C2E2 2022: AN INTERVIEW WITH WES CRAIG
Fresh from C2E2, Comic Book Yeti contributor Alex Breen corresponded on the convention floor with Wes Craig, writer of Gravediggers Union, artist of Deadly Class, and writer/artist of Kaya, to discuss the conclusion of Deadly Class, teasing his latest Image comic, Kaya, along with insights into his creative process as an artist and a writer.
NOTE: This interview was conducted with Wes during last year's C2E2 on 8/05/22. Kaya Book 1 will be out in comic book stores on 3/29/23.
COMIC BOOK YETI: I'm joined here by Wes Craig, writer of Gravediggers Union, artist of the incredible Deadly Class and the upcoming series, Kaya, as the writer and artist. Wes, thank you so much for joining me today.
WES CRAIG: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
CBY: One thing I'm asking everyone from this convention and I'm very curious to hear your take on this. What would you describe as your comic book origin story as a creator?
WC: Comic book origin story. Let's see… Man, I haven't been to a convention in a while so I have to call back some of my answers from previous conventions like that. I've always loved comics since I was a little kid and my brother is just two years older than me and he was into comic books.
I got into comic books as he was getting into them and drawing as he started. I was copying him as a younger brother and speaking of which, he actually has a comic book coming out next year, which is very exciting. It's nice for both of us to have our own comic books coming out in 2023.
CBY: That's lovely!
WC: Yeah. It's cool. So, I was copying him and just fell in love with Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. When I was a little kid, that was the first thing that really made me want to dig back in the crates and collect all the previous issues and all that. Turned me into a collector of the stories. Not just a casual observer.
From there, elementary school through high school, I was just drawing at home. I used to remember in high school, I started drawing in the hallways and then people were like, "Hey, can you draw this for me? Draw that for me. Draw this for me." I was like, "Hey, I'm just going to do this at home and not be an artist guy when I'm at school and just do the artist stuff at home." I was always writing and drawing my own stories.
When you're a little kid, you're so confident. You're like, "Oh. I'm going to be a comic book artist one day." You just think that's going to be super easy and then you get a little bit more realistic as you get older, but at a certain point, at the end of high school, beginning of college, I was getting pretty good at this. I might actually stand a chance. I started sending samples away to DC and Marvel and Dark Horse and all those publishers around the time that I was graduating high school and getting into college.
I went to illustration and design at Dawson College in Montreal. That was the closest thing I could find to a comic book school. It wasn't a comic book school at all but I didn't really have the money to go to the Joe Kubert School or anything like that so I stayed in my hometown and kept sending samples away and eventually an editor, Matt Idelson, took a shot on me. Matt Idelson and Nachie Castro for DC Comics.
It's pretty rare. Actually, my first job was for a major publisher, which I was green and enough of a novice to not realize that that was a big shot for me. Usually, you start off in the smaller publishers and work your way up. I was lucky in that way. And from there, it was little things here, little things there. I did Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Guardians of the Galaxy and a few different things along the way.
I wouldn't say anything was really going anywhere building to too much of a thing and then Rick Remender shot me an email. I was already a big fan of his work and he gave me a shot on Deadly Class and that was nine years ago now and we've been doing that ever since. And now, that's ending in September (2022) and I'm moving on to writing and drawing my own thing that's going to start in October (2022).
"...with writing stuff for another artist, a lot of it is just tapping into something that you really want to tell. That you really want to get out there."
CBY: So, I will definitely be talking more about Deadly Class and Kaya in a bit but I did want to start off with something that you wrote: Gravediggers Union. Can you tell us some of your inspirations behind that project?
WC: Yeah. There's a certain resemblance to BPRD in the Hellboy world. I haven't read too much of that stuff, but I think a lot of those influences did come from reading Hellboy earlier and getting into H.P. Lovecraft and cosmic horror and just taking this... Literally, they're a union.
What if there are these working-class guys that have to take on something that's so big that it's superhero-level stuff that has to be taken on by these guys that are just workaday people? The concept behind it is that they're gravediggers by day and by night, they take care of vampires, zombies and stuff like that. They make sure the dead stay buried. That's the hook.
