Jim Valentino’s ShadowHawk has an important role in the history of Image Comics. The book was just one of many that helped usher in the age of Image Comics in the 1990s. It spawned a number of spin-offs and it’s own regular series, but starting in the late ’90s the character sort of dropped off the radar. Sure, there were the occasional cameos, but the character wasn’t seen in a major way again until last September when the character made his big return in the appropriately titled “The Return of ShadowHawk” written and drawn by Valentino. The book spotlighted a new ShadowHawk, Eddie Collins, who was very much unlike his most famous predecessor, a much more violent character with a darker tone, Paul Johnstone. The new ShadowHawk grew out of ideas from two former “ShadowHawk” writers — Alan Moore and Kurt Busiek — and a new direction was born for the book.
The adventures of Eddie Collins continue in an all-new ongoing “ShadowHawk” series coming this May from Image Comics. This time out Jim Valentino is joined by two others who’ll help craft these adventures. First off, Valentino is joined by writer Jim Keplinger, who’s co-plotting the series with Valentino and writing the scripts. As for the art on the series, it’ll be handled by Comic Book Idol II winner Carlos Rodriguez, making “ShadowHawk” his first regular monthly assignment in comics. CBR News sat down with all three creators to learn more about the book, their collaborative process and much more.
CBR News: Jim, start out by describing your role with this new “ShadowHawk” book.
Jim Valentino: Co-plotter, art director, general nuisance.
I wrote what amounts to a bible on the characters. Who they are, what their relationships are to one another, how it all works. Who the villains are, what they can and can’t do and where the story and the characters are ultimately going.
As Kep [writer Jim Keplinger] turns in plots, I go over them, tweak them or refine them. Along with editor Kris Simon I go over the pacing, the beats and the dialogue.
With Carlos [Rodriguez], Kris and I discuss art changes if necessary. I give him very crude scribbles of cover ideas and character designs and then let him work his magic, occasionally changing a gesture here and there.
I’m pretty much involved in all aspects of the book’s production.
CBR: Readers might think that since you’re not the “writer” on this project it means easy days for you. Clearly that’s not the case. Has letting Jim Keplinger handle some of the work really lightened your workload all that much? And why not write the series yourself?
JV: To the first part, no, not yet-but the hope is that it will. Then I’ll be able to turn it over to him and to Kris and just back away from it completely.
As to why I’m not writing it myself, honestly, I find the input of ideas to be useful in solidifying my own thoughts about the series and the characters. It’s actually easier than trying to come up with everything on my own. There’s a lot of brainstorming that goes on. Things are tossed out from all corners, used or cast aside. I enjoy the collaboration.
CBR: How’d you get introduced to Jim Keplinger? Why’d you choose him to write the scripts for “ShadowHawk?”
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JV: He was brought to my attention by Kris. He was lettering a book for her, “Small Gods,” and he lettered “The Return of ShadowHawk” one-shot. We got to talking about various things and I liked him, so as we were casting about for a writer for the series we asked him to give us a sample and tell us what he would do. I think the thing that impressed us the most was his unbridled enthusiasm. Give him a starting point and he takes off like a rocket. It may not always be in the right direction, but it’s always interesting on one level or another. And he’s easy to work with. He doesn’t have a big ego, he doesn’t think every word he types is sacrosanct. I appreciate that. He’s willing to learn.
CBR: As you noted in our last interview about the series you pointed out how this latest ShadowHawk is markedly different than the previous one most people are familiar with, Paul Johnstone. Is this simply an evolution of the character? Or is it a reflection of our times? What’s the motivating factor with Eddie’s decidedly less violent, less graphic nature?
JV: Well, it’s certainly not a sign of the times. Books like “The Authority” and “The Ultimates” have taken things far beyond where the original “ShadowHawk” series went. It’s more a question of character.
Paul Johnstone was motivated by anger, Eddie Collins isn’t. There is no rancor in Eddie’s soul. Eddie is a young, well-adjusted kid who’s having fun with it. I think that if I could do these things, I’d be “wa-hooin'” my butt off, so it just seems natural he would as well. More than this, though, there’s something deeper going on. Eddie will soon realize that this isn’t all fun and games, that there are consequences to it and it is from that realization he will grow as a person and as a hero. He has a legacy and a destiny and this will be the story about his journey to that point.
CBR: Let’s talk a little bit about Carlos Rodriguez, someone whom visitors to CBR should be well aware of due to his participation in Comic Book Idol II. When and how did you first become aware of him? What ultimately convinced you he’d make a good fit for the regular series?
