Interviews

Doctor Shadow interviews DAJB!
lucky7s76 at 4:54PM, June 28, 2008
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The following interview was conducted by our own Doctor Shadow!

Name: DAJB
Comic(s): Shades

Ok, the personal question first! Who are you, what do you do?

I'm nobody (at least as far as comics are concerned!) My full name is David A J Berner. I stumbled into the weird and wacky world of webcomics by accident. A few years back, when I was looking for collaborators online, I stumbled across two guys in the US who were just setting up an online studio called Midnite Comics. I think they assumed that - being a Brit - I might actually have some understanding of the English language so they asked me to join them as Senior Editor. After a couple of years the Midnite Comics website was crashed (damned hackers!) and, sadly, the task of putting it all back together again was apparently too much.

On the plus side, that experience taught me a little bit about websites and so I decided to set up my own (Broken Voice Comics). My only published print work is a short adaptation of an Edgar Allen Poe short story (The Oval Portrait) which was included in the Nevermore anthology. It's not much but the other contributors include people like Jamie Delano, John McCrea, and Moore/Reppion so it did my ego a lot of good to see my name alongside theirs!

Shades is a very different superhero comic, why do you think that is? What makes Shades such a draw to people, say, like me who are jaded with a lot of Marvel hero comics of late?

Ummm - maybe you should be answering that one! Do you remember the novel-writing machine operated by Julia in 1984? I get the impression that DC and Marvel are like that machine. They have to get so many different titles out each month and each one is so strangled by the continuity in every other title that most of the plot lines are little more than retreads of old material. Also, I think our view of the DC and Marvel titles is coloured (no pun intended!) by the fact that they have become incredibly poor value for money. The average monthly comic book can be read in about five minutes these days and - unless you buy a dozen or more other titles every month - you can't even follow the complete story.

What I tried to do different in Shades was to underpin everything with a layer of “reality” and to make the characters seem like the sort of people a reader might actually meet in real life. Essentially, I approached it as a story, not just a super hero story. I'm a frustrated novelist at heart and so, when I started planning, I tried to factor in all the elements I'd expect to find in a novel, as well as all the things I'd expect to find in a comic book - mixing up the super hero action with big themes, real life trivia and characters who seemed like real people.

Would you care to tell us a little about the design process for Shades, where did you get the idea?

Well, to start with, the idea was quite simple - and then it became not so simple! Like a lot of other UK comic fans, I'd always wanted there to be more UK-based super heroes. If we assume that super heroes exist in the numbers they do in the Marvel and DC universes, it just didn't make sense for 90% of them to be US-based or for 60% of those to live in New York. If they did, New York would be crime free - criminals would just move somewhere else!

Logically, there had to be super hero communities in other countries around the world and yet, the majors have only ever paid lip service to that. The main UK heroes, for example, were either childish spoofs (Superman: True Brit), rejects from a Mediaeval theme restaurant (Shining Knight, BeefEater) or US-style heroes draped in a Union Flag (Captain Britain). There didn't appear to be any serious attempts to create heroes who acted as if they'd ever even visited the UK, let alone any who'd been born and raised here. And so, originally, that's all the idea was. Hey - why don't I create a UK super hero (or two)?!

From there, the design process for Shades focused mainly on two aspects. Firstly, I set about reinterpreting the genre conventions so that they would work in a UK environment (how would a super-character get unseen from one side of London to the other without the benefit of New York's towering skyscrapers?!) That quickly became a far more extensive re-examination of all the accepted genre conventions! Secondly, and most importantly, I started collecting notes for the design of the characters and their backstories. Having an ensemble cast, it was never going to be sufficient to simply have a list of names, costumes and powers. If the characters were not going to seem generic, they had to have individual personalities.

At the same time, I had one big doubt nagging away at me - why do it? Why set a super hero story in the UK when the mainstream had already established the US as their “natural habitat”? In the end I decided that - if I was going to set the story in Britain, then it ought to say something about Britain. The way I decided to incorporate that was to assign to each of the characters a very British personality trait (or, in some cases, its opposite!) That would be their primary motivation for most of their actions. (Boo, for example, is driven by a compulsion to support the underdog and protect others.)

Finally, because I wanted the characters to seem real and not just caricatures of stereotypical Brits, the last part of the design process was to “cast” the characters like actors in a movie. For each character, I tried to imagine either an actor or someone I know in real life speaking their lines. I re-wrote many, many lines just because I couldn't imagine the characters' real-life counterparts saying them the way I'd originally written them!

Is Shades turning out differently to how you imagined it might?

