Commemorating The Art Of A True Comics Original
♦Frank Quitely is a comic artist and illustrator with over three decades in the business. Tripwire has known him since the mid 1990s and its editor-in-chief JOEL MEADOWS went up to see Quitely just after the exhibition The Art Of Comics: From Krypton To Kelvingrove Frank Quitely opened in Glasgow’s prestigious gallery and museum opened in April. Quitely is also a special guest at the Portsmouth Comic Con, on from this Saturday 5 May so we thought we would represent it for our readers…
Frank Quitely is a Scottish comic artist who has worked with some of the best writers in comics, like Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, John Wagner and Alan Grant. The genesis of this massive exhibition in one of Glasgow’s most prestigious art venues goes back a few years, he explained to me.
“The conversation started two and a half years ago. What happened was that a couple of people high up in Glasgow museums saw the BBC documentary What do Artists do All Day? So they had a meeting and asked if anybody knows anything about comics. And the guy who curated the show, Martin Craig, he said ‘Not only do I know a bit about comics but I know that guy as well’.”
So Quitely had a relationship with Craig going back a few years, he revealed to me.
“He had curated a show back in 2011 or something. It was a very small independent gallery and it was a show of local artists. It was drawing based work but narrative. So one of the other artists he was exhibiting was David Shrigley. So Martin and I did have a bit of history. And when he got in touch with me to see if I fancied having a conversation about the various different things that he could do in terms of curating a comics based show. And originally he was sent out to see if I would be a good candidate for an exhibition. Did I have enough work? And whether that work was broad enough. Martin was initially keen to explore the possibility of maybe doing something on comics. Glasgow’s got a very strong self published small press and independent thing going on. It’s stronger now and busier now than at any point in the past. And also with a lot more female creators as well. So we were thinking we could do something that went from grass roots right up to Mark [Millar] and Grant [Morrison] for instance. We’d probably get Wagner and Grant involved in terms of the 2000AD story too. We thought about having Eddie Campbell involved as something that’s very different to what the most of the rest of us are doing. We looked at it in terms of the timescale and the space and the gallery and the ease or difficulty with which you could coordinate something if it had too many focuses. And eventually it came back to the idea of basing it around me because I’d worked with Wagner, Grant, Gordon Rennie and Robbie Morrison, Grant Morrison and Mark Millar. And that would take in my own independent stuff, stuff that I did with 2000AD and the stuff that I did with the Paradox Big Books, the Vertigo anthologies, big mainstream titles and creator owned stuff, so a little bit of everything,” Quitely reveals sitting in his tiny studio in the West End of Glasgow.
Kelvingrove was a place that Quitely has loved to visit since he was little and so it did feel a little odd to see his work there:
“Kelvingrove was literally my favourite place to go for a family day out. And this is true of a lot of kids in Glasgow, the way that Kelvingrove is laid out, as beautiful Spanish baroque. It’s an amazing looking building from the outside and it’s even more amazing looking on the inside. And when you go in downstairs that’s the museum part because it’s a museum and art gallery. You’ve basically got an Egyptian room that’s got mummies and sarcophaguses, suits of armour and big William Wallace type swords that are eight foot long. They’ve got bees in this glass thing where the bees go in and out. So for kids it’s amazing. And of course they’ve got dinosaurs too. Upstairs is where the art is. Apparently it’s one of the biggest civic collections in Europe. So when I was younger I used to spend most of my time downstairs. When I was an art student too I used to go on a very regular basis and then all through my adult life and my professional life it’s somewhere I would go back to on my own. Usually if I’ve got any other artists coming up I would take them round. If you’re coming through the city, Kelvingrove’s always top of the list. So all my life I’ve been going there and because I’m doing comic art rather than fine art it never occurred to me that I would one day have a single piece there never mind an exhibition. The whole art gallery/ museum is free but the bit we’re in is the temporary exhibition space and it’s a constantly changing space. It is on for six months. In fairness they were originally going to put it on over Christmas but they ended up bringing it forward which is another reason why it got slightly in the way of doing Jupiter’s Legacy,” Quitely tells me.
There is a wide range of material in the exhibition covering every aspect and time period in the artist’s career, which was something which was important for it to reflect when dealing with an artist who has had such an evolving and changing career.
“We started off by just having conversations about it and what it was we were aiming to show. One of the threads that runs through it is this is what I was like when I started, this is what has happened over the course of 25 or more years. So you’ve got the very first Broons and Greens pages I drew. We ran the first strip as the Broons because I thought it would be funny and nobody would think it was the real Broons because it wasn’t nearly as well drawn and it was in Electric Soup rather than in the Sunday Post. So I ended up redrawing the hair styles and changing the name. There’s a kind of evolution in terms of what is there and we wanted to see the evolution of an artist. Also that goes from small press to British press to American non Superhero stuff to American superhero stuff to creator owned stuff. One of the other things we wanted to do was we wanted to show process as well. There’s vitrines that show thumbnail sketches and lay outs for pages and the pencils and the inks and the final printed comics. There is also a letter in the exhibition from former DC editor Dan Raspler from when Alan Grant wrote me this Lobo story, which I did the very best I could with it. This was the biggest platform I had ever had for my work. It was a big book and this was just a one shot and I really liked Alan’s work on Lobo. I really loved the story too. It was called The Hand To Hand Job and I was so sure he was going to phone me as soon as he got it and tell me it was great. A week or more went by and eventually he phoned me up and his opening line was ‘Dude I don’t know how to tell you this.’ He told me that basically your drawings are great and you’ve really put a lot of thought into this but you just don’t get Lobo and your storytelling isn’t good enough. And he said the reason I’ve taken so long to get back to you is because I’ve written you a big letter, an eight page letter with lots of notes about what you should be looking at, what you should be thinking about when you’re doing this. So we’ve actually got the letter from Dan. It was a total turning point for me.”
When Quitely started as a comic artist, it was obvious from the beginning that he brought some amazing and diverse influences to bear on his work and it is only right that his career is celebrated in this exhibition. Fans of his work and exceptional comic art should visit the exhibition which runs from now until October of this year.
And here’s the Portsmouth Comic Con website for further information on the show