Watching the Watchman - Dave Gibbons interviewed

PUBLISHED: 09:06 29 June 2010 | UPDATED: 09:06 29 June 2010

St Albans-based comics writer and artist Dave Gibbons

St Albans-based comics writer and artist Dave Gibbons

Daniel Lewis

SPENDING a sunny afternoon in a village pub garden just outside of St Albans discussing the comics industry with one of the genre's bona fide legends isn't work, it's a fanboy's dream come true.

Green Lantern, DC Comics

Artist-writer Dave Gibbons is best known as the co-creator of the acclaimed Watchmen series, but his career in comics also includes working on seminal issues of sci-fi anthology 2000AD, helping launch the long-running comic strip in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine, and working on a who’s who of characters ranging from the likes of Superman and Green Lantern to Captain America and Dan Dare.

With such a diverse catalogue of work to discuss, it would have been easy to while away several hours in Dave’s company, just shooting the breeze about comics past, present and future, but deadlines were beckoning for us both, so we tried to focus on specific topics like the evolution of the medium and his development as a writer.

The vast array of characters, titles and creators discussed in this interview could flummox even the more knowledgeable comics book fan, so I’ve tried to insert brief descriptions of less well-known details where appropriate to ensure even complete newcomers to the world of comics can follow the more geeky parts of our conversation.

Dave was one of the UK talents who became part of the British invasion of the 1980s, when a whole host of writers and artists began working for DC Comics, including the likes of Alan Moore [Watchmen co-creator, writer of Swamp Thing, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen etc], but his breakthrough into the industry had taken a lot longer to achieve.

Doctor Who: The Iron Legion, Panini

“I’d always wanted to draw comics but it seemed a pretty impossible thing because I lived in St Albans and they were all done in America. In my really early twenties when I got back into buying comics again I picked up an issue of Nick Fury [Agent of SHIELD] and it wasn’t very well drawn. The artist was Barry Smith and it said Barry was a young British artist who had come over to New York and he’d drawn this comic, and I thought this is possible, it can be done.

“So what I did was then buy a load of Bristol boards and redrew the whole thing, thinking I could do better. By that time I made contact with a guy named Dez Skinn who was working at Fleetway and I took my work up to him one lunchtime and left it with him. He took it up to his office and this Barry Smith story was written by Barry’s best friend who was Steve Parkhouse, who was sat at the next desk.

“So it’s a really small world and it’s really funny that all that time later that Dez should edit Doctor Who Weekly. Looking back on it I don’t think I did a better job than Barry Smith, and obviously he went on to be an absolutely fantastic artist.”

Dave began working on horror and action comics for both DC Thomson and IPC, but it was in 1977 that he really made his name: “When Fleetway transferred from Fleetway House to Kings Reach Tower and became IPC they began to do a variety of new comic projects, one of which was 2000AD.

Ozymandias, from Watchmen, DC Comics

“The first I knew of this was when I bumped into a friend of mine called Mick McMahon, who lived in Colney Heath, at the station at St Albans and he had this artwork under his arm. It turned out to be the first Judge Dredd job, and he said it was this new comic being done at IPC called 2000AD, so I spoke to my agent and said I’d really like to be in on it. He said well actually I was going to take you up there and introduce you to the editor because I think they could use you.

“He introduced me to Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill, who were looking for somebody to draw Harlem Heroes – they’d had a few different people try to do it, mainly Spanish and Italian artists who hadn’t really got the superhero vibe, and because I’d drawn a thing called Power Man which was like an African superhero, I drew them a set of Harlem Heroes and they loved it so I was in the first issue. The one I drew then wasn’t used until issue 14 when I went on holiday, but I was in at 2000AD.”

After working on the futuristic sports series Harlem Heroes for the first 24 instalments, Dave became one of the most prolific of 2000AD’s earliest creators, contributing artwork to 108 of the first 131 issues, and shaping the look of many of its iconic characters.

“I did Ro-Busters, Dan Dare, and of course I co-created Rogue Trooper, so I was quite involved and it was really good because there was a whole bunch of us who had grown up as fans and now we were all working together.

