From Baker Street to Blair Witch and beyond: Guy Davis Interview

[Sandman Mystery Theatre]He began his professional career by chronicling the comical misadventures of a band of adventurers in THE REALM, before taking readers for a walk on the wild side of BAKER STREET in an alternate reality's London. Shortly thereafter, he was instrumental in the resurrection of one of DC Comics' most revered Golden Age heroes, becoming the primary artist for Vertigo's SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATER. Just before, and shortly after, that series ended its long and critically successful run, he introduced a new creator owned title, THE MARQUIS, and worked on two of Dark Horse's biggest licensed properties - The Aliens and The Terminator books - before bringing his formidable talents to bear upon a comic inspired by the film that was arguably the single biggest entertainment phenomenon to hit the market last year: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.

Throughout this diverse career, Guy Davis has steadily collected a growing legion of die-hard fans, along with the admiration and approbation of his peers. In fact, his skill at choosing the perfect moment to capture in each panel, and then combining those carefully chosen shots into page layouts that perfectly distill the emotional and narrative essences of a story has lead Steve [WHITEOUT] Lieber to proclaim that Guy's storytelling is "as smooth as butter!"

Fans of his work have many reasons to rejoice these days, particularly since Guy's work is appearing with a regularity and volume that has been unknown until now. Add to this the simple fact that his working is appearing almost simultaneously in four separate projects, and it's cause for a real celebration.

The project that is likely to draw the most attention is his contribution to the new BLAIR WITCH CHRONICLES mini-series that is due out next month from Oni. But, ironically enough, it was his work on SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATER that lead to his involvement with Oni.

As Guy tells it, "Matt Wagner (who should get an agent's royalty the way he always helps me out ) had mentioned to Bob Schreck that they should do THE MARQUIS …(which at the time was shelved until I finished SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATER ), so my name had been mentioned around the company. When they got the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT they had a very tight time frame in which it needed to be done. That's why they broke it up into 3 short stories. They called me and told me the quick run down of the book, and the very close deadline, and offered me one of the chapters.

"At the time I didn't know what to make of the whole thing - this was before all the hype. To be honest, I took the job because it sounded interesting, and also because they were interested in seeing a proposal for THE MARQUIS. So I figure it was a way to test the working relationship with the company. Looking back, I'm glad I decided to do it."

So, what did he think of the film, and how much did it influence his approach to creating the comic's art? "I got to see a screening of the movie before I started the comic (the movie people [at] Artisan, were very nice and outgoing - they set up a private screening, sent me trailers to the movie. All this stuff that I didn't really need to approach the comic, but a very nice gesture). I didn't know what to think when Oni first describe it to me - the only thing that came to my mind was the old 70's movie THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (that silly one about bigfoot). Boy, was I thinking of the wrong thing.

"I think the BLAIR WITCH was a very innovative and clever movie, very creepy and spooky. It was very unique and let the viewer get caught up in their own imagination, and that's what's scary. It's watching it and trying to see things in the background as they're running around screaming and letting yourself get lost in the movie. It feels very interactive in a way.

"I tried to capture some of the mystery in the comic, the character blending in with the backgrounds. Keeping the tones dark and a lot of things in the shadows. The one thing I was a little disappointed by was the fact that in the comic you pretty much know that people were being possessed by the witch, where as in the movie you never knew for sure who or what was after these kids, it was left up to your imagination."

- Guy Davis

[Blair Witch]

Asked for his thoughts on the reasons that the one shot was such a hit, Guy suggested that it worked because, "[We] didn't try a straight movie adaptation. That never seems to work in comics, especially with this type of movie. And I really like Tommy Lee Edwards and Bernie Mireault's work, so I think it was a nice package."

As far as what readers can expect from the new mini-series, he noted that, "All [the creators] involved in the one-shot are coming back … Each artist will do a full issue, same format, black and white (and lots of tone for me). I've only read my issue and it's a strong story. Very creepy stuff. Jen [Van Meter] has a stronger storytelling sense for comics … She's very visual in her storytelling."

And, speaking of creepy, the first issue of Guy's creator owned book, THE MARQUIS, is scheduled to be released in May, 2000. Oni is seriously promoting the series, and has announced that there will be a two page preview of the book in the back of the first issue of THE BLAIR WITCH CHRONICLES. Still, the questions remain, who and what, exactly, is THE MARQUIS?

