Mark Millar

Practitioners 11: Frank Quitely

It would have been the simplest thing to allow the artwork above to illustrate all I would like to say about Frank Quitely. A late starter, like my good self (born Vincent Deighan, 1968, Glasgow, Scotland) he didn’t appear on the comic illustration scene until 1990 and almost immediately set the comics world on fire. Through numerous (but not numerous enough) projects he has revolutionised the look of the greatest and the mightiest of the two biggest comics companies in the world. A fan favourite – his work alongside Mark Millar and most prominently Grant Morrison has proved that the comic industry should rely less on unbreakable rules and the reliability of its staple characters and to rely more heavily on considered, respectful revolution – Quitely speeding the gradual revolution of characters and always making clear missed opportunities by less inspired or less talented artists.

Frank Quitely is a one man visual revolution. Simultaneously exciting, original and edgy he is also traditional, technically near perfect and highly detailed. There is no one in comics complaining about Quitely except that there isn’t enough of his work. Look above. Jesus. He takes the most highly recognisable characters and the sum of all of their character and previous incarnations and compounds and beautifies them – bringing forwards inherent elements that were always there and remained unearthed visually and enhancing the elements that had already been visible.

Take Superman; a man drawn by multiple masters previously in various guises; either adapting the existing image of the Man of Steel or developing their own – however I’d claim that none have taken all of the incarnations and public awareness of Superman and collected them more or as self assuredly as Frank Quitely. At once superhuman and godlike in his actions and stance. Powerful and Human in his build and appearance; the proportions offered plausible and close to perfectly realistic for a powerful human man and simultaneously carrying an expression you could see on anyone you might meet with Superman’s personality; pride, strength, clarity of vision and purpose. In one simple line work Quitely has encapsulated almost every word and panel drawn of one of the most prominent and world-reknowned of the comic book Super heroes.

The ‘next’ at the base of the image an addition by the website I tore the image from but could as easily simply say ‘Nuff said. Move on.’ I was even tempted to simply leave this image as a testament to the natural ability of one of the foremost artists working in the field today.

Following a 14 year career alongside Morrison, Quitely has clocked up star turns with Authority (with Mark Millar) JLA, New X-Men, All Star Superman, WE3 and Batman and Robin. But Quitely didn’t start in comics at all until 1990 – coining the Frank Quitely moniker as a spoonerism of quite frankly in order to cover his real name, Vincent Deighan due to concerns his family would be upset by the content of his first book – the Greens, a rip on the Boons – a comic strip created by DC Thompson. He needn’t have worried.

His awards include;
2005 Best Penciller/Inker Eisner Award for We3 (tied with John Cassaday)
2006 Best New Series Eisner Award for All-Star Superman with Grant Morrison
2007 Best Continuing Series Eisner Award for All-Star Superman with Grant Morrison
2007 Best Artist Harvey Award for All-Star Superman
2009 Best Continuing Series Eisner Award for All Star-Superman with Grant Morrison

I’m going to stop talking and let the artwork above speak for itself. Nice and Quitely.

A Black Viking?!

Heimdall as drawn by Olivier Coipel

Mark Millar’s been highlighting an interesting story on his blog this week. It seems that white supremacist groups are rather ticked off about the casting of black actor, Idris Elba as Heimdall in the upcoming Thor movie.  According to the rather bluntly named Boycott-Thor.com “Marvel has now inserted social engineering into European mythology.” They’re also quite keen to point out that The Guardian newspaper wrote an article saying that Thor was probably going to be crap (nothing to do with the racial aspect, The Guardian just don’t like super hero movies). Yep, white supremacists are quoting the Guardian as a source. Go figure.

I wouldn’t normally bother responding to something as daft as this. Pretty much every fantasy movie manages to offend some nut job about something or other, but in this case it relates to a question that we actually had to look at in the course of one of our projects. The first film that Steve and I did together was a Viking horror short called Ragnarok Dawn set in the mid 11th Century in the twilight of the pagan Viking era. During the casting process we were offered a chance to work with a very talented black actor by the name of Noel Wesley and so found ourselves asking the same question that is being banded around here: were there black Vikings?

