Art of The Shepherd: An Interview with Luca Panciroli
I was first exposed to the artwork of Tuscan artist Luca Panciroli in my role as editor for Caliber Comics. He was the artist for a sci-fi adventure written by Massimo Rosi entitled, Dark Frontier (http://www.calibercomics.com/dark-frontier.html). This book billed by Caliber Comics as “Mad Max: Fury Road meets Of Mice and Men” is an amazing mix of deep, heart-felt romance, dystopian science, and bloody futuristic violence—all stunningly depicted by Luca’s unfailing hand.
Of course, in order to understand how I came to work with Luca, I need to explain more about my work as an editor…
Anyone who knows me knows I do a fair amount of editing for various comic books and graphic novels. I am happy to say that my editing has introduced me to a number of really amazing and creative people. Of these few are more creative and prolific as writers than my friend Massimo Rosi. I began working with Massimo as his editor on a book called Wrath of God, published by Caliber Comics in 2018 (http://www.calibercomics.com/wrath-of-god.html). We hit it off and in short order I worked on two other title he wrote for Caliber Comics, Morning Star and the aforementioned, Dark Frontier. Since that time, Massimo and I have worked on titles that have been published by Scout Comics, Behemoth, Amigo Comics, and Action Lab Entertainment as well as other publishers.
In the context of my friendship and work relationship with Massimo, I watched as he worked with Luca on another projects. The first of these is a sci-fi book, a mecha-battles-aliens, action adventure in the vein of Pacific Rim, called Rise of the Tyrant, published by Amigo Comics. Once again, I got to see Luca shine in page by page action!
The other project of Luca's that impressed me was yet another story by Massimo entitled, The Barbarian King, published by Leviathan Labs in 2020. This story is a Conan adventure and I was treated to a front row seat as the work progress. Time and time again, I was in awe of Luca’s work. I knew that I wanted to work with him. Frankly, my biggest fear was if I could afford someone with his level of talent.
Fast forward to July 2020. I had just signed a contract with Scout Comics to move the Shepherd graphic novels series from Caliber Comics. Shortly after signing with Scout Comics and being assigned to their horror/sci-fi imprint Black Caravan, I spoke with my publishers, Joseph Schmalke and Rich Woodall. They indicated that Black Caravan was going to reprint the early volumes of the Shepherd, beginning with Volume 1, The Shepherd: Apokatastasis (Issue 1 in January 2021 and the entire volume as a trade paperback in April 2021). Joseph and Rich suggested creating new cover art and a new introduction for the volume, something that would give readers an overview of The Shepherd and his role in the afterlife.
I liked the idea immediately and asked for a couple days for my son Roberto and me to think about what we could do. The early conversation was fruitful and we quickly settled on an idea—a short story involving ancient Egyptian mythology. We had a story idea, now all we needed was an artist. We immediately thought of Luca as both Roberto and me LOVED his work in Dark Frontier and The Barbarian King. I summoned my courage and wrote to Luca in late July 2020, asking him to do a cover for us. (Of course, we also wanted him to do the Egyptian short story, but we thought we would test the waters with a cover commission.)
Luca was very warm in his response. He agreed to do a new cover work for us. The piece below was finished in early August 2020:
Roberto and I sat down with Luca (virtually, of course, as he is in Italy) to discuss this cover.
ANDREA: How did you first get into art? Did the attraction begin as a child or did it appear later in life?
LUCA: I was about six when I walked into a newsstand and saw a dude in a bat cloak. I said to myself, "I must have this." I didn't know who Batman was, but I wanted him with every fiber of my body. I took the book and said, "I'll pay for it later!" and ran home. The newsagent was my neighbor in the condominium, so it wasn't a real "theft." At the time, I was already drawing. I've always done it for as long as I can remember. I remember that when I was 10 or 11—while everyone was playing and running during school recess—I was walking with a friend of mine, discussing whether John Romita or John Buscema was better. Incidentally, I preferred Steranko. I used to draw Spiderman stories on the back of math notebooks. I drew comics about movies I hadn't seen yet like "Rocky III", or about movies I had seen on TV the night before, like Rollerball. Seriously, since I was born I have always drawn, and I have enjoyed drawing comics since elementary school.
