Gibbons was born on 14 April 1949, at Forest Gate Hospital in London, England, to Chester, a town planner, and Gladys, a secretary. He began reading comic books at the age of seven. A self-taught artist, he illustrated his own comic strips. Gibbons became a building surveyor but eventually entered the UK comics industry as a letterer for IPC Media. He left his surveyor job to focus on his comics career.
Gibbons earliest published work was in British underground comics, starting with The Trials of Nasty Tales, including the main cover illustration, and continuing in cOZmic Comics produced by Felix Dennis.
Gibbons entered the British comics industry by working on horror and action titles for both DC Thomson and IPC. When the science-fiction anthology title 2000 AD was set up in the mid-1970s, Gibbons contributed artwork to the first issue, Prog 01 (February 1977), and went on to draw the first 24 instalments of Harlem Heroes, one of the founding (and pre-Judge Dredd) strips.
Midway through the comic's first year he began illustrating Dan Dare, a cherished project for Gibbons who had been a fan of the original series and artist Frank Hampson who, alongside Frank Bellamy, Don Lawrence and Ron Turner are well-liked and inspirational artists to Gibbons, whose "style evolved out of [his] love for the MAD magazine artists like Wally Wood and Will Elder".
Working on early feature Ro-Busters (after Starlord merged with 2000 AD), Gibbons became one of the most prolific of 2000 AD's earliest creators, contributing artwork to 108 of the first 131 Progs/issues. He returned to the pages of "the Galaxy's Greatest Comic" in the early 1980s to create Rogue Trooper with writer Gerry Finley-Day and produce an early run on that feature, before handing it over to a succession of other artists. He illustrated a handful of Tharg's Future Shocks shorts, primarily with author Alan Moore.
Gibbons was known, by sight but not by name, to readers of the short-lived IPC title Tornado. Whereas 2000 AD was said to be "edited" by the alien Tharg, Tornado was "edited" by superhero Big E, who as alter-ego Percy Pilbeam worked on the magazine. These characters appeared in photographic form within the comic, with Gibbons posing as both Big E and Pilbeam for the entire 22 issue run of Tornado before it was subsumed into 2000 AD.
Gibbons departed from 2000 AD briefly in the late 1970s/early 1980s to become the lead artist on Doctor Who Weekly/Monthly, for which magazine he drew the main comic strip from issue No. 1 until No. 69, missing only four issues during that time.
The Doctor Who Storybook 2007 (released Christmas 2006) features a story called "Untitled" which includes the name Gibbons in a list of great artists of Earth history.
Gibbons was one of the British comic talents identified by Len Wein in 1982 for American publisher DC Comics: he was hired primarily to draw "Green Lantern Corps" backup stories within the pages of Green Lantern. Gibbons' first DC work was on the Green Lantern Corps story in Green Lantern No. 161 (February 1983), with writer Todd Klein, as well as the concurrently released "Creeper" two-part backup story in The Flash #318–319. Gibbons drew the lead story in The Brave and the Bold No. 200 (July 1983) which featured a team-up of the Batmen of Earth-One and Earth-Two. With Green Lantern No. 172 (Jan. 1984), Gibbons joined writer Wein on the main feature while continuing to illustrate the backup features. In issue No. 182, Wein and Gibbons made architect John Stewart, who had been introduced previously in issue No. 87, the title's primary character. Ceding the "Tales of the Green Lantern Corps" backup features to various other individuals from No. 181, Gibbons last issue with Wein was issue No. 186 (March 1985). Gibbons returned to pencil the backup story "Mogo Doesn't Socialize" with Alan Moore in issue No. 188.
While Marvel Comics reprinted some of Gibbons' Marvel UK Doctor Who work, Eclipse Comics reprinted some of his Warrior work and Eagle reprinted various Judge Dredd tales, Gibbons continued to produce new work almost exclusively for DC throughout the 1980s. For the 1985 Superman Annual No. 11, Gibbons drew the main story "For the Man Who Has Everything", again written by Alan Moore.
