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Interview with Dave Gibbons
1963 Interview by Tom Field
His influence is everywhere--in Mystery Inc. and on the Fury, for instance--but he's nowhere to be found.
Dashin' Dave Gibbons, we're talking about--illustrious inker extraordinaire of the Sweatshop...except the Sweatshop is the last place you'll ever find him.
We caught up with the Dashing one in Las Vegas, where he as enjoying one of his regular rejuvenating junkets.
Tom Field: Dashin' Dave. Good morning to you.
Dashin' Dave Gibbons: Sure.
TF: I'm catching up with the different people that work in the Sweatshop, trying to give the fans a feel of what you people do there. Can you tell me how you got started in comics and how you came to work for Affable Al?
DG: Well, better I don't tell you the whole story of how I came to work for Al. Let's just say we go back a long way.
TF: You worked back in the '40s?
DG: Yeah I was there in the '40s. I've been inking comics since I was 14 years old. It's a thing I got on to fairly early, and it's a nice way to make money. I don't care too much for the people in the field, but it's okay.
TF: So you've always been interested in comics?
DG: I've been interested in making money from comics. I don't read them. In fact you're the first person I've ever met who does read them.
TF: There are a lot of people out there. So, tell me how you got started.
DG: How it got started? Well, it was back in about 19...well let's see, it was before the war. There were lots of guys I'd meet from the neighborhoods in New York who were looking for something better to do than work on the dock or work in the garment factory. Guys like Will Eisner and Bob Kane. I don't know what they do now, we were just kids at the time. I used to work in Eisner's studio. It was a bit like a clothing factory, you know these desks and... TF: This is the Eisner/Iger studio?
DG: Yeah, Eisner/Iger yeah that was his partner. We used to sit there, anyway, and we'd just get these pages pencilled for the books, and we'd just ink them in. We didn't know what they were, where they were going to be printed, if they were going to be printed. But it was okay, it was work. He was a hard man to work for, but he used to pay on time, you know. No problem. TF: What was it like working with Will Eisner, the creator of The Spirit?
DG: The creator of The Spirit? He created that, did he?
TF: Oh yes, yes.
DG: Oh! Well, you know he used to sit in the front, and I used to sit...I seem to remember it was the third seat from the back in the fourth row across, and he was just this guy in front bent over a drawingboard. That's about as much as I can tell you about Will Eisner. TF: You didn't see much of his work or what he was doing?
DG: Might have. He'd just put these pages in front of me and I'd ink them. All I knew is I had to go around this stuff and ink it and that was all I cared about. Could've been pencilled by anyone.
TF: Did you know Kirby, Fine, some of the other people that worked there, Cole?
DG: Kirby, Kirby?
TF: Jack Kirby.
DG: Tall guy, skinny, big tall guy.
TF: Nope the other one. The short one.
DG: Short guy...
TF: Created Captain America and the Young Allies and worked on The Sandman for DC.
DG: The Sandman...DC... Oh yeah I know DC. They're a big publisher of this stuff, aren't they? Yeah. Kirby...he could have been that short guy, the guy who smoked those disgusting cigars.
TF: I bet that's the one.
DG: Yeah. Well, I mean he may have been okay as a guy, but the cigars--I couldn't stand them. In fact, I asked to be moved because this stuff had me sneezing all the time and cleaning that stuff off your drawing is just extra work you don't get paid for.
TF: So, you didn't see much of their work?
DG: Well, I may have, but like I say, it could have been anybody's work. You know--it just came in one side and went out the other.
TF: How did you happen to come to work for Affable Al?
DG: Well, I don't think Al would want me to speak about that. See, we got an understanding. I mean, what do you want to know this stuff for anyway?
TF: Well, there are a lot of fans out there. Your readers are interested in finding out more about you. They want to know more about how you came to work and what sort of things inspire you. There are people who want to do comics like you. They want to know more about it.
DG: Well, the reasons I'm working for Al don't have much to do with comics. Like I said, we go back a few years. We've had various dealings and well, I've done Al a few favors over the years. Let's just say Al's got some expensive tastes. He sort of feels, and I feel, that he owes me some, you know?
TF: You knew him, then, when he was working for his uncle Moorie?
