On August 5, Shane Davis visited Ssalefish Comics to speak to fans and sign copies of his latest comic, “New Gods Special,” to celebrate the late Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday. I got the chance to chat with Shane Davis about Kirby’s life and his own personal work.
Sam Haw: Could you describe Jack Kirby’s work for someone who is not familiar with comic book culture?
Shane Davis: Well, if you’re familiar with the pop culture of anything from Captain America to Thor to Hulk or Darkseid from DC Comics, you pretty much are already looking at Kirby’s career. Kirby was a comic creator with Stan Lee on some of these, I think Joe Simon was the writer on Captain America. Kirby created a lot of the characters like the Fantastic Four, a lot of the Marvel universe in general. The way I remember it is pretty much everything except Spider Man and Doctor Strange, even the original X-Men was Kirby. Jack Kirby was the first artist to draw them, which ideally means he gave them their basic designs that we’ve built off all these years. Even when you see Thor’s design with the circle plates on his chest — that’s Kirby’s design.
SH: What inspired you to pay tribute to him with the New God Special?
SD: I had read his New God stuff in reprint, probably about ten or eleven years ago. I was familiar with his work, but his DC work, to me, was a little more obscure. I knew he had created Darkseid, and people had always told me New God was some of his better stuff. When I read it, I was really blown away by the scale of the New Gods and, I hate to use this term, but the Game-of-Thrones kingdom aspect that was laid out between Apokolips and New Genesis. I was really impressed with Orion in general, I thought there was so much to the character with his dual personality, being a son of Darkseid but actually raised by a peaceful planet. He’s always going be in conflict with himself, and I found it amazing that such a rich, diverse character was being written in DC. So, this started off originally as an Orion story, but with the additional cast in it, we decided to call it New Gods.
SH: How has Jack’s style influenced your art?
SD: The thing with Jack Kirby that I take from is the amount of energy he had in his panels. Well, a lot of people say it’s just his energy and his musculature builds, but it was really his action pacing and his ability to layer panels with extreme foreground, middleground, and background. A lot of that was revolutionary in the comic industry at the time. The number one thing he inspired in comics that we all use today is “foreshortening.” What that means is like when you have a figure and he’s dynamically lunging at you and his hand becomes bigger than his head, because it’s coming to the camera — those proportions and those dynamics really add to a 2-D image. He didn’t invent that, that’s a real thing in photography, but Kirby found out how to make that work in a comic medium. He really discovered a formula before anybody else did that helped us all get the most energy out of a comic book page.
SH: What initially drew you to illustrating comics as opposed to another art medium?
SD: Really just the storytelling aspect of it. I didn’t want to work in animation because you had to draw the same thing over and over again. Basically, I got into comics as a kid and then I just pursued it. I just liked the idea of left-to-right panel storytelling, taking four or five images and composing a beginning-to-end story. Pairing a limited amount of dialogue with choice images and making a fluid story. I like sudden moments with page turns, because then you can’t see forward in a comic. At any given moment you can see the past and the future within a page, so the reveal of information is a bit different than in cinema. Lately, I’ve been a cover artist which is a different type of technique of coming up with images that are appealing or iconic. This last year I’ve done about 24 covers for Deathstroke, an assassin character for DC comics. Sometimes I do have to tell the story within the cover, but most of the time it’s just an appealing image which is interesting to do it 24 times for one character. It’s a creative challenge, but sometimes covers do have a storytelling element that makes you flip open to the inside.
SH: What’s your opinion on the current state of Superhero blockbusters?
SD: I’m happy that the movies do well, I just hope it doesn’t become a fad that falls in time. Comics have kept these characters alive for years. It’s great that everybody’s turned on to them, and I think it’s ideally great all around. That being said, me, as a fan, can only take so many Spiderman or Batman films in my lifetime. I think the movie universe should be a bit more diverse, and I think the success of Wonder Woman attested to that. People seem receptive to new characters and new stories, not just another Superman story. At the same time, I don’t think it needs to be all superheroes. Guardians of the Galaxy is another one, they’re not superheroes, but they happen to need to save themselves and the universe. It’s more of a science-fiction property than a superhero property. I don’t like to stereotype these movies as “superhero movies,” although it’s easy branding recognition.
Shane Davis’ newest comic, “New God’s Special,” is out now.