JACKSON, MI — Joel Shaner can remember his son, Evan, scribbling every which way on First United Methodist Church’s bulletins during the services when he was young.
“It was his way as a 5 or 6-year-old kid to stay occupied,” he said. “Looking back, I wish we would have kept those bulletins, but he just always threw them out.”
Now, Joel Shaner’s office windows at Jackson High School are covered with his son’s drawings and cartoon strips, not to mention two giant-sized binders stuffed full sitting on a nearby shelf.
The only difference between those doodles from church and now is that the latest ‘scribbles’ have been featured on newsstands, websites and in comic book stores across the world.
Evan “Doc” Shaner’s short-list of credits includes DC Comics’ “Adventures of Superman,” Marvel Comic’s “Deadpool” and most recently for Dynamite Entertainment’s “Flash Gordon.”
He started drawing at a young age, inspired by the work of famous comic strip artists Charles Schulz of “Peanuts” and Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes.”
“All the time. It was a constant for me. Especially before I got into music, I think it was just about all I did,” Evan Shaner, now 30, said. “I played soccer during elementary school, but I can’t remember having a great deal of other hobbies, so I’d get right back to drawing.
“I had piles of those ringed sketchbooks everywhere, and I’ve managed to hold onto a number of them even now.”
The Shaners moved to Jackson from Milwaukee in 1985 when Joel Shaner became East Jackson High School’s instrumental band teacher, the same position he has held at Jackson High since 1999.
Like his father, Evan Shaner took to music by picking up the trumpet around the age of 10.
“It took an embarrassingly long time for me to realize that teaching music was my dad’s job and what that actually meant,” he said. “I didn’t really listen to music or take any interest in it until the end of elementary school, at which point I took to jazz pretty quickly.
“For a while there I didn’t draw nearly as much, from middle school to maybe my senior year of high school I’d say. I’d doodle here and there, but I’d decided somewhere along the way that I was going to be a professional musician.”
When Evan Shaner graduated from Jackson High in 2003, he followed in his father’s footsteps and enrolled in Central Michigan University’s music program.
So how did an all-state trumpet-playing music major end up as the cartoonist for some of the biggest comic book publishers in the world?
“Evan draws the way he played,” Joel Shaner said. “He always has new ideas and fresh takes and it didn’t take long to realize that he liked the improvisation side of music.
“It was fun as a dad when he would drop some improv in during a jazz concert, and I’d start laughing during a performance because no one else would pick up on it.”
Music wasn’t the only thing the Shaner family influenced as talented artists are scattered across many of its branches.
His brother, Ryan, is a carpenter and woodworker with an architecture degree, and can draw better than he gives himself credit for, Evan Shaner said.
“My Grandfather likes to doodle in cards and notes, and my Great Grandfather drew these little cartoons for his high school yearbook,” he said. “He was a woodworker who did some really amazing pieces and I wish I could’ve seen more of his drawings.
“It runs through the family here and there, but I think I’m the only one silly enough to try and make a job out of it.”
After drifting away from cartooning, Evan Shaner picked it up again during his first year in Mount Pleasant and said he decided that this was what he needed to be doing.
He was accepted into the art program after putting together a portfolio while keeping music as minor. Two years later, he became the Staff Cartoonist at Central Michigan Life, the student newspaper at CMU, which turned out to be a turning point in his young career.
“As far back as I can remember this was just something I was going to do,” he said. “I was strangely certain of it for being a kid, probably because I wasn’t aware of what it took to make a career out of drawing.
“It’s just what I did all the time and what I was really into, so of course I was going to be a cartoonist.”
After graduating in 2008, Evan Shaner moved to Denver with wife Carla, where they live now with their 3-year-old daughter Olive.
He landed some odd jobs here and there, but said these didn’t seem to lead anywhere or make anyone notice. It was when he met editor and writer Nate Cosby that he started to gain some momentum in the industry.
“The editor of Dark Horse Presents at the time, John Schork, had written me asking whether I had any ideas that might fit into that book,” Evan Shaner said. “Nate and I pitched Buddy Cops and I think the fact that it was an action/comedy was what sold it.”
Jim Gibbons, associate editor at Dark Horse Comics, said working with Evan Shaner and Cosby was a silver lining when took over the editorial duties for Buddy Cops.
“I’d been a big admirer of Evan’s work for a while and was very excited to get the chance to work with him,” Gibbons said in an email. “Buddy Cops was such an awesome creative outlet to see Evan grow and improve across the three eight-part chapters.
“It was truly a pleasure to get to see him develop, and crack me up with a hilarious story at the same time.”
With Cosby helping kick-start his career with Buddy Cops, Evan Shaner said there’s a running joke in his family that they’re going to name a wing of their house after him.
Since that first break with Cosby and Dark Horse Comics, Evan Shaner’s career has continued to blossom with each passing year.
“One of the last times he was home he got a call from a Marvel editor and had to step away,” Joel Shaner said. “To me, that’s like getting a call to come instruct the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.”
Evan Shaner and writer Jeff Parker received praise for their work on the Flash Gordon series, with Comic Book Resources ranking it no. 31 on its top 100 comic books of 2014.
Gibbons referred to Evan Shaner as one of the best artists in the business when it comes to capturing authentic facial expressions.
“Evan’s work has a accessible simplicity to how it looks, but that’s almost a deception,” Gibbons said. “It’s diligent and thought out artwork that Evan pours a ton of heart into. And his work feels fully realized in a way that not all comics do because his figures, his characters, feel like people.
“He makes books better by being a part of them.”
Tim Stairs, owner of Nostalgia Ink. at 135 E. Michigan Ave., referred to Evan Shaner as one of the shining stars in the artist community.
In December, DC Comics announced that Evan Shaner and Parker would stick together for a two-issue series of “Shazam” as part of the upcoming Convergence crossover event, which starts in April.
Shazam – formerly known as Captain Marvel – was created in 1939 and has been illustrated by some of the most revered cartoonists of all time.
Adding Shazam to a list that already included iconic characters such as Superman and Flash Gordon has been an intimidating yet thrilling experience, Evan Shaner said.
“Getting to work on those two was huge for me, definitely. Both personally and professionally,” he said. “Superman has been one of my favorites for a long time, and to get to work with Ron Marz on a story that was a tribute to both Superman and one of my favorite movies ever (“The Iron Giant”) meant a lot to me.”
As for 2015, he said he’s eyeing another book on his personal wish list and is hoping to take some time off to spend with his family.
“Either way, I’m very excited about what’s coming in the year ahead,” Evan Shaner said.