One story-arc in, Deadly Class, has been an incredibly exciting and personal story that blends the hardships of youth, American culture in the 1980s and a school for deadly assassins. We were fortunate enough to talk with artist, Wes Craig, about the series, his work and his own project, Blackhand Comics.
All-Comic.com: First of all, I want to thank you for spending some time with us talking about your work on these titles. Deadly Class is an incredible new series that is heading into it’s second arc this fall, and the opening six issues were really fantastic. How did you become involved with the project?
Wes Craig: Yeah, the first “season” of Deadly Class has been collected in “Volume 1: Reagan Youth” most comic shops should still have that in stock. And Deadly Class #7, the beginning of season two, is in stores in September.
Anyway, to answer your question- I’d been asking DC if I could work with Lee Loughridge. I didn’t know him personally, but I was a fan of his work. After asking a few times they put us on Tales of the Dark Knight. At the time, him and Remender were neighbours, and Rick would come over, they’d look at art, talk about their feelings, whatever. But on one special night, Lee was colouring my Dark Knight pages and that’s when Rick saw them. He had the concept of Deadly Class kicking around in his brain, so he gave me a call and pitched it to me and I was in, simple as that. It wasn’t a really hard sell for me, I’d been reading Rick’s work for a while starting with Strange Girl and really loved it.
Of course now that I know Rick and Lee, that’s all been ruined, I mean these are terrible, terrible human beings. But I put up with it, for the love.
It sounds like, at least initially, this project started locally. Do you find that collaborating in person and having easy access to the creative team helps push it forward, or does it become detrimental?
Wes Craig: I think it was more like Rick was looking for an artist and me and Lee together worked really well. I’m up in Canada, most of the creative team is on the West coast of the U.S. but we email back and forth constantly. I think everyone sharing ideas is great, that makes for the best comic. But at the end of the day someone has to make the final call, or it just goes round and round.
The premise of the series has a sense of the fantastical, combining high school and deadly assassins. How is it that the issues manage to maintain such a realistic and personal weight to them?
Wes Craig: Yeah, that’s a weird balancing act. Me and Rick both approach it pretty realistically, so we don’t ever want to go too far over to the fantasy side or it’ll feel wrong. I hope we’ve pulled it off so far.
Y’know, it’s a school for assassins, like most crazy-comic book ideas that sounds a little silly, but I think what gives the story it’s weight and makes it feel real is Rick grounds it in a lot of his personal experiences growing up. And he’s seen some messed up stuff, so it’s convincing (not as messed up as the comic, but you get the idea).
When developing the look of Deadly Class, what was your inspiration for the visual aesthetic the series carries?
Wes Craig: Mostly comic books from that era, late 80’s. That’s when I started reading comics. It was really fertile ground- Frank Miller was doing Dark Knight Returns, we were getting imports like Akira, Lone Wolf and Cub, Moebius’ work, reprints of The Spirit. There’s a lot that goes in there: Miller’s Ronin, Burns’ Black Hole.
Outside of comics I try to look at as much art, architecture and fashion from the 80’s as possible. I don’t think I’ve really nailed it yet, that feeling of the era, but I’m working on it.
Is it a challenge to try to adapt your drawing style and aesthetics to match an era and its trends, or is that something you enjoy seeking out and learning?
Wes Craig: Yeah, I like being inspired by the research. That’s part of the fuel that keeps you going.
What has been your favorite moment or sequence to draw so far, and have we seen it?
Wes Craig: It’s all been fun, I love being able to nail the internal emotions of the characters, that’s hard to pull off. But like anybody- when things go a little crazy, that’s the best. The chase scene in #1 was great, I got to use a lot of chase scene-ideas I had kicking around in my sketchbooks for years. And all the hallucinatory stuff in the Las Vegas story was another opportunity to cut loose. In the next arc Im looking forward to pushing myself as much as possible. I’m proud of the upcoming #7 because I think it’s the best-drawn issue so far, and #8 is mostly a flashback I drew in a different style, that turned out pretty cool. And I know Rick has another chase scene planned in the near future where I’ll get to pull out some new ideas.
