The writer spoke to The Outhouse about his upcoming Shadowman title, published by Valiant Comics!
Writer Justin Jordan had a hit on his hands with the six-issue The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, a dark, bloody spin on the famous Charles Atlas ads that used to appear in comic books from the past. The Image Comics limited series announced the arrival of a fascinating new talent in comics, and it's led to more opportunities in the industry. The hirsute writer's next major project is Shadowman, a revival of the early-90's character from Valiant Comics. Jordan, who is co-writing the title with artist Patrick Zircher, spoke to The Outhouse mere minutes after "The Future of Valiant" panel at New York Comic-Con, and spoke about Shadowman, as well as the start of his writing career and his powerful beard.
The Outhouse (OH): What was it about Shadowman that made you want to write him?
Justin Jordan (JJ): I always like Shadowman back in the original Valiant. I thought it was a cool character, but at the same time, it's a very dated character. Not the character itself, but the visuals, with the curly mullet thing he had going on. But the New Orleans setting and the sensibility the original creators did it with in the original Valiant Universe I thought was really cool. But I also liked some of the stuff in the Garth Ennis version, which is maybe a little more well-known because of the video game. Having a chance to integrate aspects of both of those into the character seemed really cool. I had actually pitched a few other things to Warren [Simons, Executive Editor of Valiant Comics] – he asked me to pitch, it wasn't a blind submission – but Shadowman was the one I really connected with, so I was glad when that was the one they asked me to do.
OH: Besides the original Shadowman, what other things are influencing you on the book?
JJ: A little bit of Hellboy. I think there's probably a little bit of Spider-Man in there. Oddly enough, even though Luther Strode is a hyper-violent book, it is kind of an homage to Spider-Man. I describe that book as "What if Spider-Man didn't have an Uncle Ben?" Where would he have gone wrong?" But that kind of sensibility of "now that you have power, what do you do with it?" That informs this book. A lot of stuff goes into any one thing, but those are the primary influences for what I wanted to do in there.
OH: You talked about seeing some of the earlier Shadowman incarnations in your run. Does that come from the original Valiant, or is that something you get to play with and create on your own?
JJ: That's mostly me. There was a legacy aspect of the original Shadowman, but the way the legacy works now is kind of original to me and Patrick, so it's different and its largely our creation. It faithful to how the character was. I like the idea of legacy heroes, and I like the idea of a legacy hero who doesn't know he's a legacy. When he comes into it, like I said on the panel, he's kind of dumped into this world. In one night, he finds out that yeah, monsters exist, yeah magic exists, your family has been fighting monsters for years, and oh by the way now it's your turn. I thought that was an interesting weight on the character, and I hope the characters agree.
OH: The Valiant Universe is a shared universe. That said, how much, at least early on, will Shadowman reflect this larger universe?
JJ: It's definitely the same universe, which is to say there are references to things going on outside of New Orleans. There's stuff like the Harbinger stuff and Psiots that will be referenced. That said, we're making an effort, because this is a brand new corner of the Valiant Universe, at least in the first arc, there won't be any guest stars or anything. You should get the sense that it's taking place in the same place as that world, but we are for now off in our own corner and that will be the case for a little bit. We do want to have guest stars and stuff but because we're doing magic in the Valiant Universe, we kind of have a lot of ground to cover in establishing how that works and how it integrates with the universe. That doesn't lend itself to crossover kind of stuff, but down the road, it will. Toyo Harada's going to be interested in this kind of stuff. That's the kind of thing that's going to happen.
OH: That being said, is there a lot of communication between you and, in your example, [Harbinger writer] Joshua Dysart where you guys are keeping each other apprised of what you're up to? How does that work?
JJ: It's mostly through Warren. One of the advantages about Valiant is that it is a very small company. Editorial is only a handful of people, so there's not a lot of coordination necessary. Mostly Warren handles all of that. I'm friends with Josh and Fred [van Lente, writer of Archer & Armstrong] and stuff, so when it becomes necessary, we consult on that kind of stuff. At the same time, there's not a lot of it just because we are sort of doing our own thing for the first issues. Down the road, that will become more important to get the continuity and logistics right.
OH: This is [series artist] Patrick Zircher's first co-writing gig, as well as yours. Was there much of a learning curve that you guys were going through?
