Creating comics is challenging, but publishing comics is a Herculean task. I remember the day, sitting at my desk, reading my very first completed creator owned comic and filled with pride and enthusiasm, then thinking to myself… What the hell do I do now? Sure I knew I had to get the comic out there to readers. I had to build a readership. I had to print some copies and do conventions. But the logistics on how to complete these goals, the finances required, where should I start… I had no idea. I searched the web, desperate for some guidance, looking for someone who has been down the road before, that wasn’t afraid to tell the truth about the road ahead of me, and I couldn’t find anything.
No one was talking about numbers or finance. No one was talking about digital versus print. No one was talking about creating press lists and marketing the book. It seemed that every article I would read, a creator simply printed some books and sold out instantly and was doing great in life. While I was a relative rookie when it came to comics, I know enough about business to understand that the math I was reading just didn’t make sense. I was banging my head against the wall, frustrated and lost, when a friend suggested I check out JIM ZUB. I checked out his website and was blow away. Here was everything I was looking for, neatly organized into tutorials on the right side of the page, open and honest discussions about the business of comics, the craft of making comics, the art of selling. It was a peek behind the curtain of the all-powerful Oz and the foundation from which I would begin my journey.
I continued to browse the site and started to discover more about Jim Zub’s body of work. SKULLKICKERS looked awesome. Something about Edwin Huang’s art brought me back to that nostalgic manga infused art style I loved so much in the 90’s. The story itself, an action-comedy set in a world that leapt straight from a classic RPG game and onto the page, centered around Rex and Rolf, two butt kicking warriors with an attitude, it blends action with heart and humor. Then there is CONAN & RED SONJA, from Dark Horse comics the two legendary pulp/fantasy characters together for their first team up in years, co-written by Gail Simone (if you aren’t reading her run on RED SONJA at Dynamite you are missing out), it is an epic adventure, sprawled over different periods in the Hyborian Age, and adds an exciting new chapter to these characters rich history.
When I read that Jim Zub had a new series coming out, WAYWARD, I knew I had to check it out, and after the very first issue I was hooked. I LOVE this book. It combines so much of the storytelling aspects that I am drawn to in comics. Engaging and rebellious teenage protagonist caught in a storm of supernatural forces beyond her control (check), a group of outsiders with abilities that make them different, forced into service to save humanity (check), an endless wave of mystical villains pulled from real mythological folklore (check) brilliant artwork that infuses manga style action with deep emotional character moments, brought to life in stunning color (check) all this and it is an Image book that ships ON TIME! It is everything I want in a comic and it comes with my highest possible recommendation.
I recently got the chance to speak with Jim Zub about his journey into the comics industry, his approach to writing and craft, and his suggestions for RPG tabletop gaming rookies.
LETS START AT THE BEGINNING, WHEN DID YOU DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO MAKE COMICS AND HOW DID YOU BREAK IN TO THE INDUSTRY?
I grew up enjoying comics but never thought there would be a way I could work in the industry. At that time it seemed like you had to live where the books were being published (mostly New York) and so the goal of being a comic creator wasn’t something I originally pursued. One of my other creative passions is for animation. I knew it took a large staff to produce animation and there were opportunities in that field in Canada, so that’s what I pursued.
Once I left college I started working in animation on some smaller Canadian productions, but over time I felt like it wasn’t very fulfilling work, so I started working away on my own comic story as a way to keep drawing and to create a story based on the things I liked. I started serializing “The Makeshift Miracle” online in September 2001 and by December it had built up a small but engaged readership enjoying the story. When I posted an update explaining that I was taking a short break for the holidays I received a message from Scott McCloud (creator of ZOT! and UNDERSTANDING COMICS). He was on a big push to show that digital comics on the web were viable and liked what I was doing with Makeshift. We struck up a good conversation and I started to get to know other people in the comic industry, both on the web and in print.
Makeshift Miracle wrapped up in early 2003 and soon after I moved back home to Toronto I got a job at the UDON studio, starting as a colorist, then an illustrator, and eventually shifting over to more of a project management/editorial role. I learned a ton about publishing, pre-press, marketing, scheduling, and working with clients while I was at the studio and that knowledge served me well when I branched out and started working on my next creator-owned comic series, SKULLKICKERS.
