SHANE DAVIS: From EARTH ONE to Legendary's SHADOW WALK

 

Shane Davis has made a name for himself as the artist on Superman: Earth One, but his next project is challenging him in more ways than one.

Shadow Walk, the 2013 graphic novel Davis is creating for Legendary Comics, has given the artist new opportunities as a comic creator. Not only is he drawing a type of horror- and military-inspired world he hasn't really done before, but he's also been very involved in the creative process behind the book.

The concept of Shadow Walk was created by Legendary founder Thomas Tull and World War Z writer Max Brooks. They enlisted superstar comic writer Mark Waid to write it.

But Davis was a big part of the creative process behind the story's development, as Waid turned toward him for visual inspiration. Collaborating with Waid, Tull and editor Bob Schreck, Davis had input into the world-building behind Shadow Walk.

The story of Shadow Walk combines the spiritual and scientific as it explores the Biblical phrase, "walk through the valley of the shadow of death." The graphic novel depicts a team of high tech soldiers with guns who also utilize weapons like the skull of John the Baptist and a piece of the cross.

Davis won a lot of acclaim over the last couple years for his work on the first two volumes of Superman: Earth One, which were both best-selling graphic novels for DC Entertainment. But although Superman: Earth One writer J. Michael Straczynski has confirmed that he's writing Volume 3, Davis told Newsarama he has not been enlisted to draw the third installment of the book.

Instead, he's concentrating on finishing Shadow Walk, a 120-page graphic novel due next year.

Newsarama: Shane, a book like Shadow Walk, with these demons and military images, has to be very different for you after all the work you've done in superhero comics recently. What's your approach to this graphic novel? Are you changing up your style for this?

Shane Davis: Yeah, [my style is] changing quite a bit. It's challenging, because even though it's a very story-driven thing, it's an action graphic novel, which is a lot different from the work on Superman: Earth One, especially Volume 1.

It's a lot to do with soldiers and guns and monsters, and they're all being created from scratch.

Nrama: You're creating this whole new world for Shadow Walk, so I assume you're designing something unique for the way these things look?

Davis: Yes, and I'm working very closely with Mark on the whole thing. There were a lot of brainstorming conversations with Mark and Bob Schreck and sometimes Thomas Tull.

Shadow Walk

interior art

Mark basically said he knew the set up, and he knew the ending, but while he was developing the story, he said, "What's your ideas, Shane?" So I did a brainstorm session of concepts and ideas, like really off-the-wall stuff, especially things I haven't seen before.

And when I say concepts, I mean environments, reactions, structure and everything. I would actually draw up environments and characters and monsters and pitch them to everybody, and then we would pick and choose what we liked. For example, I might say, "this thing separates and goes into this part of this guy's body, and then this explodes and this reacts to the background." So these were, like, full environmental concepts.

And Mark would work them into the script and make them part of the story.

Nrama: So this book lent itself to this kind of creative process?

Davis: Yeah. Mark knew there was a lot of fantasy in the book, and a lot of artist interpretations of things like monsters, weaponry, and stuff like that. So some of this collaboration was about, honestly, "what can Shane do?" So Mark wanted to take advantage of what my imagination could give the book. And he pushed me in a lot of ways. He was really great about that.

There were some things I came up with that will never make it into the book. But there are a lot of things that did.

Also, the book is about this team in these bio-suits that allow them to go through different environments and stuff. So they're outfitted with these weapons and whatnot and computers and tech gadgets. So there's a lot that needed to be created. So it's been very mechanical, but very organic at the same time, which is very different for me to draw for such a long time. And like you said, it has lent itself to the way we created the book, where all these concepts work together.

Plus it's a team book, which I've never really done.

Nrama: Was that a challenge? Doing a team book?

Davis: Yeah. I mean, it's not, like, a superhero team book. But it's a team book in the essence that there are at least nine members on the team at the beginning, and a handful at the end.

Drawing a big cast is a little bit refreshing. Sometimes you get tired of drawing one character. And with this project, I always have a page somewhere that features another character and I can go jump on that. So it's been refreshing in that sense.

So it's a lot of different things I've never tackled before. And that's the fun thing about it. There's a lot of new stuff.

Shadow Walk interior art

And that's the hard part about it too. It's a lot of new stuff I've never done before. So it's some of the hardest work I've done.

Nrama: The looks you've developed for these team members -- do they reflect who they are?

Davis: I tried to make it so that they did. I mean, you have the nice guy, you have the Bazooka guy, you have the artillery gun guys, you have the science guy, you have the rebel, you have the damsel in distress, and then you have this priest.

Nrama: Mark mentioned in our interview with him that the book explores science and religion as one of its themes.

Davis: Yeah, the priest, Tucker, is a Catholic priest. He's one of the focal characters for me to draw. I made sure to keep the iconic priest collar look, with inverted black and white.

And with a team like this, you might wonder, well, what does the priest do? What does he bring to the table for the team? Because he's kind of the useless cog. But like you said, the science and religion is mixed as they're fighting these creatures, these demons.

Nrama: You've done two volumes of Superman: Earth One, and now you're doing this graphic novel. Are you getting used to that format? Are there advantages as an artist?

Davis: I think, definitely, when I was working on the periodicals, even if it was an ongoing story, each issue had its own story and conclusion, although a lot of them would throw you into the next issue completely. And of course, I've also worked on single issues and one-shots.

 

With the single issues, as an artist, you're trying to pull the climax out of every issue and focus on that, and have a resolution shot, and have nice cliffhangers. You would do that five or six issues. So you'd be doing that same process each month: Wash, repeat, wash, repeat, every single issue. What I mean is, you could do the splash page and the villain shot every issue, and it was ok, because then the next month, you'd have sort of a clean slate.

In the graphic novel, which might be the same number of pages, it's a completely different beast, because it really is one giant story where those same rules apply, but you can't do it over and over again. Before, I could have done something five times during the run of five months, but now I can only do that one time. So there's an added challenge there.

Your bag of tricks, so to speak, is a little hindered by that. You still have the tricks, but you just can't do them as many times.

So you have this giant layout of a long story.

Also, with fight scenes, the pressure is a lot different on me as an artist, because I would have to keep track of what one fight is to the other. You had to give each battle its own theme. For example, in Superman: Earth One Volume 2, the first fight with Superman, he's very heroic against Parasite. In the second fight, he's kind of punching and running and moving away from him. And then the third fight, it's just hands-on, hand-to-hand combat, with very close-in shots. So you have to make sure you're portraying those differently.

Nrama: When you finish Shadow Walk, will you be working next on Superman: Earth One Vol. 3?

Davis: Well, no, I have actually never heard anything about a Volume 3. I haven't had a conversation about Volume 3 with anybody at DC. I mean, I'm not DC exclusive or anything. Up until a week or so ago, I never even heard that JMS is working on one.

Nrama: That doesn't necessarily mean you're not doing it, right? Maybe they just haven't talked to you yet?

Davis: Right. I just don't know. That's a conversation that I've never had and have never been approached about.

Nrama: How far are you along in the Shadow Walk book?

Davis: The whole script's done now, and I'm about halfway done with the book.

It's been great working with the writers in this fashion. I was joking with Mark about it, because it's a very different way of creating a book. There was a lot of "well, what do you think?" and "I don't know, what do you think?" And somehow everything comes together into this developed project.

I don't know how many projects are done that way these days. I'm very grateful for the work experience. It's very refreshing and different from any projects I've done, probably since Red Lanterns. I've never had this much freedom to just cook up new concepts and ideas. But I have really enjoyed the process, and I think the book is better for having been created that way.

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