Spotlight on…Davy Shirley
The spotlight returns to shine on comic book writer and illustrator Davy Shirley of angelKat Entertainment.
1. When did you first decide that you wanted to create your own comics?
For as long as I can remember I’ve been a storyteller, from the moment that I could pick up a pencil I was writing and illustrating worlds, characters, and their adventures. I’ll be honest, in those early days they weren’t quite comics, but it was comic books that sparked my love of art and writing in the first place. I still have the first book that I ever “read” – a 1981 Whizzer and Chips annual, and to this day it still smells of the gravy that was all over my toddler hands at the time. It wasn’t really until college and university when I started to teach myself how to draw comics properly (in between lectures on physics simulation, and artificial intelligence coding). And when I graduated I poured all of my time and energy into creating comics again – launching Fera as a webcomic in 2009, and I haven’t looked back.
2. Who has had the biggest influence on you outside the comics industry, and how did they affect your life?
I don’t think that I could point to one individual person that’s had a big influence on me. Most influences have been incremental, with each affecting me differently. My passion for reading and writing comes from my mother who despite her own difficulties with reading encouraged me to excel where she could not. Drawing castles and stick men fighting with my Granddad is still one of my favourite childhood memories and fostered my love of drawing and an understanding that those were stories too. My Grandma’s determination, intelligence, and strength even in the face of her own mortality taught me never to give up – but she also taught me the fun of life, and shared with me old sci-fi shows and films and is probably most responsible for my interest in “geeky” media. All of these helped me to become who I am, just as much as the bad times did too – and I’m glad of it. My biggest influence today though is my other half, we’ve been together for over a decade, and she means the world to me. It was partly her fault that I created my first webcomic, and she’s the one who supports me with my work, doesn’t complain too much when I ask her to help with pose reference, and is frighteningly good at Cards Against Humanity.
Early on when I was “learning the ropes” the now gone WebComicPlanet Collective was a sort of digital home for me, with a lot of friends and creators who helped me a lot in establishing my work online and helping me to learn how to do things like formatting pages for print, and the best ways to promote myself online. As a result of that group I’ve made lasting friends, contacts, and they helped me to improve as an artist. But the biggest change in my work was finally collaborating with my long time friend Paul Burr on The Editors. As much as I love working on my solo projects, working with him was a great learning experience, and so much fun that we’ve already got a number of other titles waiting to be produced this year and next. The extra motivation of working with someone, as well as bouncing ideas around, made for great energy to work in, and made me re-assess the process I used for creating comics in a way that would improve my pages, their layout, and speed up production too.
4. What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
Mostly I just drink tea, watch really bad films, play video games on Steam, and sketch rude things to amuse my other half. Not to mention regular gaming nights with my other half and friends, filled with dice, pizza, and really funny stories. It may sound strange but one of the best ways for me to recharge is exhibiting at events – because I get to be social, chat with random people about nonsense, and sketch silly things that I wouldn’t normally be doing. Conventions are exhausting, but they’re good fun, and it’s also a nice break from the isolation of sitting behind a desk drawing comics all day.
Usually I start the day by checking my emails with a cup of tea sat next to me at my desk. After that an hour of warm up doodles and sorting out what needs to be done for the day. Normally from then I’ll pencil and ink pages for the rest of the day, or depending on my schedule clean and letter comics for the Digital Manga Guild. I find that I work best if I have a tv series or something playing in the background, as I find music distracts me (how many hours have I lost to the “skip” button I don’t know). Oddly I find tv doesn’t distract me much, but does give a good idea of the passage of time without checking the clock, and means I’m not working in complete silence. Occasionally I take a break to refill my mug with tea, or let the dogs out into the garden.
6. What tools do you use to create comics and what makes them the ‘right tools’ for you?
I mostly create comics digitally now, I use a Wacom Cintiq 12WX, and Photoshop. I keep being told I should use Manga Studio, but whilst I own a copy, I have yet to get chance to really play around with it and learn the program enough to not slow down my workflow. Really, I think these are the ‘right tools’ for me because I’ve used them for so long and I must admit I’m out of practice with drawing with pencil/paper – although I do quite like sketching with my blue leaded mech-pencil from time to time as it’s quite relaxing and looks great too. The handy thing about creating my work digitally is simply that it speeds up production – for example I have Photoshop set up to automate my page set up so that I don’t have to worry about manually creating bleed/trim lines to make sure each page will be ready for print. I also occasionally use 3D modelling programs to help with working out scales and perspective for scenes and poses – and since I tend to be a very visual person it helps a lot.