2000AD Prog 49

“It had that really good sort of vibe, like a club, and we were all trying to outdo each other and keep the standard up, maybe coinciding when we dropped work off so we’d all be up there on a Thursday lunchtime. It was a really good experience and the making of so many of us.”

When Marvel UK launched the original incarnation of what is today known as Doctor Who Magazine, but back then had the slightly more comic-inspired title of Doctor Who Weekly, Dave was recruited to illustrate the main strip, initially featuring Tom Baker’s interpretation of the Time Lord.

He went on to draw issues 1 through to 69, missing only four strips during that time, by which time the Weekly was a Monthly and there was a new Doctor at the controls of the TARDIS. Perhaps surprisingly, given his almost iconic portrayal of Baker’s Doctor, Dave only met the actor at a science fiction convention this year, some 30 years after he first started drawing him in the strip.

“The only Doctor I met at the time was Peter Davison, because when I started drawing him we didn’t have any reference photos, all I had were a smudgy couple of pictures, so I tried to dodge around this by having him in long shot and so on,” he revealed.

Rogue Trooper, 2000AD

“I turned the artwork in and his agent said to my agent, my client is not happy with this and if you can’t get the likeness right then we’re not going to allow you to do it.

“So when we explained we had no references they arranged for me to go down to the BBC where they were filming and we did shots of him all the way round him with different expressions, and I ended up with a whole organised photo reference library, so for ever after I was always able to get quite a good likeness. With Tom Baker you had his hair, the scarf and everything like that, but I got the hang of Peter in the end.”

One of the final Who strips Dave worked on was the sprawling epic The Tides of Time, recently reprinted in a Panini graphic novel, and remarkable upon original publication for showing just how much could be achieved with the Doctor Who mythos away from the budgetary restrictions of the TV series.

“It was written by Steve Parkhouse, and I don’t much how much he had planned out and how much he just made up. He’d usually just send me a plot and I’d draw it out for him to add dialogue to. I’ve never actually re-read it so I don’t know how much sense it makes.

Superman Annual 11, DC Comics

“Steve was an artist himself so he would write what I would want to draw, so there was always a lot of action, running around, weird aliens popping up, odd vistas and things, so that was quite good.”

If it was hard enough to make your name in British comics at the time, getting recognised in the more competitive American marketplace was to prove much more of a challenge.

“I’d gone to the States in the early seventies trying to get work and I’d actually met Paul Levitz for the first time, who ended up being the publisher of DC Comics but was just an office boy then, and I left my samples there and they were returned to me by a guy called Michael Uslan, who later went on to be the [executive] producer of the Batman movies, and they kind of said thanks but no thanks, so I went to [publisher] Roy Thomas at Marvel who said he liked the stuff and we’d be in touch.

“Me being a rather naïve and reserved Englishman I never chased them up, and I’ve since learned that if I didn’t hear after two days I should have got on the phone to them. But those samples I did then kind of led me to do British comics.”

Scene from Superman Annual 11, DC Comics

It was to be several years before Dave succeeded in raising his profile to a sufficient level to catch the attention of movers and shakers working Stateside: “In 1980 or ’81 a couple of editors from DC came over here and actually asked several of us to go and see them and offered us a job.

“It was amazing but we could never quite work out why until this rather more cynical artist we got to know said it was because they were expecting trouble with the artists and writers, they were going to form a guild, and they wanted to have offshore people to step in and do the work.

“Of course the irony is that whenever there’s been any trouble in American comics since it’s normally been the Brits who have been behind it.”

He went on: “So they came over and they’d seen 2000AD and they’d seen Warrior [celebrated 1980s UK monthly comics magazine] as well and they basically invited us along to their hotel. They said we’d like you to work for us, this is what we pay, these are the rights you get, you get your artwork back, you get your boards to draw on, and it was so much better a deal than we were getting in England that we jumped at it.

The Originals, Vertigo Comics

“They signed Mick McMahon and Kevin O’Neill up but they didn’t really give them that much work to do. Even with me to begin with I think they wanted me to draw Star Trek, because they knew I could do science fiction stuff and they knew I could do likenesses, but I had no desire to do Star Trek.

