Watchmen in Motion: Gibbons on Watchmen Motion Comics

Dave Gibbons on Watchmen Motion Comics

As we reported last week, the second chapter of Warner Premiere’s Watchmen Motion Comic hits this week, and can currently be found at iTunes and Amazon Video on Demand. As Newsarama described earlier, the online comic is a re-telling of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen with motion and audio.

We spoke with Gibbons about seeing his work move online.

Newsarama: Dave, you're now the first artist to have their works adapted by Warner Premiere Motion Comics - what's the attraction for you to how they do what they do?

Dave Gibbons: One of the attractions for me of having Watchmen made into the first Motion Comic was just that - it was breaking new ground. It was pretty good candidate for Motion Comics as the line style was very clear as I had drawn it years ago and therefore very easy to animate. John Higgins used a very flat, interesting color palate which made the technical aspect of animating easy. Also the story is a complete story – you know a beginning, middle and an end. The person who happens upon the Watchmen Motion Comics does not need to have any previous knowledge of continuity. So I suppose it’s another way to look at the material.

When I first looked at the samples of the Motion Comics, I thought they were quite well done but there are a few things that need tweaking, some things and that could be improved quite easily. One of the problems with the Watchmen material is that I’m so familiar with it and it’s hard to get an unbiased view on it. So I showed it to some friends and family who are in the business of games and animation. Of course we discussed the technicalities of it, but everyone remarked how well it was done. The “civilians” that I showed it to, particularly my two teenage stepdaughters, just thought it was great. They thought it was so exciting. They wanted to learn more and see what happened next in the story. So I think that really convinced me that this was a way of getting the material out to people who might not be aware of the comic, who might not pick up the comic and get some great entertainment value out of it.

NRAMA: Speaking how they do what they do, how involved are you in the process, with Watchmen?

DG: The way we work with the Watchmen Motion Comic is that I get sent successive versions of it. The first is a rough animatic that gives the breakdown of it in time which has limited animation and an unfinished audio track. Then I make my comments on that.

I start the Motion Comic up and record my comments on my computer in sync with what’s going on the screen. The people at Juiced and Warner Premiere play my comments back in a similar fashion and it provides them a sense as if I’m in the room with them. That works very well.

Basically what I’m looking out for is bits of animation that are not convincing to me. Bits of re-drawing that need some work. I mean anybody who’d tried to re-draw even a static comic to change the format of it or the size knows that there’s a lot of work, a lot of judgment involved in doing that. Doing that in motion as well is a whole new level of complexity. By in large it’s done very, very well.

I do get to look at the script which is virtually very light editing of Alan’s original script transcribed from the original comic book and then edited and re-recorded in sound. I must say I am impressed with how carefully the editing has been done. Words have been cut and re-arranged, but it’s incredibly faithful to Alan’s original script. Everybody’s aim is to be as faithful to the source material as possible.

NRAMA: Have you had to do anything to the original art for the transition to the Motion Comics version?

DG: I’ve done a little bit or re-drawing. There are lots of scenes where cars are driving by in the background. There are very few complete cars drawn in Watchmen. So I’ve extended the drawing of some of the cars so they can smoothly slide by in the background. I actually re-drew the Minutemen picture which Rorschach discovers in the back of The Comedian’s closet which re-occurs several times throughout the story. Again, there was no drawing of the Minutemen photo that was actually complete. Back in the day, I had a complete drawing of it that I used as a reference. So I re-drew a pretty good sized image so it could be used cleanly for transitions in all the scenes where the Minutemen photo appeared.

NRAMA: What are your thoughts on the finished product?

DG: I was looking at one of the episodes on my iPhone the other day and I have to say it translates beautifully to it. The image area is roughly the equivalent of a panel in the comic book with a different orientation. The sharpness of it is the same as the comic book. Also, the word balloons have been resized and read very clearly on an iPhone screen. I thought it was fascinating. I could see how the combination of the material and delivery system would make something like this a really attractive 25 minutes of entertainment for somebody. Also, the fact that it’s episodic gives you a new episode to look forward to in two weeks. So the finished product isn’t a comic book but there are still aspects of it that you’ll still need to go to the comic book for. The comic book is the prime experience but I do think the Motion Comic is a very good translation of the experience done very contentiously with a great deal of attention. Hopefully this new format will lead to even more people being aware of and interested in Watchmen.

NRAMA: What are your thoughts about the Motion Comics and their source? That is, you and Alan didn't design the comics to do this, necessarily, but rather, they were presented as static images. There are some who see this as an adulteration of the original material, while others see it as a hybrid, something reaching to be two things. Where do you land on those topics, that is, how these are "comics that wiggle" as one observer has called them?

DG: The source material was never designed to be animated and this has created a lot of logistical problems with extended drawing, additional movement to figures that never had it, etc. I think it’s always going to be a hybrid; it’s never going to be the pure thing anymore than the multi-million dollar motion picture will be the real thing. Watchmen the comic book is the real thing.

I still do think it’s an attractive and exciting way to present the material and I also think it shows the great strengths of Alan’s original story and, with modesty, the accessibility of my art style that I used on it. I think people can enjoy the graphic novel, they can enjoy the Motion Comic and they can enjoy the movie. I don’t think enjoying the presence of one excludes enjoyment of the others. I was particularly struck by the reaction of people who did not read the initial graphic novel. They were used to getting their visual excitement and storytelling from YouTube, TV or DVD. I think it’s a way of bridging that gap – bringing people hopefully to Watchmen the graphic novel and hopefully to other graphic novels and comics in general.

I do take the point about “comics that wiggle.” Obviously the animation is not full animation. It would be interesting actually to maybe do a comic book with this eventual use in mind. Certainly with digital media most comic books pass through a digital stage so it would not be a difficult to allow for a later translation to a Motion Comic. I think that would be a really interesting thing to see. It would also be interesting to make limited animation solely for a Motion Comic. It would seem to me to be an artistic challenge to create something that would be animated in a limiting way but still have great impact. I don’t think you need to have sophisticated execution to bring a story over powerfully. The good thing about comics is they are pretty simple and straightforward. I’ll be really interested to see what people can do with Motion Comics as a prime medium without looking over its shoulder for comic books as source material.

NRAMA: One last thing - any other of your works that you'd like to see used in this fashion? Any that you think would translate better than others?

DG: I think some of the short stories I did for 2000 A.D. - the British science fiction anthology. They would be interesting to do and of course I did those with Alan. They’re really satisfying little stories. I suppose there’s Martha Washington that Frank Miller and I did together which has some great action sequences. I was thrilled to see how well Batman: Mad Love was adapted to Motion Comics format. I think there’s something about that style of drawing - the kind of clarity of line and the flat color that is the key to the success of the translation. I’m really interested to see where this kind of hybrid medium goes. I’m quite excited to have something that I’ve worked on be the landing craft or the flagship of it.

I hope and confidently expect that a lot of people will very much enjoy these Motion Comics.

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