“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.
“A Canadian, an Italian, and an Australian” might sound like the beginning of a joke about three people walking into a bar, but, in this case, it also describes the international creative team behind the Mad Cave series, Nottingham. Shane Connery Volk, David Hazan, and Luca Romano went from being complete strangers, each pursuing their respective artistic dreams, to the cohesive unit making a successful comic that looks back at a classic genre while also looking forward.
First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.):
Your home base:
DH: Melbourne, Australia
SCV: Calgary, Canada
LR: Cuneo, Italy
Other sites where you can be found:
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: What do you three like about working in comics specifically over other artforms?
David Hazan: I don’t really know why, but in my brain, writing comics just works in a way that writing in other media didn’t for me. Once I really started reading comics, the leap to writing was a no-brainer for me. In a broader sense, comics let you do things that you can’t do in other media. The concepts are so much higher, the genre work gets to be so much deeper, and you get to take swings that you can’t really take anywhere else. On top of that, the comics community has been so lovely and welcoming, from fellow creators to readers to collectors — you really can’t ask for a better welcome.
Luca Romano: I ended up coloring comics almost accidentally. When I joined the Academy of Arts, I had absolutely no artistic education. [The] most I had done was painting and customizing Games Workshop minis, but probably had enough patience and visual intuition to be decent at it — I even won one of their local competitions! — so my plan was actually to learn a job that could feed me, the dreaded graphic design, and meanwhile I’d study all I could to familiarize myself with comics as a language so that one day I could write them. I had always had a very active imagination, and was no stranger to storytelling, so the plan made sense. Unfortunately halfway through my studies I was diagnosed with depression and the treatment, while being very beneficial to my overall health, left me feeling like my creativity had been neutered: I still wanted to tell stories, but had none of my own left. Lucky chance brought me to some inked pages that Jonathan Glapion had up for grabs on his website and I decided I’d give them a shot. I had learned to use the tools of the trade for my “normie” job after all… and lo, the spark was back.
Shane Connery Volk: I’ve loved comic art from as far back as I can remember. I probably drew my first Batman before I could walk, haha. Comics in general are a magic art form. Any idea can be made into a comic — nothing is too big or too small. As an artist, I was always blown away by seeing what one person could draw. People, monsters, buildings, cars, castles. I always knew I wanted to do that one day!
KS: Some of my guests first encountered the comics medium through floppies, or graphic novels, or newspaper cartoons. How about in your case?
SCV: My mom would pick up comics for my brothers and I off the spinner rack when we were kids, so there was always a variety around. I would pore over pages and just marvel at the drawing. It still takes me forever to actually read a book because I get way too caught up in the art!
DH: I only started reading comics in 2018. Growing up, comics were discouraged reading in our house — my parents saw them as an immature medium, for children. I remember having a Simpsons Treehouse of Horror comic and a high concept Star Wars anthology comic in the house and that was about it. But, I was obsessed with comics-related media. Smallville was probably the gateway drug for me…and then Heroes came along, but it wasn’t until pretty recently that a colleague of mine got sick of me talking about those adaptations without having read the source material, and told me to start with Batwoman: Elegy. The fantastic JH Williams III art, combined with Greg Rucka’s writing, the book is an absolute tour de force. Not to mention that her being a queer, Jewish superhero immediately captivated me.
LR: Comics feel extremely natural and familiar as a storytelling medium for me, and it’s a bit of a “back in my days” story as to why. Around the year I was born, two magazine series would start printing, both entirely dedicated to kids’ stories with a ton of illustrations and an audio cassette read out loud. My mother would buy me every issue of these and read them to me, or pop in the cassette and I’d follow along. You wouldn’t be far from the truth saying I learned reading with them quite early on, and their memory is to this day very vivid in my mind. Of course I still own them! Moving from them to “standard” comics was an obvious step growing up, and I’ve legit never stopped feeding my story-hungry soul with these pocketable wonders since.
KS: What were the earliest favorite titles for each of you, specifically the things you actually collected instead of buying at random?