When working on the layouts for an issue, how much direction or input do you provide to colorist Lee Loughridge?
Wes Craig: I provide him with a little bit but mostly I just leave him alone. I usually don’t have to explain what I’m after, he’s already thinking the same thing, which is rare, to find someone on the same wavelength as you. Once in a while there’s a specific panel that I want a certain effect and I need to explain it, also when he’s done all the pages sometimes I’ll give it a quick pass, but aside from that I leave him to do his thing.
You mention that you and Lee had worked together at DC prior to starting on this project. Have you two had any other work since that time? Are there other ideas the two of you have for projects in the future?
Wes Craig: Aside from Deadly Class we don’t have any other plans. He’s in for the full run, and I’m hoping we can just keep working together after that.
Would you say that the roles on the book are mostly autonomous, such that each person is left to develop their portion of the issue? Or, is there more interaction and collaborating on the issue as a whole?
Wes Craig: It’s pretty collaborative. Rick’s very collaborative, he works with me and our editor Sebastian Girner to work out the story. I show everyone my rough pages to get their opinions, and like I said, I’ll sometimes give Lee’s colors a pass to make sure it all feels right to me. So yeah, pretty collaborative process overall.
In addition to working on Deadly Class, you also have a number of webcomics at Blackhandcomics.com. How far back do these track?
Wes Craig: I’ve been doing Blackhand since just before I started Deadly Class, I think. It’s slow-going since I have to do it between issues of [Deadly Class]. But I’ve managed to get 5 stories done. They’re strange little short stories inspired by pulps and old Twilight Zone episodes. I write, draw, colour, letter, design everything. That’s my baby. I have a big collection coming out Oct. 1st from Image (please order yours today, dear reader).
Can you talk a little bit about the Blackhand collection you have coming out in October? What can readers expect based off of what is available on the site?
Wes Craig: The book collects the first three stories: The Gravedigger’s Union, Circus Day, and The Seed. It’s pulp-inspired horror and fantasy. It’s 100 pages, hardcover. I’m really proud of it. If you like the experimental stuff I do in Deadly Class I think you’ll like Blackhand because there’s even more in there. You can check out Blackhandcomics.com for a preview of those stories plus two others called Long Way Home and Martian Lust! Those are full stories, and they’ll be in the second Blackhand collection.
When you take a project like Blackhand, do the stories start through visuals, some doodles or sketch ups, or do you start through scripts?
Wes Craig: I start with a script- written out like you would a short story. I take that and break it up into pages and panels. I do a rough version of the actual comic first, then I edit, cut, re-write some stuff, then I do the final version. It’s time consuming, but it’s my favourite thing to do.
What are some other differences about how you approach a project like Blackhand in contrast to your work on Deadly Class or at DC Comics?
Wes Craig: All three are pretty different. For DC or Marvel stuff, you’re a hired hand, but it’s great to be able to work on these characters you grew up reading. For Deadly Class it’s very collaborative, and it’s pretty freeform. It’s not fully planned out so we have to come up with creative solutions on the fly, and with a deadline, which is an interesting challenge. Blackhand is very different because I work on it alone, it’s more slow and steady and planned out.
Also, when I work on Blackhand it occasionally involves devil worship and animal sacrifice, but the less said about that the better.
Okay, last question. Getting a chance to work with someone whose books you had previously enjoyed must be really exciting. Either as a fan of the story itself, or the world created, is there one series that Rick has created that you would enjoy getting to collaborate on if he were to do a stand-alone issue?
Wes Craig: I’m happy working on Deadly Class, and I love all the other artists he works with so I’m good with how things are. But I have to say I love the idea of Black Science. If he had offered me that and offered Matteo Deadly Class I think that would have been just as much fun. But then again, Matteo has to design and draw a new world every issue or two, all I have to do is draw San Francisco. So yeah, screw that, I’m happy sticking where I am.
Thank you so much, Wes, for talking with us about your current projects and for sending us a number of pages from Blackhand as well as some pages from the upcoming issue of Deadly Class. Be sure to get your hands on these projects. Look for Deadly Class and Blackhand from Image Comics. Check out blackhandcomics.com and follow Wes on twitter, @WesCraigComics.