Spoiler alert for my end of the year lists, but Wes Craig’s Kaya? It’s certain to be there. This ongoing Image Comics series from Craig, colorist Jason Wordie, and letterer AndWorld Design has been an absolute tour de force, with this tale of a sister and brother traveling a fantasy landscape in pursuit of fulfilling the latter’s destiny and finding safety in a far off place delivering on every level it can so far. It feels like a story Craig has been waiting his entire life to tell, in all the best ways.
And in some ways, he has been.
That’s one of the many topics we discuss in today’s giant-sized art feature interview with the cartoonist. Craig and I hopped on Zoom recently and dug deep into the experience developing and crafting Kaya, the choices he’s making on the page and behind the scenes, his approach to storytelling, managing everything that comes with making a creator-owned comic, and a whole lot more. It’s a wonderful conversation with a remarkable talent, and if you haven’t read Kaya yet, I highly recommend it. This interview might convince you to do just that if you haven’t taken that journey yet.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. It’s also open to non-subscribers. If you do enjoy this conversation, consider subscribing to SKTCHD for more like it. Putting these types of conversations together takes a lot of time and effort, all of which is supported by the site’s subscribers. It helps a ton!
You’re at the end of book two of Kaya. How are you doing? You are currently living, so you at least have that. But how are you feeling?
Wes: Good. It’s a grind for sure. I didn’t give myself enough lead time on it. I jumped right from the end of Deadly Class to immediately doing the first issue of Kaya, and Deadly Class took a bit longer than we thought it would, so there’s almost overlap in the publishing schedule. The first issue of Kaya I think came out before the last issue of Deadly Class, so I’m always up against it. I’m always getting the email from Image being like, “Are the files ready yet?”
And I’m like, “Almost ready.” Once in a while I have to contact Image and be like, “We are just going to have to push this by a week.” I’m trying really hard to stick with the schedule and be reliable for comic shops and fans that pick it up. But once in a while, life happens, and you have to bump it in the schedule. But so far so good. I’ve kept up with the schedule almost completely. I think I had to bump one or two issues by a week here and there, but almost everything has stayed pretty much on a monthly schedule.
I was going to say, you are the rare Image book that is just pretty much straight up monthly.
Wes: I have questions that I like to shoot Image. They’ve been around for a long time. They have a wealth of knowledge in that creator-owned world, and they talk with comic shops. Eric Stephenson (Image’s Publisher) just put it in my head that one of the creator-owned problems is late shipping. People just not catching up to their deadlines because they’re doing it themselves. It’s not like a DC and Marvel thing where they throw in an artist to fill the gap. You’re doing the whole thing.
And (Stephenson) was like Saga, Walking Dead, and some of our bestselling titles, there’s a million factors that lead to that. They are great comics. But also, they are good at sticking to their schedule. The Walking Dead came out like clockwork when it was coming out. And Saga, aside obviously from when they announced their big break, aside from that though, before that they managed to stay pretty consistent in the first 54.
Are you enjoying the process so far, even if it is a lot?
Wes: I love it. I loved working on Deadly Class. Deadly Class was almost my ideal situation where at the end of the day, I just want to write and draw my own worlds. And working for DC and Marvel. I got to draw Spider-Man and Superman and all these things. You get to check those off your list of things that you grew up loving.
But ever since I was a little kid, I didn’t write stories that were fan fiction of superheroes. It was always my own ideas. I would write and draw them. I did pinups of Wolverine or whatever character I was into, but I also did panel to panel sequential storytelling with my own worlds. It was where I’ve always felt the most comfortable.
And Deadly Class, because Rick was so good at including me on figuring out the stories, I felt very involved.I didn’t just feel like an artist hired by a writer. But at the end of the day, it was nine years of doing that and then hopefully I get to do my own thing when Deadly Class is over. That’s what I was looking forward to doing. I said, “If I’m ever going to take that leap and if there’ll be enough people to hopefully follow me over and make it successful enough to keep doing it, now’s the time.” So that’s what I did. So far so good. It’s a tough go for sure, but people seem to appreciate it and it’s going pretty well.
