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NYCC 2015: Jim Zub Interview
Interview conducted by James Ferguson
Jim Zub is someone that any aspiring writer should pay attention to. He's been very open about what he's learned breaking into the comic book industry, including information on the success of his creator-owned titles Skullkickers and Wayward. If you listen to him speak for more than two minutes, you'll realize that he's incredibly passionate about this medium. I had a chance to catch up with Jim at his table in Artists Alley at New York Comic Con to chat about Wayward and what's coming next for this group of super-powered children fighting demons from Japanese folklore.
James Ferguson: Wayward was pitched as “Buffy set in Japan.” Because Buffy carries such a big weight in pop culture, was that difficult to live up to? Or was that a challenge you rose to?
Jim Zub: In some ways it's pretty cocky because we're basically saying that we're going to live up to Joss Whedon quality. I think it was a really good touchstone for people to understand what we were going for. It's a teenage drama with a supernatural element to it. When you read Wayward, you realize that it's quite a bit different, but I think there was a pathway there where you can say, “If you enjoy Buffy, you will enjoy this.” I think we were effective on that front. It's not us ripping it off. It's us showing that there's an applicable audience there and they're the guys we're looking for.
JF: Makes sense. In the most recent arc, you introduced a few new characters. Are there plans to bring in more to this – keeping with the Buffy angle – Scooby Gang?
JZ: Yeah. The cast expands in the third arc. As much as Rori is a central character, she's one of many, and this thing is going to broaden as we go. There are new characters coming in to the cast. They're not a cohesive team and they've never been a cohesive team.
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JF: They're not the Avengers of Japan.
JZ: No. They've actually never been in a battle where they're all there even. In ten issues, we've never had a unified front and I kind of like that. It's a team that's not like a team. It's a bunch of stories that interconnect with each other, swimming in and out of each other's pools. They're not just like, “Oh, we all hang out in the headquarters and then go fight bad guys.” There are different dramatic things happening to people as they crisscross into each other.
JF: They're all getting pulled into different directions. Sometimes those threads come together.
JZ: As one character is getting strength and figuring out what they do well, someone else is falling apart or being pulled away. It's not a nice, simple, compartmentalized thing. The complexity of it is fun to play with.
JF: It's very character driven. While there are monsters and supernatural creatures, it's the characters that are pushing the story.
JZ: If you don't care about them, then you wouldn't stick around. The “exotic” nature of the Japanese myths might bring you in the door, but if you don't care about the characters, it can't hold you.
JF: These monsters are coming from Japanese folklore. Are the powers that these kids possess coming from that as well?
JZ: I don't want to tip my hand too much. Are you all caught up to issue #10?
JF: Yes. Spoiler warning if you haven't caught up!
JZ: The broader idea is that these kids are the next generation of the supernatural. Myths and legends come from ideas from history. When we tell nursery rhymes or fables, they are meant to impart ideas about how we should act as children or what we should be afraid of. The same thing holds with Japanese myths. When they tell stories or have created monsters, they represent ideas about what is important or about what we should be afraid of. These kids represent ideas of the modern world. What is important to Japan? Ohara interacts with manufactured goods. Nikaido doesn't want to show his emotions. He absorbs them and then he unleashes them. That's a very modern Asian problem, this idea of detachment from your emotions. Don't show that you cry. Don't show that you're angry. These kids represent bigger ideas, so that's where the powers come from in the broader sense of things.
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JF: Going back to the monsters from folklore, how are they selected? Is that coming from artist Steve Cummings? Do you just ask for something really scary here?
JZ: We both throw down. I'll do research and bookmark ones that I think are particularly cool and we try to slap them into appropriate settings or times. We also look at what is appropriate in terms of powers for the urban setting. Then there are just things that are cool. Steve wants to draw this. He'll throw me a note saying, “At some point, I would like to put in X.” That puts it in the back of my mind and I start creating the pathway to get there. It's really both. Sometimes it's indulgent. Screw it. That's cool. We're doing that. Other times, it's so fitting for the setting in the moment or what we're trying to build towards. We don't want to turn it into “Monster of the Week”, where there's a different one in every issue. There are ones that are recurring. In the third arc, we're going to show that not every one of a particular type is the same. The Kitsuni are shape-changing foxes. They're capricious and dangerous. We've shown a group of them that are almost like the old samurai warriors, but they're not the only Kitsuni. We're going to show another...I don't want to call it a clan, of Kitsuni, that are much more urbanized and have embraced more of the modern elements. Even within the scope of these monsters, there are other types.
JF: You touched upon this at the Image Comics panel earlier today, but how has the reaction been from Japan?
JZ: It's been really good. It's not well known, but what's been nice is Steve did a small self-published print run in Japanese of the first few issues. The response was really good. We're bolstered by the fact that they're not looking at it as us trying to come in there trying to tell their stories. It's us excited about Tokyo and embracing their culture. As a Canadian, whenever we see Canada in the movies or someone makes a joke about Canada, we're like “YAY! They talked about us!” I know that sounds really dorky, but I think that's true of anyone. We want to see ourselves represented. Rather than feeling like, “Oh great, these guys are jerks and trying to say something about Japan,” it's not another American story set in New York or another America saves the world kind of story. I think that that has value.
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JF: Anything you want to tease going into the next arc.
JZ: In issue #6, we did a bit of a hairpin turn and we changed our touchstone character, who we were getting narration from. A lot of people were shocked that we had a main character for five issues and then take this twist and show that it's not just about her.
JF: I loved that by the way. It was a great move that showed a different perspective from someone that was an observer to the first few issues.
JZ: We do it again in issue #11. I think people are going to be like, “You did what?!” We take it from a really surprising angle. If it works, I think it's going to make it that much richer of a story.
JF: One more question for you: With all the pulls from Japanese folklore...giant robots. Yes or no?
JZ: [Laughs] No plans for giant robots right now. Every so often Zach [Davisson who writes essays in the back of the single issues] will throw down, “Where are the kaiju?” We're not there yet. We don't want to totally tip our hand too far. We've also been able to keep this localized urban setting. I feel like Godzilla stomping around might break the reality of our story a little bit. I'm not saying that there's not a place for it. All in good time. No mecha though.
HorrorTalk would like to thank Jim Zub for chatting with us during a very busy New York Comic Con. The first two volumes of Wayward are currently available. Issue #12 was just released this past week.
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