Frank Quitely: Drawings + Sketches hardcover art book
Writer/Artist: Frank Quitely
Editor: Nicola Love
Publisher: BHP Comics
Price: $26.99 US/£18.99 UK
I’ve been reading comics for almost 40 years now, and it’s without a doubt my favorite entertainment medium. As I’ve matured, I’ve become more and more interested in the creative process, and this art book takes us into the inventive art of highly regarded comic artist Frank Quitely. He’s offered some of the more inventive and challenging comics visuals, especially in the super-hero genre, in recent memory, and this book offers insight, directly from the artist, of how those medium-expanding moments came to be. This book will be a must for any Quitely devotee, but readers should bear in mind it’s far from a comprehensive look at his career.
The book is broken down into chapters that reflect different projects over Quitely’s career: Justice’s Legacy, Jupiter’s Circle, Pax Americana (the Multiversity one-shot from DC featuring the old Charlton super-heroes), Nothing to Declare, We3, and finally a miscellany of sketches and offbeat projects. It’s worth noting that save for Pax, there are none of the more iconic, corporately owned works from the artist’s career included here, such as All-Star Superman, JLA: Earth 2, New X-Men and Flex Mentallo. And with the art included here from Pax, it’s difficult to discern the copyrighted characters. I can’t help but wonder if ownership issues guided what was included.
That being said, there are a number of nuggets in this book that expanded my knowledge of Quitely’s work, most notably, the fact that he developed a short comic story that evolved into a short animated film. In discussing Nothing to Declare, the artist reveals he had to adjust his thinking when it came to character design for animation, because what worked for him in comics wouldn’t necessarily work in the other medium. Seeing those altered designs (and the originals he had to abandon) demonstrated artists, even ones as accomplished as Quitely, are always learning, adjusting and improving.
Another aspect of the book I enjoyed was the fact that it offers glimpses of the creatives processes of more than just the title creator. His collaborative process with writers such as Grant Morrison (with whom Quitely is most closely associated) and Mark Millar are examined here as well, and we see snippets from scripts and notes to the artist. It reveals the innovation and imagination of the writers as well.
The Miscellany section at the end of the book dwells for a couple of pages on a poster Quitely illustrated and designed for a theatre production about a vampire legend and a real-world child retaliation against that dark corner of their young imaginations. I loved learning about the Gorbals Vampire, and the subject matter is now something I’ll seek out in other media.
My favorite parts of the book are the photographs of pages from Quitely’s various sketchbooks. There’s even a photo of one that’s water-damaged, and it seemed so unusual and genuine to include such a flawed artifact. The book, in discussing a recent art exhibit of Quitely’s work, notes the artist has never discarded a single sketchbook or drawing over the years. It made me want to see his workspace and bookshelves; I would imagine they’d be full to overflowing of bits of brilliance we’ll never see.
As much as I enjoyed the material in this book, it feels like a rather cursory look at Quitely’s work. Not counting chapter breaks and extraneous pages, the page count here comes to about 110, and there’s just so much more ground to cover. I also would have appreciated more written commentary from Quitely and others, and perhaps a bit of a history — both of his career and of the man himself. 7/10