There’s a long line waiting at the Saldapress booth. It’s day 4 of Lucca Comics & Games, artists, authors and workers are feeling tired but they’re holding strong. The fans are the only ones who do not feel the burn at all.
The line keeps getting longer: Declan Shalvey is at the drawing board for the signing & sketching session of the day, pencil in his fingers and ink spots on his hands. There are some great sketches getting drawn: Wolverine, Venom, Deadpool, Batman and, of course, the main characters of Injection, the sci-fi / thriller / fantasy book that Saldapress collected in a wonderful hardcover Deluxe Edition.
Shalvey is showing his love for Star Trek by wearing a blue shirt with “Enterprise Repairs Team” written on it and a t-shirt of Headlopper, the sword & sorcery book by fellow comic book author Andrew Maclean.
It’s my turn to get a sketch and I’m already smiling, mentally prepared for my request to be turned down. I’ve got a weird idea but Declan is serene while listening to it. I ask “Could you draw me Warren Ellis?”. He bursts with laughter, holding his head between his hands. He pops out with a “Sure, why not!” and, twenty minutes later, I possess the only Warren Ellis in the world as drawn by Declan Shalvey and it’s gorgeous. Declan reminds me that I’ve signed his death sentence with a melancholic and ironic smile. I ask him to stay alive at least until our inteview later that evening.
Declan Shalvey, are you enjoying Lucca?
Oh, very much so. I mean, it’s my fourth day, so it’s starting to grind a little bit, but it’s an amazing experience so far, seeing so many people, so many comics…and the city is beautiful, it’s amazing.
What are the differences between Lucca Comics & Games and say, San Diego Comic Con or New York Comic Con?
I can see that pop-culture here as a relevant spot, I saw the DC / Warner booth, the Spider-Man videogame booth. Well, San Diego is just that, it’s overwhelming. There are comics as well, but San Diego Comic-Con is pretty much a pop-culture phenomenon. New York Comic-Con is more comics-focused but now, you know, Marvel is a media brand, so while I’m signing at their booth there are also actors showing up, there’s videogames…it’s a big machine. But Lucca seems to be definitely more focused on comics and I love it for that.
Let’s talk about Injection, because I think it can be described as a weird beast. It’s part action, part thriller, a bit of fantasy and sci-fi. What was your approach to this strange mixture of narrative elements when you, Warren Ellis and Jordie Bellaire started working on the series?
Actually Warren didn’t pitch me the book, he didn’t come to me with the concept of Injection, but he told me that he wanted to write something for me. I was thinking about doing another creator-owned project for a different publisher, but me and him and Jordie worked so well on Moon Knight that it made sense to continue the collaboration. So, Warren asked me to make a “shopping list”, which is write down all the things that I like, movies, TV shows, comics of course and I also attached some pages of my previous works that I particularly happy with, some of my more “moody” pieces from Northlanders and Conan rather than my superhero stuff.
Then Warren had to structure the idea first, and we agreed on five 100-pages graphic novel, but he knew I liked crime and he knew I liked sci-fi and so on, so the book came out as a genre-bending story. The first story-arc is a sci-fi thriller, the second one is more of a detective story, the third is definitely Doctor Who inspired, the fourth one will be James Bond-ish…
About this combination of genres and influences, I recall that Warren Ellis stated in his newsletter that each one of Injection’s story arcs is inspired by specific pieces of British media and pop culture.
You’ve already mentioned James Bond and Doctor Who and, along with these two, the protagonists are reminiscent of characters like Carnacki, Bernard Quatermass and Sherlock Holmes. This mixture of narrative influences and the atmosphere, the artistic setting that you’ve contributed to create on Injection, make it stand out from the mass. I’d say that it’s a very British comic book, but what I wanted to ask you is how much of Ireland did you put in Injection.
Yeah, well, it’s very “this side of the Atlantic”, it’s set in the British isles and drawing the countryside in Dublin it’s very similar to drawing the countryside in England, it’s kind of a cross-over. And, despite all the differences between England and Ireland, we share so much mythology, traditions and history.
I think somebody once described Injection as a British Planetary which I find a very appropriate comparison…
Planetary is my favorite comic book, I definitely agree with this description!
It’s my favorite too! When Warren asked me what I wanted to do, secretly I wanted to tell him that I wanted to do Planetary, but I would’ve never say that because it would’ve been insulting to say “Hey, can I do what you’ve already done?” [laughs] But I’m very happy because I feel that Injection is the closest thing to Planetary that Warren has ever done since that book.
