Speaking of David Gibbons, the subject of the nine-panel grid was debated on Twitter the other day following a conversation spark from J.A. Micheline:
okay guys: what's the deal with the 9-panel grid. why is it good. what is the source of the hype.
— J. A. Micheline⚡️ (@elevenafter) April 24, 2017
You can dig around on the chat that ensued at your leisure, but perhaps the most interesting was a response from Mr. 9 Panel Grid himself, Gibbons:
@Tim_Pilcher @McKelvie @elevenafter @kennykeil @julianlytle Actually, I chose the nine panel grid and sold it to Alan. Gave him great control & its restriction challenged me to compose more creatively
— Dave Gibbons (@davegibbons90) April 25, 2017
So there you have it! It was Gibbons himself who came up with the grid format for Watchmen, and Moore who decided to go pedal to the metal with his 10 pound scripts. Tire tread on burst stomach indeed.
While one thread that came out of the convo was questioning whether the 9-panel grid is hallowed for any reason besides its use in Watchmen, from where I sit, it’s useful because it sets the pace for readers. The most popular comics of all times in the US are comics strips, a rigid, concise format which allows for easy use of comic timing and presents no barriers of confusion for even non-visual readers.
Similarly in Watchmen, Moore and Gibbons were able to set up a comfortable framework for readers, and slight changes – or repetition – in layout or imagery easily conveyed meaning even if readers weren’t consciously aware of the technique. It’s most likely one of the reasons why Watchmen remains a gateway for even beginning comics readers.
As for Gibbons, I’m sure he’ll be explaining this and more in a tome called, not at all grandly, How Comics Work, written with Tim Pilcher and out this September (hm, also tying in with that Kingsman stuff we were just telling you about.) The book is published by Rotovision in the UK and Wellfleet Press here in the US. According to the blurb:
This “How It’s Done” series reveals insider hints, tips, and tricks from one of the world’s greatest comic creators in his own words. The artist behind juggernauts like Watchmen and The Green Lantern, Dave Gibbons is here to teach you scriptwriting, page layouts, lettering, cover designs, and more, and he’s doing it with scans of original artwork and rarely seen workings to illustrate his personal creative processes.
How Comics Work covers both Gibbons’ hand-drawn and digital design techniques in depth. An early adopter of computer design in comic creation, all his lettering is digital, and he even has his own ‘hand-lettered’ font. This is your chance to gain insight to Gibbons’ digital work, from his computer coloring and 3D modelling with Angus McKie on Give Me Liberty, to his work on The Originals using digital greytones. You’ll learn how he layers text for editing, creates effects such as flares and neon glows, and prepares artwork for print and online.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.