Visions Of The Future
This coming weekend is the ideal time to indulge in your BD & Comics Passion as the Institut Français in association with Comica Festival present a whole star-studded weekend of exciting activities bringing together the best of British and French comics professionals and connoisseurs, from China Miéville and Audrey Niffenegger to Bastien Vivès and Bryan Talbot.
Among others, British artist and writer Dave Gibbons will be meeting the co-creator of Valérian, French phenomenon Jean-Claude Mézières at the Institut Français, 17 Queensberry Place London SW7 2DT on Saturday, 8 October, 2-3pm, for an unique ‘happening’. Prepare to witness an incredible meeting of minds, as two outstanding comics creators talk about their shared fascinations, and draw their visions of the future before your very eyes. Tickets cost £10, concessions £8 and can be booked online or by calling 020 7073 1350. Early reservations recommended.
Dave Gibbons generously gave this exclusive interview to John Dunning, author of Salem Brownstone and co-founder of the original Comica Festival back in 2003.
How did you first meet Mézières?
I guess it was 3 or 4 years ago at a convention in Barcelona. I’d been a fan of Mézières for a long, long time. I went up and said to him, “Jean Claude I really enjoyed Valérian and all your other work” and he replied, “We should talk.” So we arranged to meet up later in the hotel bar and had a fantastic chat for an hour or so. He’s the most genial of men and fortunately he speaks English very well; I was able to ask him all the questions I wanted to as a fan and was pinching myself as a fellow professional to swap professional tales and tips. I’d first seen his work more than 30 years ago in a Spanish magazine with some of the early Valérian stuff. But the first time his work really, really hit me was a story called Space Punks that appeared in Métal Hurlant (Heavy Metal). That was just a fantastic story - it almost had a kind of 2000AD feel to it. It had his wonderful, expressive artwork with a racy, modern script. So when I did get to meet him it was a huge pleasure.
What attracted you to his work and what do you have in common?
Well I think it was the wonderfully expressive almost cartoony feel that deals with really quite evolved and interesting science fiction subjects. One thing I’ve always loved about the European comic albums is their ability to mix the cartoon with the realistic and to have these really expressive characters against really compelling and detailed atmospheric backgrounds. In my own modest way that’s what I tried to do with Watchmen. I tried to make the characters slightly cartoony and slightly larger than life. I tried to give them a little bit of interest and a little bit of caricature and all of that came from what I loved of Mézières’ work.
How do you think the public’s perceptions differ in terms of comics creators in the UK and France?
Don’t the French refer to bandes dessinées as the 9th art? There has always been a cultural identity for comics in Europe, France in particular, whereas here in England the artists are invisible people - people are always amazed that comics are drawn by anybody. Certainly, much more so in England than in France, comics are seen as juvenile and aimed at an exclusive juvenile audience. Whereas in France they are not, they are a pleasure, it may be a guilty pleasure, but for grownups as well. When things like Métal Hurlant was released it clearly were aimed at people who were much older than school children and France was ahead of the English speaking countries there.
Do you enjoy collaborating with other artists? What does that bring to your process?
I absolutely love collaboration and one of my favourite things about comics is that you get to collaborate with other creative minds. I think that when you’re both sympathetic to the cause what you come up with is far more than what you would have come up with on your own. When you’re working with somebody who’s talented and somebody whose work you admire it pushes you to do much better than you would do on your own. I’ve been really lucky to collaborate as an artist with some great writers like Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Pat Mills and John Wagner. As a writer I’ve had the chance to collaborate with Mike Mignola, Garcia Lopez and Steve Rude who are all major talents. I think that collaboration is one of the joys of comics. With the graphic novel that I did on my own, The Originals, I felt like I had to do it. It was a really interesting experience to write and draw something that took me a couple of years to draw, but it was a pretty lonely business. I think in future, I’m likely to be found collaborating.
The Originals by Dave Gibbons
Where do you weigh in on the whole ‘comics as literature’ debate - do you defend it as literature, or would you argue it has more freedom as a subversive form unmoulded by the critical establishment?
