While recently in Glasgow I took the opportunity to visit master illustrator and visual storyteller Frank Quitely.
I’ve loved Frank’s art ever since I first his work on All Star Superman, his amazing run on DC’s figurehead character with writer Grant Morrison. You don’t forget the first time you see the work of an artist who is streets, or in this case, blocks ahead of the competition. For me it made my artistic quest seem both infinitely hopeless and absolutely crucial at the same time. His rendering of flesh, cloth, the volume that he puts into everything he draws is in a league of its own. In Frank’s crowd scenes you can look at every person and see a real, believable character, with a real and believable reaction to whatever is happening in the main focus of the scene. It is time-consuming to put this much work into your pages, and artists are commonly forgiven for scrimping on such detail, but Frank puts in the time. And it shows. One of comics’ famously ‘slow’ artists, he is resultantly in the same league as Geoff Darrow in his ability to create pages where every square centimetre is a pleasure to take in. And his visual storytelling is where he really shines. From a fight scene, to a car chase, to a quiet conversation, Frank plans it out meticulously, providing the reader with a logical and visually engaging story. His layouts, pacing, the way he leads the eye around the page and makes everything clear is a result of obsessive planning (and partly, surely, god-given genius). As he says, he does the work so the reader doesn’t have to.
It took some effort to firstly track him down, and then a little overcoming of anxiety to press the doorbell of his inner city studio. With heart pounding, mouth dry and nerves on fire, to my great surprise, I was buzzed in.I bounded the stairs to the top floor with enthusiasm and was met at the door by Frank himself. He shook my hand warmly and invited me in for a coffee. I muttered something barely intelligible, almost fainted, and followed him in. He gestured to a cosy chair underneath a great hairy eyeball, relaxing onto the couch opposite.
And then he asked, quite politely, what the hell I wanted from him.
I had to take a couple of deep breaths and assess the situation. This was a moment I had dared not imagine would happen, and here it was. I didn’t necessarily have much time- Frank is in high demand as a professional artist. I would be a fool to waste his time. I quickly mentioned my Doctoral work, my interest in visual storytelling, and asked if I could trouble him for a wee half hour for a critique of my work, of which I had selected 12 pages of varying styles and themes.
He said no problem, and led the way into his actual working space. It features a large window overlooking a flowing river of Glasweigans, spilling natural light into the room. I perched on a stack of MPH comics and tried very hard not to breathe down his neck, or spill coffee over any of the sheets of original artwork scattered around his cluttered desk. Once I had my audio recording equipment switched on and double checked, we began.
Frank was extremely gracious. He took his time with the critique, generously giving complimentary feedback while pointing out gems of storytelling advice, gently correcting many, now obvious, errors. How to tell a story clearly, how to create pleasing compositions, how to move the reader’s eye, and so forth. I look forward to going over this recording multiple times, transcribing and occasionally lapsing into a reminiscing daze about the time I was so close to a true master of the craft.
And in case you were wondering, I held this Sandman painting (above) in very own hands.
After just under an hour we were done. I had briefly wondered what was to happen next- would I be scowled, sneered and heckled until I skulked back out onto the street? No, this amazing critique was just the beginning of my All-Star experience. Frank kindly handed me the latest pages of a comic he is currently working on, Jupiter’s Legacy, to peruse at my leisure. Looking at the original full-size pages is something I won’t forget for a long time. There is so much that gets lost when the work is reduced to print size, and Frank’s pencils are infinitely detailed even at full size. Every carefully controlled line was just inches from my loving eyeballs. I can’t explain how much this effected me as an artist, and of course, as a fan.
After parting reluctantly with those precious pages I asked politely (and hopefully not creepily) if I could stick around. This, of course, was no problem.
I spent the rest of the day, and the following day, in the studio where I met other local Glasgow artists, including Jason Maathis (penciller and painter), Dominic Regan (colourist and writer), Daria (painter and graphic designer), Barry (Jack of all trades), and Tom & Chris (aspiring comic creators). The pool of talent in this studio is formidable, and what’s best, it’s an house of learning from one another. Lunches are prepared and shared together and coffee and tea is offered and served by all, to all. It is an inspiring place and an example of how a creative studio can, and should be. The established professionals give their time and advice to the indie guys, and the indie guys benefit enormously, while perhaps teaching a thing or two of their own along the way. At one point I lamented the lack of such a space in Brisbane. Frank suggested setting one up myself. Definitely food for thought.
So, many gracious thanks to Frank, and all the guys in that special studio.
I hope to see you again someday.