Wednesday, May 18, 2011

10 Questions with Skullkickers Scribe and RPG Artist Jim Zub

A recent discovery for yours truly at this year's fantastic c2e2, Skullkickers stole my tiny little gamer heart immediately and has me chomping at the bit for more. You can read my review of the first trade, 1,000 Opas and a Dead Body, I snagged at c2e2 here. I got a chance to talk to Jim Zub, the writer of Skullkickers, for a little bit at c2e2 and my eyes lit up with future prospects of getting to interact with him. If you haven't yet read Skullkickers, I urge you to pick up the first trade (a steal at 10 bucks!), and you may recognize Jim's work in a more familiar media: rpg products like Exalted and 4th Edition D&D. He was gracious enough to take some time to answer my questions about what it's like working with Image Comics and White Wolf and how exactly he so masterfully captures the voice of gamers everywhere in comic form.

The Hopeless Gamer: What inspired you to create Skullkickers?

Jim Zub: Skullkickers is the wondrous bastard child of way too many fantasy novels, movies and games as I grew up mixed with sarcastic banter and cartoon-ish violence. It’s a love letter to fantasy, but with a tongue-in-cheek awareness of how ridiculous some of the classic tropes are.

Although it’s not a comic targeted only at gamers, there is a distinctive sense that Skullkickers should feel like a D&D game that’s going off the rails as the main characters break free of their roles as righteous heroes and start bulldozing through plot, breaking everything in their path.

THG: How did you get together with your artist, Edwin Huang and colorist, Misty Coats to collaborate on the book?

JZ: Edwin was an artist who actually sent an art portfolio submission to UDON, a studio where I work. The studio didn’t have a spot for him but I liked his art enough to stay in touch and eventually I roped him in to collaborating on an older story idea I’d developed a couple years earlier.

THG: What was the process like to get Image Comics to pick up publishing duties for Skullkickers?

JZ: The Skullkickers characters showed up in two short stories for an Image anthology called Popgun that was illustrated by Chris Stevens (now Skullkickers’ cover artist), so the Image crew had already been primed a bit for the concept and quite liked it.

Even with that awareness, I organized a longer pitch for the full comic series and completed the entire first issue before I approached them about taking it on. Even though they knew I was working on putting together the pitch, I wanted to make sure our idea was solid and that they had enough material to really see where we were headed with it.

Image has been extremely supportive of the series throughout the whole publishing process. They’re really happy with our consistency. It’s been great.

THG: What comics are you reading right now?

At this point I usually read indy/creator-owned books - The Sixth Gun, Casanova, Nonplayer and Green Wake along with a couple manga titles like Blade of the Immortal and Pluto. There’s an incredible amount of variety and quality in comics right now. More people should sample new series to see the kinds of amazing stuff being generated by inspired writers/artists. Whatever genres or art styles you enjoy there are multiple titles out there ready to hit the mark.

THG: What kind of reception have you gotten from gamers about Skullkickers?

JZ: It’s been fantastic, honestly. Quite a few tabletop gamers have dug in and shown Skullkickers a lot of love, telling their friends and gaming groups about the book. At PAX East I had quite a few people who bought the trade on Friday and then brought back their whole D&D gaming group on Saturday or Sunday to grab their own copies; Very gratifying and exciting.

I’m really pumped about exhibiting at Gen Con Indy later this summer and pitching the book to the heart of gaming fandom. I’m hopeful grassroots goodwill about the book will continue to build up our readership. Creating a book that speaks to the joy I’ve had as a gamer and having people respond positively to it is an absolute thrill.

THG: How did it feel doing your first official art duties for Skullkickers in issue six?

JZ: It was a nice challenge. Although I have an art/animation background, Skullkickers isn’t the kind of thing I would typically draw for myself so I had to change up my mind set a bit. I have even more appreciation for the amazing work done by Edwin after drawing up a short story with those characters. I’m hoping to illustrate another one in our next Tavern/Jam issue.

THG: How is it different to work for game company like White Wolf compared to producing comics?

JZ: There’s quite a bit of freedom in working on one-off illustrations for RPGs, creating art that shows off a single idea without having to worry about recreating it again. Comics require a real consistency panel to panel and page to page that’s more labor intensive and finicky, but also gives fine-tune control to every aspect of creating the story.

THG: Any plans or ambitions to have a tabletop game made out of Skullkickers?

JZ: I would love to see Skullkickers-themed board games, card games or tabletop RPG books, absolutely. It would be surreal and amazing to expand those hi-jinks to all kinds of platforms.

THG: Any other genres you have your eye on to do a similar buddy-cop style story?

JZ: I have other story ideas I’m developing, but not necessarily with the same humor/action mix. I don’t want to typecast myself, so the next book I put out will be quite a bit different thematically. Skullkickers is near and dear to me, but I want to keep people guessing and show my overall flexibility as a writer.

THG: What's coming down the line for you and our favorite buddy adventurers?

JZ: The second story arc launching in late May is titled ‘Five Funerals and a Bucket of Blood’. This time we’re focused on Lankhmar-style urban adventure with a thieves’ guild, noble politics and bloodthirsty faerie folk rounding out some of the problems our mercenary duo will have to contend with. This arc also lays out a larger framework for challenges down the road. I’m pumped to see how people react as we start unfolding bigger ideas and reveal more plot threads that weren’t as obvious in the first adventure.

THG: Bonus Questions! Who would you rather play as in D&D: Baldy or Shorty?

JZ: Almost certainly Shorty. His hair-trigger violence and bombastic insults suit my tabletop gaming style well. I’m rarely passive at the table – I want to get the good times going and build lots of ridiculous momentum when I game.

Thanks go out to Jim again for his time as well as providing all the great art you see in this post. With the exception of the promotional art at the top for Skullkickers, everything else you see here is Jim's original work. Looking for Skullkickers? Just scroll a tiny bit further down and you'll be in luck!



  1. Great review. Gotta track this down, as I haven't read a fantasy comic book since way back when Battle Chasers broke my heart.

  2. Thanks for the kind words! I too loved Battle Chasers (for as short as it lived), but am happy to report that Skullkickers has already surpassed Battle Chasers in both quantity and quality. The art is fantastic and appropriately cartooney for the subject matter, and the main two characters are never not awesome.


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