-- Well, this was my official foray into comic book journalism -- if you will -- and it couldn't have been with a better partner. Michigan native Evan 'Doc' Shaner is a bonafide comic book star and is one of the most well-respected artists in the game.
Also, I did a long-form feature on Shaner for my day job at MLive Media Group. Check it out here: http://www.mlive.com/news/jackson/index.ssf/2015/01/evan_doc_shaner.html
On top of being an alumnus of the most prestigious university in the world — Central Michigan University — Evan ‘Doc’ Shaner has brought a who’s who list of characters to life as a cartoonist with Dark Horse Comics, Marvel Comics and DC Comics. Shaner currently serves as the artist for Dynamite’s Flash Gordon and his resume includes stints with the Adventures of Superman, Deadpool Annual No. 1, Dark Horse’s Blood Brothers, among others.
If you haven’t seen his work — shame on you — head to his official website and live a little.
You’ve said in the past that newspaper strips are what you wanted to do starting out, and even did so for a while in college. How much of an impact did the classic strip style have on how you tackle a superhero book?
It’s difficult to tell, at least for me. It did take me a very long time to figure how to approach a more “comic-booky” storytelling style, as opposed to the usual humor strip sort of fixed “camera” setup that I’d used for so long. I suppose it may have been different if I’d been doing adventure strips all along but it had always been my plan to do humor. I will say that I think starting in humor gave me a leg up in terms of getting characters to emote in a readable way.
After working with classic heroes from Flash Gordon to Superman to some anti-heroes like the Blood Brothers and Deadpool. What do you enjoy most, and how would you compare working on Flash Gordon to the likes of the Blood Brothers or Deadpool?
I do tend to feel more comfortable on the Superman/Flash Gordon side of things. Adventure and do-goodery, those sort of stories. Though I really did have a blast on Deadpool, which I never expected to say. Of course, that had less to do with anti-heroics than just Deadpool being silly. The truth is, so long as the story is fun or interesting to work on, I’m up for just about any type of character. I’m not a huge Punisher fan, but I can see where there might be a Punisher story out there that I could have a lot of fun with. It all depends on the tone I suppose.
From the facial expressions to the setting, your books have such a retro feel to them. How would you describe your style to someone who has never laid hands on a comic book?
Again, that’s tough for me to answer because I never think of it in terms of any specific style while I’m working. “Retro” is one that I hear a lot, and I don’t mind that. Certainly, most of my influences come from older work so it’s not like it’s a ridiculous assumption. The other tricky part is so many of those terms are vague enough that it’s hard to know what they’re supposed to mean. I used to get “cartoony” a lot, but I don’t think anybody knows what that’s supposed to mean anymore. What I really try to go for, and whether I get there is up to the reader, is clear storytelling. Making it as efficient as I possibly can while still making it fun to look at. And fun to draw, of course.
Looking at your work in the Flash Gordon series, Deadpool annual and Adventures of Superman, you do a great job at portraying motion without making it confusing for the reader or overusing it just for action scenes. Is this something you’ve worked on to improve, or is it something that comes naturally?
I think that comes from working in humor, to some extent. You learn the tricks for communicating as much as possible with as little as possible. The most subtle motion lines can really help a page flow, and hopefully make it so everything is clear so that the reader doesn’t hit any bumps along the way.
I’ve seen the Western Genre come up as an interest of yours more than a couple of times now. What about that genre interests you so much? Fan of spaghetti westerns?
My dad and grandfather are both big fans of Westerns, so I grew up surrounded by them. I’m a big fan of the genre in general, and particularly enjoy a lot of the spaghetti westerns. All of Eastwood’s Westerns are in rotation in the office, several of John Wayne’s, and a few others. I love DC’s Western characters too, all of them. I’m not sure if I know quite what I like so much about them. I enjoy drawing horses more than most artists seem to. I love drawing wide expansive locations. There’s a particular sort of action that comes with drawing Westerns that appeals to me as well. So, yes, drawing a Western is a very high priority for me.
Besides Flash Gordon what are you working on now?
At the moment it’s just Flash Gordon. I’ve started looking at what I might do beyond Flash, but nothing’s set quite yet.
Any projects coming up for people to look out for?
Other than Flash, not really. Flash Gordon has managed to find a way to take up most of my work time. I’ve had ideas for little side projects, which I’ll get to someday.
You’ve teamed with Nate Cosby a number of times, including the awesome six-panels of Captain Marvel, how important is the relationship between the cartoonist and writer?
Very important, I think. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to work with writers that I’m a big a fan of as well good friends with. That Captain Marvel thing with Nate was just me goofing around one day, but I’m glad it seems to have struck a chord with folks. Nate never asked me to draw that, he just does those for fun, and I’ve since drawn a couple of them just as an exercise. I think you can feel it when you’re reading something where the writer and artist just aren’t connecting for one reason or another, so I’m very thankful that I’ve been able to work with guys who are on a similar wavelength thus far.
Is Cosby someone you hope to work with in the future even more?
Oh, absolutely. I have no doubt that I will. My wife and I joke that we’re going to name part of the house “The Nate Cosby Wing” just because he basically helped jump start my career. Anything short of naming a kid after him. Nate understands the kinds of things I like to draw and what sort of projects are best suited to me while still challenging me, so I doubt I’ll ever go too long without working with him in some fashion.