During 1985 and 1986, Gibbons' artwork graced the pages of several issues of both DC's Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe and Marvel's The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition. He was one of the contributors to the DC Challenge limited series and in December 1986, he contributed to Harrier Comics' Brickman No. 1 alongside Kevin O'Neill, Lew Stringer and others. Between May and August 1988, he contributed covers to The Phantom miniseries, inked Kevin Maguire's pencilled contribution to Action Comics No. 600, and produced the cover to Action Comics Weekly No. 601.
He is best known in the US for collaborating with Alan Moore on the 12-issue limited series Watchmen, now one of the best-selling graphic novels of all time, and the only one to feature on Time's "Top 100 Novels" list. Gibbons' artwork in Watchmen is notable both for its stark utilisation of the formulaic comicbook nine-panel grid layout, as well as for its intense narrative and symbolic density with some symbolic background elements suggested by Moore, others by Gibbons.
Initially pitched by Moore to use the Charlton Comics characters which had been purchased by DC Comics, Watchmen was re-tooled to feature new – analogue – characters when it became clear that the story would have significant and lasting ramifications on its main players. Gibbons believes that his own involvement likely came about after the idea was already in its early initial stages. He recalls that he had:
To complement the story, Gibbons remembers working on rough character designs which ultimately changed little in their final appearance from "the descriptions that Alan had provided," trying to come up with "a classic superhero feel but be a little bit stranger ... a sort of operatic look ... an Egyptian kind of a look."
Gibbons lettered Watchmen and it was his lettering style that later served as one of two reference sources used by Vincent Connare when creating the controversial font Comic Sans in 1994. Gibbons has commented that "It's just a shame they couldn't have used just the original font, because it's a real mess. I think it's a particularly ugly letter form."
Comics historian Les Daniels noted that Watchmen "called into question the basic assumptions on which the super hero genre is formulated". DC Comics writer and executive Paul Levitz observed in 2010 that "As with The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen set off a chain reaction of rethinking the nature of super heroes and heroism itself, and pushed the genre darker for more than a decade. The series won acclaim...and would continue to be regarded as one of the most important literary works the field ever produced."
Gibbons returned to Watchmen in 2008, producing the behind-the-scenes book Watching the Watchmen to tie into the release of the 2009 film. Watching the Watchmen is his take on the creation of the seminal work, and features a number of rarely seen pieces of artwork including sketches and character designs, as well as "stuff," he says "that I just don't know why I kept but I'm really pleased I did." Gibbons stated that "I'm basically thrilled with the movie, you know; it's been in the making for years. There have been proposals to make it – some I was excited about, some I was less excited about. But I think the way that it finally has been made is just great. I honestly can't imagine it being made much better."
From the start of the 1990s, Gibbons began to focus as much on writing and inking as on drawing, contributing to a number of different titles and issues from a variety of companies. Particular highlights included, in 1990, Gibbons writing the three-issue World's Finest miniseries for artist Steve Rude and DC, while drawing Give Me Liberty for writer Frank Miller and Dark Horse Comics. He penned the first Batman versus Predator crossover for artists Andy and Adam Kubert (Dec. 1991–Feb. 1992), and inked Rick Veitch and Stephen R. Bissette for half of Alan Moore's 1963 Image Comics series (1993).
Rejoining Frank Miller in mid-1994 on Martha Washington Goes to War, the following year Gibbons wrote the Elseworlds title Superman: Kal for José Luis García-López, melding Arthurian legends to the Superman mythos in an "out-of-continuity" tale set in an alternate DC Universe. In Marvel Edge's Savage Hulk No. 1 (Jan 1996), Gibbons wrote, penciled, inked, coloured and lettered "Old Friends", a version of the events of Captain America No. 110 from the point of view of the Hulk. In 1996 and 1997, Gibbons collaborated with Mark Waid and Jimmy Palmiotti on two issues of the Amalgam Comics character "Super-Soldier," a character born from the merging of the DC and Marvel Universes after the events of the 1996 intercompany crossover DC vs. Marvel/Marvel vs. DC.
