Kapow Diary 4: Frank Quitely, the Guinness Book of World Records and the Trouble with Gibbons (Pt 1)

You should always try to meet your heroes. There is a reason they’re your heroes. Frank Quitely is a genius. Capable of mixing line work with beautific composition like a parisian master in between the erratic highs of victorian period heroin and a sharp dose of Absinthe. Man’s a magician of the highest order and I respect him greatly. He is an Alan Silverstri. One of those artists that you pull out of the drawer when you want to make a million bucks on a comic book. You could write about Ingrid Bergman’s feet – nobody cares because Silvestri or Quitely’d make them look better than Ingrid’s herself!!

It should also be said that there is a fine art in the meeting of your heroes. One of them is not to tell them loudly about your mate’s baby’s unnaturally hard head. But I did and that was the least of it. I didn’t even limit it to my all time hero, I scattered my absurd intros to any legend of comicdom that’d stop and listen. For f@ck’s sake don’t make eye contact with me – I’ll tell you my Nan’s name!

I arrived at the Kapow Comicon on Saturday with a zen-like attitude towards what would take place. As far as I was concerned I’d roll up with the kit, set up the tables, sell some books and make our way. But this plan was shot to buggery. Firstly, its important to understand that artists do enjoy a certain degree of anonymity as they move around these comic cons. People know them for their work but they don’t know them on sight. Some artists defy this by looking exactly like you think they will. John Romita Jr looks like he’ll plug yer as soon as look at yer on some newspaper strewn street, Dave Gibbons looks like the friendly old penciller you’d expect to see sitting quietly and calmly at a drawing board under a arm lamp finalising the finishing touches on his latest piece, Brian Bolland looks like a gentlemen who can’t let a page go ’til he has lovingly and caringly cross created it like a kindly Gepetto fashioning his wooden boy and so on. Simon Bisley looks like a biker etc, etc. But only when you know who they are – by dint of they’re career they are an invisible presence. They’re an unseen hand, leaving a slap mark on the rump of the comic industry without anybody getting a good look at them.

But they are also the bass guitarist to the Writers lead singer. The artist, at his height is what gives the fans what they need and drives the lyric and lead guitar forward. You get an action sequence, that my friends is the artists guitar solo. Pyow, Nyoooow, rooooooow. (Ahem). They have the capacity to enthrall and infuriate. Its on the strength of their work alone – except for extremely gifted autistics who can read a book front to back in a second – that a book is initially picked up. They’re the good guys who never say a wrong word – cos they never write one down. And I was about to run into a few of them.

The Guinness Book of Records event was being set up at the far end of the event, by the IGN stands and the entrance. An intention to create a comic book using the greatest number of artists in one day. The original script being written by Mark Millar and then possibly expanded upon, I later overheard, by other script writers. It was a great idea. The pages split into three panels, an artist taking on one each and producing a full length comic book to be printed by Marvel comics that afternoon.

Having missed the E-mail I went down to the stand it was all taking place at (by the IGN stand at the front) to sign up which I did. Up on the stage was Leinil Yu and Frank Quitely, quietly finishing their panels. This was a quiet sight with not many people around and the Guinness Book of Records crew oblivious to who was sitting there. They didn’t care. They don’t read comic books. They read the Guinness Book of Records and the Roy Castle Autobiography. Anyway, I found myself in a strange predicament as I was the only one aware of the importance of the two gentlemen sitting in front of me. These were giants of the industry. These were the poster boys for the industry I’m trying to break into. However, they were also practitioners of the art I want to be part of and so should be afforded professional courtesy right. Professional courtesy probably extends to not bothering them while they’re working on a taped off raised table but what the hell – this was Frank Quitely and Leinil Yu.

I said to one of crew ‘, Woah. That’s Frank Quitely and Lienil Yu.’
‘Oh’, he replied politely in a way that I would if someone had said ‘Woah. That’s Tamara Beckwith and Natalie Pong,’ (I made the second name up which gives you some perspective).
‘Who are they?’ The Guinness representative inquire, helpfully, realising he might need to know.
I did well here in keeping calm but I mentioned ‘All Star Superman, X-Men, Hulk, Wolverine’ ‘Geniuses, ‘ and ‘in awe’ at least once.
‘You should meet them.’ the Guinness representative said. What a prick. What f@cking unhelpful, cheerful, friendly prick.
‘No I shouldn’t,’ I said – thinking on some level that I shouldn’t.

