Declan Shalvey’s brief but acclaimed run on Moon Knight renewed interest in an obscure hero by reimagining him as a stark force of nature in a crisp suit. Since that eye-opening effort, the artist has embarked on his first creator-owned project. Proving that if it ain’t broke it don’t need fixing, Shalvey again joins prolific colorist Jordie Belaire and writer Warren Ellis for a gripping and thoroughly strange comic experience.
Injection is a techno-gothic thriller riddled with impending doom. When a group of specialists from disparate fields—hacker, spy, wizard, etc.—are charged with predicting the future of innovation, what they create may spell the end of everything. It’s a slow-smoldering story in a comic landscape in love with explosions. Between Ellis’ talk of folkloric creatures and Shalvey and Belaire’s ominous scene-setting, the reader falls hip-deep in the quicksand before the creators tell you you’re sinking. But patience is rewarded, and after a few disorienting issues, the oddity converges to a single plot twist that opens the world up to gobs of unfettered monstrosity.
We caught up with Shalvey recently at New York Comic Con to discuss Injection’s future and the art of weird comics.
Paste: Injection wrapped up its first arc, and it’s pretty weird.
Declan Shalvey: It is a weird book. Moon Knight’s a very weird book, but I think because people to some degree were aware of what Moon Knight was, it was easier. I was a little worried starting Injection because we don’t have any identifiable characters. It’s easy to take a known concept and make it weird, but with Injection the only brand we had was the creative team.
Paste: How does Injection compare to Moon Knight?
Shalvey: It’s a very different type of storytelling, it’s a lot slower. It’s not Moon Knight 2. What I wanted to do with Warren was something more longform. When you watch Breaking Bad, not every single episode blows you out of the water because it’s a story that builds and builds. I think it’s harder to do that in comics because you’re waiting month-to-month. Having gotten to issue five now, where the first chunk of story is finished, I think anybody who reads the first volume is going to be hooked.
Injection #6 Cover Art by Declan Shalvey
Paste: Yeah, it’s a pretty slow build. It took Maria three issues to get a sandwich.
Shalvey: [Laughs] And she didn’t even like it! I think I’m lucky, because if I were doing this on my own I’d be panned for it. But because people trust Warren more, they’re willing to go with it. I think it’s a little bit of a worrying trend that people think every single issue has to deliver fast fast fast. I love HBO dramas, for example, like Deadwood, where it’s episodic but the narrative builds upon it. Like, as much as I love Moon Knight, there’s no plot, there’s no story. Moon Knight fights the bad guys, that is the plot. It’s wafer thin, but the execution is what made the difference. In a way, Injection is the complete opposite of that.
Paste: For the first few issues, it’s unclear what’s going on. But by the end of the arc, it all comes together.
Shalvey: I think you just have to get to issue five, but I don’t think you could have had issue five any earlier. You could have had that happen earlier but I don’t think it would have been as satisfying.
Paste: Like that first 20 minutes of a movie where you’re being led in the wrong direction.
Shalvey: Yeah, you don’t want the twist to be in the first 10 minutes. That would be a terrible film. I think we probably lost some readers because they weren’t willing to wait. Fair enough, I’m not going to criticize people for how they want to read their stories.
Injection Interior Art by Declan Shalvey
Paste: Like I said, it’s a weird story, what was Warren’s pitch?
Shalvey: There was no pitch. I knew he was only going to do six issues of Moon Knight, so when we were a few issues in—the reception was brilliant—I was like if you stick around I will, if not I might do a creator-owned thing. And he said, let me come up with something and we’ll take it to Image. His pitch wasn’t what do you think of this, it was let me come up with something specifically for you. He asked me to write a shopping list—everything I’m watching, reading, what I’m interested in, my favorite comics.
Paste: This is a pretty gloomy-looking book, that’s kind of your thing now?
Shalvey: It always has been, to be honest. The Deadpool arc I did, that’s bleak as fuck. I like dark stories. I’m not a dark person per se, I’m a big joker—but I’m Irish, all the stereotypes apply. I like stories that are emotionally engaging. I like to finish a comic and it’s changed my emotional state, I’m sadder or I’m happier. I’ve experienced something.
