Sunday, 26 February 2012

Fleeting Encounters with the Rich and Famous: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

The Broadmarsh Shopping Centre in Nottingham is unusual for a coupla is probably one of the few shopping malls where you can go on a cave tour. It is also in the area where Dr Who claims to come from in the Family of Blood stories (where he has erased his real memory - so add that to your list of characters with Nottingham connections - just like Batman, Robin Hood and Lemuel Gulliver). Anyway, in the 1980's the upper level of Broadmarsh was also home to the "Nostalgia and Comics" comic book store so an appropriate venue to meet two guys who at one time worked for Dr Who Weekly Comic - Mr Alan Moore and Mr Dave Gibbons. I don't keep a diary, but my calculations it was probably in the autumn of 1988 (?) that the Watchmen promotional tour hit Nottingham and Messrs Moore and Gibbons arrived at the Broadmarsh to do a signing. The tour was essentially a promotion of the softcover graphic novel of Watchmen...this was a week day lunchtime and something like 60 people turned out, including me and my buddy Michael. Michael was a bonafide comic book artist and had drawn for Egmont on He-Man and the Centurions (producing some excellent covers in an early Alex Ross kind of way). I'd had a story accepted for publication by D C Thomson but I wasn't going to consider myself a real writer until that came out. People had brought along all sorts of stuff for the creators to sign: stuff now long since forgotten Alan Moore's Maxwell the Cat (which I think he drew) and issues of Tornado weekly comic in which photos of Gibbon's had appeared in his super-hero editor alter-ego "Big E." It didn't take long to get to the head of the queue (line for US readers). And I dared to ask Moore a question about which Charlton character had been the inspiration for Ozymandias - in those far-off pre-internet days this sort of information was at a premium. Then, as now, I'm pretty shy and retiring around people I regard as gods in human form and I got an answer but not a conversation. I think at this point Michael suggested that we return after the crowd had died down. Risky, because they could've just disappeared. We came back after about half an hour and they were holding court (and I mean that in a good way) with the hard core of Watchmen fans. Gibbons in particular was relaxed and chatting to all comers and telling stories. A guy asked him to draw a picture of The Comedian - and he did - this is the first time I ever saw a major artist just do an impromptu sketch - no discussion, no money changing hands, just BAM! There it was in a little sketch book the guy had brought along. The guy held it up for me to see and I nearly died of envy. The drawing was superb. Michael bowled up with a Centurions comic and handed it to Gibbons. He said, "Would you mind taking a look at this?" or words to that effect and explained that he was the artist on it. Afterwards, Michael worked his masterstroke into the conversation - how the Centurions art was coloured. "I have to colour on the back of the original artwork with a lightbox." "Whoa! You're kidding..." exclaimed Gibbons with an artist's appreciation of the patience and technical virtuosity that this would require. Just about then I noticed something, or felt something. There was a palpable connection between Gibbons and Michael in those few moments, a real feeling that they were part of the same tribe - and even if I'd hit Alan Moore with a tale of my embryonic comic book success I was somehow never in a month of Sundays going to have the same connection to him. Since that day, and this is a bit odd, I've never seen a picture of Dave Gibbons where I didn't think he slightly resembled Michael. Perhaps all comic book artists are from the same genetic stock!

For an encore we hit both Moore and Gibbons with drawings from our then extant unsolicited submission to Eclipse Comics (yes, that's how long ago we're talking) entitled Captain Saturn and Wildcard (think Highlander meets Robocop). They were very polite which is more than I recall the form rejection letter from Eclipse being ("...perhaps you are not ready to be professionals"). Godammit! We are professionals - you should see how my buddy has to colour for Egmont.

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