Wes Craig on Persistence, Artistic Influences and Stealing from the Best

We were lucky enough to talk to Wes Craig, artist of one of our Top Ten comics of the year: Deadly Class. After we got done squealing with the glee of a demon-child, we asked Wes to give us a few quick and dirty answers about how he got his start, and of course – which comics make it into his shortbox.

Shortboxed: At shortboxed, we’re all about beginnings. How did you get into drawing comics? Let’s take that a step back and ask – what got you into drawing to begin with? And then what was it that made comics the most attractive medium for you?

WES CRAIG: It was always comics for me. I’m not one of those guys that could’ve made a career in video games or storyboards, for me it was just comics. My interest started with my older brother, he would draw his own superheroes, and I started doing the same thing. He still draws his own comics when he’s not working his day job.

I love working with the comic book language. The medium’s a century old, but there’s still so much room to explore.

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SB: Who/what are your artistic influences, and where did you find them? What advice would you give to an artist looking for inspiration?

WC: Over the years different creators gain or loose prominence, but for each project,I try and tap into different influences, appropriate to the story.

For Deadly Class, it’s all 80’s comics: Katsuhiro Otomo, Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli, Moebius, Charles Burns, The Hernandez brothers.

For Blackhand Comics there’s more varied stuff like for an upcoming story I’m looking at these Italian Futurists and a lot of 1950’s design. In general Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Mike Mignola, Chris Ware; they’re always in there.  The photographer Weegee is a recent influence. Stanley Kubrick… man, it goes on and on.

As for advice for young artists I’d say don’t just look at what’s popular now. Go back into comic’s history. Look at Alex Toth, look at Hal Foster, Harvey Kurtzman, Windsor MacCay. Look at fine art, look at photography, graphic design, etc. Eat it all up.

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SB: What is your process like when working with a writer? They write the comic script and give you a layout of how they think a page should look, but beyond that basic beginning – what is something that might be a surprise to comic readers?

WC: It’s different for each writer, but Deadly Class is a pretty unique experience for me. Rick’s (Remender) very collaborative, we get on the phone and talk over the plot, then he writes the script with basic dialogue, then once my pages are done he writes the final dialogue. That’s a big thing I’ve learned from Rick, keep the thing alive y’know? For my own stories I used to have it all very mapped out at the beginning, so by the end it would be like a chore. If you keep the thing growing as you work on it, it’ll stay exciting, and I think that translates to the reader. I hope.

SB: Deadly Class is full of interesting elements – including a unique depiction of passing time, nightmares, and hallucinatory drug sequences. How do you go about making those elements different from the way they’ve been rendered before? 

WC: That’s a tough one to answer. I have sketchbooks filled with this stuff: notes and scribbles and diagrams about how to use the comic book language in interesting ways. But also looking at innovative creators from the past like Eisner, Steranko, B. Krigstein.

Steal from the best.

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SB: Getting started with a big publisher is a difficult, difficult journey – and when you read interviews from other comic creators, they invariably say the same thing “There is no right way, no secret. You either do or you don’t.” Do you agree with this sentiment? And how did you get discovered?

WC: I just mailed them stuff until they gave me a job. Things are a bit different now but not that different.

Go to conventions with a portfolio, get advice from artists you respect, talk to editors, send them stuff if they’re okay with that.

But most importantly; work your ass off.

For writers it’s harder because editors can look at an artist’s pages for 30 seconds and see if you’re any good, but looking at scripts is time consuming. But still, go to conventions and pitch them ideas if they’re open to it, ask them what they’re looking for.

That’s my advice for getting in the business, but really, screw the business, you want to make comics? Just make comics. Voila! Magic! You’re a comic creator!

One last thing: if you’re a writer, learn to draw, if you’re an artist, learn to write. Comics would be better off if there were more fully-rounded cartoonists out there.

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SB: What else have you been working on? Can you tell us a little about “Blackhand Comics”?

WC: Blackhand is my personal project. I do everything from the writing and drawing, down to designing the book. It started off as a webcomic, Image just put out the first collection this past October. It’s usually pulpy, weird stories, often a bit surreal. The first collection features gravediggers and cults, but also has a story about a kid’s adventures at the circus. So it’s relatively diverse.

When Image asked me what genre to put it in, I had no idea how to answer the question. Is “artsy-pulp” a genre? Probably not.

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SB: And of course, what Top 5 Comics make your desert island shortbox — story arcs, specific runs, TPBs, Graphic novels, omnibuses, and one-shots are all fair game.

WC: I couldn’t do 5, too hard, so here’s 9:

City of Glass (Auster/Karasik/Mazzucchelli)
100% (Pope)
Optic Nerve (Tomine)
We3 (Morrison/Quietly)
Stray Bullets (Lapham)
Batman Year One (Miller/Mazzucchelli)
Sin City (Miller)
Hellboy (Mignola)
You can find Wes on Twitter
Blackhand Comics Website
And you can pick up Deadly Class on Amazon or your LCS

If this is your first time visiting Shortboxed, thanks for stopping by! We want to provide a place online where people new to comics can come and learn about the culture and be introduced to some amazing stories without feeling overwhelmed or intimidated. We’re always adding new content, so please come back soon! You can also follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr at @shortboxed.

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