This week, Declan Shalvey has two new books on shelves - Deadpool vs. Old Man Logan #5 and James Bond: M.
He didn't draw either of them - and he kind of likes that.
Shalvey began his expansion to writing comic books in 2016 with a serial in Civil War II: Choosing Sides, and with this week he's a certified success story. Shalvey, who worked with artists Mike Henderson and PJ Holden on the two books out this week, said that despite his rush of work as a writer isn't finished with drawing completely.
In fact, he has a new Marvel project that will be his first "proper story arc" for them in three years. Then, after that is the final 10 issues of Injection with Warren Ellis and Jordie Bellaire.
Newsarama spoke with Shalvey on the eve of this unique day in the artist-turned-writer's career, going over his experiences, what he's learned, and trying to pry out a little more about what he's doing at Marvel.
Newsarama: Declan, what are you working on today?
Declan Shalvey: I actually took the weekend off for once, so easing back into the work-week today which consisted of...
-Making preparations for appearing at a literary festival in a couple of weeks that will feature Savage Town.
-Settling invoices for the exhibition we put on a few weeks.
-Looking over my workload and making a more focused schedule for the next week.
-Working on some roughs for a new ongoing DC cover gig, Nightwing.
-Lightboxing layouts for a secret project onto artboard and inking panel borders.
-Writing a 'writer's commentary' for the James Bond: M one-shot
-Writing answers to this interview
So, not a whole lot of drawing today, mainly prep work, and correspondence. It's all part of the job though, there's a lot more to drawing comics than just the drawing, which can be hard enough.
Nrama: This interview will run Wednesday, February 21, which is a big day for you: the finale of Deadpool vs. Old Man Logan is out, and so is the James Bond: M one-shot. 52 weeks in a year, but it all comes down to this one week, and this one day. What's that like?
Shalvey: It's strange.. I'll have two comics out that day and I didn't draw either of them! I actually haven't been drawing much in the last few months, took some time off... but you wouldn't think it as I've had work regularly released. It's all off the back of talented artists!
But still, it will be nice to draw a line under what was a lot of work for me and a very busy time, doing a lot of new things. Both projects materialized after I had Savage Town (a creator-owned graphic novel that I wrote, in all good comic/book shops now) nailed down, and both the mini and the one-shot were work-for-hire, so were both very different challenges to meet in a professional context. They were both similar though, in how I got to work with an artist I really admired, being Mike Henderson on Deadpool vs. Old Man Logan and PJ Holden on Bond. I loved both their work, and to get to write for the both of them was a genuine treat, and a wonderful experience.
Nrama: What do you think you've learned from now writing an OGN, a miniseries, and a one-shot?
Shalvey: That's a good question! Well, for me as a writer, I tend to treat a project the way I do as an artist approached an illustration brief. One of the main first questions is 'what is the format'? The same question applied here.
James Bond: M is a one-shot, so I have to tell a complete story from start-to-finish in 30 pages.
That's different to Deadpool vs. Old Man Logan, which is a five-part mini... which means I have to tell a larger story, but it needs to end on a story point every 20 pages. Not only that, but within those points, each part needs to read as a satisfying read in and of itself.
Savage Town on the other hand, was a little longer than that mini, but I didn't have to stop and restart every 20 pages, the story points were more malleable but I could instantly move to the next part of the story, without any kind of re-introduction. When I know what the format of the story is, I work backwards from there and figure out the structure and ultimately work my story in to fit that structure.
Funnily enough, both the work-for-hire gigs were projects I would be very into as a reader. The Savage Town OGN was a lot more experimental for me as a writer. On all projects though, I had great editors (Nate Cosby on Bond, Heather Antos on Deadpool vs. Old Man Logan, and Sebastian Girner on the OGN) to help me through each project, and give me great feedback. I learned a lot from working with each of them.
Nrama: So what is next for "writer" Declan Shalvey?
