He teased he had stuff coming last we spoke with him, and now we know: coming soon from Image Comics is “Wayward,” a new creator-owned book from everyone’s favorite Jim Zub and Steve Cummings, with colors by John Rauch and Zub.
Telling the story of young Rori Lane, the book was briefly pitched “Buffy for a new generation,” which is a great logline if I’ve ever heard one. But given the success of a book like “Skullkickers,” which had a pretty simple pitch and had infinitely more buried under the surface, it’s fair to say that a book like “Wayward” probably has a similar vibe — and as such, we talked with both Cummings and Zub about the book and what is to come.
Read on as we talk Rori Lane, Japan, monsters and more. Oh, and cats. Lots of cats.
So tell me the origin story of “Wayward.” How did this book come about? How did you two link up together?
Steve Cummings: A couple of years ago I drew a illustration for UDON’s 10th anniversary art book called “Vent”, and made a tutorial around it for how to tone pictures by hand. The illo featured my take on the “Cat-girl” theme and after the book was put together Jim asked me about the character and expressed an interest in doing a story based on the picture. Fast forward a few years and we finally got to put together what would become Wayward.
Jim Zub: I’ve wanted to work with Steve for years and that illustration really caught my eye. When I asked him about it we started brainstorming ideas back and forth and realized we had similar sensibilities about the kinds of stories we wanted to tell.
What itch do you guys find this book particularly scratches for you?
SC: For me it’s both the itch to draw characters who aren’t giant muscle-bound-titans beating other giant statuesque-characters silly AND a bigger itch to set a story in Japan. I have always wanted to set a story here because the setting is so rich not only in the traditional stuff most people would recognize but also because the way of life is so different. Lots of insane visuals, some beautiful and some crazy dense. So this is my chance to do a story here and do it right. Really get the nitty-gritty aspects of life here on the comic board and perhaps show a side that never gets done in stories set in Japan. It’s not all gleaming modern office buildings and temples here.
JZ: Exactly that. Culturally and historically Japan is a fascinating place and I wanted to explore aspects of that, especially with the sweeping changes happening with the current generation of teenagers. Many of them are rejecting precepts of the past as globalization creeps its way into their day to day lives. These teenagers battling monsters from Japan’s mythological past are a metaphor for those changes.
The book itself is set in Japan, so how do you guys plan to utilize the setting for that? Especially since Japanese cultural imports are pretty huge here in the States, where I am.
SC: Things are denser here and the cities are packed tightly so that will really inform how we have the characters interacting with the world around them. While we plan on having some of the cultural things that an American reader would recognize we can really show a different side of this land. And of course show a different side on a character level as well because life is so different here. Jim?
JZ: I think a story about teenage struggles is pretty universal, but having Tokyo as our backdrop gives the story all kinds of interesting new possibilities to work with. Modernizing the creatures and spirits that will be exotic and unexpected to North American readers, showing similarities and differences in day to day life… it’s fertile creative ground. Readers don’t have to know Japan to dig in and enjoy Wayward.
The book stars Rori Lane, but what can you tell me about her? What makes her unique to you, and where do you see Rori fitting in the landscape of comic heroines?Continued below
JZ: Rori is an explorer who’s never quite fit in. She’s a half-Japanese teen who only knows Japan from what she’s been taught by her mother and, at the start of the first issue, she’s finally heading there for the first time. No matter how much research she’s done, the real thing is going to change her. Like any teenager she’s pushing in all directions trying to understand herself and find her limits.
Beyond that, Rori is someone trying to find her place and the strange supernatural things that start happening to her all build from that search. Attitude-wise I’d compare her to a young Barbara Gordon or Kitty Pryde.
And I think it’s safe for me to assume that she’s not the only cast member of this book. Can you talk about some of the other characters we might see?
SC: We have a great cast set to join her in her journey as the story progresses, some from her school, and some from the world around her. But I don’t want to drop any spoilers here and ruin the story for any readers.
JZ: The rest of our ‘core’ group in this first story arc are Japanese teens (or at least appear to be… ohhhhh, mysteries!) and each of them are drawn together by larger forces changing in the city around them. Steve’s “cat-girl” from our announcement image and first cover is named Ayane. She’s the first one Rori meets and right off the bat it’s clear that their interactions will be anything but normal.
By the end of issue 3 there will be four teens at the heart of the story, each of them with their own challenges to overcome.
One of the things I like about the press release is it describes the book as “Buffy for a new generation.” Obviously Buffy has a pretty big cultural impact, but can you talk about that description a bit more, and how you hope to approach the book in perhaps similar ways?
JZ: “Buffy VS Japanese Monsters” is a pretty good way to open up the conversation even though Wayward is a lot more than that. It’s a shorthand description to get people to give the series a shot. A group of high school students battling the supernatural while navigating teen problems and looking out for each other is a solid foundation to build from.
When you’re a teenager every problem can feel like it’s larger than life, so adding in actual larger than life elements ratchets up the drama and intensity in a really entertaining way.
Give us a few issues to pull you in with compelling characters, big action, and some fun twists and turns along the way. If that sounds Buffy-esque then I’ll wear that label with pride.