No. It's actually turning out exactly as I'd imagined it! Artwise, I did worry during the Prologue and the early parts of Chapter 1, that perhaps it was going to end up a lot darker and more gloomy than I'd intended. But, by the time Harsho had finished the artwork for Chapter 2 and I could see the opening pages alongside the full colour of Stan's chase through Waterloo station and the greyscale of Doug's WW2 reminiscences, I knew he'd grasped what I was looking for!

Storywise my only concern was that the more serious underlying themes might overshadow some of the more fun-filled story elements. From the very beginning, I was concerned that Shades should also work as an entertaining action/adventure romp. Luckily, from the feedback I've had here at DD, it does seem as if people are getting my sly, dry and very British sense of humour!

Who is your favourite character in Shades and why?

Ooh, parents shouldn't have favourites, should they?! It would have to be either Stan or Boo. I love Stan because he's just such a nice guy. He's an ordinary “man in the street” character with no special abilities, and yet he's always striving to do the right thing even at great risk or cost to himself. You know how Superman occasionally asks himself whether he would still do heroic things if he didn't have super powers? Well, Stan's the guy who does!

Boo, on the other hand, I just love because … well, because she's Boo! As a First Century warrior queen there was always the risk she might become just another Red Sonya but, of all the characters, Boo was the one who most quickly seemed to develop her own personality. She's a forceful character, headstrong and never one to shy away from a fight. But she also has a lot of heart. I'm pleased that readers seem to have bought into both sides of her character. I don't suppose it hurts that she also has a wicked sense of humour!

How long do you see Shades running for, are the stories you can tell as near-eternal as the protagonists? Would you like to be old and grey, still working on Shades?

I am "old and grey and still working on Shades"! No, seriously, I never intended Shades to be an on-going series like a DC or Marvel title. It's one story with a beginning, a middle and an end, and - at the moment - I'm really not looking beyond getting this story finished! Harsho (the artist) has just finished the artwork for Volume 1 whch covers the first half of the story. Unfortunately, he won't be able to work on Volume 2 so my priority now is to find a new artist or art team to produce Volume 2. Otherwise you guys will never know how it ends!

After that, I don't know. As I say, it wasn't intended to be an ongoing series but I do have one or two ideas that could be turned into shorter stand-alone projects. The backstory for Ryan, Craig and Rebecca Allen is barely touched on in Shades, so it would be fun to write that. Also, since Boo and the Shaman are thousands of years old, the idea of writing a series of short stories showing the part they might have played in some of the more colourful events in British history is quite appealing. The flashback sequence where they tackle Jack the Ripper in Victorian London, for example, is one of my favourite parts of the book so far!

Tell us a little about the team behind Shades, who are they, who does what?

I completed all the planning, design and scripting about four years ago. Since then I've been editing, re-writing revising and re-scripting almost constantly!

The artist on the first half of the book (Chapters 1 to 8), has been a talented guy called Harsho Mohan Chattoraj. I met Harsho through an advertisement I posted in various forums once the first draft of the script was complete. He lives in India (Calcutta, if I remember rightly) and so, to help him get the correct “British feel” to the artwork, I've spent a lot of time online finding him reference pics! Harsho has been responsible for all the artwork including colouring and so his style has been immensely important in giving Shades its look and feel. Harsho also did the initial lettering but, now I've decided to re-letter it, I'm going to be doing that myself.

Unfortunately, due to personal circumstances and other commitments, Harsho told me just before Christmas that he wouldn't be able to continue with the book after Chapter 8. I've been searching for a new artist ever since then. In fact, I thought I had found one until recently, but I've just learned that he won't be able to join us after all. (Any DD artists who thnk they're good enough to continue in Harsho's rather large footsteps are welcome to apply!)

Who has been your single biggest influence comic wise, either web or print?

I'm not sure anyone has, to be honest. I'm a huge fan of Alan Moore but, with the possible exception of Watchmen I don't think I'd read anything of his before I started the script for Shades. Similarly, although it may have been DKR which inspired me to write a comic book in the first place, I don't think my style has much in common with Frank Miller's. I just take influences wherever I find them - not necessarily from comics at all. For me, being influenced can often mean making a conscious decision not to do the things you don't like, just as much as deciding to emulate the things you do.

For example, my use of caption boxes for internal dialogue was definitely inspired by DKR. (The last time I'd read a comic before that, thought balloons were still all the rage!) But, the decision that most of my exposition sequences should also have something “visual” going on to keep the reader's interest, was something I picked up from movies more than comics. I avoid the use of third party narration because I think a character's own voiceover is usually more effective (you wouldn't expect a novel written in the first person to suddenly inject a third party comment just to set a scene). I avoid sequences of panels without text because, I've never seen one in a comic which (in my opinion!) wouldn't be better paced if it had some. I avoid making my characters' accents too “phonetically accurate” because I find Ennis's Preacher books almost indecipherable in parts. The list goes on …!

