Set in Limerick City, and loosely based on real events, SAVAGE TOWN is a crime drama that casts a different light on Ireland. With the book launching the 12th of September, ComicsVerse interviewed writer and artist Declan Shalvey (MOON KNIGHT, INJECTION) about his original graphic novel.

ComicsVerse (CV): Could you give our readers the breakdown of what SAVAGE TOWN is about?

DECLAN SHALVEY (DS): SAVAGE TOWN is about a small time Irish gangster called Jimmy Savage. He basically lives off the scraps left after the two prominent gangs have had their fill. He and his small gang are about to get into a heap of trouble after a series of mess-ups, which will force Jimmy to find a way out of the mess he’s been landed in.

Savage Town
Image courtesy of Image Comics

CV: According to the press release, SAVAGE TOWN is loosely based on events that happened at the turn of the Millennium. How much did these events inspire the narrative of SAVAGE TOWN?

DS: Limerick City has gotten a bit of a bad rap over the years as there was a serious gangland problem for a number of years around the 2000-2010 period. I lived in Limerick during this time, so I saw the headlines as they happened, but lacked the understanding of what was really going on.

In recent years, I took an interest to go back and research the gangs and how they were inevitably apprehended by police. It’s all quite fascinating and very, very Irish. Ireland itself was going through a lot of change, and I thought it would be interesting to look at that change through the prism of Limerick’s gangland problem.

I was originally thinking of telling a story based on more factual aspects of the time, but I didn’t want to glorify the specific criminals involved. Ultimately I just changed everything and came up with our own characters, so I didn’t need to worry about getting facts wrong, or upsetting anyone who was a victim of past crimes, etc.

Also, I wanted to tell a story about Ireland that felt very authentic. Using a genre as popular as the crime genre seemed like a perfect fit, considering Limerick’s past.

READ: We throw a spotlight on Declan Shalvey’s extensive body of work here!

CV: Following on from that, is Jimmy Savage based on a real person?

DS: Based on a real person? No. Inspired by? Yes. I took a lot of liberties to make sure that the character of Jimmy is really nothing like the real person who inspired him. Jimmy is actually a much nicer person if you can believe that.

Savage Town
Image courtesy of Image Comics

CV: The story revolves around Jimmy. He’s not the most likable guy. Was it a challenge to make your protagonist someone people would want to read about, despite not necessarily rooting for him?

DS: That’s a great question. When coming up with a story, you have to wonder if an unlikable character is one that you’d be interested in reading about. I personally love stories with unlikable protagonists so I really wanted to work on that myself, as a storyteller. I wanted people to see this criminal as a real person, with a family, etc., but at the same time not let that absolve him of the terrible things he does. I didn’t want to shy away from the negative parts of his character but still wanted to humanize him. I tried to use humor as best I could to get us to warm up to him even though he’s, y’know… a prick.

READ: Here we reviewed INJECTION #11, the first installment of the latest arc!

CV: SAVAGE TOWN is set in Limerick City. Do you know the city well? Were there any creative liberties you took with the geography or history of it?

DS: Oh yeah, I lived in Limerick for about seven years, I studied in art college there and spent my early comic ‘career’ by working on my portfolio and drew my very first comic that would be published called HERO KILLERS. Limerick has a rich and long history but, unfortunately, I didn’t really get to explore that much in the book. If we do a sequel, that might be something interesting to dig into. The book takes place as ‘The Celtic Tiger’ is picking up… a term coined to describe unprecedented economic wealth that Ireland was experiencing. It was a unique time for the country and I was interested in depicting it to a larger audience outside Ireland.

I tried not to get too into the specific geography of Limerick (I think that’s a quick way to lose the reader), but still get across that there are tribal lines. I didn’t want to include a map or anything, I wanted the reader to learn about the environment through the story and characters.

Savage Town
Image courtesy of Image Comics

CV: The language in SAVAGE TOWN is fast, furious, and not for the faint hearted. How important was it to get the dialect and dialogue right for this?

DS: It was very important that I got to write the dialogue in this book the way I did. I feel that the Irish speak with a certain turn of phrase, that may seem a little odd when reading in a speech balloon, and we’re pretty liberal with our swearing too. The advantage of this being an OGN [Original Graphic Novel] meant that you don’t stop reading after 20 pages, so you really get to live in the world and adjust to the environment. It was one of the best things about doing this book through Image, as there wasn’t any editor to tell me ‘no, you can’t write the dialogue like that’, etc. I definitely tried to find a balance of making it sound authentic, yet still readable. It meant a lot of tinkering with lettering drafts. Spare a thought for our poor letterer, Clayton Cowles, who had to make sense of it all.

READ: If you like your crime drama with a Southern flavor, check out our review of LOOSE ENDS!

CV: SAVAGE TOWN is an OGN. Why choose this format compared to, say, a limited comics series?

DS: If I’m being completely honest, SAVAGE TOWN was originally pitched as an ongoing series. It was Eric Stephenson who suggested doing it as an OGN. I hadn’t considered that really, as I’m very used to monthly comics so it’s what I was prepared to go with. In retrospect, an OGN was the best move, considering the tweaking that had to be done with the dialogue as mentioned above, that I’m already drawing a monthly book and that’s a hell of a lot of work, not to mention covers and other writing, etc. Phil is a lot more interested in the graphic novel format anyway, so it worked out for the best.

