Straight from the Source: Matt Wagner Casts Light on The Shadow: Year One
Jan 25, 2013
With the Straight from the Source feature, PREVIEWSworld gives the creators and industry professionals behind a new or upcoming project the opportunity to provide you with additional information or thoughts about the comic or graphic novel in their own words.
In this edition, Matt Wagner, the writer behind Dynamite Entertainment's The Shadow: Year One #1 (DEC120984, $3.99) casts some light on The Shadow.
The Shadow was my first real entry into comics fandom. That’s not to say that the first comics I ever read featured the Master of Darkness…far from it. I’d read comics from as early an age as I can remember, from as early as I could read.
My mother was an English teacher who encouraged reading of any kind and, unlike many of her contemporary peers, saw no problem with my reading comics. To her, reading was reading and any reading was a good thing. I was also an only child who grew up in a fairly rural environment and long before the ubiquitous presence of much video media. And so I drew to entertain myself. To my great delight, comics provided both reading and drawing, all in one bright and attractive package! And I was an indiscriminate reader, consuming literally any and every comic book that fell into my grasp. I read everything, from Archie to Mickey Mouse to Superman to Thor to (my mom’s favorites) Classics Illustrated. I loved them all!
In those days, my access to comics was highly limited to whatever titles appeared on our local drug store’s spinner rack. The fact that there were obviously so many more comics available that were unfortunately and so tantilizingly beyond my reach created a yearning frustration. At that point, being a comics reader was somewhat akin to being a treasure hunter —digging through used book stores, garage sales and your relatives’ attics in order to search out those hidden gems that you just knew were lurking in the dusty and forgotten depths of someone else’s yesteryear. The process of collecting comics used to involve a certain sense of mystery that’s missing from today’s fandom, where a quick internet search can hook you up with pretty much anything your budget can afford. Even reference sources to exactly what had been previously published were scarce so unearthing back issues of any kind was much like digging in the dark.
It was just as I started to develop this great longing for more and more comics that I first discovered THE SHADOW. I don’t remember exactly how I first became aware of this mysterious character but there was a concurrent synergy at work that served to capture my interest and spark my fascination. Of course, I’d heard the great radio catch-phrase about evil in the hearts of men, but I think my first real sighting of The Shadow came in the pages of a comic book. In the early 70s, DC Comics had acquired the rights to produce a comic series based on the old radio and pulp character and many of their titles ran a half-page ad announcing the upcoming release. So, here was a character of whom I had some awareness but now I actually got to see him and thus, the mystery deepened. What’s more, this illustration (by the talented Michael Kaluta) featured The Shadow pointing a gun directly at the reader. This was at a time when most comics were safe havens of kiddie narratives dampened by the strict censorship of the Comics Code Authority; heroes didn’t carry guns! So, not only was this intriguing character a great mystery…he was dangerous! Nothing could have thrilled me more and, for the first time, I entered into the world of actual fandom as I immediately began trying to dig up whatever more I could learn about what was soon to become my favorite pop culture character.
As I said, there was a certain feeling of the planets aligning here because, around this same time, certain record companies began issuing episodes of the original radio show on LP Vinyl. In addition to the anticipation of the monthly wait for each new issue of The Shadow comic book, I could also thrill to the audio adventures of this mysterious crime crusader. And then, as luck would have it, a year after the premier of the DC series, Pyramid Books began re-issuing the original pulp novels in mass-market trade paperback editions. Suddenly, I had a slew of Shadow material available to me and I sucked it down like a man in the desert. I scoured deeper and deeper in The Shadow’s hidden lore, digging up copies of earlier reprint editions, hardcover volumes, even some facsimile reprints that featured the original pulp illustrations. One Halloween, I convinced my mom to sew me a long black cloak and, with the help of a black fedora and a red scarf, I went trick-or-treating as The Shadow! The first time I ever dug deep into the treasury of my hard-earned allowance and lawn-mowing fees to buy an expensive back issue of a collectible comic, it was…of course, for The Shadow. I shelled out what at the time seemed like the ungodly amount of $35 for a Very Fine conditioned copy of Shadow Comics #3! Even there, a bit of hidden treasure awaited me as I discovered that The Shadow’s figure was printed in blue in that golden-age series, to indicate his invisibility.
So, with his midnight cloak and mocking laughter, The Shadow himself served as my guide into the world of active fandom. Up until then, I’d been a casual collector at best.
In fact, you could even say that The Shadow is responsible for my entire career as a comics creator. If I’d never delved so deeply into uncovering The Shadow’s hidden history, I don’t think I’d ever have become fully aware of the business of publishing and the process of creating these stories that meant so very much to me. At a younger age, the reality of that world was an utter unknown, as shrouded in mystery as The Shadow’s secretive past. As I explored further and further into The Shadow’s narrative history, the world of writing, drawing and publishing took on a more concrete shape and I could actually see that people did indeed spend their lives making up stories for a living. Needless to say, I couldn’t imagine a more rewarding job.
Not only did I follow those dreams of becoming a creator of adventurous and sequential fiction (ahem…“comic book artist”) but that path has blossomed into a long-lasting and successful career, the likes of which I could only have dreamt about as a kid.
Even better, now I get the chance to apply my skills to the character that really started it all for me. Not only that, I get to redefine the character’s mysterious origins into a YEAR ONE-style story arc. This is really like a dream come true for me.
I’m also lucky enough to be joined on this thrilling endeavor by an extremely talented artist, Wilfredo Torres. Fred’s stylish and lifelike renderings help bring The Shadow’s fledgling adventures to life with a sharp and dramatic clarity. And, as if this entire delicious concoction could even get any better, as an added cherry on top…my son, Brennan, is serving as the series’ colorist.
In The Shadow: Year One, we’ll present this timeless pop culture icon in a stirring tale that will serve as the perfect springboard for brand new readers. And yet the story will also be heavily textured and informed by the vast extent of my pre-existing knowledge of the character, providing familiar motifs and new insights for even the most die-hard fans.
The Shadow opened a whole new world to me, casting light on a reality about which I knew very little. And now, oh-so happily, I’m able to return the favor.
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