Shalvey: I'm not sure, to be honest! For the moment, I'm concentrating solely on a drawing project. It's nice to just switch my brain off a little. Not that drawing is a brainless activity or anything, it's a challenge to take an existing script and make it work visually, but one I'm well accustomed to. To come up with something from the very start requires a different kind of brain-power. Both take up a lot of mental space, so it will be nice to just concentrate on one activity for a while and give the other one a break for a bit, and recharge.
I do have a pitch I'm working away on, something self-contained, with an artist I really like, once that's in decent shape I'll see about pitching it properly. I have another thing I'm slowly working on, but even if that got approved, it would be a while before it came out. I'd like that to be more long-form if possible. As a writer, I feel like that's the next challenge for me... I've been able to make what I feel are high quality self-contained projects. The next step for me would be to tell a story with larger scope, some kind of ongoing project that would push me more and give me the space to play with ideas and characters.
Nrama: There's someone else here in the room with us, and we’re talking about him as if he’s not even here…. "artist" Declan Shalvey. What is he up to?
Ugh, I hate that guy, he's so full of himself!
Well, I've taken on a few covers for DC's Nightwing, which is a little different for me, but an interesting challenge. Mainly though, after taking a bit of a break from drawing, I'm back working on a new series for one of the Big Two. It's a great project that I'm delighted to be a part of, but I can't say any more than that! Once I'm wrapped up on this, I'll be back to Injection, to work on volume 4.
Nrama: So you have a Big Two drawing project, a few pitches as a writer, and the fourth volume of Injection at some point in time.
Shalvey: It's strange, Injection was meant to be monthly from the start, but while working on the book, circumstances changed and it's worked out more that we're releasing a volume a year. It wasn't been by design, but it's worked out nicely for me as I've gotten the chance to work on projects I wouldn't have previously thought possible, like writing/drawing the Nick Fury serial for Marvel, and drawing the 'Duke' storyline in All-Star Batman, etc. I've been quite fortunate that i can dedicate myself to my creator-owned project with Warren Ellis and Jordie Bellaire, and also dip my toe back into the mainstream superhero world.
Honestly though, outside of this current secret project, artist-wise my plan is to return to Injection and complete the last 10 issues. I love working on the series but I'm also eager to get to the end and really pay off on what we've been building up to for the past three years. know I definitely want to write/draw a project in the future, be it work-for-hire or creator-owned, but I my priority before an experiment like that would to be finish my commitment on Injection.
Nrama: 2017 was a big transitional year for you - coming into your own as a writer, and the banner year for Red Cube Studio with Jordie. But it’s been radio silent on the studio for some time now - can you say what the status is of Red Cube?
Shalvey: Best way to describe it would be 'On hiatus' since December. Our studio manager wrapped up his time with us, and the studio has gone through some changes, not to mention how taxing it has been to keep our artistic commitments while also incorporating new challenges that have come with our respective writing projects. I think we just need to reassess what the studio is now, with many of the graduates now having careers of their own, the studio is less of a physical space. Building Red Cube is something that Jordie and I are both very proud of though, we want it to continue but for now I think we could both do with a break from it.
Nrama: What have you learned about collaboration this year, working as a writer with other artists, and also co-running a studio for a time?
Shalvey: When putting together the recent exhibition for Savage Town, I was working with one of the gallery owners, trying to figure out how to display Philip Barrett's work. The director told me that I was one of the easiest people to work with, as I didn't come into the space with a nailed-down attitude. I listened to her suggestions and took them into consideration, and between us we came to agreement via some compromise and evaluation. I feel that is a skill I've learned from comics, I work in a collaborative medium and I know that it is good to hear another opinion that isn't mine. There are experiences out there that I may not have considered. Now, that doesn't mean that I necessarily have to agree with the person, but it's always good to be more informed, and a someone else could have an idea that is much, much better than yours. You learn to fight for what you want, but also swallow your pride.
As a writer, I've had to bite my tongue sometimes. I'll see a page and think “That's not what I would have done,” but at the same time, I'm not there to art direct the artist. I wouldn't want that to be done to me, so I'm not going to do it to someone else. The important think in all my writer-experiences, I've been lucky to work with artists I genuinely respect (except for the artist on Fury, what a dick!) so I respect the choices they make so I try and give them the space to do their best work. There might be the odd note here and there, but if so, it would be in the layout stage. I probably had more notes for Philip on Savage Town, but they were really suggestions that he was free to ignore if he wanted. I was happy that he actually found them helpful and incorporated them a lot.
