Jim Zub Talks Pathfinders, Skullkickers, Comics, and Comic Con

I recently got to speak with Jim Zub,Jim’s Blog the talented artist behind Skullkickers and the Pathfinder comic series. Jim will be appearing once again at the San Diego Comic Con and was kind enough to share his passion for comics and other pearls of wisdom with us.

What can you tell us about Pathfinder and how you became involved with it?

Pathfinder is a role-playing game and fiction line enjoyed by tens of thousands of fans around the world. It’s an intricate and robust fantasy world that draws upon classic sword & sorcery genre roots and pushes them into new territories.

The Pathfinder comic series, which arrives in stores this August and is published by Dynamite Entertainment, is an extension of that same fantasy world but it’s being created as a stand-alone introduction. Readers don’t need to have played the game or read any of the fiction to get on board the comic series and enjoy the story I’m putting together.

How long did it take from first conception until the first issue was in progress?

Starting on Pathfinder was actually one of the smoother projects I’ve been involved with. I pitched on the series in January and, once I got the gig, started working on the first issue in late February, handing in the first draft of the script in early March.

How did you get into comics and what advice would you give to those who want to work in the industry even those with limited art skills?

My career started in animation. I worked as an artist on Saturday Morning cartoons here in Canada for a little while. At the same time I worked on a web comic for my own practice and growth in my spare time. I was originally planning on heading back to art school for training in 3D animation, but took on a summer job at the UDON studio working on illustrations for advertising and entertainment in 2003 and haven’t looked back. The UDON projects I worked on lead to getting involved in comics and I started writing comics professionally in 2007. My first few projects were quite far apart but in the past 2 years the work has finally become steadier.

Like any other career, in order to get good at it you have to show that you can produce professional quality work. Start small, creating your own stories and improving your skills. Practice, get critique and push yourself with each new project you take on.
I think a lot of would-be creators rush into their work expecting that they’re going to be able to create and compete with the best work in the industry right from the start, not realizing that the creators whose work they enjoy spent years improving their craft and building up their skill. To use another analogy – you can’t pitch in the major leagues without going through Little League, A, Double-A and Triple-A. You have to work your way up.

What can you tell us about the artwork in Pathfinder and the team that is behind its creation?

As far as I know, this is Andrew Huerta’s first major professional comic work. His name and art portfolio link was included in a list I sent to Dynamite when they mentioned that they didn’t have an art team lined up yet for the book as I came on board. I’m always exploring art blogs and deviantART, browsing through links and bookmarking artists I haven’t seen before who I think have potential and who I might be interested in working with some day. I sent my latest art blog link list to Dynamite and, after producing some character sketches and test pages, Andrew wowed Paizo and Dynamite enough to secure the job.

What are some of your favorite comics from your childhood and today?

I grew up on Marvel superhero comics – a lot of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, but eventually shifted over to manga and more independent titles as I went through college. Nowadays I tend to read a lot of creator-owned/indy titles. Some of my favorites include Atomic Robo, Locke & Key, The Sixth Gun and Chew.

What are some of your favorite comic films and which ones do you think they really dropped the ball on?

I was blown away by how solid a film The Avengers was. With so many important characters all vying for attention and so much information to get across to the audience, I thought it would fall apart but from start to finish it was tightly put together and incredibly satisfying. I also quite enjoyed Scott Pilgrim, Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: First Class.
Having done a bit of work with the UDON crew on movie-related projects, I’ve gotten a sense at how crazy and involved movie production can be.

Even when people want to make something great there can be dozens of production problems, budget problems and ego clashes that muck things up. I prefer to talk about things I enjoy rather than ripping on something poorly done.

As a follow up, which comics would you like to see become movies in the future?

Any of the creator-owned books I mentioned could make for a great movie. Chew and The Sixth Gun are actually both in development as TV shows right now, so my fingers are crossed for those. There’s such an incredible wealth of ideas and fun material in comics that could be made into other media, but my focus is on reading and enjoying them as comics.

What can you tell us about Skullkickers?

Skullkickers is my creator-owned series published by Image that takes my love of pulpy sword & sorcery-style storytelling and drives it into an over-the-top adventure comic. The two main characters are monster-mashing mercenaries who have no clue how their violent actions are getting themselves wrapped up in a bigger and more dangerous plot. Readers get to watch them cause trouble and kick ass while seeing a larger story about the “heroes of destiny” unfold in ways that poke fun at clichés that people expect.
If you like movies like Army of Darkness or comics like Hellboy, then you’ll enjoy Skullkickers.

Where did the idea for Skullkickers come about and can you compare and contrast the process of creating your own series as opposed to running an existing franchise?

SKullkickers is all about taking the excitement I had playing Dungeons & Dragons, reading fantasy novels and watching sword & sorcery movies and pouring all of that energy into my own fantasy send-up storyline. Having complete control of it and being able to indulge all my ridiculous ideas with it has been really fun.

Even still, working on commercial properties is fun too. The process is quite different because you’re working within someone else’s structure, but it’s nice to have the groundwork already there and to explore ideas already in place rather than having to come up with every single part of it myself. Having source material to jump into and get inspired by can be great for generating ideas.

Being able to work on both types of comics – creator-owned and commercial – is a nice balance.

Where do you draw your inspirations from and what do you like to do in your free time?

My schedule is absolutely bonkers lately with projects and conventions, but my down time is pretty nerd-typical: video games, movies, hanging out with friends and a lot of reading – both prose and comics. The only difference is that whenever I watch a film or read a book I can’t help but break down what I like or don’t like, trying to learn from the stories around me. In that way, I’m always “working”.

What are your thoughts on the growing trend of comics on e-readers and tablets?

I think it’s an inevitable change in publishing. Music went digital, movies and TV shows are shifting over and publishing is next in line. I love print and proudly have shelves full of books, but digitization is something we all have to accept and grow with, whether we like it or not. The accessibility and larger global market that can come from it is really exciting.

Are you into video games, and if so what are your favorites and what do you have your eye on down the road?

I don’t tend to keep up on what games are coming down the road. With my intense work schedule I tend to be 6 months to a year out of date on new games, grabbing big titles when they eventually go on sale, either at my local video game store or online through Steam. I recently played Journey on the PS3 and was blown away by its quality and mood. Portal 2, Arkham City and Red Dead Redemption all really impressed me over the past year.

How many Comic Cons is this for you and what have been some of your favorite experiences there over the years?

This is my tenth San Diego Comic Con in a row. It’s a bit hard to describe the experience of being at the show and the wonderfully surreal things that can happen there. Most of my best Comi con memories are meeting or spending time with friends after the show floor has closed, being inspired or finding professionals who appreciate the same things I do. Meeting and chatting with Neil Gaiman back in 2004 was a highlight, especially since it was a casual conversation at a party instead of an autograph line.

I save most of my crazy SDCC stories for in-person conversations rather than typing them online where I can never deny them. ;P

What movies have you enjoyed this summer and what future films interest you?

I haven’t had a chance to check out many films this summer thanks to the amount of work on my plate. The Avengers stands out, as does Cabin in the Woods. I’m looking forward to Brave, Wreck-It Ralph and The Hobbit later this year.

Where will fans be able to find you at Comic Con and where can they find out more about Pathfinder, Skullkickers and your work?

Edwin Huang (my artist on Skullkickers) and I will be set up at the Image Comics booth at SDCC, selling Skullkickers books, posters and a convention-only variant cover of our latest issue. I’m also moderating a panel on ‘Pitching Creator Owned Comics’ on Saturday at 7pm with Cullen Bunn, Ray Fawkes and Charles Soule, which should be a blast. I’m really looking forward to this year’s show.