Probably the only writer I've ever consciously wanted to emulate was Enid Blyton. Of course, I was about eight at the time and, to the best of my knowledge, she's not really known for her work in the comics field!

Is there a particular genre you think you'd like to get into, one you haven't tried before, or you like more than the others?

Well, I've tried my hand at several genres already. After I'd written the script for Shades, I wrote a script for a vampire story (Hunted) and, after that, I tried my hand at the fantasy genre (The Spires). Those are my three main projects at the moment.

The important thing to me is that, whatever genre I'm working in, I want to do something different with it. I always start by making a list of the genre conventions and then I very consciously decide which of the conventions I want to follow, which ones I'll ignore and which ones I can turn on their heads to give the story a twist. I like to combine genres, too. The Spires might have a fantasy setting but, to me, it owes more to The Fugitive than it does to Tolkien! Similarly, I wrote a short horror story a little while ago (Speakeasy) and, although it had its share of ghoulies and ghosties, I very deliberately set it in Prohibition-era Chicago, so that it was more a 1930s gangster movie than a Hammer Horror clone.

Is there anything at all in Shades that you'd like to revisit, redo?

Of course! There are a hundred and one things I'd like to change! Fortunately, most of them are fairly minor and, since I do re-write the script for each chapter (yet again!) before giving it to Harsho, to some extent I am doing that all the time.

The only big thing I'm really not very happy with is the lettering. When we started, neither Harsho nor I had any experience of lettering and I think it shows - especially in the earlier chapters. I've re-lettered the Prologue and one or two other pages, but it's a lot of work. We no longer have the “unlettered” artwork so - every time I create a new balloon which is smaller than (or in a slightly different position to) the original - I have to mask out the old balloon in PhotoShop. It limits the extent to which I can correct things and it also means that each page takes hours to re-work. It's a nightmare but, having started, I'm kind of obliged to do the whole thing now!

Ok, now for some non-Shades stuff. What's your favourite print comic?

The Dark Knight Returns. That was the book that showed me how far comics had come (and is my yardstick for how far they've slipped back since!) Watchmen is a very close second but, for me, DKR just edges it!

DKR has a level of psychological depth I'd never seen in a comic book before. More than that, though, I like it because it shows that an action-packed mainstream super hero adventure can also be intelligent. In contrast, most of the recent fascination with graphic novels from the press is focused on “topical” or “worthy” books (e.g. Maus, Palestine, Persepolis etc) which allow the critics to continue looking down on the mainstream. To me, DKR and Watchmen demonstrate that, as far as super hero comics are concerned, it's not the genre which is tired, it's the execution.

Favourite 3 web comics, either on Drunk Duck or elsewhere?

I'm not sure I can pick only three DD titles - there's just so much variety here that one comic really doesn't stand comparison with another. How could I choose between something like The Dreamer and The Non-Standard Assembly, for example? How would you rank Simply Sarah against Cowboys and Aliens 2? All I can say is go to Shades, and there's a whole raft of my DD recommendations there!

Outside of DD, I love Ursula Vernon's Digger at Graphic Smash. The characters are just so unusual (a wombat, a jackal and a “shadow child”!) and yet they all ring true as genuine personalities in their own right. Unfortunately, the archives are behind a subscription wall so it's not especially easy for new readers to jump into.

Favourite Movie?

Oooh, so many! Possibly Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys - I think it may be the only time travel movie with a plot that actually stands up to close scrutiny.

Oh, wait - I'm forgetting about The Lord of the Rings! On second thoughts, I'd have to say LotR: The Fellowship of the Ring. No other film has so completely surpassd my every expectation! The first time I watched it in the cinema, I think I was about two hours into the film before I realised I hadn't stopped grinning and my jaw was aching!

Of course I have to ask this, favourite comic book character? (print only)

Batman - no question!

As I wrote somewhere else recently, Adam West's Batman was partly responsible for getting me into comics as a kid, Tim Burton's Batman made me want to read them again as an adult and Frank Miller's Batman made me want to write my own!

And last but not least, any inspiring advice or words for budding webcomic and comic artists?

