Last week, “Moon Knight” #1 from Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire arrived to universal acclaim, including our very positive review that noted – in particular – the strength of the art. In this book, Shalvey and Bellaire have paired up to do career best work, and you can see it on every page and panel how much this opportunity means to them. Shalvey, for one, has never been the first artist on a Marvel book before now, and it’s clear that he’s giving his all in making this book all it can be visually.
We reached out to Shalvey for Artist Alley to talk about his experience on the book, while exploring some of our favorite pages with him, getting the artist’s commentary on the first issue. It’s a great read for comic fans, particularly art-centric ones, and we really appreciate Shalvey chatting with us. Take a look, and if you didn’t read the issue yet, don’t read this – read the comic! That is your task for the day.
Also, take a look at the bottom of the interview for a look at Shalvey’s rough layouts for the book. It’s a special treat for those curious as to how he works on an issue.
In a recent interview, Warren said he’s been throwing you and Jordie some serious visual curveballs on the book. So tell me, how have you been surviving what he throws at you, and how do you feel the experience has been so far?
DS: The curveballs haven’t been life-threatening…. so far. In truth, everything Warren’s thrown at me totally keeps me on my toes and stops me from getting too comfortable. Once I feel like I’m getting the hang of it, he hands me something insane that I have to somehow make sense of. He comes up with these wonderful concepts that make me excited to try and develop and it always results in more interesting drawings on the page. Each issue has a new challenge and I feel like each challenge has made me a better artist.
When we last talked about Moon Knight in specific, you hadn’t really started work on interiors yet for the first issue, but now you’re at least a couple issues in with one completed in full. I know you, Warren and Jordie are working together quite closely to cultivate the look and feel of this book. Can you walk us through how the three of you have in bringing an issue to life? Is there anything that stands out as particularly different from other projects you’ve worked on?
Actually, at the moment, I’m well into issue 4, and Jordie’s colouring issue 2, so I very much feel like we’ve developed a proper working ‘flow’ for lack of a better word.
DS: Well, working with Warren has been a great experience I have to admit. I’ve worked more closely with Warren at this stage, as I’ve been working on the pages and building the look of the character and the book also. Jordie has only recently gotten involved in the colouring stage, but we already have an established way of working together. Normally, I’m more pressed for time and just let Jordie do as she pleases but I think that since I had the proper time to develop the book I feel a lot more involved with this series. With Moon Knight, I have a more clear idea of what I’m looking for so have had more suggestions for Jordie. Other than that though, Jordie’s adding her usual irritating brilliance to it. Warren’s pretty much let us do our thing. He seems to like to plant some specific visual seeds and let us work from there.
This issue has a very cinematic feel to it and a driving pace, and I think the heavy usage of wide horizontal panels throughout help push both of those feelings in me. On top of that, it felt like the pages almost had a base layout that you established – there were I think five pages that had 5 or 6 of those similar sized horizontal panels like in this one – that the other layouts worked off of. First off, am I crazy in that last regard? Second off, when it comes to laying out the pages, how much of that comes from you and how much comes from Warren?Continued below
DS: You sir, are not crazy. I was trying for a more cinematic feel for sure. I wanted to be a bit more restrained him my storytelling, which left more room for stylistic choices, I feel. I had previously been compelled to add some spectacle to the storytelling in my superhero work, but with this series I wanted to try something different. I have the opinion that horizontal panels force the reader to read in a very deliberate way; you can slowly lead the reader through the story at a deliberate pace and in the specific direction you want them to take. There’s no broken panels, no diagonal gutters, no overlapping panels, etc to distract from the storytelling. All those techniques are great when used correctly, but I made the decision not to do that on this book, unless I really, really felt they were necessary. I’ve had that approach in Venom and Deadpool before, but I wanted to push it more here in Moon Knight. If there was a panel that needed more space/scope/attention, then I would break things open a bit but otherwise I tried to give each panel the same amount of space, and keep the pace of the storytelling fixed at a certain rate. There’s a climactic page later in the issue where the approach is totally different, and I think it’s effect is more powerful because of the pace we established during most of the issue. There’s a splash page in there too that has the same effect, I feel.
