Yea, though Shane Davis has walked through the valley of superheroes, he's not fearing the challenge of drawing an epic horror story by writer Mark Waid.
Shadow Walk, a new original graphic novel due from Legendary Comics in November, is challenging Davis in a variety of ways, as he took a break between volumes of Superman: Earth One. Not only is Davis drawing a type of horror-and military-inspired world in Shadow Walk that he hasn't really done before, but he's also been involved in the creative process behind the book's setting — the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
The big idea behind Shadow Walk comes from a passage in 23rd Psalm from Judeo-Christian scriptures: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For thou art with me."
In Shadow Walk, the "valley of the shadow of death" is real. It's been found by human beings before, but no one has lived to talk about it — until now.
A special forces officer named John Raines and his platoon stumbled into the Valley during the Iraq War, but Raines is the only one who made it out alive. In Shadow Walk, he returns to the Valley with a group of "experts" — including a physicist and a priest — to figure out what it is and why it's there.
The concept behind Shadow Walk came from Legendary founder Thomas Tull, and from there, World War Z author Max Brooks developed a "bible" of sorts that built the world of the valley. Then Waid and Davis were recruited by Legendary editor Bob Schreck to develop the characters and the story.
Because the Valley is a realm of monsters, beasts and perils that don't make any sense in our laws of physics and reality, Davis got to brainstorm with Waid about new approaches to the Valley's structure and environments.
"It was a really good, collaborative process," Waid told Newsarama earlier this year.
For Waid, Shadow Walk gives him the opportunity to return to the types of spiritual themes he explored in the now-classic series Kingdom Come. But for Davis, it gave him the opportunity to really stretch his creative muscles in a new way. "Shane, I think, is tired of being — I don't want to put words in his mouth — but I think he's sort of tired of being an art robot," Waid said, "and very much enjoys the notion of being able to contribute ideas, and throw ideas back and forth."
Davis gave us a few examples of his work for the upcoming OGN, and we talked to the artist about how he creative the look of Shadow Walk and what readers can expect from his approach.
Newsarama: Shane, now that you've finished the book, how would you describe the final product's style and tone?
Shane Davis: It's an adventure/horror/sci-fi book rolled into one. It's arguably the most ambitious comic I have ever drawn. Reading it the other day, I was impressed with the substance and passing that the book accomplished. It's definitely not an all ages comic. I think fans of comics, video games, and sci-fi will find it to be a compelling piece of work.
Nrama: Obviously, since it takes place in a fictional world, you had to create it all from scratch. What was challenging about that process?
Davis: The biggest challenge was in creating the scenario in which the team was in conflict. The story called for the team to fight demons, a lot, and that is what I was given. I then came up with scenarios, not demons, but scenarios with demons. This creative freedom allowed me to not only construct scenarios that involved the monsters and heroes, but also the environment and a grisly demise.
The horror aspects challenged my imagination to come up with adversaries that attack the body internally or are bigger than life and jut rip you apart. I always think of classic animation violence when creating these things. Most people laugh when I say that, but there is a value to the shock and giggle, that — with a twist — make the perfect cocktail for violence and gore.
The sci-fi challenge is easy for me — push the envelope. The book consists of a group of rangers, real special ops type of chaperones. I really wanted a variety here. You definitely will see my love of shooter games. A knife specialist with magnetic hands, a sniper that has robotic recon bots for targeting and calibration — a living, walking, human tank. I tackled each one with a climate-controlled bio-suit for muscle performance. Think about the Kinesio tape Olympic athletes use in the Olympics for muscle injury or enhancement. Imagine that with the smartest man alive and all the money to back it, building a suit that can provide life support or push the body to extreme limits.
The adventure challenge really was about the environments as much as the demons. I can't really go into that, but if I created an Avatar here, it's times 10.
As always there is a special craft to an OGN. With Shadow Walk being an action OGN I was afraid it may seem light to read, but after reading it, it seemed to have a lot more to it than my previous two OGN's combined. I can't really explain why that is. It has a lot of content for one book.
Nrama: What was new to you about drawing Shadow Walk that you hadn't done much before on your superhero work?
Davis: With Shadow Walk, all of the characters were new. I have done a good job of avoiding team books in my career. I have always been worried about having a big cast to draw. In Shadow Walk, I have 10 characters to juggle plus any obstacles. So I have never drawn something so demanding.
Nrama: The main character is John Raines, who is the only person to make it out alive from the Valley of the Shadow of Death. What were your thoughts behind the way John Raines looks?
Davis: Raines was always the strong silent type that I wanted the reader to see the world of Shadow Walk through. Readers will see Raines first maimed from attack, and he will carry those scars through every disbelief or criticism from his peers. He is still a complicated character in his way.
He has a great cast with him and I got to do a lot with their body language and personalities. We have a priest, Tucker, that I played off of Raines. They are polar opposites. A warrior and a pacifist, or chocolate and peanut butter. I feel, when drawing characters it's important to think about their personalities, body language and mood and play them off of one another. Whether it's exaggerated poses and faces, or shadow and lighting, it's important that an artist give a cast life. No matter how small or large a character's part is, they will matter if the artist does his job right. Background characters will grow names and personalities and make the story richer.
