Image Expo is days away and one of the year’s most anticipated titles is Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey‘s Injection, due 5/13. I had a chance recently to talk to Shalvey — one of the most popular artists in the biz — about both the project and his career, for this MIGHTY Q&A:
Dan Greenfield: All right, so the first question I always ask is “What’s Your Secret Origin?”
Declan Shalvey: My secret origin? It’s not THAT secret. (Laughs) I’ve said it enough times. I grew up in the West of Ireland.
I was just there!
Over the summer! We went through Doolin…
Yeah, Doolin’s nice.
… Ballyvaughan, Galway. We were there.
Did you go through Ennis at all?
Ennis… we stayed in Ennis!
Ennis is my hometown. (Laughs) That’s where I grew up.
You’re kidding! So, West of Ireland?
Yeah, I grew up in the West of Ireland in a town called Ennis. There were no comics at all. I think I more got into comics by watching cartoons. But I was drawing cartoons like stories. I was drawing comics of the cartoons I was watching before I really knew.
What were those cartoons?
Oh, like X-Men: Animated Series, Batman: Animated Series, the Spider-Man one with that weird CGI stuff in there. But it was that kind of stuff. I really got into that.
How old were you at the time?
Well, then I must have been 10…11…12. Something around there. I was already drawing stuff like… I’d read a lot of Asterix and the … library was pretty good. It had a lot of European graphic novels, or albums I should say. There was a lot of… kind of like Disney tie-in licenses like DuckTales. Stuff like that I read but never really got into hardcore. But I always liked reading them.
I didn’t really know how somebody from Ennis would end up doing comics. I ended up going to an art college in Limerick for 4 years, just studying fine art. After that, I was very driven to do comics but the thing about having a fine art degree is that nobody really knows what the hell to do with a fine art degree. However, I did know what I wanted to do, just… trying to figure out how I wanted to do it.
I went to a convention in Belfast and showed my portfolio to an artist and then when I’d go to the UK… There was a period of about 3 years where I did just basically portfolio pages, went to conventions, met artists, met writers, met editors until ultimately I met a guy who was publishing his own stories. He couldn’t pay somebody to draw the stories but he would publish them himself. He’d pay for publishing. So the deal was, if I drew it, he would publish it. So I did that.
What was the project?
It was called Hero Killers. I get the odd copy to sign here and there and I cringe. It was essentially a super-villain. He asked what I wanted to draw and I said I wanted to draw super-heroes so he gave me a super-villain story which is weird considering I ended up on Thunderbolts after that.
Yeah, and that got a bit of buzz so I got him to do some of my classical adaptations. We did a Frankenstein graphic novel and a Sweeney Todd graphic novel and then I started working for Boom! Studios with 28 Days Later. And that’s something where my stuff hit American shores, really. Everything was very UK-centric for a long time.
How old were you?
27…maybe 28. Yeah, because I’m 32 now (he’ll be 33 this month) and 4 years ago I was 28.
So you’re 32 now?
I finished college when I was 21, spent like three years on portfolio review stuff, small-press stuff… Then it was like three years working professionally in the UK and then 28 Days Later.
And Jeff Parker, I met. I went to some conventions in the States and Jeff Parker, for the Thunderbolts at the time, needed a fill-in, so he suggested me to his editors. I got that fill-in and then more fill-ins, and then kind of ended up, I guess by accident. … They just started giving me stuff. (Dan laughs) Yeah, I just kept working for the last 4 years with the odd Dark Horse thing here and there.
I think that’s not only my origin but my entire life story!
That was pretty good! … OK, so right now, for the benefit of our readers, you were just doing Moon Knight…
You’re off Moon Knight now. Everybody loved it. Everybody went crazy for it. What are you doing right now and what’s next?
Right now I’m working on a series I’m doing with Warren Ellis and Jordie Bellaire called Injection, for Image Comics.
It’s basically a contemporarily set sci-fi series with a team of like, ex-government agents in the UK having to deal with certain weird phenomena and… I’m probably not doing it justice. I always like it when Warren writes these bits because he’s the one that’s more articulate. (Dan laughs) “ME DRAW GOOD,” is all I can say.
It’s ongoing so I want to make sure that I am well ahead before the issues start coming out. It’s very similar to Moon Knight (artwise). It’s going to be the wash or washed artwork that I do that Jordie colors…
It’s going to be very different (storywise) from Moon Knight. It won’t be like single-issue stories in that format. It’s gonna be much more broader, kind of novelistic in scope. But I’m really excited. He asked for me to do something and I figured if I’m gonna do something with Warren, I might as well get the most out of it I could.
Did he ask you because you guys were working together on Moon Knight? Did you two know each other or…?
No, I think I met him briefly, one time. I wouldn’t expect him to remember me. And also he kind of took a break from comics.
Those were the years where I started kind of making a name for myself so I wouldn’t expect him to know me AT all. I was never on his forums or anything like that. I didn’t involve myself in the Warren Ellis community so I didn’t expect him to know me at all but I’m… Yeah, I think we were working on Moon Knight and I wasn’t sure what I was gonna do afterwards. I knew he was only gonna do six issues.
I was like, should I stay on the book, would I do another Marvel series, would I just do creator-owneds, and I was considering doing some creator-owneds when he offered… He asked if he could write something for me and it’s not every day Warren Ellis asks if he can write something FOR you. It’s not like… he didn’t say, “Hey, I’ve got this pitch. Do you wanna draw it?” It’s like, “Tell me everything that YOU like.” Yeah! He asked me to write basically a document and this is telling everything that I’m into. And he sat on that for a while and then ideas started kind of peppering through. Which is amazing!
