Eventually this year, readers will be treated to a new Shadowman series. This new series will steer more into the realm of horror than past Shadowman comics, a natural fit for the supernatural hero. Having read an advance copy, I can say that the first issue is everything I want out of a Shadowman comic. Recently, I had the chance to speak with series artist Jon Davis-Hunt about this new direction for the character, his influences, and the craft of making comics.
Jon Davis-Hunt: I had always been a huge comics fan, right from a very young age, when I first discovered the Marvel UK imprint, here in England. Right through school and art college, I always wanted to be a comic book artist, but I really had no idea how to get into the industry – over here in the UK, the comic book industry is fairly small and so it seemed such a mysterious world to get into.
After University, I ended up working in video-games, (which was still brilliant fun) but as the years went by, the dream of one day working in comics never abated. I finally decided to put together a portfolio and I went along to a few comic conventions in London. I met Matt Smith (the editor of 2000AD) and he gave me my first gig. Over the course of the next few years, Matt was good enough to give me a fairly continuous stream of scripts to work on and so I continued to draw comics part time (basically every evening and weekend), while still working full time as a video game designer.
Eventually, my work caught the eye of Shelly Bond, (who was the then Senior Editor at Vertigo) and she gave me my first US gig in 2016, working on Clean Room with Gail Simone. That was the point where I decided to quit video-games and try and make it full time as an artist.
CB: Who or what has influenced your style over time?
Davis-Hunt: I’ve had a lot of ‘favourite’ artists over the years. Growing up, I used to love an artist called Geoff Senior (who worked on a lot of the Marvel UK Transformers comics). I was also hugely into Marc Silvestri when he was on X-Men and then Jim Lee who followed him. Growing up, I was also a big Bryan Hitch fan.
But probably the two biggest influences on my style and indeed, my two favourite artists of all time are Katsuhiro Otomo and Frank Quietly. I absolutely adore their work. I love their attention to detail but also the way they both understand form and space so well.
I’m also a huge fan of French and Belgium comic books and they have definitely had a big effect on my style, particularly in regards to their layouts and also the level of detail they bring to their environments, which are often scrupulously rendered.
CB: What brought you to Shadowman?
Davis-Hunt: Heather Antos (my editor at Valiant) reached out to me in regards to working on a new book, just as I was coming to the end of my run on The Wild Storm. I had wanted to work on a Valiant book for some time, as I had been a big fan of the quality of their books. When she told me it would be a relaunch of Shadowman, I jumped at the chance.
CB: Do you have to change your approach in going from a sci-fi book to a horror title?
Davis-Hunt: There are a few changes I have made to my approach as opposed to my last run on The Wild Storm. Obviously, with Shadowman, there are going to be a considerably larger amount of shadows on the page, so I have altered my inking style slightly. But probably, the biggest change is the approach to pacing. I feel, that with a horror book, it’s really important you convey that sense of tension and foreboding, that you get with all good horror films and so I try to really think about how the movement of time and the reaction of characters works across the panels on a page and in particular, when you get that page turn, into a big reveal.
CB: Valiant was kind enough to share a working copy of the first issue with me, and there are some gnarly visuals in those pages. This may be blunt, but how do you think that stuff up?
Davis-Hunt: Ha, thank you – the secret is really, lots and lots of doodling. Cullen will usually include a very basic description in the script, usually something along the lines of ‘It’s like X, crossed with Y that is also part Z’. That gives me an initial starting point, and then I tend to just play around with forms and shapes, on a scrap of paper, until I get something that looks interesting, or that conveys the kind of ‘personality’ of the monster I’m after.
I work closely with my wife (who is also a designer) and she will do a lot of research into all types of gross and weird insects, sea creatures, or bacteria and then we will kind of ‘stick bits together’ until we come up with something that looks both suitably terrifying and (hopefully) somewhat original. I loved the movie The Thing and I’ve always been a big fan of that kind of icky, body horror stuff when it comes to horror movies, so I try to inject some of that into each creature too. Its basically a process of constant iteration. My wife and I will just try out loads of ideas until we come up with something we think looks kind of cool and hopefully, terrifying.
CB: Shadowman is often identified with New Orleans. What about the city are you looking to capture or convey through your art?
Davis-Hunt: In this run, we only actually start off in New Orleans in the first issue. After that, we are off on a kind of ‘global tour of horror’. However, what I have tried to do with New Orleans (and indeed, every locale in the book) is really pay attention to the geographic and architectural details. I’m lucky in that I enjoy drawing backgrounds as much as I enjoy drawing characters, so this book has been extremely fun, as every issue I get to draw on the unique visuals for each location.
CB: Do you have a ritual/routine for when you sit down and start drawing? What does that entail?
Davis-Hunt: So I always try to start work early. I’m normally up and drawing between 8 – 9 in the morning and I try to stay as focused as possible right the way through till lunch, as that means the pressure is off for the afternoon. There is nothing worse than reaching 2 o’clock in the afternoon and still having a whole page to draw! I tend to rough out my page for that day, the night before, as I find getting straight into drawing is easier in the morning, rather than sitting and staring at a blank page. If I’m doing thumbs or roughs, I’ll listen to music (as I keep having to refer to the script) but if I’m actually inking, then I tend to have Netflix on and I’ll rinse a series in a day or two. I normally finish at around 6, though, often I’ll work later if the page isn’t finished. And that’s basically my routine. Drawing comics and watching Netflix. It’s awesome! 🙂
CB: What about this series are you most excited about?
Davis-Hunt: As an artist, the fact that we have a new locale and a new monster every issue is awesome! It makes it incredibly good fun to draw. I also really like the way that Cullen is using each issue to tell a different kind of horror story – we kind of hit every sub-genre of horror through the first few arcs. I think it gives the book a really unique feel. In addition, although the horror is front and centre, Cullen has injected a fair amount of action into every issue too, so it still feels like a ‘superhero’ book. I think that’s probably the most exciting thing about it, how it really melds the two genres together.
CB: Is there a Valiant character not currently appearing in Shadowman that you’d like a crack at drawing?
Davis-Hunt: It would probably have to be Ninjak. I was a kid in the late 80’s/early 90’s so ninjas were a big part of my pop-culture growing up.
CB: As a videogame industry veteran, you might be best equipped to answer this: what videogame does Shadowman play to unwind from a night of fighting monsters?
Davis-Hunt: Oooh, that’s a good question. You’d imagine he would enjoy something like Diablo 3 or The Witcher 3 as it involves killing monsters, but I think, the perfect game would be Overwatch, as I could see him and Baron Samedi having a continuous competition over who was best. I reckon Shadowman would main as Genji, whereas Samedi’s main would be Tracer (because she is so annoying!).