After making his presence in the comic book industry felt in a big way on a run with Warren Ellis on Moon Knight, Declan Shaley moved over to creator-owned with the writer. They set off on a series more complex and less marketable than one about a white-caped crusader, to great results. I spoke to Shalvey about the wonderfully bizarre series, focusing on his collaboration with Ellis and the transition from superheroes to the surreal.
Featured image by John Cullen. All other art by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire.
Over a year into your collaboration, is it intimidating working with someone who has such a pedigree in the business as Warren Ellis?
Originally, it was VERY intimidating. It was about two years ago when we were starting to develop MOON KNIGHT, and I was definitely more insecure about working about such a creative giant like Warren. I had worked with many great writers, but I grew up reading Warren’s work, and I have the mental scars to prove it.
We got into a pretty smooth groove while working on MOON KNIGHT though. Marvel editorial pretty much stepped aside and let us do what we want, which was hugely liberating so when the opportunity to do something else with Warren and have even more creative control over it was just a natural progression. We’re both very comfortable with how we make comics together.
How would you describe your relationship?
Is there a way of saying ‘intense sexual tension’ in one word…?
Seriously though, it’s one of respect, certainly on my end. I can’t speak for Warren but he’s always taken my thoughts on board with INJECTION and never cuts me off at the knees. I trust him to write the most interesting story he can can and I feel he trusts me to draw it in the most interesting way I can. He’s a busy guy though, so I try not to bother him unless it’s something important.
Out of you and Warren Ellis, you’re the more available one, more active on social media and more often interviewed. Does that change the dynamic at all?
In a way, yeah. Generally with press and social media stuff the writer gets more inquiries and the artist is glossed over. Because Warren hides away in his Thames Dela bunker most of the time, I’m more available as you say. Being aware of how unbalanced, I made a conscious decision to step up when it came to things like that, especially with INJECTION as we don’t have a company IP backing us up… this book is a new thing of our own creation, so if I have to pimp it more, I’ll bloody do it. It is a little refreshing to be the focus these days but it really kills productivity.
How big of a leap was it going from working on an established character to something brand new?
In a lot of ways nothing was different at all; Warren, Jordie and myself all knew how to work together, and both Warren and Jordie had worked with Fonograkis before, so it was all smooth on that front. It was still a BIG jump for me in a lot of ways… unlike the rest of the team I had never done anything creator owned. There was a long gestation period, I spent a lot of time thinking about cover design, how to draw the characters, how to draw the book itself even. I also had to get my head around the profile I had post-MOON KNIGHT. I was used to being fairly invisible, but MOON KNIGHT was so well-received that I felt a lot of pressure with what was going to follow, especially with it being creator owned.
Most pages are around four panels, a relatively low number. How do you think the extra space compensates for less story beats?
It’s something Warren and I played with a little on MOON KNIGHT… using more horizontal panels in a deliberate attempt to restrain the pace of the story. We pushed it more in INJECTION VOL 1 to create a bigger scope; a greater sense of scale and atmosphere. I wanted a page from the book to be identifiable as a page from INJECTION and I believe that approach helped the book stand out.
We’ve decided to switch things up a little with VOL 2, the focus of the book shifts to Vivek Headland, and I wanted the storytelling to shift accordingly.
Fonografiks is one of the most acclaimed letterers/designers in the industry. What does he add to the project?
Fonografiks is the secret weapon in this book. His lettering is excellent, but he helps brand a book with an identity, which I feel you really NEED to do, especially on a creator owned book. He takes the time to really think about what works and what doesn’t work. He takes care to make a book the best version it can be. I like to think I’ve a good eye for appreciating graphic design, but that doesn’t necessarily make me a good designer. What I love about working with Fonografiks is that I can come to him with an idea, and he’ll take that idea and make it way, way better. He just makes the comics he works on the most beautiful books on the stands, and that skill cannot be under-rated.
Did you illustrate the book with his style of “captions” in mind?
Well, I knew we’d be doing something else with the captions… he needed the artwork in order to decide what he wanted exactly. I had something different in my head, but what he came up with was interesting, so I trusted his approach. There’s no point working with the best, be it Warren, Jordie or Fonografis, if you’re not willing to take their ideas on board. It more than likely will make the book better.
Does your close relationship with Jordie Bellaire have an impact on the art you’re creating?
Jordie and I have worked together a lot so I’m sure that affects the work. The fact that she’s in the room with me means that she actually gets to see the pages as they’re being made, so sometimes will make suggestions and come up with ideas that affect how I approach the them.
Again, because we share a studio sometimes it leads to more heated debates, but it always makes the work more interesting. I’m always willing to hear her out. I may not agree with her sometimes, but it’s always better to hear what she thinks as it 95% of the time makes the work better. There are tools she’s used colouring my work that I’d never let another colourist do, but she always had a great argument and I trust her implicitly.
Same with how she colours; she always asks what I’m thinking in a scene before she starts colouring. Also, she’s especially generous with my nitpicky notes… she cuts me a lot of slack in that regard.
You continue to do covers for Marvel books. Is keeping a foothold at the Big Two more of a concern or a desire?
More of a desire. From a careerist point of view, it makes sense to be seen on mainstream books, even if it’s just a cover here and there. To be honest though, since INJECTION is my absolute focus, it can be very overwhelming especially with all the darkness in the story. Taking a break to do a GROOT or SPIDER-MAN 2099 cover for example, is a nice break from that and an opportunity to flex different muscles. Dipping my toe in work-for-hire covers keeps my enthusiasm up for my creator owned work. Hell, every other person on INJECTION has at least 5 other projects… I might as well have something on the side :)
You’ve been a big proponent for increased artist credit in comics. Since you started advocating for it, have you seen any changes, positive or negative?
I have seen some changes, I think just by pointing it out to people, more people are aware and have started to see lots and lots of examples. Once you notice it, it’s impossible to stop seeing how endemic it is. On the positive side, I think more people have checked themselves, especially in the comics media. Thankfully it doesn’t have to be ME all the time which is nice as frankly, it can be bloody exhausting.
However, all the many many reasons the tide has turned to the detriment of artists, most of them still apply and it’s going to take time to change them. The first step is making people aware. I hope that a lot more people are aware now and that it’s the start of a shift in the comics zeitgeist. I’ve seen some changes, but it’s way too early to tell if they’ll stick or progress.