Welcome to the most brutal high school on Earth, where the world’s top crime families send the next generation of assassins to be trained. Murder is an art. Killing is a craft. At King’s Dominion High School for the Deadly Arts, the dagger in your back isn’t always metaphorical, nor is your fellow classmates' poison. – Image Comics
We started taking stock in Rick Remender's writing during his time in the Marvel NOW! era, back in 2012. Joel followed Remender's Marvel stories while I dug into his creator-owned works. I'd like to think, combined, Joel and I equal one complete almost super-fan. Considering Remender's rare appearances at comic conventions, Joel and I were fortunate to get one-on-one time with Rick at San Diego Comic-Con to learn more about Deadly Class, what drives his creative brain, and how he balances all his projects with his amazing creative partners.
How faithful do you feel the TV adaptation of Deadly Class is to your books?
I don’t have to feel because I'm writing it. So, I know that it's very much the books. That was one of the things when we had a lot of various parties that were interested in this. I said, "I'm going to be with it from top to bottom." I'm going to be involved and make sure that what we create here is a representation and true to the intent of what Wes and I have created in the book.
And so to honor that, I live in L.A. now and I've just been giving my life over to ensuring that what we do is, top to bottom, exactly the same as the book and the same spirit. The joy of it is being able to take those stories and instead of just having 22 pages to tell the story. I can take that chunk and now we have an hour of television. And so, we get to go in and we get to talk about other characters. We get to talk about other storylines, we get to unpack them and get to live in the world. We get to immerse ourselves deeper in the stories and we have a great room of writers. And me and my co-showrunners, we all get together with them and it's a pleasure to be able to take the intent and the tone and the world of Deadly Class and unpack it and really start to explore all aspects of it.
How is it working with screenwriters versus writing on your own for print?
It’s an interesting thing that there’s any sort of delineation there, because comic books, especially something like Deadly Class, is a serialized story. And I write it in final draft, it’s still images as opposed to moving images, but good dialogue is still good dialogue. Good stories are still good stories. So translating it has been quite easy. I have a history where I ran an animation studio and I've written video games and done a few features that didn’t get made. But I spent a lot of time in the production side of things as well as doing comic books. And so I do have a background in that stuff, which I think has enabled me to transition to the showrunning fairly seamlessly. But in terms of script, I've always had an opinion that a good script is a good script and the formatting is really just a matter of formatting. Like, being able to unpack something and go, it's not a still image, it's not just this and this equals that. It's actually this walks into this, this person says that then moves on and the camera drifts, it's not that big of a leap. You just have to then start animating it in your head and you know, written enough animation that wasn't much of a step for me.
Is it natural, when writing, to consider the script for possibly going to screen?
No, the approach I take to writing translates pretty seamlessly into the television. I think that when we were writing the pilot episode I ended up using probably 40% of scripts from the comic book. And then I would take those and then instead of just being a still image that I'd given to Wes to draw, it would be a matter of unpacking that and being able to move and have the characters actually there and consider camera directions a little bit and transitions and things like that. But I think, it really just is a matter of formatting. I think that there's this idea that, can TV people write comics? Or can film people write comics? Or can comic people write film? And it's just telling a good story and then knowing the limitations of the medium you're telling it in.
Based on your animation background. Did you see Deadly Class as possibly an animated feature or animated show, or any of your other books possibly being animated?
Animation is definitely something we've had some meetings and got pretty far down the field with one property and is still talking about it. And then there are a lot of aspects of Deadly Class where we're trying to find ways to incorporate and use Wes Craig’s art in the show. That will be a nice surprise for people. I love animation. I especially love 2D animation. If we could translate any of them into that with the right team, becomes it really comes down to having a bunch of people who are passionate and want to do it because it is such a labor of love, anytime your hand animating anything. I love animation, it would be great to see some of it translated that way.
Tell us more about your professional animation career?
I spent three years in effects animation before moving into character and then running a satellite studio to WildBrain, funded by Yahoo during the dot com stuff, where we were producing cartoons that never saw the light of day because the dot com bubble popped and Yahoo! pulled their funding. So, I had spent a lot of time creating cartoons from top to bottom that were just never seen and I was pretty heartbreaking. In fact, led me back to just making comic books, because comic books get made. I don’t know how many people are going to read it. I don't know how far to go. But I know what I know it exists. And the process of building up an animation studio getting to work spending a couple years grinding out a bunch of cartoons and doing it top to bottom, only to have those disappear into the ether was like, okay, I am fucking done with that. And then when I went back to comic books after that.