SAVAGE TOWN ended up becoming something that ate up a lot of time. Had we gone monthly, then it would have been a much bumpier ride for everyone involved. Also, as it turned out, I often became interested in characters after Phil had drawn them, and came up with stories for them. There was a creative back and forth that happened because we had the time to tweak it here and there. I don’t think we would have had that luxury if we were publishing in an episodic monthly format.

Savage Town
Courtesy of Image Comics

CV: Artist Phillip Barrett does a stellar job of breathing life into SAVAGE TOWN. When did you first become aware of his work and what does he bring to the book?

DS: I can’t remember when I first became aware of Phil’s work exactly… it was likely a small Irish comics show many years ago. I got to know Phil over the years from various UK conventions, Irish conventions, and small comics events around Dublin. I’ve always felt Phil should be far better known than he is, he’s basically Ireland’s secret storytelling weapon! I’ve been playing with the idea of a Limerick crime story for a long time… I figured it would be something I’d draw myself. As time went by, I ‘unfortunately’ kept having successful projects that needed full commitments. Working on INJECTION with Warren Ellis at Image was also a hugely empowering experience, so I decided that it would be great to take what had been offered to me and give that opportunity to someone else, as it became clearer and clearer that I wouldn’t have the time to draw it.

What Phil brings to the book is difficult to articulate. Phil is not only a superb storyteller, but the environments he draws are so tangible, so believable, that he really puts you IN that world. Hell, I’m from Ireland and he drew tiny details into the backgrounds that not only were excellent additions, they were features I likely would never have considered. Also, his talent for character work is just exceptional. No two characters in the book look alike (aside from the Hogan brothers, but that’s deliberate). Phil drew characters with such personality that it made me want to create backstories for them, to come up with an excuse to have them re-appear in the story. While preparing for the book, Phil even illustrated scenes he came up with. I loved them so much, we ended up reworking them into the book. Phil is an absolute master, and I hope everyone comes to realize that by the time they finish reading the book.

CV: Jordie Bellaire’s colors are, as usual, brilliant. What makes Jordie someone creatives turn to for colourists?

DS: Man, where do you start? She’s the best in the business! I know I’m biased with that opinion, but I’d fight anyone who would disagree that Jordie is one of the top five colorists in the industry today. I would have been stupid not to at least ask her (considering we work in the same studio). From a purely business perspective though, I’m basically a first time writer on this book, Phil is an unknown artist… Jordie is probably the most well-known creator on the book. I think having ‘Bellaire’ on the cover will sell more copies, to be honest.

That’s a bonus at the end of the day. Jordie lives with me in Ireland, so she knows and loves the country, she understands the world, and she adds a quality of excellence to everything she touches. We’re lucky to have her on this book, frankly.

READ: If you like your Irish drama infused with the supernatural, read our review of MALEVOLENCE!

CV: I read the Red Cube Studio (the Dublin-based comic book art studio created by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire) Newsletter that you email out. You are quite the busy guy! When it came to writing SAVAGE TOWN, how much time and work did you give to the project?

DS: Thanks for reading (anyone can subscribe here, btw)! Yeah, I’m pretty goddamn busy alright!

It’s hard to answer that question. I just checked to see when I put together my original idea board; it was May of 2015. Phil had already said he was interested, but I made up the board to pitch it to him and to run it by an editor friend to see if the idea had any legs before I decided to put a pitch together. I’ve pretty much been working on it in some capacity every day since then. So, if I was to just write the book, that would be five to six weeks’ works. In reality, I’ve spent FAR more time workshopping the idea, talking to Image about paper options, cost analysis, making contracts, reworking the accents in the script, etc. The project management aspect of it all has proven to be FAR more work than the actual act of writing. It was a huge learning experience too, so it’s not like I’d consider it time wasted, but I certainly underestimated just how much work it would be, outside of the time of creating the story.

Savage Town
Courtesy of Image Comics

CV: There are some great sayings and curse words in SAVAGE TOWN that could only be found in Ireland. What was your favorite that you knew or discovered while writing it?

DS: Ah I knew them all, but I wanted to make sure I got some of my favorite ones in there. I love ‘Bollocks’, it’s just a cathartic swear word to use. I did also enjoy writing ‘Fuck me hole’ too. I don’t think that’s in many comics.

‘Daycent beore’ is another favorite too. It basically means ‘pretty girl’. Even the use of ‘savage’ in a comic has been highly entertaining. In Ireland, the word means the obvious negative meaning, but it’s also a very positive expression, i.e., I saw a savage film on tv last night… meaning ‘I saw a great film on tv’. It’s kinda how you say it, and it’s been fun to play with that in comics.

LISTEN: Declan Shalvey joins our lowly interns for a conversation about his work!

CV: To wrap up, are there any other projects you’d like to mention?

DS: There are a couple of things I can’t mention I’m afraid, one is a writing gig should be announced pretty soon, really excited about that. I’ve been really enjoying being the cover artist on PUNISHER for the last year or so, the last issue of DEADPOOL VS PUNISHER just came out too, was fun doing covers for that series too. Mainly we’re wrapping up vol. 3 of INJECTION at the moment and, man, I’m really loving where this arc is going, been a fantastic experience. #14 will be out soon.

While it’s not my project in any way, I gotta plug Jordie’s first issue of REDLANDS that’s out in August. Gonna be great.

Want to Know More about SAVAGE TOWN?

SAVAGE TOWN will be launched on the 12th of September. If you want to know more about Declan Shalvey, you can follow him on Twitter @declanshalvey or you can sign up to his Red Cube Studio Newsletter here!

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