When you’re a teenager every major event in your life can seem like a life-or-death scenario, but for the kids of the Image series Deadly Class it literally is.
Launched earlier this week, Deadly Class follows the student body of the secretive Kings Dominion High School for the Deadly Arts as they attempt to keep their grades up, withstand their raging hormones, and avoid being killed despite being enrolled in literally an assassin’s academy. Created by Rick Remender and Wes Craig, this new series is set in 1987 and centers on a young student named Marcus Lopez who, unlike his fellow students, doesn’t come from a family with a rich tradition of killers, crime bosses and murderers – he’s the white sheep in a student body of black sheep, and they aren’t quick to let him live that down.
Deadly Classis described by Image as “the most brutal high school on Earth,” and Newsarama spoke with Remender and Craig about this assassin’s academy, the students, and comparing it to their own high school experiences.
Newsarama: Guys, how would you describe Deadly Class?
Wes Craig: It's a school for assassins, set in the 1980's, that's the basic pitch, but what I enjoy the most about this story is the stuff we can all relate to from our teen years: trying to fit in, getting dumped, etc. So much drama and comedy and craziness go down in those few short years, there's a lot of creative juice in there. So I'm hoping that's what readers will get hooked on as the story progresses.
And hey, if a ninja happens to attack in the middle of all that stuff, all the better!
Nrama: Why do you think schools are such a fertile ground for stories, Rick?
Rick Remender: I think it’s a universal thing everybody can connect with and can remember. Everyone has history with school, and for everyone it was a coming of age in some respects. Basically, we learn about human interaction and stuff like that in high school. So for fiction, you can take that and give it a twist; be it magic, or a school for robots, or a school for ninja or whatever, finding that thing that works best for you. For Deadly Class, the metaphor is that the dagger in your back isn't a metaphor but a real thing. Kids are vicious in school, but in Deadly Class they’re a whole new level of vicious with it being attended by the kids of all the worlds biggest crime syndicates, dictators and assassins’ guilds.
Nrama: This ain’t the X-Men school nor Harry Potter’s Hogwarts – can you give us a brief orientation on what Deadly Class’s killer school is like?
Remender: It’s Kings Dominion School of the Deadly Arts. The school is almost how you would imagine: it’s cult-ish and diverse because the cast is culled from all of the major criminal organizations and government spook installations around the globe. It’s a strange, clandestine place where the kids have no idea what they’re really up against. But the students coming in see that the senior class is a lot smaller than the freshman class, so they begin to get an idea. There’s a giant graveyard in back of the school – you die here, you stay here. It’s a very dangerous and scary place.
Nrama: The first issue focused on the newly enrolled Marcus Lopez, who unlike his fellow classmates doesn’t have a pedigree of a criminal family. What do the other kids at the school see when they look at Marcus?
Remender: Coming in, they know Marcus is not legacy; he’s not affiliated with any crime organization. That’s normally a prerequisite to attend Kings Dominion, but the reason he was let in is part of the greater mystery of the first dozen or so issues of Deadly Class. The students haven’t unraveled it, but they have some ideas of what they think got Marcus in. Marcus is viewed by the legacy students as street trash, so he’s going to have to contend with that and climb his way up through the ranks.
Nrama: Wes, of the main characters, which do you get the most kick out of drawing and why?
Craig: I love drawing Marcus, he's not as visually striking as, say, Saya or Maria, but he's got a lot going on internally that's an interesting challenge to show through his expressions and posture,
Master Lin is small and craggy and I love drawing those kinds of characters, especially in contrast to all the smooth young people. [laughs]
And I love drawing Saya- because she's just cool.
Nrama: Deadly Class is set in 1987, which coincidentally was the year you turned 14, Rick. What would the 14 year old you think about enrolling at a place like Kings Dominion?
Remender: Again, Deadly Class is very metaphorical for high school – particularly my high school years. Just before high school I was moved from downtown Phoenix, which had a very similar scene to Los Angeles at that point, to the middle of the desert between Tucson and Phoenix. Up until then, I was defined by the Phoenix scene which had sort of absorbed the skate/punk scene. But days before the first day of high school we moved, and so Deadly Class is in no small way a very similar exploration of what that felt like. I would have rather eaten glass than walked through the cafeteria at high school because I didn’t know anyone there. And all of them had known each other since grade school, and here I was this punker kid from the city. It’s the kind of thing where you end up throwing your lunch away and hiding someplace.
The examination of that kind of pain is at the heart of Deadly Class, and in a way it pays tribute to that and makes it worthwhile. It sucked for me then, but now I’m able to take that and tell a story with it.
Nrama: Wes, you're coming off of this after spending the past nine years in work for hire comics, almost exclusively at DC. What led to make the leap here to do creator-owned?
Craig: I've enjoyed my time working for DC, and Marvel, I got to scratch that itch of drawing my favorite characters growing up. But my main thing is when I'm old and grey I want to have a bookshelf's worth of work I can be proud of; big long stories that add up to something, and something new, not just recycling the same villains and origin stories which is a lot of what superhero comics is about. Don't get me wrong- there's still great stuff being done, but for me I was doing a fill-in here, an annual there, nothing that really added up to anything. So I feel like this is an opportunity to do something that's substantial.
And of course, most importantly, something we own.
Nrama: Rick here is known to work repeatedly with artist collaborators he enjoys, but I believe Deadly Class is the first time you two have worked together. How did you two come to know each other?
Craig: I was working with Lee Loughridge on some DC stuff, Lee and Rick are friends so Rick checked out what we were doing together and he dug it. Shortly after that he called me up and we talked though his idea and it was pretty much a done deal. I'd been a fan of Rick's indie work for a while and bought some signed trade paperbacks of Fear Agent at a con a few years back. Same for Lee's coloring- the reason we were working together at DC was because I was bugging editors to let me work with him. It's was kismet! [laughs]
Nrama: How did Rick come to you with the Deadly Class? Was it fully formed from day 1, or did it evolve as you became involved?
Craig: It was pretty fully formed- Rick can tell you more about the origins of the idea. But the characters and what they're relationships would be was worked out more once we got together. It's funny that way- you can draw two character's standing beside each other for no particular reason and then your brain starts going and next thing you know they're dating, or they hate each other, etc.