Comics Salopia 2022: How Comics Work With Dave Gibbons

by Olly MacNamee

Returning after a brief hiatus caused by the you-know-what, Comic Salopia opened its doors to comic book fandom in the picturesque market town of Shrewsbury and the grandiose setting of the Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery. A rather spectacular backdrop for the first talk of the day from Dave Gibbons, who talked through his process of approaching the production of comic books. 

So, how does Dave Gibbons create comics?

Firstly, have a system. You’re working to a deadline after all. “Work from the general to the particular.”

Get the foundations in place and build from there. This, coming from a man who once was a building surveyor in a life a good while ago now. As Gibbons freely admits. He started working in comics in 1973. In comics this, of course, stems from the thumbnails to pencils to inks, polishing as you go along.

Every picture and word should have a purpose. In other words, everything happens in a work of fiction for a reason, unlike real life. There is a need to be economic in comics given you only have a finite number of pages per comic to tell your story. Thus, Gibbons advice is not to pontificate but to get to the heart of your story quickly. No elaborate exposition and set up for Gibbons.

Dave tries to break down each page into thumbnails that can, more or less, fit onto an A4 piece of paper. That way you can see the flow of each page and the comic as a whole. 

At this point Gibbons illustrates this with an anecdote from his days on Watchmen. At one point, as the artist, Dave realised there was far too much dialogue being shared between Night Owl, Rorschach an Adrain Veidt at his artic hideout. Alan Moore agreed and hours later he had cut the dialogue down by half and that’s what was printed. 

Moving onto to writing; pacing and sequencing stories, Gibbons advises breaking down the script into pages and then into panels before adding the words, and then sound effects. At that point – and this is still on the pre-production stage – refine the script. 

Gibbons also repeats the famous rule of thumb, as promised by Alan Moore who learnt it from Mort Weissman (Silver Age editor on Superman) – only include 200 words per page. Although, I would question that as an outdated rule given how many writers, such as Ram V, make a virtue of dialogue heavy comics. Pick up any issue of The Swamp Thing (with art by Mike Perkins, another guest at this year’s Comic Salopia) and I dare you to say it ain’t so. 

Gibbons cannot emphasis enough the importance of getting your composition right. The relationship between the art and the script is what is the true art of comics. 

By the time you’re ready to flesh out the thumbnails you’ll need a ton of reference. When Gibbons first started working fro American comics, he had two books on New York that he used time and again. Of course, with the internet, and Google Street View, the ned for physical references has been made redundant. Don’t be a slave to reality, Dave advises, but do be informed. Do your homework!

Finally then, onto the subject of inks. Gibbons tends to draw directly over his pencils, but he will always photocopy those pencil in case he does make a mistake. He then warms up by inking a less important part of the page, and often works on more than one page at a time. Warming up is something I ahead a lot of artists speak about. Some may start the day with sketches that have nothing to do with the comic, or even commissions, before getting on with the comic book work they have on their drawing board.

All-in-all, Gibbons concludes by admitting he found this process early on in his career because he was able to discuss this process with other artists. Artists, Gibbons has found, are more than happy to share their tips, and with the online communities afforded by the internet there is no end of support to be found out there. Gibbons gives a great overreaching production process and one, I dare say, many have used, and will use. While many will see this is as a very solid foundation to start. 

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