Jim “Zub” Zubkavich is the writer and co-creator of Skullkickers currently out with Image comics. We recently featured Skullkickers as one of the 5 comic that change the way we read and buy comics. Since Skullkickers hit stands it has found it’s way into my pull list. By now you have had to of noticed the absolutely gorgeous covers gracing your comic shops shelves, the art work throughout the comic match if not exceed the cover art making this one of the best looking comics Image is putting out right now. But Skullkickers isn’t just a pretty face, the writing and story are equally brilliant with a tone and style that match the artwork. Jim Zub is the man behind the brilliance, we caught up with him and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for Panel Bound. We were able to speak about how Skullkickers was developed, working with new editors, and the importance of creator owned comics in todays marketplace. I hope you enjoy it.
First off how did you develop Skullkickers and how did you get the fantastic art team of Edwin Huang and Misty Coats on board?
Skullkickers was co-created with Chris Stevens, a ridiculously talented artist, for Image’s Popgun anthology series. Chris was invited to contribute to the anthology and we came up with a short story about two nameless monster hunting mercenaries who caused trouble and kicked ass and it was printed in Popgun V2. Erik Larsen, who was Image’s Publisher at the time, quite liked the story and asked us if we’d be interested in expanding it to a mini-series at Image.
The original mini-series (which became issues #1-5 of the ongoing series) was written with Chris in mind as the artist, but scheduling and financial problems lead to him having to bow out. I figured the series would never get done and put the story away until I met Edwin Huang over a year later. Edwin and I hit it off well. He was just getting ready to graduate from the New York College of Art and was looking for a way to get his foot in the door with the comic business so he ended up jumping onboard Skullkickers.
Christina Strain, a friend and professional comic colorist, recommend Misty as a good option for the kind of coloring I was looking for on the series and she worked out fantastically well. The two test pages she did on the series are actually in the first issue. That’s how on target they were.
Did you use a traditional pitch procedure when presenting SK to Image, or something less traditional?
Although Erik Larsen had ‘approved’ Skullkickers, enough time had passed between that initial pitch and Edwin coming on board that Eric Stephenson was now the Publisher in charge at Image. In turn, I didn’t want to assume that he would approve us too so I ended up compiling a full pitch package containing the story outline, full first issue script and completed first issue artwork to show Eric. He was impressed with the package and gave us the go ahead on the mini-series.
By the time sales figures came in for issue #3, Eric asked if we’d like to make the series an ongoing and we happily accepted, expanding the story idea and building a much larger overplot than I’d originally planned.
Skullkickers takes the action fantasy genre and adds a unique humor violence element to it. As a writer how did you first develop this tone for SK?
I write Skullkickers as a book that I as a reader would enjoy. The violent/cartoonish tone of it, the banter and the strange situations are things that amuse me and, I hope, will also entertain our readers. Writing humor and continually trying to pull out unexpected situations that work well and keep the reader guessing is a challenge and I thoroughly enjoy it.
Skullkickers, when it’s working well, should feel sort of like Army of Darkness meets Red Dwarf or a D&D game where the players are having a good time at the Dungeon Master’s expense. If I can maintain that attitude than it all seems to come together.
You have spoken in great detail about the importance of publisher integrity especially in creator owned books, what has SK taught you about creator owned comics?
Creator owned comics, especially in this market, are a labour of love. Very few titles make enough money to provide enough income to make it a job, but you’re still competing on the exact same store shelves as titles from major publishers, so you can’t scrimp on quality. You have to work harder and push yourself further in order to stay on that level, with less time and a much smaller budget. That’s exactly why Marvel/DC hire people who are able to stand out in the creator-owned market. They know you’ve proven you can deliver under extremely difficult conditions.
When did you first decide that you wanted to write and create comics?
Although I’ve been a comic fan since I was young, I didn’t actually think it was a viable job until relatively recently, the last 4-5 years. My original intent was to stay in the animation industry because so many people are needed for animation production. The frustrating part of animation that I didn’t anticipate was that I was also going to be a very small part of a very large production pipeline and it would be extremely difficult to have creative control or contribute ideas in that field. Comics are much more immediate and I can put my ideas out there much more quickly.
What comics can you recommend to someone looking for inspiration especially from a writers stand point.?
It’s an incredible time for creator-owned comics right now. There are a ton of great books that are establishing a solid foothold in all kinds of different genres. Some of my favorite ongoing series that inspire me lately are Atomic Robo, Casanova, Chew, Locke & Key, Invincible, The Sixth Gun and Orc Stain.
Most writers I speak with have a great deal of trouble finding an artist to draw their comic, what advice do you have for them?
There are a lot of outlets where artists gather: Penciljack, The Drawing Board, deviantART, ConceptArt.org come to mind. Put together a professional pitch and then personalize your messages to artists who are available and fit the tone of the work you’re going for. Expect that it’s going to take a while to find a good artist who is available and looking for collaboration. Also expect that the less money you have to offer them, the more flexibility and input they’ll want in the process, ownership and scheduling.
Writing a book with a humor tone can be really hard for writers, do you ever read a joke or gag you put in SK after it’s printed and think “what was I thinking?”
I think the toughest part is that you come up with a bit of banter or visual gag and then you’re going to see it dozens of times at each stage (writing, sketch, line art, color and lettering) before it’s in print. It’s hard to remember how funny it originally was and that readers will see it for the first time and, ideally, have that spontaneous reaction rather than the feeling you have now that you’ve seen it so much. You have to trust your instincts a bit, knowing that it was funny originally and that it will probably still be funny later on to the reader.
Any last minute advice for aspiring creator owned comic writers or artists?
Don’t try to create a comic based on trends. Don’t write creator-owned material you’re not personally invested in. The best way to make your mark is to put out something you believe in rather than hoping to piggyback on the market at large. If you’re not intensely inspired initially you won’t be able to keep dedicating yourself to it when the hours are long and rewards are distant at best.
I want to thank Jim again for taking the time to chat with me about being a comic writer and creator. You can check out links to Skullkickers website as well as a link to purchase the book.