“I actually ended up having to phone them up to get work – I said I’d packed up what I’m doing here and I haven’t got any work, you recruited me so give me something to do. So it was rather a slow lead-in.”

Dave’s first DC work was to be the Green Lantern Corps story in Green Lantern #162 (March 1983), as well as the concurrently released Creeper back-up in Flash #318-319: “I started off doing back-ups for Green Lantern, Flash, and after a little while they offered me a lead in the Green Lantern book, and I did some other kind of one-offs, like [Batman team-up title] Brave and the Bold and [30th century superteam] Legion of Superheroes, and I found I got on very well with the people there.

“It was always a bit more of an adventurous thing working for the States – you had international dialling but it was really expensive, you didn’t have the internet, you didn’t even have fax machines, so there was a lot of waiting around for the post and I used to send pages over via DataPost down the Post Office, so it was so much more difficult when I look back on it now.

Watching the Watchmen, Dave Gibbons, Titan Books

“It makes no difference now working for the States as it does working for somebody in London, but back then it was a whole different world.”

Dave would end up working on the main Green Lantern feature from issue #172 through to #186, but unfortunately at the time the series was moving away from space epics towards a more grounded, Earthbound run, which did not play up to his strengths as an artist.

“I’ve worked on a lot of regular series, I did Doctor Who week after week, and then month after month, and all the stuff I did on 2000AD, but being a fanboy what I really wanted to see was what it was like to be a regular DC artist, and Green Lantern had always been a favourite comic of mine when I was a kid.

“But I have to be honest, and I’ve said this before, Len Wein who was writing it was a very good writer, but the kind of stories he was doing were real soap opera stuff. I’d be drawing [Green Lantern] Hal Jordan and his girlfriend having an argument in a car park.

Scene from Watchmen, DC Comics

“I kind of said I’d only do it for a year to see how it went, but also it was a little bit much for me to be doing a full comic book every month, so I had to have people ink my stuff, which I didn’t like.”

Fortunately opportunity came knocking again, this time in the personae of Alan Moore, today recognised as one of the industry’s all-time great writers, but then just making the move into the American comics marketplace. It was to lead to a partnership on one of the most highly-acclaimed comics series of all time.

“Around that time was when Alan Moore got on board at DC, and it became clear that we’d be able to do some work together.

“We’d done stuff for 2000AD, and realised we really liked working together, so I spoke to Alan after I moved to DC and said maybe I could get you in there. So he did a treatment for Challengers of the Unknown [a team of four daredevil adventurers living on borrowed time], and wrote a whole 20 page script.

World's Finest, DC Comics

“I mentioned that to someone at DC and they said they’d already promised those characters to somebody else, and then he came up with a pitch for J’onn J’onzz Manhunter From Mars [shapeshifting Martian detective superhero] and the same thing happened.

“But then one night I got a call from Len Wein who asked if I had the phone number of a British writer called Alan Moore because they wanted to get in touch with him, so I gave them the number and they phoned Alan up. He originally thought it was a joke, but he signed up to do [plant monster] Swamp Thing and came up with all sorts of other ideas, including the Superman story that we did [‘For The Man Who Has Everything’, Superman Annual 11, 1985].

“But then I heard from somebody else that Alan was going to do a treatment for the Charlton characters that DC had just bought, and I thought this was a chance for us to do something. So I phoned him up and said I’d still be up for doing something, and he said yeah I think you’d be really good, I’ll send you the synopsis.

“I then spoke to [DC managing director] Dick Giordano, and he said if it’s alright with Alan and it’s alright with you. At that very same time I spoke to [DC editor] Julius Schwartz who asked who’s going to write it, and when I said Alan Moore he said yep, fix it up, so that’s how we got into that basically. If you don’t ask you don’t get.”

Doctor Who, Marvel Comics

Released as a 12-issue limited series between 1986-1987, the later collected edition became one of the best-selling graphic novels of all time, and the only one featured on Time Magazine’s list of Top 100 Novels. Although it took the former Charlton Comics heroes as a template, it revamped them as new characters to allow the story to move in directions which would have lasting ramifications for all concerned.