Well the short answer is, ‘we don’t know.’ Despite what the people behind such campaigns as Boycott-Thor might wish you to believe, a pile of bones don’t tell you a lot about the colour of a person’s skin. But we can make an educated guess based on what we know about Viking history. It’s easy to think of the Vikings as a bunch of guys who lived on the coast of Denmark and occasionally popped over to pillage Yorkshire but this is a long way from the truth. The term ‘Viking’ is a catch all term for an extremely varied set of groups which, at their peak, were active in almost every corner of the known world and beyond. There are the Vikings of Leif Ericson, who landed in Canada; the Rus, whose influence stretched all the way to the walls of Babylon and Constantinople (and who may or may not have a fairly major modern country named after them depending on who you talk to); even the Normans, those great paragons of Frenchness, were originally of Viking stock. By the end of what we could rather loosely call ‘the Viking age’ being a Viking was far less about where you were from and more about the way you lived and thus it was very hard to say exactly what a Viking was. So it’s safe to say that Vikings would have had direct contact with black people but did they recruit any into their fold? Again it’s hard to say for sure, but it’s important to remember that the Vikings were, above many things, practical. If you are putting together a Viking crew on the shores of the Black Sea and you don’t have enough native Scandinavians to make up the numbers are you honestly going to trek all the way back to Norway to find more? Cities like Constantinople were melting pots of different cultures and to assume that the Vikings were immune to the kind of natural multiculturalism that occurs in such environments defies logic.

I actually pinched this image from a neo-nazi blog, so thanks go to them for providing high res images with which to undermine their hate filled bullshit.

So we can say that historically speaking, there is a basis for saying that you could find a black man on a Viking crew (which is why you can see Mr Wesley’s fine performance in our humble film), but what about having a black man playing a norse god? Well this can probably best be summed up with the following statement:

IT’S A FUCKING SUPERHERO FILM!

Seriously. This is a movie about a guy who throws a shoots lighting out of his face, fights trolls on the streets of small American towns and has a cape that considers the laws of physics to be ‘something other people do’. It’s based on a fictional comic that is based on fictional myths about fictional people. That’s so many levels from reality that you don’t get to complain about historical inaccuracies any more than you get to complain about the fact that Tony Stark can land the Iron Man at full speed and not turn to jelly inside the thing. Elba himself was interviewed about this by the Radio Times a while back and I think he probably sums it up better than anyone:

“Hang about, Thor’s mythical, right? Thor has a hammer that flies to him when he clicks his fingers. That’s OK, but the color of my skin is wrong? I was cast in Thor and I’m cast as a Nordic god. If you know anything about the Nords, they don’t look like me but there you go. I think that’s a sign of the times for the future. I think we will see multi-level casting. I think we will see that, and I think that’s good.”

Good on you sir.

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Lady in the Fridge

Morning chaps,

Got a bit of a find for you this week. One of our readers put me on to a couple of recent episodes of the Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast in which the hosts were discussing the role of Women in comic books they’re both pretty interesting so I’d suggest having a listen before we carry on:

Female Superheroes part 1 – Girls in Refrigerators

Female Superheroes part 2 – Wonder Woman

(they’re also available on itunes if you, like me, are a slave to your ipod)

If you’re somebody who has a passing interest in comic book history then there probably won’t be a tonne of stuff in the second episode that surprises you, though I will admit that in my innocence I had, until now, remained unaware of the true extent of Wonder Woman’s BDSM roots. The first one however is a veritable treasure trove of interesting ideas.

