'Watchmen' Artist on 'Secret Service' Sequel and How 'Mad Men' Influenced the Comic

Dave Gibbons says he and Mark Millar may have more up their sleeves: "never say never."
Jaap Buitendijk

The comic book industry has just a handful of living legends, whose names get tossed around with the likes of Alan Moore and Frank Miller.

Illustrator Dave Gibbons cemented his status in those circles thanks to his and Moore's revolutionary work on Watchmen, which alongside Miller's Dark Knight Returns, is credited with ushering in a comic book renaissance in the mid-1980s. During his long career, Gibbons has made his mark with work with Green Lantern2000 AD, and more recently The Secret Service.

The six-issue spy series, written by superstar scribe Mark Millar, became a box office hit with Millar's Kick-Ass collaborator Matthew Vaughn directing. Starring Colin FirthTaron Egerton and Samuel L. Jackson, the film crossed $400 million worldwide. Fox has not officially greenlit a sequel for Kingsman, which hits Blu-ray and DVD Tuesday, but Gibbons is hopeful a comic book sequel will eventually take shape.

In a chat with The Hollywood Reporter, Gibbons reveals how Mad Men influenced the comic and how a young Millar originally pitched the pair working together.

How did you get involved with Mark?

Mark wrote to me when he was about 17 years old and I was just on the back of the success of Watchmen. Mark told me in no uncertain terms that my next career move was to do this script he had written while he was at school. I wrote him apparently a very gracious reply and even sent him a sketch and thanked him for his interested and said, "Well, I'm sort of busy now, but who knows." As the years went by, I saw him rise through the ranks until it got to the point where he was writing a thing called The Ultimates, which is what Marvel's Avengers movies are based on. I loved that book and I would haunt my local comic shop to see if the latest issue was coming. So I became very much a fan of his.

See more Hollywood's 100 Favorite Films                    

How'd you finally decide on Secret Service?

Secret Service was what he pitched to me. I'd never done a spy story. I'd done lots of science fiction, lots of superhero stuff. I thought, "Yeah! A spy story. That would be really, really good fun."  

Was Matthew Vaughn involved in the process when you were working on this?

Mark and Matthew had cooked up the whole idea of Secret Service: Kingsman while they were chatting in the pub. They were apparently bemoaning the fact that there weren't any good spy movies out there today. There wasn't anything that had the same excitement or the same thrill as the old James Bond movies. Everything had gone rather dark and rather moody. That didn't quite give people what they wanted, they felt. Mark went off with me and developed the comic book, and Matthew went off with Jane Goldman, the screenwriter, and developed the movie. So the two things were related but it was like they had been separated at birth. You could still see they had very much the same DNA.

Zack Snyder's Watchmen is very much a page-by-page adaptation of your comic book, and Kingsman has a lot of scenes that aren't in the books. What was your take on that?

That's the fun thing about it. It's very rare that a comic book and a movie run along parallel tracks. One normally precedes the other and it's an adaption to some degree of fidelity or another. That's the whole conversation. Whether a movie should adhere closely to a comic book or whether it should do whatever it takes to be a good movie. With this, I was really surprised when I saw a rough cut to see how all of the characters had been changed. Who we'd seen as a Silicon Valley, white bread villain was now Samuel L. Jackson. The relationship between Eggsy and the older spy had been changed as well. We had them as blood relatives. I think the insane action and black humor managed to show up in both of them. It's not that one was the child of the other, it was they were brothers or sisters.

Have you and Mark talked about sequels?

We've loosely talked about it. Mark is a very busy guy at the moment. I don't know how many comic book series he is working on. Quite a lot of those are going to be going to movies. The time probably isn't right at the moment. But as they say in comics — and I think they say in spy films as well — never say never.

See more  19 Sequels That Outgrossed the Original Movies

Was there anything particularly challenging in the comic for you?

I always like a challenge. From my early days, I liked to feel that if I had to, I could draw anything. I remember Alan Moore saying once in an interview that it was at the point he realized I could draw anything he wanted me to that he really wanted to work with me. I like to pride myself that if you set the challenge, I'll just role my sleeves up and do it. Action is always the thing that takes a lot of choreographing to make sure the characters can move in a believable space, in a believable sequence. The most difficult stuff to do is sometimes the subtleties of emotion. The facial expressions are challenging. What good writers do — Mark included in that — is they understand their artist enough to give them stuff that they like to draw and that they can do well. Certainly Mark gave me a lot of action and a lot of humor and asked me to design lots of interesting locales and vehicles and gadgets, and that's just the kind of challenge I love.

Where did the character designs come form?

I fished around for actors I thought that had the look. You often do that when you draw comic book characters. Not that you try to get an exact likeness of somebody, but you think of the kind of character. The James Bond, secret agent kind of person that I liked was someone who wasn't sort of pretty or good looking like a Roger Moore, but someone who was like a Sean Connery or a Daniel Craig, who looked like they'd been in a few fights and knew how to look after themselves. I looked at pictures of an actor called Jason Isaacs [Lucius Malfoy in Harry Potter]  who had been in a few TV things here and in the states as well. So he was kind of the character I had in mind. Then of course — because in the comic book they are all supposed to be related — I sort of gave them a distinctive nose for both Jack, Eggsy and Eggsy's mom to try to make it believable that they were related to each other.

For the guy who is the head of the spy service in the comic book, I had in mind an actor called John Slattery who was in Mad Men. He had that kind of white haired, patrician kind of look that I wanted. These aren't likenesses, just the actors you see in your head.

Kingsman: The Secret Service, is available on blu-ray/DVD Tuesday. 

Gibbons at the Kingsman premiere in London. (Photo by: AP)