Paste: Unlike Moon Knight, there’s a lot of pretty normal stuff in here, people talking, offices, etc.
Shalvey: That’s the stuff that’s hardest to draw. Drawing people talking in an office is actually not fun to draw. If the whole book was action packed, those scenes would have no impact. So a lot of it is mundane, but it’s the mundanity that makes the sensational aspects more sensational. I like the bleakness of the real-world scenes and how they compare to the more stylized flashbacks.
Paste: What has been some of your favorite scenes to draw?
Shalvey: The Dublin stuff is great, because I could just pop down the road to take some reference. I never thought I’d be drawing Dublin in an American comic book. I really liked that forest scene with the monstrous wooden man. I feel like that spread is where I got to really show how viscerally impactful it could be. That took me a long long time to draw. I was working on that spread for four days. All of the scenes that are weird are my favorites.
Paste: What are your reactions like when you get these scripts?
Shalvey: Now what?! Because I don’t know what’s happening. It’s frustrating because I like to plan stuff, but I do like that every time I get a script, I don’t know what’s going to happen. It makes every single issue something I have to up my game for.
Paste: In Moon Knight you had that cool effect with him being stark white. Are there any visual tricks like that here?
Shalvey: No, because in Injection we have characters, and I don’t really feel like we had a character in Moon Knight. I don’t know Moon Knight any better than before I read the book, and in a way you don’t need to. I think Warren did a great job of making him a presence. So doing something stylized with Moon Knight works in that context, because he comes in and grabs your attention each time. Injection isn’t that type of story, it’s all deliberately subtle. With that Moon Knight effect, the book grabs you by the throat. Injection doesn’t do that, it slips its hand down your pants without you noticing.
Injection Interior Art by Declan Shalvey
Paste: Tell me about some of the character designs.
Shalvey: I tried looking at actors. I think of Tilda Swinton when I do Maria. It’s not a likeness or anything but, I like interesting faces. I think of my sister a lot when I’m drawing Roth, because my sister’s got the same snarky attitude. I think Roth is the most visually interesting, because of her fashion sense. For Vivek, I think of Danny Pudi from Community because of the slightly skeletal look. I saw Robin as kind of John Constantine-esque, but he’s going to change more as the series goes. He’s actually the only white guy in the book.
Paste: Was that intentional?
Shalvey: Well, I asked for an Irish girl, and in my mind I thought she’d be white—because most girls I know in Ireland are white—but I thought it was very smart of Warren to make her black. Ireland has changed a lot over the past ten years, there’s way more of an immigrant population. We never had that before because we’re an island and people left the country, nobody came to it.
Paste: Landscapes are huge in this book, a lot of large sweeping views. How do you tackle those?
Shalvey: I’ll draw the hell out of the background to establish where we are, and I don’t need to draw the background every panel after that. In order to really immerse somebody in an environment, you can’t just do a silhouette of a hill. Some landscapes are just boring. I like them to be very atmospheric, and I want it to bring you into the location, so I try to go the extra mile with the establishing shots. Atmosphere is something I think about a lot.
Injection Interior Art by Declan Shalvey
Paste: So, looking ahead, what kind of madness is on the way in future arcs?
Shalvey: I honestly don’t know. Issue six is very different, it’s more self-contained. It’s only got one character set in Manhattan—Vivek Headland—he’s basically on a Sherlock Holmes case. It’s going to be five connected trades. The story moves through it, but each volume is concerned with a different character. The first one was Maria, second is Headland. Issue six might be one of my favorite scripts just because Headland is kind of the most Warren Ellis-y character. He’s the most eccentric.
Paste: You’ve drawn skinned people, tentacles, dudes with plants growing out of their faces… visually, where do you plan on taking it from here?
Shalvey: Warren is great for coming up with something crazy that I have to figure out. I would like to draw more crazy things. It’s my hope that as the Injection becomes more powerful that reality starts to bleed more.