It’s hard to believe but Superman is nearly a hundred years old. That he’s still around shifting shed loads of books, magazines and movies is a testament to the fabulous artists who were recruited by DC and Marvel to reenergise their waning characters in the 80s. These punky new writers and draughtsmen grabbed their brief eagerly and tore up the fusty old conventions, taking their ramped up characters into incredible new universes.
It was a British Invasion too with people like Alan Moore, Kevin O Neill, and of course Scotland’s own Mark Millar and Frank Quitely. They invented alternative worlds and whole new motivations for our costumed heroes to struggle through and in the process rescued a hokey old industry.
Quitely, a proud Glaswegian, is the subject of this vibrant exhibition at Kelvingrove. It kicks off with some fabulous original panels from the great Dudley D Watkins of DC Thomson fame. Such tidy, well behaved cartoons may seem incongruous in a whizz bang celebration of comics, but The Broons and Oor Wullie were a defining inspiration to budding artists across Scotland. Frank (real name Vincent) got his first inkling to draw comics by studying how these beautifully realised images seemed to move across a two dimensional page.
Amid the heightened colour splashes there also are lots of examples of pencils and sketches that demonstrate Frank’s draughtsmanship and dramatic use of perspective – seemingly driving those energetic images beyond their frames. Everywhere around the room hands are reaching out, bodies are bent and curling and spandex clad muscles are hurtling toward the viewer. Spectacular covers and panels from 2000 AD, Batman and of course the world’s favourite interplanetary immigrant Superman dot the room. Nearly forgotten pieces like Frank’s work for the enigmatic Scottish comic Electric Soup (a bit like Viz on Steroids) are also on display, as is an early Batman by Bob Kane.
Being a celebration of comics (have we stopped saying ‘Graphic Novels’ at last?) there’s lots here for kids, teenagers and serious art fans but don’t be surprised to see lots of grey hair, bald heads and nostalgic wistful looks too. After all Superman was born 12 years before the Second World War.