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Thoughts From The Land Of Frost:
A Discussion With Guy Davis By Alexander Ness
One of the great illustrators of our present comicbook industry, Guy Davis has impressed readers with his ability to write and draw, but more simply said, to tell a great story.
His work on Sandman Mystery Theatre, The Marquis,The Nevermen, and many other titles propelled him to the top of his field and won him legions of fans, and we here at Slush count ourselves among them.
With his work currently being seen in the DC Comics Elseworld miniseries, Batman: Nevermore, we're proud to present our interview with Guy Davis. Enjoy, and be sure to click on the pages of exclusive art sprinkled throughout.
Alex Ness: Please tell my readers about yourself: how old are you, are you married, where are from, where do you live, cats, dogs...?
Guy Davis: Well, I was born in 1966 and have been living and working in Michigan ever since. Not married and not single but living happily along with a mortgage, two ferrets and a cat.
AN: How might you say that you were trained in art? Did you attend university or trade school, or are you self taught?
GD: Pretty much self-taught, the only art school training I had was in public schools which is the equivalence of learning to trace you hand and make a turkey. The rest was learned basically by just sitting down and producing work and learning from my mistakes - which is always an ongoing process.
AN: What comic artists are you favorites and which are the greatest influences upon your own style?
GD: Influence-wise I'd say Moebius, Schuiten, Tardi, Goseki Kojima and Otomo Katshurio had a lot of impact on my current style. I was really inspired by their works when I started doing Baker Street and that was when my artwork lost a lot of it's early anime look. As far as other favorite comic artists I would add to the list Mignola, Geoff Darrow, Toth, Crumb, Loisel, De Crecy, Dave Cooper, Kaluta, Matt Wagner, Gary Gianni, Stan Sakai,George Pratt, Hernandez Bros, Teddy Kristiansen, Taiyo Matsumoto -- I could go on and on probably. But these are some whose work I pick up whenever anything new comes out.
AN: What life experiences would you count as being the most influential on your work?
GD: Not sure if I had any big life-changing experiences I could point too. Growing up, my parents ran their own veterinary business and I think that installed a sort of hard work ethic on me; made me be a bit of a workaholic and taught me to keep working for a career. It took me along time to carve a very small niche for myself in comics, and I think having to work for it so long makes you either burnt out or appreciate where you are - and I appreciate where I am right now.
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AN: Do you recall the first comic that you read, and subsequently do you still own a copy of it?
GD: I think it was a Charlton comic of The Scorpion maybe? I remember it had a guy on the cover in a green outfit with a gun and I think at the time I thought it was the "Green Hornet." I don't still have it but I can still sort of remember it.
The earliest comics I still have from my childhood are the old Charlton Space:1999 comics and a Spirit magazine. I didn't really read much comics growing up aside from the old Gold Key Star Trek and Space Family Robinson comics now and then.
AN: Why comics and not films or television?
GD: Pretty much apples and oranges to me - why not novels for that matter?I guess the only answer is because I like telling stories and drawing them out. I know a lot of people see working in comics as a stepping stone to doing either film or TV, and that's great if that is their goal. But for me I'm happy working in comics and don't really have any motive in the work other than to enjoy it and make a comfortable living. I've done spot illo and design work for role-playing games and wouldn't mind trying my hand at film design if the opportunity came up, but it's not something I really have ever sought out.
AN: Ok, why not a novel then? Do you see one in the future for you? I consider films or television to be visual in a similar manner as comics so that is why I asked.
GD: Even though film and comics are visual ways of telling a story, there's a lot of difference in what you can do and what works in each. I'd like to think my storytelling is more cinematic in it's pacing than standard comics, but that doesn't mean it would translate the same as film or vice versa. I really don't have any plans or desire to work on a novel either, it just doesn't appeal to me right now. I guess I consider myself more of an illustrator than a writer anyhow -- I mean if I'm working out a story I'm also visually imagining how I would layout that story on a page and will usually break it down into thumbnails and layouts while I'm writing it out.
AN: Which comic character is your favorite?
GD: I guess he's not so much just a comic character, but I'd pick the Shadow. Of course after Kaluta and Gary Gianni's perfect take on the character I wouldn't even want to try my hand at it.
AN: On to some specific works: I consider myself to be a great fan of Sandman Mystery Theatre. Your work on it was perfect for the style and theme of the book, as was Wagner and Seagle's writing. Which issues were your particular favorites and what would you say was the overall legacy of the book?
GD: I had a lot of fun working on that series with both Matt and Steve and producing as much as I did against deadlines really helped me learn a lot about my art - of course looking back I cringe at my workfrom the time. If there was one project I wish I could redo it would be my run on that series. I'd say my favorite arcs were "the Vamp" and "the Butcher," [although] I can't really say why. I just remember having a lot of fun drawing those two storylines in particular.
I don't know if it has any legacy aside from being a series people fondly remember and seem to want back in print, which is pretty much what any one hopes for with a book. Nobody wants their work to be just forgotten.
AN: The Marquis is a spectacular dark work. As a Christian I have some issues with the paradigms of belief you seem to be laying out. Is it your personal statement about faith or is it simply a paradigm used for effect?
