Shane Davis is no stranger to drawing Superman, but with Superman: Earth One, it's a whole new take.
Announced today as all-new, ongoing stories presented as book-size tales rather than single-issue magazine length stories, DC's Earth One universe is the publisher's effort to give a modern take on iconic characters that will be accessible to a new audience. This new format and out-of-current continuity story will presumably offer a fresh retelling of the characters origin stories, set in a modern era with a more updated type of storytelling.
Davis will draw Superman: Earth One by writer J. Michael Straczynski, while Geoff Johns and Gary Frank will reunite for Batman: Earth One.
Davis, who rose to prominence at DC with his work on Superman/Batman and Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns, is already working on Straczynski's Superman story for a release sometime in 2010.
Newsarama talked to Davis about his work on the story and why he was unsure at first that he was the right artist for the job.
Newsarama: Shane, how did you get involved in the Superman: Earth One project, and what did you think of it when you first heard about it?
Shane Davis: It was pretty intimidating when [DCU Executive Editor] Dan [DiDio] first talked to me about it. His amount of faith in me scared me when he first talked to me about this. I knew this was a really important story, and I was really intimidated by it. I honestly wasn't sure I was the right person for it.
I even said to Dan, you've probably got somebody else who can do this better than me. Whatever I'm doing, there's somebody there who can do it better than me. But Dan thought I was the guy for it. And I fought that, even trying to get them to let me do a different project. I mean, this scared me a lot. I think that's understandable.
Then I thought to myself long and hard for a couple of days, and I read the first 38 pages of the script, and I it dawned on me that I probably am the guy for this, simply because I'm in awe of the project. I'm the right guy because the character's going to come before my ego and myself. And that probably is why I am the best candidate for it.
So rather than talking to Newsarama saying I'm going to do this awesome artwork, I just want everyone to know I wasn't sure if I could do this project justice and I had to think long and hard about even doing it. But that's why I'm the right person to do it. The project means a lot to me, and I want to make sure my artwork lives up to it.
Nrama: You've drawn Superman before in Superman/Batman. The last time we talked, when you were doing Justice League of America, you had said your next project was "returning home" to a character you'd done before. I assume you meant this project?
Davis: I do feel like I'm returning home with Superman, but in a brand new way. But yeah, I knew about it then and was already working on it. It's a graphic novel, so I've been drawing the graphic novel for months now. It's a bit of an experiment, but the way the story is handled is like a novel. So, for example, Page 22 isn't a big splash page cliffhanger. So it's a little different for me, but it's also something that really makes sense for this type of story.
Nrama: How did the process begin for you? Did you dive right in, since you already had drawn the Superman characters before?
Davis: No, I came up with a lot of design stuff first. I wanted to give this version of Superman a lot of attention, and the whole supporting cast too, and give them all a modern look because it's set in modern times.
Nrama: So it doesn't fit with past continuity? It's starting from scratch in current times?
Davis: It's set completely outside current continuity. It's a modern take on Superman's origin, but with respect to that story that already exists. It starts out with Clark, and him leaving Smallville and going to the big city, but Metropolis is a city of today. So even though he still has the story of working at the Daily Planet, it's like a modern newspaper, and the characters speak in modern voices and deal with modern situations. And the design had to match that tone.
Nrama: Were you familiar with Straczynski's writing before?
Davis: Yeah, I was. I read Rising Stars, and some of his Marvel stuff, and his Fantastic Four. His Silver Surfer: Requiem was one of my favorites, and his Thor stuff was awesome. But this story, what he's telling about Clark Kent, is just incredible. Honestly, I have fallen in love with this story. And I fell in love by Page 8. Maybe it's because I'm reading his writing and not the story through a comic book filter, but this is some mind-blowing stuff. I mean, this is his A-game. I've never read anything he's written this well before.