[The Marquis]

"THE MARQUIS is about a man, Vol de Galle, who had worked for the inquisition during the 18th century. Now in his old age, he believes himself blessed with the ability to see into a person's soul. With this ability he hunts down the escaped souls of Hell which possess and hide within the bodies of the townspeople. But it's not certain if what he is actually seeing and fighting are these demons, or if he's insane and simply killing the people of the town. The first story arc revolves around this idea of madness and identity."

Pressed for further details on the series, Guy revealed, "I started playing around with it when I was finishing up the last issues of BAKER STREET. I was going to do a BAKER STREET story that revolved around a PHANTOM OF THE OPERA-like mystery. The designs I did for the phantom were the basis for the Marquis. I liked the look a lot and decided it would work as it's own character; after that things just sort of fell into place. I wanted to do a series that was more action-oriented than BAKER STREET, but still had a story that made you think. I also loved the costumes of the 18th century, and Baroque and Romanesque architecture, so that seemed like a perfect setting for the look of the book."

The 18th century? Baroque and Romanesque architecture? Well, how much research did it take to make this series accurate? Guy's answer: "I already had a lot of reference and books on the 18th century and different architectures. The story takes place in a fictional world with it's own history and religion, so I'm able to play up a lot of the designs and get pretty bizarre with it. I wanted the look of a period piece but I didn't want to get bogged down in real history, just like when we did the alternate reality in BAKER STREET. It's mainly for setting and mood."

As aficionados of Guy's work know, he has a real fondness for period architecture that imbues his work with a presence that his backgrounds have as nearly as much presence as any of the characters. This was quite true of THE MARQUIS one shot published several years ago by Caliber, in which the title character made his debut, before the book vanished with nary a trace, despite announcements that there would be an ongoing series from that same publisher. So what happened to prevent his further appearances then, and what changes has the intervening time wrought upon the book?

"Caliber had planned to put out the first issue, but I got too bogged down with other deadlines with SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATER and Aliens [the ALIENS: SURVIVAL mini-series]. So when I had to let something go, it had to be my own project; I had to pay the bills and work for hire is easier to count on than royalties.

"I went with Oni because I wanted the series to have a fresh start, I still would work with Caliber, there's no problem there."

And, as far as the effects the extended lapse in publication has had upon the book, Guy was very forthcoming and quite positive. "The story now is a lot stronger. I think when I did the first issue for Caliber I didn't have as good of grasp of where I wanted it to go. Now I've got the whole series plotted out and I definitely have an ending in mind. I've redrawn 18 of the 31 pages I had done for the original issue. Also, the [first] Caliber issue was originally going to be 48 pages, so I had to rework things to fit it into 32 pages."

Now for the questions that all die-hard Guy Davis fans want answered: What happened to the creator owned series that first brought him to critical and fan attention, his Sherlock Holmes-inspired BAKER STREET, how long will we have to wait to read the next arc, and who will be publishing it?

Sadly, it will be a while. "A new BAKER STREET won't be coming until I'm finished with THE MARQUIS series. That's the four mini-series (about 20 issues). Right now that's a couple years away. Of course if THE MARQUIS bombs, then I'll start thinking about BAKER STREET a lot sooner."

"Caliber Press would always be my first choice with BAKER STREET; aside from Gary being co-creator, there's sort of an identity between the company and the series.

And as to the reasons for the past delays? "Well "The Skinheaded League" is still planned as the next mystery. And I still plan on finishing the series. But BAKER STREET got caught in between what I was planning career wise, [and the fact that] I wasn't fast enough getting the book out at the time to make a living with it. When I did SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATER, I didn't have time to get back to it. Now so much time has passed that I wanted to try doing a different sort of book with THE MARQUIS. But I do still plan on finishing it all, I had a definite ending plotted for the series and I want to try to get back to it after THE MARQUIS. Right now, I'm able to juggle doing work for hire with personal projects, if that keeps working I hope to do a lot more of my own projects on the side."

And speaking of his work for hire projects, Guy currently has two different titles that have just begun hitting the shelves or are half way through their run. The latter holds true for his latest Vertigo work, BRAVE OLD WORLD, which is part of the V2K line celebrating the end of the millennium.