GD: I'm sure there's always some sort of personal statement in my creator-owned works since it's only myself giving voice to both the story and artwork, but I never use my work as a soapbox. The whole heaven and hell religion aspect of the Marquis was an easy way of establishing good and evil and then playing with all the grey areas of faith in between, while the morality/insanity struggle of the Marquis gave the story more depth so it wasn't just another monster fight comic.
I think it's obvious my feelings on organized religion and the distinction I make between that and simple faith, but remember there's no Christianity at work in the Marquis story because there is no Christ character or even mention of God - only of saints and devils. And that's why I set the story in it's own reality with it's own theology, so that it didn't reflect one religion but organized religion as awhole. I don't preach or debate because to be honest I don't really care about Christian issues; my main focus is to tell an entertaining and different sort of horror story which hopefully The Marquis is.
AN: What is your goal for the stories and issues of The Nevermen?
GD: Nevermen was a great chance to cut loose and get bizarre with the characters and designs. I really wanted it to have the feel of an old 1930's movie serial but I guess overall my only goal in any work is really just to do a good job and tell the writers story the best I can.
AN: Is it a work that you see many more issues of, or is it a finite series independent of sales?
GD: I'm not sure how much more Phil Amara had planned for it. I know he had more ideas for another miniseries, but I'm not sure if he saw it as a finite series or not. The Nevermen is actually owned by Dark Horse, so they have the final say if there is to be any further adventures.
AN: Batman: Nevermore is one of my favorite series out right now. Who came up with the concept and is that era of story your particular favorite? And are there any other similar tales percolating within you?
GD: Len Wein came up with the concept and all - I was pretty much just brought on for the art chores and designs. The Victorian era is one of my favorite periods artwise, there's just a lot of interesting designwork going on at the time - lots of clutter and detail in everything. I don't really have any other plans to draw something set in that period, but you never know.
AN: Do you have any particular issues with the adult content in the books and does it matter? Would you draw them in any event?
GD: Not sure exactly what you mean. I guess I have no problem with drawing adult content. I mean the books I do with adult content like The Marquis are geared towards adults. If I was drawing something for children I would gear the art and content towards them so there's no conflict of interest.
Books like The Nevermen and Batman: Nevermore I'd consider all-ages since there's nothing really inappopriate in it for a younger audience. Batman: Nevermore, while gruesome in places, I always thought of as the equivalentas an old Hammer horror film.
AN: I am more thinking how you work in a way that is expressive but mature, and not necessarily sexually. You illustrate horror events without the reader feeling revulsion from too much information. So I was wondering if you were to come in contact with a interesting but necessarily more graphic story would you do it?
GD: I see. Well, I guess it would depend on whether the graphic part helped the story along at all. I think that leaving a lot of stuff in the shadows and up to the readers imagination actually works better than showing it in detail. The fill-in issue I did on House of Secrets had one of the hardest and most disturbing scenes I ever had to draw with the murder of the Ruby character. I didn't go as straight-on graphic as I could, because a lot of the shock and horror to what was happening was already there, whether you saw it in extreme detail or not. If I was to have shown it straight on, I think the horribleness of what was going on in story would be lost on a shock/grossout drawing like an old EC cover. So I guess it's not so much ever having a problem drawing something graphic as much as making sure it worked with the story first.
AN: Which comics out there do you read?
GD: There's really not many comics that I pick up regularly. Anything by the artists I mentioned above I will get when I see they have new workout. I use to get Akira and Lone Wolf & Cub when they were coming out, but probably the only monthly book I pick up regularly now is Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo, which is great stuff!
AN: I agree, and have stated that I do not believe that there is anyone more in love or true to the subject.
GD: Stan's a great and classic storyteller, there's a lot of character and energy in his drawings. He's one of the few people out there who really focus on storytelling and it comes across great in the work. The same goes for Mignola, Matt Wagner, Tardi and a few others.
AN: If you weren't a fabulously-talented artist writing and drawing comics, you would be doing _________?
GD: Thanks for the compliment, but if I wasn't writing and drawing comics I'd probably be working some lousy job while trying to make a living at some sort of illustration work.
AN: Is there a Guy Davis website?
GD: Not yet. I'm pretty behind the times with computers, but one of my goals this year was to get a website up and running.
AN: What are your upcoming projects?
GD: Right now I working on a series of short stories with Thierry Frissen for Metal Hurlant. The first chapter of that starts in issue #8. I'm also doing layouts for a couple upcoming issues of Catwoman and I'm working with Mignola on a new series for next year which will be great fun. There are also plans for a new Marquis miniseries along with a second TPB collection of the shorter stories coming out later this year.
AN: Who is the publisher for yours and Mignola's project (as I want to buy it), and will Oni be publishing the next Marquis series?
GD: Dark Horse will be the publisher for the Mignola series and the next Marquis TPB is slated for December and will be coming out through Oni.
Slush thanks fellow Michigander Guy Davis for his time and energy during this interview.
All comic publishers and creative talent are welcome to submit items to be reviewed. Send items, to be considered for review, to:
Alexander Ness Land of Frost Box 142 Rockford MN 55373-0142
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