Shane Davis and Michelle Delecki Make the Pixel-Perfect Leap to Creator-Owned for ‘Axcend’ [Interview]
Next month sees the launch of a new series over at Image from the husband-and-wife team of Shane Davis and Michelle Delecki, along with colorist Morry Hollowell. Axcend is the story of a group of eager gamers who, after signing up to beta-test a new game, find that the powers of their characters in-game starts reflecting their powers in the real world. The stronger their game, the stronger they become themselves.
The series marks Davis' move to creator-owned comics, where he'll be both writing and drawing the series. After years working as an artist over at DC, where he created a number of well-known characters (including beloved vom-spewing hate-moggy Dex-Starr), Axcend sees him take video games to a whole new, ahem, level. ComicsAlliance spoke to Davis and Delecki about the move to creator-owned, and what to expect from the series.
ComicsAlliance: Axcend sees you move from DC, where you've been working for the last few years, to Image Comics. What made you decide this was the time for you to work on a creator-owned project?
Shane Davis: I guess I wanted to grow as a comic creator. I had a lot of fun at DC during the time I was there. I’ve always had an itch to create new characters, and I even made some at DC, like many of the Red Lanterns.
DC granted me equity on a few of the characters I created but not all of them, even though they were created on the same piece of paper. One day in my hotel room at a con, I was woken up to see a character I had created at DC talking on TV. It all kind of hit me, I knew all the stories of creator’s rights and treatment, but it hadn’t affected me until then. I worked really hard submitting forms and tracking merchandise for payment with DC, some people were cool... others flat out rude. I found myself in a spot where I regretted creating Dex-Starr (based off my cat Dexter) or Bleez or Zillious Zox.
So I was left with a weird situation of having the desire to create new things, but where to do it. I guess that was the moment I decided to do an Image project. I had run into Brian K. Vaughan at NYCC in the hotel lobby. I was talking to him about past projects of his that I loved, particularly Pride of Bagdad. He was just starting Saga and he asked me, “Why don’t you do an Image project?” I sort of felt like the conversation had put me into a corner to reach for a good excuse. It was at that time that I realized I owed it to myself as a comic creator to create at least one thing that I will own in my lifetime.
CA: Why did you want to tell this particular story? What was it about the concept of Axcend which interested you most?
SD: I wanted to tell a story about actions and consequences. I also wanted to tackle a lot of world building and world-bending concepts. I didn’t want to do the classic hero/villain story, so there is a lot of grey area with the cast. I was really enticed by the idea of giving three teens the power of gods, give them a broken moral compass and just let it play out. The gaming angle appealed to me because of the attitude to win and score, to progress and grow. There are no ethics or politics, or manners… the best player is on top. I saw a lot of potential in a story that bleeds that over into a real world setting.
CA: You’re most known for your work with familiar characters like Superman, Green Lantern, and so on. Have you enjoyed the process of creating your own characters for this one? Which characters have proven to be your favorite to write or draw?
SD: I like writing for Morn, our lead male character, because he is so unique. We pick up with him a year after he survived a tragic car accident that took the life of his twin brother. He is a great character to write, I love working with teen angst and he is half of a whole. To him the world has taken something from him that he will never get back, and he is forced to carry on day in and day out missing this person he was born with that he grew up with. His social skills are totally built off of being a twin. His life is complicated because the living are constantly reminding him of the dead. He indulges in online gaming more and more as an escape from the outside world.
Michelle Delecki: My personal favorite is Rayne. She’s musically talented and a pop culture icon that rose to fame as a child star. She’s lived her whole life surrounded by people kissing her ass and she has absolutely no concept of genuine love. She’s constantly being scrutinized by the media and she just eats up the attention. Rayne acts like an arrogant jerk and she gets away with it because she knows that as long as the whole world is watching her, she might as well put on a show.
CA: What influences have gone into your designs for the book? Are there any particular video games you’re perhaps inviting comparison with?
SD: We are only in the game world n the first issue, when the A.I. DOG brings the three players into the online world, Axcend. I purposely handled the game as a montage, hinting at classic games and variations, such as fighting and 2D. My intention was to get the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks about the game Axcend with their own video game experiences. The story is more about them coming out into the real world with their abilities and one of the players is still trying to upgrade and grow.
I did make a big effort to show each of the players’ ”special moves.” Morn’s special move is to combine two places into one and to create worm holes. Rayne can stop time as long as she is cutting you with her arsenal of blades. Ruin’s power is to take possession of “ads” in the game world. In the real world this can translate into possessing people, tanks, and jets.
CA: How are you finding the balance of writing and penciling your own work?