LR: Quite a few, especially Italian comics, but to pick three honorable mentions as follow up to the olden days above: Silver — Lupo Alberto, Bonvi — Sturmtruppen, and the totally expected Disney — Topolino (our Mickey Mouse) especially the more adventure or mystery oriented spinoffs like Paperinik (DuckAvenger)
DH: My list are all pretty recent. I remember buying Bendis’ Man of Steel miniseries after reading his Infamous Iron Man. Sina Grace’s Iceman was huge for me, and then I hit things like Tom King/Mitch Gerads on Mister Miracle and Steve Orlando/Riley Rossmo on Martian Manhunter and I was completely hooked.
SCV: When I was around 12 years old, I went to my first comic shop to buy The Death of Superman. I grew up on a farm in rural Saskatchewan, so I didn’t get a lot of exposure to what was happening in comics. Of course, that series was all over the news, so I got really excited about it. Once I discovered that comic shop, my whole world changed! I’ve never been much of a collector. I’ll pick up books by artists whose work speaks to me or inspires me.
KS: Let’s go further into the idea of story. What was a particular comic tale that had an impact on each of you as a reader?
DH: It has to be Rucka/Williams on Batwoman: Elegy. The work is beautiful, soulful, effortlessly queer, and the sequences switch from grounded to ethereal and otherworldly as they leap through the looking glass so beautifully. It’s a book that illustrates how powerful comics can be as a medium. Kate Kane’s story as both Jewish and queer really struck a chord for me in a powerful way.
LR: It’s really hard for me to pick one without spiraling down the impossible task of electing a favorite Sandman story, so I’m gonna elect The Saga of the Meta-Barons by Jodorowsky and Gimènez. There’s something about the sheer scope and breath of that space opera that completely fascinated me when I started collecting it as a teen: the visual presentation, the world building, everything felt so immense and ripe for endless exploration. Awe and wonder. Damn, I need to re-read it now.
SCV: I don’t remember the age I was exactly, but like most people I was blown away by The Dark Knight Returns. The story and art were just so different than anything I had seen. It was probably the point where I started to get really inspired by that dark, gritty style of book. I read a lot of Hellboy at that time, as well. I think both Frank Miller and Mike Mignola are so great at creating unique worlds. Nothing looks like their work. I love the individuality of their art and writing.
KS: Moving from reading to doing, what was your first paid job in comics and how did it come about?
DH: Nottingham was it! I was one of the winning writers of the Mad Cave Studios 2019 Talent Search! Truly, I almost didn’t submit because I was sitting on my script for so long, but I woke up randomly very close to the deadline, having realized I hadn’t sent it in, and quickly submitted. What resulted was my first professional gig in comics, when they paired me with Shane, who is a winning artist from that year. I’m very lucky and very grateful that Mad Cave has provided and continues to provide this talent search as a vehicle for newer creators to get their start.
SCV: Like David, Nottingham was my first work! I’ve been a professional musician for 20 years and only started getting serious about my art about three years ago. I found the Mad Cave Talent Search shortly before my wedding. I thought about not submitting because it was such a busy time, but my wife encouraged me to do it. Obviously, it was great advice! I’ll always be so grateful to Mad Cave for taking a shot on me. It has fulfilled a lifelong dream!
LR: My first paid job was a to this day unpublished and always “almost finished but not really” graphic novel project that was way too ambitious for us complete beginners to undertake! The writer found me on DeviantArt when I was just starting to upload my first colored pages in 2013 or so, and we’d be working on it on and off all the way to 2017. It was very much a passion project of the client, as you can imagine! Still, it made it easier for me to justify taking time off from design work to learn this new craft, since I was at least making a bit of coin out of it.
KS: Shane and David, talk a bit more about your thought process before entering the Mad Cave Talent Search. Did that feel like a serious step toward the goal of making comics?
SCV: I’ve always known that I would make a serious attempt to draw comics at some point in my life. I followed a path to music at an early age, but the dream of drawing comic books was always there.
DH: I figured I had nothing to lose by entering, truly. Mad Cave makes it easy that way. It’s Mad Cave’s IP, and you get to put your spin on it however you want, within the parameters of the universe and the competition. It was an incredibly fun experience honing in on what Mark and the team really loved about the universe I was writing in — I chose Battlecats — and trying to bring my spin on those themes.
