Editor’s note: Like our interview with gumi, Inc., this interview was originally conducted on camera, but due to a technical error, the audio was severely distorted. After some thought, I decided that it would be best to release the interview in text form. My apologies for this, but hopefully you still enjoy the content!
Moar Powah: So first off Jim, how’s your New York Comic Con experience been thus far?
It’s amazing, it’s been an incredible show. It’s only Friday, but it feels like a Saturday and so did yesterday. It’s just been a crazy amount of people here at the show. People are loving comics, they love video games, they love pop culture, and we’re in the thick of it.
MP: Would you say it’s better than last year’s Comic Con so far?
Yeah it’s busier! Really, really good. We finished yesterday, and our feet were just throbbing. You’re running around like crazy. You’re meeting so many people, but I love doing conventions. I do a few every year, and you’re always on an adrenaline rush. After it’s all over it’s exhausting, but you know, it’s a wonderful thing.
MP: You go to a lot of conventions per year. It seems like conventions in general are getting bigger. What’s it been like having been in the industry so long?
It’s relentless actually. The growth that we’ve seen over the last few years has been kind of unbelievable. Every show seems to be posting record numbers of attendees. Just more and more intensity. It’s no longer about nerd culture, geek culture, whatever you want to call it. It’s pop culture. It is regular culture. Everyone goes to see The Avengers. Everyone watches Game of Thrones. Everyone goes to superhero stuff. It’s no longer about this weird niche thing of “Oh I go to the comic store, and I’m embarrassed by it.” Everyone’s into this stuff. It’s what we’re all into now.
MP: I wanted to touch on a little bit about your artistic background in both writing and illustrating.
My background’s as an animator so I went to school for classical animation. I worked in the Canadian animation industry for a few years and then shifted over to work with the UDON studio just as they were starting to do the Street Fighter comic books. So through them I ended up doing a ton of illustration work and then eventually shifted over to a project management role.
But my passion has always been storytelling. So bit by bit, over time, I ended up developing my writing. And then I did some comics before but my real breakout was in 2010 with the Image book Skullkickers. It’s a sword and sorcery comedy I did. It just wrapped up this year. We did six books in total, and Edwin Huang and I put together this sort of wild, love letter to sword and sorcery. It was a ton of fun. And that kind of put me on the map for a lot of people and led to a lot of other opportunities to write comics.
MP: Let’s talk about Skullkickers a little bit. Were you expecting the kind of overwhelming positive reception to the book when you first started the project?
When you pitch something or you develop something you want to have a good response to it. I put together a book about what I love about fantasy stuff but not overly serious: this goofy, fly by the seat of your pants fantasy story. You hope that people are going to key in to those qualities and they did.
The people that play D&D with their friends and have a good time with it.
Or the people that like Army of Darkness, that kind of goofiness.
They really saw what we were doing with it and came on board and helped spread the word to other people. After the first book came out, we started serializing it online, and then the whole webcomic audience came on board as well. Slowly but surely we were building a readership up and then empowering them to tell other people about it. Yeah it was unexpected, it was exciting, it’s just kind of been a roller-coaster ride.
MP: You’ve worked on Skullkickers, you’ve worked on Red Sonja, you’re doing Wayward now, you’ve done Samurai Jack, you’ve dabbled in a lot of different properties, you’ve worked for a lot of publishers, so what’s it been like kind of having a very big net and working with a lot of different things?
I think what’s neat though is that we started with Skullkickers and that had a very distinctive kind of feel to it, and so the first few work-for-hire gigs I was offered were very much in that sphere. I did the Pathfinder comic book, I did Conan and Red Sonja, and it all felt like that kind of earthy, fantasy stuff I was already passionate about. So as each opportunity opened up, it was all in my wheelhouse. Samurai Jack as well, although it was a little bit different. You still had that campy element, you had that big action sort of feel to it, and I was able to get into the head space and have a lot of fun with it.
Each new opportunity hopefully opens up more beyond that where they’re offering you something where you’re showing a little more depth. “Oh he can do this?” or “I didn’t realize he was able to pull this kind of stuff off.” Wayward is a good example of that. It’s my new creator owned series. The quick description we use is Buffy in Japan. It’s teenagers fighting Japanese mythological monsters. It’s a drama. It’s got a little bit of comedy to it, but it’s way more of a dramatic story, an action packed one. So it hopefully opens up people to “Oh Jim is capable of this,” and I’m already sort of seeing the results of that. Like I’m getting offers in different types of projects because of what I can show in my own creator owned stuff.
MP: Wayward’s a very interesting project. Did you do a lot of research about Japan? What did you actually learn about Japanese culture?
Steve [Cummings] my collaborator and co-creator, he lives in Japan. He lives in Yokohama. He obviously brings tons of knowledge right off the bat. But then I really dug in the Yokai myths, the mythical creatures of Japan and the spirit stories and the fables. So just looking at that historical base and realizing there was so much of a wealth of material we can draw upon, the creatures and the ideas and the magic that we can really bring into this and give it kind of a modern twist.
