Interview with Frank Quitely

Frank Quitely, in Viñetas desde o Atlántico 2012.

Amongst all the guests of the 15th edition of Viñetas desde o Atlántico -International Comic Book Convention celebrated in A Coruña, galician city located in the north-west of Spain- undoubtedly the author who raised more interest from the fans was Vincent Deighan, better known as Frank Quitely (Glasgow, Scotland, 1968). During the convention, the talented cartoonist not only participated in a professional meeting with local talent, but he also was part of the traditional signing sessions and starred a panel focused on his career. Besides, the visitors had the chance to enjoy an amazing retrospective exhibition that comprised more than fifty original art pages; really interesting stuff that I tried to summarize on this article.

Considering that in May, 2011 we published a first interview that addressed the highlights of his career, I decided to prepare additional questions as a direct continuation of the conversation we had during Expocómic 2011, many of them focused on his imminent projects: Pax Americana, the one shot related to Multiversity event, which will mean his reunion with Grant Morrison; or Jupiter’s Children, creator-owned project written by Mark Millar. Additionally, I selected a series of images related to different aspects of his work, such as conceptual design, the use of body language as a defining element of the psychological characterization, the creative use of onomatopoeias, page layouts or his willing of create stories as a complete author. Always with the intention that the author himself shared with us his thoughts about the creative process and the following steps of his awesome career. Needless to say, we are very grateful about Frank Quitely’s deployment of generosity, kindness and patience appreciable in the following interview.

Note: The following lines are a transcription of the interview we did with Frank Quitely, august 9th, during Viñetas desde o Atlántico International Comic Book Convention. If there is any mispelling, typo or misunderstanding, sure it’s only our fault. So our apologies in advance, Vincent.

Interview with Frank Quitely

David Fernández (D.F.).- Last time we spoke, you were working on DC Universe: Legacies, a story that allowed you to ink again your own pencils, after a long period delegating such aspect of your work. How was the experience and what did you feel, considering the time passed since the last time you inked your own stuff?

Frank Quitely.- I was very nervous about inking again, after such a long time. I felt, when I had the pencil pages and was ready to start inking, that I wasn’t sure how to start. I wasn’t sure whether I should use pens, or technical pens, or the nibs and inks, or brushes and inks… I ended using all of them. I enjoyed, it was a good feeling, working with ink again, but I knew when I was doing it that some of the lines looked nervous or self-conscious. And I can see it still, when I look at the work. But… you know, I wanted to do it anyway, it was enjoyable.

D.F.- Regarding Pax Americana, when you came as a guest to Madrid International Comic-Book Convention, you barely knew any detail about this project integrated into Multiversity event, which means your reunion with Grant Morrison. In the exhibition organized at Viñetas desde o Atlántico, we have seen a page of that work. Have you finished drawing this assignment?

Frank Quitely.- No. I had back problems, ciatica. And I was spending the most of my time doing covers, because there was no problem with deadlines, as there some time is with join interior pages. Grant was very busy doing many other projects in comics and many other projects out of comics, as well. And I got the first pages of script for Pax Americana… I got four pages, and then, some weeks later I got another four pages. And then, a long time after that, I got another three… and then I got maybe… It’s a thirty eight page story, I got maybe the first half, but with some bits missing. It’s ok with me, because I was doing some covers, anyway. So, even now I’ve only done maybe twenty or twenty one pages of thirty eight. So I passed the halfway point at the script I have… was up to page thirty, and still there are two pages missing (laughs), so I only know twenty eight pages of the thirty eight. But what I know of it is very good.

Pax Americana: the reunion of two old friends. Photo: Bleeding Cool.
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D.F.- Don’t you find it difficult to work without knowing the end of the story, receiving the script pages so spaced?

Frank Quitely.- Is my preference to have the whole thing, but it’s ok, I don’t mind. It would be a preference to know what’s coming next, but it’s ok.

D.F.- We know that you are not allowed to reveal too many details about projects still unpublished, but thanks to the statements made by Grant Morrison we know that this event is somehow related to the old Charlton characters. Could you tell us some details about the history, or even the kind of storytelling approach that will require this work?

Frank Quitely.- Generally speaking, the pages are broken down into eight frames: four in the top and four in the bottom. Sometimes the pages are sixteen frames on a page. Normally, when I work with Grant the script is very simple: even if the story or the ideas on any particular page are very complicated, usually the script is very simple, the descriptions are very simple and I have room to interpret the descriptions of what Grant wants me to draw. I have room to interpret them the way I want to. And if there is something that Grant wants and is very specific, he will speak to me about it, rather tan write a lot more in the script. That’s normally the way we work.

