Between the Panels: Artist Wes Craig on Youthful Naivety, an Unexpected Email, and Getting Stiffed for His Art in High School

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.


While most fans at large will recognize Wes Craig’s name as artist and co-creator of Image Comics’ Deadly Class — returning April 28 — his list of comics credits is much more than that. He’s the writer and co-creator, with artist Toby Cypress, on The Gravediggers Union, as well as the “one-man-band” creator behind the story collection Blackhand. Readers can even find his name on some VIP characters from DC, including the recent Superman Red & Blue.
 
First off, the basics…
 
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist/Writer

Your home base: I live in Montreal, up in cold-as-hell Canada.
 
Website: I don’t have one right now. I’m gonna get on that next, I swear.

Social Media

Twitter: @WesCraigComics

Instagram: @WesCraigComics

Facebook: @WesCraigComics
 
Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/cWo1gf
 


 

Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: Big questions up front: Why comics? What attracts you to making comics specifically over other artforms?

Wes Craig: It’s what I’ve loved doing since I was a kid. It’s never been a question for me, y’know? Fine art, music, graphic design, all these things are inspiration. I’d love to play an instrument or something one day, do some big paintings, write a book — we all play with those ideas, but this is what I love to do, and it’s an obsession, so there’s not really a lot of time for anything else. I mean, sometimes I have a life and sleep and stuff, but besides that it’s all comics.
 
KS: If we flipped through teenage Wes’ comic collection, what would that have looked like?

WC: Hmm. The biggest part was [Marv] Wolfman and [George] Perez’s New Teen Titans. That was my jam. But there was stuff from all over: Akira, reprints of The Spirit, lots of Frank Miller, John Byrne. I didn’t really get into indie stuff like Love and Rockets or Optic Nerve, or start digging back into EC Comics, old strips, etc. until I was in my twenties.




KS: Where did you used to get most of your floppies back then?

WC: My comic shop was Captain Quebec, and a few other places in the Montreal suburb I grew up in. Sadly, they all had to close up shop after that whole 1990s bubble burst.
 
KS: Looking back, what were some of the comic stories that really hit you as a younger reader?

WC: I’d love to say something cool like Dark Knight Returns or Maus, but when I was a little kid, it was probably “The Trigon Saga” in Teen Titans. It introduced me to all the elements of a good story, but on the level that a kid could understand. There was action and superhero stuff and the drawings were amazing, but there was also a lot of sacrifice and suffering the heroes had to go through, lots of dramatic interpersonal relationships.

Later, I’d graduate to stuff like Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Acme Novelty, City of Glass, Kabuki, Maus (which I didn’t have money to buy but I went back to the bookstore three nights in a row after school so I could read the whole thing). I’ve always loved experimental work in comics and elsewhere. Experimental but in service to a solid story. That’s what I try to bring to Deadly Class and my other work.
 
KS: Because a career in the arts can be such a crapshoot, I’m always interested in where the idea originates for people. In your case, was it something long simmering or a sudden burst of inspiration?

WC: Long simmering. I always wanted to draw comics, like I said. In my teens, I realized it might not happen, y’know? That those childhood dreams don’t often come true for most people. But I kept drawing constantly because I loved it, and eventually I thought I was getting good enough that I actually had a shot. I didn’t, not really, but you need some of that youthful naivety and ego in the beginning. Mainly, I just wrote my own stories and drew every day, not just stuff that was fun, but drawing everything, trying to get better at all of it.


 
KS: Do your remember the first time you ever got paid for a piece of art?

WC: Oh man, I forget. I think I did a drawing of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in high school for a guy, but he stiffed me on my pay. I’m still planning my revenge...
 
KS: What about the first professional gig? Hopefully, the same guy wasn’t involved.

WC: It was a book called Touch. And Matt Idelson and Nachie Castro gave me the gig, editors at DC at the time. I'll always be in their debt for that.

KS: How did it come about? Had they seen your work elsewhere?

WC: It came about from sending away samples to every editor at DC and Marvel. One particular bunch with Superman and another of a time traveler; those were pretty good so they caught Matt and Nachie's attention. They sent along an email offering me the job, I read it, did a little dance of victory around the block, then sat down and got to work.

KS: 2021 marks seven years since the debut of Deadly Class. If you look back at that time now — the planning stages, the first drawings, first issue published — what memories come to mind?

