Although he’s been working in comics for over a decade, Wes Craig has been flying under the radar for many people until this year’s Deadly Class series with Rick Remender at Image – and now he’s looking show off more work a collection of comic short stories titled Blackhand Comics. Inspired by gritty pulp comics of old from EC Comics, the three stories of Blackhand Comics portray gravediggers who bring their work home with them, an errant child running around a traveling circus, and a vagrant who is on the run from a cult who thinks he has something special.
Craig, who worked from 2004 to 2013 at between DC and Marvel as a self-described “journeyman artist,” finds the world of creator-owned a pleasure as he’s able to set his own schedule, have more control over his work, and most importantly expand his horizons into writing. Craig has been angling for that chance for years, pitching writing work to DC and even being commissioned to do a five-issue miniseries for Wildstorm before that imprint was shuttered and the project shelved. With Blackhand Comics scheduled to debut on October 1, Craig is poised to show his hand on just what he can do in comics.
After spending the past nine years working for DC and Marvel, Craig is stretching his legs – and his imagination – on characters and stories he can control and own with Blackhand Comics and Deadly Class.
Newsarama: Wes, what can you tell us about these stories you have in Blackhand Comics?
Wes Craig: Well - there's three stories included in the collection: "The Gravedigger's Union" is a supernatural tale about a group of gravedigger's who bury the dead and make sure they stay buried. The second story "Circus Day" is set in the 1930's and it's about a kid's misadventures sneaking around a traveling circus. And the "The Seed" is a horror story about a homeless man on the run from a cult and the mysterious "seed" he's carrying.
I wrote, illustrated, and designed the whole thing, and anybody who likes the way I play around with design and storytelling in Deadly Class should enjoy Blackhand Comics too, 'cause there's a lot of that.
Nrama: This is a short story collection, but in comics – what drew you to writing and drawing your own shorter stories like this?
Craig: I just really like short stories, I love old EC Comics, The Twilight Zone, old pulps like Black Mask, doing my weird take on that kind of stuff has been a big part of it.
But also it's a lot easier to do short stories because Deadly Class demands most of my time. I have a hard time doing long works when I can only do three, four, five pages of it per month. Some people can do that, but my brain doesn't work that way.
Short stories work best for me right now- but… I do have an idea in mind that'll combine short stories and something long-form in an interesting way. It'll all be set in one town with recurring characters, similar to Stray Bullets or Love & Rockets. That's what I'm working on now, like as soon as I finish writing these answers...
Nrama: I’ve been reading comics of yours for going on 10 years now, but only as an artist. What made you want to push into writing your own comics, and what was the trigger for finally doing it?
Craig: This is the first of my writing to ever be published, but I've been doing it behind the scenes for almost as long as I've been drawing.
When I was a kid I would write and draw my own comics. In my twenties I used to send pitches to Image but I was really green and not at all ready yet. A few years ago I pitched a Mister Miracle series to DC that didn't happen. Then I wrote and drew a five issue original series for Wildstorm called Adam Mercury but when there was a reshuffling at DC, Wildstorm was phased out and my series went into limbo. That might see the light of day eventually, but I was paid for it and I became a better writer in the process. If that was my "one good idea" I guess I'd be pissed off, but shortly after that I got the idea for Blackhand Comics, and here we are.
All that to say I've been writing the whole time, but finding the time to write and draw your own work while still being an artist for hire is always going to be hard. Right now I have it great though: I get to work on Deadly Class with Rick, which I love, and in between issues I get to work on Blackhand Comics.
Nrama: Correct me if I’m wrong, but you were doing Blackhand Comics before you started on Deadly Class, and it’s shown you experimenting with storytelling and paneling as you would continue to do in Deadly Class. What does doing these stories, and doing them originally online, do for you to stretch your legs?
Craig: Yeah, Blackhand Comics came just a bit before Deadly Class I think. Experimenting with panels, pages, storytelling, etc, is probably my favorite part of comics. Doing them online doesn't really change much except I can get them out faster. Mainly- it's a place to do my own stories, and also since I don't give myself a strict deadline, it's a place to really take my time and try to make each page something I haven't seen before.
Nrama: On the other hand, these are all new characters – what’s it like going from doing known characters for DC and Marvel and knowing fans who read those will know who it is from page one, versus creating and establishing characters on your own here in such a short span of time and pages?
Craig: I don't know, the two things are so far away from each other in my mind that I've never given it much thought.
It's like a Transformers or Avengers movie compared to some little indie film.
Introducing your new characters quickly and in an engaging way is just one of those challenges you try and get better at as you write.
Nrama: You’ve been doing Blackhand Comics online now for some time, and have done stories not included here. If things go well with this print edition, could you see yourself doing a second volume down the road?
Craig: That is indeed the plan. I'd like to release a "Book Two" maybe next October, if not sooner, one collection per year would be great. That's what I'm aiming for. I have two new stories up now at www.blackhandcomics.com. And I'm writing a third as we speak.
Nrama: Wes, up until Deadly Class you were by-and-large working on other people’s characters – that being DC and Marvel’s, for nearly 10 years – a company guy, so to speak. Now you’ve halfway through the first year onDeadly Class and putting out the first collection of your webcomics, Blackhand Comics. What’s that change been like for you?
Craig: It's been great. What I've always wanted to do in comics is to have a body of work, something to sit on a bookshelf all together. Working for DC and Marvel was great but it wasn't really building that bookshelf. I was like a journeyman-artist, an issue of Flash here, an issue of Guardians of the Galaxy there, it was a lot of fun, but it wasn't anything complete. Now with Deadly Class and Blackhand Comics that shelf is finally coming together the way I imagined it.
I mean, I don't actually have the shelf yet, but when I do- whoo-boy!