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Declan Shalvey Shares His Art From Age 10 to Age 30

If you’ve seen his work on Thunderbolts, then you probably already know why Declan Shalvey is easily one of my favorite artists working in comics today. His work is fantastic, beautiful and dynamic in a way that doesn’t look like anything else on the stands. But getting that good doesn’t happen overnight, and as evidence of that fact, Shalvey posted a picture a few months ago of a team-up between the X-Men and Spider-Man that he drew way back when he was 14 years old.

That’s why today, Shalvey’s agreed to take us on a tour of his evolution as an artist, from the age of 10 years old all the way up to today, his 30th birthday!Chris Sims: Before we get started, I just want to say that a lot of artists probably wouldn’t go in for sharing the work they did when they were ten years old with a worldwide audience. You are a brave man.

Declan Shalvey: Heh, thanks. Yeah I’m a bit nervous to have the old stuff out there, but hell; might as well own it. No point in denying. Had to learn and they’re were all steps to get where i am today

Chris: That’s one of the interesting things about it. After you originally posted the Spider-Man/X-Men piece, I asked you if you had any more, and you basically provided a timeline of your art, starting in 1992 when you were ten and ending in 2006, when you were breaking into drawing comics professionally. If nothing else, it’s pretty cool to see how your art evolved over the years. And also, I’m not gonna lie, some of these are pretty hilarious.

Declan: Ah man; some are crazy. My favourite parts are the bums that Cyclops and Wolvie has instead of abs. And what the hell is up with Wolvie’s arms!?! Clearly I had NO idea how to draw muscles. After you had asked, I looked through a lot of old stuff. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the 2 issues of an X-Men comic I drew, scripted and everything…. THAT would have been hilarious. As I looked through the old work, I started to see how I progressed over the years, and if I have to look through all that terrible drawing, I might as well make it into a learning experience out of it. I did find a lot of drawings where I lifted a lot of Jim Lee and Andy Kubert drawings… I omitted those so I could look at all the images I 100% drew myself.

Chris: Ready to get started?

Declan: Sure.

Chris: First up, from 1992, your full-page pin-up of Cyclops!

Chris: I gotta say, if I started practicing now and worked really hard at it every day, this is probably about the best I could do at drawing superheroes.

Declan: Then maybe you should consider a career with Marvel comics in 20 years! Yeah, it’s crazy to look at now. So much dead space, and obvious, boring composition. I like the tiiiiiny Juggernaut in the distance myself

Chris: I was wondering if that was Juggernaut! That’s my favorite part of the piece, along with what appears to be Doctor Octopus sneaking up on a thoroughly unconcerned Cyclops with a strike at his right ankle.

Declan: Yeah, I think that might be Doc Ock. I like how all elements that are not Cyclops are barely in the image… clearly I was only interested in drawing Cyke, including barely any other elements. I think it’s a very kid-like approach; only concentrating on the main element

Chris: But at the same time there’s a lot going on here. The Juggernaut walking off into the sunset (very dramatic), Cyclops casually blasting some kind of imp, the Blackbird soaring through the air, and… I’m going to guess that’s something digging up to Cyclops like a cartoon mole?

Declan: Guess away; I have no idea myself! I think Juggernaut is coming this way, towards Cyke. I just have a faint memory of wanting to draw a looming threat coming.

Chris: You talked about how you focused on Cyclops himself, and aside from the proportions, that head is pretty good. He’s very Harrison Ford-ish.

Declan: I was clearly leaning from the 90s X-Men cartoon, sticking with that model sheet. I like the long horseface he’s got going on. I can see that I had no understanding of drawing bodies; it’s just bits I learned to draw (legs, arms, torso) and cobbled them together.

Chris: Pretty good feet, though. Even if they’re in imminent danger from Doc Ock and a demon mole.

Declan: No. Not good feet. Sorry; I’m not going to go easy on 10 year old Declan. He’s got a lot to learn.

Chris: Ha! Well then let’s move on to the same year’s piece of Wolverine!

Declan: If we must.

Declan: Or as I like to call it…. What the hell is going on with his arms!?!?

