Declan Shalvey talks genres and heroes in ‘Old Dog’
During his lengthy career, writer-artist Declan Shalvey has built up a truly singular bibliography. He’s no stranger to tackling complex characters (Batman and Moon Knight); heady sci-fi (Time Before Time); and dark and/or intense environments (Injection). But for his latest, Old Dog, Shalvey is amping all those energies and ideas to the Nth degree.
The series, published by Image Comics, follows C.I.A. agent Jack Lynch. After his final mission “goes horribly wrong,” Lynch wakes up years later in a strange new world (featuring an unlikely new partner and a shady organization offering a “second chance at life.”) What happens next is profoundly powerful and unsettling tale about second chances and redemption, where Shalvey weaves a narrative that that’s both deeply nuanced and multi-layered while nonetheless capable of nailing readers squarely in the jaw. In a phrase, it’s doggone fun.
Ahead of Old Dog #1 dropping next week, we caught up recently with Shalvey via email. There, we talked about developing this complex tale, the process of working as both artist and writer, and his interest in genres, among other topics.
AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for Old Dog?
Declan Shalvey: Jack Lynch is a C.I.A. agent on the eve of retirement. His final mission goes tragically wrong, the results of which has somehow given Lynch a new and valuable skillset. When a shadow organization looks to recruit him, he jumps at the chance, sending him on missions all around the globe. But he’s partnered with someone he never could have imagined.
AIPT: You’ve worked on some other projects yourself. What’s it like to balance being both artist and writer (albeit with help from Clayton Cowles), and are there more creative opportunities here than maybe risks or hassles?
DS: It’s a mix of overwhelming stress and freeing creativity. Because I write some books, draw others, it’s tough to realize that I can’t hide behind a writer, artist, colorist, etc. I guess maybe I can hide behind Clayton..? He does too many great books though, so if someone doesn’t like Old Dog, it’s all on me.
To be fair though, I’ve done enough projects at this stage, I think those that have enjoyed my past projects will like Old Dog. I’ve made a book where I can channel all my best work and the globe-trotting nature of the book means there’s something different to enjoy in each issue. While working with others can be great because it pushes you outside your comfort zone, when working on a solo book, you get to have ideas and push them as far as you want without having to worry if it gels with a collaborator.
AIPT: This book plays around with and explores the genre/tropes of the spy thriller. What about that genre do you find so compelling?
DS: The high drama, the action, the intrigue, the mood. There’s enough space within the genre where it doesn’t feel limited. It’s all so enjoyable as a reader/viewer. Dammit, it’s just so cool. It’s got a good mix of what I like drawing, all the kind of grounded stuff, like all the moody, restrained [John le Carré] stuff but with enough space to go more bombastic, which is a great space for me to play in as an artist/writer.
Courtesy of Image Comics.
AIPT: It’s interesting how this book works as both an analogy for aging and redemption arcs. Are there personal ideas/issues were you trying to work out here?
DS: There is a very personal core to this story that to be honest, I don’t really want to expand on, sorry. Whatever issues I’m dealing with will be something for me to resolve when the book is finished. It’s part of why I think this was a story I had to do everything on. I think maybe with having turned 40 this year, I also realize I’m no longer a whipper-snapper and can relate more to a miserable old bastard. Not to mention, they’re fun to write. I’ve always been into brooding redemptive protagonists too, so I’m just embracing all my loves with this book.
AIPT: How much should we like or hate Jack Lynch? How do you perceive your own “hero,” and do you hope people feel the same or have another reaction entirely?
DS: Good question. Lynch isn’t really a ‘hero’, he’s more a professional who work for the ‘good guys’. He has his own set of ethics, but they don’t necessarily match up with your standard hero. I think you should like as he’s entertaining to follow, but also realize that he’s not necessarily a nice person. Whether or not you want to root for him is down to you.
Courtesy of Image Comics.
AIPT: There’s some happenings here in regards to the story’s setting and timeline. Do you want people to feel a little lost or discombobulated as they’re acclimating to the mystery of Operation: Old Dog?
DS: No, I don’t want to confuse the reader, I just want to let them know that there’s more than meets the eye in Old Dog. Issue One needs to set the tone and feel of the book and while I am presenting it in one way via promotion, etc., I still want to surprise the reader and play with their expectations, and let them know there’s more of that to come. I also want to challenge the reader a little too, and not just leave a trail of obvious breadcrumbs… I’m hoping when you finish reading Old Dog #1… you’ll go back to page one and read it again.
AIPT: Again, without spoiling too much, are we dealing with a bit of time travel here? Dimension swapping/hopping? Science magic?!
DS: Ah come on man, how can I answer that without spoiling anything? Nope, I’m not biting, next question!
Courtesy of Image Comics.
AIPT: I feel like this book touches on, at least spiritually, some of your other books. Is there anything in your big ol’ bibliography that feels more directly aligned with Old Dog?
DS: Huh, that’s a good question… I would hope that I’ve done enough projects at this stage that there is a ‘voice’ to my work, despite whatever genre I work in (Irish crime, superhero, sci-fi, etc.) I guess in a way, this is an expansion of what I was trying to do with the Nick Fury, Jr. serial I did in Civil War 2: Choosing Sides, but I think I’m trying to tap into that Moon Knight magic, with a sprinkle of Bog Bodies.
AIPT: What other tidbits and high points can we expect from the rest of the story (without too many spoilers, of course)?
DS: Well, each issue will take us to a new location while introducing us to some newer characters, most with connection to Lynch’s past. We will see him try and extract a source out of Colombia, track down an old contact in Russia, all while trying to uncover a greater mystery that seems to be linked to Lynch somehow. All with some fun action sequences along the way.
AIPT: Why should anyone pick up issue #1?
DS: With Old Dog, I’m trying to make an appointment series; one you look forward to going to the comic shop each month, one that will give you a fun, compelling done-in-one story in each installment. If you’ve liked anything I’ve worked on previously, I think you’ll enjoy this as it’s the purest distillation of my work as an artist, a writer, a designer, a colorist… as a storyteller. As a reader, I cherish the books that are by a solo artist, there’s nothing quite like them, and it’s my hope that Old Dog will hold up with some of the greats.
* This article was originally published here