KS: On the topic of Nottingham, what was the original starting point for the project? Who did it originate with?
DH: That would be me! Mad Cave asked me to pitch them a noir, something offbeat. I was completely disinterested in entering something conventional into an already saturated market, so I proposed a medieval noir. The Robin Hood stuff naturally flowed from that. The noir genre itself evolved out of postwar [WW2] anxiety, and the medieval corollary of a conflict spanning multiple continents is the Crusades. From there, I landed on Robin Hood, and it worked, with the Sheriff as the hard-boiled detective, Marian as the femme fatale, and Robin as a man with questionable motives and morals with no reservations about killing to get the job done.
KS: How did you all end up as a team? Had you worked together before in any combination?
DH: None of us had worked together before. It was all Mad Cave bringing us together — Shane and I with the 2019 Mad Cave Talent Search, and Luca was brought on afterwards.
LR: Yep, just as David said: I got scouted by MCS editors while replying to another unrelated gig offer on Twitter of all places, and Nottingham‘s development was already quite underway by then. I was asked to color a test page each for two different projects, and was ultimately offered to join the Nottingham team. One of the best decisions of my life!
SCV: The boys summed that up perfectly! Mad Cave wondered if I wanted to draw a Medieval Noir. I said, “I’ll draw anything,” haha. I’d say it all worked out pretty well!
KS: Luca, can you talk more about what’s involved when an artist is asked to “color test?”
LR: The process itself is pretty straightforward: When contacted by an editor, you’re usually sent one or two pages along with their script, or at least a short description plus the genre. I find it useful asking for the intended audience, as well, if it’s a new IP. On the other hand, for most of us the toughest part is actually getting that first contact to start with. I hold no secret solution for that, unfortunately; all I can recommend is to have a strong portfolio with few quality pages, especially sequential, and be active in the various social media platforms or occasions to meet other fellow artists/writers/colorists like conventions.
Networking can make the difference at any point of one’s career, but especially so when trying to get a first foot in: comics are a relatively small world, and everyone likes to work with people they respect and go along with. We’re “humans after all,” to quote Daft Punk!
KS: And what is it you’re trying to establish with that initial work — other than that you know how to color comics?
LR: Aside [from] the “Hey, look, I’m decent at the fundamentals!” I think I have a sort of triad of priorities that work well for me on all occasions: 1. Elect a strong, fitting mood. That’s our first impression to the reader, so we want to hook them up for good! 2. Strong narrative understanding and visual storytelling. Managing the plane’s separation, main focus, and in general elements that make the page more fluid and readable while supporting the action 3. Adapt the coloring style to complement the line art! Different inks work better with different renderings, so a bit of flexibility is important.
KS: I know what the official publisher description of the book is, but I like to hear it in the creators’ own words. If you were describing Nottingham to someone in conversation, what would you say?
DH: Simply, we turned the Robin Hood legend on its head, making the Sheriff of Nottingham the hard-boiled detective protagonist hunting a serial killer who is murdering tax collectors in what starts off as a medieval police procedural.
LR: “It’s a damn good story, and I want to rant about how much I despise Robin and love our badass lady Marian, so here’s Vol. 1 and let me know when you’re done reading it”… Quoting more or less literally.
SCV: Again, they’ve said this all perfectly! The Sheriff is just a regular guy trying to do his job. He has a past that haunts him and weighs him down. He’s a very identifiable character which is such a great thing in a medieval story!
KS: David, when developing a book like this, you’re following in the footsteps of literally centuries of Robin Hood stories. Obviously, your approach to the material is a new one, but did you have any hesitation about pitching another variation on such an established property?
DH: I had the benefit of knowing Mad Cave wanted to work with me, and so I ran a few ideas by them, this one being, I think, the most ingenious. They recognized that and threw the full force of their support behind it and I don’t think any of us have regretted it! I was probably more nervous about whether or not readers would accept our take given how it twists the characters in different ways, but thankfully, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive.
