For Your Eyes Only: Dave Gibbons De-Classifies The Secret Service


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Artist, Writer, Inker, Icon – Dave Gibbons navigates the murky worlds of spies and creator-owned comics in his new series with Mark Millar.

Fusing the refinement of classic spy fiction a la Len Deighton with a sobering dose of real-world grittiness, Dave Gibbons teams up with Mark Millar on The Secret Service this month, published under the aegis of Marvel’s creator-owned Icon imprint. Chronicling the maturation of a typical, rough-around-the-edges British street punk into a sleek, cutting-edge 21st Century spy, The Secret Service depicts the young thug’s initiation into a sprawling, shadowy world of political intrigue, high society, and deadly black ops missions.

The six-issue limited series marks Gibbons’ first major foray into the creator-owned market since 2002’s masterful The Originals, not to mention his first collaboration with the ultra-popular Millar, who has spent the months leading up to the book’s release raving about the veteran artist’s work on the project. A true dream collaboration for Millar and fans alike, the writer has likened his partnership with Gibbons to the relationship between his protagonists in The Secret Service, with Gibbons playing the role of the suave, sophisticated mentor to his unrefined, streetwise protégé.

It’s a metaphor that plays well in the media but Gibbons insists with his characteristic quiet humility the collaboration was equitable throughout the creative process.

“There’s a kind of a parallel there but I don’t think I would really describe Mark as a rough-around-the-edges. I think he’s a seasoned professional who’s paid his dues rather than being anyone’s young protégé. It’s great to work with him. I’ve admired his work for many years, right from way back when he did Superman Adventures through to Red Son, which I was actually offered the chance to draw but had to turn it down for some reason that eludes me now. Wish I had done that because it was an excellent story.

“The thing I always loved about Mark’s work is the moments he gets – he can really get some powerful, memorable moments. And I just love the way he writes characters. He’s got a really good grasp of human motivation and I think writes some really interesting characters.

“He thinks the whole thing through very carefully before I get the script and it’s just a joy to have something to draw that is so well thought out and gives me lots of opportunities to draw interesting and exciting things – with great words coming out of the characters’ mouths.”

Although comparisons have already been made between theSecret Service and other fictional espionage agencies such as SHIELD and UNCLE, don’t expect to see any flying cars or telephone shoes within the pages of Gibbons and Millar’s modern spy epic. Very much connected to the world outside our windows, the Secret Service operates under a much more grounded mandate than Nick Fury’s clandestine organization. The use of reference and hours of research were needed to evoke just the right combination of mystery and familiarity.

“I think SHIELD and UNCLE are very much toward the fantasy end of things. SHIELD has evolved but [still] very much set in the sensibilities of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. We’re trying to bring a more up-to-date and believable and I think actually more interesting kind of feel to what a secret organization might be like.

“And you know, we’ve done quite a bit of research both in methodology and in setting to make sure what we are doing is feasible. Clearly just by the fact that these things are secret means you can’t very easily do a Google search – although it is surprising what you can see on Google Maps. I think that we try to go for this feeling of something wonderfully glamorous and underground but try to tie it quite well into what is actuality.”

While Marvel has instituted an appropriately airtight media blackout on the details of The Secret Service, preview pages and images of Gibbons’ character designs showcase the iconic artist’s clean linework and knack for innovative layouts. A true master of his craft, Gibbons’ visual storytelling is unparalleled in the medium today and it shows in his work on this new project. With a more solid connection to the real world than some of his past creative output, the attention to detail required for The Secret Service to succeed visually pushed the boundaries of his technique, a quality of Millar’s strength as a writer Gibbons is thankful for.

“The actual things that Mark has given me to draw are set very much in the real world, in a very (hopefully) recognizable England of the early 21st century and it very much plays real world concerns against a more exciting world, much in the way Mark has done in Kick Ass, where we see what happens when true reality rubs up against the idea of costumed characters. That’s really been the challenge."

For Gibbons, the opportunity to raise the bar on his own work represents the ongoing evolution of not only himself as an artist but of the comics medium as a whole. He maintains the only way to stay fresh and engaged in the work is to constantly seek new challenges, new ideas, new ways of contributing to the artform.

“I don’t think you need to be a veteran to want to push your boundaries. I’m always trying out different tools, different approaches, different technologies – different methods of working. I think it’s only by doing things like that, that you keep yourself interested and excited and you know, feel that you’re a part of an ongoing evolution, which I think you inevitably are.

“With each job you do, you learn something, you learn a new approach. I think the minute you kind of stagnate, then really, it’s time to leave.”

The Secret Service #1, Mark Millar (W), Dave Gibbons (A). Marvel/Icon, limited series, $3.99. Released on April 11, 2012.

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