DG: Oh, Moorie. Yeah you could say I knew Moorie pretty well. I used to do a few, er, jobs for Moorie. Say, this is just for young kids who like comics, isn't it? This interview?
TF: Oh, yes, not just kids, but adults as well. Comics aren't just for kids anymore, you know.
DG: Who are they for?
TF: There are adults out there. There are people who take a very scholarly approach to this work.
DG: Like how old?
TF: Twenty, twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five.
DG: Men and women?
TF: More men than women, yes.
DG: More men than women. Well, and are some of them kind of in the legal profession do you suspect? You know, cops, D.A.'s, judges?
TF: I think you'll find them in all professions. Teachers and...
DG: Right. Well, all I'm prepared to say is that I work for Al, and he pays me well 'cos I do good work and the rest is between me and Al, and I don't know that he'd want me talking about this.
TF: I see. Talk about some of the work that you've done then. You worked for Eisner and Iger during the war. What did you go on to do?
DG: Tell the truth, I can't remember what I was inking last week. But let me see, yeah... I remember there was...I don't think it was Eisner and Iger, but I remember these guys had to get this comic book out over a weekend. There was this character, he was kind of on fire.
TF: Oh the Human Torch?
DG: Oh Human Torch.
TF: That would be for Timely with Bill Everett and Carl Burgos.
DG: Yeah, some guys like that, yeah. And there was another character, he had wings on his feet. I know this is hard to believe but...
TF: That would be the Submariner, of course.
DG: The Submariner? Yeah, that's right--he'd be wet wouldn't he? One guy was on fire and the other was wet.
TF: Yes very elemental.
DG: Well, there was this book that had to be got out 'cos somebody thought that it would be a good idea if fire could fight water. I guess, though, water fights fire, that's the way it usually happens, huh? Anyway, they had to get this book out real quick. I mean, this is the thing you have to understand about comics. This stuff happens overnight. This stuff isn't thought about. I don't want to kind of spoil anything for you or people out there like you, but this stuff happens really quick. We did this one weekend. We were in some guy's apartment and we just sat there until we got the damn thing done.
TF: You've worked on that issue of The Human Torch, it's a famous issue.
DG: It is? Well, it was famous for us because we did it so quick. We didn't believe that ink could dry that fast! So it's famous, is it?
TF: It's very well known among fans. I didn't realize you worked on that.
DG: Well I did. It's just one that sticks in my mind because of those really stupid characters. I mean, fire and water's how you make coffee, not comic books.
TF: You were part of history. How does that feel?
DG: You trying to make me feel older than I am, kid?
TF: No, no disrespect intended...ahem. So you worked with Bill Everett. What was Bill Everett like?
DG: Bill Everett?
TF: He's the one who created the Submariner.
DG: Oh, he created the wet guy, did he?
TF: The wet one.
DG: The wet one. I seem to remember he used to put lots of lines in, that Bill. That was the problem. Most pencil guys, they probably use six lines to draw a face, and that's the way to draw. If you can draw a face in six lines, well, you know, you can be drawing the next face by the time you're adding all the whiskers and all the little bits of shadow and stuff that nobody looks at anyway. I remember Everett. I do remember him because he cost me money inking all those lines. Nowadays, I'd just ignore most of 'em.
TF: After the war, of course, Eisner and Iger split up, and in the Timely books, they weren't publishing as many. What did you go on to do then?
DG: Well you know...it's awhile ago and lots of things have happened along the way, but I remember there was a big thing for romance comics. They used to...well they couldn't just have a romance comic or a cowboy comic, they used to have a romance/cowboy comic all mixed together, or a detective/romance comic. They couldn't do just one thing. I don't know how people used to make sense of it. Maybe they didn't, I don't know. I remember Cowgirl Love was one that I worked on. I remember it because I couldn't believe you could write stories about cowgirls in love. It was a strange kind of thing because I could never work out whether it was the cowgirls in love with each other, or if they were in love with the cowboys, or if they were in love with the horses. But the guy who used to pencil this stuff for me, he couldn't draw horses, so the only thing that tipped you off that it was the wild west was the title. There was another one called Baffling Romance and this was about detectives in love, but it was the same stuff. I said to them, "Just draw the faces on the page and do the costumes and backgrounds on a see-thru overlay. Give them cowboy hats on overlay, don't draw all this crap again. It's the same story every time, so just change the hats and draw some cattle instead of phone boxes." Frontier Funnies was another one. These were kind of like comical backwoodsmen. It was strange stuff they used to do in those days. Of course everybody was scared of the A-bomb back in the '50s. I remember there was another one I worked on called Atomic Antics. It was about these animals that had been mutated by radiation. It was weird stuff. It was raccoons with beams coming from their eyes, and wolverines with wings on their backs. But you know I didn't read this stuff. Well, only just enough to know what I was supposed to be drawing and did just draw it. If you spend your life thinking about stuff like that you could go crazy.
