Page last updated at 23:36 GMT, Thursday, 29 May 2008 00:36 UK

US superheroes with Scottish accents

By Peter Murray
BBC Scotland

Comic book superheroes are usually thought of as being as American as baseball and apple pie. Yet some of the top writers and artists for DC Comics are working from a small studio in the centre of Glasgow.

Superman comic
Some of the top writers and artists for DC Comics work from Glasgow

Early summer sunshine flooded in on the desk where Frank Quitely worked, poring over an outlined image of Superman jumping from a helipad onto a flying car.

The angular spires and towers of a futuristic city dominated the skyline, even though the view from the window was of queues of Glasgow buses and taxis and the wrought iron exterior of Central Station.

He is one of a team of writers and artists, based around a tiny studio in Glasgow city centre, who turn out dozens of titles for that most archetypal American product: DC Comics.

"I suppose from an American editor's point of view," said Mr Quitely, "my work doesn't look typically American."

However, like the others in this prolific writing team - colourist Jamie Grant and story writer Grant Morrison - he is unwilling to put his finger on just what it is about their output which holds such appeal for US comic book readers.

Bob Schreck, long-time editor at DC Comics, has no such reticence.

"It's all about good writing and storytelling," he said. "The Scots have a wonderful history of storytelling."

He believes Grant Morrison - who may be better known to some UK readers for his more adult 'anti-hero' graphic novels, such as The Invisibles - is one of the greatest storytellers of his generation.

Mr Schreck added: "Particularly in comics, but wherever he puts his mind to it, he'll just be the cream of the crop.

"He's like a cat. He hears things which the average person just can't hear and sees things the average person can't see."

Frank Quitely at work
Frank Quitely pores over his art work

Along with Morrison, the work of some of Scotland's other great comic book writers and artists has been showcased at an exhibition at the National Library of Scotland.

Names such as John Wagner, Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy have dominated the genre in Scotland for decades and have been at the forefront of what Mr Schreck calls "the European invasion" since the late 1970s.

'Quirkiness'

They began to work together on the 2000 AD and Judge Dredd comics and Alan Grant, who is now based in the Dumfriesshire town of Moniaive, said they began to work for the American editors almost by chance.

"We were working on a huge variety of stuff," he said.

"We were asked to start using pseudonyms so that the readers wouldn't know it was the same two guys who were writing all their comics. John and I ended up writing under 14 different names."

He believes part of the appeal of Scottish writers and artists for the US industry is their "quirkiness and a weird sense of humour".

He also pointed out that most of them had worked outside comics - from garage mechanics to bus conductors to ferry stewards.

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Writers and artists on their 'European' looking work

Bob Schreck agrees, saying: "There's a cliché in the industry, that American comic book writers watch film and read comics, whereas Scottish, British, European writers read books.

"It's a cheap shot, but I don't care where you come from on planet earth, if you're looking at the really great artists that came before you as a model, that's really going to show in your work.

"That allows you to do something new, rather than just developing a style based on someone 10 years before."

As if to prove the point, Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy have recently made excursions into Scottish literature, adapting the Robert Louis Stevenson classics Kidnapped and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde into graphic novels.

More, similar work is likely from the duo, but in the meantime Grant is slightly uncomfortable about attempting to pin definitions on what gives their work such classic appeal to American readers and editors.

"Try as you might, the moment you define it is the moment that you kill it." He smiles broadly: "So best just leave that alone, eh?"


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