Welcome back to our column in cooperation with Dynamite Entertainment, Creative Visions. In this column, working comic book professionals interview others in their field for a creator-on-creator view of the process and thought that goes into these characters.
Today, writer Brandon Jerwa, whose own Vampirella #36 is on shelves now, chats with David Liss, writer of the new mini-series The Shadow Now, a story that takes the pulp character out of his familiar past and sets him right in the modern day. The pair of writers talk about the history and influences in Liss's writing, and what other pulp character he'd like to "Now" for Dynamite.
Brandon Jerwa: Do you remember your first exposure to the character of The Shadow?
David Liss: Honestly, no. The Shadow is one of those iconic characters who is just part of our cultural DNA. It's like trying to remember the first time you heard about Batman. I think the first Shadow story I ever read was Chaykin's Blood & Judgment, but somehow without having read any Shadow comics or pulps, I already knew the character and his mythology
Jerwa: The Shadow Now is a very literal title. In your story, how much has the character changed over the years? What do you think his greatest strengths and weaknesses are in the modern setting?
Liss: My goal was to frame the character as in some ways unchanging -- that is, he's still deeply rooted in the 1930s, the period that shaped him. At the same time, he's been alive a long time, and he's had a lot of experience, and inevitably that is going to have an effect, be it wisdom or world-weariness or cynicism. I wanted, as much as possible to combine all of these characteristics, since people are rarely just one thing.
As a pulp character, the Shadow inevitably works most organically in the 1930s, so the new environment is both the greatest weakness and the greatest strength. In the modern age, the Shadow is like a shark in a river -- he's not in his natural element, and that hampers him, but that makes for dynamic character-development and storytelling. Ideally, he's a guy who is on top of everything and can deal with all problems in his classic guns-a-blazing style. The limitations of the modern age mean challenge and conflict, however, and they are the building blocks of story.
Jerwa: Colton Worley's art is definitely eye-popping, and full of amazingly rich detail. How much direction comes from the script, and how much is left to his imagination?
Liss: My scripting style -- and this comes both from inclination and from talking to the artists I work with about what they like -- is to provide only as much art direction as necessary for the story. I don't over-direct because I don't want the artist to feel like he's slavishly carrying out my dictates. I write only what has to be there for the characters, story, and tone to work, and then I let the artist take it where he wants to. So much of what makes this story work is Colton's fantastic vision. He has a real feel for this kind of modern pulp comic, and I love how he fills in the blanks. He is a real creative partner.
Jerwa: We live in an age where you can find a crime drama on at least one channel, 24 hours a day, and easily a million novels on the shelves. How do you keep it fresh?
Liss: All our basic story elements are old. The fact that we've seen "this sort of thing" before means nothing, because we liked those sorts of things. You don't reject a story that has a romance element or a buddy story or a shootout because we've seen them before. We like seeing those things. Certain kinds of story-telling elements are always pleasurable. We want fresh takes, fresh characters, and new combinations, but I don't think the key to a good story is something totally original. It is interesting, believable characters facing emotionally compelling conflicts.
Working in a genre gives you certain limitations, but it's really just a set of pieces you can put together in an infinite number of combinations.
Jerwa: What are some of your favorite noir/crime stories (across any medium you'd like to talk about)?
Liss: Too many to list definitively, but some favorites off the top of my head would include the classic novels of guys like Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, James M. Cain, Patricia Highsmith, Richard Stark, and more contemporary writers like Jason Starr, Duane Swierczynski, and Charlie Huston. In comics, I'm a fan of just about anything by Ed Brubaker, but especially his Criminal stories.
Jerwa: Are there any other Dynamite characters that you think the "Now" treatment would work for?
Liss: It would be fun, challenging, and ultimately rewarding to see how modernization works with just about any character rooted in a particular era. Off the top of my head, I'd say I'd love to take someone like The Man with No Name or The Lone Ranger and try to recast their mythologies in a modern setting.