According to Guy, the script by Bill Messner-Loebs starts from, "The premise [that] a group of computer programmer/scientists … are transported back to the 1900's. As each tries to fit into the period they are attacked and pursued by beings from an apocalyptic future - from the year 2000 - who try to destroy them before the changes they make effect the century." However, rather than being just a typical, end-of-the-world angst-ridden fest, "It's a fun sort of tongue-in-cheek book at times."

But there's another factor that sets this particular project apart from most of Guy's work, and arises from the fact that he rarely lets anyone else ink his pencils. "Well, I was approached with the series to do just the layouts for the book; they also wanted me to design some elements (the future people and their ships, etc.), so they made me a co-creator on the book. I think I got a lot of credit on the series for not really doing much. I did designs, but Phil Hester designed them further still, he also did a lot more than finishes on my layouts.

"I basically just laid out the story, roughly on the page. Phil then took it and lightboxed my layouts , re-penciling them and then doing the finished inks. He's a crazy man in the amount of work he does and how quickly he does it. So I always said I wanted Phil to have credit in the series as artist instead of finishes. I don't know if they gave it to him but he deserves it." In fact, Guy went so far as to state that, "Phil should get all the art credit on the book, he definitely put more work into it. I would scribble these shapes and write which character it was over the heads and then I'd see it all look great after he re-penciled and inked it."

If Guy felt that he had contributed little to the final look of that book, the same can't be said of his work on THE NEVERMEN. Guy was certainly more involved in the creation and execution of this brand new series, co-created with Phil Amara for Dark Horse Comics, which saw its debut in recent issues of the DARK HORSE PRESENTS anthology.

Pressed for a description of the book, Guy said that, "The NEVERMEN is an action/crime mini-series about a mysterious group of crimefighters who are looking for a missing member of their group in a city overrun by bizarre crime bosses and such. It's sort of like DICK TRACY meets BRAZIL. The heroes all wear hats, and the villains are very bizarre and monstrous. Phil Amara came up with it when he was pitching some ideas to Dark Horse. He wanted to work with me on another project, THE NEVERMEN was one that he had thought of with my art and style in mind."

So how much influence did Guy have on Amara's idea? "He originally [pitched] it to Dark Horse as a cross between BLADE RUNNER and LA CONFIDENTIAL, but I wanted it to resemble more of the old movie serials I loved watching. Very noir, but a little more over the top. More of a surreal look to everything.

"Phil came up with a proposal and I did a series of character sheets that we then pitched to Dark Horse. Dark Horse was wanting a series of new company projects and I think he was pitching this as one of them. I think it was always planned as a company owned book as opposed to a Maverick title. So basically we designed it all and Dark Horse owns it. The only stipulation I wanted in the contract was that I get to draw all ads, issues and designs for the series. Since a lot of the look was based on my imagination, I didn't want them to be able to pawn it off to different artists. I also wanted the credit for the designs, which was something I had wanted and didn't get from Vertigo when I redesigned the Golden Age Sandman and the Phantom Stranger …

"For THE NEVERMEN I designed the look of the book, but this was alongside Phil; we bounced ideas off of each other and I'd do sketches. Phil is great in the way he'll give me just enough to spark my imagination and then let me run with it. He's very supportive in the ideas I want to add, design-wise; as far as the actual plots, we would also talk things over back and forth. I would give him some ideas, but he definitely had something already in mind for the series. The stories and plots are all his and I respect that."

- Guy Davis

[Nevermen #1]

As far as the future plans for THE NEVERMEN, Guy reports that, "There's going to be a four issue mini-series starting in May. Full color as opposed to the black and white DARK HORSE PRESENTS stories. We have a series of shorts in DARK HORSE Extra starting with #24. After that, a lot depends on sales and reaction to the series. Hopefully, we'll get to do another mini-series. Phil has a lot of really interesting ideas for the series."

Does this mean that we might have to wait even longer for a continuation of the BAKER STREET saga? Guy just stated that, "I'm not sure if Phil has a definite ending in mind for the title itself, he has a lot of other ideas for stories after the first mini-series. The first arc will tell a complete story but it definitely leaves room for another sequel or even a series."

Whatever the outcome, we can be assured of the fact that there is a veritable flood of new work issuing from the drawing table of this talented artist. And even if we have to wait a little while for that next BAKER STREET arc, we've got plenty to slake our thirst for the present, with promises of much, much more to come.

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