They're tasked with something that's much bigger than they're prepared to deal with. I thought that was a cool concept to expand upon.
CBY: Personally, I got some early Ghostbusters vibes from that a little bit, except maybe a little bit more macabre in your case, but I definitely caught that sense since in that first one, it's very working-class vibes as they're starting out.
WC: That's very true. For sure. I don't think I was thinking of it. It's almost once this story was going, I was like, "Oh. This is kind of like Ghostbusters." You do that thing where once you're working on it, you realize some of the subconscious influences that you have.
CBY: It's always fun to look back a few months later and see, "Oh. Here's my headspace at the time."
WC: Oh. It always happens with me. Sometimes you don't even know some of the themes that you're working through. Some of your own psychological stuff that you're getting out. You look at it a few years later and you go, "Oh. Wow. That's because I was going through that at the time or whatever." Some of it, you're trying to get out what's in your head and get out some of your own psychoses and stuff and other things are a little bit too... It takes you a little bit of time to see what some of those things were. You can only really see them clearly once they're in the rearview mirror.
CBY: Agreed. Obviously, you wrote that and you've been doing art for Deadly Class. So, how do you compartmentalize that story as a writer? Would you approach it differently as an artist? I know you did a couple of flashback pages for Gravediggers Union. I'm curious how you differentiate that for yourself.
WC: Yeah. When you write your own story, there's just... I don't know how to explain it exactly. I don't want to degrade it. It's a bit more mechanic. When you get a plot from somebody else, you're trying to figure out what's the best way to tell this story, what's the best way to lay out the page so it's clear but also exciting for you, like Deadly Class.
We're ending on issue number 56. You have to give yourself enough entertaining things to draw and stuff like that just to keep yourself motivated every day to draw pages but with writing stuff for another artist, a lot of it is just tapping into something that you really want to tell. That you really want to get out there. And then there's this excitement, which I now see how it's addictive for a lot of writers. You get the art back from the artist and they've interpreted it and it's so cool to see their version of it.
CBY: Were you moonlighting writing Gravediggers Union pages as you were drawing Deadly Class? How did you schedule that for yourself?
WC: Yeah. Gravediggers Union was... I think it was ten issues. It's been a while now since I wrote it but it was ten issues, two trade paperbacks. At the time, I had never written anything for somebody else to draw so one of the things I wanted to do is... Some writers are able to fly by the seat of their pants and come up with stuff as they're going. That's how you have to do comic books for a lot of people, but for me, I'm just too anal about it. I've got to have it all figured out. Same thing with the way I draw comic books. I always have to have it all roughed out. I can't just go on the page and just see what happens.
Same thing with the writing. I wrote the whole thing first and then I found Toby to draw it. All ten issues were done. Dialogue, everything. But also because it was my first time doing that for somebody else so I didn't want to give somebody a plot and then halfway through realize, "I don't know where I'm going. I'm not even sure if this ending is worth doing." I had to see if I could pull it off first and then if I'm happy with the end results, I'll give it to somebody to draw, and I'm still that way.
There's still some stuff. I'm writing and drawing Kaya but I have a few things on the back burner where I'm writing and I'm going to present to different artists along the way as I work on Kaya. I basically take a little bit of time each day and I just chip away at these stories slowly but surely and a lot of it happens while I'm drawing. I'm just thinking about all of it.
CBY: I'm sure it's also going to be a muscle as you develop it. You'll get more comfortable. Maybe not 100% Marvel Style with somebody, but at some point, you'll not necessarily have to write the entire thing before you hand it off to somebody.
WC: For sure. There's getting comfortable in it, but there's also... When I talked to Rick Remender, the writer of Deadly Class, he's a bit more like that where he can come up with ideas on the fly. I'm jealous of that ability to be able to do that, but at the same time, it's like, "We're all built differently and I'm just a person that has to sit down and think about it for a while and other people can just do it in the moment." Everybody leans into their own strengths.
"...I've had people ask me, "Is it going to be sad? Is it going to be happy?" The [Deadly Class] series has not been a happy series. Obviously, you can't expect everybody to come out unscathed."
