Ninth Art - For the Discerning Reader -

Alphabetti Fumetti: Q is for Quesada

Who's the man who oversaw New Marvel's great leap forward as well as its slide back into bad habits? And who's this Vince Deighan fellow that Grant Morrison likes so much? Those are the Qs. Alistair Kennedy has the As.
20 March 2006

Q is for Quesada, Joe
b: 1962, New York City

Joe Quesada is one of the most controversial figures in comics today. Not as we would understand it from the usual use of the word - he's not Dave Sim or Mike Baron or John Byrne or any of the other comics creators whose viewpoints are wont to have readers vigorously debating their every word on message boards and usegroups - but in the sense that every decision he makes in his current role of editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics is almost certain to divide fans of superhero comics.

Quesada started off as an artist for Marvel and DC, introducing Jean-Paul Valley (who, as Azrael, would later go on to take the place of Batman after the Knighfall storyline) and working with Peter David on X-FACTOR. His art style, featuring bold linework and a stylised cartooning streak, made him very popular with fans at the time. He worked for Valiant comics on NINJAK, and founded Event Comics in 1994 to work with Jimmy Palmiotti on their creator-owned firefighter superhero Ash.

In 1998, Marvel Comics came calling again, this time asking Quesada and Palmiotti to use their standing with independent and left-field creators to bring a fresh approach to bear on four old standby Marvel concepts (DAREDEVIL, BLACK PANTHER, PUNISHER and INHUMANS). Quesada and Palmiotti brought in talents such as Kevin Smith, Christopher Priest and Jae Lee to boost these titles, and the Marvel Knights imprint was a roaring success. So much so, in fact, that when Bob Harras was unceremoniously given the chop in 2000, Quesada was offered the big chair.

Partnered with Bill Jemas, Quesada took a torch to the old Marvel way of doing things. Out went the idea that concepts deserved to exist because they'd always been done that way; in was a new ethos of allowing writers and artists a relatively free rein in storytelling, unencumbered by years of self-contradictory continuity. Some of Quesada and Jemas's tactics were obvious stunt-work, of course - who could forget the 'U-Decide' debacle, which gave us Jemas's atrocious MARVILLE, or Quesada's SPIDER-MAN/SPAWN challenge to Todd McFarlane? On the whole, though, the pair were responsible for a Marvel renaissance, producing great books like Grant Morrison's NEW X-MEN, Peter Milligan and Mike Allred's X-FORCE and Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo's FANTASTIC FOUR.

Since Jemas was shown the door and Dan Buckley took over as publisher, however, the House of Ideas has become a pale shadow of its innovative, risk-taking self of five or six years ago. Really, that's not surprising - back then, they were floundering around in bankruptcy and had nothing to lose. Now they're living large on movie money, and Avi Arad is watching over everyone's shoulders. As a result, each new 'event' book from Quesada's Marvel sounds more desperate than the last. HOUSE OF M was a concept in search of a plot, and the recently announced SQUADRON SUPREME/Ultimate Marvel crossover (with three writers attached) doesn't sound like two great tastes that'll taste great together.

Quesada obviously still has an eye for an interesting series - Dan Slott's SHE-HULK and Zeb Wells' NEW WARRIORS are cases in point - but the impression that the great comics reading populace are getting now - reading between the panels - is that he'd be more willing to pushing the envelope if Buckley weren't keeping such a steady hand on the tiller. It might be that the next time we see Quesada produce something that will stand the test of time won't be until he's vacated the Marvel top spot.

Q is for Quitely, Frank
b: 1968, Glasgow

Want to hear a story? It's about Frank Quitely. Well, actually, it's about Vince Deighan. See, the story goes that Deighan, a naturally talented comics artist, had begun working on Glasgwegian humour comic ELECTRIC SOUP, a sort of Scottish version of long-running smut-comedy comic VIZ. The problem was that he didn't want his family finding out that their boy, all of 22 years old, was involved in this kind of work, being of such low moral character as it was. What would the neighbours think? So he spoonerised the phrase "quite frankly" to get his new name, and away he went.

This much is known. The possibly apocryphal part comes when young Vince gets his first work in the US, with Paradox Press and Dark Horse - they don't want this Deighan kid who keeps responding on Quitely's behalf; they want Quitely himself. So the pseudonym sticks.

It's a little far-fetched, of course (Quitely had by that point already worked on JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE, and had felt no need to revert to his given name then), but it makes for a good anecdote nonetheless.

Quitely's star didn't really hit the ascendant until he was partnered with fellow Glaswegian Grant Morrison on DOOM PATROL spin-off FLEX MENTALLO. A layered meditation on superheroes, drugs and lots of other things that Morrison likes, FLEX has gone down in history as one of the best Vertigo titles that you can't get hold of (legal shenanigans with the estate of Charles Atlas have so far prevented DC from reprinting the book). Morrison and Quitely have paired up several times since; they produced the JLA: EARTH 2 graphic novel in 2000, worked intermittently together on Morrison's NEW X-MEN, and have recently begun their run on ALL STAR SUPERMAN.

Morrison was also the writer on what is possibly Quitely's finest work to date - the HOMEWARD BOUND-meets-UNIVERSAL SOLDIER miniseries WE3. It was here that Quitely showed just what he can do with panel structure and pacing, with one of the most memorable sequences being a run of pages told entirely in tiny video surveillance images, leading up to a breathtaking double-page spread of the escapee animals in full (and literal) flight. WE3 is one of the best arguments in favour of using cinematic techniques in comic books, and an excellent example of how it can be achieved.

Quitely's also produced a body of US work without his regular collaborator, of course - prior to starting work on NEW X-MEN, he was one half of the team hand-picked to follow Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch on THE AUTHORITY. Poached away by Marvel during this run, he hit a stumbling block that has continued to plague him - lateness. Quitely has developed a reputation for being a slow artist. The fact that the art he produces is, on the whole, spectacular doesn't alter the fact that it's been nearly five months since the first issue of ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, and he's only managed to complete two issues in that time. He's not as slow as some other artists (see above - over a year between issues of DAREDEVIL: FATHER), but then again, Quitely doesn't have to run an entire publishing company.

No matter what you call him, though, Frank Quitely is quite definitely the embodiment of the old aphorism that good things come to those who wait.

Alistair Kennedy is the coordinator of the PunchDrunk Pop blog and a former editor for Robot Fist.

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