On this particular occasion, I have a script that is very thick (laughs), even though is not finished, there is a lot of description, and the description is very specific. For many of the pages, he has given me many simple thumbnail breakdowns of the way he wants the frames to look. So a simple way of describing it would be… where We3 we tried to create more depth in the page with the storytelling, in Pax Americana the complexities of the storytelling are more in two dimensions. Is more to do with pattern, flat pattern on the page, rather tan depth. And where We3 Grant told that together we could suggest something of animal consciousness, or animal instinct in some sections of the storytelling, with Pax Americana is more to do with music, and vibration… musical vibrations, the octave, the eight as a repeated motive, and creating patterns leading the eye around the page in a specific way. So it’s actually been different from the way Grant and I normally work. So even though I don’t know how the story is going to end, yet, what I know of the story so far and particullary the way we are trying to tell the story, visually, is very interesting for me as an artist. I hope it will be interesting for you as a reader, but it’s good to work on it.

D.F.- I don’t know if you know too many details, but, is Pax Americana directly related to the rest of the one-shots that integrate Multiversity event?

Frank Quitely.- Yes. Yes, it is. As far as I’m aware, Grant has an overall plan for all the Multiversity titles. And I believe that… although the script is yet not finished, I believe this is the first one that he is writing, but I don’t know whether it will be the first one in the sequence, I don’t know the way it fits into the story. But at one point, one of the characters is holding up a comic-book, and the comic-book cover has to be the cover for one of the other Multiversity books. So I know they are interlinked, but I don’t know how. I know little enough about the story I’m working, I don’t need to know about the other stories. I have enough to work [laughs].

Jupiters Children cover and details of two pages, seen on Bleeding Cool (1, 2 and 3).
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D.F.- Your name has been appearing on the headlines of specialized media, due to the future release of Jupiter’s Children, a creator owned project written by Mark Millar and drawn by you, to be released by Image Comics. So far, thanks to the writer’ statements we know that the action starts in 1920, a year directly linked with the development of a story, whose tone is strongly influenced by the current economic context. Millar himself said that the scale of his approach is huge and epic, defining the plot as a mixture of The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, with a Shakespearean touch. What else can you tell us about this work, besides that Mr. Millar is a great publicist? [laughs] What will be the format of the project?

Frank Quitely.- (risas) [laughs] Yes, isn’t he? It will be a limited series. Initially it will be five issues, and then a gap to going do something else, and then posibilly another five after that. I have seen even fewer pages of script [laughs] for Jupiter’s Children tan I’ve seen for Pax Americana, but I have done the first two covers, because they were needed for solicitations… this far ahead… And then Mark sent me ten pages, the first ten pages of issue one, so I could choose three of these pages, because he wanted them for a preview. So I read the first ten pages, which is part of the setup and the introduction, and I very quickly thumbnailed five of those pages, and then chose three to draw for the solicitation. From the point of view of working on the pages, is much more like the way I would normally work with Grant or the way I previously worked with Mark on The Authority: it’s a simple script, easy to work with, so in some ways is the opposite of what I’m doing on Pax Americana.

What I know of the story, the little Mark has told me –and I think he probably has said as much when he’s been talking on line, in interviews–, as much as I know about the story is about older generations of superheroes from the 1930’s, how they were altruistic, like Superman, and they beleived that their power was for the greater food. And how now their children and grandchildren are more like the children of celebrities: they’re famous, they go to parties, they endorse products for commercial benefits, but they have little interest in changing the World or helping in any way. I don’t know exactly how this ties in with the plot, so…

D.F.- When a couple of years ago I asked you about the aspects of your work that you would like to improve, you mentioned the desire to take charge of the coloring process. One facet that, considering its importance on a storytelling level, as well as in the definition of the physical and even emotional atmosphere, maybe doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. What chromatic nuances would you like to add to your own pencils, comparing to the work done by different colorists you worked with? (Jamie Grant, Peter Doherty, etc.)

Frank Quitely.- With Jamie Grant and Peter Doherty part of the appeal of working with them is that I know them personally, they are both friends of mine…

D.F.- Are they some of the professionals with whom you share studio in Glasgow?

Frank Quitely.- Well, I used to share studio with Jamie, but Jamie has now moved to Amsterdam, who knows why [laughs]. And Peter is from the North of England. But we speak often on the pone, so is easy to get the storytelling elements of coloring with both those colorists. They both naturally understand the importance of on the one hand coloring reflecting moods, but more importantly on using different sees being coloring in a different palette. I don’t need to discuss it, because they know it. Often, if I work with a colorist and I don’t have contact with him, even if they do a good job, very often there are things I would have liked done differently. But the main reason I would like to do my own coloring is simply personal taste. Coloring is quite a subtle thing… If I gave the same page to ten different colorists and gave a very detailed description of what I wanted, I will still get… even if the pages… from a distance, from a closed room, hanging in the wall, even if they look very similar, when you get close the subtle difference is important to me. And if I was doing the work myself, it suits me better.

D.F.- It would be closer to the precise image you have in mind.

Frank Quitely.- Yes, exactly. It’s exactly that. Very often is a personal feeling.