Talk to us more about how you went from being a visual artist realizing someone else’s story to becoming this story originator.
There was never a separation, there was no wall there. I think that most artists have stories in their head and most writers have visuals in their head and art direction ideas. I grew up writing stories and drawing and animating. I used to take novels, and animate them in the corner, so you get the flipbook. I was always just really drawn to pop culture art. And grew up as a skate punk grommet reading comic books and watching things like Evil Dead 2 and Big Trouble in Little China and all those things. Better off Dead and all that culture. And then Robert Williams paintings and then Robert Crumb and Zapp Comics. And then that led me to Adrian Tomine and Dan Clowes and Evan Dorkin where I really got an eyeful of, "Oh, we can do anything with comics. We can tell any kind of story." So I was always doing both. Deadly Class is based on journals that I wrote from those years. Most of Marcus' journal entries are altered up versions of things that I wrote in my journals when I was a young man. So when I was animating full-time and drawing comic books, I would then spend my nights writing in my journal and writing stories to decompress from the art. And then I started writing stories for artists that I knew. I think the first one that I wrote for someone else was Doll & Creature, John Beebink and Mike Manley drew that, quite beautifully. I then started getting more artists and people that were interested in working with me and had other pals like Kieron Dwyer and Tony Moore and Jerome Opeña and any number of people that were willing to draw the story side. And so then I found a balance for a while.
Around 2005, I was writing four books and was also starting to write Dead Space for Electronic Arts. And then I was also storyboarding From Russia with Love for Electronic Arts when I was drawing a book for Bruce Campbell called a Man with the Screaming Brain at Dark Horse. Then year by year, the writing work kept coming and coming and I started turning down art jobs and then I was just full time writing. And so, then it was probably you know, I don't know about inevitable, but it was a natural transition for me. It was kind of where my head was at because I can generate a lot of ideas and I when you’re drawing you can only do so many of them. And so being able to write, I spent the last 15 years now, locked in a room typing 14 hours a day because I have to get them out. You have to spit these things out of my head. And the more I do the more I want to do. So, it’ll kill me. They say, find what you love and let it kill you. And so I'm in the midst of doing that.
Do you find it hard to find that team to take your properties to the next level?
That’s the other reason I moved to L.A.. I'm going to be involved in my shows. I'm writing a film based on one of my books. I've got another TV show in development based in one of my books. I've got a few things. I've got another one of my books going into production and starts filming soon that hasn't been announced yet. And I'm there, so that I can be as involved as possible in ensuring that the translation is pure to what the intention of the book was. And if better idea comes along, then we take the better idea. But I make sure that it's not something where I am doing a yard sale of these things that means so much to me, so that other people can come along and thumb print it and turn it into their work. It's a collaborative effort, you want them to feel that it's something that they're involved in. That everybody is having a lot of fun and as it goes down the line you have to be comfortable with letting the next line of people, you have to hire the right people. Then it's a joy, because other artists are coming in and expressing themselves with something that you lit the fuse on and you get to see their interpretation of things. You have to find a balance between being sort of protective and vetting those things and letting people be artists and express themselves. And then also making sure that you stayed sort of true to the intention and what the thing actually is.
What's your conceptualization process and organizational workflow to keep these stories as fresh and original they are and also to give these projects the time you seem to be giving them. Do you just not sleep?
(Pause and smile) It’s gnarly. I've had to turn down wonderful trips to Spain to Brazil to Ingelum to England to Canada, all over the world. I just don't have time, but I also feel like it’s an incredible blessing to be able to make art and tell stories that people actually read. I've always said I would be doing this even if it was just for my friends, there's no stopping this. Whatever it is, whatever this is that propels me to do it. I just have to do it. So being in a place where I can do it and do it the way I want to do it, and people want to pay and buy a ticket to join in on that, is such an incredible privilege. I feel like I have to do my best work on every project and that they deserve the best from me. And so, to that end what I end up doing is, 14 to 15 hours a day seven days a week and I've been doing that for so long, that's just normal now. I don't know how long I can keep it going. Maybe I've got another you know four or five years in me before I hit a wall in and my heart explodes, but for now, I'm holding it together. I've got a great team of co-showrunners and some of the best artist in the world in comic books. So provided I'm giving them great stories and able to do my best work on the dialogue end, when the pages come in, it really helps to be surrounded by incredibly talented people for sure.