So, you said Deadly Class was the ideal project besides one thing. Is the one thing just having the ability to tell a story that you wanted to tell?
Wes: Yeah. Just being the writer/artist of a thing, that’s the ideal. Just creating my own world. If I could do that for the rest of my life, I’d be very happy. That’s really all I’ve ever wanted to do is just write and draw my own stuff. It’s awesome. Working with Rick, you learn a lot from a person whose pure focus is being a writer. I learned a lot doing that. I learned a lot from everybody that I’ve worked with. But at the end of the day, writing and drawing my own stuff is just the best.
And after nine years of working in the relatively realistic world of Deadly Class…it’s just a nice break to do a different genre. There’s a reason why this one is as wild as I can make it. There’s flying giant bats (laughs) and crazy godlike creatures and all kinds of fantasy type tropes. And one of the reasons for that is after doing a realistic, relatively grounded series for that many years, you really want to do something else.
You said you learned a lot from Rick. That makes sense. When you work with a collaborator, you learn their perspective, you learn how they approach comics. You learned some of the professional stuff. But I imagine you’ve learned a lot from Kaya too because you’ve been just doing everything so fast. You’ve been trying to churn this out. What do you think the biggest thing you’ve learned so far from the experience?
Wes: The first thing that comes to me is that I did quite a bit of stuff before the first issue, despite what I’m saying about always being up against the deadlines. I did a lot of preliminary stuff before it came out, and I’m so thankful I did that. Because just promo wise and stuff, I had built up some covers, and I had a bunch of stuff lined up that allows me to keep up with those deadlines.
I had written the first two story arcs before I started drawing the first issue. That helps. I had up until issue number 11 or 12 done, and I knew where I was going with it. Even dialogue, thumbnails…everything was very figured out. Coming up with things on the fly is not one of my strong points. I like things to be set up beforehand. That’s how I work best, so that helped a lot.
When did you get back into writing? When did you start on, let’s say number 12, which is the issue that falls immediately after the second arc…did you write that while you were in the first arc or is that something that you got to as you needed to get to it?
Wes: The third story arc was written. There was dialogue, but there weren’t thumbnails, so the visuals weren’t completely figured out, but I can look at my own writing and pretty much figure out what… It is not like the writer and artist thing where I have to explain it. I know this shot has to be this, the camera has to be here, et cetera. So that was worked out.
I’m not sure exactly when that got figured out, but I feel like that’s been done since before Kaya started. It’s weird. I didn’t know if it was going to be successful, but I said to myself one way or the other, I’m going to find a way to do this whole story. I’m super invested in it, so even if it flops, I will find some way to make it happen, Kickstarter or whatever else.
I’m pretty sure you said that in the back of the book. Something like, “No matter what I’m doing this.”
Wes: Yeah, which sounds a little bit like BS because a lot of creators say that, so you never know if the people are truthful about that. But I mean it. (laughs) Sometimes people say ongoing series and then it ends up being a miniseries or whatever. I mean it though. That third story arc, though…that’s where I stopped. I’m currently writing the fourth story arc, so I’m playing catch up a little bit. I have them structured. I know where I want to go. But I don’t have it broken down in terms of individual pages. It’s maybe a few paragraphs of what each story arc is going to be for number four, five, et cetera.
I like that the third story arc has a full out name. Kaya in the Temple of Shazir. It reminds me of Indiana Jones obviously, but I always liked how Andrew McLean always would title his Head Lopper arcs. It wasn’t just Head Lopper volume one or two. There was always a fun name to it. That just adds this little bit of spice to it.
