10 April 2009

“America Was Like This Fabled Foreign Land”

I've quoted Neil Gaiman on trying to decipher American culture through American comic books. Here's Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons on the same topic, from an interview with Time:

When you and Alan [Moore] were making Watchmen, how important was it that you guys were English, and working in the UK, far away from the watchful eye of the mother ship in New York?

Actually it was a big deal. I think the whole thing of Brits working for American comics was a big deal. Because America was like this fabled foreign land. When I first came to New York City, what I was thrilled about was not the Empire State Building, or the Statue of Liberty, it was the fireplugs in the street. These things that Jack Kirby had drawn. Or these cylindrical water towers on top of buildings that Steve Ditko's Spider-Man fights used to happen in and around.

So it's always been this kind of exotic babylon. And that's so for Alan as well. We used to get the American comics imported, and it wasn't just the stories, it was the whole thing of Tootsie Rolls and Schwinn bicycles. This is the kind of thing we'd talk about for hours on the phone. All this stuff that to you Americans is everyday stuff, as boring to you as our everyday stuff is to us.

So I think that we were able to stand back from American culture, stand back from comic books, although we'd read them all our lives. I can't imagine that we could have done Watchmen if we hadn't had that detachment. You know? Love for the subject matter, love for the culture, but a detachment. And perhaps a slight British cynicism? Impressed, but not impressed.
Gaiman also mentioned the mystery of fire hydrants. Why did the New York water supply hold such fascination for London youngsters? Perhaps because they grew up in a climate where they didn't need to worry about water--it was more often than not falling on their heads.

TOMORROW: What inspired that previous generation of American comic artists the same way?

No comments: