much of what makes it "unfilmable" is the drawings -- the illustrations, the look, and the design. Was that your biggest fear going in, that if the look wasn't right this wasn't going to work?
Gibbons: I think, probably actually paradoxically, the look would have been easy to get right. You can dress a set and light a set to kind of look like this. But the point of a picture in a comic book is not just to look at the picture, it's that it also has to be part of the narrative. It was a question of keeping the narrative intact. So I'm really thrilled that they have kept so closely to the individual pictures and, in many cases, its just exactly what I drew. But they also managed to stay very faithful to Alan's script, and his wonderful dialogue, and to the shape of the story. I think that's why I'm the most pleased -- the shape of the story has come through. For me, personally, I'd seen this movie in my head when I was dreaming it up. But to now see the movie in a real sense ... it's a cliché, but this is probably the closest to anyone having a dream come true.