Wes: Yeah, I think Head Lopper and Kaya have a lot of Conan influence, so it’s a lot of that. Obviously, the Temple of Shazir, it sounds like Temple of Doom, but definitely the Conan Adventures. There’s going to be stories that come out where it’s going to be even more like Conan, where it’s like “Kaya the Buccaneer” or “Kaya the Thief.” Conan always had his different roles through those old original novels like Conan the Pirate, or Conan the King or whatever. So that’s the inspiration for that.
You’ve learned a fair amount from this experience, but what have you found to be the biggest challenge to soloing a project like this?
Wes: Just all the extra stuff around it that isn’t drawing the pages. There’s just always something that you need to get done. You need to have covers months ahead of time. Again, it helps that I’ve figured out the coming beats because it’s like how do you make covers when you don’t know where you’re going to go three months ahead of time? (laughs) What if you’re writing it month to month? So, you do that and then they’ll say, “Okay, we need the cover for the next trade paperback,” and that’s even more months in advance.
Promotional materials, lining up other people to do variant covers and making sure that they can get it in on time. You’re just trying to draw the comic and there’s always an email that takes you away from that. When it goes to the printer, you need to take some time to look over every page and make sure that nothing is wrong and then press “Okay, print.” That’s a little anxiety inducing. There’s a bunch of people checking out the pages to make sure that there’s no spelling mistakes or anything else, but mistakes happen.
You did all the variants yourself for the first arc, didn’t you?
And now you have others doing them. Andrew Maclean did one. Didn’t you have Daniel Warren Johnson do one?
And Tula Lotay, Jesse Lonergan, James Harren, Matteo Scalera. And you have a bunch more coming. Oh my God, you have Lee Gatlin doing one?
Wes: I did. It’s so good.
Oh my god. I love Lee Gatlin. That is a very inspired choice.
It is interesting that you went from soloing those to bringing on variant artists. Was part of that the promotional side and just trying to get more attention on the book?
Wes: Yeah, I think it’s something that occurred to me in the first arc. I thought it would be cool to show people some of my inspirations for this book, to give people a feel for what kind of book this was going to be. So, for the first story arc, I did a play on a Kirby cover, an Adventure Time cover, a Hellboy, a Frank Frazetta Conan cover, and a Mœbius cover. I tried to do the style of each of those artists to varying degrees of success. I can do a pretty good Kirby and Mignola, but it’s a little bit tougher to do a Mœbius and especially a Frank Frazetta.
Apparently, I can’t just become a master oil painter in a matter of a few days. (laughs)
Come on, Wes.
Wes: I know. I did my best. I think there were two aspects to that. Honestly, just trying to keep expenses down where I didn’t have to pay an artist to do those first five covers. (laughs) I love drawing in other people’s styles too. So that just seemed fun to me. And then I was like, “Okay, I can’t keep that going.” It eats up time. Every day I do those variant covers, it’s a day I don’t do the actual pages of comic. So, I decided when the second story arc comes around, I’m going to contact everybody whose art I love and that I’m friends with and see if we can make something happen. That’s what I did for the second arc.
That’s awesome. It’s a very good list.
Wes: Yeah, and for the next story, there’s Lee (Gatlin). I only know him online, but I got Michael Cho and Dani and a bunch of others. I’ve been lucky so far.
I just did this piece on creator-owned comics, and one of the consistent things that people brought up was how the marketing side and trying to build a readership and everything like that is basically a full-time job unto itself. How has the experience of trying to not just build but maintain a readership been? Because that seems to be tough. It’s not just about launching; it’s about carrying on past that. Has that been something you’ve had to put in an unexpected amount of time to?
Wes: Yeah. I knew that that would be tough. But yeah, how do we rev the engines a little bit every new story arc and try to get a few more readers to check it out. You make it as accessible as possible to new readers, but it’s hard once you get into the third, fourth story arc. There are aspects that are…I don’t want to explain everything that’s happening. So, at the beginning of each comic, I have a bit of a “previously in Kaya”, just so people can pick it up and hopefully not be completely lost.
