WEDNESDAY COMICS: Dave Gibbons

Wed, August 26th, 2009 at 3:28pm PDT

Comic Books
Jeffrey Renaud, Staff Writer
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"Wednesday Comics" #8 on sale now

Welcome back to CBR’s weekly look at DC Comics’ hit series, “Wednesday Comics.” Presented in a broadsheet format (14 inches by 20 inches), the 12-week series features 15 strips written and illustrated by Eisner Award winners like Kyle Baker, Brian Azzarello and Kurt Busiek. And with DC icons Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman standing tall beside lesser-known characters like Adam Strange, Metamorpho and Deadman, there is truly something for everybody.

Every Wednesday, CBR News presents a new interview with the creators bringing this unique title to life. This week, it’s yet another Eisner Award winner, Dave Gibbons, who has joined forces with artist Ryan Sook (“Hawkman,” “The Spectre”) for a strip featuring the Last Boy on Earth, the Jack Kirby creation, Kamandi. Gibbons, an industry icon thanks to his role as the artist of “Watchmen,” serves as writer on the project.

Additionally, we have as special guest this week in Mark Schultz, the current writer of the “Prince Valiant” newspaper strip, which is illustrated by Gary Gianni and distributed to both American and Canadian newspapers by King Features Syndicate. “Prince Valiant” and its creator Hal Foster have inspired many of the strips in “Wednesday Comics” so CBR News checked in with the writer for his thoughts about the weekly series and the overall importance of “Prince Valiant,” a strip that continues to attract readers after more than 70 years in publication.

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Q&A WITH “WEDNESDAY COMICS” WRITER DAVE GIBBONS

CBR: Were you a fan of Jack Kirby’s Kamandi before the “Wednesday Comics” project?

DAVE GIBBONS: Yes, I was. I always loved Kirby. Some of the first stuff I remember copying out of a comic book was Kirby’s “Race to the Moon” back in the fifties. He is the king of comics. There is no doubt about that. Kamandi was a little bit after my prime time of being a comics fan but I did buy nearly every issue and I really loved the setting of it – the typical Kirby wackiness of these talking animals somehow seemed completely believable in a very compelling world. And that was clearly a nod to “Planet of the Apes.” It had all that wonderful, way out Kirby stuff that we all love so much.

Dave Gibbons & Ryan Sook page from "Wednesday Comics"

What made you believe Kamandi would be a good, if not great, fit for a player in “Wednesday Comics?”

Well, I can’t take any credit for that. [Editor] Mark Chiarello approached me last September about “Wednesday Comics” and that Kamandi was going to be in it and would I like to write it. Mark is such a perceptive editor. I never in a million years would have thought of writing Kamandi, or even drawing Kamandi, it just didn’t seem to be in the area of things that I might do but the minute he mentioned it to me, I could completely see how it might work because I’ve always been a big fan of the old Sunday comics, “Prince Valiant,” “Tarzan,” “Flash Gordon.” I just had this kind of sudden, instant vision of a Kamandi page that had the text blocks like “Prince Valiant” and it had all this wonderful, dramatic, mythic stuff going on with these grotesque animals and being told in a very formal way. So that’s what really interested me about it.

Did you consider illustrating the strip yourself or were you only interested in writing it?

I was really only interested in writing it at that point because I’ve been really heavily involved with the promotion of the “Watchmen” movie and various things to do with that. My time has really been pre-occupied with that so I wouldn’t have had time to draw [Kamandi]. In fact, it was relatively difficult even to write it but I love collaboration. Really, I’d much rather write something for some else to draw or draw something that somebody else has written rather than doing the whole thing myself because there’s always the thrill of seeing what the other guy is going to do. Certainly what Ryan Sook has done it is just phenomenal – far more than anything I could have wished for.

How did you and Ryan Sook come together as partners on this project?

Again, that was a suggestion of Mark’s. I was kind of aware of things that Ryan had done in the past and I immediately started to visualize it in his style and I thought, “Yes, this could really work.” And I think the fact he’s doing the lettering and the coloring himself really adds to the integrity of the whole thing. I couldn’t be happier with what he’s doing with it.

As an artist yourself, have you been penciling any panels or pages to give Sook an idea of what you’re thinking?

No. That’s a point of honor. I never, ever draw things on scripts. Sometimes when you are describing something for another artist, you think, “Well, it would be quicker to just draw this.” But I know when I’ve been given scripts that have a visual by the writer, it completely throws me. Once you’ve seen that imaging of it, it’s very hard to supplant it with your own so I think really, as a point of honor, to be a writer, you write and to be an artist, you draw.

Dave Gibbons & Ryan Sook page from "Wednesday Comics"

Did you enjoy working within the one-page, weekly serial format?

Yes, I did. Again, it’s a challenge to do it all in the single page. Making it a page that’s exciting to look at with some kind of cliffhanger or at least some kind of interest at the end of each episode to keep the whole thing flowing so that you could pick up a page at random and still have a pretty good idea of what was going on in the story.

And of course, a lot of the comics I read growing up were weekly serial comics, mainly all the British comics were weekly, serial comics and that style of storytelling is pretty well ingrained.

Did you go back and read any old serials to get a feel for the pacing? Kurt Busiek told me your Kamandi story had a real “Prince Valiant” feel.

