With this week's release of The Multiversity: Pax Americana #1, readers were not only introduced to the latest alternate earth in DC's multiverse, but they were treated to a reunion of the acclaimed pairing of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, with colors by Nathan Fairbairn.
The two creators have been collaborating since 1996 on a wide variety of comics — critical darling indies, Eisner-winning series and sales powerhouses, including Flex Mentallo, JLA: Earth 2, New X-Men, We3, All-Star Superman and Batman and Robin.
With Pax, their teaming evolved into an even closer collaboration, as Morrison gave Quitely thumbnail layouts to demonstrate the very particular ideas he had for layouts and page structure. Quitely used some of the layouts and challenged some others, and because the two Scottish creators live near one another, they could hash out details of their vision in the same room.
This week's issue takes readers to Earth-4, the home of Captain Atom, the Blue Beetle, Nightshade and the Question — characters DC acquired from Charlton Comics, who were also the inspiration for the characters in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' now legendary series Watchmen.
In the latest installment of our ongoing interviews with the artists of Multiversity, Newsarama talked with Quitely about collaborating with Morrison, creating the world of Pax, and following in Dave Gibbons' footsteps.
Newsarama: Frank, you've been working with Grant Morrison for quite awhile now. What makes the pairing work so well?
Frank Quitely: I enjoy working with Grant because we work well together. Because my art and his writing seem to suit each other.
We both work well with other people too, of course, but there's a definite something that clicks when we work with each other, it's always very satisfying for both of us, and a lot of other people seem to pick up on that too.
Nrama: How would you describe his scripts? How are they different than other scripts you've worked from?
Quitely: His full scripts are very descriptive, in terms storytelling direction as well as concrete detail.
Over the years, as we've gotten more used to working together, I've noticed that his scripts have become slightly simpler, and he tends to just suggest draft dialogue and then go back for a final draft once he's got all the art in front of him.
Pax was a fairly heavy script on the detail side of things, and Grant gave me simple thumbnail layouts for a lot of the pages because he had very definite ideas about how he wanted it to look.
Nrama: When you first heard about Grant Morrison doing a story called Multiversity, what did you think of the project?
Quitely: The way I remember it, Grant sold me on the idea of doing this thing called Pax Americana, and he did mention that it was part of a larger whole, but didn't expand on that, and I didn't ask. I was really just interested in what it was that I had to do.
Nrama: Now that you realize there was a bigger picture, why do you think Grant wanted you on this Pax Americana issue in particular?
Quitely: Grant had a pretty clear idea of how he wanted this thing to work, and even with his tight script and thumbnail layouts it was still going to be a ton of work for someone else to come along and realize that for him, to pull it all together.
I'm guessing that out of all the experienced storytellers he knows, I'm the most obsessive, and he knew I'd put in the extra hours to make it work.
Nrama: What were your initial thoughts about the idea behind Pax Americana and its new take on the Charlton characters?
Quitely: I loved the way he handled Captain Atom, and the parallels with Harley as a younger broken man. And I loved the whole Algorithm-8 thing, and the Question being updated from his previous Black/White morality to a more integrated viewpoint, and loved the overall story and the way it's told in reverse and the way all the patterns in the story mirror each other.
Nrama: Even that description makes it clear there were a lot of challenges in this project for you, but one of them had to be approaching material that's already been approached. I mean, obviously you were familiar with Watchmen, so how much did it influence what you ended up doing with Pax Americana?
Quitely: Dave Gibbons is one of my favorite artists, and has been a huge influence on me since I started drawing comics.
His storytelling in Watchmen is faultless. Over the years I've picked that book up and flicked through it to look at examples of brilliant, effective storytelling and every time I catch myself after I've read a bunch of pages and realize I was sucked into the story and forgot to study what he was doing!
And of course, that's a testament to Alan Moore as well, but from the point of view of my artwork, Dave Gibbons (and a handful of others) influence everything I do anyway, so it was no different with Pax.
Nrama: You talked earlier about having to put in time, and I know a lot of that was coming up with the designs. But in the issue itself, can you describe what part of the issue was the biggest challenge for you to accomplish visually?
Quitely: There's a scene where Harley as a child sneaks into his dad's study, and there's so much going on, particularly in the first page of that scene, where there's environmental scene-setting, and the child moves through the space in the room interacting with various props, and all the background detail is there to add weight to the story, and everything has to slowly move 'round to afford us a view of another character entering the window at the other end of the room and it just took an age to compose the whole thing.
Like with everything I do, it's just a question of seeing it work in my mind and spending as long as it takes to make it work on paper.
Nrama: Did you utilize any different technique or approach for this issue of Multiversity?
Quitely: I have a tendency to look for connections between what I'm drawing at any given time to what's happening in the writing at that point, or with the story as a whole, or with a related theme, so the fact that Grant had structured the story in a very intricately connected way and had written into the script a number of repeating symbols and patterns, I found myself running with this and doing it even with background details.
Nrama: Which page is your favorite in the issue, or one that you thought really turned out particularly well?
Quitely: There's a double-page spread set in The Pax Institute that is a fixed viewpoint of a spacious interior divided into a grid of 32 panels of equal size, and accommodates three separate narratives happening over three separate timelines in the same space.
Grant came up to the studio and we just sat down and talked about it.
He had this little bit of paper with thumbnails and notes on it and he explained it to me, but it seemed really complicated, so I got a fresh sheet of paper, set it down beside his, and drew a 32-panel grid and started at the top left corner and said, "right, what timeline is this, who's in the frame, and what are they doing?" And he'd tell me, and every time we got to a bit where one of us was like "wait a minute, how did he get over there?" or "she'd be more likely to go in that direction now," we'd adjust things accordingly and it just ended up working.
Nrama Amazing. Why do you think it turned out so well?
Quitely: Because working on it together, at the same time, meant that it was a fluid process so it could move to fit.
And because we kept simplifying it.
Originally, we were going to have different floors at different levels with mezzanines and staircases, but the more we simplified it the more room we seemed to have to work it all out in.
It was a really satisfying way of working.
Nrama: Before I let you go, I wanted to ask — where can people see your work next?
Quitely: Issue #5 of Jupiter's Legacy [from Image Comics with writer Mark Millar,] will be out before Christmas. That's the final issue of the first volume. The trade will be coming in the spring.
Nrama: Then to finish up, Frank, is there anything else you want to tell fans about your work on Multiversity?
Quitely: Subsequent readings will reward you.