But it is very difficult for sure. You’re on social media and you’re beating the drum, but you’re like, “How many people that are getting this are just people that would be picking up the comic anyway?” What you’re trying to do is reach more people. If they’re already buying it, they’re already buying it, and if it’s on their pull list and they’re enjoying it, you don’t really need to say anything online because that’s all they need. They’ll be picking it up anyway. So yeah, trying to figure out interesting ways of reaching more people and not doing it in some huckstery or gimmicky way is a little tough. (laughs)
Some things occur to you once in a while, like, “Oh, that would probably reach a bunch of people. However, I would feel gross after I did it.” (laughs) Just promotion in general has a certain gross feeling to it. There’s a level where you’re getting stuff out there and sharing stuff with people, and then there’s other levels where it just feels a bit like I’m trying too hard. So yeah, it’s tough to keep that audience.
Every issue for every comic in the world except for rare ones like Something is Killing the Children, Saga, The Walking Dead, et cetera, every issue goes down in numbers and you’re just trying to keep revving the engines each story arc and try to keep it as high as possible so you can keep going.
A lot of those readers move over to trade paperbacks, so you never know how many of them are migrating completely away from your comic or who is just saying, “Okay, I like this. I’m going to wait for the trades from now on.” Which is something I do all the time in my reading, but when you see the sales numbers from Image each issue, it’s a little bit less than the previous issue. You don’t know if those people are just gone or if they’re just moving over to the trade.
We also don’t know if it’s just retailers have dropped their orders slightly and it has nothing to do with the readers.
Who knows? It’s a mystery.
Wes: Recently, issue number 12…it jumped up. Why? It jumped up, but there was also an extra variant cover. A Walking Dead anniversary variant cover. But even if you completely take that out of the numbers, it still was higher than the previous issue. I don’t know why. I’m just happy for it. (laughs)
I want to bring this page up for several reasons. But I think this part finds you really slowing readers down. This type of page is not one you would find in a lot of books. It’s all small moments, it’s slow, it’s contemplative, but in a really good way. It brings you in. And particularly with the third row of panels where Runt looks at Jin and slowly turns away and then says, “You’s a fool, human.” I really love that beat. But it did make me think about pacing. How much do you think of pacing the read and the reader with this series?
Wes: A lot. It’s tough too because I am trying to keep it on a monthly schedule. I can’t make every issue 40 pages. I have to make it a month’s worth of work or a little bit over that, so I have to squeeze certain things in. But some scenes…they have to have that. They have to have the space to breathe, and that’s the thing that bugs me the most when I reread the issue after it’s printed. I always find there’s moments where things happens too fast. I never say, “I stretched this moment out too long.”
The thing that bugs me is always a moment that happens too fast and a bit of dialogue that feels like it happens a second after the previous panel, but actually it should take longer for this person to react or whatever. That’s why I do a lot of these wordless panels where it’s somebody thinking. And another thing about that, just comic storytelling wise…I find those silent panels, that’s when the reader can really get into the head of the character. It makes the reader stop for a second and ask, “What are they thinking?” If you’re not spelling it out…there’s no thought bubble of saying what they’re thinking, you have to guess, and I feel like that involves you more in the story, so it’s a nice trick to use.
It made me appreciate Runt, actually. I feel bad for Runt. I have a lot of sympathy for Runt. But I did want to compliment two bits in particular here. I love how the first panel is all in shadow, and then how you show that the look and turn away from Runt. Those two beats, they’re really beautifully done. Some people might look at the third row of panels and not think too much of it, but I think that you doing that is a mission statement for Kaya and the types of things you value.
But like I said, those beats are things that someone wouldn’t typically include, not just from a pacing standpoint, but just because, theoretically, if you were just talking about base nutrients of comic book storytelling, you could just have the, “You’s a fool, human,” line in there and it would be fine. What guides you as you figure out the type of beats you want to include?