TF: Well, you left quite an impression. There were people that really have followed your work over the years.
TF: This is true.
DG: Well, I guess you got to have a hobby.
TF: You went on from the '50s to come to work for Affable Al, and you were there when all these great characters were created.
DG: Yeah... Was I?
TF: You were there when Mystery Incorporated was born.
DG: Well all I know is suddenly the kind of pages I got changed. We used to do a lot of this stuff with big monsters and alien invasions and stuff like that. One day the monsters just stopped coming. I think I was on about page 15 of this book and I suddenly thought "hey, I haven't seen any monsters today." I suddenly realized that I'd been inking all these characters with kind of skin-tight costumes just like in the '40s, and I thought, well, Al's always been one to save a buck. I thought maybe he found some stuff from the '40s that had never been inked in, and he was kind of you know running it again, or maybe he got somebody to trace off some of the old stuff. But, no, this was new stuff--big Al reckoned this was the thing of the future. Makes no difference--you want monsters or super-heroes, it's all the same stuff to me. As long as there aren't too many lines in it I'll ink anything.
TF: Were you a part of the whole creation of the characters? You've worked on Mystery Incorporated since the beginning, I don't think you've missed an issue.
DG: Which one's that?
TF: Mystery Incorporated with the Planet, the four characters.
DG: The Planet...
TF: Big guy with a world for a head.
DG: Oh, I know the guy. Yeah, yeah. I worked on that for awhile. I've been on that from the beginning, have I?
TF: I don't think you've missed an issue. That comic book revolutionized comic books. It started the whole Sweatshop explosion. You weren't part of the creation?
DG: Well, I guess I inked it in. I can remember there was...cause that Planet character, you know, they seem to like that character. You know he's a pain to draw. Most characters you can get away you know dot, dot for the eyes, slash for the nose, line for the mouth. But with this guy once you done that, you still got to draw all these craters. It's like drawing another three or four sets of features on his head. Then I figured, if you see one crater you've seen them all, so I started to have smoke coming out of them and then you wouldn't have to see so many craters. Well, the guys seemed to like that, they thought this was some kind of creative breakthrough. But that's why I did it. To save time. I get paid to ink this stuff, I don't get paid to be creative.
TF: You work right there in the Sweatshop?
DG: Hell, no. I don't work in the Sweatshop. You know these guys who work there, this Veitch and this Bissette guy you know...
TF: Roarin' Rick and Sturdy Steve.
DG: Really? Is that their names? Well, Veitch and Bissette are kind of strange people. You know, I don't like to tell tales out of school but they're kind of beatnik types. I think Veitch...well let's put it like this if I was sitting in the Sweatshop I wouldn't want Veitch to be sitting in back of me. He's a very unpredictable kind of guy you know, personal problems. And see, to draw this stuff you've got to have sharp pencils and knives and razor blades to sharpen them with lying around. I'd want danger money to work in there, and you know how Al is with money.
TF: Well what's it like working with them? I mean, you get to work over their drawings, and they're the mainstays, the artistic foundation of the whole company.
DG: Oh yeah? You ask me they're real lucky to be working anywhere. Again, I guess I shouldn't tell tales, but really their stuff needs lots of work. I mean, I don't want to take the credit for this stuff, believe me, I don't. But like I say, Al's kind of tight on things and he finds it very difficult to get professional artists to work for him. But with these guys, the books were going nowhere, and they really didn't want any money as such, I think they just wanted food, and I think Al gave them some of his old clothes to start with. This stuff is all they know how to do. I guess there just must be lots of people out there who got the same kinds of brains as Bissette and Veitch.
