An explosion rings out across a landscape, the shockwaves of the blast reverberating across an open field as the splintering bits of a small shack litter the countryside, joined by the flailing human bodies and dismembered body parts of those too close to the blast’s detonation. Meanwhile, elsewhere, a sly little monkey smirks at their misfortune.
This is but a glimpse of what Toronto comic book artist Gibson Quarter brings to the table.
“I really try to capture energy and emotion,” Quarter said during our chat at Fan Expo 2012. “I could be one of those people who draw photo-realistic type things, but I don’t find that interesting.”
Quarter’s energetic style is currently on display in 7th Wave Comics‘ title, Undertow. Contributing artwork to the story, “The Organ Grinder,” Quarter works with writer Luke Donkersloot to tell the story of Jeremiah McAlester and his sidekick monkey named Moses. Quarter describes their contribution to the two-story mini-anthology issues as a supernatural western, while the project gives him the opportunity to architect sprawling, creative, lively environments, combined with very expressive characters that brings the artwork on the pages to life.
“Art’s more exciting and what I like to do is really play with it and go for the emotion and the energy, almost like a ‘Kirby krackle,'” he said of legendary artist Jack Kirby’s signature style. “I’m not saying I draw like him, because he was a master, but that type of frantic energy that you can capture on a page; I really like that and I think people respond to it.”
Quarter said people have been fairly responsive to his art, with the feedback being 95 per cent positive in his eyes.
“It’s always nice when someone kind of responds viscerally to your art and really gets into it,” he said. “People really seem to like the energy.”
While Quarter has a clear idea of what he likes to convey with his art, he prefers to let those interested in his work interpret it as they may. That work, however, is inspired by a desire to tell stories through strong visuals, combined with an honest love for the craft.
That love is very evident when Quarter talks about the young artists who come up to him at conventions to show him their work.
“I like helping out some of the younger kids,” he said. “There have been some actual children who have come by looking for art tips and they want to show you their portfolios and I really enjoy that.”
While Quarter offers them technical advice, there’s one over-arching tip he gives all aspiring artists who stop by to see him.
“Generally the message I give them is to keep practicing, stay positive and basically not give up,” he said. “That’s how we all get better.”
When it comes to comic book projects though, Quarter also believes it’s helpful to have a great collaborator to work with. Partnerships where the writer and artist complement each other tend to enable the creative ability to take the medium in a completely different direction, he said.
“I like when the artist and the writer really connect and you come together and you get a fantastic project,” said Quarter, listing classic runs such as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons‘ Watchmen or Chris Claremont and John Byrne‘s X-Men run as prime examples of comic works whose teams gelled together to create seminal works. “That’s kind of what keeps me going, to try and get to that level where I will have a connection and a collaboration with a group of folks and will build something greater than any of us could do individually.”
Quarter recalled one of his first projects with Alan Grant, known for his work on 2000 A.D. and Batman: Shadow of the Bat and is very grateful to have worked with an esteemed writer so early into his art career.
“I was pretty fortunate when I started out,” he said. “Alan Grant wrote me some stuff and I almost felt like I didn’t deserve to be there, because he’s Alan Grant and suddenly he’s writing scripts for me.”Quarter’s pencil work for the forthcoming “Heroes of the North” omnibus.
Quarter also spent some time working on Wasted, a magazine which featured contributions by Alan Grant, Jamie Grant and Frank Quitely. Since the magazine’s cancellation, Quarter has moved on to creator-owned projects, such as his work on Undertow with Donkersloot. Quarter also has another forthcoming project featuring Canadian superheroes.
“I’m doing some stuff with Heroes of the North, which is a Canadian superhero outfit kind of like a Canadian Avengers,” he said. “I’ve got some work coming out for them in the second or third omnibus.”
“I believe the second omnibus is coming out in September.”
While the ongoing projects have helped Quarter get his name and work more well known, using social media and comic book conventions to increase awareness about his growing portfolio has helped increase his visibility altogether.
“I think it’s pretty much a question of marketing yourself well with Twitter and Facebook and doing the Cons and meeting the fans and letting them know who you are,” he said. “It’s frustrating sometimes. When you’re starting out you can do pretty good work, the best you can do at the time, and it might not always get the audience that it deserves and I’ve seen that happen to some other folks as well.”
“You’ve just got to stay positive and fight through it. It’s just basically getting yourself known and building a fan base. It’s slow and methodical, and then suddenly five years later all of a sudden you become an overnight sensation, and that’s my goal.”
He said he hears the same fundamental story from other creators, and having the support of others in his position helps as well.
“Everyone on the creator side of the table, almost to a man and woman, is very, very positive,” he said. “These people that make the comics, I find, my peers are pretty amazing.”
“It’s the same type of story. You work, no one knows who you are. You do good work, nobody ever sees it. And then one day you’re the hottest thing out there and that’s hopefully what will happen to me.”
Whether that means getting his dream job working on Marvel’s Deadpool series, or teaming with Grant Morrison to write a story about toilet paper taking over the world, the heart of the journey seems to revolve around a passion and energy that’s as clear and evident in every word Quarter speaks when he talks about his work as it is in every panel he draws.
“I mean, there are some things you can do with a pencil that you can’t do on TV, that you can’t do in a movie, and that’s what I really try and do,” he said. “The only thing that limits us is our imagination. That’s it as illustrators, which is very freeing.”
“Comic art. I could just live in it; I just love to do it.”