With a clean, crisp style that hearkens back to classic comics yet still pressing forward into the modern, Doc Shaner’s work is always a standout. The boy who originally wanted to be a newspaper cartoonist has become one of DC Comics’ premiere talents, gracing numerous covers and (soon) the interiors for one of 2020’s biggest series.
First, the particulars…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist
Your home base: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Current project title(s):
Strange Adventures [DC]
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: We’ll start, as usual, with the big question: Why comics? Of all of the realms in which an artist can ply their trade, what attracts you to making comics specifically?
Doc Shaner: Storytelling, plain and simple. I like drawing, and I’ve had plenty illustration gigs over the years, but nothing comes close to being able to tell a story.
KS: Do you have a specific early memory where a comic book or comic strip especially wowed you or maybe even put the “I want to do that” bug in your head?
DS: I’ve wanted to do comics in one form or another since I was five, so it’s difficult to recall a specific starting point. I got into comics through the newspaper strips and was such a huge fan of Charles Schulz and Bill Watterson as a kid. I would imagine it was something in Calvin & Hobbes that really hooked me first. The way Watterson played and experimented with the form within the confines of a relatively small space really left a mark on me.
KS: Around what age did you first start being able to identify different artists and art styles — enough to develop a preference?
DS: Beyond the strip artists I was a fan of very early on, I didn’t get into comic books until I was around 16. At the time, I know the Kuberts (Joe, Adam, and Andy, all of ‘em) were among the first to make an impression. Mike Wieringo was the first one whose work really spoke to me, and I started hunting out everything of his I could find.
KS: What was your first pro comics assignment? For some creative folks, there’s a feeling of “making it” when that first check comes in, while for others it’s the Imposter Syndrome.
DS: My first comics gig was a short story in Oni Press’ JAM: Tales from the World of Roller Derby. Oni Editor-in-Chief James Lucas Jones had been in touch with me about doing something and that came along. I didn’t necessarily feel that I’d made it or that I didn’t deserve it; I knew that this one job alone didn’t mean I was “in,” and while I was very happy to have a job it wasn’t exactly in my wheelhouse or the kind of thing I wanted to be doing in the long run. Not to mention I think it was another two years before I had another comics gig, so certainly I’d worried that that was it for me.
KS: Imagine yourself today as an art instructor, and one of your students is the college-age version of you. What’s a specific piece of guidance you’d give him about his work?
DS: I’d tell him to learn more about and start making comic books right away. Until I graduated, I held onto the notion that I would work in newspapers, which had been steadily dying off left and right at the time. Consequently, I didn’t focus on making “comic books,” and it took me longer than I would’ve liked to get the hang of working in that format after college.
KS: Tell us a little about your current workspace or studio setup.
DS: For the better part of this year, I’ve been working in an office space that I rent about a mile from my house. This is a first for me in the near-decade I’ve been at this. We lucked out finding this space, and it had become abundantly clear that I needed to start working outside the house. It’s a roughly 20’x13’ office, enough room for my small mountain of books and two desks. I spend most of my time at my computer desk, with the 27” iMac and Cintiq Companion 2. The drafting table, which still does get some use, is behind me on the opposite wall. Beyond that there are prints and posters on the wall, and more toys than I’d like to admit, haha.
KS: Do you have a set daily (or nightly) work routine, or does it fluctuate significantly based on what’s on your plate at the moment?
DS: My regular schedule is 8-5 on most days, Monday-Saturday, and I’ll take late nights on Tuesday and Thursday that keep me here until around 10 p.m. Those late nights help keep things on track and let me take Sundays off to hang out with my family. Recently, I’ve been able to keep to that even when the deadline crunch is creeping up on me, but even then I can take my tablet home and get some work done in the evening should I really need to.
KS: What are your thoughts on listening to music, or any other background noise during work time?
DS: I jump around to a little of everything depending on what I’m doing. Typically, I won’t listen to anything while doing layouts, but because of a mild case of tinnitus, I’ll sometimes listen to white noise while working on those. While drawing and coloring I’ll listen to anything podcasts, music, or TV shows (ones that I’ve already seen or don’t find visually distracting). I know that the one thing that trips up my groove is when I run out of something and have to choose whatever’s next.
KS: What are some art techniques you most like to play with, even if you don’t get to use them often?
DS: For Strange Adventures, since we’ve had a little more time up front, I’m getting to color myself and, therefore, I control more of the finished art. Because of that, I’ve been playing with how I approach the linework, as well, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy with what I’m doing. It’s much closer to what I’ve had in mind the last few years. It’s looser, rougher, and places more emphasis on the color and the way color tells a story. The line I use, while digital, is much closer to a pencil or crayon line and being able to go in that direction has been really satisfying. Not to mention, it’s made everything move about twice as fast, so it’s been good for me all around. Here’s hoping people like it, haha!
KS: Can you name one important trait for being successful in the comics business? The trait might also apply to life in general…
DS: There’s that old Rule of Three about (at least) being two out of the three: Good, Easy to Work With, or On Time. I can admit that I’ve struggled in the past with deadlines, so I do the best I can to make sure the work I’m turning in is decent and that I’m as easy as possible to work with. Obviously, the goal is all three. But beyond that, I really think the trick to longevity — which is as close to a metric for success as I think we have — in this business is always experimenting and keeping yourself curious, anything that keeps you from getting stagnant. More often than not, I feel that comes through in the work.
KS: You’re known for both interior work, as well as covers. How is your art process different when you sit down to create a cover vs. laying out a comics page? Obviously, one has a script you’re working from, but I’m wondering about the first specific steps you take up front.
DS: With my cover work at DC, I’ll usually get a prompt or two from the editor to run with, and I’ll hand back two or three rough thumbnails with what I’m thinking. I’ll throw on some very basic color if I feel it better explains what I’ve got in mind, or I think it’ll help sell them on the one I really want to do. I like to be able to reflect as much of what’s going on in the issue as I can whenever possible, but, sometimes ,it’s a variant cover where we don’t always know which issue it’ll land on. I did the variant cover for Green Arrow #50 this year, not knowing it would be the last issue of that run, and I think I would’ve handled it differently had I known. With variants, I’m just trying to give an iconic shot of the characters, something timeless.
KS: Speaking of timeless, what’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at as an example of the craft at its highest form?
DS: Oh man, there are so many. I’ll say that my recent obsession, and a large part of my inspiration for Strange is Moebius’ Edena work. I’d long been a fan of Moebius, but only really delved into these stories in the last year, and it was like being struck by lightning.
Obviously, there are a ton more — [Darwyn] Cooke’s New Frontier and [David] Mazzucchelli’s work on Batman: Year One come to mind. The first 20 years or so of Schulz’s Peanuts. Naoki Urasawa’s work is another recent discovery for me, and I loved his Pluto series, which I think is just incredible.
KS: Finally, talk about what you’ve got coming up. I’d love to hear whatever you’re free to say about Strange Adventures!
DS: [It’s] about Adam Strange and another mystery lead that we can’t talk about just yet. The basic setup is Adam and his wife Alanna have come back to Earth, and Adam’s written a book about his adventures in space. The validity of which is being questioned. Tom King is writing, and I’m splitting art duties with Mitch Gerads in a way that I don’t think has been done before. We’re all trying something new for us with this one, and we couldn’t be more excited. The series will hit stands in Spring 2020.