WC: I remember getting that first email from Rick. I was already a fan of his work, and when I saw his name in my inbox I was so confused like, “What the hell is Rick Fear Agent, Strange Girl, Frankencastle, X-Force, etc. Remender writing me for?!?” Since then, we’ve grown to be buddies, working on this labor of love. I remember our first few conversations over the phone, sharing stories of what we went through as teens. Both into the punk scene. Lots of overlap. We spoke the same language. I think that gave us a lot of confidence that we could tell this story together.



 
KS: Is there anything you wish you could tell the Wes from back then? Not in the interest of changing the past, just any advice on art/business/life that would’ve made his journey a little smoother.

 WC: That’s tough. Generally, I’d say I’m very happy where I’m at, so all the good decisions and the bad ones all helped get me here. So, I think I’d keep all of it.

But I’d probably just say, “Don’t stress about the future so much. It’s gonna work out.” But then again, I still stress out about that stuff, so that’s probably just my default setting.
 
KS: While there are different definitions of success in any business, is there one important trait you believe is necessary for being successful in comics?

WC: I’ll say you have to be able to hustle. And most important, you have to be a bit obsessive and love doing comics day in, day out, or you won’t make it. It’s the best job in the world, but it takes a ton of hours at the table to get it done. There are other gigs for writing and/or drawing that pay more, so you have to love it.
 
KS: Hypothetical time: For one day, you can stand over the shoulder of any artist from the history of comics, watch them work, ask questions, etc. Who’s your pick?

WC: Man, oh man. Just one? Alex Toth? Moebius? Mike Mignola? Stan Lee? Frank Miller? Will Eisner? Joe Kubert? Grant Morrison? Jack Kirby? This one is impossible.

Ugh. There’s no right answer for this one. But I’d love to talk to someone who’s equally good at the writing, drawing, and business of comics.

I’m gonna have to say Jeff Smith and his wife Vijaya Iyer who handles the business end. Yeah, they’d be great to talk to. Bone was such a great book.
 
KS: Aside from your most famous work, you’ve built a resume all across the comic publisher spectrum. Looking back over your career thus far, is there a moment of pride or joy that really stands out and maybe still makes you smile?

WC: You can’t beat your first gig. After all those years of working hard, sending away samples, to finally have it pay off, that was an incredible feeling. Second on that list though is Deadly Class. Creator-owned work is what it’s all about for me. It’s nice to work with these superheroes I grew up reading and loving, but creating new stuff for new readers is what will keep comics strong into the future.


 
KS: Tell us about a passion of yours totally unrelated to art. Something you collect, study, practice, whatever…

WC: I love music. I’m not involved in it except that I’ve always had buddies in bands. But if I never got into comics, I feel like maybe I would have picked up a guitar or drums. But like I said before, drawing comics, and more and more writing comics, is pretty all consuming.

KS: We spread some love at the end… What’s a comic or graphic novel from any era that you look at as an example of the craft at its highest form?

WC: This is yet another tough one — you’re killin’ me.

I’m just gonna rattle off a bunch of my favorites: Bone, Watchmen, Maus, Lint from Chris Ware. All-Star Superman, Signal To Noise, Akira, Harvey Kurtzman’s EC Comics work. Mazzucchelli’s City Of Glass and Big Man. That issue of The Walking Dead where they killed Tyrese — that gave me a visceral jolt, which is rare with comics. Same with when Barbara Gordon was shot in The Killing Joke. If you can make a reader physically feel something, you’re doing good comics.

If I had to say one comic, though, I think it’d have to be Dark Knight Returns. It’s a huge, epic story, intense, funny, graphically very innovative. It’s a tie between that and Batman: Year One which is beautifully drawn and colored and is Miller’s most concise, tightly plotted story. A great crime comic on so many levels.
 
KS: Finally, with the return of Deadly Class just around the corner, tell us what you’re working on now and what we should look out for in 2021.

WC: While we were on hiatus… I wrote and drew a short story for Superman Red & Blue #1. That’s out now. We’re coming back with a long-awaited new arc of Deadly Class. It’s a big one. Me and Rick are excited to get back to our gang of characters. The ones that have survived at least. And behind the scenes, I’m writing and drawing a fantasy series called Kaya that’ll be out in 2022. That’s near and dear to my heart and hard to put into words how stoked I am for that to get out into the world. Stay tuned.

 
 

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