Review: Savage Town

Review by David Ferguson
Art by Phil Barrett
Written by Declan Shalvey
Colours by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Clayton Cowles

This is so Irish.

Declan Shalvey, using the name he has built in his years working for Marvel, DC and others, to sell the project has brought on board artist Phil Barrett. Phil is known, at least in Ireland, for creating character driven tales that have a quintessential Irish feel. What many people have hoped for, me included, was a larger project featuring his work. Of course, you half wondered how successfully it would play out over a longer story too. Quick answer: it is a great success. Phil has helped create a cast of characters, each with their own distinctive looks. Those outside Ireland who might wonder if people who look like this wander the streets should believe it. “The head on yer man” comes to mind. The facial expressions and body language in story really adds to the mixture of menace and humour in the story. This Irish feel doesn’t just extend to the inhabitants of Limerick he has created. The city itself exudes Irishness and is a character itself. Phil captures scenes that are like photographs from my childhood. There are also some still life style painted scenes of the city that kind of reminded me of the shots of cities they use in detective shows in between scenes. It kind of played up the criminal element in my mid. Of course, I must must praise the work Jordie Bellaire. Her contribution is so intertwined with Phil’s that all of the praise I have heaved on him must go to her too (colourists are co-artists to me). She has recreated Ireland’s colour tones exactly and it is a really big part of what creates the mood of the book.

In Limerick City, Jimmy “Hardy” Savage is a gangster on the rise, facing trouble from all sides. With the local cops, rival gangs, his best mate, and his mammy all out to stick a knife in him, will the bollocks live long enough to get to the top? More importantly, will he pay me back for that fiver I gave him last week?

The story itself reminded me a mixture of “Good Fellas” and “The Snapper”. (I don’t watch a lot of gang related dramas or movies but I’m assume there are influences from the likes of “The Wire” or others that I am unaware of). I picked “Good Fellas” as the story shows the dark side of Ireland that is the gang element (located in various cities in Ireland not just Limerick). I picked “The Snapper” for what makes the story Irish to me the, often dark, humour. A story like this could come across as overly brutal or hard but Declan Shalvey has written some funny stuff. Injecting humour is a delicate balance though as, along with the depiction of violence, the story could easily be pushed into the realm of over the top. I think of the likes of Garth Ennis, who seems to relish that kind of story. That is not the case here. I think the story, along with the art, manage to keep that balance. Declan has only relatively recently turned his hand to writing. People reading this book would probably find this hard to believe. He has weaved a Shakespearesque story that is full of intrigue and carefully keeps the balance between creating a believable story and creating an entertaining one. An interesting thing for me, will be how the dialogue works for people in the US or even in the UK. Not being from Limerick, I didn’t get all the expressions but there was enough context for me to understand and you can always look these things up so it might not be a big deal. It just adds to the authenticity in my opinion. I must compliment the work of Clayton Cowles even it is just for the font choice for the dialogue of an English character which was fun. His contribution really adds to the overall design.

I am hoping the fact that the book is a crime story will help it sell big at home to people who don’t usually buy graphic novels (Ireland has a big market for this kind of thing). There may be some push back due to the subject matter but the book nothing to glorify it and treats it pretty fairly. Being published through IMAGE comics has isn’t necessarily a blessing. The company has become known for publishing a bounty of excellent creator-owned books so there are a lot of readers who take a look at books because of their name being on the cover. However, this means you have a lot of competition within the label itself. I think the Irish angle might be something that helps it sell. I think it is distinctive enough that it will stand out even amongst the IMAGE books.

It is just so Irish. I love it. It’s savage.

Savage Team is out this Wednesday in all good comic shops. The book will be launched at Easons on O’Connell Street this Thursday.