Working with writer J. Michael Straczynski, artist Shane Davis introduced readers to a whole new take on Superman last year with the hugely successful graphic novel, Superman: Earth One.
Although the project was originally announced as a series of books, the future of the format hinged on that first volume. But the release of the graphic novel was such a success that Co-Publisher Dan DiDio told Newsarama the bookstore market is something the publisher is exploring for other DC characters.
"I think the success of Superman: Earth One shows that particular types of stories work well in particular markets. And they can embrace it," DiDio said. "When you see something original like this break as big as it did, it encourages you to do more original projects in this fashion."
Now, Straczynski and Davis are working on the second volume of Superman: Earth One, and they've both practically walked away from monthly comics to dedicate time to this new format.
For Davis, the experience brought him a lot of media and fan attention. Some long-time fans questioned the way he revamped the traditional image of Superman, but the new readers being targeted by bookstore sales flocked toward his younger, updated Clark Kent.
As he starts on the second volume, Newsarama talked with Davis to ask what he thought of the reaction to Superman: Earth One, and what we'll see next in the series.
Davis: I wasn't surprised that people said, hey, this is a good quality story, or the way it was orchestrated or what not. That really didn't surprise me because of course they're reading the script, drawing it and seeing it in multiple stages. And what probably did surprise me is people that wanted to call it "hoodie Superman," and stuff like that, considering the character was only wearing a hood in two pages. I think that surprised me the most because, I don't know. I've always been a firm believer that judging a book by its cover is just such a common, thrown-around phrase that people don't really do that. And then it's very surprising when you actually see people really do that.
And it's weird, a lot of people are like, "Oh, he's scrawny." It's like, he's 21. He's about 200 to 205 pounds. I don't think that's scrawny for a 21-year-old male. But it seemed like people are very quick to just copy and paste one thing and really that was surprising.
But I was surprised by the sell-out. That was surprising, on a different level. I went we've gone to our third or fourth printing now. So that surprises me a little bit because, being in a recession, especially, I was worried about somebody buying a $20 book. That's kind of scary during a recession. So the sales kind of surprised me, only because of the recession. I thought people were getting a good value for the price, but you still wonder how people will handle their comic budgeting. You know?
Nrama: Sure, but do you think that this reached people outside the regular comics reading audience? Because it seems the format may have attracted a whole new audience.
Davis: Well, that's what I hoped for, going into it. I hope that's the case. I know some places, I was signing copies for nurses and doctors and stuff like that, that were wanting it for themselves. And maybe one out of, I don't know, like 10 people were saying, “This is a gift for my son for Christmas,” or something like that. I've seen it a lot at the Barnes and Nobles and other bookstores, so that's a different audience from regular Superman comics. People are ordering pretty heavy on it, and that's great. How that sustains, especially with more graphic novels continuing, remains to be seen. I really hope it finds its home with the newer audience, because that's really who I wanted to reach.
That was my goal: to reach new readers. I wanted to try to do the character justice, as far as re-envisioning him for today's audience.
But at the same time, I’m kind of surprised how cynical some older Superman fans were of the book. You would think I took away their normal Superman comic book or something. One of the interesting things that a fan had this big debate with me about was, “Where's Lex Luther?” And I’m like, “Well, Lex Luther isn't going to be in the book.” And he's like, “Well, why not? There's always got to be a Lex Luther.” So it's weird when you see those expected stereotypes come at you before the book's even done or printed. And then I kind of knew those people weren't going to be happy.
Nrama: Shane, let's switch gears and talk about the fact that both you and JMS are basically stepping away from monthly comics. I know you still do covers, but you're putting your efforts into this new format for DC characters. You knew going into the project that this may be your job for a long commitment?
Davis: Yeah. There was always talk about it. I wanted to do it. At the same time, I would be lying if I said I don't miss being able to go in the comic shop every month on a run of five months in a row or six months in a row and pick up a book of mine. So it's kind of bittersweet being on my side of the fence of it. But I’m a supporter of this new format.
Nrama: Are there new challenges with this format for you as an artist?
Davis: Definitely. If you're doing the graphic novel correctly, it's more like doing a full-length movie, and you have to oversee the whole project as one huge book and approach it that way. Whereas, if I was doing single issues, it's more like a TV show, where I could kind of reset every 20 or 22 pages. With comics I’m able to reset a little bit in the way I draw a page. Or I don't have to worry about making sure every splash page is different, or every page is sorted uniquely, because I get to reset every 20.
Here, I can only reset when I get to Volume 2 or Volume 3. And as a storyteller, that can be kind of draining, because trying to keep things fresh and dynamic, being able to reset like that, it's a big asset.
Even after I finished the first volume and it was a success, I didn't really know if I was doing Volume 2, because it hadn't been talked about until I saw it online one day announced. So I’m kind of – that kind of shocked me a little bit. I mean, it had been talked about, but I didn't know it was actually rolling forward that quick.
Nrama: Are you working on the second volume already?
Davis: Yes. I’m working on it now. I know where the story's going.
Nrama: Are you approaching the second volume in a different way? Or is it more of a direct continuation of what you did in the first volume?
Davis: It's weird because it is a direct continuation, but at the same time, it's kind of not, because what I have now is I have the Daily Planet Clark Kent. That's really not what I had in Volume 1. Daily Planet Clark Kent didn't step into being until the very end of the book. So in its way, I kind of a have a new character that I’m focusing on, but with a lot of the same supporting cast.
Nrama: Is there anything you can tell us about the story?
Davis: I can tell you that there is going to be a classic Superman villain. And I've worked on some new designs for that, so I’m kind of stoked about that, and I hope fans will be pleased.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything you want to tell fans about your work on Superman: Earth One?
Davis: Just thanks, and that I hope they like what I'm doing for the next one. I could never have expected the attention we've gotten for the first volume -- all the press. But the real test of its success, I think, isn't today's news. It's going to be the longevity of it – five years, 10 years from now. That's where I, myself, plan to judge the success of this, is where is it 10 years from now? That's my goal in the graphic novel -- not the quick sale, but the long-term sale. The long-term viability of it. So that's where, being the co-creator – my goals are set on that.
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