Warren did ask specifically for horizontal panels in the title page, but that was all. It was my decision to have the horizontal approach be the default approach for this series. I think the title page fits into the overall story nicely without calling too much attention to itself as a result.
This third page I thought was really amazing, and another part that shows off how unique and – not to overuse this term – cinematic this issue really is. This page, especially in concert with the last one, was almost like the credits reel at the beginning of a film. Is this an element you’re looking to repeat in the book, as a consistent introduction to these one-and-done stories that you’re telling in this book? For you, what do you feel that a page like this adds to both the book as a storytelling device and as something that sets it apart from other titles?
DS: We refer to this as the ‘Title Page’. It’s all Warren’s idea of course; each issue has a title page somewhere in the issue; consisting of three panels, along with the series title. I think it does invoke a kind of ‘cinematic’ feel; that’s very much what I felt when I read the script, though it’s not like we’re trying to make comics into movies here, to me it’s just a different way of telling a story. I really like the title pages as while they could be completely superfluous and a waste of valuable storytelling real-estate, they do a great job of letting you know ‘This is Moon Knight’. It sets the tone and the pace in a really interesting way. I also try something different compositionally with these by deliberately NOT using symmetrical compositions. With the title page, I always try and load the bulk of the composition to the left, like the composition of the Moon Knight crescent. It’s something only I know, but feel it helps make the series more distinguishable.
I really like the hugely different looks and feels to each of the three non-title panels on this page, and it underlines the diversity in your art. The first panel has a computer interface like look, the second is a pretty straightforward, hand drawn one (albeit with a focus that is unlike what you’d normally see in a comic), and the third has a more raw, painterly feel to it with some splatter and wash elements worked in. Can you walk me through what you were going for on this page and in those specific panels? Was that something you decided you wanted to do going in, or did it come together as you started working on the page?Continued below
DS: The shots are always specifically called by Warren I should say, so I can’t really claim any credit in this regard, but I do enjoy the opportunity to space to play with another storytelling element. They are 3 panels that out of context seem to be completely unrelated, but it all comes together in retrospect.
Panel 1 was originally meant to be a map of Manhattan with a skyline superimposed. I decided to hand-draw the map; then the skyline became more integrated. It was actually Jordie who decided to make it an actual computer screen. Another example of a choice Jordie made that makes the page more interesting.
Panel 2, I was just asked for a shot of Moon Knight holding a crescent dart, but we didn’t want to properly reveal him for another couple of pages.
The black bar is for the MOON KNIGHT title.
Panel 3 is a shot of the victim in this issue. Horrible, without being too graphic.
I only approach these issue by issue, but now with a few under my belt, I realised that with every title page; Page 1 is a city shot of some kind; Panel 2 is a shot of Moon Knight himself, Panel 3 is an image that refers specifically to the story. The title page has a specific format that adapts to each story. Another stroke of genius by Warren.
This is one of my favorite pages in the issue, and I love the way the camera zooms further in with each passing panel, peeling a layer back each time and driving us and Moon Knight underneath NYC. It’s a really fantastic visual device that you don’t see in comics very often, and works really well in combination with the horizontal panel structure. What was the process for developing this page, and what you feel like that slow zoom in adds to the experience of reading the page?
DS: It’s weird; that page has gone down really well, and in a way it’s one of the most restrained pages. I’d been talking to Warren about how much I like Wes Anderson movies; how he uses a lot of symmetry in his compositions, and how he moves the camera. I guess that was in my mind at the time, and I felt moving closer and closer to Moon Knight from that opening panel, to where we lose him again, once I worked that out in the layouts I thought it worked really well as a sequence. I think it also helps with what happens i the following page.
It’s very un-spectacular, just a deliberately paced way of moving the scene along. When MK delivers that last line, we’ve stopped moving towards him, but he’s started moving away from us.