Comparaison between the coloring of McGraw and Doherty. Via: Mindless Ones.
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D.F.- Also related to coloring, we would like you to clarify something that arose due to the recent release of Flex Mentallo in Spain: the decision of recoloring the work was yours or the publisher’s? Although I personally believe that the change has been possitive, don’t you think that it meant the loss or the change of certain nuances about the tone of the original story?

Frank Quitely.- It was a decision of Grant and mine, yes.

D.F.- Maybe it’s related to the fact that in 1996, the year in which it was originally released, you couldn’t apply the nuances you would like to? Or it has to do with other reasons?

Frank Quitely.- It wasn’t so much the techniques. Neither Grant nor myself were asked what colorist we would like, or what kind of coloring we had in mind. And the coloring for the first issue was already finished before whe even knew the name of the colorist. And the colorist, Tom McGraw –we never got chance to speak to him, of course–, he colored the book with no nods, without asking us…

D.F.- Whitout any kind of communication during the process?

Frank Quitely.- No communication at all. There is a lot about the original coloring that I think worked well, but there are many, many things that were very different from what both myself and Grant had in mind. But also there were many elements of the coloring that we had wanted specifically to be a certain way related to the story itself, and of course Tom would never have known that. So when eventually we heard the news that DC were wanting to reprint… and they had lost many of the original plates, and I only have maybe half of the pages, of the original pages of artwork left. So they had the colored plates, the original colored plates, and they sent them to Peter Doherty to strip out the color, to take the color away, so he left with the black linework. But is very difficult to preserve accurately the black linework, so I sent the original pages that I had to Peter, and he scanned them. So actually the linework, if you look closely, sometimes is like sharper in some pages than other. But then, of course, we asked to DC… you know… “could we have a recolor?”, and they thought: “ok”. And we were both very grateful, because sometimes DC it’s, you know: “the budget… it’s not neccesary”.

Quitely, signing for fans during en Viñetas desde o Atlántico. Photo: Sabrina Rodríguez.
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D.F.- Could you freely choose the colorist, this time?

Frank Quitely.- Yes, by me and by Grant. And this time both had the opportunity to talk to Peter about how we had envisioned it being colored in the first place, and very specifically certain parts of the story, certain objects. Certain… You know, if it was relating to… maybe it was a parody of some comic, or an homage to some comic, or just something specific to the story, that had to be a certain color. All these things were messed the first time out, and of course both myself and Grant were delighted with the way Peter colored it. But it was no surprise to any of us that some people think “you shouldn’t go back and change things”. I prefer it now, but of course sometimes, not just comic fans, but film fans, music fans, when they love something from year ago and it gets re-released, thet don’t want it changed in any way. And I understand that.

D.F.- We tend to develop kind of a “sense of ownership”, related to what we keep great memories about. Those things we like the most…

Frank Quitely.- Exactly. Yes, exactly.

D.F.- Now I’m going to show you a bunch of images related to your work, with the intention to hear your comments and impressions about them. We begin with the new cover, draw on the occasion of the new edition of Flex Mentallo. How did you feel when drawing again this character, so important in your career, after so many years?

Cover done for Flex Mentallo reprint.
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Frank Quitely.- It was my first american work. I did do some short stories for The Big Books Of –freaks, legends, or that stuff–, published by Paradox Press, that was part of DC. I put some original art of that on the exhibition.

D.F.- You also worked for Dark Horse before the Flex Mentallo assignment, didn’t you?

Frank Quitely.- Yeah, I did some something for Dark Horse years before, too. But this was my first published work in kind of mainstream work in America, and the first time I worked with Grant, also. And I knew straight away when I started working with him that I wanted to work with him as much as I could. Although this is a new cover to everyone else’s eyes, the drawing was done back at the time, shortly after… maybe only a few months after issue four came out.

D.F.- That’s surprising, I didn’t knew it: it was announced like a brand new cover.

Frank Quitely.- Because the four issues came out individually, in 1996, 1997… something like that… I don’t remember…

D.F.- I think it was published between june and september, 1996…

Frank Quitely.- The soon as the fourth one came out, we were told they were going to collect it into a trade paperback, and I was very excited: they asked me to do a cover and Grant described something like what he would like. I did some roughs, he chose one, I drew the cover, pencillend and inked, and then we got the news of the court case, and how it would never be republished. Then, a few years later, I gave Grant the original artwork for a birthday present, and it was hanging in his house. Of course, when we got the news I said: “Well, I’ll do a new cover for it”. And Grant said: “You know? I think we should use the cover that is hanging on my wall” [laughs]. So I colored that cover, but I drew it fifteen or sixteen years ago, and the colored it.

D.F.- Considering the time lapse and your evolution as an artist, didn’t you find your own line of pencil a little bit weird, when coloring it?

Frank Quitely.- A little bit… not so much with the image of Flex in the middle of the cover, but he is standing on a comic-book, and there are a lot of other comic pages floating around: they were all draw on a slightly simpler style, to me they looked more like drawings, and make them look even more realistic, even though is a comic-book drawing, but you understand what I mean. So when I was coloring all the background pages I kept forgetting they were my drawings, because I had deliberately draw them in a slightly different style. But yeah… it was a nice experience.

