‘Bog Bodies’ Declan Shalvey and Gavin Fullerton: The Horror News Network Interview

by Nick Banks

Although many of us associate horror comic stories with vampires, werewolves, and zombies, there is another type of horror that straddles the line between crime fiction and horror referred to as survival horror.  A survival horror story can take place in a desert, an ocean, a deep, dark forest, a city block, etc. and the obstacles are usually the environment and some very human antagonists.

Declan Shalvey and Gavin Fullerton’s Original Image Comic Graphic Novel Bog Bodies is this type of survival horror story.  And while the criminals behave in ways we would expect in any crime drama, Bog Bodies is not about the crimes, it’s about the attempt to survival in the worst possible of situations with numerous chance encounters and complications.

Shalvey and Fullerton discuss their motivations and the cultural resonance of their new work in this exclusive interview.

Horror News Network: What was the genesis of Bog Bodies?

Declan Shalvey: I live in South Dublin and from my apartment, I can see the beginnings of the Dublin Mountains. One day I was looking out the window and thought of how the countryside is at night, how dark it is, yet your eyes adjust to the darkness. I also thought of how people have gone missing or how murder victims have been discarded out there… I thought a story set out there, at that that time could be compelling. I had written an Irish crime book called Savage Town and really enjoyed writing in that voice, so this was an opportunity to do that again, but with a whole new story and feel.

Gavin Fullerton: I got involved when Dec came to me with the pitch and asked if I’d be interested. I wasn’t sure at first because I felt the story needed a realistic approach and I was used to working in a heavily stylized way. But I really liked the idea and wanted to do something that required more realistic drawing. Declan worked on the script and I started doing some character sketches. We talked about the kinds of films and comics that inspired the idea which informed the tone going forward. What I really liked was the horror element Dec had in mind. It was a unique approach to this kind of story. Ben Wheatly’s Kill List was a film I kept returning to as well as the Wolfe brothers’ Catch me Daddy. I tried to bring the sense of sinister foreboding that those films have to the book. I tried a few different inking approaches and found the tone quite tricky to convey at first. I did what I usually do which is to just add more black.

HNN:  At one point, Neave says “That was the most Irish thing I’ve ever seen”. Do you think this statement can be applied to the whole story?

Fullerton: I find it hard to pin down what makes something Irish to be honest. The setting, the characters and the dialogue are all quite uniquely Irish I think.. And the story deals with themes that are trying to say something about Ireland and Irish culture. The book also has a nearly all Irish creative team. I think all those things come together in some way to give the book its “Irishness”. But It’s also gone through a filter of genre that transforms or heightens it in a way. But even then horror/folk horror and crime are genres that are very dominant in Ireland. Maybe the sense of isolation and lawlessness that the country feels like it has sometimes. However I do think that Ireland is lots of things. So I’d be wary of saying that Bog Bodies defines what Ireland is. But I hope it adds to the culture in some way.

Shalvey: Yeah really the line is a joke about culture. The book itself is also an evaluation/criticism of certain aspects of that culture, while relishing in another aspect. I love how these characters are forthright and direct with each other, they’re all funny in some way, but they’re also well, not good people. I wouldn’t dare say this book is ‘the most Irish thing I’ve ever seen’ but I feel it’s a genuinely Irish thing. The book is born of the culture it grew from but certainly doesn’t define it. It might be the most Irish thing YOU’VE ever seen though 😛

HNN: Declan, you started in comics as an artist, How does your work as an artist inform your writing? Did you pick up anything from some of the notable writers you’ve collaborated with?

Shalvey: It’s hard to say for sure, but I’ve worked with some great writers who have helped me develop my work tremendously. I think working with writer/artists like Jeff Parker and Brian Wood had a great impact on my work and my storytelling sensibilities, and all that cumulated when working with Warren Ellis. The economy of Warren’s writing, along with the clear consideration of visual storytelling has been something I really try to work on.

When I write, I am definitely considering the visuals, but I always want to give the artist the space do do their thing; that’s when they deliver their best work. I knew I wanted a lot of empty space and blocks of black so that the environment had a strong presence… that was very important. I think Gavin and I have similar sensibilities, so I feel we synced really well together.

HNN: Gavin, you’ve worked in animation quite extensively. Is it different telling a story visually in comics?

Fullerton: For me the process is different in some ways but very similar in others. It’s all visual storytelling at the end of the day. You still have to think about pacing and blocking and transitions etc. But I also tend to make comics the same way that I storyboard. I like sticking to grids and tiers and tend not to break away from that so much. Whereas other artists use comics in a way that would be very hard to translate into film or tv. One of the main differences I think is, with comics you have to think about reading order left to right or right to left. I tend to Break the 180 degree rule much more in comics because you’re dealing with word balloons and how the images relate to each other on a page rather than in an edit. For me it’s still about using images to tell a story but both mediums offer different challenges and different solutions.

HNN: Readers are thrown into the deep end of the pool very quickly in Bog Bodies. How did you establish this pace for the story?

Shalvey: Well when I had the original idea, I realised the most interesting aspect of it was being stuck in that barren landscape. We only have so many pages, and if the location is playing such a big part in the story, it needed to feature heavily. So really, I needed to get the character out there as soon as I could, in order to make the mountains a more dominating part of the book. The whys and hows weren’t necessary up front. With comics, I find that so much just comes down to real estate– using what room you have as effectively as possible.

HNN: Mystery writers often talk about fleshing out the story based on things you never see as background for the story and the characters. Which character did you do this the most for?

Shalvey: Well that happens a lot in this book overall, we learn about events preceding the story that have an effect on the story. And plot wise, I feel a lot actually resolves off the page. This question applies more to Killian though as all of this story comes down to something he did, that we never actually see happen. We just experience the consequences.

HNN: Upcoming projects for either of you?

Fullerton: I’m currently working on a few stories that I’m hoping to pitch this year. I’ve only written short stories so I’m looking forward to trying something more long form.

Shalvey: I’ve various irons in the fire, both drawing and writing wise, none I can talk about I’m afraid!

Image Comics Bog Bodies will be released on May 27 at finer comic book shops and bookstores everywhere.

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