For Declan Shalvey, art isn’t just about lines and following scripts. To him, it’s about composition, telling a story. From his work with Brian Wood (Northlanders, The Massive) to his recent acclaim with Venom and Thunderbolts, he’s the type of artist who asks us to demand more from our comic books. The type of creator who reminds us that comic books aren’t just funny books or frivolous fiction. Shalvey’s compositions are thoughtful, adrenaline pumping, and aesthetic; but ultimately, they show us what a powerhouse medium the comic book can be.
I caught up with Declan at this past C2E2 in Chicago, IL. He was nice enough to duck away from his booth for a few minutes so we could talk about the future of Venom, his art style, and what ultimately motivates him to create. Read on!
BRC: How is it working with Cullen Bunn on Venom? Do you feel like you have a lot of leeway and control in terms of the art in Venom?
Shalvey: Actually, yeah. I’ve worked with Jeff Parker before on Thunderbolts; and I was so new to Marvel at the time. So I just made sure to draw everything he wanted, which was just me trying to please him effectively. But when I started working with Cullen, both he and Marvel asked me to contribute a little bit more in light of some of my story telling decisions. It was actually a really nice call I got from them saying basically to not be afraid to put a little bit more in there. And Cullen, thankfully, said whatever I wanted to do, to just do it, to not feel beholden to his script. He prefers when people collaborate with him.
So, I came from a place where I was very cautious about not wanting to upset any writers to injecting more into the story. Especially in this the last issue of this arc, I actually didn’t know all of the dialogue like I normally would. So I got to play around with things a little more; I took an action scene and made changes to it in a way that I thought made more sense. It’s a lot more satisfying. I will definitely be trying to push things more with the scripts I get. Because it just makes the pages better. And it makes me more satisfied. Cullen’s actively encouraged me to do it.
BRC: Your art in Venom utilizes a wide range of perspectives in different scenes. Like, the scenes where Flash is alone in his apartment, a double amputee veteran in a wheel chair, the paneling and perspective is so spot on. One gets a great sense of loneliness. But at the same time, your actions scenes are blood-pumping and in-your-face. Does this range of perspectives come naturally to you? Or do you find yourself in a lot of trial and error?
Shalvey: Well, it comes pretty naturally. That scene you mentioned with Flash looking lonely, that’s very much my kind of storytelling. Sometimes my backgrounds and environments, they generally come about after I’ve worked out the story telling. So I figure out exactly what I want it to look like and I’ll try to sometimes find a reference to match that. I spent a bit of time though designing that apartment, because I wanted to make it wheel chair accessible. I based it on a place I used to live in New York in order to, once again, make it look like a slightly more lived in space; so I would know what it looked like.
But with the action stuff…to be honest the action stuff is kind of the easiest, because it’s so dynamic and flashy and in-your-face and the Symbiote’s just kind of going everywhere. You know it takes a while to draw, but it all comes pretty naturally to me.
A lot of the scenes where he’s just at home, you know, it’s just talking heads. Because he’s in a wheelchair so you’re not drawing the whole body all the time. It’s more about composition to me; I really try and think about composition. When a guy is alone in his room, you can actually play with space an awful lot and I like that. When things get more action orientated, you’re actually challenging where things go in the artwork. But I enjoy it all. I enjoy getting to do both.
I, uh, I hope I answered your question.
BRC: (Laughs) you did!
Now, I don’t know if you can answer this, but can you give Venom fans any indication of what’s to come in the future?
Shalvey: Yeah, well unfortunately issue #35 is my last and I’m moving on. But I do know what’s coming up. Issue #36 is a stand-alone issue in terms of what happens with the Toxin arc. I know that…I’m trying to think of what I can say…I know that Katy Kiernan is coming back. She’s going to come back to Philadelphia and she’s essentially going to try and find out who Venom is.
There’s also a new villain coming into the series. Essentially it gets a lot more street level. I think there’s a crime boss in Philadelphia and Venom is going to start annoying him, which is why I’m sad to leave because that’s very much the kind of stuff I like reading and drawing. Venom’s also under attack; everyone is always trying to find out more about him and he’s becomes kind of closed off. And…he may get help from an unexpected source.
BRC: Are there any other projects that people who know you from Venom would want to check out once your run was over?