CAN YOU WALK ME THROUGH YOUR PROCESS? HOW DO YOU BREAK AN ISSUE AND HOW DO YOU WRITE THE SCRIPT? DO YOU WRITE A FULL SCRIPT OR DO YOU WRITE MARVEL STYLE?
I usually plot out an entire story arc all at once, building the whole thing with important scenes and shifting those around as I figure out where they should fit dramatically and which events need to happen in order to enable others.
Where possible I also do a page breakdown roughing out how many pages will be required for key scenes and where dramatic “page turns” will occur (surprises the reader won’t see coming until they turn the page). Even if the pacing and page count change during the scripting process, I find it really helpful to have that overall plan in place.
I write full script. I prefer to have all that information down on the page, even if the artist I’m working with is going to make changes to it, just so they know what my overall plans are.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A COMIC CREATOR? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU HAVE LEARNED OR PERHAPS A MISTAKE YOU MADE THAT YOU WOULD SUGGEST ANOTHER CREATOR ENTERING INTO INDEPENDENT COMICS DO DIFFERENTLY?
That’s a pretty big question, so it’s hard to answer in a short and sweet way. I love telling stories and comics allow me to tell them with a small focused creative team so I thoroughly enjoy it.
As much as you can plan things out, a creative career will never go the way you expect. Many of the comics I’ve written haven’t been things I ever expected I’d get the chance to contribute to, but as each one came up I realized how it built on what I’d done before. You constantly have to be able to adjust, compromise, and make the most of unexpected opportunities as they come your way. Be flexible and always think about what the people you’re working with need to do their job well. Teamwork is essential.
WAYWARD IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS ON MY PULLIST! IT IS A REALLY COOL SUPERNATURAL, ACTION-ADVENTURE STORY DRAPED IN JAPANESE FOLKLORE. WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR THIS STORY COME FROM?
Steven Cummings and I are co-creators on Wayward and it was built from the ground up to work with both our strengths. Back in 2010 Steve did a really cool black & white illustration for UDON’s 10th Anniversary art book (called ‘Vent’) and it really grabbed my eye. I asked him what it was about and he mentioned that he’d been wanting to create a supernatural story set in Tokyo but that he hadn’t had time to develop it. That image stuck in my mind and years later, when we finally had a chance to collaborate on a new story together, I brought it up. That was really the springboard for us bouncing ideas back and forth, figuring out what the core of this story could be and creating something we were both really energized to work on.
That original illustration that kicked the whole thing off is actually our issue #1 cover, beautifully colored up by Ross A. Campbell.
WAYWARD HAS BEEN CALLED BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER FOR A NEW GENERATION. WERE YOU A BtVS FAN? IF SO WHO WAS YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER IN THE BUFFYVERSE?
I watched Buffy, but not feverishly. I would drop in and out of it depending on how busy I was as new episodes were coming out. I always liked Willow. I’m a sucker for magic.
HOW DID YOU MEET YOUR COLLABORATORS, STEVE CUMMINGS AND JOHN RAUCH, AND WHAT SPARKED THE FIRE THAT BROUGHT YOU ALL TOGETHER FOR WAYWARD?
Steven and I worked together at the UDON studio. I was the Project Manager on a bunch of projects he did at the studio. We hit it off well and talked about collaborating on something for several years before our schedules synced up and Wayward finally happened.
John was a colorist I was a huge fan of. His work on Invincible really knocked me out. I was speaking to another creator about a project he had done and I noticed that the colors were really great. He mentioned that John had colored it and was looking for more work. I got in touch and pitched him on joining Wayward. He came on board but soon afterwards was too busy to stick with the series. Thankfully Tamra Bonvillain jumped in to save the day and she’s been on the series ever since.
YOU ARE A HUGE FAN OF TABLETOP ROLE PLAYING GAMES LIKE DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. IF YOU COULD RECOMMEND ONE GAME FOR SOMEONE WHO HAS NEVER PLAYED D&D, BUT IS INTERESTED IN STARTING, WHICH GAME WOULD THAT BE?