SD: It’s actually very natural. I guess if I summed it up, it’s kind of like the old Stan Lee/ Jack Kirby way of doing it, but without Lee taking the credit. I bounce a lot of stuff off of Michelle in studio, just to check I’m not going too crazy. Especially when it comes to our female lead, Rayne.
MD: Rayne is a wild card in the story. We wanted each of the characters to have a soul and personality of their own. Shane knew that when it came to Rayne’s personality he needed to push some boundaries when it came to shocking behavior. Just think of your Kim Kardashians and your Miley Cyruses when it comes to shocking, Rayne is constantly trying to out-do herself in the tabloids and stay on top of her game. So Shane would come up with these really risqué scenarios and I’d give him input from a female’s point of view on what I felt was too much and what was acceptable.
Shane is really cool when it comes to pro-female storytelling. There is so much more to a good female character than drawing some boobs with a gun. He created a smart-talking, talented, gorgeous supporting character who’s emotionally lost and very alone even though she’s constantly surrounded by people. Rayne is relatable. She’s human and you can’t help but feel for her, because let’s face it… we’ve all been there… growing up and trying desperately to fit in and be loved. I think this sort of rawness will resonate with our female readers.
CA: How are you sequencing the story? Some writer/artists choose to do a storyboard first, some focus on a tight script; what have you found your process is like?
SD: I do a draft of the script of sorts breaking down the page count and length of scenes, just very basic stuff. Depending on if a scene is dialogue driven or movement storytelling driven, I either write the dialogue first and draw for the speech, or I layout the pages and do my writing in camera angle and panels. That seems to give everything this organic feel.
There are panel layout and techniques I’m finding when I am doing the layout I wouldn’t have thought of when hitting keys on my computer. It’s because of that, I think this may be an elite storytelling technique. I feel after doing this, that is why Frank Miller is able to do so many great bodies of work. An artist/writer has his hands in both, and I am able to use my visual pacing skills effectively for climactic scenes and juxtapositions. I felt like Axcend was a story with a lot of twists and I had to tackle it solo.
CA: What’s it like working together on the series? How’s your collaboration been?
MD: I think we mesh very well together. We push each other to do the best work we can and we work as a team. Our tables are side by side in the studio and we comment and critique as the work is being created. I care very much about keeping my line as close to Shane’s pencil line as possible. I think because we can be brutally honest between ourselves, we both prosper and grow as artists and our fans get a slice of that dedication.
I was one of the first people to hear Shane’s idea for Axcend. I got to see this thing in the beginning stages and to see it take on a life of its own and to be a part of it is just a wonderful experience for me. As an added bonus, we beat each other up in Mortal Kombat X on break time. I play Cassie Cage and Shane’s a Scorpion guy. It gets ugly but that’s about all I’m going to say on that.
SD: It’s been great, and we have worked together for years on covers. She really makes my pencils look great! She has such a delicate line and ads detail. On Axcend, I value her a lot as a female creator mainly because of her insight on Rayne our female lead pop star/gamer.
CA: And what has Morry Hollowell brought to the look of the series?
MD: I’m a big fan of his work and he’s such a cool guy. We’ve done a lot of covers together over the past few years and it only seemed natural that he would be a wonderful fit. Our whole art team blends together well.
SD: I can’t say enough good things about Morry. His modelling and colors are spot on. He brings such a depth to the panels and such a great contrast to the game world and to the real world. I am a big fan of the modelling and everything he brings to the table.
CA: You’ve described the series as being a way for you to talk about real-world issues --- the idea of a ‘bleed-over’ from video game violence into real world violence. What made you want to explore that particular angle?
SD: I feel like everybody comes to a moment in their life when everything gets to a point of disorientation. All three players will be placed into a “bleed-over” situation. It’s what they chose to do with the situation that defines them. One character in particular will not handle it well and become a threat. I will take the time in the series to examine his personal life, his upbringing and events that would influence his destructive pattern.
Ruin will be an interesting character --- he will see himself as a victim of an abusive environment, and given the power, decide to be the world’s consequence. Even though Ruin isn’t the main character, he is a big part of the heart of the book.
CA: What are your ongoing plans for the series as we move forward? What can we expect over the next few months?
SD: Each of the first three issues will respectively focus on every one of the three players. A lot of twist and turns, seriously. The story has two sides to it and a lot of big reveals. I will be tackling a lot of issues with teen bullying, depression, and drug abuse. There will be an interesting take on globalization with the R.U.N program (Rule Under Nations). Expect to read something new. I can’t stress that enough!
It’s no reboot…it’s more like a respawn.
Axcend #1 is on sale October 7.
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