Yea, there’s a few. Actually it’s funny I’ve been working with Brian Wood on and off for the last 3 years; and people who’ve read my work through Brian aren’t really aware of my Marvel work. And people who are aware of my Marvel work don’t really know about my work with Brian. With him I did three issues of Northlanders. I did three issues of Conan last year. And I just finished The Massive with my girlfriend Jordie Bellaire, which came out last week. And we’re doing a new book that’s going to be announced at the X-Men panel tomorrow. We’re both going to be coloring an already well-established Marvel book. I’m really excited about that because I really wanted to work with her for a while. She colors all the covers for Venom. She’s excellent.
So I’ve got two short stories I can’t talk about. But The Massive has been the most recent thing. I like working with Brian a lot. I hope to keep doing something with him.
BRC: Do you have a publisher for the short stories? Or can you not say?
Shalvey: Well I can’t say. But let me put it this way, it’s not Marvel Comics. It’s possibly another big publisher.
BRC: Do you have time to read comics still? A lot of folks in the industry don’t.
Shalvey: Yeah, that really annoys me. I’m absolutely stretched to the gills with lots of work. I’ve taken on too much and I’m trying to get a handle on it. So I can see how people get over worked and don’t read anymore.
Personally, I don’t see how you can be doing good work, new, interesting work, if you’re not keeping an eye on what’s happening right now. You know when Jerome Opena came around the scene, that’s your competition. I mean, I’m not saying I’m anywhere near as good as Jerome. But when Uncanny X-Force hit, you’ve got to keep in mind, that’s your competition. You’ve got to raise or gain. I buy Daredevil every month and I feel like crap, because Chris Samnee’s a beast. But it makes me try harder. If you just live in this bubble where you’re only working to what you make, your work is going to get very lackluster. There’s nothing pushing you to go further. I feel that’s where a lot of guys start to peter out and their work gets very redundant.
So to answer your question, I do read. I read a lot of comics. I read superheroes, sci-fi, Vertigo, Image…not really much DC stuff. It’s not really for me. I don’t like a lot of the stuff they’re doing, except for Vertigo.
So, there’s Daredevil, Winter Soldier, Captain Marvel, Superior Spider-Man, the Bendis X-Men stuff, All New X-Men, Uncanny X-men, has been really good. Avenger’s Arena has been great. You know, a lot of the Marvel Now! books have been really good. I mean, not all of them, but most of them. With the DC New 52 stuff, I would say…well, I guess it isn’t fair of me to say how much I think is good; but I would say that the percentage of Marvel Now! books…the creators were right and everything was right and—oh, man the Thor book! The Thor book is fantastic right now!
You know, I go to the comic shop and I generally buy stuff with art that I love. But there’s stuff where I’m not crazy about the art, I’ll buy that digitally.
But with Image, I read Revival, Nowhere Men, Manhattan Projects, Fatale, Comeback. Actually, my girlfriend works a lot of image books. So I end up reading those books too, which is great because we get comps. I read a lot of stuff my girlfriend does. I read Rocketeer from IDW. I wish I had more time to read Graphic Novels. But, you know, I find that I’m so busy I actually only have time to read a comic, like with a cup of tea or something. Then I’ve got to get back to work. So, I kind of work through my reading pile over a week. That’s even if I can get to the comic shops. Sometimes I can’t for like three weeks, and the pile just builds up.
If you’re a writer or an artist, it’s important for you to see what’s out there. That’s the level that you have to play at, you know? If you’re not pushing yourself, you’re going to go downhill.
BRC: It’s the apocalypse. The world has been overrun by zombies, or vampires, or…something. But you’re safe in a bunker with food and water to last forever. But you only have three books. What books do you have?
Shalvey: Okay… I would choose Batman: Year One, Nextwave, and Preacher. Although, I guess I should have some books in there…You know, I actually mainly read factual books. I don’t really read fiction in prose. Because as I start reading it, I start visualizing it as if I’m drawing it. Then I get totally distracted. My brain totally trips me up. I can’t do it anymore. I read loads of fiction in comics. But if I read an actual book, it’s generally a factual book or a biography or something. And if I was in a bunker I don’t think I’d want to be reading about the fall of the Berlin Wall over and over again. That would just get me down. So, I’ll just stick with my previous three choices.
Keep an eye out for the conclusion of the Toxin story arc in Venom #35! Also, look forward to Declan’s beautiful cover work for the highly anticipated BOOM! Robocop reboot. He’s also lending his talents to Marvel’s Deadpool as well as an American Vampire Anthology from Vertigo set to release in Summer.
Want more Declan? Or do you want to just see some awesome art? Check out his blog! http://dshalv.blogspot.com/