Now when a guy like Warren Ellis does that for you, as an artist, what goes through your mind?
JESUS CHRIST! (Dan laughs heavily) I mean, in a weird way, it’s an interesting thing to say what do I like, and like I’d list TV shows and books and some…
What were some of the things you listed?
It was primarily TV shows. It was stuff like The Wire, Deadwood. I’m a big fan of that type of serial storytelling and I think it can be done in comics. Which is kind of what I want. … Frankly the stuff at Marvel I’ve done has been very self-contained. Two-issue arcs, three-issue arcs, the six issues Moon Knight arc is the longest consistent arc I’ve done. The publishing schedule is very demanding and it’s really, really difficult to do a consistent body of work and, after four years of being very happy working at Marvel, I kind of made the decision that I didn’t really want to be doing that anymore.
It was perfectly fine and great and a great experience but I want to have my Preacher or Y: The Last Man, or a signature piece of work. I’m especially happy to have had such a great experience with Warren and Moon Knight. It was a great… I’m very, very proud of it and I would like more of that rather than, like, fill-ins or this, that and the other, so… Especially, as I’m 32 and I’ve done nothing but work-for-hire work and I am so ridiculously pretentious (Dan laughs) …
You don’t strike me that way.
Uhhh… yeah. I am. I am very pretentious. But I’m aware of my level of pretension. Because if I wasn’t…
Then you’re really pretentious, yeah.
Exactly, exactly. I’m sorry, I think I might have gotten away from your question.
That’s all right. It was, what are the things you listed?
Oh, yeah. It was primarily storytelling. I mentioned books like Criminal — I love Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. What the hell else did I… I’m drawing a bit of a blank. I ended up sending him a lot of pages that I’ve drawn that I really liked and that I felt really worked.
I remember I did an arc on Northlanders with Brian Wood on the side of my Marvel work and that was a really interesting experience. It flexed different storytelling muscles and those were the ones that… and we kind of ended up doing that ON Moon Knight. The very approach that we used on Moon Knight that will be consistent on Injection, as regards storytelling, you know?
Can you explain a little bit about that?
Yeah, well, we talked a little bit about composition, like Kubrick’s kind of like, one-point perspective shots that he would do and I had just watched the most recent Wes Anderson film and — actually no, sorry, I’d watched Fantastic Mr. Fox. And what I liked about that film is Wes Anderson constructs those compositions even though they are models and animation. At the same time, he uses the very same approach to his actual practical work and I really like that, you know? You would say it’s less exciting for two characters to… He actually has a scene, like there’s a shot where a boy and a girl are just walking across a field towards each other, straight, just from the side. Some filmmakers would be insecure and feel that this needed to be a cooler shot.
There’s a supercut of it online — I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it — of all of the Wes Anderson shots that are exactly like that.
Where the focus is on the center of the screen and…yeah. You really… Just Google it and you’ll find it. It’s amazing. It really just shows you how frequently he uses that concept, and I don’t even know what it’s called.
I’m sure I can find it. There’s also the element, like if you look at… It’s the very first Moon Knight, when it opens up, you look straight at… he’s looking straight at the character, straight at him. It’s like there’s no shot where the character’s zooming around the corner and looking all cool. It’s deliberately restrained.
So in a way, I could be insecure and overcompensate by going zap, pow, bam, being a lot more filmmaking, the approach of slowing down the pace. A lot of people complained that Moon Knight was a fast read and I think it’s a fast read if you read it but it’s a book that you can go over again and again and again and really kind of … it can saturate.
The atmosphere, I think, is more palpable than, say, maybe a book where maybe there’s a lot of words, you know? I prefer that type of stuff and I don’t think a lot of writers could get away with doing it but there’s things that Warren would do storytellingwise. He’s done enough books that people will accept it if he does it. I think that it’s harder for new writers to do that stuff. You know, your first issue needs to establish everything and tell you everything and be the best issue in the world and… The nice thing about working for Warren is I know I’m not gonna have to do something where we need to prove ourselves. He knows what he’s doing. Everybody knows that he’s good. Hopefully people know that I’m OK, and we can just do a book and build a project and not have to worry about wowing people every single …
For example, Saga. I’m reading Saga and I’m liking it but do I need to read it every month? I can just read the trade. Then I’ll read an issue and I’m, like, “Awww, FUCK! I can’t believe they died!” (Dan laughs) And then all of a sudden those moments — I quite liked that. And you can do that with episodic storytelling… I like that. I like doing that. You can’t really do it in superhero comics but we managed to kind of. It’s episodic in that each issue made sense but at the same time it’s not jam-packed with information and continuity and establishing everything. …
I am always more interested in the execution of an idea rather than the idea. Like, Superior Spider-Man. Somebody told me that idea and they were, like, this is the stupidest thing I ever heard. I read the story and, ya know, I hadn’t been reading Spider-Man in a while and I was reading it again. It was the execution. Any idea is stupid or brilliant in certain hands.
I know whatever Warren gives me is going to be so well thought out. He doesn’t just fart out some pages and throw a script at me. I know I can tell from breaking down the scripts he writes he’s thought about what’s going down on every page, you know?
Injection #1 is scheduled to debut 5/13.