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Comic-Book Fantasy Nears TV Reality

Rick Remender has a habit of quitting other people’s dream jobs because he just can’t give up on his own designs.
The punk-rock comic-book artist and Paradise Canyon Elementary School dad has skipped out on gigs with Marvel, with Electronic Arts video games and teaching at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University.
It’s because he’s addicted, he said, to creating his own stories from scratch: “There’s nothing that can compare to taking thin air and then having a book — and someone could read that and maybe you tried to sprinkle in philosophy and thoughtful things, and maybe someone walked away with something. What’s more powerful than that, to take thin air and do that?”
Now, one of his wholly original “whole-cloth” stories is on the verge of making it on the air.
“Deadly Class,” Remender’s memoir-wrapped-in-a-crime-thriller series, is set to become a live-action TV show. It’s been optioned by Sony and is to be produced by Joe and Anthony Russo, the brothers whose credits include a pair of “Captain America” movies and TV successes “Community” and “Arrested Development.”
There are a few hurdles left to clear, said Remender, whose attempts to curb his enthusiasm are growing more difficult as the project moves forward.
“Deadly Class” takes place at King’s Dominion High School for the Deadly Arts, a clandestine institution dedicated to educating assassins. “Take Holden Caulfield and drop him into ‘Lord of the Flies,’” is how Remender describes it.
This isn’t “Spider-Man” or “Dr. Strangelove.”
“It is trying to tell stories that are potentially profound and unique and different and identifiable in a way that superhero comics can’t be,” Remender, 43, said.
The protagonist is a homeless, orphaned teen named Marcus Lopez Arguello. He’s recruited to attend a high school typical for its peer pressure and jealousy, but where, as the book’s jacket reads, “the dagger in your back is no metaphor.”
“The violence can feel over-the-top at times, and I did that on purpose,” said Remender, who collaborated on the series with artist Wes Craig. “There are aspects of it that almost should feel cartoon-y, in the [Quentin] Tarantino-stylistic-violence way where, somehow, that makes it entertaining as opposed to gut-churning and terrible. And it is a fine line to walk, because at the same time, I have something to say about violence and I want to show the emotional consequences.”
Remender’s prolific work for the big comic-book companies and for himself has earned him something of a hero’s status in the expanding world of graphic storytelling. In the foreword of the first volume of “Black Science,” another original graphic novel by Remender, James Robinson writes that the work is “sometimes fresh and funny, sometimes dark and sad, and a series unlike anything before it.”
As for the diverse “Deadly Class” cast, it’s populated by characters who, often, are not the stone-cold killers they appear to be. Many of them, in fact, were inspired by real-life friends of Remender’s from his rough upbringing in Arizona.
“Phoenix, in the late ’80s and mid-to-early-’90s, was very violent,” Remender said. “I was beaten pretty near death three times. I saw a guy get shot in the head. A friend of mine was shot in the back while we were fleeing a fight. Another friend of mine killed himself after trying to get clean from heroin. There was a lot of gnarly stuff going on.”
From those experiences came “Deadly Class,” an especially personal example of the type of novel ideas for graphic storytelling that Remender spent years cultivating — often in his free time, and for years without an audience.
“He has worked from the bottom up, it hasn’t come easy,” wife Danni Remender said. “He became a writer through sheer will and spending any additional time he had working on his craft.”
“I’d got get jobs that I should’ve been happy to have, and I would do them until I had just enough money so I wasn’t terrified and then I would quit and make as many comics as I could,” Remender said. “And I would hope they would sell. But no one was really buying independent comics back then, so it was a hard road. For sure, I failed. But it’s a sickness.”
It was around 2005 that Remender’s work started to gain traction, as he moved from San Francisco to Portland, and then to Newport Beach and La Cañada Flintridge. He arrived in LCF with Danni and their children Edith, 7, and Tommy, 5, a little more than two years ago, enticed, he said, by the reputation of the local schools.
Remender jokes about gunfights and gangs in LCF and “what a pulpy character this town is,” but he’s serious when he says there’s something punk rock about his new home.
“As an old punk rocker, community is really important to me,” Remender said. “On some level, when you’re moving into a nice place where there are trees and people care about how things look, there’s still some of that grumbly 18-year-old in me who assumes it’s going to be a bunch of rich [jerks].
“But it hasn’t been; everybody’s super-friend. And as you get older you do kind of recognize that the ideas that are inherent in the community that I loved growing up are prevalent in a lot of different places. All humans have that tribal need for a group of like-minded people who are looking out for each other, and we’ve really found that here.”


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