TF: Well, they're very well received by comics fans. They love their work.
DG: I guess that says more about comics fans' brains than it does about Veitch and Bissette. All I know is Al sends this stuff to me to get it to a printable standard. See I've been doing this stuff for years and sometimes I don't even really have to look at what they pencil. I don't think they even know how to hold a pencil. I think at least Al should show them how to do that. I mean, you're supposed to hold it between your fingers. I think these guys hold it in their fists like a dagger. Sometimes the pencil has gone through to the other side of the paper. You can't erase stuff that heavy, you have to white it out. So really this is what Al pays me for, just to bring this stuff up to a professional standard.
TF: So, this is a real challenge for you?
DG: Well, it's not so much a challenge. It's more like doing kind of carpentry or masonry work or some other kind of hard labor. The first thing I have to do with a page of their work is to use an eraser and try to get some of the lines down to a medium gray rather than a jet black. I mean, there are times these guys lean on the pencils so hard, I just get the little dropper on the bottle of ink and just drop the ink in the lines and it'll just flow along and ink itself. That's the thing you can do with their work. But really it's so bad, sometimes it's hard to tell the pages from what they come wrapped in. But at least it's quick. I just draw what I think should be there and I don't think that Al cares that much. So long as I fill the pages up and there are a few recognizable faces, some thick and thin lines and some areas of black, he seems quite happy.
TF: What would you say your favorite characters are to work on?
DG: Favorite characters?
TF: Yes, you've worked on a number of different ones.
DG: Well there's this character called, what's he called? The Fury? Is it the Fury?
TF: The Fury. Of course.
DG: The Fury. Well his costume's good because it's nearly solid black. Although to start with, it had a lot of cross-hatching in it and stuff but who wants to do all that? Who looks at that? So I started to black it in and leave a few little highlights and then make the highlights smaller and next issue there's going to be no highlights at all. I'll just do the thing solid black because by the time it's printed it may as well be solid black. I mean what Al pays to get this stuff printed who's going to see all that hatching anyway? May as well just black it in. It's quicker.
TF: So the Fury story's your favorite ones to read as well? I mean that's the book that brought in the whole personal trauma and the dilemma between the Fury and his secret identity and his past life.
DG: I think I must have missed that issue. Although when I get the pages I like doing the real easy ones first because I like to get the brush warmed up. So I just shuffle the pages around and I never look at them in order.
TF: So you don't see the books until they really come out then? That's when you get a chance to read the stories.
DG: See the books when they come out?
TF: When they're published.
DG: No. I don't see the books at all. I mean I'm not going to walk into a store and buy this stuff. They'll think I'm some kind of mental defective or something.
TF: But Al must send them to you?
DG: Send me comic books? Well, first, Al would have to pay the postage, and second Al knows what I would do with comic books. He'd be better just to send me toilet paper.
TF: You don't work in the Sweatshop, and I've caught up with you in Las Vegas here in a hotel, you're on vacation now is that it?
DG: Vacation? No, this is the way I live. Las Vegas is a great place, and there's lots of my friends here in Las Vegas, and there's lots of cute chicks and, hey, I have to pass the time somehow! Sometimes when I get tired of Vegas I go to Atlantic City for a few months, or I may be living with some broad somewhere. I just ink four, five, maybe six pages in the morning, go out and play some golf, come back do another four or five pages, hit the casinos, go out to dinner, you know, spend the night with some girl.
TF: Where's your home studio?
TF: Do you have a studio, a place where you work regularly?
DG: I work anywhere I am. You can ink this stuff resting on the back of the room service menu you know. You don't need a studio. And my equipment fits in hand luggage. A gross of nibs, a quart of ink, a dozen #8 brushes, a gallon of white-out, that's all you need.
TF: So you just travel around?
DG: Yeah sure.
TF: Do you have any interests outside of your art that you pursue?
DG: Hey, art's not an interest, it's a living. My interests are what I just told you. I like to hang out with the guys, shoot some pool, play some golf, play some blackjack, spend some time with the ladies, and drink. Those are my interests, like any other normal guy. Like you.