ROBERTO: As an artist, who are your biggest influences and what is it about their work that inspires, intrigues or amazes you?
LUCA: My influences are many, really. If I listed them all, I would never finish. I can tell you that they are the very diverse and not necessarily related to comics—Orson Welles, German expressionist cinema, Dino Battaglia, H.R. Giger, Tsutomu Nihei, Federico Fellini, Sergio Leone, and Egon Schiele. There are many, perhaps too many, and I am aware that not all of this impacts my way of drawing. However, many times it is about a "mood", something that makes me sit at the table to draw, even rethinking a single shot of a certain movie, or some graphic solution seen in some comic that I liked. Let's just say I am a kind of soup of influences!
ANDREA: With regard to the cover artwork for The Shepherd, Issue 1, you employ a number of essential elements from the original story: the Staff of Truth; the wolf-wraith, Legio, in chains; the graveyard setting; the sense of hostility between the Shepherd and the wolf-wraith. But let’s focus on your depiction of The Shepherd’s “Staff of Truth.” Many artists have chosen to represent its power by the use of flames. You seem to have chosen electricity, portraying the power almost like lightning. This is an interesting choice and pretty unique. What was your thinking around this choice?
LUCA: Yes, as I told you, the choice is linked to the fact that lightning has always been a fundamental element of gothic cinema and because lightning comes from above, from the sky. It is powerful, lightning is the laser beams of nature. Lightning is something wild, fast, and damn deadly. It has that broken, nervous shape that prevents you from predicting where it will strike and where it can go. And to tell the truth, I enjoy drawing lightning. I think I was influenced a bit, at that moment, by Mario Bava, because that day while I was drawing, I was listening to an old interview of his in the background and he was talking about the stylistic features of gothic cinema.
ROBERTO: Your depiction of the wolf-wraith Legio is both realistic and it has a much more savage quality then is often presented. What did you want to capture about this character? As you positioned Legio and the Shepherd, what did you want to convey in terms of the relationship between the two characters?
LUCA: Yes, Legio is huge and scary, but it's not monstrous. I wanted it to feel extremely wild and dangerous but not repulsive. Someone told me that it was evident that I was inspired by the dire wolves of G. R. R. Martin's novels. Actually, I never thought of dire wolves. I thought of John Landis and the wonderful movie, “An American Werewolf in London”. Yes, I thought of David transformed into a wolf. And I also thought a little about Dog Soldier, I admit it—but only a little. Legio is under Lawrence, he's got the chains. He is a harnessed force ready to explode. It's the earthly part of this power. Above the Shepherd is lightning and below him, the wolf—and he is between these two forces of nature.
ANDREA: What little touches did you put into the piece that you would like to highlight for our fans?
LUCA: Actually, I think I've revealed everything behind that cover. As you can see there are not only comics, there is also cinema and not necessarily its images, sometimes it is its authors with their words and their stories that influence my work. Let's say that I always tend to look around me and the sources of inspiration can come from anything. My niece, aged 4, drew a beautiful and terrifying black mill. It was just a drawing of a little girl who had seen the Aristocats the night before. But I fell in love with that drawing, I framed it and sooner or later I know it will end up in some story.
So, with the obvious success of Luca’s cover, we spoke to him about doing the Egyptian short story. He was willing to consider it. After we sent our 12-page script, he gave his final consent and began work. The short story was finished in early October 2020, and will appear in The Shepherd, Issue 1, due out from Scout Comics’ Black Caravan imprint in January 2021. Here is a sample:
With this work a resounding success, we have (wisely) persuaded Luca to continue his work on The Shepherd. He is our artist on the forthcoming horror novel, The Shepherd: The Burning Maid, which imagines Joan of Arc in the afterlife. Here is a sneak peek (uncolored for now):