KS: How about from the art side of things, Shane?
SCV: I didn’t feel any reluctance towards the material at all. David’s take on the story was so different that it gave me the freedom to do anything I wanted with the design of the characters and the world of Nottingham. I was so daunted at the prospect of having to draw horses and sword fights and castles that I didn’t have time to worry about my place in the Robin Hood lore, haha.
KS: Where do each of you stand on listening to music, or any other soundtrack, while you work?
SCV: Honestly, I can’t listen to music while I’m drawing. I’m a touring musician and I write music all the time. I find that if I listen to music when I’m drawing, I get really inspired to write songs. I completely lose focus on what I’m doing so I have to keep the two separate. I love history, so I have history podcasts or documentaries on in the background, and in the summer I watch a lot of baseball!
LR: 100% of the time I’m working listening to something, but what to varies greatly! For example, Nottingham Vol 2 has been so far colored mostly with an healthy mix of heavy metal, jumping from Cattle Decapitation’s Atlas album all the way to Eskimo Callboy’s recent bangers; a lot of Dark Synth, Carpenter Brut in particular; and all the videogames/horror lore/stories my trusted channels would bless me with. Furthermore, if my brain starts feeling restless and I start losing focus I’ll be singing out loud, much to the joy of my neighbors — no complaints so far! Actually, believe it or not, picking what to listen to is one of my main hurdles when I sit down to get in The Zone every day!
DH: I do my best work when listening to music, but only music with no words in it, so it’s usually movie/TV soundtracks. I’ve recently added the Witcher soundtrack to my rotation and it feels just perfect when writing Nottingham.
KS: What’s a passion of yours totally unrelated to making comics or art? What excites you away from the computer?
DH: I’m allowed to have other passions? Honestly, not much at the moment. In my day job I work as a lawyer, and at night it’s all comics. I do get some time occasionally to put towards D&D and video games, which I love.
LR: I roleplay… a lot. I’m an active player on the No Dice Unrolled team, so, alongside the longer-running campaigns, I get to try many new TTRPGS that will later be reviewed on the site. The rest of my free time is reserved to riffing on my guitar and, when deadlines allow, videogaming.
SCV: It’s all music and drawing for me at the moment. I do some acting, as well, so that is definitely a nice change of pace on the creative side. It’s all art all the time for me!
KS: We talked about early favorite books and stories, but what’s a particular comic or graphic novel from any era that to you represents comics at their best?
LR: Ross and Waid’s Kingdom Come is the superhero comic. No spoilers for those who somehow missed it, and those who haven’t don’t need me explaining why. I will also stare in awe at anything that Marte Gracia colors; his style is so much different from mine and I always find something to learn from it.
DH: King and Gerads on Mister Miracle is it for me. It’s so playful with form, and I’m in love with how it treats pages as a storytelling unit. The art is stellar, the writing superb, and the use of grids just makes me giddy on each reread. Add to that its perfect brand of melancholic tone, with that little hint of hope, and you have comics at their very best.
SCV: It’s hard not to pick TDKR or Watchmen for me. Obviously, there are so many examples of comics at their best. It’s not just a matter of great writing and great art coming together, that happens all the time. With a work that becomes legendary there is a special fusion of a writer and artist or art team coming together in a way that transcends the individual parts of a book. It all blends to create an amazing, single piece of art.
KS: As we wrap up, please give readers an idea of what to be on the lookout for in 2022 and beyond.
SCV: It’s all Nottingham at the moment for me. When that’s done, I have a few other art projects on the go, as well as my band — One Bad Son — going back into the studio and hopefully heading out for summer shows!
DH: A whole lot that I can’t talk about. We have a Nottingham Free Comic Book Day issue — with art by Andrea Mutti — and some more Nottingham stuff that I can’t really talk about just yet. Beyond that, all hush-hush for now…
LR: I’m dedicated body an soul to Nottingham Vol 2 all the way to April! Once that’s done I’ve a bit of NDA with Advent Comics, and I’m particularly looking forward to develop a pitch we’ve been secretly working with Dillon Gilbertson and Jason Piperberg.