CBY: On to Deadly Class. And personally speaking, that is one of my favorite comics from the 2010s. As weird as that is to say out loud.
WC: Thank you.
CBY: It's a fantastic collaboration and I'm curious, has your collaboration evolved noticeably from issue one to where it is now or has it been about the same?
WC: Yeah. I think that it has evolved in terms of... Me and Rick didn't know each other when we first started. We got on the phone and we talked it out. We're basically the same age and even though he's from Arizona and then eventually California, I'm up in Montreal but we both had some influence in the punk scene and all that stuff.
I was a bit more of a rockabilly kid but there are all these overlapping aspects from when we were kids. We could tell on the phone. I think that we were in sync and I understood where he was coming from, what he wanted to do with the story. He gave me the freedom to... He gives me the script and he gives me the breakdowns of the panels and the rough dialogue but then he always leaves me room to be like, "If you want to experiment or play around."
He knows that's the stuff that I like to do. He's like, "Feel free to do that." And I have and I think the scripts have gotten a bit looser. It's like you said, actually. Basically, it's like they've gotten a bit more loose and a bit more... What's the term? I don't get in his way. I always do what is in the script but I do structure things differently on the page.
CBY: Yeah, but how you get there could be different?
WC: For sure. I will never erase the thing that he has in the script or do a scene differently. It's always got to land the same way that he has in the script, but just how it beats out in a way. How each beat happens is like, "I'll handle that." And that he's left me more and more room over the years to just do that and then he does final dialogue at the end once he gets the art and I think he does that for everybody, but he does that for me, especially because sometimes the art will influence the way that he's...
Maybe the scene doesn't need as much dialogue. He’s able to adapt and I find that pretty inspiring because it keeps the comic book experience alive throughout the whole process rather than just being frozen in one place from the beginning where you're just executing it, which is the way that I do it. It's like, "It'd be nice to have an in-between of that."
CBY: Yeah. It's a lot more give and take. It's not like, "This is my script. Do as I say."
WC: Yeah. It's not set in stone until that final version is sent off to the printers. It keeps evolving as it goes.
CBY: That makes a lot of sense because when I look at the art, especially in the action scenes, that clearly felt like there was a lot of collaboration between the two of you. I couldn't imagine a writer scripting some of those panels the way that they come out.
I mean that in the best of ways, of course. It's a gorgeous freaking book.
WC: Yeah. I think with any comic book, I find that works the best. A lot of writers, when it comes to fight scenes, they're like, "Do it the way that you want to do it." It doesn't have to necessarily except for... It's like wrestling or something. Maybe the writer knows the last move that'll finish off the fight and who's going to win, but in between, you got to figure out who throws what punch, what kick, whatever and you want to have it be fluid and I find...
It's just a pain in the butt also to describe that in the writing to have the artist generally... They'll look at it and be like, "Yeah. That's cool, but I think I'll do it the way that I want to do it." A lot of the fun is choreographing those things.
CBY: That makes sense. I always think of Deadly Class Volume 7 in that regard. A lot of that volume was a giant fight.
WC: Yeah. Sure.
CBY: I always think of that as like, "Man." With some artists, that would be really tough to give that same type of energy and flow like that high caliber of stakes the entire way through. Just curious. Especially for something like that, how would you break down some of those beats? I'm not trying to spoil unnecessarily, but for something that intense, that must have been really tough for you.
WC: Yeah. I don't know. I try to just visualize it in my mind and one other thing that can be... Everybody has their things for what they feel works in comic books because some things don't translate. You're trying to do a fight that's like a choreographed fight from a movie. You are inspired by some movie you saw or something like that and you do that. It doesn't necessarily work. To each his own but in my opinion some of those more technical moves, say a UFC fight... I don't think it would translate very well to comic books because a lot of these things are ankle locks and all this stuff.
It's hard to do that stuff. I think it works a lot better with more bombast. Just keeping big punches, big kicks, big motion of the whole body rather than these little... Flipping somebody over your back. You could do that super cool but there's a certain aspect of it that gets a little bit too technical where say, the writer goes, "Grab them by their wrist and then pull them under and this and that. Turn this thing under their arm and then get them in a lock with their legs."