Chris: Your guess is as good as mine on that one. Better, in fact, since you were there.

Declan: I guess. I clearly was copying drawings of arms from cartoons and comics and thought I figured how to draw arms. Looking at an anatomy book didn’t pop into my head. As a kid, I probably thought that was ‘boring’, I’m ashamed to say.

Chris: I don’t think you’d be alone in being bored by anatomy books when you were ten. My questions start at the top of the page and just work their way down, starting with… What is going on with the logo you drew for this one? Is it written in blood, or…?

Declan: Heh. Probably. Not that Sentinels blood though…. what the hell was I thinking? Yeah, I can tell I was more interested in drawing his head and body, and then only drew the rest because I had to. Looking through my old sketchbooks, I found a lot of drawing were I had just stopped drawing after I had drawn the head and torso. Clearly in this drawing, I didn’t know how to draw a leg, how feet worked, etc. The perfect little tears in his costume are so obvious. I must have thought I was drawing Kif from Futurama, as it looks like his arms are supported by a system of liquid-filled bladders. The arses-for-abs are a nice touch too.

Chris: I’m pretty excited by Wolverine’s crazy hinged Don Martin foot there, too.

Declan: Heh. I found another drawing of Wolverine where the flap of his mask was ripped off and his hair popped out to fill where the mask would be.

Chris: Now, this is going to be weird, so bear with me, but… I mean, there’s no getting around it. Wolverine has some weird bulges going on in his trunks, man.

Declan: Clearly. I think again, it’s that thing where you ‘assemble’ parts in your brain instead of thinking of an overall form. To me it looks like an Action Man toy or something, where the legs are stuck into this ‘groin’ shaped plastic object.

Chris: As much as you might critique your old art, I do want to point out one thing that is legitimately amazing. I’m not even sure if it was intentional, but it looks like you gave the sentinel a black eye. Like, that’s how badass Wolverine is: He gave a giant robot a black eye.

Declan: HA! Yeah. Logan is such a badass.

Chris: Skipping ahead a few years, let’s have a look at the piece that started this entire thing, 1996′s X-Men/Spider-Man team-up!

Declan: I can see that I was knee-deep in Jim Lee, Andy Kubert and Mark Bagely’s work at this stage. I can tell that I was taking their work and re-purposing it as my own. I never traced, but I learned from copying. I think Cyclops and Wolverine were the only drawings I drew out of my head. Maybe Spider-Man too. The rest are copied poses from Lee and the rest.

Chris: There is some serious ninja trickery at work here to get you out of drawing feet. Out of 22 possible feet (okay, 20 if you take out Cannonball), you have drawn… five. Was Beast thrown in just to get you out of drawing Gambit’s?

Declan: Wow; I didn’t notice that at all. I think Beast is in there cuz I wanted to draw Beast, but still… that is a little convenient. I remember I had a hard time with feet. Hands too, but at some stage I just sat down and drew real hands and real feet and eventually figured them out. Clearly, this drawing pre-dates all that. Gotta love that Jim Lee no feet-smoke effect though.

Chris: I like how you were willing to go for it with all those crazy pouches and straps and even draw every individual body hair on Wolverine – which is a LOT of hair – but just flat-out refused to do the feet.

Declan: Honestly; I have no recollection of avoiding feet. Again; I think it’s that childish approach of only drawing the ‘cool’ bits. All that hair looked ‘cool’. Feet didn’t. I was just going for the obvious stuff, as you do when you’re 14 I guess. I still like drawing lots of hair though.

Chris: Ha, oh man… I was just looking at that more recent X-Men piece you sent me to contrast. The one where they’re all charging?

Declan: Oh yeah. I HOPE it looks different

Chris: Oh it does. It’s beautiful, with the heavy inks and the zipatone effects, and it’s super dynamic. But there are twelve characters… and five feet.

Chris: I think it’s an X-Men thing.

Declan: Really? Well, to be fair; there are a LOT of characters in that panel. They can’t all be standing side by side.

Chris: Let’s keep it going with 1997 and Spider-Man!