Yes, I did have a look at a couple of “Prince Valiant” collections just to get an idea of how to tell a story the way Hal Foster would have. And the conventions of telling a story in narrative prose because you obviously supply different information than what’s in the picture. It’s quite a classic way of doing comics. Again, a lot of old British comics have what they call “libretto.” In other words, they’d have a picture with a block of text underneath. So it would be a whole page full of regular rows of pictures with regular boxes of type underneath. It’s all different ways of telling stories in words and pictures.

I must just say, there’s a wonderful new series of “Prince Valiant” reprints being issued by Fantagraphics. I think the first one came out last month. It’s easily the most handsome reprint edition of “Prince Valiant” that I’ve seen. So anybody who likes the feel of Kamandi, I would refer them back to the actual master of Sunday comics, Hal Foster and “Prince Valiant.”

Would you be interested in doing more work with Kamandi? Maybe a miniseries or even an ongoing title?

I like the character but I feel like with a lot of toys that DC has in its toy box, it’s nice to get them out and play with them and have your say about them and then maybe you have somebody else have their say and find something else that interests you. I don’t have any plans to continue with Kamandi. As I say, part of the attraction was the [“Wednesday Comics”] format. Not so much the character, but the way of telling the story and to try and make something as old as Kamandi is -- he’s from the seventies - have some kind of interest and relevance to today’s readers.

Dave Gibbons & Ryan Sook panel from "Wednesday Comics"

What else are you working on DC or otherwise? Can you share any news on your upcoming project with Mark Millar?

I’m writing a little bit of animation featuring DC characters, which is interesting and again, is a different way of telling stories. And there’s maybe something more on one of the Green Lantern Corps. We haven’t tied all that down but that’s a possibility.

As far what I’m doing with Mark Millar, we’re still at the very early stages of that because I have been doing the circuit publicizing “Watchmen” and he’s on the road again advertising “Kick-Ass,” so it’s going to be a month anyway before we can sit down and really start to talk. But I’m very excited about it and I love Mark’s work and I love Mark, as well, so I’m really looking forward to doing something with him.

It’s been a year of looking back at “Watchmen” and working on established characters so I’m really looking forward to the thrill and challenges of doing something completely new.

Q&A WITH “PRINCE VALIANT” WRITER MARK SCHULTZ

CBR: For someone who writes a serial strip, not as an experiment or a special project but as a regular gig, what do you think about DC’s “Wednesday Comics?”

MARK SHULTZ: Honestly, I think it’s so cool. It’s the first really cool new format we’ve seen in a long time. I have my fingers crossed that it will lead to other things.

Does its success give what you’re doing any kind of bump or increased level of interest?

To be honest, I doubt it. The people who tend to read Sunday strips are an entirely different audience. The good thing is that it’s a huge audience because of the pervasiveness of newspapers. So it’s a huge readership compared to what you find in comic books, but the downside is, as we all know, the format for the comic strips has continually shrunk over the years. And the printing has deteriorated and it’s become more and more limiting what you can do with the traditional format.

I doubt that there’s going to be a significant bump that going to catch the eye of newspaper editors or the syndicates but hopefully [“Wednesday Comics”] does get people to at least look at the potential and classic use of the strips, back when they were a size that you could really do something with.

Speaking with “Wednesday Comics” editor Mark Chiarello, he cited “Prince Valiant,” and in particular your run with Gary Gianni, as something readers should check out if they’re enjoying “Wednesday Comics.”

That’s very gratifying to hear Mark say that. Gary and I are huge fans of classic strips and huge fans of Hal Foster and Jack Murphy, who continued the strip after Hal. It’s a balancing act between appreciating that we’re carrying on their tradition and at the same time, trying to define our own take. And given the fact that it’s a different format that we have to work with, this shrunken format, we have to figure out storytelling techniques and ways of presenting the material in ways that work with what we have to work with today. But it’s always cool to know that fellow professionals are following what you do.

I’ve chatted with many of the writers and artists from “Wednesday Comics” over the past few months and many, not all, but many have referenced “Prince Valiant” as a strip they went back and explored when writing or drawing their own strips for this project. Does that surprise you or does it make perfect sense?

It makes perfect sense but it always does please me that a younger generation is discovering this stuff. Hal Foster along with Alex Raymond, who was doing “Flash Gordon” and Milt Caniff, who was doing “Terry and the Pirates,” are kind of the grand triumvirate who inspired the whole comic book business, the way comics looked. These are the go-to guys. You look at early Jack Kirby and all of the influences of all of these three are evident and he simplified them all eventually into his own unique style but that’s who all these guys looked to and inspired them and they aspired to be – these big adventure strip artists. So it’s good to know and it’s logical that this would continue with people who grew up as comic book artists.

Hal Foster kind of invented how we tell a dramatic story and answered the question, how do we tell an action story in comics without the comic overlay, without the humorous overlay? How do we do the cliffhanger? How do we stage and choreograph the static panels to actually give the impression of action? He had to invent a lot of this stuff and he did it so effortlessly. And it’s great to know it’s still a touchstone for people.

“Wednesday Comics” #8 is on sale now from DC Comics. Be sure to check back next week when we discuss The Demon and Catwoman with Walt Simonson.

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TAGS:  wednesday comics, dc comics, dave gibbons, mark shultz, kamandi

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