As regards the studio, partly that was an effort for myself and Jordie to brand our collective efforts together and be able to manage everything under one banner, especially the promotion of both projects. We also trained up some younger talent but aside from the making of the books, we both tried out best to give them all the benefit of our experience. Time will tell if that will be of any help to them, but it's been very rewarding to see them all flourish.
It's great to work with Dearbhla who was the colourist on James Bond: M, for example. It goes to show how much encouragement can take you. In fact, PJ Holden was the first pro artist to give me a portfolio review, and now he's draw a James Bond story I wrote!? What a world, eh? But still, PJ gave me words of encouragement when I was starting out and I think it's important to pass that down as much as you can.
Nrama: You are well-established an as artist, but still starting out as a writer. Do you ever find yourself overthinking writing comic books after drawing them for so long?
Shalvey: Honestly, not really. I may be new at writing, bit I've been professionally telling stories in this medium, so I have over time developed a sense of what I think works, and what I think doesn't work. I've had the benefit of analyzing scripts by Jeff Parker, Rick Remender, Scott Snyder, Warren Ellis, etc and incorporate them into my own work. So rather than overthink, I believe I've absorbed a lot and have a strong sense of visual storytelling. I can really on what feels like a very natural way to tell a story. What is interesting is that while I may have a certain approach, I get to see that script interpreted by another artist and seeing how it's interpreted by them.
I do find what works for me is having the time to mull a story over. I like to have an idea bounce around in my head a bit so that when I get a new idea, I can incorporate it. I might have an overall idea for a story, but thinking on that for a while opens up some other fun ideas to work into it. Case in point, Deadpool Vs Old Man Logan was originally going to end very differently. I can't say without spoiling, but essentially I thought the story was going to end a certain way, then I thought of a cooler way to end it. Thankfully, as Heather Antos had scheduled the book so well, I was able to go back to the really issues and make it all work in the lettering draft. I had the benefit of time to workshop it all in my head and make land a more interesting ending. In the end though, I am still learning and am trying to use every writing opportunity as a challenge to hone my craft more.
In general, I try not to overthink. I think that's a dangerous path that can cause artists to freeze up and not produce. It happened to me a little before I started All-Star Batman. The weight of the enormity of being part of a new Batman book really threw me for a few days.
Nrama: What tips would you give other artists who want to break out into writing, and break out of the classification some editors and fans might have you 'just' being an artist?
Shalvey: I'll say this; people will inevitably put you in a box, hell, we all do it to ourselves. I wanted to write when I was younger but picked drawing as I felt the I was good at it... and because I was insecure about writing, I put it to the side. If you're an artist who wants to write then you should take the advice you would give to someone who wants to draw; just do it. Start. Start right now, work on something small, then build up from that.
I had already started work on Savage Town when I get a call from Wil Moss about writing/drawing the Nick Fury serial for Civil War 2: Choosing Sides. In that case, I was lucky that an editor took a chance an me; he felt that I had a storytelling approach in my work that suggested I would be able to write my own story. I'll always be grateful to Wil for that, as it gave me a real boost of confidence. Still though, I made Savage Town because I wanted to write that story, permission or no permission. If you want to write, give yourself the permission to do so. If you can draw, you can already tell half the story anyway.
Nrama : What are your big goals for 2018?
Shalvey: My goals are to really try do a great job on this secret project. I haven't done a proper story arc for Marvel in three years, so I really want it to be good. It's a real treat to work on this with a writer I love and the story is just so up my alley, I've always wanted to work on something like this and I'm delighted to finally get the chance. After that, I really want to concentrate on Injection and reward the readers' patience. I'd really like to release another creator-owned writing project this year and maybe set one up to come out in 2019. I'd certainly enjoy the challenge of another work-for-hire writing project came up too, they've proven to be really rewarding.