When Shane Davis was given the opportunity by DC to pay homage to Jack Kirby, he was reluctant to ask for too much. Although he was a huge fan of Kirby's work on New Gods, he assumed the company would prefer he stick to something smaller in scope.
He was proven wrong when, as his Orion project evolved, DC editors encouraged him to add more and more characters from Kirby's New Gods pantheon. What resulted was this week's New Gods Special #1, in which Davis both wrote and drew the lead story.
The issue, which also features a new back-up story by Walter Simonson and some reprinted Jack Kirby work, represents Davis' first work for DC writing his own story to draw on his own. He had previously worked on a variety of projects as artist for DC and co-written some stories, but never completely on his own.
Newsarama talked to Davis to find out more about his work on the New Gods, how he discovered them and became a fan, and why he thinks Kirby didn't like drawing Orion's Astro-Harness.
Newsarama: Shane, when you got the chance to both write and draw this book, I assume the biggest attraction was getting to interpret these exciting Jack Kirby characters. How did you get attached to the New Gods?
Shane Davis: Yeah, I went in very modest when [DC Publisher] Dan [DiDio] told me they were doing the celebration. At first, I reached for Forager, and this was before I knew about the Bug series. He was like, "No, no, no, you can't do Forager, but anything else."
And then I just pulled up some really obscure, weird thing - I remember liking the New Gods stuff, like the Deep Six. They don't get around too much. And Dan just kind of looked at me and said, "OK, sure."
But somehow, from there, I walked myself back and realized I was being an idiot, and I came up with an Orion pitch.
They liked the pitch, but they wanted me to involve more Kirby characters.
So from there, more and more Kirby characters got involved in the story. And the editors looked at it and said, "Well, this is New Gods, not just Orion." And I thought, "OK!"
So it was a trickle effect. I started humbly, working on one character, and somehow it ended up being a story about the New Gods.
Nrama: So, Orion's at the center of it?
Davis: Yeah, Kalibak's trying to go against the truce and sneak onto New Genesis and try to make it a second Apokolips, so he'll win Darkseid's approval. But he's going against the truce that they brokered by trading sons.
And then Orion is like, "You're on my adopted planet." So it brings up all the father issues. So, you end up with Kalibak wanting his father's approval and Orion trying to separate himself from any ties emotionally, or from his inner dark side.
Nrama: Let's talk about the art. How do you put your own spin on Jack Kirby's approach?
Davis: That was the goal, because this is a celebration of his work, so you want to keep that Jack Kirby feel but do it in your own style.
I really tried to mimic Kirby, especially with Highfather and Forager - which is the hardest to draw, for some reason. Not many artists, besides Kirby, can get this character to look the way he drew it.
The parademons - when Kirby drew those (and they weren't even in New Gods that much) they were kind of inconsistent. So there's not even one definite Kirby parademon design.
And that was true somewhat on other characters, which meant I needed to make the characters my own. So I even had to kind of pick the approach. Like, with Kalibak, for example - there's this one page he did with Kalibak that kind of explains who the character is, and I based my Kalibak on that one drawing. He's big and hulking in that image. And I wanted to have the character stronger and bigger. I even pulled a little bit from Bruce Timm's version of Kalibak. Kirby's interpretation of the character changed over time, so I had to kind of pick my own approach, you know?
Also, I thought about Kirby monsters, and his work on the Hulk, and his approach to other things he drew. And then I had those things in mind as I drew Kalibak, but drew him in my own way. I knew the posture he used on his work overall.
That's the kind of approach I took to the whole thing.
And I especially wanted to get Orion right, but finding that Kirby look was a challenge. I was surprised that I was able to get the kind of raging Orion face in some panels to have the same feeling that Kirby gave him.
Nrama: What was your least favorite thing to draw?
Davis: Well, I enjoyed the whole thing. I really did. But I wouldn't mind not ever having to draw the Astro-Harness again. [Laughs]
Nrama: This is your first time writing solo for DC, isn't it?
Davis: Yeah, I've co-written before and written before on some Image books. But this was just full-on me.
Surprising enough, it wasn't all that hard once we decided on the villain. I had two versions of the script, and I decided one made more sense - using Kalibak, especially since, I would say, Kalibak was the main antagonist in the original New Gods. There was an ongoing fight between Orion and Kalibak.
So yeah, I wrote this on my own, which was refreshing. I've written and drawn before, but the process this time was different. I actually wrote a script, when usually I kind of write what I would call a "Marvel script," which is just a loose descriptive script. But this time, I wrote a full script and then worked off that.
This process was a little more weird, because I would be thinking of a panel as I'm writing it, but then when I actually started drawing it, I would realize…no, it should look this way.
Nrama: So the artist part of you would change what the writer part thought?
Davis: Yeah, it's like I'm disagreeing with myself as a writer and artist sometimes! So there's probably too much going into each page on different levels. [Laughs]
Nrama: Were you trying to tie in to continuity?
Davis: I don't know about future continuity. But I'm in line with what has happened previously. The Bug series is referencing the same material I am.
I know they have more things planned for the New Gods down the road.
Nrama: Did this whet your appetite for doing more New Gods?
Davis: I would love to do more! Originally, I got turned onto New Gods in Cosmic Odyssey, then I got the old Kirby stuff and read it probably 10 years ago. So a lot of this stuff, I was already a fan of it.
To me, I think it's a very rich universe unto its own. I don't think it always fits well into the DC Universe. But I love this stuff. I feel very fortunate that I got to write and draw these characters. It's rare that they pop up in the DC stuff I've drawn. So I was very fortunate to get to do this. I would love to do it again.