When it comes to the development of a story, I know you create rough layouts to start with, but for a page like this, do you work through a number of options with different camera angles and panel progressions, or do you stay to your layouts pretty closely from the start?
DS: In some cases, sure, you end up redoing scenes completely, or maybe just tweaking things here and there. As far as I can recall; this sequence just popped into my head straight away. One thing I didn’t plan was how Chris Eliopoulos managed to fit the narration the composition and not have to use lettering balloons. Really helps the book stand apart.
This page was a killer, and I love how you actually walked us through Moon Knight traveling to the home of the killer he is pursuing, while also giving us an inside look at what exactly is happening underneath New York City. It’s an exceptional layout, and I love following Marc down into this world. Can you talk about the composition of this page, and how this sans traditional panel page stands out as a page of storytelling, visually?
DS: Again; this was all Warren’s idea. it was the one page where he was very specific about what he wanted to see. I don’t like to be art-directed to death, but I have enough respect for Warren’s ideas that I did what I could to illustrate what he wanted. There’s a big difference between telling an artist what to do, and telling an artist what you’re trying to accomplish and Warren is definitely the latter.Continued below
Warren asked for that vertical panel going over the horizontal panels. I think it helped that I employed the horizontal panels so much that the vertical panel stood out and really pulled your attention. I felt that between the horizontal panels, a normal sized gutters wouldn’t work; it would just read like a normal page, so I decided to make the gutters of the panel really thick; to emphasis the depth that Moon Knight goes down. I had white gutters originally; Jordie thought it would work better if the gutters were black, and she was right. The transition also allows the reader to get the sense they’ve gone REALLY deep, and not just literally the scale of that first panel. It’s an interesting in sequential storytelling, and I’m delighted with how it came out. Definitely one of my favourite pages. All the levels of washes on that last panel were a bitch though.
The real question that has to be ask about this page, and the tough one that no one else will have the guts to ask, is do those bums really have to be cooking a cat?! I’m pretty sure there’s nothing else you could have done to better convey the dark place those gentlemen were at right then.
DS: Ha! Funnily enough in the script, Warren said that everyone would expect that he would write it so it would be a dog they’re cooking. Or a baby. So, we went with cat.
This isn’t something that speaks directly to your work, but can you talk about what you feel Jordie brings to this book, especially in bringing the best out of your own work? I love the colors on this page, especially with the clear separation of each level and section, and how they make each level’s differences resonate so greatly.
DS: That’s a fair question, but a difficult one to answer. I’ve seen Jordie work on so many amazing artists, and she always elevates their work. I’m sure I’ve mentioned to you previously how I but extra effort into these pages so that I didn’t have to rely on Jordie so much, but she still managed to improve the pages dramatically. Many people have been really nice in saying they’d wish Marvel printed the series in black and white. I’m very flattered by that (and it would be cool) but I always saw the pages as unfinished until Jordie worked her magic on them.
I think Jordie’s strength has always been her colour choices. Anyone who’s tried colouring knows how hard it can be to just DECIDE on a colour, but Jordie has always made great choices I that regard, no matter what book she works on. She’s not afraid to use a bold colour where needed; she tells a story with colour, and she knows how to enhance artwork without overwhelming it, which is a problem a lot of colourist have.
With Moon Knight, she’s done a great job of balancing the white/design element I wanted, and a lived in, atmospheric environment. That’s a lot harder to do than you might imagine; using white the way I want can cause havoc with a page, but she always makes it work. She’s not afraid to make her own decisions and the best lesson I’ve learned to embrace her idea as they always lead to more interesting results. We butt heads sometimes, but overall it leads to the work being punched up more, which is what you want in a collaborator. With Moon Knight, I’ve been a little bit more ambitious with what I’d like with colour, and Jordie’s been the one to find a way to make it happen, make it work, and change things where needed. I’d never let anyone else do that.