Although Moore refused to be associated with the 2008 movie adaptation, Dave is credited as a co-creator, and used the opportunity of the release to produce a behind-the-scenes book looking at how the comic was put together. Watching the Watchmen featured rarely seen artwork including character designs and sketches, and provides a fascinating historical account of the creative process.

In the wake of Watchmen Dave was able to branch out into new directions, including working alongside Batman: The Dark Knight Returns writer Frank Miller on the futuristic war satire Give Me Liberty in 1990, starring peace corps recruit Martha Washington, a character he would return to over the years until she was eventually killed off in the 2007 title Martha Washington Dies.

“Because Watchmen was so popular it did open a lot of doors for me, and continues to do so. It’s strange but it was a long time ago and when I look back it was pretty patchy compared to what I’ve done since.

Doctor Who: The Tides of Time, Panini

“Martha Washington was twice as long as Watchmen but it was spread out and done against all sorts of backgrounds, with other things going on in life. You know we wouldn’t do anything for a couple of years and then we’d have a flurry, then maybe another year or two would go by and we’d do one issue. But it actually works with the storyline, because you see Martha from time to time, and the future accelerates at a crazy scale.

“I suppose I have been lucky because I am essentially a fanboy. I’ve worked for DC Comics, I’ve been a monthly DC artist, and later a monthly writer. I’ve been able to create my own thing with Frank Miller, and I’ve worked on Batman, Superman and so on.”

Perhaps surprisingly for a creator with such an extensive portfolio of work, Dave’s involvement with Marvel Comics has been very limited, preventing readers from enjoying his interpretations of characters like Spider-Man or the X-Men.

“I haven’t done very much Marvel as I’ve never quite figured out how Marvel Comics works. I’ve tried to do things for them, but I’ve never really got up any momentum there.

Watchmen line-up, DC Comics

“I think DC have always kept me fairly busy with things. I’ve been able to work on characters like The Spirit, I’ve inked a Jack Kirby drawing which was great, but with Marvel I did a Doctor Strange story that was written by Walt Simonson, who’s a buddy of mine, and I thought that might lead on to other things.

“I pitched one idea a long, long time ago. What happened was that Stan Lee [co-creator of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Hulk] came over to England and I said to him it’d be great to do something together, and he said we could, but you’d have to draw it and plot it and I’d do dialogue.

“I said well what about Captain America then, and he said yeah, yeah, so I did this whole Captain America story which went right back to the first thing Stan had ever written for Marvel, and I adapted that story.

“I thumb-nailed it all out, but then he didn’t have time to do it, and it all kind of floundered, it had [Cap’s partner] Bucky in it and he didn’t want Bucky in it, so it kind of ran out of steam.

“Then I thought of another Captain America story and I pitched that to several people and Marvel, and they said they really liked it but blah, blah, blah, it would have to be a three issue thing, then a four issue thing, and there was always all this messing about.

“But finally I did pitch it properly and Lee Weeks got to draw it, and it was in three issues of Captain America [Vol 4, #17-20, 2003], and I was really happy with the way it turned out. But I’ve never quite got anything going with Marvel. At one point they wanted me and Alan to do Fantastic Four, but again it didn’t take off.”

His loyalty to DC is evident, both as a reader and a creator, with a reverence for the company’s sprawling universe and plethora of characters: “I am a real DC Comics guy. I understand DC characters, I’ve always drawn them, they’ve always been my favourites as a kid, so maybe if I’d been really desperate to draw Marvel characters then I would have done, but I just haven’t ever pushed myself forwards that much you know.

“But I did get to work with Stan in the end as he did a reimagining of Green Lantern [Just Imagine Stan Lee and Dave Gibbons Creating Green Lantern, 2001], and that was great. It was just fantastic to work with Stan, he just understands comics like very few people do. It was interesting because he had comments on the plotting, and every thing he said was absolutely on the money, absolutely accurate, and it was all to do with story, it was not just whims and ideas, it was all so focused on the story.”

