|Michael Wm. Kaluta
Speakeasy # 82
|Michael Wm. Kaluta first came to prominence when he collaborated with Denny O'Neil on the 1973 DC comic book version of the
famous, enigmatic pulp novel character THE SHADOW. The dark cloaked, scarf swathed, slouch hatted, two gunned mystey man was
the most popular charachter to ever appear in the lurid re-cycled pages of the precursors of comic books. THE SHADOW schieved a
twice monthly frequency, a feat not even his closest rival DOC SAVAGE The Man of Bronze could equal. During the '70s Marvel
issued both four-color and black & white adventures of Doc Savage while DC concentrated on THE SHADOW, but the '80s has seen
updated versions of both of these characters from DC in deluxe limited series runs. The successful SHADOW mini-series by Howard
Chaykin spinning off into a continuing series written by Andy Helfer and originally drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz, and now by Kyle Baker.
But for many people the definitive SHADOW artist remains Mike Kaluta, who has rfecently completed a SHADOW hardback graphic
novel. Not only was he re-united with the famous character, but also with his original scripter Denny O'Neil. As if that combination
wasn't enough Russ Heath joined the team as inker!
Who knows what evil lurks in the new graphic novel, Mike Kaluta knows! And he told SPEAKEASY in a recent trans-Atlantic
SPEAKEASY: Who proposed this new Shadow project?
Michael Wm. Kaluta: I got a call from Larry Hama saying that Marvel had the graphic novel rights to a version of The Shadow and he
said they had held the rights for nine months, and the opportunity was going begging, so would I like to draw it? I was interested in the
proposition for a number of reasons. The main one being that I thought I was going to do the character over at DC, when thay eventually
handed it to Howard Chaykin. So a new chance to do it came as quite a surprise, and I thought what the hell, I'll do it for somebody else.
S: Why did the planned DC project fall through?
MwK: Wee there was nothing ever signed. Elaine Lee and I were involved in the project, and I think they felt that the ideas weren't
strong enough to be followed up in a regular series. I think they made the right decision to go with Howard, and the success of the book
bears that out.
S: What did you think of Howard Chaykin's updated version of The Shadow character?
MwK: I don't personally care for it, because I think that the character works best in the '30s and '40s. Nowadays the heroic adventure
material features mean and callous heroes against equally mean and callous villains, whereas back then they were seen as selfless
characters surviving on the edge of a world that was tough and desperate. So I'm a bigger fan of the original period in which The
Shadow first appeared, complete with all the style and trappings of the time. The '30s and '40s weren't any sweeter, but it wasn't as
cynically bloodthirsty as the '80s are, at least as seen in the adventure genre.
S: Did the revamped Chaykin version influence your depiction of The Shadow?
MwK: Well I thought to myself just because younger people will be reading these stories thinking that this was The Shadow the way he
has always been, I wouldn't do anything in the story I was working on that would be diametrically opposed to Howard's approach. The
Marvel Shadow that we worked on is really a continuation of what we did at DC 14 years ago - same charactes, same costumes, same
basic attitudes of the characters.
S: Was it always intended that you would team up again with Denny O'Neil on The Shadow?
Mw: Yes. I know that Marvel had approached Conde Nast nine months earlier with the proposal to do the graphic novel, and when
Marvel got around to me, Denny was already lined up to write the book. I also insisted at the start that I wanted Bernie (Wrightson) to
ink the book, and he agreed, but as it turned out he couldn't follow through with it.
The original story ideas that I proposed at the initial meetings are pretty much what Denny ran with in the end. The sub-plot is mine, the
rest is Denny's. And I should probably say here that this has nothing to do with the project that I was going to work on with Harlan
Ellison, though people still ask me anyway. Harlan wrote three pages of that story, I've got two of them. I did a sketch from those which
really had nothing to do with the story, for promotion. But unfortunately the whole thing fell through
S: Why wasn't Bernie Wrightson able to work on the book?
MwK: Well, he developed a fungus on his hand which was aggravated by the brushes and the water he was using and his fingers looked
like he'd had second degree burns. They were so very tender that he couldn't really work for long spells, and he was already working all
day on other jobs, so I tried to find another inker for the project. I approached Charles Vess, but he wouldn't touch it with a ten foot
pole. After alot of other potential inkers fell through I was finally contacted by Larry Hama who suggested Russ Heath. And I said Russ
Heath? What's he been doing all this time? It seems that he's ben working for Marvel Enterprises on the west coast. So we went with
Russ Heath and the work he turned in was gorgeous. It's a lot cleaner than I expected the book to look. Bernie has this flashy inking
style which makes up for not really knowing what a car looks like. Whereas Russ knows all the hardware and such, and it's a very
hardware oriented strip with various motor bikes, automobiles and aircraft, so he was a natural for the inks.
