by Jarrod Jones. Shadows are often the province of spies, who drape themselves in darkness as they fasten silencers to pistols with a smoldering pout on their faces. In a story like Shadow Service, it’s quite possible they’re sharing that space with—cue thunderclap—something else.
Shadow Service crafts a strange brew, one of witches and demons and spies and their covert organizations—not to mention the painfully normal world that encapsulates them all. It pairs writer Cavan Scott with artist Corin Howell to tell the story of Gina Meyers, a private investigator who packs far more than just a right hook and a vicious bon mot, and how her world of relative normalcy (she has witchy superpowers) comes utterly undone.
Gina talks to a rat. Can transport herself here and there. As you can imagine, she’s quite effective at her job, and the strange types who lurk in those shadows are beginning to take notice. I asked Cavan about the potential consequences of bringing Gina into the world of (get this) MI-666, and his answer was appropriately cryptic.
“Nothing comes for free in this world or the next,” he tells me. “And it’s fair to say that while there may seem to be cases where people are getting away with using magic to get ahead, it’s all getting jotted down in a ledger somewhere.
“[Shadow Service] is the kind of story where your past might take a while to catch up on you, but catch up on you it will.”
To mark the debut of Vault Comics’ latest, DoomRocket declassified some (but not all!) of the secrets inside Shadow Service #1 with Cavan Scott and Corin Howell.
1. The cool kids who keep up with such things are already plenty aware of the elevator pitch for ‘Shadow Service’—James Bond by way of Hammer Horror (Peter Cushing as Bond, now there’s an image…), black-ops magic with dark intentions and a wicked sense of humor. But now that we’re here at the precipice of the book’s release, what has ‘Shadow Service’ become to you, beyond its initial inspirations?
Corin Howell: It’s been a way to really further my expansion of my love and work in the horror world. I love horror stories, and this project allows me to go beyond my initial ideas of creatures, demons, whatever—and make it better.
Cavan Scott: In all honesty, it has become my happy place in the last few months, which I guess is a slightly odd thing to say about a book with such a vein of dark horror running throughout. Perhaps it’s the cathartic nature of pouring out horror onto a page at a time when the world seems so topsy-turny.
But I think it’s a lot to do with this team. It has been such a creative time, with us constantly pushing what we wanted to do as well as adding lots of lovely seeds for the future. It certainly feels more than the book I started writing at the turn of the year. The central storyline is the same, but the characters have grown and the horror-elements have definitely intensified, thanks in no small part to Corin’s art which constantly inspires me.
2. I want to talk a bit about Gina Meyers, the central witch P.I. at the heart of Shadow Service’. She’s a bit like Jessica Jones without the mean streak, a bit like John Constantine in that they share similar social graces—though Gina doesn’t bother with the tobacco. Cavan, I know one day Gina just popped into your head wholecloth, but I want to know how Corin changed your perception of Gina. Guided by the two of you, how did Gina make her final leap from concept to character?
CH: Actually when I first saw the description, the first design just popped into my head. She’s a pretty girl, but has those dreaded dark circles due to her poor sleeping habits. I wanted her look to be somewhat normal: she dresses comfortably but makes sure it’s still slightly professional and allows her to move around when it comes to catching the bad guys. Despite her initial appearance, you can tell by her eyes that she’s seen some dark stuff in her past.
CS: I cannot overstate how important our editor Tay Taylor was in guiding Gina to the page. Originally, in the pitch, Gina knew everything that was needed to know about the supernatural world she exists in. Tay came in and suggested turning that on its head, making Gina as in the dark as everyone else, thinking that she is a freak at best and a monster at worst.
Now, I have to admit that I railed against it at first, turning into the most stubborn writer in the world, stamping my feet and saying no, no, no, but Tay listened and prodded and I had to eventually admit that it was the best route to take. So, yes, while Gina appeared to me one day and then was so wonderfully realized by Corin, so much credit has to go to Tay for making Gina the witch she is today. Her arc is so much better for it.
3. Corin, your career has gone down a few dark avenues in the last few years—’The Girl in the Bay’, ‘Calamity Kate’, horror-tinged tales that allow you the space to dig into the emotional states of the characters. ‘Shadow Service’ seems like a project that’s tailor-made for you—monsters, magic, character depth, the works. What was in Cavan’s pitch for ‘Shadow Service’ that appealed to you immediately? How does ‘Shadow Service’ let you flex your strengths?
CH: Well once I saw ‘dark arts and magic with monsters’, that was it, I was already on board. It was a little rocky because I was still finishing [AfterShock Comics’] Dark Red and we didn’t want the conflicting schedules, but we got it to work. I got to let loose on my love for Lovecraftian, cosmic horror monsters—things that seem to defy the reality of our world. Cavan had no reigns on my horror work so I was allowed to just go nuts.
4. Coming back to Gina—I know that at the beginning of ‘Shadow Service’ Gina believes she may be the only person running around with these magical abilities—and that’s a real doozy for her self-esteem; she thinks of herself as a monster. But she can’t really believe that she’s that unique, can she? I mean, she’s running around talking to a rodent. Cavan, how much of her lack of magical awareness comes from the efficacy of “Section 26” and how much of it comes from the various and violent distractions of Gina’s private-eye life?
CS: This is something we explore as the series continues. She knows that magic exists, Edwin is proof of that, but she doesn’t believe it’s the norm by any means or that other humans are capable of mastering it. And yes, other agencies had a part in keeping the truth from her, MI-666 in a general sense to people who are surprisingly close to her. It’s a theme, we’re also planning to continue before this first arc if the dark lords smile on us and the series is a success.