Although primarily known as an artist, for more than 20 years Dave has also enjoyed acclaim for his writing, beginning with the 1990 three-issue mini-series World’s Finest, which pitted iconic versions of Batman and Superman against their arch-adversaries the Joker and Lex Luthor.

Making the move from drawing to scripting is a challenge not all artists can accomplish, but Dave was able to call on his experiences with myriad writers to help ease the transition.

“I’ve been really lucky, I’ve worked with some of the best script-writers, people like Pat Mills and Alan Moore, Frank Miller, these are fantastic writers.

“When I was a kid I had no idea that there was a separate writer and artist and I thought one guy did the lot. So I always used to make up my own stories, and when I came to work for comics obviously it was my artwork that was saleable, but I’d always harboured this desire to write.

“When Watchmen was successful, there was what you call in Hollywood a marquee value to my name, in other words if my name was on it then it would be associated with Watchmen.

“I’d written a short story called Survivor for a comic called A1 which was published over here – it was about what if you really were Superman and what your life would be like. It was quite horrible really, because he could read every book in the world in about 10 seconds, humans would seem kind of weak and insubstantial to him, he wouldn’t need to sleep, he’d be completely isolated but would pretend to be a human and work in an office.

“So it was quite a downbeat thing, but it had a very optimistic pay-off, and Mike Carlin, who was the editor of the Superman books, had seen that, and he phoned me up and said Dave would you like to write World’s Finest? I said, God yeah, Superman and Batman? I said who’s going to draw it and he said Steve Rude and I said absolutely. So one of the first things I ever wrote was a three issue mini-series called World’s Finest, which was a little bit ambitious!”

This period also saw Dave return to the pages of 2000AD to pen the re-imagined adventures of futuristic genetic infantryman Rogue Trooper, a blue-skinned soldier originally assisted in his mission by the “bio-chipped” personality recordings of his late comrades, implanted into his rifle, helmet and backpack.

Dave’s new version was illustrated by Will Simpson, and took the controversial decision to drop the bio-chips: “I did Rogue Trooper the way I’d always wanted it to be, because I never liked the bio-chips, and that was actually a little bit cursed because it took such a long time to come out, it was very erratic and it didn’t read very well.

“Will was a really good artist but I don’t think he was able to take a proper run at the art, he was a bit stressed out on it, and everything was a bit time-pressured. But I enjoyed doing that, although it seems I was the only person who didn’t like the bio-chips because the readers were kind of, well it’s quite good as a fresh take on the character, but where are the bio-chips?”

These early projects were to result in Dave firmly cementing his talents as a writer as well as an artist, and he would go on to pen assorted titles, including sci-fi epic The Rann-Thanagar War, intergalactic police force the Green Lantern Corps, and a crossover between Batman and Predator.

But for Dave, there were several projects which remain close to his heart, including a Hellblazer story featuring British urban shaman John Constantine: “I did a Hellblazer text story for an anthology book called Winter’s Edge. Warren Ellis was supposed to be writing it, but he had a disagreement with DC, and I had a vague idea called Another Bloody Christmas, and so I laid the page out and sat down at my computer and started writing it, and suddenly I thought, blimey I’m writing, and I just sat there and wrote the whole thing.

“I usually I plan things out, get the dramatic beats and all that, but with this I went straight through to the sarcastic pay-off at the end. They loved it at DC and it was a real sweet experience.

“I can understand Hellblazer, I can almost write him in my voice, and as a result of doing that [editor] Karen Berger had been asking me if I’d be interested in writing and drawing my own thing for Vertigo [DC’s mature readers imprint].

“I knew if I was going to do something I didn’t want to do another superhero thing, mystery, horror or science-fiction, and I thought what do I really care about? And I thought, being a mod. I still get that feeling when I’m driving in my car and a guy in a leather jacket comes past on a motorbike, and for one split second I want to knock him off! So I suggested that to Karen, and she said that’s fine. So I tweaked around with it, and again it was such an easy thing to write.”

The book in question became The Originals, a semi-futuristic coming-of-age story pitching mods against rockers on floating hoverbikes, a project which Dave threw himself into with relish: “It’s very autobiographical - there are whole scenes in there that actually happened.

