Deadly Class: No One Survives High School [Interview]
March 4, 2016
IMAGE COMICS: Wes, one of the most striking things about DEADLY CLASS to me is how dense it is. You often break out high panel counts compared to what's often seen in comics these days. How much of that is scripted, and how much is you experimenting on the page? What do you like about going so detailed with the storytelling?
WES CRAIG: Rick's scripts usually have a high panel count and sometimes I like to break that down even further because I like to torture myself.
He's a sadist and I'm a masochist, that's why we make such a great team!
I think mainly I like doing it because breaking things down kind of IS comics to me. Unlike movies or novels, comics are broken down bits of information, continuous motion is turned into panels, dialogue into balloons. Which give comics a staccato, strobe light rhythm. I just prefer that over the storyboard style of breaking the story down into its major moments, trying to make it like a movie. I mean, that's no fun, right?
Also, I've just always enjoyed that kind of approach from my favourite comic creators: Kurtzman, B. Krigstein, Mazzucchelli, Eisner, Chris Ware, Quitely, Mignola, Frank Miller.
I like how you have to assemble a comic in your head, from all the different pieces. It's great for small details, for breaking down a scene into beats, for setting a mood, etc.
IC: This series flashes from low-key realism to psychedelia and back again pretty smoothly. What do you do to keep the reader grounded in the story when things get weird? Is it even a worry?
WC: Yeah, that's a tough one. I want readers to believe the story, believe the characters are real, so I don't like to get too "cute" or give too many winks to the audience, you know? But when the characters are tripping out it's just too tempting to go crazy, so I do. Haha. I think it's fun visual stuff, and it's a book set in the real world; there are no powers, zombies, spaceships, etc, so the trippy scenes are my chance to stretch out.
IC: There's another trick that you pull in this series sometimes, where you transiton from a relatively clean approach to linework into a very gritty and jagged approach, like the slow zoom on Lin at the end of issue eighteen. What kinds of scenes demand this type of approach? Do you ever try it and have to rein it in because you went too far?
WC: I find that's an interesting aspect of comics, too. Line work is like music, so it's kind of like "play it with feeling." If the characters are angry or happy or sad, I should try and tap in to that. Like a happy scene I draw slowly, with smooth simple lines. An angry scene's quick, spattering the page, almost ruining the brush or pen I'm using sometimes. Haha. I think a big influence on that is Paul Pope, who has a really distinct line, lots of motion and speed.
Actually, just talking about it right now makes me want to do it more. But it takes a certain level of concentration that's tough to get day-in, day-out.
Maybe I do go too far with it sometimes. It's hard for me to tell. But if I do, I have to just accept it and move on. That's the problem with monthly comics. I do the best I can, but if I get something wrong I have to keep moving on to the next drawing. I don't redraw pages, I just tell myself I'll do it better next time.
IC: I want you to talk a little bit about a scene in volume three, a showdown on a bridge. You start with a low panel count—just three!—then ramp it up all the way to seventeen-ish, more if you include the overlays of the characters in the count, over the course of three pages. On top of that, a sound effect transforms into a design element and then fully part of the art by the end of the sequence. What was your planning like for this sequence? How much were you coordinating with Remender and colorist Lee Loughridge? Basically, how'd this scene end up like this?
WC: I remember that really clearly, I came up with that scene on a plane. I think I was flying back from Angouleme.
You know, like I do, eating caviar and shit...
Actually, it was well into a red-eye, overnight flight, so maybe I was delirious when I came up with it.
Rick wouldn't have written that for me. It's a lot of drawing, and it doesn't advance the story. He wouldn't ask me to do something so over-the-top.
I saw it in my head as this building music that would be done with colour and composition and sound effects, and layering the artwork, sort of operatic, so I told Rick I wanted to do it and he knew I was being a bit crazy, and adding a lot of extra pages for me to draw, but he gave me the okay.
As for colour, that was Lee, and yeah I probably gave him some pretty specific notes for that scene since colour would be so important. I like how it turned out, except the overlaying line art, I didn't pull that off like I hoped. But, like I said, that's monthly comics!
IC: Jordan Boyd—he's the second colorist on the series, after Lee Loughridge, and they both treat your art in a similar way. What's your working relationship like with Jordan? What do you like about what he brings to the table?
WC: Well, I love what Lee set up and I hear a lot of positive feedback about it. The flat colors help make the book stand out, I think. And Jordan is great because he's able to use that as a basis and grow it from there. He does things with light and shadow that add a three dimensional quality, but not too much.
He also really understands how to use colour not literally, but more emotionally, tapping into the feeling of the scene.
I hope to meet him one day so I can hug him and shower him with kisses.