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April 28, 2015

‘Convergence: Shazam’: Jeff Parker and Doc Shaner make Golden Age magic

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convergence shazam 1 page 1 Convergence: Shazam: Jeff Parker and Doc Shaner make Golden Age magic

Page 1 of "Convergence: Shazam" No. 1, written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Evan “Doc” Shaner. (DC Entertainment)

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Page 2 of "Convergence: Shazam" No. 1, written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Evan “Doc” Shaner. (DC Entertainment)

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Page 3 of "Convergence: Shazam" No. 1, written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Evan “Doc” Shaner. (DC Entertainment)

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Page 4 of "Convergence: Shazam" No. 1, written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Evan “Doc” Shaner. (DC Entertainment)

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Page 5 of "Convergence: Shazam" No. 1, written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Evan “Doc” Shaner. (DC Entertainment)

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Evan "Doc" Shaner's concept illustrations for Captain Marvel for "Convergence: Shazam." (DC Entertainment)

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Evan "Doc" Shaner's concept illustrations for Billy Batson and Captain Marvel for "Convergence: Shazam." (DC Entertainment)

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Evan "Doc" Shaner's concept illustrations for Billy Batson for "Convergence: Shazam." (DC Entertainment)

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Evan "Doc" Shaner's concept illustrations for Mary Marvel for "Convergence: Shazam." (DC Entertainment)

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Evan "Doc" Shaner's concept illustrations for Captain Marvel Jr. for "Convergence: Shazam." (DC Entertainment)

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Evan "Doc" Shaner's concept illustrations for Tawky Tawny for "Convergence: Shazam." (DC Entertainment)

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Evan "Doc" Shaner's concept illustrations for Ibac for "Convergence: Shazam." (DC Entertainment)

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Evan "Doc" Shaner's concept illustrations for Sivana for "Convergence: Shazam." (DC Entertainment)

Fresh off their remarkable “Flash Gordon” miniseries for Dynamite Comics, writer Jeff Parker and artist Evan “Doc” Shaner are taking on another classic Golden Age hero with “Convergence: Shazam.”

Part of DC Comics’ two-month “Convergence” event highlighting different eras of the publisher’s past, “Shazam” focuses on the original Captain Marvel and the bright, cheerful world of Fawcett City, taking readers back to a time when superhero comics were considerably more innocent and whimsical.

Captain Marvel’s character has gone through a lot of changes since he was introduced in 1939 — he actually goes by the name Shazam in present-day DC Comics to avoid confusion with the popular Marvel Comics character that shares the Captain Marvel name — but Parker and Shaner are going back to basics with their approach. The Captain Marvel name is back, Fawcett City is perpetually sunny, and the cast features all the familiar faces including sidekicks Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel, mad scientist Dr. Sivana and Tawky Tawny, a talking tiger in a suit.

The cover for "Convergence: Shazam" No. 2. (DC Comics)

The cover for “Convergence: Shazam” No. 2. (DC Comics)

Each of the “Convergence” miniseries features two different DC properties crossing over, and “Shazam” introduces Captain Marvel and Fawcett City to the foggy, Victorian streets of Gotham City from the alternate-reality “Gotham By Gaslight” stories. Captain Marvel’s gleaming world should make a strong contrast for the gritty urban environment, and it will be exciting to see how Parker Shaner and colorist Jordie Bellaire bring together the clashing aesthetics and moods of these two settings.

Hero Complex readers can view covers, pages and character designs from “Convergence: Shazam” in the gallery above or in larger versions via the links below.

‘CONVERGENCE: SHAZAM’: No. 1 cover | Chip Kidd variant | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5 | No. 2 cover

In a recent telephone conversation, Parker and Shaner spoke about the appeal of Captain Marvel, how to balance retro and modern elements, and what they appreciate about each other as collaborators.

What was your first exposure to Captain Marvel?

Evan Shaner: I knew about the [Jerry] Ordway/[Peter] Krause [“The Power Of Shazam!”] run when I was a kid. I don’t think I read it, but I was aware of the character because the book was in the shop I went to.

Jeff Parker: That was the first time you knew about Captain Marvel?

ES: Yeah. I think so. I didn’t know anything about him, but I was aware of him.

