Wednesday 4pm: Dave Gibbons
As you may or may not know, today is the exact day that Marty McFly travels to in Back to the Future Part II. While we may not have flying cars, self-tying shoes or hover-boards, today we did have poet laureate Dave Gibbons speaking on his life and process – he even managed to work in illustrations of hover-scooters from the futuristic parallel world of The Originals. Gibbons talked of his love of science fiction and how his favourite works encompass an “infusion of action, invention and comedy.” But, his involvement with the future doesn’t end there, as he discussed his immersion in different aspects of multimedia and what he believes the future has in store for comics.
Chaired by Dundee University’s own comic’s lecturer Chris Murray, Gibbons is briefly introduced, focusing on his relationship with Dundee (being awarded an honorary degree last year), his emphasis on encouraging the reading of comics in education, as well as the creation of the Dundee Comics Creative Space (opening soon). Chris then handed the event over to the man himself who proceeded with what he called his “autobiographical presentation”; the accompanying image reading “The Story so Far.” Gibbons then delved into a montage of stories about his childhood, specifically his family and their support of his love of comics. The most touching memory is of Gibbons aged seven being bought an American Action Comic featuring Superman by his grandfather. Gibbons describes this comic as a “nugget of colour” when everything else around him seemed a perpetual grey. This memory also tied in with Gibbons’ roots to Dundee as his grandfather worked as a postings officer who was situated for a time in the city. This meant that Gibbons’ father grew up here and knew a D.C. Thompson artist, to whom he sent young Dave’s drawings. It is because of this that Gibbons feels that Dundee has played an important part in him being here today. With a clearly planned narrative arc, Gibbons later leads us back to the same comic he was gifted as a child, talking about the extreme thrill he felt when he was eventually asked to draw Superman for an American company – always referring to himself as a fan.
But Gibbons didn’t just talk about his strengths or successes. Included in the biography he gave is the disappointment he felt when he was given the opportunity to rewrite one of his co-created characters: Rogue Trooper. He explained that by giving the character a different origin story, his readership soon lost interest. So instead of merely highlighting his huge successes (Watchmen and his partnerships with comic icon Alan Moore simply glossed over or mentioned in reference) Gibbons gave equal attention to his failings, acknowledging that writing is not his strength.
Throughout the lecture, Gibbons also integrated his experiences working with different multimedia. He talked about his involvement with the computer games industry, having done character design for Beneath the Steel Sky and Bionic Commando. He said he finds computer games “similar to the fandom of comics”, where as a child you would read the medium and then write your own. He also briefly mentioned the product design on the Owl Ship in the film adaptation of Watchmen, praising the detail to which it replicated his illustration in the graphic novels. Towards the end he also promoted a couple of apps and digital readers such as May Fire and Magic leap, praising the digital format of comics for allowing privacy to readers, recognising the social taboo attached to reading comics as an adult. He explained how the rise of digital comics has in turn boosted readership, and ironically increased sales in book format.
Ending the event with an emphasis on the importance of comics in schools and promoting CLAW (comic literature awareness), Gibbons has succeeded not only in describing his own evolution as a comic book artist, but the changing opinion of comics in society and their gradual academic acceptance and appraisal. Gibbons then ended his presentation with a series of Q&A, the accompanying slide reading, much like the end of Back to the Future Part II: “To be Continued.”