Mr Flibble Talks To... Penguin Looking Drawn
Dave Gibbons is a rare beast indeed. Like so many superheroes he has a dual identity - by day, he is a mild-mannered comic writer; by night, a fiendishly talented comic book artist. Mr Flibble tracked Dave down to interview both of him.
2 March, 2001
Dave Gibbons
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble began the interview by reading a comic, which Andrew subsequently confiscated. The penguin then whispered the following question: Tell me about GIVE ME LIBERTY...

Well Give Me Liberty is the continuing story of Martha Washington, who's a young girl from the ghetto who's growing up in the early part of the 21st Century. She's a soldier, she's in the American Pax force, which is the peace-keeping force if you like. She successfully stopped the Amazon jungle being burnt down, and delivered her persecutor, her superior officer, to justice. And the USA which is now in the throes of another civil war.

You worked with Stan Lee, illustrating a CAPTAIN AMERICA story from his script. How was that?

It's just a thrill for me - it's a real big fan thing, because I've always loved Captain America. To me he's one of the three great characters - Superman, Batman, Captain America. Captain Marvel, maybe. And of course Stan is, well, Stan Lee. It's like working with Walt Disney or something along those lines.

The thing about Captain America is he's a patriotic symbol, and of course it's a question of defining what it is about the USA that he stands for. In World War Two it was very clear that the Americans were the good guys and the Nazis were the bad guys. Politics nowadays are a little more complicated than that, and what Captain America symbolises is, in a way, all things to all men. It was a question of doing a modern story.

What we were going for was to illustrate the difficulties of the symbol of America in this modern age when things are so grey and amorphous.

Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, and he is the great action character. Superman is the great superhero and Batman is the great dark detective, and Captain America is the great action hero. And he's just got such a great costume, he looks like a Buick or a Cadillac - he's got this chain-mail and the star and even the silly little wings on the hat are somehow kind of noble. So he's a character I love to draw. There are characters in comics who are just fun to draw. Judge Dredd is probably one of them, Superman is one of them, Captain America... he's just got a neat costume.

Mr Flibble said he found it rather garish - that a small bow-tie was far more subtle. How do you feel about Judge Dredd?

Dredd is a thing that's kind of passed me by. I'm torn because I kind of draw like Brian Bolland, if you like, but the way I like Judge Dredd to be drawn is the way Mick McMahon draws him, and I just can't draw like that. I've only ever drawn one Dredd story, and I was very unhappy with it. I didn't know who to copy!

Can you tell us about your scripts for BATMAN VERSUS PREDATOR...

Well Batman vs Predator was a thing that was proposed to me, and I only had to think about it for five seconds. Batman, in a way, is a hunter, Predator is a hunter, and I think it's a question of who's hunting who. Certainly it's got the great advantage that the characters are so familiar to the readers of this kind of stuff that it immediately whets the appetite and make the fan-base all salivate.

It was a lot of fun to do. They actually, I think, worked together in the way that maybe other combinations of characters wouldn't. With Gotham City you've got the perfect hunting ground, it's kind of a surreal, gloomy place. We all know what Predator does, but it was a question of putting Predator into Batman's world rather than putting Batman into Predator's world. I did my utmost, and I think I succeeded, to use all the Batman icons - to use the Bat-signal, to use the Bat-cave, the Batmobile and stuff like that.

A few years ago you wrote the original WORLD'S FINEST story, where Batman and Superman were first put together. Do you think stories like that can be written in the same manner today?

It's so difficult, nowadays when everything is team-ups, everybody meets everybody else. In the days of World's Finest, when I wrote it, this was the only team-up. This was the place where Superman's universe met Batman's universe, and it was something really notable and magical. And I tried to get that feel, I tried to make it, 'This isn't an everyday thing, these guys would never normally run into each other. They've kind of heard of each other, but they've got no particular relationship.'

Again I was very well served there because Steve Rude, who drew it, had just the feeling that I had and he went right back to the original conceptions of Superman and Batman and gave them a wonderful feel. It was a very nostalgic and rosy story, which is what I wanted it to be. I didn't want it to be a grim Batman story. I was offered the chance to do World's Finest 2, but I'd kind of had my say. That was what I think about the notion of Batman and Superman.

How do you go about this kind of 're-interpretation' of the characters?

My inclinations, as was shown with the Superman and Batman stuff, is to respect the myth. I'm much more interested in accentuating what, to me, is the strength of a character, rather than trying to deconstruct it. That's what I did with World's Finest. You can only go so far with that, though. You can't spend all your life looking over your shoulder and describing things to other people, the way that you saw it.

I think, probably, outside the major characters - like Superman or Batman and Captain America - my real inclination is to try and come up with stuff of my own and create things out of whole cloth. It's hard to shake off your influences, and I know I never will - it shows in my artwork and it shows in the kind of stories that I like. I think the past should be remembered when you're making the future.

Mr Flibble agreed, adding that he wouldn't like to be reinterpreted as a duck. He then asked how Dave thought his TECHNIQUE had progressed...

As you get more experienced and, if you like, more sophisticated, it's actually the abstract qualities of the thing that starts to appeal to you. What I'm interested in now is not so much what you draw, but where you draw it. How you can draw the same thing, but by moving it a quarter of an inch on the art-board get a completely different effect. If you like, refining down what is necessary in a picture, and then being very particular about how you frame and compose it. I think that's the way you get the maximum effect.

I've only ever been interested in drawing for the sake of telling stories, I'm not interested in fine art painting, or illustration - I want to tell stories. So all my efforts are directed towards that end. How can I best, most efficiently and most effectively, tell stories in pictures.

Mr Flibble thinks Dave Gibbons is greedy, trying to have two jobs at once. You don't see him trying to be a polar bear, do you? How do you see comics in relation to MOVIES?

The connection between comic strips and film is often brought up. Indeed there are a lot of similarities there, images and their sound. But they really aren't the same, they only appear to be the same. Certain of the techniques you can use - just as in a film you would zoom in on something, in a comic you can mimic that. But the thing about a comic is the image is always there. Things have a different weight.

If you have a horror movie [and] somebody gets their throat slashed, it happens in a second of screen time and it's gone. But if you draw the same thing in a comic, it assumes a much greater weight because it's there for all time. And so you have to weight things in a slightly different way. In a comic book you can also relate images in a way you can't in film; you can echo things, you can mirror things, you can focus on things, you can put in a degree of subliminal detail that in a movie would be lost. But in a comic you can refer back to it.

A lot of the terminology in comics is the same, but I really do believe that the superficial resemblance belies the fact that they're actually completely different art-forms.

Mr Flibble enjoyed talking to Dave Gibbons, and now that it's over... Mr Flibble is very cross.