JP: I keep forgetting how much older I am. I was there in the room when they created Captain Marvel. (Evan laughs.) Called him Captain Thunder then, for a minute. Luckily, there were reprints around that I was able to look at as a little kid. But it was later that I was able to see the original C.C. Beck stuff and I was like, “Wow! This may be the best superhero ever made!” Just because he had the most realized universe with interesting characters and everything. Just the cast of “Captain Marvel” alone beats the cast of almost every other book.

ES: I like that everything’s equal to Captain Marvel. One of his adventures can literally be to get a seal to behave in a zoo or whatever. And then he can be saving the world, and the villain can either be a giant robot or a mad scientist or it can be a worm. It doesn’t matter! Captain Marvel takes it all seriously. It’s all the same to him. He does his job. I love that approach to everything. It allows for a big universe that lets everything happen. And we tried to suggest that in book one of our “Convergence” series.

Page 1 of "Convergence: Shazam" No. 1, written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Evan “Doc” Shaner. (DC Entertainment)

Page 1 of “Convergence: Shazam” No. 1, written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Evan “Doc” Shaner. (DC Entertainment)

How did you get involved with the “Convergence: Shazam” miniseries?

JP: [DC Comics Co-Publisher] Dan Didio and everybody got me on the phone almost by surprise one morning and they started telling me about [“Convergence”], and luckily I bumbled into the early stages where they hadn’t assigned a whole lot of it yet. And as Dan started going through the various characters they had, I rudely interrupted and asked, “What about Captain Marvel?” And he goes, “O.K., I was getting to that, I was trying to say that—fine.” (Evan laughs.) That was the way I bum-rushed into that. I was so afraid that that would be taken. Please let it be on the table! Props to them for letting be kind of rude there. And then [editors] Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins sneakily approached Evan and Jordie [Bellaire, colorist] later. I was going to make up a little list of suggestions and everything, and I was going to suggest them anyway, but I wasn’t sure what the timeline on it was.

CONCEPT ART: Billy Batson | Captain Marvel | Cap and Billy | Mary Marvel | Captain Marvel Jr. | Tawky Tawny | Ibac | Sivana

ES: They got in touch we me last summer and asked if I would be interested in being involved in a tie-in to the event this year, and all Marie told me was “Shazam” and I took the job like a rube. I didn’t know who was writing it or anything, and Jeff wrote me and asked if I was drawing it. And that’s when I found out Jeff was writing it. And then later Jordie came on board.

Was it DC’s choice to have the “Gotham By Gaslight” crossover?

JP: That was also me. We had a certain realm of choices we could pick, and honestly, now I can’t remember what the other things were Cap could have gone up against. When I picked that, I just thought, “Well that’s a neat-looking world.” So there’s your peek into the process. Me thinking, “Well, that will look cool!”

ES: It’s got Batman in it.

JP: But then the challenge of course was to figure out—if you go back and read that series, Batman isn’t particularly powerful in it. How do I amp that up to make it a real threat? That’s what you’ll see. We did.

Page 2 of "Convergence: Shazam" No. 1, written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Evan “Doc” Shaner. (DC Entertainment)

Page 2 of “Convergence: Shazam” No. 1, written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Evan “Doc” Shaner. (DC Entertainment)

How are you differentiating between the worlds of Fawcett City and Gotham City?

JP: Gotham is just eternally covered in fog. It doesn’t seem to have any daytime. It’s dark everywhere, inky shadows constantly. Whereas Fawcett City is just gleaming. Even in the environment of the worlds in “Convergence,” somehow they maintain their properties. Why is always so sunny in Fawcett City? It just is.

ES: I really hit the art deco approach pretty hard with Fawcett City. And Gotham’s like it is in [“Gotham By Gaslight”]. Very Victorian and foggy, like Jeff was saying.

JP: It really looks pretty much like London years ago.

Evan, what are some of your visual inspirations for the art on this book?

ES: [C.C.] Beck, certainly. I’m taking most of my cues directly from Beck. It’s my filter over Beck, but pretty much everything—there’s a couple things here and there from the Ordway book that I personally liked. Like the WHIZ Radio building is pretty specific to Ordway’s run. But pretty much everything else is very tied to the Beck books.