D.F.- The following image includes three of the six pages that make up the amazing sequence of We3 security cameras. Thanks to the bonus material included in the recent deluxe reprint of that work, we could know certain details about the composition and layout creative process of that sequence,a process as curious as craft. But I wonder if you could give us more details.

We3 CCTV sequence: a compositive headache.
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Frank Quitely.- Yes, of course. I had to do a six page sequence with eighteen panel son each page, and each of the frames was to represent a closed circuit televisión, like a security television screen image. This was one of those situations where in the script Grant said: “we got six pages of CCTV images, and then the double page spread where they reach freedom”. And he described quite simply what was happening: the character who was looking after the animals was supposed to lock their restraints and gave them an injection, she had to save the codes on the computer, and drug the animals. But she just left, she walked out of the building, hoping to get the front door before the team of scientists who were going to go and care the animals. Grant and I talked the idea of the main scientists would be going through the building to the animals, and the female character who was leaving the building from the animals, was trying to get away… and as the mayor scientist was going to care the animals, he kept being joined by other scientists, getting bigger and bigger. And then of course the animals escape and they make the same journey through the building that the female character had made. That was almost as much conversation as Grant and I had together.

Then I thought it could be a simple case of doing thumbnail sketches and working out the sequence, but because there were eighteen panel on each page, it was becoming difficult: I can’t think: “Oh! That would be better, I should give myself more time with this”, and I wanted to make changes, and it was becoming more and more complicated, I was using more and more sheets of paper divided up into eighteen. And eventually I thought “the easiest way to do this is I cut them all out to change their position”. I worked them out in a sequence, and that was great: Grant was very happy with it. But the next time Grant was at my house, it was a little box where they were all kept into, it was about a third of the size of your iPod [Note of tr.: Quitely points to the iPod where I show him the images]. I passed him the box with all the cuttings, and what we did was replace them: each of the cameras were on a different place in the building, so we lead them all out: “this is what camera 1 saw, this is what camera 2…”. So we lead them out into individual lines, like musical tracks, and then we followed just the female carácter, so we had all the ones she appeared in. Then we had the cleaning ladies, the soldiers that had walked from the front door, and then we started doing like a crossword puzzle, or Scrabble, you know? [laughs] And we sat and played with this for hours [laughs] to see how many different ways we could make the sequence work. It took weeks and weeks to do those six pages [laughs] weeks! [laughs] And the other thing was… because they were all in a little box, that became quite bashed, and still very light because it was just tens sheets of light weight paper, my wife actually put it on the bin; she was waliking away from the bin and she obviously thought that maybe it wasn’t a completly empty box. She presumed that there should be just another piece of rubbish on it, but something made her go back and check and realized… And instead of being apologetic, saying “Sorry, I nearly throw out three weeks worth of work”, she actually said: “Why do you have to work that way?!” [laughs] “Who else does this? Who else spents three weeks working on this?” [laughs]

D.F.- Have you used again this or similar methods for finding the appropriate page layout?

Frank Quitely.- No, that’s the only time I did it. Usually, even when I’m doing something complicated, simply by using a new new sheet of paper and try it again, I can work it out. But on this occasion there was too much information for me to hold in my head at one time, so eventually I had to cut them out. But it’s the only time I had to do that.

D.F.- The next two pictures are closely related to each other: the first one concerns the design of characters and objects, with examples taken from Batman and Robin and We3; revealing drawings, that demonstrate your special concern and effort towards finding the internal logic, the likelihood of motion, and the inner working of artifacts. The second one lists examples of your work with character’s body language, a very characteristic feature of your style: All Star Superman is probably the first comic-book where it’s plausible that Clark Kent and the Man of Steel can be seen as different people, and with Batman and Robin you just need one splash-page to convey to the reader a clear impression about the psychological characterization of each character: one, quiet, leisurely, enjoying the «show», perhaps as a vestige of his past as a circus performer; the other one, rabid, reckless, daring and anxious to reach his destination… and Robin finally seems the ten year old boy really who is… Do you specially enjoy this part of the creative process?

Conceptual design: the prevalence of the logical.
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Frank Quitely.- Yes. I mean… It’s one of the most exciting parts of the Project. If it’s a character like Superman or Clark Kent, been drawn many times before, I enjoy taking that character and looking all the different ways that different artists have drawn that character. And then, just drawing it myself, drawing and redrawing until it starts to feel more my own character. And of course, in the case of Superman and Clark Kent, Grant was talking about: “You know that way when you stand in front of the mirror? You puff out your chest, you can look like quite a strong and fit guy. But if you slump your shoulders and push your belly out, you can look completly different”. And of course the two of us were doing that, you know [laughs], trying to getting it out, saying “I can do it better than that” [laughs]. And then, with Batman and Robin what we had was the guy who used to be in the Robin suit was now on the Batman suit, and Batman’s son, who was like a mini Batman, but… angry [laughs] He was in the Robin suit, and Grant had explained to me about the idea that when Dick Grayson was wearing the Robin suit, the man in the Batman suit was like a father figure: he respected him, he loved him, and he wanted to impress him. And now he was in the Batman suit, but the boy who is in the Robin suit was just uncontrollable and he don’t want any help… So in some ways Dick must have been feeling almost as like a parent… like the issue with men always competing themselves with their father, you know. On a very simply way, the dynamic has changed: Batman was more a lighthearted, and Robin was…