In this discourse Leinil Yu stood up. signed off on his panel and started moving off the stage. As he did so Lucy Unwin, the organiser, moved in to shuffle him off. Yu seemed kinda placid and calm. I moved forwards with the intention of talking to him. I stopped short of saying touching him. What would I want to touch him for? Weird. Whatever. It actually wasn’t about touching but by now Lucy was very efficiently whisking Leinil away. However, still sitting unguarded by the surrounding Guinness Book of Records representatives, still oblivious to the pure legend they had sitting amongst them quietly unaware, was Frank Quitely. Now I could be properly mental. As the Guinness representative insisted ahead of me that I should introduce myself as he’s my hero – I felt that pull. The feeling I get when I’m entering uncertain psychological territory and the edges of my behaviour begin to thin. I focussed sharply, trying to occupy my mind on simply introducing myself to my long time hero. So I went the other way. Not wanting to be a fanboy.

So I caught his attention. ‘Vincent,’ I said.

The thing you have to understand is that I had written about Quitely, and Leinil Yu and many other of the other Practitioners present at Kapow (Mark Millar, John Romita Jr, Brendan McCarthy, Dave Gibbons) in a series of articles I’ve written for this site – never once thinking about what it would mean when I met them. I can tell you right now when you’re faced with a hero and hopefully, one day, a colleague you admire and respect the weirdest thing to know – and something I don’t usually – is what school they went to – or their real name. Frank Quitely’s is Vincent, Vincent Deighan. And I’d just used it like I knew him. And I don’t. Never met him in my life. And obviously, neither has he. And now he was looking at me wondering if I knew him.

So things had changed now. I knew Frank Quitely by name and he’d turned and expected a mate or a colleague but it was a man, scruffy like an ancient sheep who came to tell him he loved him. Using your actual name and then telling them you love him didn’t seem apt. So my brain opted for another angle. One that justified the use of his personal name…

BEN MORGAN! Ben Morgan was my partner on the original Beyond the Bunker and lived in Edinburgh. He had claimed a short while ago that he had been drinking with Frank Quitely. ‘If you’re lying Morgan I’ll fly to the South side of the Forth and nut you you bear tree mother f@cker’ I thought at that point. Frank acknowledged the association and said he hadn’t seen him since before he had his son. He then waited quietly while I told him that ‘ things have been rough for Ben recently, he’s only just got a job.’ Who the f@ck cares about Benjamin Morgan my brain was telling me on some level – give him your book, tell him you love him – his WORK – YOU LOVE HIS WORK (F@CK’S SAKE!)

This was supposedly enough of a connection for me so I asked if he was going for a drinks tonight and he said ‘yeah, he most probably would,’ and he asked where was good to go. I didn’t know. I’d been drinking round the area in recent weeks and had completely forgotten the name of any pubs. So now I was arranging to go for a pint with the guy on the basis and that he had had a drink with one of my mates in Edinburgh and a three minute conversation.

I chucked him Moon 1, saying we were making it available to legends (thereby swinging back into fanboy territory again). He seemed to like it, politely flicking through it and nodding occasionally saying it was good.

It’s hard to know what the right response you’re looking for is. ‘This is the finest piece of artwork I have seen for some time! I would like to mentor you and introduce you to the commissioning editors of DC,’ would be nice. So I accepted his acknowledgement that he could see a marked improvement in the work as the book progressed which was nice of him.

I maintained the pub talk and suggested I’d let him know where we were all going if I saw him about the place again. As I maintained the conversation I could feel the dread moment, I could feel mysef heating up as the steady realisation that I was maintaining a sensible conversation with one of my heroes began to dawn on me. I had to back out before I said something stupid (something I proved was an accurate concern later on) and I’m pretty sure my eyes went all boggly. I’m not sure its a visible tick but they were definitely wider than they were meant to be. So I legged it, booked in at 3.30pm to come back and do my stint on the Guinness Book of Records stand.

BE BACK HERE TOMORROW TO SEE WHAT HAPPENED AT 3.30PM

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THE STORY SO FAR….

Final post of the night as Dan has finally remembered to up my status to partner / editor as opposed to contributer. Par for the course perhaps?

Basically, the story so far….