Among many other covers, one-shots and minor works, Gibbons worked with Alan Moore again briefly on the latter's Awesome Entertainment Judgment Day miniseries, providing (variant) covers to all three issues, on the first issue of Kitchen Sink Press' The Spirit: The New Adventures revival and within the pages of the Alan Moore Songbook. He designed the logo for Oni Press in 1997. In 1999 he penciled and inked Darko Macan's four-issue Star Wars: Vader's Quest miniseries.
Gibbons was one of the artists on the Superman and Batman: World's Funnest one-shot written by Evan Dorkin and in December 2001 Gibbons collaborated with Stan Lee on Just Imagine... Stan Lee creating Green Lantern.
Gibbons wrote Captain America issues #17–20 (Nov. 2003–Jan. 2004) for artist Lee Weeks. In 2005, he drew covers for JSA, as well as producing the complete original graphic novel The Originals, a black and white graphic novel which he scripted and drew. Published by Vertigo, the work is set in the near future, but draws heavily on the imagery of the Mods and Rockers of the 1960s.
He wrote The Rann–Thanagar War six-issue limited series for DC Comics, one of four lead-ins to the company-wide "Infinite Crisis" storyline, and returned to the Green Lantern Corps with the five-issue Green Lantern Corps: Recharge (Nov. 2005–March 2006), co-written with Geoff Johns, which spun off into an ongoing, Gibbons-written series in August 2006.
Gibbons was involved in two series released by DC/WildStorm when DC acquired American rights to the IPC stable of characters. He provided cover artwork for the flagship title, Albion, the six-issue limited series written by Leah Moore and her husband, John Reppion and co-plotted by her father, Alan Moore. Gibbons wrote the Albion spin-off Thunderbolt Jaxon (April–Sept. 2006), with art by John Higgins.
Gibbons provided covers for three issues of writers Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza's run on Action Comics (issues #841–843) and co-penciled (with Ethan van Sciver) the Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps issue as part of the "Sinestro Corps" story arc. He contributed to the ongoing Green Lantern Corps title on issues #18–20 (May–July 2007). Gibbons and Ryan Sook produced a Kamandi serial for Wednesday Comics in 2009. In the late 2000s, he provided new alternative covers to IDW Publishing's reprints of his Marvel UK Doctor Who comics.
On 9 April 2011 Gibbons was one of 62 comics creators who appeared at the IGN stage at the Kapow! convention in London to set two Guinness World Records, the Fastest Production of a Comic Book, and Most Contributors to a Comic Book. With Guinness officials on hand to monitor their progress, writer Mark Millar began work at 9am scripting a 20-page black and white Superior comic book, with various artists appearing on stage throughout the day to work on the pencils, inks, and lettering. The artists included Gibbons, Frank Quitely, John Romita Jr., Jock, Adi Granov, Doug Braithwaite, Ian Churchill, Olivier Coipel, Duncan Fegredo, Simon Furman, David Lafuente, John McCrea, Sean Phillips and Liam Sharp, who all drew a panel each, with regular Superior artist Leinil Yu creating the book's front cover. The book was completed in 11 hours, 19 minutes, and 38 seconds, and was published through Icon on 23 November 2011, with all royalties being donated to Yorkhill Children's Foundation.
In 2014 he was appointed the UK's first Comics Laureate, to act as an ambassador for comic books and their potential to improve literacy.
Works other than comics include providing the cartoon strip on the inside sleeve of Jethro Tull's 1976 album Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die!, background art for the 1994 computer game Beneath a Steel Sky and the cover to K, the 1996 debut album by psychedelic rock band Kula Shaker. In 2007, he served as a consultant on the film Watchmen, which was adapted from the book, and released in March 2009.
Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars – Director's Cut (2009) featured hand drawn art by Dave Gibbons.1986 Inkpot Award
1987 Jack Kirby Award for Best New Series for Watchmen with Alan Moore
1987 Jack Kirby Award for Best Writer/Artist (Single or Team) for Watchmen with Alan Moore
1986 Jack Kirby Best Single Issue nomination for Superman Annual No. 11 (1985) with Alan Moore
1987 Jack Kirby Best Single Issue nomination for Watchmen No. 1 with Alan Moore
1987 Jack Kirby Best Single Issue nomination for Watchmen No. 2 with Alan Moore