Wes: For this example we’re talking about, he’s not sure right away. It’s not an immediate, “Forget you, Jin. You’re an idiot.” It takes him a minute. He’s thinking, “I would like to do that, but I’ll be in trouble if I do. I have an obligation to my family.” So, he’s taking a second to think about it. I think if you just put the panel saying, “You’s a fool,” I think if you just had that, it would read more as an immediate, “There’s no way I’m going to do that for you.” Whereas he is taking a second to think about it, so it just hurts that much worse when he gets in trouble for it afterwards.
You’re right, it does help you understand that he has complicated feelings about this. I imagine to some degree he sees himself in Jin and in his situation. He’s in a place he doesn’t really want to be with a bunch of people that don’t really like him very much.
So, one other thing I wanted to bring up is Jason Wordie. There’s some really color work on this page. He’s the colorist of the series. I love the watercolor and the wash look he brings this page. I know some of that is you, but what has he been bringing to Kaya so far? Because it’s a beautiful book and I think Jason’s a big part of it.
Wes: Yeah, it’s a mix for sure. I do watercolor. Like midtones, and then he plays with that and just adds a lot. I saw him on First Knife, another Image comic he was coloring, and I loved that. It had certain similarities to Kaya, so I thought he might be a good fit. And man, the first stuff he colored was that first issue with Kaya and Jin in the desert and it feels hot, it feels dry. You feel like you’re in the desert. It really puts you in that place.
And I was like, “He nailed it.” And that’s what he does with every scene. You can feel the moisture of the forest when you’re there, you can feel that jungle-y, hot atmosphere and stuff. And yeah, I just find he makes it very three-dimensional. He adds a lot of stuff in the front and the back. With say, dust getting kicked up in the front or things fading out atmospherically in the far distance. He’s amazing. I don’t know what I would do if he wasn’t on the book. It’s really a perfect mix, I think.
This page finds Jin dealing internally with a problem he’s facing. It’s just your classic run-of-the-mill 23 or so panel page. It did make me wonder, have you found yourself experimenting with how dense you can get with a page or was this more about this being the right answer for those pages with Jin?
Wes: This happens in Jin’s fever dream. I color that stuff. As you can tell, it’s not too hard to color. It’s just one tone, really. Yellow and black and white. The stuff I used to do on Deadly Class was messing with page compositions and storytelling a lot more, being a bit more experimental, and I still want to do that. I still love doing that. But Kaya in general, I wanted the storytelling to be a bit simpler because I’d like a kid to be able to look at Kaya and still enjoy it. So, I needed to simplify the storytelling a little bit.
But the fever dream stuff is my chance to go a little bit crazier with the layouts, so it’s just experimenting. It resembles some of the stuff in Deadly Class. Marcus tripping out resembles some of that stuff a bit more than most of what I’ve been doing in Kaya. And doing a monthly series, it’s nice to stretch out and try some different things. So that’s my opportunity to…I think every time Jin goes into this world — maybe he’ll be continuing to go into this world — it’ll be my chance to play with different styles and different layouts.
I think it was interesting how you mentioned the word simple. You look at this page and it’s not simple. It’s 23 panels, but at the same time, the fourth row of panels is just Jin himself being boiled down into symbols. That’s the thing I think is fascinating about this page. It really felt like this section was you going as dense as possible while also as simple as possible, which is a fascinating blend and one that works.
Wes: You need to keep it as simple as possible, I think, because it’s just too much. It’s already a little daunting seeing that many panels, so you don’t want to fill it with too much text or too much detail. It’s trying to get the right balance.
The second arc with these fever dreams and with Jin on his own, it really feels like he started to figure out his chosen one nature, and maybe some less good things are coming in as well. Was this second arc more about Jin and his evolution than anything else for you, getting him into the position he needs to be as Kaya and him move on to the next stage of their adventure?
