Evan “Doc” Shaner is quickly becoming one of the most sought after names in comics. After his critically acclaimed collaboration at Dynamite with Jeff Parker and Jordie Bellaire, Flash Gordon, took off, both Marvel and DC have come calling (with Convergence: Shazam! and an issue of S.H.I.E.L.D. respectively) and his very clean, meticulous and vivid work has procured a following among readers all on its own.
While I originally aimed to sit down with Shaner at his table at HeroesCon and have a chat, his work load at the con was so intense (his sketch list filled up within minutes of the doors opening each day of the show), I didn’t feel right taking up his valuable time. Instead, Shaner was kind enough to follow up with my via email, the results of which you can see below:
What’s your earliest comic book memory?
I think the World Without a Superman trade was the first comic “book” I bought. I loved Batman and Spider-Man as a kid but I wasn’t really into comic books, or at least I didn’t go searching them out often. I loved newspaper comic strips, but I was completely happy seeing the superheroes on TV Saturday mornings.
Anyway, I think I was 8 when Doomsday and Superman killed each other, and they blew my mind. At the time I had no idea Superman and Batman knew each other, let alone that they were friends, so the issue with all the heroes dealing with Superman’s death was also crazy to me. That book and a few random issues of The Clone Saga are the only comic books I’d bought as a kid, and it was years before I really got into them.
Was the idea always: “I’m going to be a cartoonist”. Was there ever a plan B?
When I was in elementary school I used to write “I will be a syndicated cartoonist.” on the back of notebooks, 5-10 times a day. I did that because I’d read in some Charles Schulz biography that that was what he did when he was a kid. For a period in middle school/early high school I wanted to be a musician, but otherwise it’s been cartooning for me.
Were you pulling comics regularly in your formative years? Any specific series?
Like I said, I went into the local comic shop maybe once or twice when I was much younger. It just didn’t occur to me that it was a thing, where new comics were coming out every week.
After not really caring for a long period of time, I suddenly got back into comics in high school. My junior year, I think. At that point I think it was largely Marvel stuff. The X-Men are essentially what hooked me into superhero comics. I’d remembered the cartoon from the 90s and still thought Beast was great. So just about every X-Men book I could find. Hulk, Spider-Man, and Daredevil then too.
I’m sure exactly when I discovered his work. I know it was a slow burn for it to really latch on to me. You’ll hear it often, and especially with his stuff it seems, that it takes people a while to figure him out and then they’re 110% hooked on him. I must have been in college, probably my freshman or sophomore year. I remember picking up The Alex Toth Doodle Book that Jeff had put together with John Hitchcock, sort of because I was just picking up whatever new art books the shop had in that week, and that’s when he really got me. I took it with me everywhere, read it back to front several times. To this day he’s still one of my top three artists, and probably always will be.
Did you go to school for art or are you totally self-taught?
Yes and no. I’m sure most folks working would tell you about the same. I’d originally gone to school as a music major and switched gears pretty early on. I’d gotten a very basic art training, but most of what I know now I ended up learning after school. School gave me a great place to start but it wasn’t comics oriented at all, and that was all I wanted to do. So, rather, I learned about drawing in college, and I learned about drawing comics after college.
What was your first paying comics gig and how did it come about?
I think my first real published work was a short story in an Oni Press anthology. JAM! Tales from the World of Roller Derby, if I remember correctly. This would have been in maybe 2009? I’d been talking to James Lucas Jones about something else and he brought up the notion of drawing a short story for the book. Basically taking a short script and adapting it out into an 8-9 page story. My buddy Matt Kaufenberg colored it for me.
Your career is still in its earliest stages, and while your line has always been a beautiful one, to my eyes you seem to improve with every new project. Is it a matter of experience and changing your methods as you work?
Oh, yeah I suppose. That’s very kind of you to say, thank you. I do tend to look at the last thing I did pretty critically and try to see what can be done differently on the next gig. Like, I know exactly what I learned between Deadpool and Superman, looking at it now. Same for the shift between Superman and Flash Gordon, and then rolling into Shazam!. It often ends up being something in the inking. I imagine there are changes in the storytelling as well that I’m just not as aware of.
Jumping to your recent work, how did you find yourself paired with Jeff Parker and Jordie Bellaire?
That was all thanks to Nate Cosby. I’d known Jeff and Jordie for a while before Flash Gordon came about, but it was Nate who asked me about drawing Flash Gordon, knowing that Jeff would be writing it. And we tried to get Jordie from the start. I’d wanted to work with both of them for a long time so it was really the best of both worlds for me.
Was working on Flash Gordon one of those “dream come true” kind of characters, or did you find yourself having to do lots of research to get familiarized? He’s a bit of a famous, yet also somewhat obscured in recent popular culture character.
Yeah, it was a little of both. I was certainly aware of Flash Gordon, I’d always loved the Al Williamson stuff, but I don’t know that I could say I was a huge fan of the character. It was definitely the type of story I wanted to be doing, for sure. I bought up a bunch of the Alex Raymond collections right away and dove pretty deep into those. I used it as an excuse to finally see the movie too.
