Authentic and passionately written, Savage Town is a new original graphic novel out this week from Image Comics. The series is set in Limerick City, Ireland, at the turn of the millennium with a character who can’t get out of his own way. With gangs on all sides, the protagonist named Jimmy Savage probably wishes he was more big time than his small-time gangster roots allow him to be. Writer Declan Shalvey teams up with artist Philip Barrett to produce one of the most enticing books to read in one sitting and we were lucky enough to talk to both about this exciting new release.
AiPT!: Thanks for taking the time, guys. How did you connect on this project?
Declan Shalvey: Phil and I have actually known each other for years, having met and chatted at various comic conventions and small press events over the years. We were both at Thought Bubble a few years ago when I initially brought up the idea of doing something together to Phil. He didn’t say no straight away, so that was good! Months later, maybe close to a year later, we met up and I pitched him the idea of this crime book set in Limerick. We chatted through the possibilities, the approach, etc and I think we were both excited by the potential. Eventually, I got working on the script and Phil got drawing once his schedule opened up.
AiPT!: What would the 30-second elevator pitch be for this title?
Shalvey: Savage Town is an Irish crime story, set in Limerick City. It focuses on Jimmy Savage, a small-time gangster who ends up finding himself in a whole lot of trouble. He faces trouble on all sides; from the two major gangs of Limerick, to his best friend and his Mammy too.
AiPT!: What is the source of all the violence, of all the anger in these characters?
Shalvey: I don’t think there’s a whole lot of anger in this story to be honest, it’s more frustration that sometimes boils into anger. A lot of the characters are frustrated for sure. Limerick at this time was a fairly poor city, there weren’t a lot of jobs around, not a lot too do… frustration is bountiful. I don’t really want to get into Jimmy too much but Frankie is frustrated that Jimmy is pushing him to the side when they’ve been friends since childhood. He’s definitely feeling sidelined. Things kinda kick off from there.
AiPT!: At over a 100 pages, this is a thick original graphic novel! How long have you been working on this book?
Shalvey: I’d say we properly got moving about two years ago in regard to doing the pitch, etc. Once approved, we kinda regrouped a little, did a lot of prep work. I think Phil started drawing actual pages about a year ago. We’d fit it in around bits of work here and there but then started to build up a proper momentum. I definitely wanted the book to feel substantial, so there are over 100 story pages, and we included a lot of great prep material by Phil in the back.
AiPT!: This is based on a true story, so where might readers find more info about the events in Limerick?
Shalvey: Well it’s not really based on a true story… it’s set in a real place that definitely had the same problems, but totally invented characters and events. I wanted to have the freedom to come up with different stories while also not glorifying criminals, or demonizing them either.
If you just Google ‘Gangland Limerick’ you’ll see where all this comes from. I’d prefer not to mention any specifics.
AiPT!: Philip, can you tell us about what art materials you use, or maybe your work is primarily digital?
Philip Barrett: Mostly, I use good old ink and dip-pen or brush. I started off that way and for a very brief few pages I tried using pigment pens and markers for the sake of speed but it was hard to beat the consistency and control over line thickness that pen and ink allowed. I think the materials suited the feel of the story as well – they gave that grungy organic feel and helped make the locations look lived in.
AiPT!: There is a certain messiness and cruel brutality to the characters that seems so vivid and real. How did you embody these characters so well?
Barrett: From the drawing side, I did a lot of sketching from life as well as from references to get the right sort of expressions and body language. Fortunately, Ireland is not short of expressive characters, though, trying to draw them without letting on can be tricky! There are an awful lot of sneers and glowering looks in there which offer a nice counterpoint to the goofier, more cartoonish approach in the lighter moments.
AiPT!: Philip, what is your working relationship with colorist Jordie Bellaire like? Do you discuss colors before she digs in?
Barrett: To be honest, I didn’t discuss the colors much with Jordie other than cheering her on when I thought she was really nailing it. When you’ve got a colorist like Jordie on your team, the best thing to do is stand back and let them do their thing. It boggles my mind, though, how she managed to capture the particular gloomy and damp atmosphere that is almost always in the air in Ireland (apart from the two weeks of Summer that is!). There’s a whole extra level Jordie brings as well with subtle color cues to emphasize and heighten key points in the story. Jordie’s work is integral to making Savage Town work so well.
AiPT!: Storywise and visually, were there any works of fiction, be it movies or novels, that you took inspiration from?
Shalvey: I’m a big fan of David Lapham’s Stray Bullets, that was a big inspiration for the book, as was the work of Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon. Had a lot of screen inspiration, crime epics like The Wire, Goodfellas and a lot of Irish films like The Snapper, The Guard, The General, etc.
AiPT!: Was it difficult capturing the Irish voices of these characters? Declan, I know you’re Irish, so maybe you got it down pat? Forgive me, but at times the accents were so well done I had to reread balloons!
Shalvey: Not at all, I’ll take that as a compliment! We’re both Irish, actually, so I knew if Phil liked how the character talked, then my approach with the dialogue passed the authenticity test and authenticity was very much my goal. It was a little difficult, I live in Dublin so I hear a Dublin accent more. The Limerick accent is very specific, but I think I did a decent job. Or daycent job. What was most difficult was keeping the authenticity while also making sure I didn’t totally lose non-Irish readers. It was also important not to dumb down the approach for non-Irish readers too… there’s an argument that getting into the dialect will frustrate the reader, but I feel with this book, it adds to the immersive experience.
AiPT!: What is your favorite method of procrastination?
Shalvey: Catching up on the TV and movies I’ve been missing out on, or catching up with friends over pints!