This page is amazing, and there are a number of things that stand out about it. I’ll start with the center six panels, and their set up as parallel timelines for Moon Knight and his nemesis for this issue. They do a phenomenal job of acting as both a pulse pounding action sequence, but also as a underline to the point that Moon Knight is a bit of a badass, and the usage of the panels from a timing standpoint really makes that work. Can you talk about those panels, and how you like to generally utilize paneling as a tool for timing and delivery of a story?Continued below
DS: Well, there were a few more panels in this page than others, so I thought I should go with a grid. Warren had specifically called for small panels, which I understand as the action in this issue isn’t big and bombastic. If anything it’s very understated (I love that MK doesn’t even throw a punch in this issue) and making the action smaller works better.
My only problem was that I really wanted that first panel to be letterbox. I wanted the reader to go from the lettering, to the soldier’s desperate eyes, to the gun in a very specific way. I also wanted to make the last panel a wide panel and lead the eye from the defeated soldier, to the crescent dart, to MK. In the script this was a 7 paneled page, so with 2 wide panels that left me with a grid of 5? Wasn’t going to work stacking them in tiers of two. I looked again at the sequence and realised it’d work really well to add another reaction panel of MK preparing himself for the shot, and I could stack the soldier’s actions on the left and keep MK’s on the right. It was really satisfying when it all came together. I love how Jordie coloured it too; with that intense red, and the gunshot itself looks gorgeous.
The other thing that really stands out about this page is the really excellent balance it has from a layout standpoint. The almost roman numeral of two layout and usage of negative space makes each of the panels – especially the top and the bottom – stand out all the more, and the six panels in the center almost feel representative of the chambers in the gun Marc’s enemy is holding. I’m probably reading into that latter point too much, but for you, what does the negative space bring to this page, and how do you think it aids the flow of it overall?
DS: Well, I explained how I worked out the overall layout but yeah, that ‘numeral’ aspect…. I felt the grid in the middle had too much space in the page. I felt smaller panels really would work best and I had also made the decision to embrace the colour white on this book, so just trimmed them off on either side of the page and used the negative space to my advantage. I feel like while the panels are small; they’re immediate, and the negative space pushes them right up against each other. From a storytelling perspective, it was a very satisfying page, as I had to make some creative decisions and felt it made the page better.
This is like a nightmare unleashed for Marc, and I love the way the art pairs with the lettering, visually telling the story on the same line that the words are taking you in. It’s almost a visual way to take you down the drain of life with Marc. Splash pages like this can sometimes suffer without any real sense of flow to them, but this one really excels in that regard. For you, how do you bridge the need to create a rousing, powerful image on a splash and still fit it into the flow of the story, and when it comes to integrating lettering into a page like this, do you know where it will be ahead of time, or is that something that gets fit in later?
DS: This was actually the most drastic thing I did, this was originally a 3-panel page, not a splash page. As a sequence, it read great, but I felt like something was missing. Having been given the bad news at the end of the previous page, I really wanted to pull the rug out from underneath Marc. I wanted to really push that sense of falling; that the ground was literally crumbling beneath his feet. I also wanted Khonshu to be REALLY dominating, and while I could have done that in a panel, I thought it would work moreso if he dominated the entire page. The entire motion of the storytelling pulls you down the page, and the lettering helps with that too. I would never push for a page to be a splash page just for the hell of it; I just felt that since this is the page where Marc is losing his mind, and we have no splashes in the book that this would be a great use of a splash page. By using it here, we get to make this sequence all the more powerful and disorientating.Continued below
One thing I really love about this page is the raw power pouring off of Khonshu in the really rough, thick inks on the right side of the page. I’m assuming that’s a you thing and not a Jordie thing, but what do feel accentuations like that bring to the page? They’re subtle enough you could miss it, but its enough that it gives a lot of weight to Khonshu’s figure for me.
DS: I can take credit for that; I tried to have the ink effect fire out from behind him, like sunlight, but thick and black. I tied to get the bottom of the cowl to simulate that effect; it all points back up to Khonshu in that hood. I think because I was able to make him so towering and imposing, I also gave myself the space to use some inkwork to make him even more intense.