After a decade of publication, Deadly Class will officially come to an end this September. But with every end comes a new beginning, and artist Wes Craig is living his lifelong dream of publishing his own comic book (that he both writes and draws) with Image Comics’ Kaya. A digital version of Kaya was originally released under the pay-as-you-want model, and now the printed comic is ready to be distributed through comic book stores starting in October.
Before this new chapter in Craig’s career begins, Popverse had the chance to chat with the writer/artist about what fans can expect from the Deadly Class finale, how the TV show affected the comic book series, and we even took a deep dive into the inner workings of the differences between work-for-hire gigs at Marvel & DC and creating your own series from the ground up.
Popverse: Wes, let’s jump right in, what made you and Rick decide to end Deadly Class? Was it always intended to go this far?
Wes Craig: Yeah, we had planned to hit somewhere around issue fifty. But for 'A Fond Farewell' the final story arc, we wanted to take our time and let the ending take as long as it needed to. We didn’t want to spend all this time on the book, closing in on a decade at this point, and then rush to the end and leave the reader unsatisfied. We wanted to give it room to breathe and hopefully give it a heart-felt ending that stays with you.
Do you have plans to work together again?
We’ve talked about a few things but nothing right now. My dream has always been to work in comics, but my dream within a dream is to work on my own stories. I feel like Deadly Class, the spotlight it’s given me, I’ve got that opportunity to do that now. We’ll see if I can pull it off. But yeah, it was a blast working with Rick. I’ll owe him forever. So hopefully we can find something fun to do down the road.
What can you tease about Deadly Class #56?
Oof. That’s a tough one. I have a hard time even showing sneak peeks at pages from upcoming issues because it all gives away too much. I’ll say that you’ll find out who lives and who dies-- we aren’t leaving anything ambiguous about where everyone ends up. And by the end, you might be crying. Whether those are tears of sorrow or tears of joy… I can’t say. Maybe a bit of both.
How did the Deadly Class TV show affect the comic, creatively? How do you think it affected the sales of the comic? Or did it?
Creatively, I don’t think it affected the comic that much, honestly. We were so far ahead in terms of 'seasons' of the comic, it didn’t ever really become a thing. The one difference is, while the show was on, we did talk about stretching out the series to a bit longer than we had originally planned. Maybe a few more arcs. But by the time it became clear it wasn’t going to get a second season, we just more or less landed back where we had originally planned. Which I was happy with really, because I feel like the comic should just stand on its own.
In terms of sales, yeah it was like a big commercial for the comic. I mean, damn, we had a giant billboard in Times Square when it premiered. It was wild. And that continues as it gets picked up by Netflix in other countries and the translated editions in those countries sell more. It helps, for sure.
Do you ever see it being revived?
I don’t want to bum anybody out, but at this point it seems unlikely. It’s like, to get a show made you have to assemble an ARMY of people. And once the word comes down that it’s not continuing, they move on to other projects. The effort it would take to reassemble it all would just be too much. Maybe one day it’ll get interest again as a completely new project. But I can’t see the current version coming back. Having said that, I think Rick and everyone involved cast some very good actors. And it’s cool to see them go on to other things and blossom.
Why did you want Kaya to be your next project? Why was it important for you to do other work like Kaya while drawing Deadly Class?
Kaya is something I’ve been working on for a long time. It’s taken very different forms over the years, but it’s always been there. A long time ago, before I even started as a professional, I pitched an idea to Image called 'The Third Kingdom.' It was rejected because, well, it wasn’t very good, I was young, very 'green.' But the seed of Kaya was there. I kept coming back to it, and it kept evolving. There are stories that just keep coming back, that demand to be told. And Kaya is one of those stories for me.
As for doing Kaya at the same time as Deadly Class, originally Deadly Class should have wrapped up a while ago, but we took a long break. Between the pandemic and some personal stuff for the creative team I won’t get into, it took a while for us to get back up and running. But I was still hell bent on debuting Kaya this fall. So that meant I had to double up on work for a while. It’s tough, but, what can I say, that’s comics.
What made you go the pay-what-you-want route for the first chapter of Kaya?
I don’t know if that was a good move or a bad move, like, in a business sense. On one hand, a lot of people bought the comic, so that was very cool and very promising. But it came out a while ago now, so you hope, when you’re promoting something, that you don’t kill the anticipation by talking about it too soon. But at the end of the day, I was just so excited about it, I wanted people to see it, and I’m a big fan of that model from Panel Syndicate and Radiohead’s release of 'In Rainbows' back in the day. The pay-what-you-want model. So, I thought I’d give it a try, and it was very satisfying.
You first announced this project in 2020, what was the process of getting this to print? Why was this the time?
Well, again, we were on a hiatus with Deadly Class so I started work on a prologue to Kaya ’s story. That’s all I had time to do before we wrapped up Deadly Class, which once it got going again, it was full steam ahead. And between issues I’ve been chipping away at the first few issues of Kaya that’ll be coming out starting in October. But working on the prologue has served me well. Like you said, I released it as a pay-what-you-want digital comic. It’s in Image’s 30th anniversary anthology (called Image!), I’m thinking of making an ashcan of it for comic shops, I might put it on Webtoon. It’s been a good freebie to put out there and get people interested, I think.