The body language, serving dramatic characterization purposes.
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D.F.- It seems like if Damian conveys the idea that Dick doesn’t deserve to wear Batman’s cape and cowl…

Frank Quitely.- Absolutely, yes. Absolutely. And I’m sure he didn’t want to be wearing the Robin costume, he should being wearing the Batman suit! [laughs]. Grant came out with this idea, and I thought it was a very interesting and dynamic approach to this particular stage of a bigger story, where Bruce Wayne is no anymore in the picture, and Batman and Robin are still a team. As part of a larger story, I thought that was a really good way to make something new with the characters. The basic ideas behind it were Grant’s, but it was my responsability to add to that, to actually help to sell that idea, to help make that idea believable to the audience. Rather than with Superman and Clark Kent, where I’m just trying to make the character my own, and trying to make the transition from Clark Kent to Superman with body language and facial expressions, with Batman and Robin I was actually trying to sell an idea that was completely different from the normal idea of Batman and Robin. And again with body laguage and facial expressions, and storytelling. In some ways it’s always the same thing: you know, the writer gives you a script and tells you: “This is the story I’m trying to tell. Help me to tell it”. And my responsability as the artist is not to do what I feel I would do, or experiment with some idea I have. My job as the artist is to listen carefully to what they want me to do, the writer, and read the script until I know exactly what I have to do. And then work as long as it takes to make this happen.

D.F.- Analyzing again Batman and Robin, that’s a job where you’ve used many onomatopoeia, always from a very creative approach, playing with their design to integrate them directly into the action or the setting in which it takes place. Is there some intention to link this resource to the sensitivity of the pop tradition of the character, or it’s only due to the conscious will of explore the usually untapped potential of this tool?

Onomatopoeias: experimenting with an untapped resource.
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Frank Quitely.- That was a request from Grant. He wanted to reintroduce the sound effect because, exactly as you said, he felt that in this particular comic it would work well, because is very pop in some aspects. And he said to me: “Remember when you started off in Electric Soup?” –which was the self-published work I used to do–, and Judge Dredd, the magazine, that I did a few different strips for that. I used to experiment with soud effects…

D.F.- Also on Shimura, didn’t you?

Frank Quitely.- Shimura was one of them, yes. And he said: “I liked you to do something like that”. It wouldn’t have been something I would admit being the author of, putting sound effects in, because I don’t normally anymore. But I was happy to experiment, it was funny.

D.F.- The following images allude to the grotesque component present in some of your works, as New X-Men or Batman and Robin. Sequences that are engraved in reader’s mind, and we can intuit you thought-out a lot about how to portrait them over the page. They’re also extremely effective in moving a feeling halfway between disturbance and curiousity about the outcome. How do you tackle this kind of sequences, so atypical? Two fetuses fighting in the uterus, a psychopath doing a lap dance to a little angry bastard of ten years… (laughs)

Fetuses fighting scene and disturbing lap dance: Morrison & Quitely at its finest.
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Frank Quitely.- [laughs] Yeah, it’s basically an adult man in a pig mask, doing what is effectively like a lap dance [laughs] for a child with power tools. It’s… [laughs] it’s pretty grotesque [laughs]. But is always fun when you have a challenging sequence. And with the Proffesor Pyg piece I was trying to imagine how… The thing is: if you are a child and you are tied up, and there is a man with power tools… you know, that’s very scary. But if the man starts doing a provocative dance, like a lap dance or a pool dance, that has an added layer of horror. In one of the poses, Proffesor Pyg has two power tools: one of them is a circular saw, and the other is a drill, and at one point he is standing with the circular saw over his shoulder, the way Audrey Hepburn may have a parasol and the another he has pointed behind it like a tail, or a bunny girl. Although it’s absurd and, you know, nothing like that can happens, it’s my responsability to try make the sequence work in an interesting way. Obviuosly, there are elements of horror and elements of humor, and I have to try to find some kind of balance. And of course, there are the normal, the everyday aspects of storytelling about how to make the sequence actually work in an interesting way, in the same way that you would do with a fight scene or any other type of scene. So… I particullary enjoyed both those sequences, just because, you know… it’s something totally different.

D.F.- Occasionally, in Internet forum threads fans overanalyze certain details related to comic-books… But recently there has been a really interesting case: I wonder if you could clarify if was just a a coincidence that the inverted cover of Batman and Robin #3 evoked in some readers some kind of nod to the famous panel of Batman: The killing Joke, drawn by Brian Bolland.

