The Past Is Buried?
Bog Bodies is a new original graphic novel from Image, written by Declan Shalvey and drawn by Gavin Fullerton. Tripwire’s senior editor Andrew Colman caught up with Shalvey recently to find out more…
TRIPWIRE: The book has a very definite sense of place – was this the main inspiration for the project, or were there other factors, such as revisiting the tropes of your previous work, Savage Town?
DECLAN SHALVEY: The location was the main inspiration to be honest. I live in an apartment where you can see the beginnings of the mountains and I just thought about all the dark history out there, and what it’d be like to be stick out there. I had also just finished writing Savage Town, and enjoyed writing in that voice, and thought it’d be a nice opportunity to do more work in that type of world.
TW: How did you and artist Gavin Fullerton come to collaborate on the book – were you familiar with each other’s work?
DS: I met Gavin when he was attending storytelling classes I was teaching in Dublin a few years ago. So he would have been familiar with my work, but I don’t actually know just how familiar he was. He showed me his work at the end of the last class I think, and I was just blown away. We kept in contact afterwards and once I decided to move ahead and make Bog Bodies, I reached out to him. Gavin is a talented draughtsman in many different styles, but I was curious to see what he would working in this genre.
TW: The book is entirely set at night – were you aiming for a particular look? The chiaroscuro artwork coupled with garish colours certainly give the piece an eerie yet gritty feel, despite being away from the city.
DS: Yeah, the goal was very much to take the landscape and have it dominate the book, visually. The black sky, long fields, fairly monotone palette. I mean, these were all aspects that were informed by the location but we very much leaned into that to give the book a more distinctive feel. The very first image for the book was the layout I did for the cover, which I think helped me visualise what I wanted the book to look like. Things develop as you work on something, bit I’m glad we still kept that cold, dark feel to the book.
TW: The story is more pared down than Savage Town, and is for the most part one continuous scene. Were you looking for immediacy and simplicity in the story?
DS: For sure. Savage Town was this big, sprawling thing, where I was trying out all kinds of ideas and characters. It was an ensemble piece. I knew from the beginning Bog Bodies, would be a shorter, tighter story. More moody, and in an environment the reader is stuck in along with all the characters. In order to achieve that effect, there’s no cutaways from the location, no flashbacks, etc. I wanted the reader to feel as trapped as the protagonists.
TW: Do you consider Keano to be as important a character as Killian? Does he represent old school gangsters?
DS: As important? No. Killian and Neev are the two most important characters really, everything kinda hinges on them two. Keano is definitely a throwback to the older school gangster. The dying breed that have a sense of fairness. An ordinary decent criminal, as they say. He knows what’s going on isn’t fair, is trying to find a way out for Killian, but still knows to follow orders, so he’s conflicted through the whole book.
TW: There is humour in the story, such as when Keano berates the psychotic Gerry over his swearing, despite both being killers. Did you feel the levity was essential, given the downbeat ending?
DS: Yeah I can’t not have a joke in something I write, and the nature of the characters lean to the jovial, despite the seriousness of it all. I actually like pointing out a lot of the serious, moody stuff I love, there’s a lot of humour in there too. I feel you need humour, to punctuate a story, it’s not enjoyable to be just beaten with misery continuously, the reader need to be able a release at times, and that’s a great place to use humour. I think it also helps a lot to humanise the characters too. I’ve been telling everyone how serious this book is but honestly, I think there’s a lot of good chuckles in there too.
TW: The story is based in and near Dublin (although Limerick, setting for Savage Town, is mentioned). How much of your experience of the city went into the work?
DS: Well I’ve been living in Dublin for 8 years, roughly so I’ve a decent bit of experience with the city. To be fair though, the book takes place outside the city. Savage Town was made with specificity in mind, it was a very Limerick book. I wouldn’t say that Bog Bodies is a ‘Dublin’ book to the same degree. In any Irish urban area, you’re never too far from the countryside, so this could be anywhere in Ireland, really. I wanted this to be a bit more broad in that regard, less specificity as regards the city, but I guess with me living in Dublin, near the mountains, and the Bog Bodies themselves in the National Museum in Dublin, it just felt right for it to be set here.
Bog Bodies comes out from Image Comics on 27 May