Now, about Injection and its art style, what was your favorite part to draw in this book, the technological, sci-fi stuff or the more fantasy and bizarre aspects of it? I know that you love Star Trek, so I could guess it’s the former…[laughs] Yes, I do love Star Trek but actually I love drawing nature. “Clean” technology is very boring and hard to draw and so, whenever I draw tech, like for example Brigid Roth’s machinery in Injection, it’s all very clunky, it’s cobbled and taped together and not uniform at all, I love drawing that kind of stuff. But I really love drawing environments and I think Warren knows it, I like establishing shots and things that are messy and dirty, things that are breaking apart. There are a lot of crappy locations in Injection and I really like them for what they are, rocks, old buildings, drawing these things gives me the chance to play with different textures.
I want to transition from “Declan Shalvey the artist” to “Declan Shalvey the writer” because you’ve recently started venturing out writing comics, with great success, in my opinion. You’ve written your own original graphic novel, Savage Town, and you’ve worked with Marvel as a writer for stories like Deadpool vs. Old Man Logan and your Nick Fury short-story during Civil War II. What are your main inspirations as a writer?
I don’t have his imagination but it’s safe to say that Warren Ellis is a great inspiration for me. Working with him over the years taught me so much in pacing and story-telling. If you see the script of Injection, there’re some pages in the volume SaldaPress put out, you can see that Warren’s script is very parse, not overly descriptive and my style of writing is very similar. Beside him, my favorite writers are Garth Ennis, Ed Brubaker, I have a grounded approach to the story I’m writing. Also I want to look at the artist I’m working with, it’s another thing that Warren taught me, he understands the people he’s working with and plays to their strengths.
I did something similar with Mike Henderson on Deadpool vs. Old Man Logan , and at first I wanted to ask him “What do you like drawing?” but there was a very obvious answer to that, so instead I asked him “What are you sick of drawing?”. He had just finished drawing Nailbiter, so he told me he was tired of drawing talking heads and he wanted to do some very crazy stuff and I said “Sure, let’s go nuts”.
The same thing happened with Philip Barrett on Savage Town: he’s more of a slow and deliberately paced story-teller, he draws everyday life with great charm, and I made sure to put a lot of that into the story. It’s a relationship that benefits artist and writer, I look good as a writer as long as the artist is having fun and working at its best with the material I give.
I also enjoy writing and drawing all by myself, besides the Nick Fury story I’ve written and drawn a What If? Punisher became Venom and sure, it takes more time to do so, but I’ve really enjoyed the result and I hope to do more short stories in the future.
Let’s go back to art because you’re also a great cover artist and, as readers and fans, we saw you experiment with styles and concepts. There are some great, big, bombastic action covers, there’s more sperimental stuff like your series of The Punisher covers, in which you played with the concept of the skull “hidden” in every cover. What is Declan Shalvey’s first move when he gets assigned a new cover to draw?
So I just finished the covers for the digital-first Luke Cage series and the editor’s idea was to draw something more stylized, more Hitchcock-ian and I’m glad Marvel asked me because I really like working with a definite concept in mind. I had a very specific idea of what I wanted to do for Luke Cage and I wanted to avoid at all cost the standard “Luke Cage smashes a wall with his fist” type of cover because it had been done so many times and it gets tiring.
With Deadpool Vs. Old Man Logan I wanted to highlight the idea that it’s a “versus book” and I had to draw them on the cover, but I also wanted to make it different from every other Deadpool Vs. book. That’s why I chose the white backgrounds, the different title design.
Now I’m doing covers for Dead Man Logan and I’m playing with composition and layouts of the “standard” cover format by cutting out a part of the drawing and I’ve had the idea of placing the title on the side, vertically rather than horizontally, something similar to what I’ve done on Moon Knight. I like drawing with some limitations because they force you to come up with something new. With Dead Man Logan I’m giving myself limitations, as I did with the Punisher covers: I’m coloring with all browns, as I wanted to recreate seppia tones and a Western feel to it. I really like doing cover for a series rather than just a variant cover.
Variants are like fan art, you know, “draw whatever you want with this character”, but covers for a series need you to think about the book, the story, what’s the better way to convey the story in one cover and then keep the ideas for the next issue and working on a new illustration all over again.
What’s next for Declan Shalvey?
Well, I am currently drawing Return of Wolverine for Marvel. I have a secret project for a big superhero company and I have to be as vague as I can be, but I can say that we were already working on it and we had to pause it because Marvel needed help on the Return of Wolverine book. Once these two projects are done, I’ll come back to Injection, which there are 10 issues left to draw.
I’m writing a spiritual sequel to Savage Town, a new graphic novel with Image Comics, it’s a new Irish crime drama. I like keeping the writing brain on exercise, there are some pitches and ideas that I don’t know if Marvel will approve but I like writing and I want to write more.