feature by David Brothers, originally published in IMAGE+ #12
Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey co-create INJECTION with Jordie Bellaire. INJECTION introduces us to five people who are tasked with saving the world, but inadvertently doom it instead. They unleashed a powerful presence, one whose scope and intentions are only just becoming known, in an attempt to make the world safer, but soon found that the Injection, as they call it, is nothing like what they expected. Voracious for new information and indifferent to morality, the Injection is the greatest threat to life the world has ever seen...and may be beyond the abilities of our cast to defeat. With two volumes out and a third in progress, we caught up with Shalvey & Ellis to see what makes the series go.
DAVID BROTHERS: I was surprised to realize it, but by my count you've only done 17 issues together: six on Moon Knight and 13 (and counting!) on INJECTION. Was there a specific moment early in your time together where you realized that you wanted to keep the partnership going into creator-owned comics?
WARREN ELLIS: Probably around issue two of Moon Knight? For my part, things clicked instantly, and I wanted to know what they wanted to do in terms of more personal work and what that would look like.
DECLAN SHALVEY: When we were wrapping up our Moon Knight run, I had mentioned to Warren a creator-owned offer at another publisher I'd been given. He then suggested he write something for me and take it to Image, so it was really all Warren's terrible idea. To be honest, I NEVER would have expected Warren would want to do more comics with me. I'd been getting the creator-owned itch after years of only work for hire, and Warren offered me the chance to give it a good hard scratch. Once I realised he was willing, I trapped him into a longer series!
DAVID: What is it about collaborating with each other on INJECTION that makes both of you happy with the relationship?
DECLAN: I'm just happy if Warren is happy, really. I just want to know that what I'm working on is a considered piece of work that Warren cares about, and while he's never said so specifically, I do believe INJECTION is such a project, as a lot of his thoughts are clearly wrapped up in it. Because of the genre-bending element of the book, I get the best of all Warrens: the world-building one, the sharply witty one, the inventive narrative one, and the smashy-smashy boom-boom one. The fact that Warren is willing to tolerate me for 25 issues is probably the biggest compliment I could get from him.
Also, I get to draw Warren Ellis scripts. Others would kill to be where I am, so I get to lord it over everyone.
DAVID: I'm curious about the back-and-forth part of production on a book like INJECTION. Warren, in your scripts, do you suggest angles or compositions, or do you just describe what needs to happen and trust Declan & Jordie to figure out the visuals? Declan, how soon are you taking into account what Jordie is going to do over your art?
DECLAN: Warren never said so specifically, but I got the impression he doesn't really mind how I tell the story as long as I don't fuck around with it, so I stick to the script as closely as possible, always trying to figure out where he's coming from and make sure I'm clear on his intentions. Then I'll figure out what works for me.
[Colorist] Jordie Bellaire and I work similarly, as in I let her do her thing and she doesn't fuck around with my line work. We have the benefit of sharing a studio, so she's able to look through the pages and ask me what I'm thinking. Now and then I'll have something very specific in mind and she'll run with it. Other times she'll have ideas for scenes that I hadn't thought of and I'm more than happy to have her do her thing. If anything, my work hugely benefits from her ideas. Jordie and I argue way more than Warren and I do though!
WARREN: From my end, it's mix and match—sometimes I have a specific effect I'm going for, sometimes I want to see what Dec and Jordie do with an idea. More the latter than the former these days, I think. There's not a vast amount of back and forth anymore—I write for them, and see how they interpret it, and answer any questions they have along the way, because for me, the most interesting and delightful thing is seeing the flights they take in the interpretation.
DAVID: I noticed that Brigid only wears her hoodie down in two scenes set in the present day, both of which are moments of relaxation. Headland sits in a very particular way. How do you build a character's personality, whether in dialogue or art? What comes first for you—the role a character has to play, or the type of person they are?
DECLAN: I always work from the script. I imagine the way I get to know the characters is like how an actor settles into a role over the course of a screenplay: I don't have all the facts, but I take what I can from the script, and my familiarity with the character grows the more I draw them.
