Jan 12, 2013

TVS EXCLUSIVE: q&a with declan shalvey

As Venom kicks off 2013, I was lucky enough  to email back and forth with Venom artist Declan Shalvey.  He was nice enough to take the time to answer some questions exclusively for our little community of Venom fans!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with our little Venom community. I know before you got the Venom gig, you were working on other Marvel titles. How familiar were you with Venom and symbiotes before you were the artist of Venom?

My pleasure! Yes, previous to VENOM, I was working on THUNDERBOLTS with Jeff Parker and Kev Walker. Really proud of the run we did on that book, but was really happy to get to offer of working on Venom. I was VERY familiar with Venom and the other symbiotes before I joined the series. I treasure the VENOM: Lethal Protector graphic novel I bought when I was a kid. When I got into Spidey, I had just missed Maximum Carnage and I remember really wanting to know what happened in that story; but comics weren't readily available where I lived in Ireland, so I couldn't hunt it down and find out. I loved the Venom storyline in the Spidey animated series too; that dream sequence were the symbiote and the Spidey costume fight over Peter Parker was excellent and really left an impression on me. I have some very, very bad symbiote fan art in some drawers back home, believe me.

Saying that, I lost track of Venom while it was attached to Mac Gargan. It was this series by Rick Remender and Tony Moore that got be back into Venom, as I just thought the idea of him being attached to Flash was a really interesting one.

Venom has had numerous artists since the series began in 2011. How to do you visually approach drawing Agent Venom or Carnage (in Minimum Carnage) to give the character your style and feel? Were there any other artists that influenced the look of your symbiote characters?

Well, my starting point is Mark Bagley. You may not think it from looking at my work, but I was a HUGE Mark Bagley fan when I was a kid. I loved how he drew Spidey, Venom, Carnage, etc, and when anyone else drew them, I remember being disappointed. Saying that, I think a lot of artists over the years have pushed what you can do with Venom, visually. I liked what Leinil Yu did with a couple of Venom covers I've seen, and how he drew symbiotes in a New Avengers arc. James Harren has some fantastic symbiote sketches on his website that i use for inspiration too. However, I think Tom Fowler's issues of Venom was absolute knockout stuff. I think Tom really knew how to draw the hell out of Venom, especially in this current incarnation, and his work really helped me figure out how I was going to draw Venom, which was a very intimidating prospect. Really like how Kev Walker drew him in his two issues and also how Matteo Scalera drew him in Secret Avengers. Those are my touchstones, a mix of old-school and contemporary, and from there I try and build my own look.

I'm not too familiar with the artistic side of creating a comic book. Could you give us a quick rundown of what happens after you receive a script from Cullen? Are there specific details outlined or are you free to create the characters and backgrounds as you interpret the writer's notes? How long does it take to ink an issue?

Sure. Well, it's a fairly recent partnership with Cullen, and each issue gets more and more 'symbiotic', if you will. Generally, I get a full script from Cullen (like a screenplay in film terms) saying what happens in each panel in each page. From there, I spend a couple of days working on layouts. This is where I make all the storytelling decisions like 'what is the focus of the page', the 'flow' of the page, work out interesting compositions, etc. I also work out logistical problems, like the geography of a room, or where characters are positioned, building up research, making sure the reader will be able to follow the story, etc. It's where all the mental brainpower comes into it and it can be quite stressful. It's this stage where I might decide to tweak the storytelling a little form Cullen's script, or add a panel here and there, etc. The more I work with Cullen, the more I've seen how open he is to collaborating on the series. More than that, he actively encourages it, so I'm starting to add more and more stuff of my own.

Once all that is done, I'll lightbox my small layouts to the Marvel artboard. Takes at least 2 weeks to pencil the issue, which is all the technical drawing; constructing figures, working out perspective, etc. Then comes the inking, which is my favourite part of the process. I love inking. one of the appealing things about taking on Venom was that I knew it would be fun to illustrate symbiotes, especially with my inking style. It takes about the same amount of time to ink a page as it does to pencil it. With layouts, pencils and inks, it takes between 4-6 weeks to illustrate a whole comic. Add another week or so for it to be coloured by Lee Loughridge and lettered by Joe Caramagna.

As a Venom fan who frequents Philadelphia a lot, I am extremely excited to see your interpretation of The City of Brotherly Love! You mentioned before that you utilized Google Earth to get a feel of the city. Do you plan to make the city as real as possible or will it have a Marvel twist to it? Can we expect to see famous landmarks, buildings, etc.?

My take on Philly will be as grounded as possible. With Flash being the only superhero in Philly, I think it's best to keep it as realistic as possible, making him all the more prominent. I spent a couple of days looking up the history of Philadelphia (I'm also a huge fan of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and worked out where Flash's neighborhood was. The fist 2 issues are specifically set in that area, as Flash is unfamiliar with the city. As the series progresses, he'll get more familiar and explore the city more. I don't really want to shoehorn-in landmarks in a distracting way, but as long as it makes sense story-wise, I'm more than happy to have Flash interact with more well-known areas of the city. I don't want to pull anyone out of the story with distracting landmarks, but I would like to have some in the background to further inform the story.

I wish I had the money/time to go to Philadelphia and take lots of reference. I was recently in Philadelphia ......airport, where I had a Philly Cheese Steak, so hopefully that's helped me with my interpretation of Philly in Venom.

You began illustrating Venom on Rick Remender's last issue (#22). Since then you've been drawing every other arc (Minimum Carnage #26 & #27 and 'The Toxin Arc' #31-#35). Are there any plans to be the full-time Venom artist?