Wes: Yeah. It took me a while to get there, really. But by the end of it, he’s more where he should be, and now it’s him achieving something at the end of this story arc. Not to spoil anything but getting to a certain point at the end of the story arc, it also changes Kaya and how Kaya reacts to him or how Kaya will be reacting to him in the next story arc. She’s more of a true believer now that she’s seen what Jin is capable of.
But I needed to put him through his paces, and I needed him to earn it over the course of the first arc. It took a long time, but you need to give that some space. He needed to go through some stuff if he was going to achieve something. He had to go through the gutter a little bit, even though he’s a little kid.
I think this is an interesting one from a world-building standpoint. It’s not like these ghost deer are going to be showing up all the time, but it’s a type of thing that you can put in there and it adds a lot. You have this part where Runt explains a ghost deer and it’s young, and he says, “You people call this place the Poison Lands, but there be beauty here too.” I thought that was nice because, well, two things. One, it shows how expansive and interesting and beautiful this world can be. And two, it shows how the people within it can misunderstand it. How important is that world-building element and expanding on our perspective on these places as you go through them?
Wes: It’s super important to me. I think you can tell, because that page, or at least a section of that page, has nothing to do with the actual plot. It’s not moving the story forward. It’s not showing anything more about the characters. It’s not doing the storytelling 101 type stuff that you learn. But I needed a moment where these guys are supposed to all be villains. The people from the Poison Lands. They’re just a bunch of evil people, and through Runt and through some of the stuff in the Poison Lands, I needed to show that that’s what people think that world is.
But obviously that’s more of an outsider view. It’s a simplistic view of a foreign people that they want to just say, those people are all evil. So, I can’t have anybody, even to a certain degree, the Atrians, the robots. It’s like they’re all evil, but over time, there’s going to be more complexity than that. You can’t have a whole entire people that are all just nonstop evil all the time.
That’s one of my favorite things about the book. You take the time to show things like this because it enriches the world. I don’t know if it fits whatsoever into the overall inspirational lexicon for you, but Hayao Miyazaki is the obvious comp here with the deer and going into the forest and seeing the wonder there. And that’s one thing he always values as a storyteller…taking those moments that don’t have anything to do with the plot but enrich the story overall. And I really appreciate that you do that because it does add a lot.
Wes: If you don’t overdo it, I think it can also just lead to the feeling of it being a real world. It being real events happening to real people, not just characters in a plot. Because in real life, it is nothing but random coincidences that happen to us on a daily basis. It’s not like every single thing we experience through our day connects perfectly to our personalities and our goals that we’re trying to achieve and all this stuff. There’s a bunch of random shit, so it’s nice to put the occasional thing in there that has nothing to do with the plot. I think that makes it feel a little more real.
I just want to compliment the TOK. It feels very Mignola.
Wes: Oh, man. There’s so much Mignola stuff in there. I want so bad for her to just have a big giant word balloon that says “BOOM,” but that’s taken already. I can’t do that.
I have a quick Kaya question. Kaya the character. One of the things I think is interesting about this arc is that you take her arm away. That’s the thing that makes her “special.” But it isn’t really what makes her special. Was it important to take Kaya’s arm away from her for this arc if only to show that she’s more than having a super cool robot arm?
Wes: Yeah, I think it’s always putting them up against it and just seeing what…You come up with certain different ideas about different challenges they’re going to face, and as you’re writing, you’re brainstorming different ideas. Some of them hit you and go, “Oh, man, that would be a good one.” And that was just one of those. It’s like, “What if her arm got taken off for this?” I don’t think it was supposed to be for almost the whole arc, but it just became that way.
And I think that’s just a good one to put her up against. I won’t be using that one for the next little while. That’s the only problem. You use that once and then you’re like, “I can’t take her arm away for the next while. I can’t keep ringing that bell.” But it’s a good one for sure. It makes you see what she’s capable of, and she’s still capable without her incredible power arm that she’s able to smash things with.
