Changing the Guard: Shane Davis on Drawing the JLA

Shane Davis on Drawing JLA #31

Davis' pencils from JLA #31

When artist Shane Davis got the chance to draw an issue of Justice League of America, he had no idea he'd be drawing such an important chapter in JLA history.

"There are a lot of things that happen in this issue that are going to change everything going forward with the Justice League," Davis said of the issue, which comes out today. "It comes off as a stand-alone issue, but it's a big milestone for the Justice League.

"When they asked me to do Justice League, I was like, 'Yeah! Sure!' because I was going to get to draw a lot of characters I love," he said. "They sent me the script, and I was like, 'Oh!' I didn't realize what the issue was or what I was signing up for! It was kind of a breaking up of the team, which was weird. It's kind of like going out on a date and, oh by the way, this is the last date we'll ever have. So that kind of took me by surprise."

Written by Dwayne McDuffie, Justice League of America #31 catches the JLA up with Final Crisis and other events in the DCU, showing a group of devastated heroes as their leader attempts to hold the team together.

"Most of the issue focuses on Black Canary, but the story also touches on other events in the DCU, like the Batman R.I.P. story, some Green Lantern stuff, and some of the things Green Arrow's going through," Davis said. "All of these things are taking their toll on the team. Even Flash's situation is different from what it used to be. It really came down to a lot of different characters pulling them in different directions.

"With everything that's happened with Final Crisis and Batman R.I.P., if there's one place in the DCU where it's going to take a toll, it's the Justice League," he said.

Davis' pencils from JLA #31

Davis has drawn the Justice League before, both while working on Superman/Batman with writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson, as well as drawing part of the "Lightning Saga" crossover between the JLA and JSA books in 2007. Before taking on this issue of JLA, Davis has been doing a lot of cover work for DC after completing a high-profile gig on Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns with writer Geoff Johns.

Having just drawn the Green Lantern story, Davis said it was both challenging and rewarding to go from that type of action-focused issue to this more grounded, dramatic issue of Justice League. "This issue is much more emotional and more realistic," he said. "Rage of the Red Lanterns was very violent with lots of screaming in the air and blood everywhere. But this issue of Justice League is just very sad and more drama-focused. There are a lot of people coming to terms with things, especially with Black Canary. What she does and what she sees and what she's dealing with is really powerful. From an artistic point of view, it's nice to be able to go back and forth from one type of story to another."

Along with the dramatic moments, Davis said there's also a little humor in the issue, which was challenging for him as an artist. "I thought it was important to have some humor in there," he said, "but the rest of the issue is so draining on the characters that it made me stop and really try to figure out, how do you handle that funny moment? Sometimes as a storyteller, you have to think about the way you do those types of things. I realized that if I drew that really funny, it might not flow with the other 21 pages because it would be too high contrast. I think it worked out well the way I did it."

Davis' pencils from JLA #31

Something Davis said he didn't expect from the experience of drawing the Justice League was how much he enjoyed drawing Black Canary.

"It's not really public knowledge, but I usually steer away from drawing female character books," the artist admitted. "Not that I have anything wrong with drawing pretty women. I just tend not to enjoy doing those types of books. But in this comic, I had a lot of fun drawing her. The big challenge was me trying to convey the toll and emotionally where Black Canary was. There were a lot of shots where I was concerned with catching the right face shots. It was a real challenge to get across that she was going through so many emotions.

"So I think I saw something in myself and why I don't like drawing female character books. I really enjoyed drawing this story about Black Canary because it was more than just her standing around and being pretty and looking heroic. I think that's why I enjoyed drawing her so much, and maybe I need to remember that when I get opportunities in the future to draw female characters," he said.

Despite the challenges in drawing this type of story, Davis said he feels like the issue succeeds in getting across the emotional resonance of this important moment in Justice League history.

"People who have seen the issue have said to me, 'Wow, you really got some emotions across more than you've usually done," he said. "But it's not like I was trying harder. It was just that I was being given those emotions to draw. That's not something you usually get to do."

Davis' pencils from JLA #31

Now that Davis has finished the Justice League issue, he said he's working on his next unannounced project. Rumors have been swirling that he'll be doing an Aquaman comic next, ever since artist Ethan Van Sciver told Newsarama last year, "You know who wants Aquaman? Shane Davis... And he drew Aquaman for Superman/Batman and it was awesome. And he deserves it."

"I want to draw Aquaman. I do," Davis admitted when we asked him about the rumor. "And I know Johns wants to write Aquaman. But you know why Ethan said that? We were at a dinner at a convention, and Ethan was sitting by me and he said, 'Oh, you want to draw Aquaman?' And I said, 'Well, yeah. I do.' And Ethan said, 'Shane, it's all yours.' Because Ethan really wants to do Plastic Man. And Dan DiDio was sitting right there and so was Johns. It was kind of weird how that all happened.

"If Ethan ends up drawing Aquaman, I'm not going to scream, 'That's my thing to do!''" Davis said with a laugh. "But a little part of Shane Davis would die inside me if I wasn't the one to draw Aquaman."

Despite that revelation, Davis wouldn't talk about his next project other than saying it's something so important that even he was surprised he got the job. "I'm doing a pretty big project. Dan's faith in me is the scariest thing I've ever seen. When he told me about the project, I didn't think I was the right guy for this. But then I realized, maybe that makes me the right person to do it. My ego won't get in the way, you know? Maybe me thinking I'm the wrong guy is what actually makes me the right guy," he said.

As for what character the project involves, Davis would only say: "I will be returning home on a character, but in a brand new way."

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