You always find the perfect artist to go with your stories. How do you get these great artists lined up?
We cook up everything, I come to them with ideas. And then we bounce designs back and forth and I'll take a stab at drawing some. And they’ll take a stab a drawing some in some cases and other cases I don't draw anything. We'll talk about the characters we develop it together. So it's a partnership they co-own the properties. They are not hired hands.
In terms of finding the artist, I've been following Matteo for years before I hired him to come onto Secret Avengers with me. We had such a great time working together on Secret Avengers, I pitched him the basic idea of Black Science and he loved it and he came onboard. Black Science exists in the form that it exists in because of his dedication and his craft. You can see trade by trade of that book, you can watch him go from a really great artist to a world-class dominating force of power. He is an absolute mother-fucker. And Moreno Dinisio has been coloring him for the majority of the series, you can watch Moreno also progress from a really good colorist to probably one of the very best working colorists in the world right now. That's because of the dedication and the staytuitiveness and people who find a project they love it and they build it. There's nothing harder because the comic book industry has such a short attention span that after issue one the comic book press can't pay attention. People just can't pay attention. So, when you're keeping a book going for a long period of time, past issue 20, past issue 30, past 40, it becomes very difficult, it's a lot of work. And especially for an artist who sometimes can feel that they're working in a vacuum, doing they're very best work. But these guys just do it for the work. That's something that's beautiful about Matteo is that he manages, in a very Zen way, to turn everything else off and just make the best pages every single time.
In terms of how I find them, I'm an artist myself. I'm an art appreciator. I spend a lot of time in the art communities and on the art boards and following people. So, I have a wish list. I wanted to work with Bengal since 2008 when I saw one of his art books. And so we started talking five years ago about a book, and how to do something that was not what you expect from him. To take something in the American Southwest and modern Western mixed with Convoy mixed with Bullet, and to do something that was completely not what you expect from his wheelhouse. To push him the same way that Mobius does Western in Blueberry. And what comes out of it is spectacular. He really pushes himself to do things. He brings so many wonderful sensibilities to that book that you just don't see in most places. Or something like, Jerome Opeña and I talk about fantasy and he loved the idea. And I said, let's do a Jodorowsky style fantasy where we go nuts but at the core of it is just a really simple story, about a guy trying to get a bad guy to a place and the compromises that he's making along the way.
I got very fortunate in starting to work with Jerome. He was at the Academy of Art University when I was teaching there. His sketchbooks were being passed around and we ended up meeting each other. He came in to help out on Strange Girl, one of my very first books, and then that led to him joining us on Fear Agent. There wouldn't be Fear Agent without him. He was penciling by issue four to hold that thing together, Tony had gone off to do The Exterminators at Vertigo, and Fear Agent would have disappeared without Jerome Opeña. I'm very fortunate because not only have I found great artists, I found great friends and people that I identify with and love. And their staytuitiveness and their hard work are the reason these books exist and the reason I'm here.
We really liked your work on Captain America, with John Romita Jr., on Castaway in Dimension Z, we’d put it up there with Daredevil: Father.
Thank you, that's really high praise. Being assigned Captain America after Ed had done such a wonderful job on the series for so many years is a poison chalice and I knew it. No matter what you do, if I had emulated Ed perfectly, and had done espionage then the fans would have been pissed off. And so, I just went back through Jack Kirby's career. And I found when Jack Kirby had pissed the most fans off was when he had started being his most creative, is when he created Arnim Zola, was when Jack was unbridled off the chains fucking Jack Kirby. So, I just I reread that stuff and I said, "Alright, I'm going to do a love letter to when Jack got shit on by the fans and I'm going to do a love letter to Jack." I'm going to try to take his character and dig in to the Arnim Zola stuff he created and tell a human story that hopefully sheds a new light on Steve and gives him an adoptive son and just really ties that up and makes Arnim somebody who really matters to the cannon. And the character changes and then something feels like it was human and mattered to him and really dig into his past in a way that we haven't seen. Some people liked it, some people didn’t. All I can do with any of these things as bury in and pour my heart out and that's what I did on that. So, it's nice to hear when people dig it.
Maybe that's why we love Rick Remender's work so much. We can feel him pouring his heart out on to every page. Deadly Class is a humanly connected action-packed coming-of-age story, with an 80's punk vibe. While reading it, I can't help but hear an 80's soundtrack running throughout. Give it a read, if you haven't yet, and see what soundtrack plays in your head.