I think this one is interesting because it is also very dense. It’s got a lot going on, and I think to some degree — and I don’t mean this in a bad way — but to some degree it felt like issue #11 had to carry a lot of weight for some of the moments where you paced yourself a little slower earlier on. 11 had a lot happening. It was very fast and there were some pretty dense pages. Did you find that you had to compress some things in the latter half of arc two, or did it just come together as planned?
Wes: Yeah, I think the writing overall of the second arc is better than the first arc as you would hope. You just try to get better as you go. But that is one of those, maybe not novice mistakes, but it happens to a lot of writers where you give yourself a bit of space in the first few issues, and then that last issue, it becomes a lot of plot. You have to wrap everything up. So yeah, there’s aspects where originally it was probably two pages and I had to smush it down into one page, and that makes it a little bit too dense.
I think rereading it afterwards, I felt like I wrapped it up a little bit too quick. The ending happens out of nowhere, which I wanted to do to a certain degree. I didn’t want to give them this huge triumphant moment or whatever. I wanted them to be like kids when it’s chaos everywhere. What would you do if you were a kid? Even if you’re Kaya, you’d go, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” You’d run as fast as you can to get away from that stuff. But at the same time, yeah, I looked at it and I was like, I wish there was an extra page here to give it a bit more room to breathe. That’s something that I did, and hopefully on the third story arc, each issue will be a bit more balanced in that way.
You make it work though. I think that’s one of the things that’s always amazing about your books. Kaya in particular. No matter the problem, you always find a layout solution. I can’t think of a time that I’ve seen a 10-panel page that looked anything like that before. And it seems like when it comes to layouts, you’re very inventive about it, and you find a way to find clarity in the chaos, if that makes sense.
Wes: I try to. There are little tricks. You use silhouettes, you use this panel of Vox where he’s shocked. I use that when there’s an emotionally jarring moment. I’ll say, “Don’t include the background here.” So, you focus on the character, but also it helps the reader’s eye just breathe a little bit. If you picture there was background on that white panel, it would just be that much more stuff to take in when you flip the page.
So, I think panels with no backgrounds and silhouettes and keeping the composition relatively simple in each panel, that helps not jam up the page too much. There’s quite a bit of text though. It’d be nice if there was a little bit less text. I try to edit that stuff down as much as humanly possible, but a certain amount of information has to be conveyed, and that’s just how it works.
This one is even more revved up in energy. I have to ask before we get into this…how weird is it looking back on your art sometimes?
Wes: No, it actually works pretty well. When I get the actual issues from Image though, I flip through everything and I only see the mistakes. It’s really annoying. I need to look at it to make sure that I have things lined up and I’m not forgetting stuff, but I would like to not look at it until maybe a year later.
When I look at my stuff and it’s a year old, I can look at it and go, “It’s pretty good.” I can be a bit more forgiving. But when I just drew it the night before, while I was drawing it, generally I think it’s pretty good. And then once it’s printed, I go, “Ugh.” It’s always just the little things. Some hand looks weird or little things that other people will pass by, but you drive yourself crazy over.
This is when everything really popping off and we’re getting into fight town. What is the key to bringing an action sequence and all this energy to the page? Do you find that you have a specific approach to this? Because there’s a version of this page where it’s laid out differently and it doesn’t work nearly as well, but this one is amazing because it shows our key players in peril amidst all the chaos. What do you feel is the key to making one of these action sequences work?
Wes: Jason did an amazing job with the colors showing that there’s three factions going at each other, because two of the factions are mutants. There’s one faction that’s the ruling mutants, another faction that’s the previously ruling mutants, and a third one that’s the robot army. So, he does an amazing job of separating those with the colors.
