Frank Quitely: Drawing the New Dynamic Duo

Dan DiDio: 20 Answers, 1 Question

Batman and Robin #2

Frank Quietly is at the top of his game. After the success of All Star Superman, the highly respected artist is now showcasing his talents by tackling a pair of DC icons, launching the new Batman and Robin series with longtime collaborator Grant Morrison. Serendipitously, comics’ greatest dynamic duo will take on comics’ greatest Dynamic Duo.

We caught up with Frank to discuss his new series, his previous project, and what readers should expect down the pipeline.

Newsarama: First off, how is life basking in the glow of All Star Superman? It was by no means your first critically acclaimed work, but given that is has once again been nominated for an Eisner, it's really in a league of its own in terms of commercial and critical success. Now that you've had some separation, how do you feel about your time and work on that title, as a whole?

Frank Quitely: All Star's no different from every other project I've worked on in so far as I have mixed emotions in looking back over it. The stories themselves are quite brilliant. They'd still be good if any competent artist had drawn them, but for the most part I can look at my input fairly objectively, and the art generally serves the stories pretty well.

There are lots of bits I'd like to polish up if I was re-doing it, but there are also plenty of bits where it works really well. It was a real privilege to get to do all 12 issues. People have said the nicest things about what it meant to them.

NRAMA: You’re following up one iconic character with another, or actually now two such icons, but in a slightly different context. All Star was finite, and solely a space for your and Grant's stories. But you're now working within the broader structure of the DC universe. How does that change your approach? Is it different given that you're sharing characters and a backdrop?

FQ: Not really, I'm not aware of it feeling different for those reasons. I'm aware of it feeling different because the stories are very different, and Batman and Robin in Gotham is very different from Superman in Metropolis or the farm, or in space, and in current continuity.

Yeah, I suppose the whole thing feels different for all those reasons, and that we wanted some of the action sequences to be a variation on what we were trying to achieve on New-X-Men and We3. We wanted it to be darker too, in a Noir-ish way, and in a creepy way. It's fun.

Batman and Robin #3

NRAMA: Now, rumors are abounding over who might be wearing the tights in this book [NOTE: interview was conducted prior to the release of Battle for the Cowl #3], but regardless of the identities underneath, can you tell us about the approach you’re taking in these characters? Are there specific character sensibilities or quirks you specifically want to convey?

FQ: There's an unusual power-dynamic and a certain amount of friction, but the less said about that the better.

On the art and story-telling front though, there's plenty going on visually to help present their sensibilities and quirks - for example, they have quite distinct fighting techniques, and they also display something of their character in the way they fight.

NRAMA: Knowing how you’ve portrayed “quirks,” throughout your career, that sounds really promising. Now, I'm going to catch flack if I don't ask you about scheduling. The work on All Star consistently proved worth the wait, but it did have scheduling bumps, some greater than others. Is this an ongoing assignment, and have any sort of measures have been put in place to keep the trains running on time?

FQ: It's ongoing and in-continuity, but scheduling shouldn't be affected because, like on NXM, I'm just doing arcs as and when the schedule allows.

I'm on for the opening 3-issue arc, then I'll be working on another arc while someone else is drawing from issue 4.

NRAMA: How much have you been following Grant's meta-arc work on Batman? Did you have any thoughts on the Black Glove work with J.H. Williams, or R.I.P.?

FQ: I've still got bits and pieces to read, but I've followed most of it. It's a pretty big story, with far-reaching consequences, but it's also very personal and introspective too. And J.H.'s work was beautiful, as ever.

NRAMA: With All Star Superman, your mission seemed pretty clear: tell the great Superman story the world was yet to see, that one tale that encompassed everything that was super about the man. What is the mission here?

FQ: Mmm, that's really Grant's question, but for me it's the same: listen to what the writer is trying to achieve, read the script until you can really see it all, then do your best to try to make it work in terms of sequence, composition, mood, detail etc.

Cover to June's Batman & Robin
Cover to June's Batman & Robin
Batman and Robin #1

NRAMA: So far, what's been the coolest thing you've been able to draw? Was there anything that made you go “Hey, awesome, Batman! (and Robin!)”?

