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Ross Campbell has made a name for himself in the comics world through projects like the gothic Wet Moon, his graphic novel series published by Oni Press; The Abandoned, his zombie OEL manga for Tokyopop; and Water Baby, his book for DC’s short-lived Minx imprint, among others. He also drew a short yet stunning story in the first issue of Vertigo’s House of Mystery; I still remember the flies.
Now he’s hard at work on the first volume of Shadoweyes, the story of a young girl who wakes up from a coma to find she’s become a superhuman creature. It’s Campbell’s take on superheroes and is scheduled to be published by SLG Publishing in June. He was kind enough to talk to me about the project and share some artwork; in addition, if you come back tomorrow, I’ll give you a sneak preview of the first nine pages of the book.
Update: And here’s the preview!
JK: So what exactly is Shadoweyes about?
Ross: The story takes place in a futuristic dystopian city called Dranac, which is in the middle of a barren wasteland, and in which both crime and the law have run rampant into a melting pot of crumminess. The main character is moody teen Scout Montana, who is an aspiring vigilante. She wants to take the next step beyond the home-brewed neighborhood watch group she’s a part of, so with her friend Kyisha’s help she comes up with the codename Shadoweyes and prepares to go out and hit the streets. But on her first attempt, a mugger hits Scout in the head with a brick and knocks her into a coma. When Scout awakens, she suddenly metamorphosizes into a blue, lizard-like, androgynous superhuman creature, and immediately takes advantage of it and goes out and kicks ass. But, of course, things don’t really work out as planned and Scout finds it more and more difficult to change back into her human form…
The story is mainly about Scout and how she deals with the changes in her life, identity and moral code, her figuring out what sort of hero she wants to be and what her definitions of that are, and figuring out what to do when you’re a blue monster with giant feet living in a world full of humans. The other focus is on Scout’s relationship with a girl named Sparkle, who initiates a friendship after being rescued by Scout. Sparkle is bubbly and peppy and clingy, the total opposite of the brooding ball of angst that Scout is, but the two become inseparable. The other characters are Scout’s best friend Kyisha, an intersex girl whose issues with Scout later turn into major turmoil; Noah, a bad boy hottie who also takes up arms against the city and who Scout develops a complicated relationship with; Max, Scout’s laid-back mom; and a nameless, mysterious, mangled mute girl who dwells in the local graveyard/garbage dump.
On a thematic level, I guess I’d say Shadoweyes is about illusions of morality and what happens when you think you have an approach to life figured out, but then it gets turned on its head, and you find yourself considering or doing unexpected things or being unable to bring yourself to do something you assumed you could. That, and all the stuff everybody else says, like friendship, love, death, except filtered through a brooding, pointy-headed, blue mutant alien creature vigilante with giant feet and her gamer nerd love interest.
JK: Where did the idea for the story come from?
Ross: I’d always wanted to do a superhero comic, more along the lines of an anti-hero vigilante type thing, preferably with some elements similar to characters like Bob Budiansky’s Sleepwalker and the live-action movie version of the Ninja Turtles, characters who weren’t human and could never live in mainstream human society but who still defended people and fought for them anyway. A character who didn’t put on a costume to fight crime, but whose body WAS the costume and could not be taken off, a hero who hadn’t yet figured out what’s right and wrong, and whose idea of right might end up being viewed as wrong by everyone else.
Shadoweyes’s design has been around in various forms for years; she’s based on a character I made up in middle school called Razerback (SO EXTREME!) when I was really into the first wave of Image books, angry brooding anti-heroes with symbols or shapes over their eyes (haha) and shrippy claws and stuff, so the seeds were planted back then. Shadoweyes also has her roots in a tabletop role-playing game campaign I used to run with friends, so she was developed in that context initially, before I fell in love with the character and knew I had to write a “real” story about her in comic form.
The ideas behind the story have changed quite a bit over the years, so the initial idea wasn’t the same as the idea I’ve reached now. At first Shadoweyes was only going to be a short project, written by me but drawn by another artist, Michelle Silva, but the ideas quickly ballooned and became something different.
JK: When I first read the preview you sent over, I didn’t really peg Shadoweyes as a superhero book, though it does share some similar traits to certain characters in that genre … the secret origin, the desire to do good, the “misunderstood monster.”
Ross: I consider it a superhero book, yeah, although the focus is on the characters and their changing relationships and identities rather than super-heroics and superpowers. Even though all the action and crime-fighting is really low key, street-level stuff, no world-saving, Shadoweyes doesn’t save the city (she would prefer to let it burn, anyway, heh), no megalomaniac super villains or anything, I’d still tell people it was a superhero book to avoid rambling on about all its aspects and storylines. i think when your main character has a codename, superpowers, saves lives, helps kids with math homework, and has her own symbol/emblem and everything, if i said it wasn’t a superhero book at least in some sense, I’d be deluding myself and the audience, haha.
JK: One of the things that stuck out to me after reading the preview SLG sent over was that the main character had asthma … which was a nice, humanizing touch. Was that based on your own personal experience with asthma?
Ross: I’ve never had asthma, no, but it went with the character. It’s not a big aspect of the story, but I hope I represent it well and authentically.
JK: How did the project land at SLG Publishing?
Ross: I’d wanted to do a book with SLG for a long time. Usually when I pitch a project around I show it to multiple publishers, and SLG was the only one with the guts to go for it, and I had a couple other options but I went with SLG because they’re great people and I’m really excited to have classy folks like Jennifer de Guzman and Dan Vado backing this thing.
JK: Is Shadoweyes a “done in one” graphic novel, or are you planning multiple volumes?
Ross: Right now it’s mapped out as four volumes, plus maybe an epilogue mini-comic, unless i can’t keep myself away and end up doing more. I definitely want it to be a fairly short series with an easily-surmountable number of books and not run on forever.
JK: Besides Shadoweyes, do you have anything else you’re working on right now?
Ross: Volume 6 of my Wet Moon series is next on my list, as well as putting together a graphic novel format version of my self-published Mountain Girl series. still hoping to get something going with Vertigo and there are some good rumblings there but i can’t say anything about that. I’m also trying to do a couple books with other artists and me solely as writer, a high-school-centered Wet Moon spin-off and a daikaiju/Japanese-style giant monster book.