JV: [Image Executive Director] Eric Stephenson brought him to my attention. Apparently, Eric saw him here in the CBR contest — so, a word to all future artists — it’s a good idea to enter those contests! Eric tapped him to do a short story for the new “Negative Burn” and Phil Hester tapped Carlos to draw “The Pact” #3. I saw some pages he drew for “Big Bang” and was totally impressed. So, I asked him if he’d consider taking a shot, he worked up some samples, I showed them to Kris and we both agreed that he was our boy. It was a no brainer…and a damn good choice!
CBR: Do you any concerns about this being, basically, his first regular assignment?
JV: No. I’ve had the privilege of giving lots of creators their first break, or first “big break” in Carlos’ case, and he’s proven to be among the most professional individuals I’ve ever worked with. His work is gorgeous, he’s an incredibly nice guy, he never balks at changes. It’s been a dream working with him and his team. Carlos brought Albert and Jose, the book’s inker and colorist, respectively, to the table — and they’ve both been great, too.
CBR: Which begs the question, why not handle the art yourself?
JV: Honestly, I’m just too slow right now. There is no way that I can keep a monthly schedule and I know it. I believe that when you solicit a book you make a promise to both the retailers and the fans and it’s unprofessional not to deliver on that promise. Where I used to be able to write and pencil a book in a couple of weeks, now it takes me a couple of months. And, besides, Carlos draws rings around me — I’d rather see the book look great and it does.
CBR: As an artist yourself, what kind of comments and guidance have you offered Carlos as he crafts these pages?
JV: Very little. A gesture here and there. Initial cover sketches. But very, very little. He really doesn’t require a lot. He’s an excellent artist and a consummate professional. I believe you’re going to see a lot more from Carlos, this is a star on the rise.
CBR News: Carlos, this is, for all intents and purposes, your first regular series in mainstream comics and it’s with a pretty well known character as well as with an established creator. Was there any concern on your part of jumping in to the comics pool so quickly and in such a high-profile manner?
Carlos Rodriguez: Since I’ve been working for other Spanish and American companies for some time, I have had a bit of experience in the comic book industry. So actually, my main concern wasn’t starting to work so quickly in the mainstream but, as you say, to start working with such a well-known character and well established creator. This is a very good opportunity because not only does it give me the chance to become known in the comic book industry, but it also means I have a great responsibility! All the usual “ShadowHawk” readers are going to be keeping an eye on my work to see how I do it. I’m really grateful to Jim Valentino and the rest of the team for giving me this opportunity and trusting in me, so I’ll try to do my best and be faithful to the essence of the character and to the amazing stories Jim Keplinger is writing.
CBR: We asked a similar question of Jim above, but I’m curious what your answer would be. As an artist I’m curious what kind of criticisms or comments Jim’s made that have helped you put together the art for “ShadowHawk?”
CR: Jim V. has given me descriptions of the characters, how they look physically, how they act, which powers they have and, as he has said, occasionally changing a gesture here and there. But in fact, they haven’t been criticisms. It has also helped me a lot that Jim K. has written a very detailed script, so I haven’t had much trouble with interpreting his ideas.
CBR: Talk about your process of working on this book. So, you get the script from the Jims, then what? Do you do breakdowns and show those to Jim V. first? Or do you go full pencils, then wait for comments? What’s your working process?
CR: I receive the script from either the Jims or Kris and I do breakdowns before doing the finished page. I send those breakdowns to them so they can review the storytelling or correct possible mistakes. After that, I do full pencils and send them again to see if I have to do any changes in the final version. If everything is correct, I send the pages to the inker (Albert) and then he sends them to the colorist (Jose).
CBR: While a number of different artists have worked on various “ShadowHawk” stories, Jim Valentino’s art is clearly the one most identified with the character. Have you altered your style in any way to reflect his style? Have you felt compelled to take touches from his work and incorporate it in to your own?
CR: I have to thank Jim V. because he has given me total freedom in keeping my own style and letting me give my own version of the characters — based on the designs he has sent me, of course.
CBR: Talk about the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far working on this book.
CR: I think the biggest challenge has been to keep a monthly schedule. Until now, I have been working on short stories or special issues with more flexible deadlines (Coming soon! “Round Table of America” from Big Bang! With writer Pedro Angosto), but I hope to be able to do a monthly series without any problems.
CBR News: Let’s start at the beginning — first, start out by introducing the story and direction we’ll be reading in the pages of this new ongoing “ShadowHawk” series. What are we in for, Jim, and how long will this first story arc last?
Jim Keplinger: Let me answer the easy one first: The first arc is four issues.