“The only reason it has a futuristic look is I remember the first time I saw scooters I thought, wow, what are they? So I altered it just enough to make it sideways, like Watchmen it’s not quite this world, but makes it that little more gosh-wow, but the talk is exactly the way people talked.

“I set up a studio over in Bricket Wood and it was a room in a roof with a skylight, and I locked myself away there like a monk or something.

“One of the things I really missed was that collaborative thing when you’re working with a writer and get to chat, get a bit of feedback on what you’re doing, and I felt really isolated. I did at times think why am I bothering, does anybody really care about this, but I started sending pages through to DC and they loved it.”

This labour of love was to consume Dave’s life for two years, as he wrote, drew, inked and lettered the entire graphic novel on his own: “When I was doing Doctor Who I used to do four pages a week, sometimes five, on Watchmen it was three and a half pages a week, and then I was lettering it and there was a lot of design work. I don’t know whether but slowed down with age, but some of the best stuff I did I banged it out almost subconsciously, but then again on an isolated project you cannot put out pages anywhere near as quickly.

“I used to be fearsome when I had a studio with Mick McMahon – I’d do a three-month programme like it was Stalinist Russia or something!”

With some writers penning very detailed scripts, and others just plotting outlines, Dave’s approach to the art remains the same: “What you have to do is be in charge of it. Alan would write very detailed scripts, but he always stressed that they were just his suggestions.

“It’s like being a film director, you have to tell the story but you also have to make the page look good. I do think it’s a skill, and I think when I’ve done scripts for other people I’ve never given them anything to draw that I couldn’t draw myself.

“Some writers don’t understand what can be done in a comic, what needs to be drawn, what needs to be said, how you can switch from one track to another. Comics as a medium have strengths and weaknesses, but you use the strengths to cover up the weaknesses.

“I think that’s why sometimes you get writer and artist teams who really work, Andy Diggle and Jock, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, me and Alan for instance, where you can’t tell where the writer begins because you’re so drawn in, and I think that comes from having a writer with a good graphic sense and a good understanding of what his artist can do, and an artist with a good story-telling sense and an understanding of what the writer wants.

“There are some very good illustrators and artists who aren’t such good comic story-tellers, because their main focus isn’t the story. My art is the art of telling the story and losing the reader in it, rather than having them think, wow, what really great artwork. If the reader can smell the artist or smell the writer then you’ve lost them a bit, as it’s all about the suspension of disbelief, drawing them into it.”

Recent years have seen a move towards comics being written for the collected graphic novel format, with a decompression of plot in order to stretch out the average six-issue collection size, something which could eventually have a major impact on the delivery of the medium if trade paperbacks eventually replace the individual issues altogether.

“I love monthly comic books and to me it’s amazing because in the days when I grew up it was pot luck what you got as you’d have to hunt around from shop to shop to find different titles. Now it’s fantastic because you can go down to the comic shop every Thursday and everything is there.

“But it seems to me that the way the market is going is moving towards more trade paperbacks. The general reader doesn’t find the monthly pamphlet a good format as it doesn’t seem very good value and you’ve only got part of something, whereas a trade paperback has a whole story, it can sit on a shelf and it’s a proper book.

“A comic book is a high quality item, but if you’re shelling out two or three quid for each issue, I could spend an evening at the movies for the price of four comics, so it’s hard to make a case for it.

“When you talk like this it sounds like you’re being an utter traitor to the guys who run the comic shops, but I think it’d be terrible if they went away, because not only are they by and large run by very keen and enthusiastic people, but they’re a focus for comic book fans. I’ve heard someone describe comic book day at their local shop as like a mini convention, you know if you go in then you can chat about the new comics and it’d be horrible to miss that.”

Perhaps the next revolution for the comics industry as a whole will be the development of digital delivery, with readers able to download their monthly fix of titles to play on their iPads.

“From the reports I’ve read about the iPad comics look just great on it. You can see the full page, the colours are so vibrant, you can read them easily, and you can store shed-loads on them. I don’t follow a lot of present day comics, so I wouldn’t download all of this week’s Marvels, but obviously you could do that, you could have a special subscription to all the Spider-Man comics, and you could also start new artists off by running a strip in the back of something like Superman.