Batman and Robin vs The Killing Joke: conspirancy theories?
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Frank Quitely.- Oh, yeah, yeah… [Note of tr.: Quitely smiles when I show him the image]. No, not at all. And you know what’s really interesting? When I saw this thread on the Internet… I have a Cintiq, the Wacom Cintiq is a very large screen, so it’s not actually until I saw this size with the logo, and how the logo looked like an smile, I hadn’t actually considered the mouth being part of it, as well… But that was completely accidental, and the fact that I can see the connection… If Grant had said to me: “Is there any way you could do this to make it look like the Bolland cover when you turn it upside down?”, I would have accepted the challenge, and say: “I’ll do my best!”, and I would have done some roughs and show them, and I’m sure we would just came up with something that worked. And I would be happy to admit that that’s what I’ve done, but that was purely accidental. Grant had gave me a description and sometimes a thumbnail drawing for each of the Batman and Robin covers, and the particular month this came out DC… you know that sometimes they do a month where all their covers has to be in a particular way?

D.F.- Yes, that was the “weird cover month”, or something similar…

Frank Quitely.- Yes, this month it had to be significantly different from the normal covers. And Grant had wanted each of the covers to be reminiscent of old-fashioned story covers, you know: that covers that were related to the story, technically of the seventies, or the eighties, or earlier, when you would see a comic-book cover and could know that the story was related to that. I had already done the rough of Batman and Robin fighting the dollotrons, so I was asked to make it different. And Grant said: “Well… If you can make it different, but still keep Batman and Robin fighting the dollotrons, then fine. If you can’t, then whe just don’t be part of that ‘making all the covers different’, I prefer your original idea”. So I thought that if we pulled back so as see dollotrons, and then as I was pulling back further I thought “look at that half hands…”… but it was completely accidental [laughs].

D.F.- The following image is a panel taken from the short story you did for the monumental The Madman 20th Anniversary Monster, as part of the amazing cast of authors assembled by Mike Allred to celebrate the «birthday» of his creature. A project that allowed you to treat as complete author a recurring them, present on your common woks with Grant Morrison: the metafictional element. But your plot also gave you the opportunity to stamp an experimental touch to your drawings: we can see the sketching phase, about to being inked, the nib’s shadow projected on that plane of ‘reality’, the character awaring the presence of the author…

The metafictional adventures of Frank Einstein.
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Frank Quitely.- Yes… First of all, one of the reasons I’ve always liked to work with Grant since Flex Mentallo, is because he covers a lot of themes that I’m actually interested in any way. And one of the reasons why Grant is so popular is because the themes that he covers –about personal identity, and our relationship with everything else aroud us, and our place in the scheme of things– is something that strikes a chord with most people. Which is also the reason that most well-known philosophes are popular: is because they address something that is within most of us. Just an aside, I saw the Spider-man movie: recently I was at a friend’s wedding in Poland, os I saw it in Poland… they but the subtitles, but I ignored them [laughs], and at one point Peter is late coming into class, and his teacher is standing, addressing the class, and she says that her profesor –when she was a student– told that there were inly ten different stories in fiction, and she said: “That was not true, there’s only one: Who am I?”. Of course I did that story way before that, but…

Mike Allred had asked me if I would… we have talked in the past, and he knew that I used to write my own comics years ago, when they were self-published, but mostly humor, only humor… I should have said occassionally humor, because they were not funny [laughs]. And we have talked on e-mail –I still not met Mike, I will meet him soon, in Baltimore–, and on phone, for years now. He knew I was wanting to get back to writing my own stories, and he was bringing out this huge Madman book, and he was asking different artists if they would do a piece. So he said: “Would you do me a page drawn and written by yourself”. And I said: “Yes, of course, that’s an honor!” [laughs] Then I sat down to write it… I had different ideas, and they were loosely related to this, but I couldn’t get beyond the fact that I felt that I shouldn’t be writing this: one thing is to draw Madman, but to write Madman I felt that’s Mike Allred’s job, you know? So then, it got me thinking how would Madman, how would Frank [Note of tr.: Frank Einstein, Madman’s alter ego] feel about been written by a different writer, and drawn by a different artist, specially in this book, where he is written and drawn by so many artists. I was wondering: Would he, as a carácter, be somehow aware of that? I needed to put him in a situation where he was talking his struggles with somebody. So I had somebody who could be his shrink, his psychologist, psychiatrist, like his spiritual advisor or guru. That gave me the opportunity to set up something that was like a conversation you might have in therapy with somebody you was familiar with. Because it’s just one page, we join a conversation somewhere in the middle, where he is talking about something it’s abviosly talked about it a lot, maybe recently: this idea that he feels different.