Declan: You can see both his feet!

Chris: Ha! Honestly, this is pretty close to what you’d see in the comics of the time. You’ve started going in with backgrounds and given it a nice dynamic angle, and Spidey himself is a solid figure. Is this when you started inking, too?

Declan: I always remember inking my own stuff… seeing those first 2 pieces was surprising because I had left them in pencil. I guess I had gotten more into inking; in the previous stuff I replicated lines that inkers made without understanding why they were using them. In this Spidey piece, I’m quite happy to see I had started to learn how to omit superfluous lines and just render the form. For the most part at least, I can still see some pointless lines in the background. I can see a big jump between what I was doing then, and what I was doing beforehand.

Chris: Yeah, even compared with just the previous year, there’s a huge jump, and it looks a lot closer to what you’d eventually be drawing today. Was there anything in particular that happened that year, or was it just a matter of just one magic summer where everything started to click?

Declan: I guess everything started to click. I think I opened up to a lot more artists, like David Mazzuchelli, Alan Davis and Carlos Pacheco. I remember being really into them. They’re all different artists, and looking at a broader range must have helped me to learn an approach of my own. It’s not perfect by any means, but I’m actually still quite proud of this piece. Must be the nostalgia talking.

Chris: I notice this is also about the time you started signing your work “D. Shalvo.”

Declan: Heh, yeah. I had changed schools and the new kids tried to give me a nickname as ‘Declan’ is pretty common. It lasted about a day, but for some reason I signed my drawings with it fore a while. Guess I was just as into drawing my signature as I was into my overall drawing!

Chris: For another D. Shalvo hit, here’s Magneto and Apocalypse:

Chris: Again, this is another one that I would not have been surprised at all to see as the cover of an X-Men comic from the time.

Declan: I remember at the time Panini UK were reprinting American comics and they were far more accessible than American comics. They were about 2 years behind the original and I remember that I hated the new covers they would do for them (not the original covers). I was so confident in my abilities that I decided I should gather some American comics and do covers for them before the British reprints came out, and sent them in. Thinking back, I laugh at my adolescent confidence (which was generally uncharacteristic of me) but also, I’m kind of impressed with the forward-thinking of my plan. Not as impressive though, was the fact that I never sent them to Panini.

Chris: Where’d you send ‘em?

Declan: Nowhere. Stupidly, they just stayed in my portfolio. Not that I would have gotten the job, but it would have been good experience for me. Back when I was 13, i did send stuff to Marvel though. And got a rejection letter.

Chris: One of the things that jumped out at me with this one is that Magneto’s got those big bulky gauntlets.

Declan: That was Age of Apocalypse Magneto, so I’m guessing I saw a drawing of him with thicker cloves. I can’t remember making a definite decision to do something different with him

Chris: They just reminded me of the ones you and Kev Walker would draw on Thunderbolts ten years later.

Declan: Hmm… I guess so. Though those gauntlets are really Kev’s design though; I just ran with his design.

Chris: Skipping ahead to the next year, here’s another Cyclops!

Declan: Yeah, that was actually a cover to the second issue of that X-Men issue I previously mentioned. So unlike the previous covers that were illustrating stories I had read, this was one for a comic I was writing and drawing.

Chris: Oh wow.

Declan: I still like it for it’s composition, and I remember feeling like my drawing was getting better. I hope I can track down those two issues I did. Maybe even draw the last part I never got around to finishing!

Chris: Do you remember the plot?

Declan: Yeah, A schoolfriend (and oldest friend to this very day) of mine helped with the plot, but the general story was this; a mysterious gas was killing people in Central Park so the X-Men investigate. They find lots of dead bodies and a giant crater. They go underground to discover the cause, leaving Gambit on top alone, when then; all the dead folk then become zombies! The rest find the mastermind, who was this bug-thing called Ur’Quan, I think. There was a pretty bad-ass moment with Cyclops in it (as the cover suggests) as they all fight. Yep. Classic stuff. Clearly this is a story that needs to be finished.