I don't know how else to say it. I can tell it's JMS, but it's kind of like when somebody just kind of opens it up, you know? Like, somebody's running, and then all of the sudden they just turn it all on. Like they're not worried about burning it out, but just throw it all in there. Maybe it's because it's a graphic novel, and so he can really concentrate his effort into the best story. But what I've read, I would call the best I've ever read from him.
It's pretty emotional. What I see and what I'm seeing as a visual is straight-up telling a good story. If we were doing this straight in a monthly magazine, it would probably be different. The fact that it's being written as a graphic novel means we can handle the storytelling differently than if we were doing 25-page installments. We don't have to show a superhero in the first couple issues. We don't have to show these big, powerful shots in every issue of Clark stopping a car from hitting somebody or something. We're able to build to those points, like a movie does. We're just focusing on telling the story the right way.
Nrama: You've done a lot of different comics, from the horror and emotion of "Rage of the Red Lanterns" to the blockbuster action of Superman/Batman. How would you describe this project?
Davis: It's an emotional story, but it's a story that will reach you on more than one level. It handles the idea of becoming who you are. Or who you're supposed to be. We've all had to do that. Or maybe there are people who read this who are at that point in their life, where you're figuring out who you are. So it should be emotional to everybody.
Clark Kent is figuring out who he is. We all know who he's supposed to be, but the way Straczynski is writing this, it's like you feel what Clark is going through in a whole different way and you see the choices he's making.
I couldn't even compare it to another comic, really. I think about novels I've read that are coming-of-age stories, or not even coming-of-age, really, but just those emotional stories that you've read. For me, when I read this, I was thinking about what it was like when I left home. I was originally from North Carolina; I was a country kid. I grew up with cows and horses and stuff. And then I moved to New Jersey to go to art school and I've lived here ever since. So I identified with what it's like to walk away from one life to another. You walk away, and then you look back, but you never actually go back. And we do see Clark's flashbacks to Smallville. But it's one of those things where you can look back and revisit, but emotionally and even on a basic level, you can never return home.
And then there are other life things in the story that I can't really talk about. But you'll say to yourself, wow, I know how that feels; that's very emotional and that's hard. You'll find yourself saying, yeah, I've dealt with that.
And that was part of why I thought, OK, maybe I really am the right guy to draw this story.
Nrama: You really connected with the story?
Davis: Exactly. I felt a real connection to this story. There were just so many moments that I understood at a very basic, emotional level. I immediately started thinnking, well how could I lay this out? What shots would convey the emotions he's feeling and that I'm feeling with him?
And Straczynski's stuff is pretty emotional based, when you really think about it. His Fantastic Four stuff isn't about how hard The Thing can punch Hulk. Sometimes it's about an alien life form and the right to live, or the Silver Surfer dealing with death. That's been one thing about his writing that I'd always liked. I always knew I would love to do something with this guy. And that emotional level is in this story too, where it's really focusing on whether or not a decision is the right decision.
I've always thought that, and I'm not judging any one artist, but I'm not sure sometimes that a comic book artist is the best guy for that type of story. When you're dealing with that type of storytelling in comics, you really have to hit those shots with good compositions. You're not drawing people punching and kicking, and you're not drawing to achieve great action shots. In a story like this, your artistic chops are going to land on what you know about different camera compositions and settings.
Nrama: How to evoke a certain feeling?
Davis: Yeah. Compositions that might make you feel alone. Or compositions that might make you feel claustrophobic. Stuff like that. So with a story like this, it's not going to be served well by the guy who can draw 50 million superheroes or robots together and make them look cool. It's not what this story is about.
Nrama: Have you always been a Superman fan?
Davis: I have always liked Superman; I liked him even as a kid. Like I always had a choice of Peter Pan Peanut Butter or Superman Peanut Butter, and I was always getting my mom to buy Superman Peanut Butter. [laughs] And I actually think the Peter Pan tastes better, but I was like, no, gotta have Superman.
One of my favorite things about Superman is the whole Lois Lane thing. I've always like the love triangle. I have this philosophy of what Clark Kent visually represents and what Superman visually represents.
