NYCC 2018: Image Comics Presents Deadly Class 101

by James Ferguson

Creators Rick Remender, Wes Craig, and Jordan Boyd were a little late in arriving to the panel since they just premiered the Deadly Class pilot at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Editor Sebastian Girner and Image Comics Brand Manager Sean Edgar vamped by asking the crowd some Deadly Class trivia. After about five uncomfortably awkward minutes, the creative team arrived and we got going.

The Deadly Class TV show is set to premiere on January 16th at 10 PM on SyFy. This panel is all about the comic the show is based on. Edgar asked Remender how he came to pitch Deadly Class to Image Comics. Remender said he always try to put something personal in the comics he writes. After hiding some of these things behind super heroes, he wanted to try something different.
Deadly Class was originally called Reagan Youth. It started moving after Remender pitched it to Craig and Girner. Remender said it was a passion project and it was the first time that he did something entirely for himself. Craig’s artwork elevated the ideas in a way that they both fell in love doing it and they’ve been working on it for five years.

The main character in Deadly Class, Marcus, loses his parents when a mentally ill woman jumps off a bridge to kill herself. Remender pulled from his own experiences dealing with the healthcare system with his wife’s auto-immune disease coupled with the rage felt at the Reagan administration for a number of the aspects of Deadly Class.
Speaking of personal experiences, the panel joked about years training as an assassin. They decided Craig was the real assassin, fighting like a lumberjack in Canada. Remender’s secret weapon was a love for Cheetos.
Marcus was the first character to really come together. Craig had designed about twenty-five different characters and many of them were cut to avoid making an overwrought comic. Remender started writing stories immediately based on the designs, figuring out their backstories.

Remender was asked if Deadly Class would exist without punk music. He and Craig emphatically answered no. The artist elaborated by saying this was the common link between them. Remender said that a big inspiration was Henry Rollins‘ spoken word album, which meant a lot to him growing up in Phoenix, Arizona in 1988. It spoke to him as a kid in this scene, like a voyeuristic look into someone’s true experiences as a human being and what they thought and felt. The album was part of what made Remender what to make creator-owned stories.
Rollins appears in the Deadly Class TV show and Remender said it’s been nuts working with him. When he first met Rollins, he spent about 10 minutes talking to him about how much the spoken word album meant to him and tried to cut it short for fear of bumbling like a fool.
Edgar asked how the different groups and cliques were created in King’s Dominion. When Remender was growing up, the scene you were in identified your ideology. That became your tribe, whether you were into punk, goth, thrash, or something else.

The panel was asked which clique from Deadly Class they would have been in when they were in high school. Craig said not the Dixie Mob. He settled for the Jersey Kings. Remender said he would be with Billy, Lex, and Petra with the outcasts. Craig joked that he’d want to be with Soto Vatos, but he probably wouldn’t be let in. Boyd wanted a goodie-two-shoes clique, but all those kids are dead. Girner said he was in the AV club.
Craig was asked about his artistic goals for Deadly Class. He said his favorite thing to do is experimenting with panel layouts and playing with the composition to do some stuff in comics that you maybe haven’t seen before. He never felt the ownership to do that with his Marvel or DC work. There was something about Deadly Class that really allowed him to do that.
Edgar asked Craig about how music plays a part in the panel layout. It plays with the rhythm of the page, bouncing from groups of small panels to larger images. Craig’s artwork is absolutely amazing so it’s really cool to get an insight into his process and how music influences it. He said that Boyd’s colors are the real soundtrack to the comic which is why they’re often in a non-traditional palette.

Remender spoke about about Chester Fuckface, a villain early in the series. He said there was someone in his life that can’t love humans, but loves animals. His wife has a really fancy blanket with a patch with a goat on it. In seeing that, he figured out what that connection would be in that this character would…well…be intimate with animals, but he means well. Of course, you don’t think that one day you’d be on a TV set explaining this to someone and saying “No, he loves the goat, really.”
Craig said Chester is an amalgamation of a bunch of different things. Adam Ant was a big inspiration with a weird mix of redneck mullet and a feather earring. The Mad Max-esque character from Raising Arizona was another one.

Early on in Deadly Class, the group of kids went to Las Vegas to Circus Circus. Edgar asked the panel if anyone has ever been there. Craig had to do a lot of Googling to learn about it, but Remender said the story is 85% true except for the part with the murder. After speaking about dropping acid and realizing there were cameras in the room, Remender changed that to say it was a friend of his.
Edgar asked Craig about how he came up with the design and interesting perspectives in this issue as the characters are hallucinating. He said that while people don’t really see all this stuff, it would be fun to draw into a comic. He then asked that someone has to use drugs at least every few issues to get to draw really fun stuff like this. Girner chimed in to say that he didn’t realize he’d been working on this comic for the past five years with a bunch of drug users.

Remender said these sequences are some of his favorite to write as the art team can really let loose. It’s just that you can’t do them too often.
Remender said he loves Roald Dahl and tries to pull the same kind of twisted darkness into his stories, specifically the origins for the characters in Deadly Class. He’d pull out a Dahl book and wonder what the author would have done with a goth.
Boyd was asked about his color philosophy for the series. Lee Loughridge was the original colorist for the first 14 issues. Boyd said there was a drab palette at first but when the tension or action heated up, the colors became a lot more saturated. He looks at each scene and issue as a cross section of the setting, the characters involved, and which marries those together in a way that complements Craig’s work well. He doesn’t have the same level of music knowledge as Remender and Craig, but he can react to the rhythm that the artist puts into the artwork.

The panel was asked about how death was used in the series. Remender said that they talked about it a lot and came to the conclusion that they’d have to kill their favorite characters. He wrote a version where no one died and it didn’t work. If Deadly Class was supposed to serve as a metaphor for the machines that churn out youth, then the good guys have to lose. It felt honest and it was the hardest thing he ever wrote.
After all kinds of death, a new cast of characters were introduced with a new class. Helmut, the metalhead was originally designed as a big mean ogre-looking kid. Craig thought he would be a villain at first. Quan is based on the coolest guy Craig ever met when he was growing up who looked like he could kick anyone’s ass. Remender said the new class was one of his favorite parts of working on Deadly Class.
Talking again about death, Girner said that death in comics doesn’t really stick, due to how it tends to work in super hero comics. Readers don’t always “feel” the death. The creative team collectively came to the conclusion that they’d have to kill a bunch of the characters because it has to mean something.
To wrap things up, Edgar asked the panel where Deadly Class is going next. Issue #31 comes out on December 5th. A lot of the students are going back to the school. Remender doesn’t want to spoil much, but there are a lot of great things coming up. He said this upcoming arc is the second biggest of the series and they’re going to veer in a direction that no one will see coming.

A fan asked if we’re going to hear any Bad Religion in the TV show. Remender said the soundtrack will include Depeche Mode, Sisters of Mercy, The Descendants and definitely some Bad Religion “because they’re the best band in the history of the f*cking earth.” It’s a wide swath of what was going on at that time.
Another fan said that she was pitched the book as “Hogwarts for assassins” and asked the panelists how accurate that was. Remender said it’s more like if Harry Potter went to a Slytherin school. Craig said it’s the easiest elevator pitch, but you really have to read the comic to see the interpersonal aspects. Remender said he describes it as if Richard Linklater did Kill Bill.
A fan asked what made this the story they chose to do. Remender said as a writer, he develops a lot of ideas after ingesting a lot of different pop culture media. He wanted to give his generation a snapshot in the way Mad Men did for a previous one. Generation X has been ignored so he wanted to show what his youth was like and not the ’80s like Ghostbusters and the Amblin movies.

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