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DF Interview: Declan Shalvey brings Irish Gangland to life in the Savage Town OGN
By Byron Brewer
In Limerick City, Jimmy "Hardy" Savage is a gangster on the rise, facing trouble from all sides. With the local cops, rival gangs, his best mate and others all out to stick a knife in him, will he live long enough to get to the top?
From the savage minds of Declan Shalvey (All-Star Batman, Injection), Philip Barrett and Jordie Bellaire (Vision, They’re Not Like Us) comes an original Irish graphic crime novel that'll leave you gaspin' … for a pint!
Not minding a pint ourselves, DF met up with scribe Declan Shalvey at the corner pub and got some more info on this new OGN.
Dynamic Forces: Declan, this sounds like is a very unique take on real history or at least based on real history. Tell us about this crime drama – the real and the graphic novel version.
Declan Shalvey: The real story of gangland in Limerick is pretty well documented, so I’d prefer avoid all that to be honest. There were some particularly nasty characters involved at the time and some of them are still knocking around so I’d prefer to not give them any attention.
What I will say is that Limerick City in the early 2000s was experiencing an unprecedented spike in gangland activity and violence. I lived in Limerick at the time, I was studying art in college there and was aware that there was a lot of hassle going on. I lacked any of the context, though. After years of trying to make a name for myself in comics, I look back at my time in Limerick with great affection, but decided to look into what was going on at the time. It was really fascinating and considering how much I loved crime fiction, there seemed like a lot of material there that would be something new to a comics audience. Not necessarily the crimes themselves, but the attitude, the brazenness, the character of the city was reflected throughout. I thought that by taking out the real-world characters, I could play with that specific aspect of what happened, without having to worry about glorifying anyone and respecting the victims of these crimes.
My approach was to come up with Jimmy Savage, a small time gangster, and used him to introduce us to Limerick, the politics of gangland, etc. The rest came from there.
DF: Savage Town is set in Ireland, where you hail from. Are there any scenes in Savage Town reflective of your own life? How much of your life in Ireland will we find in the atmosphere of the OGN?
Declan Shalvey: Savage Town nearly feels like a biographical comic to be honest. I mean, I’m not from Limerick specifically, I come from a town a few miles down the road, but there is a working-class element to the character that really reflects my own childhood, and I think would relate to a lot of Irish people of my generation. Now, I can’t relate to any of the gangland stuff, but the way the characters interact, the irreverence, the mix of harsh with jovial, that’s very much a product of the Ireland I love, and sometimes not love. A lot of the more everyday scenes are moments very much inspired by my experiences or friends, family, etc. While the aspects of the crime genre are not reflective of my life or Phil’s life, we very much wanted to have an authentic feel to the story, and nailing the atmosphere was key for us.
DF: What can you tell us about Jimmy Savage? Who is he as a character and is there any bit of Declan Shalvey in this gangster on the rise?
Declan Shalvey: Jimmy Savage is a bit of a bumbling idiot who’s managed to assemble a small crew around his that now qualifies as a gang. When Savage Town starts, we find him and his crew celebrating a mysterious gig that they’ve just pulled off. As seems to happen in Irish Gangland, one small event (spoilers; it’s over a pint) sets off a chain reaction that forces Jimmy to think quick or end up in a ditch.
Thankfully, I don’t think I have any similarities with Jimmy, aside maybe from the bumbling idiot bit. (smiles)
DF: The list of characters I have seen for this is very interesting. Can you introduce just a few of the supporters and tell us a bit about them please?
Declan Shalvey: Well there’s the aforementioned Jimmy. We have Frankie, Jimmy’s best pal and childhood friend. Blackie, the only black man in Limerick. He’s Jimmy’s bodyguard, always on top of any situation. Saorla Savage, Jimmy’s wife. She’s essentially a traditional housewife, but is pity to a lot of Jimmy’s comings and goings, and plays a matriarchal role in the gang. Without spoiling anything, there’s another important matriarch in the book too. The big gangs of Limerick are the Hogans and the Dawsons. Jimmy does his best to avoid them, but circumstances will change that. Garda Sexton is kinda the witness to a lot of what’s going along. He knows the lay of the land, but he witnesses it change along with the reader.
DF: You are an artist as well as a writer. Did you help with the design of these characters in any way?
Declan Shalvey: I had a more specific idea of what I thought Jimmy would look like, so Phil and I had a little back and forth there, but no, otherwise it was 100% Phil. He has an incredible gift for populating a scene with interesting characters. Each face implies a whole backstory. In fact, Phil did such an amazing job with character faces, it inspired me to flesh out those characters and give them more prominent roles in the story. I’m in awe of what Phil did on this book. Not only did he do such a great job of drawing Limerick, he made it feel like a real environment, with a lived-in host of characters. As a fan of Phil’s work, I was confident that’s what he would do with a project like this. It was all Phil, if I tried to get more involved I’d have only gotten in the way.
DF: Speaking of Phil, tell us about working with him. How did you guys originally get together, and what does he bring to this table?
Declan Shalvey: I’ve known Phil for years, ever since I started to become familiar with the small press scene in Ireland. I loved Phil’s work, it had a personality all of its own and contained a certain charm that really appealed to me. It felt very Irish. Phil has been doing his own comics for years but had never done a big long narrative before. As a fan of his, I really wanted to see him do that. As my plans to do an “Irish crime story set in Limerick” came together, I knew I wouldn’t have the time to draw the project, so I immediately thought of Phil. Now I get to see him do one big story, it just turned out that I had to write it for him.
DF: I know this is a self-contained graphic novel, but it really has grit. Would you like to do it as an ongoing should the opportunity arise?
Declan Shalvey: The story of gangland Limerick is a big and sprawling one so I had originally thought of Savage Town as an ongoing monthly book. As it turned out, the graphic novel format really suited the story. This book is self-contained, but I think when you read it, you can see that there’s definitely more places for the character to go. If the book does well, I’d definitely like to follow it up with a couple of more books, and have more scope to examine the themes and flesh out the characters more.
DF: Declan, what other projects current and near-future are you working on that you can tell readers about?
Declan Shalvey: I’m currently wrapping up Vol 3 of Injection with Warren Ellis and Jordie Bellaire. I’ve really loved this arc, the story just keeps getting crazier and crazier. I feel so lucky to be on such an ambitious project like this. I’m also keeping busy on various cover jobs, my run of Punisher covers is about to end, I’ve really enjoyed doing those. Speaking of Punisher, I just wrote and drew a Venom Punisher for Venomverse War Stories with colors by fellow Irishman Chris O’Halloran. I’m also writing a new mini-series for Marvel: Deadpool vs. Old Man Logan, illustrated by Mike Henderson. It has been tremendous fun to work on, and I can’t wait until everyone sees the amazing work that Mike is doing on the book.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Declan Shalvey for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions, The Savage Town OGN from Image Comics hits stores Sept. 20th!
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