Art of The Shepherd: An Interview with Joseph Schmalke

Art of The Shepherd: An Interview with Joseph Schmalke

  • By - Andrea Lorenzo Molinari
  • 30 November, 2020

The Shepherd, Volume 1, Issue 1 will hit comic book stores in January 2021, and Team Shepherd is very excited! As part of the celebration around the publication of Issue 1, Scout Comics’ horror/sci-fi imprint Black Caravan is offering local comic book shops the opportunity to commission exclusive covers by artists of their choice. One of these covers is slated to be done by Joseph Schmalke, co-publisher (along with Rich Woodall) of Black Caravan.

Joseph is the author and/or artist for several highly successful titles from Scout Comics and Black Caravan, Phantom Starkiller (Black Caravan), Murder Hobo (Scout Comics), and the very popular The Electric Black. He has also self-published two other graphic novels, The Infernal Pact and Cherry Blackbird.

Furthermore, Joseph has had his artwork featured as cover art for Boom! Studios, Image Comics, Vault Comics, Mad Cave, Source Point Press, IDW Publishing, and Valiant Comics.

As soon as Joseph sent over his concept for approval—a Tarot card inspired take on The Shepherd—we knew that we wanted to interview him and ask him about his thought process as he developed such a unique piece. Here are a couple variants of the cover (NOTE: There IS a third ultra cool "mystery" cover that will be available, but you didn't hear it from us!):  


ANDREA: We want to know your “origin story.” How did you get into art in the first place? Was there a seminal moment when you knew that you wanted to create for a living? Tell us how you fell in love with art.

JOSEPH: I’ve been drawing and painting since childhood.  When I was ten, I wanted to become a comic book creator after reading Kraven’s Last Hunt storyline in Spider-Man.  It deals with some pretty heavy themes including cannibalism, torture, PTSD, homosexuality, depression, and suicide. It was the moment where I felt like I was reading something that wasn’t meant for young eyes and knew that the medium had more to offer than just superhero stories.

ROBERTO: As an artist, what particular artist(s) and/or artistic movements are your greatest inspirations? 

JOSEPH: There’s not one movement in particular that has helped define my work.  I’ve spent a lot of time in museums/galleries and can usually come away with unexpected inspiration. I don’t consider myself as just and artist or illustrator but define what I do as storytelling.

ANDREA: Could you explain how you came to your idea to draw The Shepherd in a similar fashion to “The Hermit”? For those who are not familiar with Tarot, could you explain the connections you saw between The Hermit and The Shepherd?

JOSEPH: Ok, here’s the long answer. I’ve attempted to create a tarot deck several times but keep getting sidetracked.  When the Shepherd cover gig came to me, I thought about the content of the story for about two minutes before making the connection to the Hermit card of the Tarot deck.  There are similarities in the Shepherd and its themes that match certain meaning for that particular card—not to mention the shared illustrated themes. The card is usually thought to connote aspects of healing/recovery, particularly the kind that happens over time.

ROBERTO: Let’s talk about the various prominent elements of the piece itself. Tell us about your thoughts around: 1) the posture in which you have the Staff of Truth seems suggest “lantern” (i.e., light source) as opposed to a weapon (whether defensive or offensive); and 2) the use of the skulls to accent the piece.

JOSEPH: The placement and element of the design come directly from the Rider-Waite Tarot deck which is the most widely available and recognized deck. The lantern is the Lamp of Truth, used to guide the unknowing, his patriarch's staff helps him navigate narrow paths as he seeks enlightenment, and his cloak is a form of discretion.

There is an element of loneliness and age to the hermit and the skulls were an artistic choice to reflect the afterlife and loss that are generally the themes we are dealing with in the Shepherd.

ANDREA: If you were to do a sister piece to this one, featuring the wolf-wraith Legio, what Tarot card or cards would serve as your inspiration and why?

JOSEPH: I couldn’t say right now. I would need to do a deeper dive into what we have for general themes… but I believe I could find a card that would match those themes. Think it would be cool to see a set of these come to life.

If you would like to see more of Joseph’s art and stories, please go to and

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