In this month’s installment of Interviews With The Industry I, Romeo Sid Vicious, tracked down Jim Zub, one of my favorite writers, and he graciously agreed to let me interview him. As far as reaching out to fans goes Jim is leaps and bounds ahead of most.
Jim Zub is a writer, artist and art instructor based in Toronto, Canada. Over the past ten years he’s worked for a diverse array of publishing, movie and video game clients including Disney, Warner Bros., Capcom, Hasbro, Bandai-Namco and Mattel.
Rome Sid Vicious: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions for our little blog. I really appreciate it when artists take the time to do anything that connects them with their fans. First off I’d just like to say that I am a huge fan of Skullkickers, being a pen and paper RPG nerd as well as a fantasy nerd. So thank you for that! It’s one of the few comics these days that can make me laugh out loud.
Jim Zub: I’m really happy to hear you’re enjoying it. Being able to indulge all my ridiculous ideas in one place with this story has been an absolute thrill for me.
RSV: I first found out about Skullkickers by reading Schlock Mercernary, a long running webcomic, so in light of that are there any webcomics you read on a regular basis and would recommend to our readers?
JZ: I don’t have a chance to read as many webcomics as I used to. I don’t have much time for TV, movies, video games or comics any more with my crazy work schedule. I cram them in when I can, but it’s tough right now.
Beyond webcomic staples like Penny Arcade or SInfest, I’d recommend Unsounded, Wormworld Saga and Octopus Pie.
RSV: What are your muses? What inspires you to write these wacky stories and share them with the world?
Skullkickers is built from a childhood marinating in sword & sorcery stuff – games, books, movies, art – you name it. All that pulp-infused earthy violent goodness crammed together with a healthy dose of sarcasm. It’s a venomous love letter to the genre I love the most.
Other stories I’m working on come from different sources, though most tend to be fueled by the things I loved growing up.
RSV: What do you read outside of comics? Are there any fantasy series you would recommend?
JZ: I’m actually not reading much in the way of new fantasy novels right now. My free time is decimated lately. The last decent book I read was a book on the strange politics taking place during World War I, but for the life of me I can’t remember the name of it and don’t have it on hand right now. Hmm… what else? I reread Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser recently, the classic fantasy series by Fritz Leiber and it’s simultaneously just as good and overwrought as I remember it. I also dug into an annotated H.P. Lovecraft short story collection that was great, broadening the scope of what he wrote with history of the stories and the many influences that go into them.
RSV: Right now, out of all the writers out there, I think you take the most time I have seen interacting with your fans. How hard is it to do things like your recent contest where you let readers submit their work and incorporate it in to your book?
JZ: It’s time consuming and distracting, but not usually in a bad way. If people are taking the time to reach out to me I think it’s fair to respond back whenever possible. Sometimes they’re really short replies, but it’s something anyways. It may eventually reach the point where I can’t respond at all, but thankfully we’re not there yet.
The Tavern Tales contest came out of conversations I had with people at cons. I’m constantly being approached by people at conventions who want to show me their comic creations and they always want to know where to start and get their foot in the door. Some of the professionals joke that there aren’t any readers any more, just would-be creators buying comics. Anyways, I realized that the short story issue we have between story arcs of Skullkickers would be a neat place to allow a couple new creators, a writer and an artist, somewhere to showcase their work and get a “professional” credit. It could be fun and help get word out about the series, while also giving new people a shot. It took a lot to get wrangled and we had way more submissions than I expected, but overall it was a lot of fun and really gratifying to get so much feedback.
RSV: In Skullkickers you have included a gun and left it a mystery for while before telling the story, which was awesome. How did you come up with the idea of a revolver in a hack and slash setting? And were you worried it wouldn’t go over well? How in the world did you come up with the idea for puking up bullets?
JZ: The “gun in a fantasy world” thing actually started as an accident. In the original short stories that were printed in Popgun, which we put together before Skullkickers was a full blown Image series, Chris Stevens designed up these two mercenary monster hunters. We wanted to avoid the tired cliché of swords as weapons, so Chris gave the dwarf little axes and the big human guy a couple guns. It was ridiculous, but it was only supposed to be for the short stories, so I didn’t worry about it.