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The story begins not long after Eddie Collins (the new and final ShadowHawk) has become ShadowHawk. He’s still trying to figure out why he has these powers and what exactly he’s supposed to do with them, but he’s got a basic direction in mind and a lot of voices in his head spurring him on. That’s where we begin.
There have been many, many ShadowHawks over the years, each one taking on the mantle to battle injustice dating back thousands of years to one very unjust murder of a shaman. Unlike his predecessors, Eddie didn’t decide to become ShadowHawk to defeat a specific injustice, he’s the reincarnation of the shaman himself, become the living spirit of justice through the experience gained from his past lives.
Through the helmet, Eddie is able to communicate with the ShadowHawks who came before him and they will be showing him the ropes and guiding him as he learns what defending justice is all about. But Eddie doesn’t get it all handed to him, he has to learn a lot on his own since what is an acceptable mode of justice to one of the past ShadowHawks might be unacceptable today.
CBR: “The Return of ShadowHawk” one-shot was clearly an origin issue, debuting the latest ShadowHawk, Eddie Collins, and he’ll be back for the regular series. Talk about some of the plans you have in store for Eddie. How will he be growing with this new series? Will you be playing with his sense of heroics more? Will new powers be revealed?
JK: Eddie has a lot of learning to do and learning is often very painful. Eddie is young, enthusiastic, and relatively naive about what it means to be a hero. He really enjoys the idea of being ShadowHawk, and has a great time with the powers, but there’s more to it than jumping off buildings and screaming “Ya-Hooooo!” which he’s about to learn. Experience makes the man, and Eddie is about to get a lot of it.
Powers? Oh yeah, this is a whole new ‘Hawk! Not only does Eddie have the past ShadowHawks training him in everything from martial arts to navigation to spy craft, he’ll be learning how to use some powers no other ShadowHawk has had.
CBR: Who are some of the other characters that will be featured prominently in this first arc? And will Eddie’s father still play an important part as a mentor to his son?
JK: James (Eddie’s father) is very important to the story – he’s Eddie’s anchor to reality when the world of heroics starts to consume him.
Skeeve is the best-friend who worships ShadowHawk and is more than a little jealous of Eddie’s success with drop dead gorgeous cheerleader, Colleen. Smart, dazzling and rich, Colleen has it all and wants more. She’s put Eddie on her shopping list.
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ShadowHawk’s Rogues Gallery is my favorite part of the series! We’re bringing back several fan favorites from the previous series, but in new ways with updated agendas. In the first issue, the antagonist is a former hero named Blacklight who mistakenly blames ShadowHawk for killing his wife and putting him into a 30-year coma. But we’ve also got a host of new baddies who will be putting our young, inexperienced ShadowHawk through hell from the beginning.
CBR: In “The Return of ShadowHawk” it’s noted that Eddie is the last ShadowHawk. Care to explain that a little bit? Why would he necessarily be the last ShadowHawk? And with the new series, will we learn a bit more about the mysterious man that gave Eddie the helmet?
CR: Thousands of years ago, a shaman was murdered while communing with his gods (The Nommo). The Nommo knew this man’s destiny was to be one of greatness, but his untimely death came as a surprise to them too. So, to right the injustice done, one of the Nommo, Heru, (the Hawk-God) splintered his soul across time for it to gain the necessary experiences to one day recombine in a final, perfect soul to embody Justice itself – Eddie is that soul and the reincarnation of the shaman.
The mysterious, floating man may see some ink at some point during the series.
CBR: Finally, introduce yourself to our audience. Who’s Jim Keplinger? What else have we seen from you in comics?
JK: Before joining the world of comics I had many careers including (but not limited to): A soda jerk, copywriter, magician, translator, USAF Staff Sergeant, television meteorologist and sales manager for a dot-com. I’ve lived in five countries on four continents and once performed a magic show stark naked. That was before I turned 30.
Since joining the comic world I have written a few small press books, several stories in “Digital Webbing Presents” (the worlds greatest anthology) and done quite a few online strips including “Interplanetary Grift” at GraphicSmash.com and “Ted Noodleman, Bicycle Delivery Boy” with Ryan “Invincible” Ottley at MoviePoopshoot.com (a trade paperback of the series comes out in April!). I also have an all ages series starting in June from FC9 Publishing called “Genie.”
And if that isn’t enough, I also letter several books a month, including “Small Gods” (an amazing read!), the upcoming “The Hunger” from Speakeasy, “Round Table of America” (Big Bang!), and of course “The Return of ShadowHawk.” Additionally, I’ve designed the logos for about two dozen comic books either on the stands or on their way.