SDCC: Watching the Watchmen

Dave Gibbons, Chip Kidd, and Mike Essl talked about their upcoming book, Watching the Watchmen, a behind-the-scenes account of the making of the seminal graphic novel. This oversized, 250-plus-page book is scheduled for release in October.

The panel opened with Dave Gibbons talking a bit about the conditions that led to the creation of Watchmen in the mid 1980s. Gibbons describes himself and other UK creators of his generation, such as Alan Moore, Brian Talbot and Brian Bolland, as the first group of people who grew up being fans, and who specifically wanted to work in comics, as opposed to simply being refugees from other professions, such as illustration or writing. Like their American contemporaries, these creators were influenced by American comics, which began being imported into the U.K. in 1959 (“garish objects from an alien civilization. Amazing and fantastic”, said Gibbons), but they were also heavily influenced by European artists. He then went on to talk about the making of Watchmen specifically: how the book essentially came together over a weekend sleepover with Alan Moore at Gibbons’ house, and how, due to a deadline crunch, there was a point where Moore would write two pages of the script and send those two pages via taxi to Gibbons’ house, fifty miles away. Gibbons would work on those two pages, and then wait for the next two pages to arrive via taxi.

Gibbons then turned the mic over to Chip Kidd, who came prepared with a slide show of spreads from the new book, including the cover (along with rejected alternates), end papers, and front matter (unfortunately, photos were not allowed, otherwise I would have been snapping away). In classic Kidd style, the treatment, particularly the cover and endpapers, is big on imagery from the original four-color printing that has been scaled way larger than originally intended, resulting in lots of oversized halftones.

He then went on to the meat and potatoes of the matter: the content.

This book looks like it will be dense–a treasure-trove of arcana. It turns out that Dave Gibbons is an obsessive hoarder (his words), so he’s got everything, and I do mean everything: sketches, synopses, courier envelopes, character design sheets, color guides, page layouts, thumbnails, anecdotes, and even a fan letter from Archie Goodwin, scrawled out in sharpie on a plastic bag. Additionally, it will include more obscure material, particular to Gibbons’ work process, such as: supplemental sketches of locations which were never intended for the comic, but helped him lay out a page or block a scene; schematics for equipment and vehicles; and, most impressively, sketches where Gibbons works out seemingly inconsequential details that would probably never be noticed by the reader unless it was pointed out.

Kidd made it plain that he’s a fan of the medium at heart, and he explains that despite his being very familiar with Watchmen, putting together this book gave him new insights into the structure of Watchmen, and the process of sifting through so much raw material led him to pick up on themes and make connections in the book that he’d overlooked before.

Kidd also made a point of stating that part of the challenge of creating this book was the recent publication of the Absolute edition of Watchmen, a beautiful, oversized, leather-bound and slipcased, re-colored definitive edition of Watchmen, which also includes much supplemental material. Having bought (and enjoyed the hell out of) Absolute Watchmen myself, one of the reasons I wanted to catch this panel was because I was skeptical of the need for another Watchmen-related book, and wanted to see if this was not just a case of jumping on the Watchmen movie bandwagon. After seeing the few spreads that Kidd displayed, and getting a sense of the breadth and depth of material covered in the book, I’m convinced. I’ve put in an order for Watching the Watchmen already.


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