What was the toughest/most rewarding piece of design work you did in that set of issues?
Designing things was the hardest part of that whole gig! Absolutely rewarding, but every issue would have some long list of new things to design. Trying to retain some of Flash Gordon‘s history while making something new with our book was a huge challenge. At the moment, I remember a lot of the robots and ships being tough. I loved designing
all the Arborians, the different ways they all dressed. The animal people in the first arc were a lot of fun too. And as laborious as the Hawkpeople’s uniforms got, I really enjoyed those when it was finished. I wished I’d been able to do more with Ming’s uniform. In the old days that guy was changing clothes on every page!
Given that this same creative nucleus was reunited for the Shazam two-parter, I assume it’s safe to say that the chemistry between the three of you is strong. What makes this team click so well?
There seems to be a certain amount of understanding between the three of us, as to what we’re looking for from the others. I like drawing the kind of stories Jeff writes so well, and I like the way Jordie colors others’ work, especially the guys who draw similarly to me. I don’t know if I could tell you exactly what made it click here, just
lucky I guess!
Your work on Shazam! is easily the highlight of the entire Convergence event, and between the Marvel Family and the Gotham by Gaslight crew, you accomplish the seemingly unthinkable by bridging the work of artistic titans CC Beck and Mike Mignola. What was your working process to amalgamate the two into something so wholly yours?
Right off the bat I knew that trying to ape either one of them directly would be a mistake. A huge mistake. It would inevitably come off as stiff and lifeless, and make me look like I didn’t know what I was doing. So starting with all the Marvels I’d sketch a small head the way Beck drew them, and use that as the launching pad. I wouldn’t adhere strictly to what he did, but try to look at it through my own filter. These are all the same characters Beck drew, with largely the same details, but I’m drawing them as I would. Same with Mignola and the Gaslight characters. You see people ape him all the time and they tend to miss the point. When the two worlds meet, I basically just looked at my layouts and decided which parts would be decidedly Earth-S and which would be from the Gaslight world, and rendered them as such. Thankfully, it wasn’t too jarring to have them jammed together.
Do you have a particular favorite member of the Shazam! rogues gallery that you liked to illustrate more than the rest?
I couldn’t believe how much I liked drawing Mister Atom near the end, because I tend not to enjoy drawing robots all that much. He turned out to be a lot of fun, so I’m glad he was still around in the 2nd issue. Sivana, of course. Kull was a nice surprise too. I loved the way we revealed Mister Mind in issue 2. That was so much fun to draw.
Speaking of rogues, you completely re-envisioned Batman’s set of villains to match up with the Victorian theme of Gotham by Gaslight. Were there any strong influencers that drove the look of Joker and the gang?
Well, Joker’s in the original book. It seems like he went largely unnoticed because everybody thinks I designed him, but that was all Mignola. He has a headshot in the original Augustyn/Mignola book, and then I found a convention sketch Mignola did with Gaslight Batman and Joker standing next to each other, and that informed the rest of
Joker’s look. I love it.
The rest were largely a simple “Well if this character was in the Victorian era, unaware of their “modern” counterparts, how would they look?” Mister Freeze’s diving suit was fun. I’ve never been a huge Riddler fan but I loved drawing him here, with the bowler and thick black mask. Scarecrow was influenced by Dr. Syn, of course. Afterward I felt bad that Penguin pretty much just got facial hair, but it just seemed like I shouldn’t mess with him too much.
Between Flash Gordon, Superman, and Captain Marvel, you’ve touched on some of the brightest characters tonally in comics, what is it about the smiling hero archetype that draws you in?
If I’m going to spend a good deal of time with a character, I’d much rather it be a happy one, I suppose. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy stories with more serious or angry characters, but with these characters specifically, I just like that they’re making the most with what they’ve got. One of the things that turned me off Spider-Man as I
got older was that he seemed to spend all of his time feeling bad for himself. Again, I’m not saying these characters aren’t allowed a few bad days, but when a guy crack a mountain with his bare hands or fly straight through the sun, I love seeing them enjoy it.
Are there any hints about where we’ll see your work next? I know you have a Howard the Duck story coming up, but is there any further information you can share even vaguely? Might we ever see you doing some writing in the future?
At the moment all I can say for sure is the Howard the Duck issue of S.H.I.E.L.D. That’ll be #10, in September. It’s really a lot of fun, probably the most straight-up screwball thing I’ve ever done, and I’m having a blast working with Mark Waid on it. There’s stuff in the books afterward but none that I can talk about.
I would love to do some writing in the future. I’ve got ideas but we’ll see when I actually take the time to develop them.
Entertainment Editor for The Beat covering film, television and the occasional comic book. His work can also be found at GeekRex.com and can be heard on the GeekRex podcast. Also, your go-to Grant Morrison/Love & Rockets/Hellboy/Legion of Super-Heroes expert.