And sometimes you see it visually a little bit more like a movie or something, and it’s like, “How do I express that in a comic book page?” It’s one of those things where, like you said, everything’s popping off. This whole page all happens at the same moment. It’s just showing each aspect as they’re all shaking their spears and swords and going, “Oh, let’s fight.” And putting Kaya and Jin in there and just showing you their reaction to what’s going on, or Jin’s lack of reaction because he doesn’t know what’s going on because he’s asleep.
Yeah, he’s in sleepy town. Dreaming of 23 panels.
Wes: There’s just little things, like I tilt the panel layouts and have it almost like the compositions are weird, where it’s like the panel borders are not really holding the characters in very well. It’s not very well composed, but that adds to the feeling that they’re charging so quick that the camera can’t quite capture what they’re doing. It feels a little bit like if it was real, the camera would be wobbling right now, and it’d be a stampede, basically.
I did want to bring up one thing that is, I would say, a semi consistent element of Kaya, and it’s not something I really see elsewhere. Circle panels. You do a few circle panels. Is that just a thing you like?
Wes: I just like them. It stands out. It’s old school in some ways. But yeah, I just like the look of them. The mixture of square and circle is an aesthetically pleasing thing to me.
It reminds me of, I think it was in Casablanca. I saw it not that long ago, and there’s a scene where it ends and it zooms in and just stops and has the circle around the character, and then it closes off before moving to the next scene. It really adds to the focus and the energy it brings to it. And you don’t really see a lot of circle panels in comics. I like it a lot.
Wes: Yeah, me too. It breaks it up. It’s a little bit like having the no background thing. Anything that’s visually different from the rest of what’s going on, it’ll make the reader stop for a second. So, it is all little tools and tricks to help control the flow of the story, really, which is a huge thing. The story won’t work unless it moves.
You have to do everything you can to control the pacing of the story. Some people are just geniuses at it, and some people like myself, we’re just trying to master that by seeing what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes you try something, you go, “It didn’t really speed it up or slow it down the way that I thought it would,” and so you just strike that off your list and you try some new stuff after that.
So, we talked about this element before, but in regards to world-building, one thing I really like is how the first arc had Kaya and Gin and their people, and you had a glance at the robots, and then you also had the lizard folks. Is Seth the one with the amazing hair?
And then this arc, you had the mutants and more of the robots, and you had… God, who are the people that Seth was getting married into? I forgot.
Wes: They’re the fish-people. Goro Bay.
The fish people. But this page shows a good cross section of the people of the Poison Lands. You always keep bringing new people into it. Is that something you really love about this experience? Expanding the world and its people and highlighting just how wild this world is?
Wes: Yeah, I think a lot of it is keeping myself interested on a monthly book. It’s just month after month after month. So, one of those things is you give yourself new worlds to invent. I had drawn all the sketches for the Poison Lands, again, while I was doing Deadly Class. I was looking forward to getting to this. As I was drawing the first story arc, I was like, “It’s going to be really cool when we get to the Poison Lands.”
And when I drew that first big layout of the world, it got me super excited. I was like, “Oh, we’re here.” This stuff’s going to go down with Jin, and there’s certain things that I know are going to happen. There’s a big character that’s coming in the third story arc. He’s on the cover of one of those issues. And I just got so excited. This character has existed in my head for 10 years and I’m finally able to bring him into reality in a way.
But yeah, that’s one of those things. They’re going to keep moving. It’s an odyssey. It’s an adventure. They’re working their way across the land towards a goal eventually. And they’re going to keep experiencing new worlds, and this is the Poison Lands. The next place they go is to more of a proper ancient Babylonian style city with a rocket ship from space that is crashed. And a town was built around that. That’s the temple.
They’re just going to keep experiencing new places. And the trick for me is to figure out…I don’t want to just leave all these characters behind. You get attached to certain characters, and the readers get attached to certain characters. Some of those characters might make their way into the story again in the future. I just have to figure out how to make it natural and how to make it feel like that’s what would happen.
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