“I’m sure even as we speak there are all sorts of people thinking about this all of the time, rather than just us sitting outside a pub on a nice sunny afternoon!

“But you do need to work out what it means for the retailers, and frankly a lot of comics shops are general pop culture shops now, they sell models, videos, books, collectors’ cards, so I think there’s some change going on there.

“I think the thing with delivering stuff digitally is you’ve got a potential audience of millions who are only a click away, they don’t have to find where the comic shop is.

“If you’ve got your iPad and you think, I really like this artist, you can search for that artist to find everything he’s ever done. I don’t read a lot of current books, but I love to fill in stuff from the past, so to know you could download everything Will Eisner has ever done, everything Jack Kirby has ever done, then I think that would get a lot of people interested.

“When you start to think of the different ways you can market digital comics it does become very exciting. Although your unit price would be less, there wouldn’t be the printing, the shipping, the storage costs, so it would work out more or less the same.

“I think you could almost argue that as many people it would take away from the traditional way of producing comics it would draw at least as many, if not more, back into it. People who hadn’t read them for years might not go into a comic book shop, but if they were on a train they’d go click, click, click, I used to love Spider-Man so I’ll download some comics as nobody knows what I’m actually looking at.”

Now 61, Dave is still very active as a writer and artist, with upcoming work including the updated history of the DC Universe, Legacies, due for release later this year.

“I’m really enjoying what I’m doing on there. I’m waiting to get going on a big project with [Kick-Ass and Wanted writer] Mark Millar, who’s a very busy man at the moment, so I thought it would be quite nice to do something in the meantime.

“DC asked me to do the back-up strip and when I asked who was doing the main story they said it was Jose Garcia-Lopez but we can’t find anyone to ink him I said I’d do it.

“I’ve worked with Jose before and he’s one of my favourite artists, so I’m currently inking 40 pages of Garcia-Lopez and it’s wonderful work. I’m doing some covers for it as well and we’re collaborating on those, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a really clever idea, it’s like a history of the DC Universe told through the eyes of a new character. I get to draw these iconic moments that I loved as a kid, the JLA Vs Starro the Conqueror and things like that.”

Dave will be appearing in St Albans next weekend as part of the UniComics Festival organised by the University of Hertfordshire. He will be holding two artist workshops at the city library on Saturday April 24 at 10.30am and 1.30pm, demonstrating such skills as character designs and page layouts.

“What I’m going to do is show the audience different ways of drawing the figure, what you have to be aware about when doing character designs. I think the people who are going to be there will be aspiring artists. I don’t think it’s my job to go, come into comics, but it’s basically if you do want to go into comics then this is what you’re going to have to do. Here are some skills you’ll need. I’m actually going to do it digitally as well and it’s going to be projected onto a big screen, and one can envision a time when comics are produced and delivered digitally, so there’s nothing on paper, which is quite an interesting concept, sort of from my head to yours with no intervening stuff.

“Along the way a few people helped me break into comics and taught me some very important information, but it’s quite hard to know where to get hold of this information. I know there are some real enthusiasts out there for things that I’ve done, and I like to think I can answer questions to make things easier for them. I mean, when I was a kid and I used to draw my own comics I didn’t realise for an instant that they were always drawn much bigger, whereas that makes it so much easier to work on. So it’s really some tips and a few artistic ideas and generally getting people enthusiastic about drawing comics.”

After a career in comics spanning five decades there’s no sign of that enthusiasm waning, and we can look forward to enjoying the writing and artwork of Dave Gibbons for many years to come.

Places at the artist’s workshops are restricted to 30 places each – please call 0300 123 4049 to reserve your place. Later that day Dave will be introducing a special director’s cut screening of Watchmen at The Weston Auditorium on the de Havilland campus at Hatfield. This free event starts at 8pm – to book places call the box office on 01707 281127.

Graphic novels featuring the work of Dave Gibbons are available from Chaos City Comics at 20 Heritage Close in St Albans. Call 01727 838 719 with any enquiries.

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