Later this month from Image Comics (the 22nd, to be specific!), a new on-going begins from the mind of Jim Zubkavich entitled Skullkickers. The book stars two mercenaries as they seek adventure and fortune, fighting off all kinds of evils including werewolves, skeletons, and black magic (oh my). Last week we chatted with the series writer to discuss all things Skullkickers: plot, art, release windows, and it’s role in the fantasy world, and today we present it to you for your reading pleasure.
Take a look behind the cut for the full interview, and keep your eyes peeled for a review of the first issue of Skullkickers later this month!
Comics, as a medium, have an incredible amount of flexibility and potential in terms of storytelling and scope, yet they can be put together by an individual or a small tight-knit group rather than requiring massive budgets and crews of effects people. They’re engaging and easily accessible all over the world. They’re an ideal marriage of words and pictures, but add new qualities to both.
Let’s start this off easily — for the readers who are unfamiliar, what is Skullkickers?
Skullkickers is like a buddy-cop film slammed in to Conan. It’s an action-comedy about two mercenaries beating up monsters in a muddy fantasy world and getting themselves wrapped up in conspiracies and trouble way bigger than they planned.
What made you decide to write this kind of a story? A fantasy based “buddy cop” tale isn’t something one often comes across.
I wanted to take my love of old fantasy novels and channel that through something a bit more sarcastic and banter-laden than you’d typically find in the fantasy genre. It’s a more rough and tumble approach to fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
From the first issue alone (and the solicit), I get the sense you guys are fans of DnD, or tabletop games in general. If so, how does this influence play into the story?
I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons as a kid growing up and those fun stories we came up with on the fly are definitely an influence but Skullkickers isn’t a parody filled with in-jokes or anything like that. If a reader hasn’t played D&D, they won’t feel lost. D&D informs the overall genre but isn’t a direct source where you need to know it to enjoy the story.
If you are a D&D player and you’ve played those games where things don’t go quite as planned or the heroes aren’t the epic paragons of virtue you wanted in an upper crust fantasy novel, then you’ll definitely feel at home with Skullkickers too.
So the story isn’t a parody of any particular thing, but when describing the humor aspect of the book, what do you think would be the best way to classify it? After reading the first issue, I’d say it’s a tad more “high brow” than Three Stooges, for example – though I do see what you’re saying with that.
In an ideal world I’d love for people to compare it to Joss Whedon-esque material — funny dialogue and strong action mixed together in an appealing package. It’s not that eye poke-whoo whoo Three Stooges but it does have slapstick in there from time to time to help mix things up.
What kind of influences go into your writing? I know you’ve mentioned Army of Darkness as one, which is great.
British comedies with snappy dialogue and Three Stooges-esque slapstick alongside Robert E. Howard-worthy violence. Referencing ‘Army of Darkness’ sums up that feeling pretty well, I think.
How long do you have mapped out for Skullkickers already? Will you be tackling this on an arc to arc scenario, or is there a larger conspiracy that will come into play?
There is definitely a larger story at play, even if the Skullkickers themselves don’t realize it in this first story arc. This first adventure will put our two less-than-heroic heroes on the radar of the much larger forces that are maneuvering behind the scenes. There is a bigger game plan but it’s flexible enough to be adjusted as it goes. It’s not immaculately planned out but I have a broad sense of where I can reasonably see it going.Continued below
I know that one of your biggest concerns is getting the stories completed so they ship on time. How do you imagine this will be playing out in working on the book?
What I’d like is for each story arc to ship on a monthly basis, so it’s dependable and easy to jump on with for both readers and retailers. Between arcs we’ll probably need a couple months to rebuild the buffer of material but the solicitations will reflect that properly. Once an arc rolls out I want people to be able to expect it on time.
So when you say that there will be time off between stories to get things together, does that mean the story comes out in different mini volumes, or is it just a straight up ongoing?
The plan is for the issues to come out and keep climbing, not a set of mini-series or anything like that. There will be major story arcs, but those will still fall under the main series numbering, so it’s more like Invincible rather than Hellboy in terms of the comic numbering structure, if that makes sense.