Getting into the minutia of fights and stuff like that. I don't think that comes off as well in a comic book page because it's hard to really be... It'll confuse the reader as to what exactly is going on, whereas if you keep those things basic like any comic book storytelling... If you can tell it in a silhouette or something, then you're doing your job right. They have to be able to read it fast.
CBY: Especially in a "Jack Kirby" type of sense. He was always the king of those. One punch could knock someone out. Normally in the film, that'd be a tough thing to convey, but the way that comics can show that one punch, you can believe mentally, "Okay. That guy's out."
WC: Yeah. There's that and also there are the major moves, and also, I like doing little things where you can zoom in on the character and just show the emotional, the physical impact or whatever. The gritting of teeth and all that kind of stuff. That's a lot of fun too.
CBY: This next question might be a smidge personal. So, feel free if you want to just move past it. Has it fully sunk in for you that Deadly Class is coming to a close?
WC: No. I don't think so. Me and Rick have talked about this stuff where... It's hard to be fully present in a lot of things in life. Not just in life, in business, in "creativities". All that stuff. I think it'll only really hit me... It's hit me in small pieces a few times.
We got on the phone and Rick gave me the whole beat by beat story about the last issue and he told me the last image and I got a little pang, a little bit of emotion there and then I think when I draw that last page, it'll hit me. "Oh my god. This is the last page of this comic that I've been doing for all this time."
I think I'll just give myself a day after that just to try to process it because I think comics is so... Next thing, next thing, next thing. You don't give yourself time to... I can't just finish that last page and then move over to the next page of Kaya. I got to give myself at least a day to just think about how much that book has meant to me and all that stuff.
CBY: I would say that's a masterwork from you. I think you've earned a little bit of rest after doing it for so long and so damn well, honestly.
WC: Right. Thanks, man.
CBY: We can keep this next question vague, but what can readers expect from that final volume?
WC: Yeah. I don't know. I'm finished. I'm drawing the last issue right now and then the last two issues still have to come out, but we're just trying to give... I've had people ask me, "Is it going to be sad? Is it going to be happy?" The series has not been a happy series. Obviously, you can't expect everybody to come out unscathed. Who comes out okay, who comes out not okay is...
That's where you're going to have to read to find out but we're trying to give the readers a satisfying mix of emotions. A little bit of sadness, a little bit of happiness, a little bit of melancholy. All of the emotions they felt through the series. It's going to be that thing. We want to give a good capper to everybody and leave people feeling just a mix of emotions. That's what we're going for. Happy overall but with a little bit of sadness.
CBY: Absolutely. Thank you. Looking ahead, you have a new series we mentioned at the beginning. Kaya.
CBY: Written and drawn by you and coming out in October (2022), right?
WC: Yeah. October 5th (2022) is the first issue.
CBY: Okay. Also, the prologue is available on Webtoons. So, everyone can check that out after reading this interview. What can you tell us about that series?
WC: Yeah. It's a fantasy adventure, first of all. It's a young girl named Kaya with a fighting spirit and a magic arm and she is tasked after the destruction of their village... It's the last tribe of man. Basically, it's their village and after the destruction of their village there, she's tasked with taking care of her younger brother, Jin. Her half-brother.
He was a prince and she's been just raised as a hunter. Very different lives but she's tasked with taking him across this dangerous land of mutants and monsters and robots and every crazy thing that I can think of to throw at them and get him to safe harbor where he's got this destiny that he is meant to fulfill and stuff like that.
That's the fantasy aspect and on the more personal aspect, it's just a story of an older sister and a younger brother. You know how that goes. They don't always get along. It can be tough. You know what I mean? She's, fourteen. He's eight. There's a lot of drama between the two of them just trying to get along which hopefully people can relate to and any sibling can relate to that relationship.
CBY: Awesome. I'll just tell you upfront, I'm already going to be buying it. I'm looking forward to it. You got at least one customer out of me.
CBY: Obviously, we alluded to Gravediggers Union. You did a little bit of writing and drawing both of it but for a long form... This series, you're going to be doing both hats. What's your creative process look like for something that extensive?
