Frank Quitely: Comic book artist at work

Vincent Deighan in his studio Vincent Deighan has a studio in Glasgow, and uses the pen name Frank Quitely for his comic book art.

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At school in Rutherglen, an undistinguished suburb of Glasgow, the young Vin Deighan was 'the best drawer in the class'. Life is a bit like that in Scotland.

"If you can't be the best footballer, you might as well be the best at drawing," he acknowledges. "There is a certain kudos."

Now Deighan has grown up and acquired an alter ego, Frank Quitely, and a successful career as a comic book artist.

As Quitely he has assisted superstar writer Grant Morrison in reimagining Superman and the X-Men, and worked with Kickass author Mark Millar on The Authority amongst others; he is definitely not short of admirers.

And, it seems, detractors. "Oh, you know," he laughs, a lot of people love my style, and a lot hate it. Comic fans are an unusually vocal population."

"I just always wanted to draw, always," he says of his childhood.

Scottish Comic Book Connections

We3 illustration by Frank Quitely
  • Vincent Deighan, born 1968

AKA Frank Quitely. Best known for collaborations with Grant Morrison on titles like New X-Men, We3, All-Star Superman, and Batman and Robin. And with Mark Millar on The Authority and Jupiter's Legacy. Also working on his own title, provisionally named Close Calls, which will feature a set of short stories taking place in a Glasgow tenement.

  • Mark Millar MBE, born 1969

Comic book writer and film producer, worked on The Authority, The Ultimates, Marvel Knights Spider-Man, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Civil War, Wanted, and Kick-Ass. Credited as producer on the films Wanted, Kick-Ass & Kick-Ass 2, and creative consultant on The Fantastic Four, due out in 2015.

  • Grant Morrison MBE, born 1960

Comic writer, playwright and sometime character in his own books. Worked on DC Comics' Animal Man, Batman, The Invisibles, Action Comics, All-Star Superman, and Marvel's New X-Men and Fantastic Four. Former mentor of Millar, but credits him with "destroying my faith in human ****** nature".

"It wasn't specifically comics, but a fundamental part of my ambition was 'imagine if I could just have a job where I could draw all the time'. No big life-changing decisions for other people, just drawing.

"If you're a brain surgeon or a judge - a bad day at work is a big deal for someone. A bad day for me is when I rub out more marks than I leave on the page."

Spoiled superheroes

BBC Four's What Do Artists Do All Day? programme recently spent 24 hours in his company, watching him pull an all-nighter at work in his small shared studio high up opposite Glasgow's busy Central Station.

He sits hunched over, sketching elegant lines on a digital drawing board and, starting with simple pale blue shapes on the page, he succeeds in bringing an almost cinematic feel to the spoiled superheroes of Mark Millar's Jupiter's Legacy.

He is without doubt an artist, as per the film's title, but how does Deighan himself view what he does?

"Well I draw the images, but I think what I do is different to those people who would call themselves fine artists. That's more akin to being the front man in the band, wanting the attention, feeling that you've got something you desperately want to say."

Without in any way wishing to play his contribution down, Deighan sees what he does as rather different.

"To do comics properly, to do the stories justice, takes a great deal of thought, but most of what I do is working from someone else's script.

Illustration by Frank Quitely, from We3 Deighan's art style combines digital inking and colouring with hand-drawn pencil lines
Allstar superman Deighan's art style combines digital inking and colouring with hand-drawn pencil lines
Daredevil Deighan's art style combines digital inking and colouring with hand-drawn pencil lines
Deighan's art style combines digital inking and colouring with hand-drawn pencil lines Deighan's art style combines digital inking and colouring with hand-drawn pencil lines
Deighan Deighan's art style combines digital inking and colouring with hand-drawn pencil lines
Sandman Deighan's art style combines digital inking and colouring with hand-drawn pencil lines
Cat Fight Deighan's art style combines digital inking and colouring with hand-drawn pencil lines

"But everything that I'm putting into it is of myself; my imagination, my personal taste, my years of experience... all in the service of telling the story. How to make people's eyes move quickly across the page, how to stop them in their tracks, how to make them feel what they need to feel.

"Think of me more like an actor, using everything I've learned to turn in the performance of a lifetime, every time, but for someone else."

Deighan studied drawing at the world famous Glasgow School of Art from 1986, and while contemporaries like Turner Prize-winners Douglas Gordon and Martin Boyce were in the Environmental Art department preparing to tear up the rule books, he was spending his student grant with such aplomb that he was turfed out after two years.

Frank Quitely Clips

Frank Quitely sketching digitally
  • CCTV sequence: Deighan on how he came up with his complicated "CCTV" sequence for We3.
  • Pencil versus computer: Deighan explains the differences between working on computer and with a pencil, on new comic Jupiter's Legacy.
  • Glasgow by night: Exploring the streets of Glasgow on a Saturday night, Deighan explains how the world around him inspires his work.

"I'd had a paper round a month before getting there, I was 17. I didn't have the talk to back myself up when I got into trouble."

It was while picking up freelance work, "nightclub posters, murals, pictures of people's pets", that he started drawing 'The Greens' for Electric Soup, a fondly remembered Viz-like Glasgow comic.

Visual narrative

His strip was a scabrous re-working of Dundee's famous cartoon The Broons, with stories such as "Nightmare on Glib St" and "Monty Fux Flying Circus." (Deighan is far from immune to word-play, with Frank Quitely a spoonerism of 'quite frankly'.)

This work brought him to the attention of Judge Dredd Megazine and later the opportunity to work with fellow Scot Grant Morrison on DC Comics' Flex Mentallo.

"Someone like Grant, his writing is already so multi-layered and well realised," he says of the creator of We3 and The Invisibles. "My job, for Grant and for Mark and the others, is to make the illustrations not just a companion to the script but to provide a dynamic visual narrative."

Unusually for an artist, the better his work the less time the viewer spends looking at it, and counter-intuitively, the more simple and easy the page is to look at, often the more work has gone into it.

Frank Quitely sketching digitally Deighan creates artwork using a digital drawing board

Deighan is well-known for skirting deadlines, and confesses that digital technology has not speeded up his production process.

"I have never been on a project where I've thought 'ach, this is rubbish', and not tried hard," he says, "It's not in my nature. The downside of that is that things take a while."

Working remotely for American titles can mean that artist and writer don't get together much. With Mark Millar being based in Glasgow the pair tend to meet for a coffee before a project, 'to check we are on the same page', and talk about character design."

"Then, off he goes to enthuse wildly and publicly, tweeting and talking to the press, like a good frontman does, while I stay out of the way. Just me, the script, and the ever-approaching deadline."

Frank Quitely: What Do Artists Do All Day?

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