S: How did you feel after returning to the character after such a long time?
MwK? It was like putting on a good pair of shoes you'd forgotten you had. I had a rough start, because Denny and I agreed the story
would be historical, and when the script came he hadn't nailed it down quite as firmly as I wanted it to be. The way I saw it was that the
events took place around Hitler's Birthday, which was being celebrated in America by supporters of the Nazis, and I wanted characters
who were pertinent to the time to appear in the story. In the end they got slipped in, but they don't figure prominently in the plot. But the
historical context is still there.
S: Without giving too much away could you tell us a bit about the plot of the graphic novel?
MwK: Hitler attacked Russia. We all wonder why he did it, even today, and there have been lots of arguments flying around, so I
decided to join in. I said to Denny that this seemed such a bizarre thing to have happened why don't we say The Shadow had something
to do with it. The added attraction was that Hitler was reputed to have an astrologer, they used this ploy in the first Indiana Jones movie.
It's never been proved that Hitler himself had an astrologer. But Rudolph Hess, there are all kinds of astrological tie ins with him, and he
was very close to Hitler, so this is where people have drawn the conclusion that Hitler was affected by Hess. So the story is basically
about The Shadow affecting Hess to influence Hitler to attack Russia, when it's perfectly obvious that he shouldn't. Hence giving the allies
a break. There are a few other sub-plots intertwined throughout the story, but that would really be giving everything away.
The story takes place in 1941. The mood is of that era. There's no moralising about present day problems. There is no promotion of
sexual titilation or bloodletting. There is violence, but there's a reason for it within an adventure framework. I think tat this is a much
better story than any we did in the '70s.
S: Does the regular Shadow cast of characters make an appearance?
MwK: Yes, everybody from the novels and the comic series in the '70s turns up. The whole gang, Harry Vincent, Margo Lane,
Burbank, Shrevvy and they all get their moment on stage, and I'm really happy about that.
S:The book being released in hardback seems to have been quite a recent development. Is this the case?
MwK: Yes, it's very recent. I was told a month ago, and my reaction was the sound of my jaw on the floor. At first I thought that would
make it too expensive - about $15 or $20, but it's not, it's $12 so it will be affordable, except in Canada unfortunately.
S: How do you think your artwork has developed since you last drew The Shadow?
MwK: Well, it's more consistent and I think it's pretty good, which is saying a lot for me, because I'm not one to hand out idle praise,
especially of my own work. It won't look like my old work because Russ' finishes are so clean and my own inking style tends to be a
little bit scratchy. I think it's a good blend. Knowing that Bernie doesn't give a damn for accuracy on hardware I was doing very tight
detailed pencils for him, more detailed than I would have if I were inking myself, and certainly more detailed than if I'd known Russ was
going to be doing the inks, because he knows all that stuff. So all I would need to do for Russ is tell him in the margins what the hardware
was, because I tend to have more elaborate angles than the traditional approach to comic strips.
S: Have you always been a fan of The Shadow.
MwK: I was a Shadow fan two days after they told me I could do the series in 1973. I had never read any of the books before, but I
had a friend who was an artist, Steve Hickman, who is a big Shadow fan, so I rang him up and pumped him for information. And Bernie
knew the character and all of a sudden Shadow fans from everywhere came out of the woodwork and sent me lots of reference material.
Half the material I read was really great and the other half really dire. The way the character was described was as exciting to me as the
work of Robert E. Howard. I'm not a Shadow purist and I don't really care for the radio programme at all, because of the same old
damsel in distress routine they used all the time. I've my own ideas of what the character should look like, and it doesn't really jibe with
the purists ideal.
S: Would you like to work regularly on the character?
MwK: Well I don't really like what they've done to The Shadow over at DC, so that avenue's cut off to me. They've changed his
characte, making him too accessible, humorous, and modern. I'd like for DC to reprint those '70s stories, because if I got a shot at it I'd
like to fix a few panels. If they wanted to go back to the 'classic' Shadow then I would go along with that. My Shadow is weird and
psychotic, but he's not an arrogant sex-mad ass-hole. Howie's Shadow was the master of women, he was not the Master Of Men.
|All art copyright Michael Wm. Kaluta and the respective owners.