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Indie Comics Spotlight: Cavan Scott's 'Shadow Service' is 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Witch,' and we’re here for it
Writer Cavan Scott is known in comics circles for his fandom-friendly work on licensed titles, including Doctor Who, Pacific Rim, Wonder Woman: Agent of Peace, and the Star Wars: High Republic series. However, Shadow Service, his first creator-owned project, is where he's thoroughly enjoying himself. Part James Bond, part Doctor Who, the London-based Section 26 (aka MI666) is a paranormal defense team tasked with protecting England from threats of the demonic variety. Scott's penchant for snarky dialogue paired with the gorgeous artwork and colors by Corin Howell and Triona Farrell respectively make for a gory, fun ride.
The story follows Gina Meyers, a witch and amateur detective who uses her powers to solve client's cases (think Jessica Jones in London with less liver damage). Her sometime sidekick, a talking rat named Eddie, provides backup and has a surprisingly accurate network of information for a rodent. Her world changes overnight when she is recruited (read: kidnapped) by section 26. Her new "co-workers" include spymaster Hex, an ancient blood magic mage in a child's body, Coyle, a ghoul with the worst luck ever, and Sidhu, an immortal soldier with a heart of stone — literally.
Their mission? Help bring down the criminal underworld's most-wanted and locate a "weapon of mass damnation."
Scott grew up in London on a steady diet of comics like Scream! and 2000AD plus suspense horror sci-fi shows like Doctor Who and Children of the Stones. Dubbed "the haunted generation," most kids' entertainment in England in the seventies was "blatantly traumatizing and nightmare-inducing," according to the author.
Even though Scott is living the dream, writing for several of the publications he grew up with, he always wanted to work on a creator-owned project. Still, he never got the chance before Vault gave him the opportunity to create Shadow Service.
Two story arcs in and the tenth issue of Shadow Service just hit stores at the end of July. SYFY WIRE spoke to Scott about launching a comic in a pandemic, philosopher's stones, and how Sabrina inspired the main character.
How did Shadow Service see the light of day?
A few years ago at San Diego Comic-Con, I met Vault co-founder Adrian Wassell, who invited me to pitch. Unfortunately, my first idea didn't fly, and it was that classic, "What else you got?"
I've been trying to write stories about MI666, the supernatural spy service, for years. The [characters] have appeared in various small press horror anthologies in different forms, not in the form we see in the comic, but as an organization. I pulled the original idea out of the back of my head and said to Adrian, "What about 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Witch?' and he said, "Yes! You need to write that."
And then I absolutely panicked.
I had been trying to do this for years, and [now I had my chance], but I still couldn't think of a way to bring it all together.
How did you find your inspiration?
I did what I always do. I went for a massive walk to try and clear my head and listen to music. I put my iPhone on shuffle, and the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina soundtrack came up and played [The VCTRY cover of Santana's] "Black Magic Woman."
It sounds corny, but I immediately saw Gina Meyer, the main character and I realized I was trying to write a story about the group and what I needed was a character recruited off the streets. And so that became Gina and all of a sudden, everything worked.
After so many years working on licensed material, how much fun has it been working on your first creator-owned project?
Working in IP is great because there are borders you can't cross and rules you have to follow. You always have to go back and say, "Can I do this?". When you oversee work in your own world, it ends with you and your co-creators. At first, it was terrifying because I suddenly realized I was the one [responsible]. It was a bit of a shock and now it's something I enjoy.
You worked with artist Corin Howell and your colorist Triona Farrell for The Shadow Service, and I have to say, the covers and splash pages with the monsters are phenomenal.
There are probably a lot more monsters in Shadow Service now simply because of Corin. The first time we see Hex, he's performing a blood magic ritual and he's in front of this giant skeletal, angelic statue, which was not in the script. That wasn't even a splash page. That's an image that Corin drew that came back in the thumbnails. It looked so amazing that they became part of the story.
Speaking of Hex, he seems to use blackmail as a recruitment tactic. Is that by design?
Yes, but isn't that what happens with every intelligence service? I mean, Britain has a long history of blackmailing gay men into going and spying for them because otherwise, they would ruin them. That's what intelligence services do, they use leverage and Hex leverages other people's curses as his own personal currency. Hex is an enigma. But he's come from more of a tragic origin than people expect.
Everyone on the team — Sidhu, Coyle, and Gina — seems to come from tragic origins, correct?
Every one of the people involved in this story has had something done to them. Sidhu was a soldier who was turned into a weapon by the military. She has a philosopher's stone keeping her alive. So she literally has a heart of stone and although it has given her certain powers of healing, she has a very wounded soul.
And Coyle is an unlucky ghoul who has to eat flesh to survive. It's not like an iZombie type thing. He literally has to eat dead bodies to live, and when he does, he can shapeshift into the person he's just eaten, making him the ultimate infiltration agent.
Hex is very good at finding victims and using that victimhood to turn them into a weapon, that's how he built this team.
Since Gina wasn't formally trained as a witch, has she reached her final form yet?
Oh no, not even close. We get a glimpse of what one of those possible forms might be and it is absolutely terrifying for everyone involved.
We went back and forth on how much and how quickly Gina learns and how much of a victim she is along the way. Because she is someone who tries to keep control at all times, however, in all spy fiction, there's always that element of "You are a pawn in a bigger game," and Gina is definitely a pawn.
By the end of Issue #10, the end of the current story arc, we know that there are very strange things happening with Gina. But we are left with more questions than answers.
What was it like collaborating in the middle of a pandemic?
Well, launching in a pandemic was fun. I was doing work for Marvel, too and it was pencils down everywhere. No one knew what was going on or how long it would last, plus the Diamond situation was unpredictable.
But Vault said, "Just keep going," and so at a time where everything else paused, we put our heart and soul into Shadow Service.
I would never have wanted to launch in a vacuum with barely any shops open. But it was a testament to Vault because they pushed to keep everything going and keep us working and keep stores open. Perhaps there were sacrifices made to the Dark Lords to do it, but we got there.
Hopefully, we get a chance to continue the series, but Shadow Service is the first of two or three creator-owned titles I've got coming out over the next year or so. It's something I'm enjoying. I don't think I will ever stop doing work like Star Wars and I'm doing quite a lot of work in the DC Universe now, which is brilliant and a bit of a childhood dream. But, [creator-owned projects] are definitely something that I will be exploring more and more over the next few years in comics and beyond.