Green Lantern #54 by Ron Marz - the genesis of WIR

Women in Refrigerators forms the central theme of the episode and is a website that I was previously unaware of and now am totally in love with. Essentially it is a site that was created by Gail Simone (Wonder Woman, Secret Six) back in 1999 and refers (in name at least) to a particular Green Lantern story. It’s goal is to catalogue the various women in comics who have suffered horrible ends, usually for the sake of progressing the plot of a male character.

 

I must admit that as a longtime fan of the Kyle Rayner character, the idea of WIR appeals to me. Over the years Kyle has had so many female acquaintances butchered in so many unusual ways that it’s difficult to keep up. It feels like every time people run out of ideas of what to do with ol Torchbearer, they just off a lady in his life and have him get mad about it for a few issues. It’s lazy storytelling and I hate it.   But that’s missing the point of the site. There are literally scores of women that have been, cut up, raped, depowered etc over the years and the point of this site is to question whether this was necessary or not.

Now, there’s a point which should be raised here which is best summed up by Mark Millar:
“As regards the female characters thing, I’m afraid I think it’s giving male creators a bum deal. The list does read pretty shocking at first until you think of everything the male heroes have gone through, too, in terms of deaths/mutilations/etc.” – (source)

It’s a fair argument but the point is that the deaths of these male characters tend to occur as part of that character’s story, in the case of many of these dead women, they have been killed off in order to further the story of a male character. Finding enough examples of men who have died in order to further a female character to fill such a list would be quite a challenge.

Blue Beetle suffers something of an ignoble death at the hands of Maxwell Lord. Lord was later killed by Wonder Woman.

So what is the reason for this imbalance? Well to my mind it’s all down to marketing. The majority of super hero comic readers are male and as such the majority of superhero comics feature male protagonists. Because these heroes tend to be hetrosexual they will invariably at some point acquire a female love interest and when the story ideas run dry, guess who is the first on the dramatic chopping block? You guessed it. Interestingly enough, this phenomenon isn’t strictly limited to female acquaintances, you could just as easily draw up a list of side kicks, brothers, fathers, co-workers and anyone else. The law of superhero comics dictate that if you are buddies with a hero, you’re only one case of writers block away from a messy swan song.

Stephanie Brown sparked controversy over her violent death and Dan Didio's comments that she "was never a real Robin" but she has finally returned to the DCU as Batgirl. How long she lasts remains to be seen.

Now it should be said that in the ten years since WIR was launched, the scales have balanced out a little. We’ve seen a number of men suffer a number of unheroic deaths and a number of women assume mainstream roles. Even Stephanie Brown, the much debated “Robin that wasn’t”, has recently recovered from her grizzly, drill based death to star in her own series as the new Batgirl (and honestly, in a world where fucking Jason Todd has been brought back, it’s about time).  But the fact that such a list has emerged in such a time should be a cause for concern for comic book writers everywhere. In the cartoon world in which we operate, life is cheap and death buys you fans, but while we have every right to produce books that have commercial appeal we should always remain aware of the way our work may be perceived outside of the narrow demographic to which we are pitching. If we only ever write for teenage boys then how do we expect to appeal to anyone else? There’s plenty of women out there who want to read comics and it’s really hard to do that from inside of a fridge.

D
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Mark Millar Announces Major Comic Con in 2011!

Morning chaps,

I know we don’t as a rule cover breaking news here at BTB, but sometimes things happen in our industry that are worth talking about as much and as soon as possible. As of late many of these things seem to have started with the words “Mark Millar” and this is no exception.

This week, the creator of Kick Ass, Wanted and The Ultimates announced the Kapow Comic Con, a major international comic and film convention to be held in central London next April!

Millar’s been on a crusade to put Britain back on the global comics map over the last year. Clint was a nice idea which is showing some real long term promise (and is a fantastic read), but a convention of this size could well be a massive step forwards for British comic fans and creators. As with any new venture, we’ll have to see how it pans out, but with names like Dave Gibbons, Lenil Yu and John Romita Jnr already announced, this really looks like it could be a big one.

Colour us excited!

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