Nrama: What is that theory?
Davis: Well, it's going to sound crazy when I say it. It's kind of weird. [laughs] I don't know if I want to share it.
Nrama: You're drawing Superman now. You have to!
Davis: Well, I feel like Superman and what he looks like to everybody is what he feels the world wants him to be. Clark Kent isn't the fake one. Superman's the fake. We all have these expectations of people, and we even fulfill what other people expect. Like you're going to wear your hair the way you think people expect you to be. The way people see you. You're going to wear clothes, not so much what you like, but clothes you think other people will accept you in. If you're a teenage girl, you're going to wear eyeliner because your friends think it's cool. If you're in a business, you're going to wear business attire that people will expect.
Superman is a symbol. Clark is the real character. Clark is the real Clark Kent. Superman is what he wants people to see him as. I mean, that's my opinion of what he is represents visually.
And that's why I bring up the triangle, because Lois is attracted to that. And it makes it more interesting when you think about the visual images as it relates to the triangle. I just always find it fascinating.
I told you it was weird.
Nrama: It doesn't sound that weird. But you said earlier that you're drawing him in a whole new way. What did you mean?
Davis: Well, first of all there's his age. That's different. And just his visual presence is different, particularly in the beginning of this story, because he's in a different place in his life. But there's also little things like his hair is different, and there's just a different play on his look. And it's also different for me because for most of the story, he doesn't even have on his costume. For the story, it makes it really important when he really does put it on. So part of it is that I've made a few tweaks, but it's also about just drawing him in this type of situation, in this part of his life. That's why I said it's a whole new way.
Nrama: Even with those changes, though, when you're drawing him, is it important to keep in mind Superman's iconic image?
Davis: Of course. Every element of him when he's Superman is important. You know, I saw this guy online one time who said he didn't understand why Superman had a cape. And I just disagreed with him completely. I mean, at first the cape was a motion tool. It was a storytelling device. Back then, you needed something to show the movement of Superman, and the cape portrayed that to readers of this new medium.
I still use the cape for movement somewhat. Like in the Superman/Batman story I did, he was underwater for a scene, and I would draw the cape to show that maybe he had been moving through water and had stopped, but the cape was still catching up to him. So you can use the cape that way. It's a great motion tool.
But it's also an attitude tool. It goes hand in hand with him being Superman. People treat it as just a part of the costume, but there's a lot you can do to enhance your figures. You always think of a classic king image. A king has a cape that's touching the floor. And if you play it right, you can really pull all those shapes and lines up into his chest, where he has this giant symbol. And you can really make that character seem so bold and rich, you know? Which he is. If there was a king of the superheroes, it would be Superman. So artistically, that's my major concern when I draw Superman. I can handle the figure, I know where the cape's going, but there is more that you can say with that image and the meaning behind where he is and what he's doing and the visual of his character.
Nrama: You know, from the beginning you made it sound like you're assigning a real importance to this project. Why do you think it has that level of importance?
Davis: If you care about comics and you care about the property of the character of Superman, you realize how important something like this is. I mean, I see children being born every day and I see the new audience that we can reach out to with a story like this. If you think about this new generation, you realize they deserve the same opportunity to read about this character that we had. They should have the ability to pick up a story and have access to Superman and feel excitement and awe about the character in a comic book story.
I think the format we're choosing makes sense for this generation. And the storytelling we're using is a modern type of storytelling. Storytelling is different to them. Films are different today. Stories have evolved. It's a historical fact. I mean, going back to Shakespeare plays or seeing Japanese movies and then even looking at the way comic books have evolved -- that's the noble aspect of this, that if you respect this property, but make it more modern and make him an easily accessible character, it can make a real difference. And that's why it's important.
Plus, like I said, I really do feel this is Straczynski's best work. So I just feel honored to be a part of it, and I can promise everyone that I'm approaching it in a way that will be respectful of this character and a way that will do him justice, and also do the story justice.