‘Dead Legends II’ Writer James Maddox & Artist Gavin Smith: The Conskipper Interview

James Maddox and Gavin Smith’s Dead Legends franchise returns to comic book shops this month with the brand-new sequel, Dead Legends II, courtesy of A Wave Blue World. We spoke with the writer and artist behind this engaging martial arts epic series and asked them all the things you want to know about the production, design, and characters of the book!

What was your favorite part about returning to Dead Legends with Volume 2? What part of the process this time around came easiest to you, and what was most challenging and why?

James Maddox: Revisiting our crew after letting time pass between volumes was what initially drew me in. Rather than following up with the last page of volume one directly, I had some fun coming up with a timeline of events and figuring out ways to drop in those moments throughout volume two. Then once I was past the entrance with that motivation, the ensuing story swept me up. I was really happy with how these particular characters have strong personalities that made their actions and decisions solid, but working with such a large cast was always going to be a challenge. Luckily, the story and the fights flowed smoothly to the last page. 

Gavin Smith: Just returning to Dead Legends II was my favorite part! I had to cram in about 3 projects between the end of Volume 1 and beginning of 2, so it was nice to get back to the characters we created. Probably the most challenging thing was the new characters we brought in. I had only really drawn them once on the final page of Volume 1, and to integrate them into our world was a great challenge. 

Volume 1 of Dead Legends mainly took place throughout the course of a martial arts tournament. Without giving too much away, the first couple of issues of Volume 2 open up the story to a much wider scope in terms of plot and setting. How did the new locations and story elements of Volume 2 influence your creative process on the book? How is the writing and artwork similar, and how has it evolved? 

Maddox: I definitely saw the need to open up the world and show more of the Dead Legends as an organization with influence in that world. I also wanted to see how our characters would interact with different settings and circumstances. And I loved the result. Whether it’s with ninja assassins or burly biker dudes, our group delivers on action and drama. The only major difference is embracing the larger scope of our world building in this new volume while trying to maintain the interesting character development we put forward in volume one. 

Smith: I loved getting to expand the world of Dead Legends into the real world. Getting a chance to draw normal people doing normal things is some of my favorite stuff to draw. I definitely entered a comfort zone in the tournament setting, so to get to stretch my wings a bit and draw different environments was a blast. 

Some of the fight sequences in Dead Legends contain plenty of dialogue and wise cracks between the combatants, while in others the characters remain silent during brutal action. How did you collaborate on these sequences and find the right balance of speech and action during the fighting scenes in this series? 

Maddox: For the majority of the fight sequences, Gavin definitely has free reign to choreograph a spectacle that will draw readers in. I’ll sometimes have bullet points for things I need to happen, or things I would like to have said during a fight, so we just see each other’s needs for any particular scene and make it work. 

Smith: Working with James is probably the truest collaboration I’ve ever had in comics. Instead of being dictated scene by scene, James trusts me to to build a fight with a through story. A lot of the time in the more serious fights we love to let the action speak for itself. 

One of my favorite things about Dead Legends is the character designs. How did you go about creating each character’s look, and what are the kinds of things you considered when deciding on their costumes, styles, body characteristics, etc.?

Maddox: Basically, Gavin and I talk over a specific character and give input on what we’d like to see on the page, but then it’s in Gavin’s hands to make it look perfect. So far, he’s hit the mark with every character that we’ve discussed. 

Smith: We definitely talk out every character that we come up with. Each of us came to the table with a couple of ideas for characters… I came in with Blind Tiger, James came up with Damon… we each had seeds of ideas for Yan and built her together, and we can’t decide which one of us created Red Death. But I definitely try to give each character a unique characteristic so that they stand out and become iconic within our story. 

Given the distinct looks and characteristics of each character in Dead Legends, readers have all sorts of favorite characters from the book. Who is your favorite character to write or draw? How come? Given the fact that Dead Legends pulls no punches with unexpected character deaths, do either of you have a character you wish lived longer in the series?

Maddox: For Volume 1, it was a toss up between Yan, Red Death and Damon, but Barbosa really pulled me in with Volume 2. He was a fun character earlier, but in this latest story, we get to see a full range of his humor, strength and emotional connection to Yoshi (Yan’s daughter), which heavily struck me as I was writing this as my son was about the same age as Yoshi.

Smith: My answer for favorite to draw changes from page to page. I feel like in this run we give each character a chance to shine on their own. Red Death probably has some of my favorite scenes I’ve ever drawn for a comic… but they’re all my darlings. In volume one when we (SPOILER, highlight white text to reveal!) killed Blind Tiger, as much as I love him…I actually didn’t feel too bad about it. This is our book so we get to do what we want, so nobody is saying we can or can’t kill anybody. Although… sometimes James has to pull me back because I want to kill everyone and just turn the story on it’s head as much as possible. 

Now that Volume 2 will be making its way to comic shops over the coming months, are there any plans for a third volume of Dead Legends? Could you please let our readers know about any other projects you will be working on next?

Maddox: We’ve already been putting together ideas to complete a full trilogy for these characters, so hopefully, we’ll be able to speak about the specifics soon. That volume is getting my full attention for the foreseeable future, but outside of that, there will also be a definitive print edition of my previously published digital series Metaphorical HER (Webtoon) being released through Rocketship Entertainment in the coming months.

Smith: James and I got together recently and started planning out our third and final volume of Dead Legends and I’m super excited to get back to it! However, I’m going to be tied up until next summer working on Star Trek: The Mirror War for IDW (First issue drops October 6th!) Dead Legends III is definitely my next priority, but I’ve got a couple other irons in the fire down the line. 

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