Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons discusses a film whose time has come

The voice over the trans-Atlantic connection is describing the London sky to me just after 4 p.m. "There's all kinds of orange and pink and purple and everything," he says.

I've been on the phone with acclaimed artist Dave Gibbons for less than a minute, and he's already talking about colors.

If I'd had my wits about me, I might have broken the ice by asking how he would paint a sky like that, but my mind was preoccupied with first talking about his latest book, Watching the Watchmen, a beautifully illustrated coffee-table book that recounts his collaboration with writer/mad genius Alan Moore on Watchmen, the seminal comic book of the 1980s that has been praised by Time magazine as being among the 100 best English-language novels since 1923. It's a dark work with a complex narrative that deconstructs typical superhero tropes by exploring the effect a being with superpowers would have on the world.

For fans of that book, Gibbons' new work is a treasure trove, filled with his sketches, the evolution of character designs and his insights into artistic collaboration in the days before e-mail.

The timing of the release could hardly be better, as Watchmen is once again a very hot property. Unless you've been living in a cave without Internet access, you probably know that it's finally coming to multiplexes.

Stories abound about Watchmen's fitful journey to a theatrical release, one of which Gibbons mentions in his new book. He recalls the time Hollywood producer Joel Silver pitched Gibbons and Moore back in the late '80s on a film version that would have starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dr. Manhattan, a brilliant physicist who has grown detached from the rest of humanity. (Arnold Schwarzenegger as brilliant physicist: Did Silver even bother reading the book?)

Terry Gilliam was briefly attached as director in the late '80s before concluding that, because of its scope and complexity, the book couldn't be filmed, a sentiment shared by Moore.

It took the energy and vision of a director with a track record in adapting graphic novels — Zack Snyder, whose 300 was well-received by critics and audiences alike — to take the project to reality. Snyder's Watchmen is due for release in March 2009.

Gibbons first met Snyder after the U.K. premiere of 300. After talking for about a half hour, Gibbons came away feeling Snyder was the right man for the job.

"I got a really good gut feeling that he did get it, that he understood what it was about," Gibbons says.

And perhaps because the filmmakers knew what a huge undertaking it would be, they turned to Gibbons for his input, asking for his notes on the script, as well as old and new artwork, including three pages Gibbons drew for a sequence that was not in the book.

"Zack has stuck very, very closely with what I drew in the comic book," Gibbons says with no small amount of pride. "Even in the trailer ... several of the compositions are just bang-on exactly what I drew."

Gibbons, who was recently treated to a rough cut of the film, indicates the filmmakers have pulled off what was once considered impossible.

"The film is very faithful both in the kind of visual details and the composition of scenes and in its general tone and its kind of dramatic structure," he says.

Considering his enthusiasm, I wonder if Gibbons is tempted to sing its praises to Moore, who is on record as saying he wants nothing to do with Hollywood and has no interest in discussing Watchmen anymore with his artistic partner.

"It's obviously a temptation to do that," Gibbons says, "being as impressed as I was with it, but I had given him my assurance that I would never talk to him about Watchmen again, and I haven't. And unless he raises the subject with me, I doubt that I will."

Moore's feelings about the project notwithstanding, Gibbons seems genuinely grateful for the opportunity to participate in a work whose time has come.

"Since Alan and I sold all our copyrights all those years ago, there is no absolute need to involve me at all. So I'm very pleased I have been able to have some sort of positive input into it."

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