Declan Shalvey has made a name for himself cutting a gritty swath across certain corners of the Marvel Universe. But now he’s going somewhere totally different – into Marvel’s multiverse alongside writer Chip Zdarsky as the artist of June 13’s Marvel 2-In-One Annual #1.
With a focus on the Fantastic Four’s arch-enemy/reluctant ally Doctor Doom, the annual sets the stage for the return of the FF this August. Newsarama spoke to Shalvey about what Marvel 2-In-One Annual #1 has in store for Doom, and how it feels to put his own stamp on some of Marvel’s most iconic characters.
Newsarama: Declan, you’ve drawn most of the biggest names in the Marvel Universe at this point. How does it feel to put your pencil to Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm?
Declan Shalvey: Ha, I think I've mainly drawn most of the smallest names in the Marvel universe, but that's okay, because they're a lot of fun. It's strange, I started working for Marvel Comics back in 2010, I must have drawn well over 100 covers and numerous arcs yet there's still lots of characters I've never really had the opportunity to play with. The characters from Fantastic Four are among those I'd never drawn, not even in covers, so I was excited to draw them. The Thing especially. I knew he'd be a challenge to draw, but I didn't expect that he's be so much fun.
Nrama: Are these characters that have been on your radar for a while?
Shalvey: Oh of course! I mean, I've known who the Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom, etc. were my whole life. I've always liked them, though I admit I wasn't a massive fan. I was more a Spider-Man/X-Men kid, but I absolutely knew and respected the legacy of Fantastic Four and what they mean to Marvel Comics; they're the heart of the Marvel Universe.
I never really had an ambition to draw them though - they're very clean and perfect in some ways, and I generally like to draw characters that get their hands dirty. I never would have thought that I'd be asked to draw a story in this part of the Marvel Universe, but I was honored to be asked by the guardian of Marvel characters himself, Tom Brevoort. I thought it would be something very different for me, and when it came down to it, it was a really great script.
Nrama: Who are your artistic touchstones for drawing these classic Fantastic Four characters?
Shalvey: I looked at some John Byrne (there's even a nerdy Byrne-inspired Easter egg in the issue), referencing his classic Thing model sheet. But I mainly looked at what Jim Cheung has been doing in Marvel 2-In-One as that's the title the annual is connected to (plus, I love Cheung's work). I really loved how he drew Ben Grimm, so I aped some of his poses in my sketchbook to get a feel for how he constructed the character. I didn't replicate what he did exactly, but it really helped me figure out how I wanted to draw the Thing. I looked at some of Mike Wieringo's work too. I really like how both those artists leaned into the cartoonier elements of the character, but made it believable on the page.
For Doom himself, I went to Alex Maleev's run on Infamous Iron Man. I've been a fan of Maleev for a long, long time (since his first Batman work), so I based my take on Doom from his run. I also was looking at some wALT Simonson work... That may become clear to those who read this annual.
Nrama: Speaking of Ben Grimm, when it comes to Marvel characters, there are few better litmus tests for an artist than their approach to the Thing. What are your personal guidelines for interpreting his look?
Shalvey: Fair question! As I said, I looked at the Thing model sheet John Byrne had drawn. I threw out some of those rules as they didn't work for me. I kept them in mind though, and I made a point of exaggerating his brow; that to me is a key design element.
It was hard to figure out how to draw it from different angles in my head, so there was some inevitable adjusting of pages as I was penciling. I wanted his fingers and toes to be big planks of rock... He had to look sturdy, barrel chested, etc. Also, while I didn't draw him with human muscles or anything, so I tried to cartoon blocks of him to accentuate the illusion that the has a semi-human form. In a lot of ways, he felt like drawing Hellboy; I drew a realistic interpretation, then embraced the advantages of cartooning. Also, I wanted his lower jaw to look like it flaps, like a puppet.
Nrama: This annual focuses on the fate of Victor Von Doom. What can you tell us about what’s in store for Doom here?
Shalvey: This story is really all about Doom, for sure. He's been on something of a personal journey, and the events in this annual will address a lot of questions people have about Doom, and will very clearly answer them. Anything beyond that, I don't want to say - you'll have to read the annual!