First panel of that short story: Madman on the couch. Via: Arkham Comics.
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Once I had that, I liked the idea of having the first panel to look like a blue line drawing, with a spotlight, like if the desk lamp was shining on it; and in the second started to be inked: it’s the example that you showed me, where you can consider the shadow of the pen; and in the third the flat colors have been put on it; and in the fourth it’s all finished. In the fifth, as well, he is leaving, and then he’s back, feeling sketchy again, feeling incomplete again, at the end. As a little aside, I have him on the last panel, when he is sitting thinking about it, he’s sitting on a bucket, an offside down bucket. My biggest influence was a scottish artista called Dudley D. Watkins, who did two strips in a sunday newspaper: one was The Broons, who was a very big family, and the very first comic work I ever did was called The Greens, and it was based on that. There are some in the exhibition. And the other one was Oor Wullie -it means “Our Willy”-; every strip ended with this carácter sitting on a bucket, thinking about what happened on that week story. Most of the people wouldn’t understand that reference, and would’t need to. It just starts off with him talking about this feeling of not being complete, of being different, and it ends in the same way. It was actually very enjoyable, it was frightening at first, because as soon as I started, once I said “yes”, I wasn’t sure about what could I do with somebody else’s character. Then, after sitting thinking about what my worries were, why I was worried about using somebody else’s character, it started coming together, and I thought: “I’ll just go with it, the way I’m feeling about my own worries about doing the strip”. I tried to keep that in mind while I was thinking about how the character would feeling in this situation. And then it was just trying to, as I always do, make the visual representation equal the messy story of the script. It came together very organically, but it was very enjoyable.

D.F.-Regarding the experience of writing again, and your repeatedly shown interest in developing your own short stories, have you ever thought about the possibility of writing scripts for other artists? Or perhaps the desire to return to work as a complete author has more to do with willing to -in your own words- «get out of your system» those images that haunt your head?

Frank Quitely.- No. If I had aspirations to become a writer, as well as an artist, I would at least consider writing stories for other people to draw. But I’m under no illusions that I’m a writer in the same way that any or all of the other comic-book writers I know: they’re writers in a different way from me. I have no desire to write for other people, and I’m no confident in my abilities as a writer, to come up with a plot, and structure it in such a way that it would be satisfying and would work, even if somebody drew it in a different way from the way I asked him to draw. And generally speaking, most writers would write a script and sometimes they don’t even know which artist will draw it; they have to know that the story works in spite of who it’s going to draw it. It’s going to work better if it’s somebody who is good at storytelling, who understands what they have been asked to do. It would work better, if you get an artist like that. It will struggle to work with an unexperienced artist, or an artist who has not the time or the care to actually do what he has been asked of him. But I do not think of myself being a writer, and I certainly don’t think myself of being the kind of writer who would be able to do that. I’m an artist, and there are some things I would like to draw that I do not have scripts for. So I could draw them without script or working out my own way, the way I did with the one page for the Mike Allred story. I didn’t write a script for that, I didn’t came up with an idea and then write out as a script…

Oor Wullie and another Quitelys homage to the character created by Dudley D. Watkins.
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D.F.- Addressing the creative process in a more organic, intuitive or maybe improvised way…?

Frank Quitely.- Exactly, it’s a much more organic process. Once I had worked all out, I could then have made an entire script, and ask the artista to make the first panel look like loose blue line pencilling, and the second panel to look like started to be inked, to put a shadow on it… I could have described what I had come up with, and then have given it to some different artist to draw it for me, to see what one I like best. But for me, you know… I don’t want to go on that road, I have no desire to become a writer. But as an artist I do have a desire to produce some short stories that are all mine. And I know that people will groan and say: “Oh, no! Another artist that thinks he can write!”…

D.F.- Well, I’m sure that there are a lot of fans that would like to read your own stories as a complete author. That would be great.

Frank Quitely.- Thanks [laughs]. I won’t be writing a six issue run on Batman for some other artists to draw it. I want to do some small, personal, stories: I have a small collection, now, that are scripted and thumbnailed… well, they are thumbnailed with draft dialogues, that maybe need to be tightened up slightly. And I have not yet had the time to take them from thumbails… It’s sort of a thing I can do when I’m in the bus, going to work, going to the studio. Or I can do late at night, when the family is in bed, before I go to bed myself: when I’m tired and I don’t want to start a new page, is the sort of thing I can do. So I’m slowly getting more of these short stories, and instead of stopping writing and actually draw one, I keep coming out with other ideas that maybe I won’t be able to draw [laughs]. Hopefully some time… Maybe next year I would stop going to conventions and with the time I would normally go to conventions, I’ll take a week and try to get out a story start, and then take another week to try to finish it… Maybe that should be my plan for next year.

D.F.- Well… this image is the last one, which is related to those times when your job takes own life through other hands: I’m refering to cases like the statue sculpted by Paul Harding for the Batman: Black & White collection, based on your Batman and Robin #1 cover. Or the All Star Superman animated adaptation, directed by Sam Liu. What feelings do you have when you see that your drawings are transferred to other media and formats, even to acquire three-dimensional?