Ha! I'm not qualified to give advice - Shades is the first comic I've scripted, so I'm still “budding” myself! I guess I'd say read. Ideally read a lot of books other than comics but - if comics are all you read - then read a lot of different kinds. If you only read super hero comics, the chances are, your own attempt at a super hero comic will be generic and not especially interesting. If you only read boy-love Manga, your own attempt at a manga is probably going to be very formulaic, too. The more variety there is in your reading, the greater the chance you'll come up with something original of your own!
By the time you finish this, you'll have read it. :3

deviantART
last edited on July 14, 2011 1:48PM
amanda at 9:55PM, June 28, 2008
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What a great interview! Question and Answer-wise. It's really cool to hear the story behind WHY you created some British superheroes. That makes Shades about 10 times more awesome than it already was!
last edited on July 14, 2011 10:51AM
jgib99 at 1:57PM, June 29, 2008
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Amazing interview. Great job by both Doc Shadow and DAJB.
Karen's Edge- The beginning of the wildest road trip ever!!
How Unfortunate- Coming back in mid-July!
last edited on July 14, 2011 1:08PM
Doctor Shadow at 2:00AM, June 30, 2008
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*hat tips* It was a pleasure to interview DAJB, thoughtful and enlightening answers!
A Ronin writer, a masterless samurai of the written word…
http://www.drunkduck.com/The_Chronicles_of_Wyrden/
Updating: Thursdays. Now in glorious Ink Wash and Water Soluble Pencil! Reva's note: This is not created digitally, it's all hand drawn and inked.
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:12PM
ttyler at 2:20AM, June 30, 2008
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Great interview!!
last edited on July 14, 2011 4:34PM
patrickdevine at 11:52AM, June 30, 2008
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Characteristically brilliant for Doc Shadow and DAJB both. So DAJB, now that I know your real name can I call you “Dave?”
last edited on July 14, 2011 2:41PM
DAJB at 12:02PM, June 30, 2008
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@ amanda: Ten times, eh? Maybe we were starting from a very low base! ;-)

@ jgib: Thanks. The Doc came up with some great questions - exactly the right ones to wheedle the important information out of me!

@ Doc Shadow: Aaaw - and a pleasure to be interviewed by you, sir!

@ Tim T: Thanks!

@ Patrick: Hey, some people here already have, so feel free to join the club!
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:03PM
Abt_Nihil at 5:23AM, July 1, 2008
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Yup, great interview. Since I've been following your comments on Shades closely, this interview felt more like a nice compendium collecting your most important comments so far :-) The parts about your influences were somewhat new to me though, and they only reinforced my sympathy. Though, speaking of Gilliam, I don't quite see how you can choose 12 Monkeys over Brazil… ;-)
last edited on July 14, 2011 10:44AM
DAJB at 5:50AM, July 1, 2008
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Abt_Nihil
speaking of Gilliam, I don't quite see how you can choose 12 Monkeys over Brazil… ;-)
Fair point! Brazil is definitely one of my all-time favourites but, to me, it's very much a flawed masterpiece.

It has more sequences of genuinely imaginative brilliance than possibly any other film (by anyone, not just Gilliam!) I've lost count of the number of other films and adverts that have - ahem! - “borrowed” from it. But … as a whole, I don't think the narrative holds together as well as in Twelve Monkeys. I feel Gilliam took a scatter-gun approach to all the targets he wanted to take a swipe at, so that some sequences are given undue prominence (all the plastic surgery stuff, the ducts, fighting over the office space etc) at the expense of the story. I love almost every part of the film individually (including the ducts!) but I always think it feels like a film in need of some editing.

Whenever I recommend it to people, I usually suggest they watch it in instalments the first time, so they don't get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ideas in it! In Twelve Monkeys, on the other hand, I feel Gilliam had a much firmer grasp on what it means to be a director and, because of the looping nature of the plot, his control had to be that much tighter. I don't think there's a single superfluous scene in it. Although Brazil may have more brilliant individual moments, I just feel Twelve Monkeys tells its story better.
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:03PM
Abt_Nihil at 2:18AM, July 5, 2008
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I agree with what you wrote, but guess what? I still prefer Brazil over 12 Monkeys :-) What makes the difference for me is probably that despite 12 Monkeys being more well-crafted storytelling-wise, Brazil generally has more interesting aspects to its story (though, as you said, every one of them may not be developed to the extent that 12 Monkey's aspects were)… the totalitarian bureaucratic society just seems way more interesting to explore than another time-travelling-tale, no matter how well executed. That may sound a bit unfair, but I guess I do rate movies that way. Plus, it has Robert DeNiro as some sort of plumbing superhero! :-)

But in the end they're both great movies, so I really wouldn't wanna nitpick too much.

Another thing: Reading your interview I realized I should thank you for keeping A.D 1997 in your recommendations for so long, seeing how many webcomics you seem to know (I don't read too many webcomics, but I'm sure there are a lot of great ones out there I've never even heard of - though that's not an invitation to recommend me some, since it's more of a time problem with me).
last edited on July 14, 2011 10:44AM

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