Like any kind of research you do, the more you dig in, the more you realize how far it goes. And it really gives you so much more confidence to come up with new ideas. I love Japanese culture, and I love traveling to Japan. I’ve been five times, I went there for my honeymoon. We’ve traveled all over the place. It’s just like being able to give it a real deep look and sort of say this is what Tokyo’s really about, these are the types of things that are there but also for us to bring the supernatural sense. So it’s set in a real location so you can give it that feeling of reality, but then we add the supernatural.
MP: A big part of Japanese culture is manga and anime. Are there any titles that have really spoken to you or that you really enjoyed?
When I was in high school, my brother was in one of the earliest anime clubs that was running in the University of Waterloo. He got me hooked on tons of different anime and manga back then. The Akira manga was huge for me but also Masamune Shirow’s older stuff like Black Magic M-66 or Appleseed or things like that. These books were mind blowing to me because they were so different then what I was used to with American comics.
And then I kind of went sideways and some of the romantic comedies like Kimagure Orange Road or Ranma 1/2. So that’s where you’re like I don’t see comics like this in North America. I’m not writing a romantic comedy but even just that vein of saying you can do different things with comics or you can tell a comedy story. You can do something silly, and that’s just as valid as grim and gritty superheroes or whatever else. It really opened up my mind and opened me up to the possibility of playing with genre.
MP: I wanted to finally touch a little bit on Samurai Jack. What was it like working on such a beloved–also very Japanese inspired–property by Cartoon Network? When you first started the project what was it like?
It was one of the weirdest things. So for the pitching they did what’s in the industry kind of called a bake off. So there were multiple writers that all pitched on it. And then Cartoon Network and Genndy [Tartakovsky] picked one that they wanted to go forward with. So I was one of I think seven writers that pitched on the book. You kind of have to divorce yourself–like you obviously want to do it, but you can’t assume you’re going to get it. So you send it in, say I did the best I can, and hopefully that’s good enough. I kind of walked away and went “I think I did something cool but the competition is going to be stiff.” I kind of divorced it from my mind, and then I got it and I was like “Oh my God! Now I’ve got to really dig in and make it the best I can.”
Andy Suriano who helped design the show did a lot of art on the comic with me. Him being such a crucial part of the original production, his enthusiasm for what I was writing really empowered me. He fed my enthusiasm and made sure that I didn’t wig myself out. I’d say “Is this actually feeling Samurai Jack?”, and he’d say “No you’re doing it right, this is on target, this is going to be good.”
Another perk of working with one of the designers of Samurai Jack is, I would throw out a crazy visual idea, and he’d send sketches the next day. And I’m like “Oh my God! We’re making this thing! We’re really building new stories of Samurai Jack!” It’s got that visceral sort of approach. It was an amazing experience. Andy and I are now dear friends because of it. Phil LaMarr was the voice actor of Jack, he was very, very supportive. I got to meet him at a couple of shows. Being able to get that kind of nod of approval right from the source–it was the best.
MP: Throughout the interview, you’ve said that it’s not just nerd culture anymore, it’s pop culture, it’s for everyone. There’s stories you can tell that maybe five, six, seven years ago there wouldn’t have been an audience for. So would you say it’s now easier for a creator to kind of like go out and tell a story that people might want to read or watch?
Particularly with creator owned comics, you see companies like Image, they’re able to put out books and genres that no one would have paid attention to, and they’re selling in really solid, strong numbers. People want great stories, they want great characters, and they’re way more open to finding something new. So you look at books like Wicked and Divine or Saga obviously.
I think of Saga as such a staple now, but it is still relatively new as a book. These are titles I don’t think could have existed ten years ago and sold in healthy numbers. Now they’re flagship books for the industry pushing forward, giving people new story experiences. With each one of those successes, it bolsters both the readership to try more new things and creators to go “I’ve got an idea that I never thought was possible, I’m just gonna dive in.”
MP: I wanted to end on the creative process. I work in advertising, and it’s all about creativity. What’s the biggest new idea? There’s a famous advertiser named George Lois, and his philosophy is you just sit around and you’re thinking and thinking and then you see it! So how do you approach creativity?
There’s no one way of doing it. Sometimes you get an idea, and it’s built around a big theme or a big concept. Sometimes it’s built around a core character or an emotional thing you want to tell. If you look at the majority of my work, even though I work for hire stuff, it tends to be sort of fueled through me at a different part of my life.
So Skullkickers is me ten years old, I’m playing Dungeons and Dragons with my older brother, and I’m just a big goofball causing trouble right?
Wayward and Makeshift Miracle which are two books I’ve done are like teenage me, kind of afraid of what the future holds and my lack of understanding of who I want to be as an adult and all those kinds of fears and trying to figure yourself out, you know what I mean?
Something like Samurai Jack where you’ve got my love of animation, and the genre kind of melting pot that it allows, telling these big, crazy science fiction, martial arts stories. I’m in college, and we’re just digging into genre like crazy. They’re all little bits of me sort of focused in the story and played into different ways.
MP: I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. Is there anything you want to say to your fans or people who couldn’t make to New York Comic Con?
Probably the best place to find what I’m up to, go to my website jimzub.com. I’ve got obviously listings of my stuff, previews, where you can find me at cons, but there’s also tutorials on how to write comics. So examples of my scripts, my pitches, how I met the artists I work with, and some of the economics of how creator owned comics work.
MP: Thanks again Jim!
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