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AICN COMICS: Q&@ is our new semi-weekly interview column where some of your favorite @$$Holes interview comic bookdom’s biggest, brightest, newest, and oldest stars. Enjoy this latest in-depth interview filled with @$$y goodness and be sure to look for more AICN COMICS as we gaze into the future of comics every week with AICN COMICS: SPINNER RACK PREVIEWS every Monday and then join the rest of your favorite @$$Holes for their opinions on the weekly pull every Wednesday with AICN COMICS REVIEWS!
Q’s by Optimous Douche! @’s by SKULLKICKERS writer Jim Zubkavich! Optimous Douche
here. What happens when you take a dwarf and a bald giant and throw them into a fantasy world of werewolves, assassinated lords and legions of undead? You get the latest Image title SKULLKICKERS. I had the chance recently to sit down with SKULLKICKERS creator Jim Zubkavich to ask him what the future holds in store for this unlikely duo and why he has yet to name these ye olde bastards…
OPTIMOUS DOUCHE (OD): What immediately entranced me with SKULLKICKERS was the amalgamation of fantasy lore, almost like “World of Warcraft”. You have ye olde ways of magik and such peppered in with gun works and explosives. What sources did you draw upon to conceive this world?
JIM ZUBKAVICH (JZ): SKULLKICKERS is the sugar-shocked bastard child of pulp fantasy concepts I loved as a kid – FAFHRD AND THE GREY MOUSER, CONAN, and DISCWORLD mixed with a heavy dose of Dungeons & Dragons and video games like “WoW” or “Monkey Island”. Fantasy hada massive hold on my mind when I was 9-15 years old and I'm trying to tap into that well of ridiculous energy for the comic.
OD: So is it safe to assume this love of fantasy is what drove you to craft the two main characters as a dwarf and what I want to keep calling a “monk?”
JZ: Absolutely. It's low brow high fantasy. :)
The dwarf is pure "id" - violence, pleasure, instinct and the big guy is equally violent at times but it's done with a bit more of a plan and usually some forethought. He's not a monk, but I can see why he comes across that way compared to the short red-bearded murder machine.
They're mercenary monster killers in a world where most peasants just keep their head down and hope not to be noticed by the powers that be and evil that lurks in the shadows.
OD: Seems like a parable for the current state of our real-world collective malaise?
JZ: Not intentionally, but I’ll take the deeper meaning, sure! :)
I didn’t want fantasy ‘heroes’ in the classic sense. If the peasantry are inspired by their deeds or create stories about them that get blown way out of proportion, I think that’s an extra layer we could play with.
The dwarf and big guy aren’t the type to think too far ahead. They deal with immediate physical problems without thinking of broader ramifications. I think some people assume that also means that I, as the writer, am not thinking about broader things, but that’s not true at all. As the series goes on it’ll be clear that there’s more happening and that these two are part of larger machinations. Their obliviousness to the other layers of story is part of the fun.
OD: Damn it, you called them Dwarf and Big Guy, I was hoping you would slip into my trap and subconsciously divulge the names of your Id and Ego as told through comics. Three issues in and we still don't know their proper names, yet we know a lot about who they are -- that's a definite testament to your characterization skills. So was this a conscious choice to not name the protagonists, will we find it out later, or the final choice...you forgot?
JZ: It was intentional. :) Even in the original proposal and in the scripts I refer to them as 'Human' and 'Dwarf' or 'Baldy' and 'Shorty'. The concept for keeping them unnamed is three-fold:
First off, I always found it a bit off-putting how characters who were familiar with each would call each other by their first names over and over again as a way to drill those names in to the audience’s brains. I totally understand why that happens and it makes sense in the context of introducing characters, but I thought it would be funny to have 'real' conversations where familiar people just use 'Hey' or little nicknames the way most of us actually do (or, at least, the way I do).
Secondly, having these two morally reprehensible jerks roll in to town like some sort of spaghetti western-styled 'Men With No Name' kind of appealed to me. A 'No one knows who they are, they just showed up and started killing monsters left and right' sort of thing.
Thirdly, and I can admit this, it's also a gimmick. People noticed this 'no name' quirk and it stirred some discussion that wouldn't have happened if they were just two named brutes. In a comic market where launching something new is absolute hell, I wanted every edge I could muster, even if some people might be turned off by it. The key is that you knew 'who' they were without those names. They look distinctive, act distinctive and their motivations are clear. That's character, regardless of what they're actually called. Now that the book has gotten some legs and looks like it's going to have a fairly healthy run I feel more confident about delving in to these characters more. Our back-up plan of cutting this off after the first story arc if it sold poorly is thankfully not necessary. So now we can push past the gimmick. I'm pretty sure I'm going to reveal their names in the second story arc.
OD: So can we get a glimpse into their history? A prequel spoiler if you will...It's not every day a dwarf and monk decide to go on a mystical creature killing spree.