When it came to creating the main characters, what sort of inspiration helped in putting them together?
They’re built off the classic comedy paradigm of the ‘serious guy’ and the ‘oaf’. It’s classic and it works because it’s easy to get a broad range of interactions out of those two archetypes. Both have wit but one has more of an intellectual wit while the other is an emotional powder keg blowing up and saying funny stuff.
Add on top of that the fact that they’re both relatively heartless and violent mercenaries and you’ve got a pretty good recipe for motivations and black humor.
Do you imagine that the book will generally stay with its two main “buddy cop’s”/adventurers, or is the hope to have a large cast one day?
The cast will expand occasionally but the two mercenaries will be the mainstays as other people pop in and out of their adventures. I could see other characters becoming regular “guest stars” if they work well and readers enjoy them.
I did notice in another interview you mentioning that the story evolved from entries in the Popgun anthology. Are those essential reading to fans, or just little pieces of extras that help to entice the ongoing story?
They were the original one-offs, disconnected and self-contained, that inspired the series but they have no bearing on it. They’re a fun read and they embody the same sense of humor, but they’re not part of the bigger story we’re crafting now. It was a great testing ground though and we wouldn’t be here without those two original Popgun tales. None of the story stuff we’re doing will invalidate them, but they’re not required reading either.
Where would you classify Skullkickers in the realm of fantasy? Somewhere in between the epic literature of Lord of the Rings or even the online juggernaut that is World of Warcraft, what niche do you hope Skullkickers will fill for fantasy fans?
It’s closer to World of Warcraft than Lord of the Rings, for sure. Warcraft has a more cartoonish take on fantasy and pokes fun at itself quite a bit. It relishes in the epic spectacle without getting too philosophical. Lord of the Rings is great, of course, but that’s not what we’re going for with Skullkickers.
Y’know, if ‘The Hobbit’ was called ‘Invisibility Rings Let You Trick Folks’ or something like that, then it would be getting closer to what we’re doing with our comic.
What can you tell me about working with Edwin Huang? How’d you two meet, and what’s it like to convey your ideas through his art?
Edwin and I met originally at San Diego Comicon a couple years ago. He showed his portfolio to me at the UDON booth and I gave him some critique. Months later he followed up with an e-mail update on his work and I was really impressed with what I saw there. UDON wasn’t looking for any more artists at that point but Edwin and I stayed in touch and soon after that he was sketching samples for Skullkickers and blowing me away with the strength of his storytelling and dedication to the work.Continued below
When I write a script I have a vision for how it’ll play out on the page and I try to put as much of that in to the description as I can so that it comes across clearly to the artist. When you get the pages back it’s always different from what I imagined but almost always in very exciting ways. That’s part of the collaboration process and I enjoy it. I want the artist to put their own ideas in to the mix as long as it improves the final result and enhances the reading experience.
Outside of the comics community, do you hope to see your book hit a wider audience, assumedly through a new media (even digital comics)? This seems like the type of book the average non-comic reading public can still easily get into.
Absolutely. Superheroes are great and I grew up as a huge superhero fan but comics can hit any genre solidly and one of the great things about comics right now is the greater exposure outside of that superhero paradigm. I think Skullkickers has broad base appeal to people who just want to enjoy a fun story, whether or not they’re currently a comic reader. If someone enjoys movies like Army of Darkness or avidly watched Buffy they’ll find something to attach to here.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add for prospective fans of the book?
If you enjoyed Battle Chasers back in the day or get a kick out of Hellboy’s monster mashing goodness than you should really give Skullkickers a shot. It’s going to be a really fun ride.
As a last question — Cats. Yay or nay?
Cats as a concept are great but I’m horribly allergic to them so, genetically, we’re mortal enemies, I’m afraid.
My fiancÃ©e jokes that if she ever wants to get rid of me that’s how I’ll know – I’ll come through the door and there will be a cat sitting on our bed, leaving its deathly-dander everywhere for me to choke on.