You guys mention Steve’s cat-girl drawing, and the first Wayward image featured an army of cats in it. So, tell me: cats — what’s up with them? (Specifically in Wayward, but if you guys just have thoughts on cats in general I’ll accept that).
SC: When I was drawing the Vent piece I wanted to add a bit of a creepy feel to it and I was inspired by all the feral cats that roam about in Japan. They are numerous and everywhere and it’s clear they have evil in their hearts… OK, so joking aside, there are some parks here where when you walk into them half a dozen or more cats will suddenly come out of the bushes or from under trash and stare at you like they are sizing you up. They look at you like they are wondering, “are you friend, or foe, or a tasty meal”? So that’s why the cats are there in the original illustration; to give it a menacing feel and add a bit of mystery to it. In Wayward the cats are more than just feral scavengers though and as time goes by we will see what is really going on in their minds. Their evil furry minds.
JZ: I don’t want to give away too much, but the cats in Wayward are… how can I say it… a bit more ‘organized’ than in other places. They have a vested interest in protecting certain aspects of the city. Yeah, I’ll leave it at that for now. 🙂Continued below
So obviously YA fiction has taken a major upswing in the past few years, but do you guys see yourself as fitting into that label? Or are you trying to go for something different, or even more broad?
JZ: I don’t know that we’re specifically targeting YA. X-Men has a bunch of teenagers with strange abilities trying to figure themselves out, but would X-Men be considered YA? I think we’re going more broad, especially with some of our larger themes about generation and mythology, but I’m sure a YA reader would find fun characters and action to enjoy here as well.
SC: I can see that comparison but like Jim says I think we don’t quite fit in there. I think this story is the kind a YA fan would love but is also something a fan of Japan or it’s folktales would enjoy as well.
I think we’re seeing a lot of current fiction in general that plays on tropes of coming of age stories, and obviously teen characters have always been popular. What approaches are you guys taking to make the book feel relatable? Since obviously there is a concern of too many modern pop-culture references dating the book; has that been a challenge so far?
JZ: Creating a believable emotional core for the cast is far more important and relevant to readers than populating a story with current pop culture references to try and look modern. The problems teenagers face in the here and now have been heightened by technology and our 24/7 connected society, but the motivations all stem from the same kinds of feelings and fears as they did for my generation, my parents, grandparents, and so on. Growing up is a universal experience and it makes for great dramatic material. It’s a time of intense transition and decision making. I think that’s why so many authors write teenage characters.
SC: Since this is a coming of age story set in modern times using too many real-world references or including current political developments would risk dating the overall story. That is something I want to avoid if at all possible. Fortunately we have an amazing cast of characters to introduce over time and their struggles are more than enough to keep us from having to dip into pop culture memes. Some of those struggles are the kind that all of us have dealt with when growing up, and some of them are more mythological in nature but will in the end throw a new light on the struggles and experiences of growing up.
We sort of touched on it a bit earlier, but Japan has a very rich mythology with lots of monsters to select from for Rori to go up against. Have you guys done specific research into what foes you’d like for her to clash against, or are you hoping to mostly come at it with brand new monsters?
JZ: Steve and I are both big fans of Japanese mythology, so we started with that and then did more research from there. In addition my friend (and fellow writer) Brandon Seifert put me in touch with Zack Davisson, who is a well of knowledge when it comes to Japanese myth and monster lore. Zack’s been offering helpful feedback on my outline and scripts and will be writing mini-essays in the back of each issue about Japanese myths, creatures, and society. You won’t need any prior knowledge of Japan to dig in and enjoy what we’re putting together in Wayward.
Last week I read the draft of Zack’s essay that’ll be in our first issue, titled “Welcome To Weird Japan” and it’s really enthralling. I think readers are going to love it.
SC: I think a better term here in Folklore. The creatures we have decided to use in the book so far are from the amazingly colorful stable of Japanese folklore but each one gets our own special twist when they show up. Of course that’s the great thing about folklore, there are differences in the stories and the creatures that appear in them depending on who you are talking to and their age so we have more than just the current pop culture versions of the creatures to draw on. Living here full time means I have easy access to that world and just by talking to people of different ages I hear different takes on the same tales. So on one hand we have a mold to start with for our monsters but then on the other hand we are free to a certain extent to make these our own creatures and run with it.Continued below
I’m going to assume for a minute here that you guys have done quite a bit of the book already, so what is it you’ve found that you’re personally latching onto the most as you guys create Wayward?
JZ: We’re plugging away on artwork for issue #3 now and are planning the second story arc bit by bit so we’re getting into a good groove with it, yeah. So far I’m having a blast building up mystery and tension in the story – it’s a very different project than Skullkickers and I’m excited for readers to see what we have in store.
SC: We are safely into issue 3 and the first arc is taking shape nicely. In the course of doing all these pages I found that I enjoyed getting to draw the background environments the most. They take a lot of time but in the end it’s worth it to get the right feel. And of course the characters are fun too, especially the cat girl with her interesting fashion sense. But putting them into the environments and seeing them come to life is a blast. I can’t wait to get into the second arc when things go from crazy to insane!