After testing the waters of writing life with the Nick Fury serial in Civil War II: Choosing Sides, Declan Shalvey is going at it full-bore with a new graphic novel that's born of his home country of Ireland. Announced Thursday evening at Emerald City Comic Con, Savage Town is illustrated by Philip Barrett and colored by Jordie Bellaire.
Scheduled to debut September 6, Savage Town is set in the city of Limerick - one Shalvey says was made popular by Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, but has changed over the years. The "Savage" in all of this is Jimmy 'Hardy' Savage, a local gangster looking to catch a break in the world of crime without ruining his time for a pint.
Newsarama spoke with Shalvey about this mobster and his historical roots, as well as his decision to write and put his proverbial money where his mouth is in regards to giving artists' their proper due.
Newsarama: Declan, what town is "Savage Town," and how does it get that name?
Declan Shalvey: Savage Town is an Irish crime graphic novel illustrated by Philip Barrett with Jordie Bellaire on colours, letters by Clayton Cowles, and design by Emma Price. Oh, and I wrote it!
The name comes from local Irish slang. Everyone knows what the word 'savage' means but in Ireland it's also used to describe something great. In this book both meanings are warranted. It's set in Limerick, a city I used to live in that pop culture wise is probably best known as the setting of Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes.
A lot has changed since then.
Nrama: And this OGN centers on a local gangster named Jimmy Savage. Can you tell us about him, and if he's based on anyone in particular?
Shalvey: Jimmy was inspired by gangsters that were operating in Limerick at the time who weren't such great people. I've kind of replaced them with an amalgamation of my favorite roles played by Colm Meaney and Brendan Gleason. John Boorman's' The General was a big inspiration, but thankfully with comics there's none of that Van Morrison shite.
Nrama: So what is Jimmy up against in this story?
Shalvey: Jimmy is a gangster who has built up his own small operation. Unfortunately, there are two much bigger gangs who really control all the crime in the city and they have no patience for him. They're just waiting for him to make a wrong step so they can stomp him out. Jimmy's operation has been tolerated up to know but events are gonna see him in deep trouble soon.
Nrama: Image has framed this as an "Irish graphic crime novel.” You're Irish, but have been working in American comics for some time. How was it to be able to write something in the manners and phrasings of you and the people you grew up with?
Shalvey: When I was a kid it was a revelation for me to read Preacher and hear Cassidy talk the way I did. I loved how Garth Ennis wrote his dialogue and any of the Irish scenes or references... seeing something of my own culture in comics meant the world to me. Now I've been very, very fortunate to have had so many great opportunities in American comics, but I felt that I needed to make a comic that felt genuine, that looked like the world I know. It feels great to be adding something to this medium that reflects my culture, as opposed to doing work that adds to American pop culture solely.
Nrama: This is your first OGN as a writer or artist, but also your longest projected project - 152 pages - as a writer. You wrote a Nick Fury serial for Marvel before this, but can you describe the ambition to write a long-form story instead of a serialized effort here?
Shalvey: Well the story itself is about 125 pages but it works out around 150 as there's extra material in the back I want to include as Phil did so much wonderful prep work, I'd like to show it off. I've been working on this a long time but I have to admit working on the Nick Fury serial gave me the kick up the arse I needed to hammer into my scripts more. The Fury story was very much constructed around the format available to be, i.e. 40pg story broken up into self-contained short stories. With Savage Town, there's a lot more room to play with but there's a lot more characters and a whole environment that I need to establish. So while could use the OGN format to play fast and loose with the structure, I still think quite episodically so each chapter is tightly constructed, the first chapter kinda works as a first ‘issue.’I felt it necessary to stick with a stricter format just because I find it best to keep a project on time and stay productive. I'm still tinkering with the last half though, so I might make the last chapter longer, so I can wrap the whole thing up. It's great to have that option available.
Nrama: You're working with Philip Barrett and Jordie Bellaire on art here. You've worked with Jordie for a long time, but how did you two connect with Philip?
Shalvey: Jordie's only met Phil the one time he called up to our place I think, but I've known him years. Back when I was drawing 28 Days Later, he was running a comics jam with some other cartoonists that I used to pop along to. Artists would draw a panel and the next artist would have to come up with the next, etc. Mine were always shite, and Phil were always fantastic. I think he's the best storyteller in country and find it frustrating that not enough people know his work. He's just the loveliest, most talented man and I hope Savage Town opens his work to a whole new audience. In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to make this book was to have a showcase for Phil's work. Also, I'm lucky to know a double Eisner Award winning colourist, so why not ask her? Turns out all I had to do was beg and beg and beg her for months.
Nrama: And dovetailing into your frequent talks about #ArtCred, you have Barrett's name ahead of yours in the credits and on the cover. Why is that important to you?
Shalvey: Well, you know I harp on about how artists are disproportionally uncredited for the work they do under the banner of #ArtCred. Getting to build a project like this, I felt it important to put my money where my mouth is. I've worked hard on this concept for a long time but frankly, nothing I've done is as hard as sitting down and spending months drawing a graphic novel. Phil creates a very specific aesthetic to this book that could not be replaced or replicated. He is integral to the book and there's so much he brings to this story that can’t be easily articulated. Fuckin' right he's credited first.
Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals for Savage Town?
Shalvey: Well I firstly just hope that people find it interesting, entertaining and funny. I wanted to make a serious book and Savage Town is, but I couldn't help make jokes. I hope people see something they haven't quite seen before and switch on to Phil's work. I hope it bloody sells amazingly well as it means we could do a sequel!
Also, and this might be naive of me, I hope I can push the book well here in Ireland. We're only a small island, but we've such a rich tradition in writing and in theatre... I really hope by making an Irish story by Irish creators for a mainstream market, that maybe we can change how comics are seen in my home country. The general attitude is that comics-equals-superheroes and I'd love to have a book that can represent the medium well. I guess I want to represent Ireland to comics and represent comics to Ireland. Only way to do that is to give it a shot.