Animated adaptations and statues: own work through other hands.

Frank Quitely.- I liked the All Star Superman movie. The story about the animation was that shortly after it had been released I was at… I think it was San Francisco, at WonderCon… or was it Emerald City? I can’t remember: those were the two cons I did the last year… Somebody asked in the panel, that took place in a big hall, “What do you think about the movie?”. And I said: “I’ve not actually seen it, yet”. And somebody else said: “Did DC sent you a copy?”. And you could see the guys from DC that were there, looking to each other, saying: “Oh! Didn’t we send him a copy?!” [laughs] I think that was in Emerald City, because when the time I went to WonderCon, they had sent me a copy of the DVD, and shortly before the convention I was very busy, as always I was behind of my deadlines… but I thought: “I need to make time to watch this before I go to the next Con”. And the one evening I had free to watch it I sat down –I have three kids, but only one of them was interested [laughs]– with one of my sons, Joseph. We sat down to watch the thing together, and we were about ten minutes in when the door bell rang, so I went down and it was my mother, and I had not seen her for nearly two weeks. She said: “Make me a cup of tea”, and I didn’t want to say: “Mom, I’m watching a cartoon” [laughs] So I went out to said Joseph: “Grandma is come home”, and he said: “You want me to pause it?”, and I said: “I’ve no seen her in a couple of weeks, she’s gonna want to sit and talk, just you watch it and I’ll try to see it later on”. So sat and had a cup of tea with my mother, she stayed for ages and we talked… So by the time I went to WonderCon I had only seen the first ten minutes, so I told them all the story about my mother [laughs] I don’t even think she knows that she interrupted it… but I said that I really liked the first ten minutes. And eventually, when I went back home, some weeks later, I found a free evening and I watched it, and I really enjoyed, I thought it was really good. I understand why they had to take out the Bizarro storyline, and why they messed out the death of Pa Kent: they needed to find the tone. But I would actually have rathered they made a half-hour saturday morning animation. Twelve of them, one for each issue: they would have twelve short cartoons they could have aired on a saturday morning, people could have bought the box-set, you know? From a story point of view I think that would have been more satisfying, because I really love the stories for all twelve issues. But as a feature lenght animation I thought they made good choices, and I thought it worked very well.

About the statues… it’s strange, but I quite like it. I remember when it was the All Star Superman action figures, they sent me photographs, jpgs of the sculpt: headshots of Superman from different angles before it was painted. That was the action figure, and it was like my drawings but with the proportions just slightly better, everything was slightly accurate. And I thought: “That looks amazing!” [laughs] But, of course, when they sent me the little dolls, because they all have been painted… it was good, but I prefered it before it was painted. Still it’s a really cool thing that I was involved in a project that was popular wnough to make toys or action figures. Is a nice thing to see, yes.

D.F.- OK, that’s a wrap on our part. Thank you so much for your time, patience and kindness. And, of course, we wish you the best of lucks for any present and future projects.

Frank Quitely.- No problem, it was fun. Sorry it took so long until we could do the interview!

Viñetas desde o Atlántico 2012: Frank Quitely panel

As mentioned in the introduction to this article, the presence of Frank Quitely in Viñetas desde o Atlántico allowed to organise a meeting with his readers; moderated by Carlos Portela and Ángel de la Calle -with Óscar Iglesias as interpreter-, during the chat there were time enough to talk about different aspects related to the succesful career of the scottish cartoonist.

You can visit our YouTube channel through this link.

Main influences, first steps into the comic-book industry, most significant projects and, of course, his recurring collaborations with Grant Morrison. The perfect way to end on a high note the Festival, that we had the chance to record on the video that precede this lines. We hope you like it!

The Art of… Frank Quitely

As is traditional in A Coruña International Comic-book Convention, the presence of the guests implies their participation on panels, workshops and signings, but there are also impressive exhibitions organized as retrospectives that offers the visitors the chance to review the professional careers of each cartoonist, thanks to a complete selection of original artowrk. Regarding Frank Quitely, the selection was really varied, with more than fifty original pages we had the opportunity to photograph. But no better than the scottish author to present this awesome exhibition, through the words he wrote for the catalogue of Viñetas desde o Atlántico:

This is a selection of my work, chosen by me from the original pages still in my possession.

There are examples of the painted work I did in the Judge Dredd magazine where I started my professional career, and of the painted covers I produced a decade later for the American market.

For a larger version of the photos, visit our Flickr account

Some of the pieces are taken from significant works like Flex Mentallo, The Authority, New X-Men, We3 and All Star Superman, while other are from lesser-known works like the genre-specific short stories published by Vertigo, or the documentary-style shorts in Paradox Press’ Big Book anthologies.

From my first published strip, The Greens (in the Scottish underground humour comic Electric Soup, in 1989); to my current projects, Pax Americana and Jupiter’s Children (both due out later this year and 2013); I’m hoping that in presenting such a broad over-view you will see the slow and difficult learning process of an artist struggling to improve.

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