WC: Yeah. Because I wanted to be ongoing for... We'll see how long it goes for. I'd like to do it for quite a while. Quite a few trade paperbacks worth of it but we'll see how it does and everything. That's going to decide how long it goes. I've got a middle part that can either be expanded or shortened depending on if it's a success or not.
It's just throwing everything that I like into there but also I've got it really... Again, being that I like to plan things out ahead, I've got it very "thumbnailed" and roughed out. The roughs are done for the first arc and a half or so with dialogue all pretty much figured out and stuff like that.
Again, once I'm able to fully focus on Kaya, I'm going to be able to hit the ground running and really get it done relatively quickly. In terms of writing it, I stick to a more simplified... Because I'm drawing it, I don't have to spell every single thing out but I do a handwritten script where I just have the panel description on one side, the dialogue as another column and then I have a little area there where if I need to do a thumbnail Instead of the written version, I'll just thumbnail it out for myself.
I do that, do a second draft, try to tighten everything up and figure out where the really good bits are and expand on those just like any writer and then it's just time to draw it. It's like I've been drawing Deadly Class for 10 years like I said or so. A little bit less than that but it's always been set in a real world. This is my chance to draw lizard people and monsters and old, crumbling temples and every fantasy thing that I had to hold in my mind while I was working on Deadly Class.
I'm going to be glad to not draw anymore motorcycles because I hate drawing motorcycles (Laughs) and there's a few of them in Deadly Class. They look cool but it's like, "Enough of that." It's just being able to use that part of my brain rather than the real-world part.
CBY: So, Wes Craig unleashed, if you will?
WC: A little. Yeah. I'd like to say so. I just know it's a lot of fun. Every day, I'm just drawing these crazy things and I'm having a blast drawing them. It's a good sign. Hopefully, that translates from the creator to the reader.
CBY: With your artwork, it's going to be a blast. I'm comfortable saying that to you.
I'm down to my final two questions. If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring artists, writers, or creators in general, what would you say to them?
WC: Two pieces of advice you said?
CBY: Either. If you want to just give it to artists or if you want to give it to artists and writers. However, you want to do it.
WC: Oh, man. This is going to sound like I'm being a little bit negative toward writers and it's not that. Like I said, Rick gave me my shot. I know a lot of other artists that I'm friends with now where they've gotten a big shot and that their whole career has changed because of the writer they work with but I would say once you're at a certain point, it's good to take a chance on yourself.
If you're an artist, first of all, brush up on your writing chops. One day, when the time comes, when you feel like you're ready, take a chance on yourself and write and draw your own thing because I think most of the best comic books... There are tons of exceptions but a lot of my favorites are things that are written and drawn by one person.
Back when I was a kid, Frank Miller and John Byrne and Howard Chaykin. Love and Rockets. All the indie stuff. It's always one creator. It's great to work with other people, too but it's nice to just take a chance on yourself and do that. Having said that, it's not a good idea if you're not a good writer. Heck. Nobody wants to see awesome art with a terrible story. If you want to do your own thing...
This sounds like I'm tooting my own horn like I'm a good writer. Everybody has to practice. I'm still practicing, trying to get better at what I'm doing and I think that's something that everybody has to do but if you're going to do a story, then make sure that you actually have done as much work in the writing side of things as you have in the art side of things. It takes a while. It takes a long time to be a good artist, takes a long time to be a good writer but try to carve out that time for yourself and get better at both. Even if you don't do the writing thing, it's just going to make you a better storyteller.
CBY: Where can people find you on social media?
WC: Yeah. It's always Wes Craig Comics. There, I post links to the Webtoon thing. It's Kaya Number Zero. Free introduction for everybody just to see if this is the world that you like, then great. Go to your comic shop and let them know that you want Kaya Number One on your pull list. Like I said, October 5th (2022) is the first issue. Continuing series and Deadly Class wraps up at the end of September. September, Deadly Class and then October, Kaya.
CBY: Okay. I'm looking forward to it. Wes, thank you so much for your time.
WC: Thank you.