When Brandon asked me to write something for his new Coredoor site, I was seized by the paralyzing freedom. I chatted with other professionals about what they’d like to read, but inevitably it came down, as always, to something I’m passionate about in comics.
For most people, one of the best contemporary comic illustrators is Vincent Deighan—better known and recognized by his pen name, Frank Quitely. His emotive, highly rendered and detailed compositions have often redefined modern comics, particularly those within the often narrowly constructed and confining limitations of the superhero genre. An heir to Moebius and Katsuhiro Otomo in the scale and economy of his linework, Quitely has in his own right become an influence on numerous artists such as Chris Burnham, Nick Pitarra, Ian Bertam, and Ramon Villalobos, just to name a few.
In July, I had the opportunity to travel to Scotland for the Glasgow Comic Con. My first non-US con, GCC was a beautiful experience of what comics can do when removed from the shared media exposure of gaming and film elements at a major convention. The fans were comic fans first and foremost, and getting the chance to speak with their favorite creators from the UK comics scene was of the utmost importance. Whether it was Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, Frazer Irving, John Wagner and Pat Mills, Al Ewing and Laurene Campbell, Amy Reeder, Marguerite Sauvage, or Alison Sampson, the diversity of the UK scene was well represented. Within this intimate yet still simultaneously large venue, a single hour was being devoted to a signing by Quitely, and fans began queuing hours in advance just to shake his hand, get an autograph, or show him their portfolios.
Yet Glasgow Comic Con was not the only Quitely avenue for fans and audiences. Beginning in April, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum began an exhibition entitled “Frank Quitely: The Art of Comics,” a showcase of Quitely’s personal art archives alongside pieces by Frank Miller and Neal Adams. Scheduled to run until October 1, the Quitely exhibit contains numerous sketches, designs, script pages, finished pencil art, and original color paintings.
The experience alone of seeing all this wonderful art up close and in person is enough to overwhelm even the most casual Quitely appreciator; the awe of walking in the glass doors and being greeted by his now famous All Star Superman, cast as a floor to ceiling mural, let audiences know the splendor of what awaited them.
Although the layout and design of the exhibit was somewhat haphazardly construed as it was both chronological in parts and thematic in others, the central room welcomed patrons with Mark Millar’s Christopher Reeve cape from Superman 3 as the walls were adorned with Quitely work from both his Batman & Robin and All Star Superman runs.
One of Quitely’s greatest contributions in All Star Superman has been how he believably designs both separate identities for Clark Kent and Superman in physique and composition. Here are character designs and the finished infamous page showing how posture and body type made Quitely’s Clark Kent a viable disguise:
In this image, readers see Quitely employ, in panel 2, a distinctive feature of superhero comics to convey motion within a single image. Critic Matt Seneca has argued that layouts such as this only succeed if the subject matter being illustrated is a mundane, everyday task. In some regards, he is correct, as the frenetic nature of a fight scene or sequence demand multiple points of view or perspectives could potentially render such a design muddled and overly complicated.
We see Quitely’s direct or indirect influence here later on in Marcos Martin’s Dardevil and Frazer Irving’s Xombi pictured below. Each hold so many intricate facets as they all reimagine the dimensions of character mobility that readers cannot help but reevaluate the pages again and again. Notice how Irving uses the curvature of the floor to direct motion in the third picture from Xombi, denying the static movement of Dave Kim as he shifts across the panel. Where Irving uses single characters moving across multiple rooms, Martin complicates the image further with the shifting perspectives and divergent angles in his piece from Daredevil below.
Even more impressive is witnessing how Quitely built a cover with multiple design aspects on separate sheets of paper. Taken from the cover for All Star Superman #8, readers see a perplexed and weakened Superman atop a shoddily built rocket hoping to race him from the Bizarro world and back to Earth.
In the inset in this wall mural, Quitely breaks down his sequence as shown below:
Numerous other character designs and sketch pages adorn the Kelvingrove exhibit. One of the few to include an actual script is the now famous suicide attempt page from All Star Superman, where Quitely sketches out the rudimentary figures outlined in Grant Morrison’s script
Along with work from We3, Batman & Robin, the Authority, and other major works, Kelvingrove also showcased some of Quitely’s earliest pieces, including black and white illustrations fro the Big Book series from Paradox Press as well as his fully hand painted art from Judge Dredd Megazine. Anyone familiar with Quitely’s early work in the underground Electric Soup digest published in Scotland will know of his uncanny figure work and ability to capture photo realistic images of famous people—“Cape Feartie” springs to mind.
Here we see Quitely’s renditions of Salvador Dali and the Elephant Man taken from the Big Book of Weirdos and Big Book of Freaks respectively.
One of the biggest issues for Quitely has always been coloring, specifically when other people color his work. Early in his career, however, Quitely hand painted his own comics as seen in these examples from Sandman and Shimura.
During my visit to Kelvingrove, I was equally fortunate to benefit from a curated tour of the exhibit by Quitely himself. He has also done subsequent talks and shared the stage with other creators to discuss comics, the Scottish comics scene, and art in general. Quitely has even recorded short video explanations that accompany some of the pieces alongside interactive displays where audiences can receive a better understanding of comics art and his contributions. Along with the Kelvingrove exhibit, Quitely was recently awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow in recognition of his work.
While there are numerous other images I could include in this virtual tour of the Quitely exhibit, I’d like to end this article with one that truly showcases his devotion and innovation in comics—the CCTV breakdown from We3. Each drawing is on a small, nearly 2 inch by 2 inch card that Quitely safely placed inside a Sun-Maid Raisin box. This allowed Quitely to arrange and rearrange the sequence as he saw fit.
Quitely’s use of perspective and page geography will be the focus of a subsequent essay. I’d like to thank Brandon for this opportunity as well as Frazer Irving for his unlettered pages.