Dan Thompson and Steve Penfold;  2 hapless souls with an affinity for absurdist lunacy and between them one third of a degree in television and video production and a masters in comedy (no, really) met in a darkened section of an obscure historically themed attraction in central London, as actors.

They admittedly set about encouraging members of the audience to pile up all props in a faux burglary of 1600s London Bridge and are awarded, as previously mentioned, the auspicious, inaugural and one and only – Best Comedy Duo act at the attraction award ceremony – arguably due to a decision for one of the pair to play retarded.

This, obscurely, only encouraged the idiots and they promptly set about looking for weird shit to start putting out.

Shortly afterwards following a short film attempt for the 2 Days Later film competition – Ragnarok Dawn – soon to be appearing here – which was shortlisted but won nothing (causing Dan to throw a hilariously almighty strop in the theatre) they found that this somehow only encouraged them yet further.

Before long; a cavalcade of material began to pile up.

Most that Dan bothered to put into practice to meet with considerable success at the 2 Days Laughter competition – winning Best Editor ((Box) Fresh (2008)) and Best Stand Up (Dan Thompson vs 2 Days Laughter (2009)) and Audience Choice (Edd: Ducking the Past (2009)) while Steve was shortlisted at the 2 Days Later competition with his first solo effort; Cock (2009) which won special mention for Special Effects.

This year Beyond the Bunker’s second official entry, the Devil’s Fork – (all Dan’s previous efforts were under (Production) Box but will be presented here) – in association with James Eaton and Roughlee Films has been shortlisted for the 2 Days Later Horror Competition, the results of which will be revealed next week after the screenings in sunny Margate on Saturday.

Throughout all of this one project has remained constant (although Ragnarok Dawn, ironically, will not die) and that is the story of the Moon, now earthbound and battling the forces of nefarious evil on the streets of Modern London.

Moon was created by Dan Thompson and Paul Wade and brought to life in The Day the Moon got Too Close for  a one minute film competition in 2007. It followed the daily investigations and crook-catching activities of Moon. Seventies-style-yet-modern-day detective and tide-changing satellite of the Earth, Moon returns to the ground at dawn each day and chases crooks until sundown at which point he returns to his place in the sky.

While attempts to bring Moon again to a small screen floundered in a half hour film – the first director walking two days before shooting – prompting a phone call to Steve to take over at the last minute – of which 4 or 5 scenes were shot before we discovered that the timetable of crew available on the weekend and cast available during the week was unlikely to work due to it being utterly crap.

The storyboard and footage still exists; however the budget and frankly the will isn’t there to resurrect the project at present and may never be. The Moon project looked to be over.

However, in the years before Steve P had been working primarily – when not acting at tourist attractions – as an artist – occassionally but arguably most consistently in comics.

For 2 and a half years, working with writer Ben Morgan in Edinburgh and other creatives all over the UK in an attempt to put together a British based comic company (a few years before Mark Millar – HA!).

Steve P completed extensive concept designs and artwork for futuristic sci-fi battle comic Caelum Priory with Thommy Gunn and concept design work and artwork on Zookeeper by Ben Morgan. This was complemented with extensive design work for website, logo, heavy script editing and deliberation and multiple business plans that ignored the non-existent books in question – only for it to dwindle due to over expansion and lack of material. In 2008 Ben Morgan approached the now defunct Insomnia comics with Zookeeper and another artist was offered. Ben accepted and Beyond the Bunker effectively ceased to exist.

Now with Steve at a loose end, the suggestion of Moon as a comic book seemed obvious. Now effectively budgetless and with an existing story, storyboards, concept design and considerable good will it finally made sense. Dan started work on the script in 2008 for Moon: Book 1, following Moon through the story arc introduced in the second Moon attempt, only bigger. Finally, after 2 years of development and not a small amount of shouting and sleepless nights on behalf of Dan; and frankly a lot of hand waving and missed deadlines by Steve; Moon issue 1 is currently only a few short months away from release.

With the addition of Ian Chapman on colours and Ka-Blam comic printing press looking like our most likely printer at this stage we are booked in to attend our first comics convention in March as Beyond the Bunker comics – with a shade of Beyond the Bunker Productions / Studios available in DVD form on the table too.

Exciting times. There’s more to it of course with both of us involved in other projects but that will all be posted here in various forms.

So ‘Semper procedens’ as they used to say at my school.

(‘Ever onwards.’)  Tut.

P