Prior to the release of Savage Town this September, I caught up with creator Declan Shalvey via e-mail to talk about the book, his previous work, his influences, and what he’s been reading lately.
Declan, thank you so much for your time. I am a big fan of your work. I read your run on Moon Knight, I read Injection monthly and I was really interested in your take on Nick Fury Jr. During Civil War 2. I am excited as your career continues in Comics. Today we are here to talk about your upcoming book from Image Comics, Savage Town.
Rogues Portal: I know you’ve worked a lot with Warren Ellis on books like Moon Knight and Injection. Have you taken anything of the way that he works with you on scripts and how you’ve worked with Phillip Barret on Savage Town?
Declan Shalvey: I think every writer I’ve worked with has had an effect on my writing, especially longer collaborations, like working with Warren. It’d be fair to say reading Warren’s scripts for the past three or so years has definitely helped me develop/refine my own approach to storytelling and pacing. I definitely know how I like to pace a story, but I think that specific approach comes across more in the work I write and draw. With Savage Town, I definitely wrote it to move at a certain pace, but I also know Phil’s approach too, so I tried to leave him room to integrate his own approach.
RP: Why was Image the perfect home for this project? I imagine an artist of your caliber has all sorts of publishers at your door begging for pitches they can publish.
DS: Ha, I must be missing all those e-mails! Seriously though, I had such an amazing experience working on Infection with Warren, that Image was the first and only place I really considered. I know it was a different book from what’s currently on the stands, but I thought that was all the more a reason to pitch it to Image. I knew what I wanted the book to be, I had a vision in mind. Another publisher may have wanted to be more involved or have their own decisions, that’s not something I was interested in for this book.
RP: What was the germ of an Idea that lead to you wanting to write Savage Town?
DS: There were a few different germs, really. I knew I wanted to do a set in Limerick one day. I also really wanted to do a crime book. After rewatching an Irish film called ‘The Snapper’ (based on a book by Roddy Doyle) I knew I really wanted to do a comic like that some day too. So, Savage Town is kind of a mixture of all those things. Limerick used to have a big gangland problem years ago, so I thought it would be an interesting way to take a Limerick-set book and make it into a crime comic, keeping the working-class feel of Roddy Doyle’s work. Story-wise, I decided to loosely based on the previously mentioned gangland problem, but using fictionalized characters.
RP: Along those lines, what made you decide not to draw Savage Town and take it on strictly as a writer?
DS: Well, writing is something I wanted to work at more outside of the odd short story I had done here and there. If I was to draw this story, I’d have to wait two years, before Injection ended and I just didn’t want to do that. I felt that since Injection had been going well, maybe Image would trust me enough to publish another project with my name attached, but with a different artist. Also, I had been a big fan of Phil’s for a long time. Phil has kept his comics work to self-published material and short stories. As a fan of Phil’s work, I really wanted to read a Philip Barret BOOK. I wanted to read a body of work all by Phil. Knowing that (what would become) Savage Town couldn’t be something I would have time to draw, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to work with another artist, and to give Phil room/the platform to do a longer-form project.
RP: A lot of the entertainment that comes out of the UK and becomes popular here in the US focuses on the people who inhabit the upper half of the socioeconomic bracket (I’m thinking Downton Abbey and even a crime show like Luther doesn’t deal much with people lower on the socioeconomic ladder). Savage Town doesn’t. In fact, it focuses on a city that seems to be on economic decline and the average people in the that city. It is very much like The Wire in that regard. What made you have to tell this story?
DS: Being honest, The Wire was a big inspiration. The way it humanized an underclass and made you care for a section of society that had been written off… I saw some societal parallels between Baltimore and Limerick. I wanted to write a book set in Ireland, and somehow make it about Ireland which is something David Simon and co did in telling a story set in Baltimore, but told a story about America. I wanted to make a book that showed the Ireland I saw outside my own window, both the good bits and the bad bits. Eventually, I realized that other people might be interested in that world too so decided to go for it. This is a book I very much wanted to read. It didn’t exist so I decided to make it.
RP: Jimmy Savage is the titular character in Savage Town and he’s a mob boss who is large but doesn’t come across as a Frank Soprano. He’s by no means a bumbling idiot, but he could very much be anyone. Why did you pick him to be the narrative that leads the reader through most of the story?
I already had a bit of a visual idea of him… I had an idea of a younger Brendan Gleeson kind of thing. In my research, it was clear the gangster of this time were not the smartest tools in the shed, as we say. They became nastier and nastier, but criminal masterminds they were not. For that reason, Jimmy had to be a reactive character, not a proactive one. Jimmy’s working his way up the criminal ladder, but he’s really failing upwards. I wanted to show that actions have consequences, and this one action ends up setting off a chain of events which force Jimmy into action to save his own skin. I think most of us in that situation would behave the same, and I think that’s a way of humanizing the character and giving the reader a way ‘in’ to the story.
RP: Switching gears a little bit. The movement you’ve started in comics, #artcred, has really sort of changed the way critics talk about art in comics. On the trade dress I’ve noticed you’ve listed the artist first. For the uninitiated, can you talk a little about this movement you’ve started?
DS: Well, I don’t know if it’s a ‘movement’ but hopefully it’s sparked some constructive conversation. Essentially #ArtCred was a hashtag I created on Twitter to discuss (or to illustrate examples of) how artist’s contributions to the medium are undervalued by fans, media, publishers, etc and how it hurt the medium and the creators. I have a more in-depth piece on it here if anyone is interested in the issue.
Since I was writing a project for once and was working with a publisher that wasn’t going to tell me what to do, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and credit Phil first on the cover. I’m credited first on the inside. Equals pequals. I have a good bit of exposure, I don’t need to sell my ‘name’. It was a lot of work to write and work on this book, but it was still WAY easier than drawing the whole thing. On top of that, so much of the story was influenced by Phil’s work, the story followed characters he added to scenes, he even came up with a whole sequence that became a really important scene in the book. Phil is the co-creator of Savage Town and deserves to be credited as such.
RP: As we wrap this interview up, do you want to tell the lovely folks at home what you’ve been reading or watching lately that you want to recommend to the masses?
DS: Wow, to be honest with you I’ve been so busy with this and Injection I’ve barely had anytime to see anything new! I’ve started Orphan Black, just watched all of the first season and really enjoyed it. Really liked Castlevania too, it was a treat to see such quintessential Warren Ellis dialogue come out of those characters’ mouths. Watched the Netflix documentary series The Keepers too, that was pretty messed up.
Reading wise it’s mainly comics for me, as they’re easier to find a few mins during the day to read. Month to month the current Hawkeye run is amazing, at the top of my reading pile, as well as Kill or be Killed and Royal City. Loving everything Ed Brisson is doing at Marvel. Eternal Empire, Nick Fury, The Wildstorm, Guardians of the Galaxy are newer books I’m really into. The new Mr. Miracle is fantastic as is (if I may) the new REDLANDS series for Image.
Savage Town will be out on the 12th of September. If you want to know more about Declan Shalvey, you can follow him on Twitter @declanshalvey or you can sign up to his Red Cube Studio Newsletter here!