FQ: Probably designing the Circus of Strange characters - Triplet; 3 fighters joined at the shoulder-blades who fight as one 12-limbed acrobatic martial artist, and Big Top; the fattest circus-strong-man ever to dress like a chorus-line girl.

NRAMA: It's hard not to notice that you're following up Superman, the premiere hero, with the Dynamic Duo. Unlike some artists, you aren't strictly of superhero pedigree. I know it might be a ways off, but do you have any specific aspirations of doing work out of the genre, following this project?

FQ: I've got a number of other things I'd like to get round to in comics: most are creations of my own; some would be purely experimental; others are with Grant. They'd all be creator-owned.

Robbie Morrison and I are rereleasing Blackheart, which was a 24 page B&W story which originally appeared in DHP (Dark Horse Presents) and was more-or-less the first work either of us did for the American market. Bears all the hallmarks of early work.

I'm also bringing out a collection of my earliest work - the Electric Soup stuff, or a selection thereof - mostly The Greens. That'll be through Bad Press Ltd.

And the BBC are looking at commissioning a pilot for The Greens, probably some kind of animation. Very early stages, but looking promising.

But mostly I'd like to get to the stage when I can devote a day a week to doing my own stuff.

Actually, Grant was up at the studio today, we were doing an interview for The Saturday Herald, and after it Grant, Jamie (Grant) and I were chewing the fat in the attic and Grant did come up with an idea for what we could be doing after Batman and Robin, but it's more than Jamie's life's worth to talk about it just now (obviously, whenever I do leak it I'll be using Jamie's identity).

NRAMA: Hah, well we'll know who to blame when the news breaks. But that's really great to hear about the re-releases, I'm sure plenty of your readership has never had the chance to catch it first go-around. You say it bears the mark of early work, but as a reader I always find it fascinating to get the chance to look back, and see the primal strengths in an artist’s early stuff. It can really crystallize the starting point as well as the artistic evolution. Can you see the work that way, or are you too close to it?

FQ: Yeah, pretty well, I think - I can look at my old work and see all the lazy bits and the good bits, and the embarrassing bits, and the things I'm still doing but doing better now, and the mistakes I don't make any more, and as the years have rolled by the story-telling has got better, and there are fewer bits that are difficult to read, and I can see a meandering path of progress when I look at it.

Quitely's pencils from #1

NRAMA: And when should we expect that stuff out?

FQ: With Blackheart I imagine Robbie will be the driving force, ‘cause I'm really not very good at organizing things, but it wouldn't be mannerly to announce a possible date for when I hope Robbie will have it sorted! (laughs)

The Electric Soup stuff has been collected and looked at and talked about, but work and life keep getting in the way. Rob Miller (Khaki shorts) and Jamie Grant (Wasted) will help me with that ‘cause they're both Bad Press guys, and we all work in the same studio, but it's up to me to get the selection made. I'm planning to start soon, but I couldn't say how long it will take ‘cause I really don't have a lot of extra time at the moment.

NRAMA: Something I’ve noticed about artists is there always seems to be influences around that are pushing your buttons, and getting your gears in motion. Any music, art, or contemporary comics that you're really jibing with right now? Is there a soundtrack to your Batman and Robin?

FQ: Right now I'm listening to Dip by L.Pierre. Perfect for lying in the sun, or for long drives. A few months ago I did the cover for The Phantom Band's new 7"single The Howling, and their label, Chemikal Underground, sent me a big box of CD's, so I've been listening to Aidan Moffat, The Delgados, Arab Strap, Mogwai, Malcolm Middleton, Aereogramme, De Rosa, a whole load of Chemikal stuff.

And I listen to BBC Radio 4 a lot - "in our time" being a particular favorite. They have a lot of interesting round-table-discussion programs, and they have plays and readings and classic serials. I also like ted.com, and I find interesting talks and lectures other places online.

And I share a studio with Jamie, Rob, Dom Regan (Gamma Hed) and a few others and we all share each others music and comics and stuff.

In every room in our studio we have piles of comics and books; from Crumb and Sheldon to Moebius and Otomo, taking in pretty much every genre along the way.

I can stretch in any direction and pick up something inspiring.

Batman and Robin #1 is in comic shops now.

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