Yes, Rick's final issue was my first and it's still one of my favourite pieces of work. I think it's one of the best comics I've produced and it's mainly down to the amazing, intense script that Rick wrote.
Unfortunately it's just not humanly possible to be the full-time artist on Venom. The book double ships a few months of the year, so you end up having 16 or 18 issues in a year, but no artist can draw that quickly (not without dramatically reducing the quality of the artwork). If the series has 12 issues a year, which is the usual standard, then I could be the full-time artist which is what I would love to be.

What i am happier about though, is that with this upcoming Toxin arc, is that it's 5 issues instead of 2 or 3, so I feel myself and Cullen have more room to tell a better, longer-form story. My plan is to draw the majority of the Venom issues in the coming year, being the 'main' artist. I hope we can work out the schedule to accommodate that for 2013. I think myself, Lee and Joe make a great-looking comic, and with the great stories Cullen has coming up, I'd love to do a good, solid run on the series. All credit to editor Tom Brennan for making it happen.

Fan Questions:
From Carlos Sanchez: What do you find most interesting about Agent Venom that makes you want to draw him?

When I met Cullen at NYCC I told him that very thing; which is that I find that Flash's relationship with the symbiote is much more compelling than any previous Host. I know that will anger Eddie Brock fans out there, but Eddie/Venom's motivation was revenge. That's it. Flash however NEEDS the symbiote to walk. He already had huge dependence issues regarding alcohol, which he's dealing with, but now he has another drug; the Venom symbiote, and without it, he's completely stuck in a wheelchair. I find that idea very, very interesting and that's what keeps me interested in the character. In order to explore that, I told Cullen i really didn't want to have the artificial legs that the Secret Avengers gave him.That muddies the water a bit with the Flash/Venom relationship. Even though that means I have to draw Flash in a wheelchair all the time, which is hard to draw, it ultimately means that the symbiote is that much more important to him. Also, Flash is a flawed character who is really, really trying to be a better man, and I have a weak spot for those type of characters. I think we can all relate to that. In a much more superficial approach, I just think Venom looks cool and is really fun to draw! I've drawn a few pages of Venom in action on the city streets and think they're some of the best pages I've ever drawn because I enjoy them so much.

Orion Petitclerc wants to know: What's your take on drawing just the symbiotes themselves? Like if you looked between the classic depictions of the symbiote acting alone, the Spider-Man Animated Series (90's) symbiote, and the Spider-Man 3 symbiote, what is your style for the symbiote?

It's trickier to draw the symbiote than you'd think. Some draw it like it's sharp and scratchy, some like it's globby and gooey, etc. I love the Spidey animated series, but I think the symbiote animation wasn't the best (aside from that dream sequence). I like the oilyness of the movie symbiote, but as I recall it kinda lacked form and character (saying that; I haven't seen Spidey 3 since the cinema.... bad memories). I try and strike a healthy balance between all interpretations to get the best of all worlds. With the different symbiotes though, I will try different though. Carnage was more textured, slick black and had long sharp tendrils. Toxin will have long, vein-like tendrils that bubble off him, but won't be slick-black. If I get to draw other symbitoes in the series I will rty and do something different with each one. Venom however, is the Daddy of all these symbiotes, so that symbiote is the most versatile one to draw. It can be all the above and more.

The most popular fan questions seem to revolve around Toxin. I am sure you are sworn to secrecy, but is there anything Toxin related you can share?
Spidergeek 2000 asks: What can we expect with the new Toxin design?

As mentioned above, I'm drawing Toxin in a way where the symbiote is very vein-y. Cullen and I decided that the 'spahetti-monster' look was too much and wanted to pull thinks back a bit. Not back as far as the original Toxin, as ...well ...I just think it looks silly. The original Toxin to me, looks like a symbiote wearing no trousers! One thing to keep in mind is that the Hulk-Venom look was never associated with Eddie. When Eddie was Venom, he was big and powerful (since Eddie was a bodybuilder) but he wasn't huge and monstrous til Mac Gargan had the symbiote. I'm keeping that in mind when drawing Eddie/Toxin. Thinking old-school Venom, with a nuttier-looking symbiote.
Jared Marn asks: How strictly do you have to follow past artist when designing your take on characters you haven't drawn before? 
I imagined the "spaghetti monster" version of toxin was to show his uncontrolled rawness. When Eddie gains control are there plans to show any signs of that in his over all look?
I'd agree with that. The spaghetti-monster version was a cut-loose version of the symbiote. Now, Flash and Toxin have a more symbiotic (pun intended) relationship due to their mutual hatred of Venom and you will see a much more stable interpretation of Toxin in the upcoming arc. To answer your first question, the degree to which I want to follow past artists is completely up to me. Marvel hire artists as they want to see the take that artist has on a character, so they've never told me to change something (I'm sure thy would if I did something TOO crazy though). As far as I'm concerned, I'm doing my own thing, but that comes from all the influences I previously mentioned.
Lee Michael Burns asks: Can we expect a more consistent look for toxin as even when pat was toxin the look seem to change a lot from page to page?
Definitely :)

Declan also did some promo art exclusively for TheVenomSite - Hasn't been seen anywhere else!

He also sent me a double-page splash (from Venom #27) in 3 stages; Layouts, Pencils and Inks:

Thanks again Declan for taking the time to answer our questions and give us a sneak peek into whats to come.