Jim Zub is conquering the comics world one book at a time. After completing his fan-favorite creator-owned series, Skullkickers, he launched Wayward, which concludes with the 30th issue in stores this week. Along the way Zub has written such iconic characters and properties as Samurai Jack, Batman, Conan/Red Sonja, Batman, Champions, Dungeons & Dragons, Figment, Street Fighter, Wolverine and The Thunderbolts.
Jim took some time to discuss Wayward, it’s genesis and his upcoming projects.
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FOG!: Jim, thank you for talking to us today. As you’re winding down the series, what was the original inspiration for Wayward?
Jim Zub: Wayward is a fusion of two different things. The first is a story idea I had jangling around in my head for a few years built around a concept of “mythology in the modern world” and the second was teaming up with Steven Cummings, the co-creator and line artist on Wayward.
When I was an editor and project manager at the UDON Studio, we put together a 10th anniversary artbook called VENT filled with original concepts from artists at the studio that we hoped we’d be able to get to down the road. It was a way for us to “vent” our ideas and see what we came up with. Steven’s illustration in that book was of a Japanese teenager with spiked bats surrounded by creepy cats. It was really evocative and it stuck in my head.
Years later, I launched Skullkickers at Image and was looking to put together a second new creator-owned series. Steven and I were chatting and he mentioned that he was hoping to take a break from work-for-hire and dive into a new creator-owned project. I asked him if he ever did anything with that concept he had in VENT and he said no, that it was still just a broad idea about telling ghost stories set in Tokyo.
I took that original modern myth concept I’d originally assumed would be Euro-centric and mixed it together with Japanese myth and pitched that at Steven. He enthusiastically responded, and we were off and running on developing the series.
Much of the focus of the series utilizes Japanese culture. How much and what kind of research did you do?
I was already a fan of Japanese monster and spirit mythology (collectively called “Yokai”) before I started working on Wayward, but diving into making the series gave me an excuse to go a lot deeper and read a lot more. Steven lives in Yokohama (very close to Tokyo) and I’d traveled to Japan quite a few times, so we were able to start grounding our supernatural concepts with real places, transplanting them into specific neighborhoods and building some interesting dynamics.
I wanted the series to utilize a lot of Japanese myth but didn’t want characters to stop and explain every aspect of it to readers, so the idea of including back matter essays sprung up pretty naturally. I thought I was going to have to hire different writers for different subjects, but luckily a fellow comic writer named Brandon Seifert introduced me to Japanese translator and monster scholar Zack Davisson and Zack came on board to add to my research pool and write essays about culture and mythology in the back of each issue.
Rori Lane is an interesting character. What was the genesis of her character and what did you learn about her when writing the series?
Rori is half-Japanese and her story as an outsider is at the heart of the big themes we explore in Wayward. At the start of the series she moves to Japan to live with her estranged mother and as she discovers things about the city and the supernatural, our readers also discover them, giving a natural entryway to a lot of the crazy stuff to come.
I always knew where her story would go and how it would all wrap up in our final issue, but some of the big moments on the way changed organically as the story developed. The powers she ends up wielding took on a much more sinister role than I’d originally envisioned them and that helped push a lot more drama into it.
With the last issue on the horizon, was Wayward always intended to be this long? Were there other arcs or storylines planned that you never got to?
I always knew how the series would end, but the exact length to get there was variable. I’d originally planned a much slower start to the series and a more gradual unveiling of the supernatural elements, but in the market at that time with so many new creator-owned books launching it would have been easy for us to get lost so we decided to ramp things up right from the start.
With an ensemble cast like the one we have in Wayward it can be tough to balance which characters get the spotlight. That’s another area where it would have been nice to spend more time, fleshing out all their back stories on the page as much as we did for Rori and Emi.
Who or what are your biggest influences on your work?
I don’t know that I have one primary influence. My work is a big thrashing mixture of mainstream superhero comics by Chris Claremont and Roger Stern, supernatural whimsy by Neil Gaiman, manga by Katsuhiro Otomo and Masakazu Katsura heaped on top of fantasy novels and playing Dungeons & Dragons.
What do you have coming up? Do you and Steven plan to collaborate again?
As soon as Steven finished drawing Wayward he stepped over to work with me on a big relaunch for Champions at Marvel, and our first issue on that arrives January 2019. At Marvel I’m also co-writing the Avengers: No Road Home weekly story line that starts in February.
I’m writing Dungeons & Dragons comics for IDW, including co-writing the Rick and Morty VS Dungeons & Dragons mini-series with Pat Rothfuss.
In addition to all that, I have a few pitches I’m working on for both work-for-hire and creator-owned projects. 2019 is going to be fun.
What are you currently geeking out over?
I just finished playing through Spider-Man on PS4 and it was stellar from start to finish. I’m stoked for the new Undermountain source book for D&D, and I’m really enjoying the Haunting Of Hill House TV mini-series this month.