I became more familiar with Maria early, as I was drawing her the most in volume one, the same with Vivek in volume two. I felt more comfortable with Brigid, as I have a person in mind when I draw her and she's the most visually distinctive character in the series. Body language plays a big part too; Simeon is a spy so he's the one character who always seems like he's confident, yet comfortable in any environment. Your point with the hood—I guess that was slightly more subconscious on my part. She puts up a front, so when her shields are down, the hood is, too. It has to come down sometime, otherwise it'll start to become distracting.
With all the characters, I try to have a "model" that they fit to, a certain type of clothing and so on, but since we show the team at different times, I try to reflect where these characters are emotionally through their clothing. Pre-Injection Brigid wears a lot of neutral colors, shades of gray. Post-Injection, she's gone full-dark. Pre-Injection Maria wears a lot of lighter pastel colors, and post-Injection she's become more neutral, but since the end of volume one, she's shifting again, as I feel she's found her confidence. Morel is gradually becoming more worn down and Vivek...? Vivek is consistently Vivek. It's a bit of a juggling act trying to keep track of the visual timeline and to try to subtly convey that to the reader without signposting it too much.
DAVID: You're approaching INJECTION in a very grounded way—even the magic swords have science bits strapped to them, and the creatures have real weight the way you depict them. What's foremost in your mind in terms of how you want the series to look?
DECLAN: With any series I work on, I feel it's always important that I'm conveying a mood. In my opinion, I think the art should have a quality that puts you authentically in a world, like when you watch a David Fincher movie or a Tarantino movie. One film does not feel like the other, and that's down to a particular curator developing a particular and consistent approach. It's that intangible quality that I think people respond to and can make a book truly great, which is my aim.
INJECTION is meant to feel grounded and subdued, from the panel structure to the ink wash texturing to the muted color scheme, so when we do become more surreal, it's more disorientating. When I draw a superhero book, the more labor-intensive pages are when people are punching each other. With INJECTION, it's when I'm drawing textured establishing environments. The more long-form nature of INJECTION involves a lot of restraint on my part. It's not a splashy book where I'm trying to blow people away each issue like Moon Knight. It's more insidious than that; I'm trying to pull you in.
DAVID: Declan, you're one of the biggest supporters of the #ArtCred movement online. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
DECLAN: Thanks for asking. I find it increasingly frustrating that, while comics are a visual medium, it is the writers who are seen as the powerful and important auteur of it. I had been noticing more and more how huge pieces of work, many of which take years to illustrate, are more and more becoming credited solely to the writer. When comics break through the mainstream and into movies or TV, it'll often be credited to the writer, and rarely ever the artist. Not that it's the writer’s fault! I think the news media, the readership, publishers, and more have been trained to think in this lazy way for a long time. The perpetuation of that idea is incredibly harmful to anyone who wants to have a long-term career illustrating comics. Considering everything I said above about art adding a quality that can make a book so unique, it's disappointing that the recipe for success is so easily dismissed.
I originally started the Art Cred hashtag on Twitter in an effort to catalogue examples of this happening. Since then, I think it's helped a lot of people realise more and more how art is repeatedly being devalued in a very insidious way that is hurting the medium and the creators, and will continue to do so with the next generation. I think people are really noticing now, which is great, but there's a long way to go to change people's habits.
DAVID: Robin Morel has existed along the edges of the part of the story set in the present thus far, but both volumes have featured him in the closing moments. How do you see Robin's place in the story? What role does he have to play?
WARREN: As of volume two, it's more obvious that he was very much the outsider in the group, just as he's much less certain of his place in the world than the other four. One of the underlying threads of the piece is Rob coming to terms with himself and deciding who he's going to be when he grows up, much later than any of the others did. But doing it without support or advice. Well, without advice from anyone we would describe as "living," anyway. His journey is kind of the dark undertow of the book. He may not be going anywhere that's good for the rest of the group.
Especially given that he appears to have added the animating force, if you like, to the Injection, and we don't, strictly speaking, know precisely what that was yet.
INJECTION #13 is available now.
David Brothers was born in the South, became an adult in Oakland, and edits Image+ when he's not sitting by the dock of the bay. IMAGE+ is an award-winning monthly comics magazine that's packed with interviews, essays, and features about all your favorite Image comics and your first look at upcoming releases.