I wouldn’t presume to say comics are literature. I think comics are an equally valid way of telling stories as movies, stage drama’s, opera, radio and television. It’s a way of telling stories in words and images that has equal validity. Watchmen were made into a movie but I didn’t see that as Watchmen being validated, or that we’d now arrived as a legitimate medium. I think that Watchmen was always legitimate, and comics have always been a legitimate art form. I think comics can aspire to be literature, they can aspire to be entertainment, but I think that’s a judgement that is not made by the people who are doing the work. I think you always try and do the best work you can to have the effect you want. Hopefully if you do it well, people will get pure entertainment from it. Having said that, there is subversiveness to comics that I’ve always really enjoyed. It’s wonderful to have your work collected in a hardcover bookshelf, with wonderful printing and binding.
What advice do you have for young UK comics artists starting out today?
Well the main advice is you have to love to draw. Because if you’re going to be doing comics, no matter how they are delivered, whether it be traditional form or digitally, you’re going to have to really love to draw. Because the translation into digital media is universal nowadays, I think it’s a really good idea to have a passing grasp of what’s possible digitally and what tools are available. You need to learn how you can use software to express yourself in the way we’ve traditionally used pencil and paper. I hope that the basic skills of drawing on paper with a pencil and ink aren’t going to be lost, because that’s something that is intrinsic to the comic book form, at least the way I’ve always practiced it. Of course you don’t now have to have the black holding line around the colour, so there are a lot of things about the traditional or iconic comic book form that grew out of the technology that was being used and perhaps won’t apply in the future. But I think the thing that is absolutely intrinsic to comics which is the ability to tell a story using words and pictures. That’s a skill that young artists are always going to need.
One of the wonderful things about starting off as a young comic artist nowadays is that the whole world is available and you can look at comics from every country and from every culture. When I was growing up I saw a lot of British and American comics. Unbeknown to me at the time, a lot of the British comics were drawn by Europeans. But I remember going to Lucca, Italy for their huge convention in 1980 and it was a real Road to Damascus experience when I saw the incredible range of stuff that was out there that I hadn’t been aware of before. I mean I’d seen Mézières and Tintin some time before that, but really it was a huge eye opener to see what was going on in Europe. For young artists starting out today the world is available for them to look at and be influenced by, which is a wonderful thing.
Race For The Moon by Jack Kirby
Name a few of the comics that inspired you to make comics - and also others that you most admire today…
Well I suppose it would be the usual suspects: the work of Jack Kirby, particularly a comic book called Race For The Moon which was published by Harvey in the mid 50s and had an incredible impact on me. It was a real ground zero moment in my desire to draw comics. There was also Eagle that was the native colour comic of Britain in the 1950s. It was wonderfully drawn and printed, and something that you could aspire to create one day. There were the American superhero comics, once again people like Kirby, Infantino, Gil Kane, and Steve Ditko. MAD Magazine with Wally Wood and Will Elder were also a huge influence on me as a kid.
Today there are some incredible artists working in comics: I love what Sean Phillips, Duncan Fegredo and Chris Weston do. There are just so many wonderful artists working nowadays that it’s a crime to mention any, because I’m bound to leave someone’s name out who I really, really admire.
Treatment by Dave Gibbons
What are you currently working on now?
I’m finally starting on a series that Mark Miller has written. I’ve admired Mark’s work for a long, long time and he was a fan of mine when he was growing up. So we’re finally getting the chance to make beautiful music together. I have to be a bit enigmatic about it - I can’t tell you what it’s called or what it’s about because we have a very carefully orchestrated promotional campaign in place.
I also have high hopes for a project I created myself called Treatment, which premiered in a recent issue of Dark Horse Presents. I’m hopeful for that in various media, both in work I’m doing solely myself and with various collaborations. I’m particularly interested in getting out there on other platforms, notably the iPad and other tablets. There’s also a company called Madefire that has a wonderful system for presenting stuff digitally, so hopefully I’ll be working with them in the future as well.Posted: October 4, 2011