JZ: The current plan is to have the second story arc advance the main plot we have brewing as the SKULLKICKERS pique the interest of evil powers much larger than they can currently imagine, but the third arc looks like it will be revelatory elements of their pasts, especially some key stuff about Baldy.
OD: For now though our "merry" wanderers are hot on the trail of a stolen corpse of a Lord, which by the way…I laughed out loud during the assassination. Come to think of it many of SKULLKICKERS moments make me LOL as the kids say. Will the humor continue to shine through as we move into issue 4 and beyond?
JZ: Definitely. The real fun of doing the book for me is tweaking the classic fantasy tropes and taking it in to silly spots of banter or violence. That’s part of our recipe.
When I used to play D&D with my brother and our friends the DM was always trying to tell an epic fantasy tale but it would inevitably get sideswiped by our antics. Key moments wouldn’t work properly or someone would point out a flaw in the logic of the scene and it would all come tumbling down as we’d start laughing. That’s the core of SKULLKICKERS for me – building a fantasy world populated with key characters who intentionally take us to those ridiculous moments while pointing out the flaws in the framework of it all.
I’d like for each story arc to poke holes in a classic style of adventure. The second arc is an urban fantasy yarn as the SKULLKICKERS juggle political machinations in the capital, lower city cutthroats and nature spirits run amuck all at the same time.
OD: Let's talk the art for a second. Huang has a definite fantasy based style, how did you get the stars in such perfect alignment to work together.
JZ: Edwin and I have never worked before and didn't actually know each other before SKULLKICKERS began. His portfolio was an out-of-the-blue art submission to the UDON art studio (where I work when I'm not doing Skullkickers stuff). The studio wasn't looking for new artists but I was impressed with his submission and dropped him a line to give him feedback so he could keep improving and get some professional work. We stayed in touch and when he asked if I knew where he could get some comic scripts to work from for practice I mentioned that I had a fantasy comic pitch that had been mothballed when the original artist wasn't able to work on it.
Edwin read the pitch, liked the designs and decided to pick up the torch on it. I can confidently say that without his dedication and enthusiasm the series would not have kicked back in to gear. He's been fantastic to work with. A professional through and through even though this is his first real industry gig. His work has already grown over the first few issues and I can't wait to see how it evolves as we go further along.
OD: Any other projects…books or upcoming tidbits about SKULLKICKERS you want to pimp out -- now is the chance. Pimp On!
JZ: The best place to stay up-to-date on everything Skullkickers is at our website which is, appropriately enough, www.skullkickers.com. And while on the digital theme, SKULLKICKERS issues 1 and 2 just came available on comiXology for internet browsers, iPhone and iPad, plus you can get issue 0 for the amazing bargain of free.
SKULLKICKERS #6, arriving in February (but available for pre-order from your local comic shop now), is a special jam issue with industry friends. We wanted to make sure that SKULLKICKERS stayed on the stands while Edwin and Misty worked ahead on art for the second story arc so I called up artists and writers I'd always wanted to collaborate with and asked if they wanted to put together a few short stories about two monster killing mercenary jerks. They said "yes" and off we went.
The special #6 issue is called 'Four Tavern Tales' and it's going to be a blast. Here's the creative crew assembled for it:
WRITERS: Adam Warren (THE DIRTY PAIR, EMPOWERED), Brian Clevinger (ATOMIC ROBO, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIGHTING AVENGER), Chris Sims (THE INVINCIBLE SUPER BLOG, AWESOME HOSPITAL), Ray Fawkes (POSSESSIONS, ONE SOUL).
ARTISTS: Jeff 'Chamba' Cruz (SUPER STREET FIGHTER 2 TURBO), Joe Vriens (DARKSTALKERS, MARVEL VS CAPCOM 2 RE-RELEASE), Scott Hepburn (STAR WARS: VECTOR AND THE OLD REPUBLIC, THE PORT)
In March we're releasing the first SKULLKICKERS trade paperback that collects issues #1-5 and the original short stories from Image's Popgun anthology. It will also have some behind-the-scenes sketches and the original pitch documentation and a script sample for aspiring comic writers to check out. I cannot wait until it's at comic shops and bookstores nationwide.
AICN Comics readers here get the exclusive first look at the trade paperback cover art, which is a vertical strip of art riffing on the old fantasy gamer-ism of "kill the monsters, get the gold' that actually goes in an endless loop.
I'm hoping to have some new projects I can publically announce soon. Suffice to say that I'm looking for more amazing artists to collaborate with and looking forward to making more fun comics for the foreseeable future.
OD: Thanks Jim…and remember readers if you want the experience of playing D&D again with the smart asses of your youth…but with a dungeon master that actually knows his shit. Come play with DM Jim Zubkavich and SKULLKICKERS each month.
Optimous has successfully blackmailed fellow @$$Hole BottleImp into being his artist on Average Joe. Look for Imp's forced labor on Optimous brain child in mid-2011 from COM.X. Friend Optimous on FaceBook to get Average Joe updates and because ceiling cat says it's the right thing to do.
Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling by Ambush Bug Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G