Once I had the chance to expand Skullkickers into a full blown comic series, I realized we’d need to justify the gun’s existence. Was this a pseudo-fantasy world with steampunk elements like guns? I didn’t want that tech level in the series, so I avoided going in that direction with it. Slowly but surely I brainstormed different ways to make the gun work in the story, centered around making it the one and only gun, and the whole thing developed from there.
Once that was figured out, I had to answer the bullet question. I could’ve just said it was a magic gun and never ran out of bullets, but we’d already shown Rex reloading the damn thing and I wanted to make it more involved. I needed a bullet source and decided it would be him. A magic curse, a warped soul-ridden curse that bonds him to the gun, so he “feeds” it… with his magic puke bullets. Yum, yum.
RSV: Most interviews ask certain questions like, “How did you get started in comics,” and you have been asked that question so it seems kind of redundant to ask again. So instead I’ll ask this: If you could give any advice to aspiring comic writers what would that be?
JZ: Write stories that mean something to you. Write comics you will enjoy as a reader. Write them as well as you can, then look at them with the most critical eye possible and write some more. Write stories because you want to create, not because you expect an audience or money. Then, if you write consistently well, hopefully those other parts will happen too.
RSV: If you could tell the readers anything about you that you wanted to — anything at all — what would you consider to be the most important thing they should know about you?
JZ: Most important thing? Oh geez… I’m a deep, yet fragile creature put on this Earth to vaguely entertain and amuse others with stories until my time is at an end.
Also, like most of us, I get the distinct sense I have no idea what I’m doing and everyone’s instantly going to be able to tell at least once a day.
RSV: I also write for a music blog, ninebullets.net, so I feel obligate to ask: If you could pick a soundtrack for Skullkickers what would the first three songs be and what scenes would you put them in?
JZ: The classic Conan the Barbarian theme remixed dubstep style… or a really enthusiastic mariachi band doing classic fantasy score material. All scenes. All issues. All the time.
RSV: I know you are working a Pathfinder comic as well and that you are an avid tabletop gamer. Is there anything you’d like to share about your upcoming work?
JZ: When I started Skullkickers I was really worried no one would think I was funny because when it comes to doing the work, scheduling and communication I’m really straight forward, not wacky in the slightest. Now that I’ve done 17 issues of Skullkickers and it’s what I’m currently known best for, I feel l need to reverse that course and explain that I’m capable of non-stupid stories.
Pathfinder is a serious character-driven fantasy. There are fun parts and some humor, but it’s a very different beast from Skullkickers, in a good way. I have all kinds of different comic stories I want to tell and I think Pathfinder is a good place for me to show I have a broader range of storytelling skills.
Pathfinder is not just for RPG fans. It’s built to be absolutely new reader friendly and I really hope readers dig in and grow attached to the cast of adventurers we’ve put together.
RSV: Jim I want to thank you for taking the time to answer these silly questions and for responding to my interview request in the first place. Honestly I hadn’t read comics in probably 20 years before being introduced to Skullkickers and it has brought me back in to the fold. Keep up the amazing writing!
JZ: Thank you for the really high praise. Whenever I find creative work that inspires me I always wonder if I’ll be able to instill an iota of that in anyone else with my work, so hearing I’ve brought you back to comics is wonderful.
While I said I tracked Jim down what really happened was that I simply sent him a request for an interview through the contact form on his website and he agreed to let me ask him those silly questions you just read. I really appreciate how down to earth he is and how willing he is to connect with his fans. I know I will continue to enjoy Skullkickers and I hope that Pathfinder is a roaring success for Jim!
~Romeo Sid Vicious~
Letter From The editor: You can purchase all of Skullkickers digitally at Comixology.com for about $2.00 a piece. Keep reading Comical Musings and check out next month’s Interviews With The Industry for our interview with Planetoid’s Ken Garing!