Nrama: With a project like this, how much do you tailor your style to match the property? Did you and colorist Jordie Bellaire come up with any special touches or flourishes for this Marvel 2-In-One annual?
Shalvey: I don't really tailor my style as such... I mean, every story is different, but there's a certain flow with how I like to tell stories and I kept that approach with this annual. I did tweak a few things though. In the end, this is still a superhero comic (you gotta break a panel border or two). I normally do a lot of greywash work on my pages, especially in recent years, but due to deadlines I just didn't have the time. I was a little worried about that, but I knew Jordie would still showcase my work in the best possible way.
We've been collaborators for years, so she knows what works and what doesn't work. I would say this book is probably far more 'colorful' than anything we've worked on in a while, but in the very best way. I think the color embraces the bold superhero energy of the Fantastic Four, along with the more emotional tone of this story. There is a scene halfway through the book where I explained to Jordie a certain aesthetic that I was aiming for. Not only did she achieve that, it she made it look far better than what I expected. There was also a scene later in the issue with a certain sky effect. It could have been done in color alone, but I wanted to make sure Jordie wasn't lumped with that inconvenience, so I made some effects with washes. What she did with those effects were amazing - she also added so much more that complimented and improved the page... It shows just how great we work together as collaborators.
Nrama: You and Chip Zdarsky are both accomplished writers and artists. How does both creative partners having a grasp on both sides of the process affect workflow?
Shalvey: I just take a sharpie and remove everything Chip wanted to do, then I just do what I feel like. [Laughs]
Shalvey: Ha, no, seriously... It's so exciting to see what Chip is doing at Marvel at the moment, and I really, really liked the main 2-In-One book, so frankly I just shut the hell up and drew what was in the script. I was initially concerned at the density of the script - there's a lot going on in it - but once I started working on my layouts, a lot of the storytelling broke down fairly easily for me, and I suspect that's because Chip is an artist himself.
In my experience, artist/writers have a really good sense of how to pace a story and how valuable the 'real estate' of the pages is. I wish I could say we talked for hours, well into the night about our hopes and dreams, etc., but in reality, I was sent the script, I thought it was great, took the job and got to work. I was hired as an artist so I approached it as so.
Just because I write more now, doesn't mean I feel compelled to mess around with someone's story. I may not be writing the story, but I'm still telling the story. If there was something I felt I needed to tweak or adjust, I approached it the same way I always have, and talk to the team. Any questions I had (again, it's a complicated story with a lot of moving parts) Chip and the editors (Tom Brevoort and Alanna Smith) were always available to answer. Chip was mainly available to make some kind of joke at my expense.
Nrama: What’s your favorite thing Chip threw at you in the script for this annual?
Shalvey: I can't actually answer that, as it would spoil some story points! Instead I'll just say that there's a specific flashback location I really liked, and a location change I really liked too. Also, any panel with the Thing in it. If I had one complaint about the annual, is that I wished the Thing was in it more. For a certain scene, I did get to design my own take on the Fantastic Four costume, and I think was stupidly happy with it! I got a tremendous amount of fan satisfaction from being able to do that.
Nrama: You’ve been tackling some high profile Marvel characters lately. What’s your next big project? Anything coming up at Marvel you can clue us in on?
Shalvey: Yeah the last Marvel project I was working on was Deadpool vs. Old Man Logan (which I wrote) and it's hard to get bigger than those two!
I have a creator-owned series called Injection that I'm due to return to later this year. Before then, I do have a project I'm currently drawing at a certain publisher, working on a character I'm a big fan of with a writer I'm a big fan of... It's really exciting but I think I'm pushing my luck even saying that much. I am doing some Marvel covers each month though, which I always enjoy.
Nrama: Is the Fantastic Four a corner of the Marvel Universe you’d like to return to at some point?
Shalvey: If I got to draw FF in the costume I designed, that would be the key in having me return...
Ha, it's strange, I never really had a strong urge to work in this corner of the Marvel U. But now that I've done a little, I could definitely see me returning someday. As I mentioned, I love the street characters of the Marvel U more than anything, along with the X-Men and Spidey. But it's hard to deny how the sci-fi elements of the Fantastic Four open up huge storytelling opportunities. Dammit.... Now I can't stop thinking about it!