Talking Classical Comics with Declan Shalvey

A comics interview article by: Jim Miers

Classical Comics is doing something a little bit different that its US counterparts. Instead of publishing comics about super heroes, Classical Comics is turning classic literature from Shakespeare, Jane Eyre, Bram Stoker, and others into graphic novels. Also, they are releasing student and teaching aids so the titles can be thoroughly studied and understood, if in a somewhat unconventional manner.

Recently, I was given the honor of interviewing Declan Shalvey on his forthcoming project, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, by Classical Comics, being released this month.

Jim Meiers: Declan, I thoroughly enjoyed your rendition of Mary Shelley's "monster,” but I've just got to ask why Frankenstein? Why revisit something that has been done so many times?

Declan Shalvey: Well, has it really been done many times? I know the 'Frankenstein' idea has been used in many forms, like the Wachowski's Doc Frankenstein, etc, but to actually take the original book and faithfully illustrate it all as a graphic novel? I don't think it's been done as often as you'd think, if at all. I can't claim credit for the idea however, as it was a U.K. company called Classical Comics. They're adapting a lot of classic literature into graphic novel format, mostly Shakespeare up to this point, but now along with Frankenstein, they're releasing Dracula, Jane Eyre, and books form other authors. Classical Comics' editor-in-chief, Clive Bryant hired me for the job over a year ago. I was attracted to the project because, well, it's Frankenstein; one of the most iconic horror stories. How could I say no? Also, as daunting a project as it was, I was really happy to be working on such a dark and moody book, yet it being such a classic story, it would still appeal to a young audience, which is Classical Comics' aim; to promote literacy to kids and young adults through comics.

Thanks a lot for your comments on my take on the Monster by the way. Glad you like it. To be fair, it wasn't really 'fresh', just more faithful than previous versions. Everyone accepts the Karloff version now, but the description of the monster in the original book is very different from the modern, popular version we're all accustomed to. The monster in the book is a 'monster' of creation, ie, not natural, but when he comes to life he is a blank slate; like a newborn child. He is very much a victim of circumstance, as you say. Although he is made of various parts, the person he is, or will become, is very much decided on how he is treated by the world he doesn't understand. I do think that still rings true with kids and teens as it did back then. Everyone remembers feeling like the world was a big strange place that didn't understand them. I think that's why something like The X-Men became so popular too. It rings true now just as it did back then.

JM: I've heard that characters like Harry Potter get kids into reading, but I've always found comics to be more of a means for storytelling and getting kids into literacy. Graphic storytelling is more of a total immersion experience and was much easier to suspend disbelief. It was easier for me to actually put myself into.

DS: I'd agree with you. Kids read Harry Potter, which is all well and fine, but it seems to be just Harry Potter and then won't read anything else. When I was a kid I would read any kind of comic I could find, whatever the genre. Now you could argue that I was reading comics and not books, but comics are a medium; not a genre. The fact remains I was reading and continued to read. A kid will be attracted to the imagery and then become involved with the story and language. Looking at a page from a book can be pretty intimidating with all that text!

JM: Are there any more projects that Classical Comics will be producing that you'll be involved with?

DS: Well, since you've asked, I can actually announce that I'm about to start a new book with Classical Comics. It's an adaptation of the book 'The String Of Pearls', or is better known as Sweeney Todd. I'm in the middle of preparatory work at the moment so should be starting very soon. I'm really looking forward to getting my hands bloody with it, so to speak. Sorry ...I couldn't resist the pun!

JM: Nice one. Do you see this as being an increasing trend in the comics industry, or do you see it going in another direction?

DS: Using comics to promote literacy? Well I'd hope comics would do so anyway, regardless of 'trends'. Trends in comics are pointless, I mean, when is all this zombie stuff gonna end? But still, taking the approach to get comics in kids’ hands is an admirable goal. Man, I’ve said 'kids' like 20 times now.

JM: I guess I'm still going on the stereotype that comics are for kids because that's when I started reading them. Anyway, here's the big question. I want you to really think big...What would be your dream project?

DS: Ah, it's time for the geeky questions is it? Well allow me to give you some really geeky answers!

My dream project would be if Sean Phillips quit Criminal and Ed Brubaker got me to draw it! I love, love that book. I love the characterization, the plots, the language, etc. Better yet, if there was a spinoff book I could draw; that way I could draw a Criminal book, and still read the great book that's already out there. I would have loved to do a Punisher arc while Garth Ennis was writing it too. I do have ambitions to write and draw my own original graphic novels someday, rather than create say, an ongoing series of books on one character, like Hellboy for example, but I need to hone my craft as a writer first. I'd love a career like David Lapham, where you can do a run on a character, then go and do your own project, then back again. I've made no secret that I’m a huge Batman fan, and would maim, maybe even kill, to do that book. Equally so Daredevil. Daredevil is a crime book posing as a superhero book, and I love it for that.

JM: What set of characters would you start playing with, or would you create your own characters?

DS: That second question is a very hard one to answer, as there have been so many interpretations of all those characters. In fact, I think it would be very bold of me to say what I would do over what is being done with them already, save that I would try and concentrate on the development of characters. Saying that, it's really hard to do that with characters that have existed for 40/50 years. How about we see what happens if I ever get to tackle those characters, eh? Here's a tease; The X-Men get new, pink uniforms!

JM: Cool. I can definitely say that this has been quite a pleasure. I think I have enough material for my interview column. Any final words that you have to input?

DS: Ah thanks very much, the pleasure was all mine. Well...Mostly mine.

Well if you'll allow me a bit off self promotion, I'd like to ask people to check out a short story I did for this year's Tripwire annual, obviously the Frankenstein graphic novel and a one shot comic called Tim Skinner: Total Scumbag that'll be out later this year. Tim Skinner is a hilarious full-colour comic that parodies a lot of mainstream comics, written by Andy Winter, following on from our Eagle Award win last year. You can see preview pages on my blog.

You can check out more of Declan’s work on the following projects…

Hero Killers

His first published work which won an Eagle Award in the UK in 2007.

Blood Psi

Ruby's a Blood Psi – a vampire with psychic abilities that could have made her one of the
most powerful creatures on earth.

Septic Island

In the ’70s and ’80s, Jacob Marley was MI5’s most feared and revered agent. But he turned his back on Queen and country to pursue a more peaceful existence. Now, 15 years later and with his life collapsing around him, Marley has returned to find that the world of British espionage is more dangerous and treacherous than ever before.

Declan's blog with labels to Frankenstein-related posts

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