JJ: Oh yeah, sure. We've gotten along really well, and it's gone well, but he's not co-written a book, and I've never co-written a book so, especially at the beginning, it was just figuring out what the best practices were. What works best for us to do this book together. That's specific to me and Patrick. I don't know if I were co-writing the book with another person if it would be the same process. By way of for instance, I'm not a huge guy for actually talking on the telephone, so if we try to brainstorm while we're on the telephone, it doesn't work as well for me as well as email does. So there's a learning curve involved in figuring out what the other person does, what they like, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, and making it all work cohesively.
OH: Can you go a little more into the mechanics of the collaboration, and how the back and forth works?
JJ: What usually happens is that Patrick and Warren and I – and I'll leave out Warren for the rest of this but he's always involved – Patrick and I come up with what we want to do for the arc and how we want to handle it and all that kind of stuff, and we will bounce that back and forth with each other through emails, like "well I'd like to do this, and I'd like to do this. Do they work together? Is this a good idea, is this a bad idea?" Stuff like that. Once we've got a pretty good idea about the story we want to tell, I'll break it down to the individual issues and then we'll do it again. Does Pat feel like everything is working there, do I feel like everything is working there? Once we do that, then I'll bust it down into what's going to happen in the individual issues and we do it again. Then I go to script, and we do it again. It's just a lot of back and forth. That's the nature of the beast, and it actually does change fairly significantly over the course of things – sometimes more, sometimes less. It sounds more unwieldy than it is in practice, especially now that we have four issues under our belt, it's working pretty smoothly.
OH: Do you have input on the visuals that you're able to share with Patrick?
JJ: A little bit. Some of that is encoded in the script, and I have my opinions on what would look cool on Shadowman and Pat and I kick that back and forth. I lean pretty hard on Patrick and all my artists for that because that's what they do. I will never ever, even if I write comics for a hundred years, have the visual sense that they do. It's just not going to happen. Most of the time Pat handles all that and he does beautiful work. Once in a while, I'll make suggestions, but it's mostly Pat.
OH: In addition to Shadowman, you also have a new Luther Strode book coming out.
JJ: The Legend of Luther Strode, which will be out from Image Comics December 5th. It's in previews now.
OH: How did you get into writing, and comics specifically?
JJ: Basically I'm one of those people who's always been a writer. I've always written, it's always been a hobby and what I like to do. I've literally always loved comics. One of my earliest memories was reading Popeye comics, back when they had Popeye comic books. I eventually got sick of my family not being willing to read to me as much as I wanted, which in their defense was all the time. So I actually learned to read because of Popeye comics. I never got away from comics; my taste changed over the years, but in general I've always been a comic book fan, and I always wrote. Strangely, it took me a long time to say "y'know, I could probably write comics." That was about ten or twelve years ago. I was on the internet, and I was interacting some with pros, and I came to realize that even though I live in the middle of nowhere, this is something that I could do. I started off doing small press work. I did a lot of stories in anthologies. I pitched all these ideas; I did, I don't know, fifteen or twenty pitches before Luther Strode hit. Honestly, at this point I've completely lost track, and every time I try to come up with a number, I realize that I've forgotten stuff. So I just kept plugging away at it. My first real taste of success is that I was a three-time finalist in the Zuda competition. I actually made it to the part where they were voting on it. That gave me something to show people and say "yes I can do this, and even though I can't pay you poor artists, we can maybe go somewhere with this." And that eventually led to Luther Strode.
OH: Who are some of your writing inspirations?
JJ: I actually draw a lot of my inspiration from novels. I'm a big fan of crime novels, and I've read a lot of Elmore Leonard, and the way he does stuff kind of informs my approach to dialogue. It's not like I sound like Elmore Leonard, I don't, but the idea of "say it interesting" is what I always say. I'll look at a line of dialogue and say "is this the most interesting way of saying this while being true to how the character is being written." I try to make each line sound like it's a real person, and that's an Elmore Leonard thing. Reading Donald Westlake/Richard Stark has informed the violence, and how my villains act. In comics, I'd say Warren Ellis is probably a pretty big influence. Warren's not actually that much older than I am, so it's funny talking about him as an "influence," but he is a good ten years ahead of me. I've always admired Alan Moore. I can't write like Alan Moore and don't try to, but it was the approach to comics that he was taking and reading about how he did it was a major influence.
OH: Who are your beard inspirations?
JJ: I have no beard inspirations. I am the beard inspiration! I beard alone. Although Atom! [Freeman, Sales Manager] at Valiant thinks I look like Opie from Sons of Anarchy. I also get a lot of "he looks like a viking now," which I think is pretty charitable.