Why did you want to do both writing and art duties for this book?
I’ve always got a few concepts percolating, and for whatever reason some of them seem suited to other artists, and some of them I just think, 'I have to be the one who draws this' y’know? Usually it’s because I’ve got something so specific in mind visually, it just seems like it’d be a pain in the ass to explain to someone else. But with Kaya, like I said, it’s a story that’s very real to me, and I just can’t imagine anyone else doing it. Growing up, my favourite comics were almost always from writer-artists. Frank Miller, John Byrne, Katsuhiro Otomo, Will Eisner, Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, the list goes on. So that’s always where I wanted to land, and it felt like this was the time to take that chance.
Why did you want to make this an ongoing book?
The story itself kind of informs these things. Most of the ideas I have are for short stories, like five to ten issues. But Kaya felt like an odyssey, and it needed time to tell that tale. You can never plan too far ahead in this world, but I’m hoping to do about nine arcs/books.
You’ve done plenty of creator owned titles, what makes you enjoy these types of stories compared to work-for-hire gigs?
I like work-for-hire, I have no problem with it. But building your own worlds? Nothing beats that. Creatively it’s the most fulfilling. And financially, it’s a crapshoot, but if you stick with it, I think it’s a smart play. Again, I’ve worked with some great people in work-for-hire, but at the end of the day, let’s be honest, these are giant corporations, and more than ever, they don’t give a damn about you. They don’t even seem to have loyalty to their editorial staff anymore. The decades of exploiting creators, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. These comic companies, I think, would be doing SO much better if they gave creators proper payback for creating NEW characters for them. That’s what keeps the superhero universes vital. But they never will, so people take their original characters elsewhere. So, I’d say for the past few decades, all the interesting new characters have been outside DC and Marvel. Once in a while you get a Winter Soldier or Court of Owls. But it’s rare.
I just want comics to be as healthy as possible, and I think the best way to do that is to offer new stuff to new readers, not just retread the same stuff over and over. If all you’ve ever wanted to do was work with these corporate characters, more power to you, you should do what makes you happy. To each their own. But for me, there’s nothing better than creating your own, new stuff.
Put it out into the world, who are some people you’d like to collaborate with that you haven’t had the chance to work with?
Oh man. I’ve got a TON of artists that I'd love to write for, and hopefully will, once Kaya is up and running. But in terms of writers, I’d like to work with I’d say Grant Morrison, Ed Brubaker, and Brian K. Vaughan. Those are my favorites, and have been for a while now.
What are the goals you have for yourself in the next few years?
With Kaya, like I said, I’m hoping it will be successful enough that I can just keep publishing it steadily for the next few years. And I’ve got a bunch of creator-owned ideas that I’ll be taking to artists in 2024. There’s never enough time to get to every wild idea you come up with, but if I could get a few of them out into the world I’d be very happy.
What’s something you learned about comics that you wish you had known sooner?
Hmm. That’s tough. Lots of small things. I’m probably just repeating myself here but as a creator, as an artist, the best thing you can do for yourself on a creative level, on a business level, and what’s best for the comic industry itself, is to create and own something new. If you love these older characters, great, so do I. Spend some time with them, but give yourself enough time to work on your own stuff too. Every few years, do something that’s yours and that you’re excited to put out into the world. I’ve been doing that since before I started professionally. Some of it has come out, some of it just wasn’t quite ready yet, one was thrown into limbo a decade back when a publisher was bought out. But more recently I’ve been able to do Blackhand Comics, write Gravediggers Union for Toby Cypress, Deadly Class of course, and now Kaya, and that’s been the most satisfying part of my career, by far.
What keeps you 'in love' with drawing?
Always finding new areas to explore. Sometimes it’s getting better at a weak aspect of my drawing, but mostly it’s just experimenting, trying new things, and seeing what happens. That and trying to be 'present,' as they say, when I’m drawing, not just going on auto-pilot, but really trying to feel what the characters are feeling. Doing that thing where if the character is smiling or scowling, I’m doing the same thing (like a weirdo).
What are the comics you’re enjoying currently that we can share recommendations for?
Let’s see… Reckless. Saga. Department of Truth. Time Before Time. No One Else. Those are some recent favourites. Over the past year I’ve been re-reading three of the all time greats: Calvin & Hobbes, Akira, and From Hell. Yes, three VERY different books, but each one is perfection in its own way. I think From Hell might be my favourite Alan Moore story ever, but because the subject matter’s so grizzly I don’t think it’s gets as much shine as stuff like Watchmen (which is also incredible of course).
What are you a fan of, not limiting it just to comics. This can be as broad as you like – demolition derbies, quilting, anything. We want to encourage celebrities/creators and their fandom as well.
Just off the top of my head, I finally watched all of Atlanta, and that’s one of the best, most surprising shows I’ve ever seen. Reservation Dogs was great. In music, I’ve been really into Idles and Turnstile on the punk side, and kind of delving into some recent jazz too, Kamasi Washington and Sons of Kemet. I don’t really have a 'thing' I’m into like wrestling or collecting stamps, haha. My thing is just comics, really.
Before we wrap, is there anything else you’d like to plug?