Nrama: Who were some of the other characters you created and how did their descriptions guide your depiction/design?
Davis: Well, there are the five main characters that make up the different specialties to the mission. These five characters had specific set of skills/ perspectives. Of course people clash in life, so these 5fivemain characters really don't belong together. Without going into details, there is a priest, a scientist and a solider walking into a bad situation.
Then there are the rangers, the artillery muscle. I wanted to cover a lot of bases with these five guys. One of the rangers is a walking tank that literally, because this is a mission without air support or drones, he would be their cannon so to speak. So much so, that his feet would have to lock into the ground to fire. I really had to give him a trade off for being the strongest. I really liked the idea of a guy that is a knife specialist, but needed to amp that up. He is easily one of the deadliest, as he never runs out of ammo because the knives return. I always saw him with this attitude — that reloading gets you killed. The sniper, and two handgun specialists. With one of the hand gun specialists, I wanted to make a jumper, back flipping and such.
Nrama: What kind of creatures do they encounter in the "valley," and what kind of things did you come up with that informed the way they look?
Davis: I really don't want to give that away, but a lot of people will be surprised with what I came up with. I have designed a lot of monsters (with the Red Lanterns [at DC Comics] and in other comics), but here they were designed to kill and do it in different ways. I designed conflicts in different sizes. I really tried to think of new things. It's not going to be one type of monster for sure.
I can say this, if anybody has liked my work, this is the book that you see me draw the craziest things I could imagine.
Nrama: Since this is a horror book, how do you handle the violence visually?
Davis: I really wanted to start this project with some of the most horrible ways people could die, some funny, it's morbid I know. If you know the sum, you can build the equation. I'm a big fan of sci-fi and horror movies and think that there is a perfect match that you see in some films. Horror in comics, and violence for that matter, work different in comics than other mediums. We don't have scary suspenseful music for the unseen monster to pop out at the girl. I really wanted to handle the demons in the sense that more is more, and I wanted to give people their money's worth. With an OGN, it's an all in one story. I'm not trying to lead you to a cliffhanger in the next issue.
I really wanted you to feel bad for the characters, but maybe snicker, then feel worse! I think laughing and shrieking are related and go great together in storytelling. Everybody has a favorite demon, which surprises me.
Violence is a tricky thing and I do not do it lightly. I don't think violence is about violence, but more tension and the violent release. I had very little hand-to-hand combat in this book, which is mainly what you have to work with in comics, so most of my action scenes are built off of teched weaponry and demons. This challenged me to rethink page layouts. I studied with Joe Kubert and am a big fan of his war comics. I learned that there is a different set of rules with action scenes than your normal superhero comic.
Nrama: How collaborative was the process of working with Mark Waid?
Davis: Working with Mark was very collaborative! He really left a lot of the scenarios and demons up to my imagination. When I came up with something that I thought was too crazy, he worked it into the script. I really felt like a big part of the development thanks to him. It really reminded me of the older comic days.
I also had an awesome art team — Mark [Morales] nailed it on inks and Morry [Hollowell] did some fantastic work with the colors.
Nrama: How was it working with the guys at Legendary?
Davis: Thomas Tull is a creative visionary. I was pleasantly surprised by that. I picked up that he is a genuine fan, which was reassuring!
Nrama: Knowing that this graphic novel was coming from the mind of someone in Hollywood, did the idea play well to the cinematic approach? Or were you influenced at all by the idea of this being something that could translate to a movie?
Davis: I really just drew a great comic, big, but to the best of my current abilities. I incorporated lettering sound effects into my layouts and story telling more, which is not a movie tool. So that kind of answers that.
With that said, I could not help myself of trying to cast personalities and actors in roles. Artists usually do this, but it's different than you think. I kind of mix-match parts. A jaw here, a personality there.
I always thought, if this was to ever step outside of a comic, it would be the special effects movie of the century. At one point, the average comic did something that a movie couldn't do with effects and costumes. I feel that today, Hollywood can do some of these things. I wanted to raise the bar to speak. Draw the things I haven't seen so much.
Somebody said to me "it's like an 80's comic; anything goes." I feel a comic should be the place anything can happen, God willing ( no pun intend) it should be that place. I took it upon myself to take superheroes/horror/action/sci-fi and serve it up to the best of my abilities, cause if you can't do that in a comic book...then where? I see a lot of books today limited by not imagination but by expectation.
At a project's ground level, people try to lasso examples to try to explain something. "Oh, it's like X with Y but with a twist." I thought of this as Shadow Walk and it's new.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell fans about Shadow Walk?
Davis: If anybody has been a fan of my work, from Mystery in Space, to Red Lanterns, to Superman, this is my all. Artistically, without a doubt, I upped my game and outdid my previous works. Visually, it really is a sci-fi epic. Max Brooks, Mark Waid and me in an all-in-one comic story. It's going to be epic and comic fans are in for a big treat.