Chris: If nothing else, I’m pretty sure that it is the only time I’ve ever seen Cyclops’s belt unbuckled. Is this what it’s like to be Emma Frost?

Declan: I feel like you’re putting disturbing thoughts into my brain… is this what it’s like to be in a relationship with Emma Frost?

Chris: Maybe best to just move on. Here’s another X-Men piece, with Cyclops, Storm and ol’ Boneclaws himself, Wolverine:

Declan: Another ‘pitch’ cover. There was an arc during the Madureira run of Uncanny where those X-Folk went into the sewers to confront some new Marauders. I think it was the introduction of Marrow. I like how much black is in this piece; a bold move for teen-Dec. A much nicer job on the bloody text than in that first Wolverine piece too!

Chris: I was going to say something else about this piece, but now I’m realizing how much I’d like to read a comic about Teen-Dec. The adventures of Dec when he was a teen!

Declan: There was a lot of sitting in my room alone, drawing. Epic stuff.

Chris: You mentioned Madureira and I can definitely see a little influence here, especially with little details like Colossus’s hands. I’m a little curious about the shadow on Storm’s face, though.

Declan: Actually I was never into Madureira. In fact, I hated his stuff. The more ‘cartoonier’ element I think was from looking at Carlos Pacheco. Back in the day, he was a lot looser. When I saw Madeuriera’s Battle Chasers stuff, I actually changed my mind about him. I couldn’t see past the flashy drawing with the X-Men stuff. Yeah, Storms face is a bit mental there alright. I was probably trying to use shadow to cover a bad drawing of a face. That’s what it looks like to me now, anyway.

Chris: Speaking of shadows, let’s bid farewell to D. Shalvo and welcome back Declan Shalvey for a Batman piece circa 2000!

Declan: Yay! Declan Shalvey’s back! I did this piece in my first year of Art College, so I was probably 18. I was doing a lot of non-comics drawing in college that I wasn’t interested in. Of course, now I know that it was good for me to do non-comics drawing, as it opened me up to a lot of art and approaches to drawing. At the time though, I was frustrated, and did this piece to exercise my comics muscles. I was blown away by the Batman: Black and White graphic novel, especially by the Kevin Nowlan story, and the Kent Williams story. I can tell I was dissecting Kevin Nowlan a lot while drawing this. I think I drew this over a period of a month or so. It frustrates me now to think that at the time I totally glossed over the Zaffino story in the Batman book. Shame on me.

Chris: This is also the most complex background we’ve seen you draw, too.

Declan: I guess; a lot of it’s blacked out though. I faintly remember making the background up as I went a long. You do that a lot when you’re younger, as you’re just into the act of drawing. It would have been better to plan out the whole composition and work out all the basic elements, but at the time; I was too into just drawing something, more than drawing something good. I was very proud of this for a long time, but now I’m a little annoyed that I had so much art at my fingertips in college, but I was still clinging on drawing in a ‘comic book style’

Chris: There’s definitely some Nowlan in those thick lines, too, especially around the cowl.

Declan: Oh, I adore Kevin Nowlan. He’s one of the only guys I know who can embellish a lot but not overdo it. There’s a lot of rendering in places, but lots of open areas too. Man, I could go on for ages about Nowlan. Jeff Parker introduced me to him at Heroes last year, and I just clammed up with nervousness. Yeah, I was rendering more with this piece, but it’s so bloody stiff because of it.

Chris: Skipping ahead to 2003, we’ve got your take on The Authority.

Declan: Yeah. I did this piece right after college and I hate it. I show it here as I learned a lot from doing it. I think I was big into Bryan Hitch at the time and loved that book, but when I compare this piece (done right after Art College) with the Spidey piece (drawn before college) I’m disappointed. While some parts of the Authority piece are better-drawn, overall it’s full of superfluous rendering. Badly executed rendering for that matter. It’s just a mess. When I look at the Spidey piece, I can see that I was naturally learning to break things down and simplify. It’s like Art College made me forget everything I had learned about how I was drawing comics and I was quite annoyed by that. In retrospect though, It’s good that I unlearned all that, restarted from scratch, and learned it all over again. I learned things in art college that I wasn’t able to process til years later.