JP: I like the way you did your model sheets and you showed how Beck drew it and what you’re doing. And it is different, but it’s a natural progression. You can tell that it comes from it even though it doesn’t look like it really. And your Mr. Tawny is way more realistic looking, which, as a kid, I would have appreciated because he was just my favorite of the supporting cast. How can you not like this tiger who runs around and has adventures with you and wears suits? You made it look a little more realistic, a little less cartoony, and it works.

ES: I knew right away that to try and ape Beck in any way would be a mistake. Certainly I keep hints of it and basic shapes of characters, but to try and do anything closer to Beck would have been a mistake. I’m trying to make them my own, too.

JP: You did.

Page 3 of "Convergence: Shazam" No. 1, written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Evan “Doc” Shaner. (DC Entertainment)

Page 3 of “Convergence: Shazam” No. 1, written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Evan “Doc” Shaner. (DC Entertainment)

I really liked how your “Flash Gordon” had this very classic feel but was still very modern. Will we see some of that dynamic in “Convergence: Shazam” or are you going full-on retro?

JP: I think actually it is a similar approach. With some exceptions, like the fact that everyone in Fawcett City really listens to the radio and reads papers, we don’t make a point of making it the ’50s or the ’30s or anything. We play up the stuff that’s the same as it is in any day. And just ignore the rest. You get a classic feeling. It’s why “Flash Gordon” worked. When I was originally looking at the concept again, I was like, “There’s nothing here that doesn’t still exist today.” You don’t have to sit there and show him playing a Wii or any dumb crap that people do to try and update it. Which just dates it. You don’t do that. You play up the things that are the same, and that’s what’s neat about it. You realize this Ivy League rich boy dilettante who really wants to make a difference can exist today completely fine and that works great. Just go with that. He doesn’t have to go around in a virtual reality chamber or whatever bad other modernizing things we try to do to characters.

The same kind of thing happened where Nate Cosby, when he signed on at Dynamite, showed me a list of things, and I guess I’m in this lucky little state right now where people show me a list and then I jump on the best thing right away and then leave everyone else the rest. I immediately saw “Flash Gordon” and went, “That. I don’t want to do any of this other stuff. I want that. That’s the only one I have an opinion on.” Because I feel like I’ve seen Flash Gordon done wrong so many times. I owed it to Alex Raymond, Al Williamson, everybody who I admired as a cartoonist, to try and give it a shot.

What do you appreciate about each other as collaborators?

JP: Evan’s like, “Aw man, here come all the zingers.” (Evan laughs.) I’ll be honest, because I used to make a living as an artist and then at some point, after I came out with the “Interman” graphic novel, everyone started asking me to write. And then in almost no time, no one remembered I drew anymore. And yet I was happy because I got to work with a lot of good artists that I like. But Evan really went forward with a lot of the thing I love about Alex Toth and a bunch of other classic cartoonists and really embraced it. And ultimately ended up drawing like I wish I had. So I look at it and I’m like, “Wow, he actually went and did it when I chickened out and went into writing.” So for me, it’s always this slight weird alt-reality thing happening all the time. What if I’d actually, right when I was getting good, hadn’t stopped?

Page 4 of "Convergence: Shazam" No. 1, written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Evan “Doc” Shaner. (DC Entertainment)

Page 4 of “Convergence: Shazam” No. 1, written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Evan “Doc” Shaner. (DC Entertainment)

That’s a thing particular to me, but I think everybody looks at his stuff and they just appreciate all the energy in it. All the expression. I see a lot of artists, they’ll just put a ton of detail and physical objects on a page to try to wow everybody, but that’s not what you want. It’s not illustration, it’s storytelling, and Evan’s getting really good at going for the things that need to be in the scene to make the scene work, and never forgetting that the character is still the most important thing. Let’s reveal their character, and he does it with their gestures and their face and it’s like you get hit by a big dazzling ray of sunlight when you see Captain Marvel. You did it! I think a lot of people forget that this is what you should be shooting for.

ES: Well, thank you. Working with Jeff, it’s been nice—

JP: Yeah, Jeff’s O.K.

ES: Jeff’s in it too.

JP: He’ll put a “The End” in the script so I know when it stops. He’s got it all. (Evan laughs.)