As a writer, how do you like to pull the rug out from under characters who may be a bit too blind to the wider world around them? How do you go about yanking that rug so that it has a shared effect on the reader?
CS: It’s a necessity. As a writer, especially of this kind of story, you are duty-bound to make your characters suffer as much as possible. When it comes to the reader, I think part of the trick is lulling the reader into a false sense of security by giving them just a little more information than the characters. They think they know everything and then—wham!—that rug is gone!
5. Speaking of this wonderful rodent, we have Edwin, the wee rat with the supernatural ability to pop in whenever Gina needs to ground herself for a minute or two. Also, he speaks! What can you tell our readers about the genesis of Edwin, how he came into this world?
CH: That is completely for Cavan to tease the details; I don’t want to spoil too much.
CS: All will be revealed in issue #8, with a few clues along the way until then.
Without giving away the game, is there an extra element to Edwin—aside from the obvious—that will change the dynamics of ‘Shadow Service’ going forward?
CH: Again, no spoilers from me! I like to live dangerously.
CS: You might very well think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.
6. Corin, let’s talk about the various nightmares contained within ‘Shadow Service’. From what I’ve seen from this book so far, there’s no shortage of horrors on the way. Here be demons with elongated jaws, tree-bark textures of what might have been skin, long, probing fingers seeking some living thing to break. It’s like you’re trying to will into being the worst terrors we imagine when we think there might be something lurking in the darkness around us. How do you make the intangible—the terrible things we dream of—tangible?
CH: Well, I’ve watched so many horror movies in the past, I really just allow whatever pops into my head first to take over. Psychologically, human beings are afraid of what they don’t understand, so I end up drawing the things that defy the expectations of reality. Again, I’m a huge fan of Lovecraft’s stories, and the movies that came out of them—Re-Animator, From Beyond, Color out of Space—[they all took] horror into a different direction other than just the werewolf, the demon [from] Catholic horror, or the vampire. It messes with the reality of our world and bends until it makes you squirm on the outside. That’s what I like to go for.
What makes good demon design? Is there a way to over-do monster-making?
CH: In my opinion, there is. There’s always a way to under-do monster making as well. But what makes a good demon/monster/creature is bringing out what psychologically creeps you out. What makes you scared.
7. One of the more interesting aspects of ‘Shadow Service’ is that the use of magic has consequences, and they can either be supernatural in aspect, tragic in scope, or both. As an example, Gina suffers insomnia from her use of magic and, we find out, something terrible happened to her when she first put her powers to use as a child. It’s clear that there are going to be consequences for the magic users in ‘Shadow Service’. How do you mete out cause and effect in this kind of story? Could there be circumstances that allow some wiggle-room when karmic punishment comes to call?
CH: I’ve often seen magic as a form [of a] “give and receive” sort of deal. In order to summon a demon, you gotta spill some blood. I feel like the laws are very rooted in this world that there’s no way around them. Unless you can find something [in] the fine print, that is.
CS: Nothing comes for free in this world or the next. And it’s fair to say that while there may seem to be cases where people are getting away with using magic to get ahead, it’s all getting jotted down in a ledger somewhere. This is the kind of story where your past might take a while to catch up on you, but catch up on you it will.
8. There are often hierarchies in tales of the supernatural: Witches have covens, vampire stories feature masters and thralls. We find out that this so-called “MI-666” has something of a hierarchical structure, with the physically youthful, spiritually-quite-otherwise Hex sitting at the top of Section 26 on his wild, dark throne. How does one magic user hold sway over others in the world of ‘Shadow Service’? Cavan, where does Hex’s true power come from, and how does he choose to wield it over others?
CS: You really are trying to get me to spill all the secrets from the upcoming issues, aren’t you? When it comes to Hex, all I’m going to say is that, in the world of Shadow Service, long life brings many advantages, from secrets learned to power garnered, and Hex has had a very, very long life.
None of the members of Section 26 were born with their abilities. They are all the results of a curse or a blessing, sometimes both. Hex is no different.
9. ‘Shadow Service’ is a tale of magic users doing dark deeds beneath the notice of mere mortals. There’s a level of responsibility to what these people do, and also a sense of betrayal that they’d pull the wool so completely over our eyes. Do you believe power comes from something we can measure, like XP or trading card stats, or does power come from influence, knowledge, a clarity of purpose? If there’s a difference, what’s more dangerous?
CH: Knowledge has always been the greatest power, in my opinion. But I also believe that if you were to open yourself up a bit more, open your “third eye” to see and understand everything, you [could] definitely achieve the power you’re looking for.
CS: I think true power is something that you give to others, often at the expense of holding onto it yourself. [It’s] why we feel so powerless so much of the time. We look at the things that worry us in the world and in our lives, and convince ourselves that there is nothing we can do to change them, that they are external factors that are completely out of our sphere of influence. In other words, out of our control. In many cases that’s true, but we spend so much time worrying about what we can’t control, that we forget there is plenty we do have the power to change in our own lives, closer to home, things that give us the confidence to tackle the wider issues.
10. So we’ve been talking about magic—if you had the ability to change one thing in your life, what would you change, and what would be the most likely consequence of implementing that change?
CH: Not sleeping in. [Laughs] But I guess the downside would be I end up going to bed too early. All the fun starts after the sun does down.
CS: Like any writer I’d want to be able to stop time so any deadline can be met, no matter how tight. Either that or duplicate myself repeatedly so I can be literally writing eight things at once. Of course, that would mean eight versions of me procrastinating on Twitter rather than one…
‘Shadow Service’ #1 is in stores now. Contact your LCS for curbside pick-up or shipping options.
Check out this 10-page preview of ‘Shadow Service’ #1, courtesy of Vault Comics!
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