Dungeons & Dragons is the baseline tabletop RPG for most people for a reason. It carries so many of the fantasy tropes and so many other games, both tabletop and video games, have been influenced by it, that I think people should try it out at some point. The new 5th Edition of the game launched last year and it’s well put together.
Beyond D&D some of my favorite RPGs include Feng Shui, Vampire the Masquerade, Shadowrun, and Call of Cthulhu. They vary quite a bit in terms of rules, setting, and complexity but they’re all fun in their own way.
YOUR CREATOR OWNED IMAGE TITLE, SKULLKICKERS, AN AWESOME FANTASY ADVENTURE/COMEDY SERIES RECENTLY WRAPPED UP ITS RUN. WHAT WERE YOUR FEELINGS ENDING THE STORY THAT HAD BEEN YOUR CALLING CARD IN COMICS FOR SO MANY YEARS AND WILL THERE BE MORE SKULL KICKERS IN THE FUTURE?
It felt good to wrap it all up and have that body of work completed. It’s a real milestone of the hard work I’ve put into my comic career over the past five years since the series first launched. SKULLKICKERS is my love letter to sword & sorcery and RPG gaming. The six story arcs we produced in 34 issues say what I want them to about why I love fantasy as a genre and what makes it all so much fun. I think it’s complete as a story so I don’t have any plans right now to add to it.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN IS MY ALL TIME FAVORITE PULP COMIC CHARACTER. WHAT WAS IT LIKE WRITING SUCH AN ICONIC CHARACTER? AS A WRITER, HOW DO YOU APPROACH WRITING A CHARACTER WITH SUCH A RICH HISTORY, WHILE STILL APPLYING YOUR OWN PERSONAL FLAIR TO THE STORYTELLING?
Whenever I’m about to write a character I didn’t create I try to dig in as much as I can and research the source material. I’m not looking to copy what’s been done, but I do think it’s crucial to immerse myself in what exists and take notes about the important traits that come to mind as I’m reading/watching/studying. That research becomes a baseline for me to work from, a guide so that if I get lost in the process later on I can go back to it and refocus.
Beyond that, the things I find most engaging about a character are different from other people so those elements inevitably find their way into the writing, giving it a bit of a “Zub” feel. I like big action, snappy banter, and punctuated moments of humor. It’s rare that those don’t find their way into a story, no matter what I’m writing.
IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU CAN OFFER TO A CREATOR LOOKING TO BREAK INTO COMICS IN TODAY’S MARKET?
Create comics. Start today. The only way you’ll be able to convince a publisher to pay you to write/draw for them is to show them you can create work as good or better than what they’re publishing now. The only way to do that is to strengthen your craft by building up a body of work. Start with short stories so you can complete them more quickly and evaluate your progress, then learn from each completed short story and slowly increase the length/complexity of your projects. When you can honestly put the work side by side with professional published comics and have it compete, start putting that online and/or show samples to possible publishers.
YOU ARE STRANDED ON A DESERTED ISLAND. YOU CAN HAVE ONE MUSIC ALBUM, ONE MOVIE/TV SHOW/ AND ONE BOOK TO READ. WHAT WILL IT BE?
Man I hope I have something to listen/watch this media with on this island. Music – sound track to Fantasia. Classical music is invigorating and inspiring and Fantasia has a nice cross-section of selections. I can’t imagine listening to anything with lyrics forever and ever without getting sick of it. Movie – This changes a lot, but right now let’s say Raiders of the Lost Ark. TV – The original Cosmos series hosted by Carl Sagan. Book – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
WHAT IS ON YOUR CURRENT “MUST READ” LIST?
Comic-wise I’m currently enjoying Atomic Robo, Invincible, Letter 44, Sex Criminals, Midnighter, and Ms. Marvel. I just wrapped up reading Mind MGMT and that was wonderful. So was Locke & Key.
ARE THERE ANY UPCOMING CONVENTIONS OR EVENTS YOU WILL BE ATTENDING YOU WOULD LIKE OUR READERSHIP TO BE AWARE OF?
My 2016 convention schedule is still getting figured out. I was at 14 different events in 2015 and it was fun but it also burnt me out. The easiest way to keep track of where I’ll be at, is to check the Appearances section of my website: http://www.jimzub.com/appearances/