ES: Jeff writes the kind of characters that I’ve been wanting to draw this whole time. I’ve worked with a number of writers before Jeff. All good writers, and I was glad to be working with them, but when we started on “Flash Gordon,” it was really these optimistic characters who have a lot of fun doing what they’re doing and enjoy doing the right thing and have a lot of fun in serious situations. It’s fun to draw. Even just characters sitting down talking to each other, there’s other stuff going on or they’re doing something that still makes it fun to draw. In general, the tone is not the kind of thing that I get to read a lot of these days, and I as a reader really appreciate it. So to get to draw that stuff is really great.

JP: “But Mr. Sava, I am Pagliacci.” (Evan laughs.) I only work on the story I want to read.

Page 5 of "Convergence: Shazam" No. 1, written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Evan “Doc” Shaner. (DC Entertainment)

Page 5 of “Convergence: Shazam” No. 1, written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Evan “Doc” Shaner. (DC Entertainment)

What does colorist Jordie Bellaire bring to the table as another storyteller?

JP: I work with a lot of colorists, and boy, let me tell you how much they enjoy me saying, “You ought to look at Jordie Bellaire’s work.” They love it. It doesn’t make them feel self-conscious at all. The thing with Jordie is that she’s a cartoonist too, even though no one ever sees it. She can draw really well. She can cartoon really well. And so she came out of coloring her own stuff, making the environments work for that. Thinking of things like a mood, that’s the kind of thing that I don’t know if you can teach people that. They either know to do it or not. And Jordie will look at a scene as a whole, think about what the tone and the mood is, and then her palette starts to reveal itself through that. And then she stays with it and it all works. It’s advanced color art. And there are more good colorists now than there ever have been in this business. Because it used to be like, “Well you want to work in comics, try coloring.” Like it’s a coloring book or something. But she approaches it from a pure art and story view, and it makes a huge difference. If I can stay connected with her as long as I possibly can, I will.

ES: What I’ve appreciated about Jordie, even before I worked with her, but especially now that I have worked with her longer than any colorist I have worked with, is that I can see that she’s making choices. It not just, “Well, this character is outside, so their skin is this color and their clothes are this color because that’s how it is.” Jordie, I can see that she’s making thoughtful choices in the way a scene is depicted. Like Jeff was saying, there’s a mood established.

JP: Tough choices too, since you say that. She won’t go for necessarily what’s easy. She seems to sometimes set a challenge for herself: see if I can make this work. And then dives into it. Because color is all about what is relative to it. You can’t really pick out, “Here’s this character’s skin tone, here’s their costume thing,” because it will change wildly with the environment.

ES: It’s been really nice, especially because before I was jumping from book to book with all different colorists, so to work with Jordie and know that I can depend on her to make those solid choices, it’s been really nice not having to think about it.

JP: I will design a scene sometimes — like in “Flash Gordon,” part of it was I just wanted to see Evan draw clouds, but I was thinking, when they go to the planet of the Hawk-men, “Jordie’s gonna have a lot of fun with all this sky.” And she did. She really got into it, and it was nice to see that. She was like, “Finally, it’s not just coloring a bunch of buildings.” I don’t know many artists who don’t get really happy when they have some nature to work with. Because we’re coming through American comics and ’60s Marvel and stuff, people still have this weird thing where they think everything has to happen in Manhattan or some Manhattan-esque city all the time, and it’s just always these canyons of buildings blah, blah, blah. We try to make everything feel very expansive. Why can’t it happen in a big Grand Canyon-like setting? Why can’t it happen here? To me, these particular things, these books are escapism. And I take that term seriously. I am here to escape, not wallow in something I see all the time.

ES: Even with Fawcett City, it’s nice, because I didn’t feel like — in the Ordway run, it wasn’t your typical Manhattan-type cityscape. We were allowed to play around with that a little. The buildings aren’t quite so tall. The city’s laid out a little differently.

JP: In parts, it’s very much like rebuilt Chicago. A lot of deco. A lot of things scaled to simply have an appealing proportion. Rivers, stuff like that. Chicago has that running through it. That’s just what I think of that area as. It’s the Golden Age of Americana and architecture is going nuts, being given a lot of money. And in [Captain Marvel’s] world, clearly someone would think something like, “Hey, we need a great big statue of the Earth out in the middle of the park.” And that’s the kind of thing you can totally expect to see. And everything’s very clean. They wash the streets. Even Freddie Freeman’s scooter is a very pleasantly designed little Vespa thing.

— Oliver Sava | @LATHeroComplex

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