7. What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?
There’s nothing quite like holding the first print of your completed book, except for perhaps meeting readers at conventions. I never really thought about how many people read Fera online – it just seems like numbers and graphs on Google Analytics after all. But there’s something to be said for actually meeting someone in person who follows your work. I’ve been lucky enough to have readers bring me fan art, cosplay as my characters, and be told by one reader that she’d attended the biggest convention in the UK just to meet me and an artist who is one of my comic heroes – Tab Kimpton. Even converting new readers at events is amazing – those people who buy one issue to ‘try it out’ and return the next day demanding to be sold every comic on the table. All of those things are flattering, and the best thing about creative work is finding those people that care so deeply about it. And it doesn’t hurt to have your name mentioned alongside a personal hero… or to end up becoming friends with them which is equally surreal.
Oh, and that one girl who was too nervous to say anything until she finally yelled “You draw bums good!” and ran away.8. What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career – in or out of comics – and why?
Without a doubt Fera. As much as my other projects have been fantastic and I’ve loved working on them – Fera was the one that started it, and as an on-going series I hope to continue producing it for as long as the story and it’s characters allow. It truly is a labour of love and one that I’m glad that I finally decided to launch it as a webcomic all those years ago.
9. What’s the best piece of comics advice you’ve ever heard?
“Buy a copy of Making Comics by Scott McCloud.” There are plenty of other books out there, but that was the one that helped me the most early on and I still use it for reference every so often now. Make friends with your neighbours. Whether that be at conventions, online, or in any other setting. It’s good to know people in the same situation as you, it helps when times are tough, advice and input is always a good thing, and someone willing to cover your table so that you can pee is the best kind of friend and they should be rewarded with tea and possibly cake. But in all seriousness, it does help to feel part of a community – being an artist is a very solitary profession, and it helps when you have a network of people who have been there and know what that means.
10. Time to get philosophical: What’s the most important ‘big idea’ that you’ve learned in life – in or out of comics – and why is it important?
When I left school, amongst my friends we all wrote things in each others notebooks, partly to say goodbye, others to wish good luck… but the one that always struck me was the girl who helped me to improve my drawing ability, who rarely spoke, and occasionally hit me if I drew something incorrectly. Her note to me included some of the best advice any young artist can hear, it was simply that there’s always going to be better artists, don’t let that stop you, let it inspire you to create better, and in turn inspire those who are not quite where you are yet. And to me that’s important because I’ve seen too many young artists give up because they see “better” artists and doubt themselves, rather than taking it as inspiration. Learning and improving is as much part of being an artist as the strange hours that we keep.
Name: Davy Shirley
Website: http://angelk.at (or for the webcomic version of Fera: http://angelk.at/fera/ )
Fera (created by Davy Shirley) – an LGBT adventure-romance series: a tale of love, loss, and fantastic creatures. It follows a group of unlikely heroes as they set out on an epic journey to rescue their mentor, and find themselves drawn into a much larger adventure than they had ever imagined. Along the way there will be monsters, perils, and the kindling of first loves. – Fera can be read online at http://angelk.at/fera/
The Editors (created by Paul Burr and Davy Shirley) – a lovingly written take on superheroes, villains, and those pesky universe resets that mainstream comics are so fond of. When the Editors exist in-universe as a shady organisation that controls the lives of heroes, and hits the big red reset button when they go too far – one piece of the chess board is missing. A villain who should be on ice has escaped the facility, back into a fresh new world with knowledge he shouldn’t have about the last 75 resets. Will he figure out what’s going on in time? Will he save the world? Or doom it for his own selfish gain?
angelKat Presents (created by Paul Burr and Davy Shirley) – each issue contains three stories in comic form, the first issue will be released in time for Halloween 2014 and contains three horror themed tales ranging from a house in 1980s Edinburgh with a grisly past, a Victorian gun slinger who hunts the dead for cold hard cash, to a monster loose in the catacombs of Paris in WW2.
Affinity Colony Lima (created by Anna Sheldrick and Davy Shirley) – a sci-fi story set on a distant outpost after the fall of Earth, where two girls fight to be together at all costs. To be released in 2014.
Patreon – I’m not sure if this counts as a project, but I’ve recently launched a Patreon campaign as both an experimental funding option for Fera and my other comic/art projects, and also as a way for readers to get bonus content. Details can be found here: http://www.patreon.com/t_iii