Chris: Like what? Anything in particular?

Declan: One thing was learning how to accept and embrace happy accidents. Before, I would be so obsessed with rendering various lines… I was just too precious with a lot of my drawing. I studied Printmaking in college, and some of the best results I got was when the acid ate into the copper plate too much, or the stone took too much grease, or something mis-registered, etc. You would try and control every variable but ultimately, something would come out different every time, and that was why the piece would be interesting. After college, I got more experimental with my inking and realized that if I make a mistake; it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I try to embrace happy accidents and go with my gut feeling. Every time I do that, I’m always satisfied. Everytime I decide to play it safe, I always regret it.

Chris: That’s a pretty interesting piece of advice. Up ’til now, we’ve only seen your work on pin-up style art, but you also sent me a couple of early samples of your sequential pieces as well. Here’s a Daredevil page you drew:

Chris: Did you work from a script for this?

Declan: I just came up with that Daredevil sequence from my mindgrapes. I had difficulty finding sample scripts, I didn’t have much access to the internet back then, so I just came up with a 2-page sequential story.

Chris: It’s pretty interesting that you went with a Matt Murdock scene as a sample rather than going for a big Daredevil action sequence. And is that a Jon Favreau-esque Foggy Nelson Panel 2?

Declan: The next page had Matt jump out the window and do acrobatic stuff, but still in his suit, with the DD logo showing. I don’t think I was going for Favreau with Foggy… but who knows. Not me.

Chris: I really like this Daredevil page. The background characters are all distinct, that framing panel of Central Park is beautiful, and Matt’s fluffy-haired barefoot exasperation in that last panel is great body language. It’s seriously my favorite thing we’ve seen tonight since the Sentinel’s black eye.

Declan: It’s no secret that I love Daredevil. Love Daredevil. It kills me my first Marvel work was part of a Daredevil crossover, but I never got to draw him. I really put the effort in with this page. I think I got a lot of things right with that page. Some things wrong for sure, but more right I think.

Chris: And that brings us to 2006 and the start of your career as a comics pro, and this pin-up of Batman and Robin:

Declan: Yes! I still really like this piece. It has its faults, but overall; it’s not bogged down by reference, but it’s still well informed. Needless rendering is gone, and it’s a decent composition. These days, I embellish a good bit more, but it’s more gestural because of the inking, as that’s how I like to work. I think that this piece does a good job of showing the backbone of my drawing, though I’ve improved a LOT since then. I think I was drawing my first professional comic at this stage; an Irish comic called Freakshow. The journey of there to where I am now is a whole other story….

Chris: I really like Robin in this one, and I love the skyline of Gotham City in the background and the different styles that you gave to the buildings all shoved up next to each other. The only thing that I think is weird is that I cannot stop seeing Batman’s nose as a white pyramid floating in front of his face.

Declan: That’s a fair point. I was still covering bad drawing with shadow back then and because I was so high-contrast and un-informed, my white-space would float in the black-space without informing each other. I was still pretty amateur!

Chris: And that brings us to a recent piece, from 2011, Batman and Robin:

Chris: Now Dec, you know I’m a fan, and when you first put this Batman and Robin piece up, I loved it. But after seeing the way your art has changed over the years, I can’t say that I don’t think it would be a little more awesome with an evil demon mole sneaking up on them from underground.

Declan: You have a point. Maybe a little cameo by Juggernaut and Doc Ock too?

Chris: Definitely. You don’t want to forget your roots, after all.

Declan: I guess Lil’ Dec could still teach Old Dec a thing or two.

Chris: All joking aside, this has been a fascinating look at how you’ve changed as an artist over the years, and I really want to thank you for sharing.

Declan: Oh, thanks Chris. It’s been interesting to look back, way back at how far I’ve come over the last 20 years. Hopefully we’ve all learned something from this embarrassing experience.

Chris: And hey, Happy Birthday!

Declan: Thanks! Thirty. God help me.

For more of Declan Shalvey’s art, check out Comic Twart and his blog!

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