TF: I'm sorry, I don't drink.
DG: You don't drink?
DG: You mean you're sober at this moment?
TF: At this moment yes.
DG: And do you drink when you read these comic books?
TF: Oh no, no, no. Coffee or Coke.
DG: Say do you want me to call down for a couple of girls? I mean we could have more fun than this.
TF: This is very interesting. We're documenting history here. There are a lot of people out there who are very interested in what you've done in your life.
DG: Wouldn't you rather document the women instead? Know what I mean?
TF: We can get to the women later.
DG: Okay. But can we make it sooner rather than later? Heh.
TF: Let's talk some more about your work and about the people that you've known in the business.
TF: Who do you admire in the comic book field?
DG: Who do I admire in the comic book business? The rich ones.
TF: No, I mean the people whose work you enjoy.
DG: Well, there are people whose bankroll I'd enjoy. Let's just get this straight. I draw these things, it doesn't mean I read them. You know, like a printer prints newspapers, but he doesn't read all his newspapers. This is what I do for a living.
TF: Do you know Harvey Kurtzman?
TF: He did Mad, is now doing some work for this new magazine Playboy.
DG: Oh Playboy! Kurtzman, he's the guy yeah. He does Fannie Annie.
TF: Annie Fannie.
DG: Yeah Fannie Annie that's right. I've done some of that stuff you know. They set me up in a studio at the Playboy mansion, you know Hef's place.
TF: At the Playboy mansion? You've been there?
DG: Yeah. Oh sure, yeah. I've got my own suite there. You know Hef's a cartoonist in his heart. He publishes these Playboy magazines, but he loves cartoons. They said they needed some good quality stuff done quick on this Fannie Annie stuff and they called me in. Hef told me he had always admired my work. This was kind of news to me but I wasn't going to argue with him. I'm up there four, five times a year for a week or two.
TF: Wow. You must brush elbows with some great people there--Kurtzman, Elder.
DG: Well it's not elbows I brush when I'm at the Playboy mansion. You know Hef goes into a huddle with me and these cartoon guys... I can take about 15 minutes of it and then I have to go and do something else. These guys are sick. And slow--it all has to be just so. Then I get called in to get it done on time.
TF: It must be a tough place to get work done. Isn't it kind of distracting?
DG: Sure... But, hey, Hef can't complain. You know, if he gives me a studio there, what am I supposed to do? I'm a red-blooded guy you know? Who's wants to sit in a room with comic books? Well, I don't know. I'm finding out that there are people who would do that, but not me.
TF: You've never gone to any comic book conventions then?
TF: Where fans get together and they buy, sell and trade comic books and they meet some of the creators.
DG: No, I've never been to one of those. I don't think I'd like that. It'd be like going to like a pig farmer's convention or a automobile's spares convention or something like that. No I wouldn't go there. If it was in Las Vegas, you know, I might look in, or if they were going to pay for a room or something like that I guess I could. So, I guess all these guys like you go, do they?
TF: Well yes there are a lot of people that collect the comic books, and they're very serious about them.
DG: I guess they are.
TF: They take your work very seriously.
DG: Listen I take my work seriously. You know, this is what I have to do to live. That's taking it serious. What do these guys do? Do they y'know, get off on it or what? Sounds kinda abnormal.
TF: Oh, certainly, they collect the comics and sometimes they even collect the original artwork.
DG: Collect the original artwork? They pay money for it?
TF: Certainly. I'm sure you save yours and sell it.
DG: Sell it? You mean people save their artwork?
TF: Certainly. Of course I understand that Roarin' Rick and Sturdy Steve have had some trouble getting their artwork back from Affable Al, but you and Al go back so far.
DG: Yeah. Umm. Well I guess I'll have to talk to Al about this. Real soon. TF: What do you see yourself doing in the future? Are you going to stay with comic books? Would you like to create your own characters or write your own stories? DG: Right after you've left, I'm going to pick up that phone and have some friends of mine go see Al. That's the immediate future. What happens after that, I don't know. Maybe there'll be a new editor up there. TF: What kind of advice would you have for someone that would like to follow in your footsteps? DG: Don't trust that bastard Al. Now, would you get the hell out of here...
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