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A Talk With Jim Zub

Of all the people that I’ve met in [web]comics, the one that I get the most things to think about from would be Jim Zub. We met at the Image booth on Thursday and he ushered me into a small room set up for interviews — I vaguely felt like I was going to be advised of my rights and asked about my whereabouts the prior night — and go to talking. There’s never a bad time to get some Zub wisdom dropped on you, but a couple of days after one of his essays on creator-owned economics — this on the Long Tail effect — is probably the best because he’s brimming with ideas. Go read that first and then come back here; he mentions the two big next things he’s got coming up.

The first of those will be the return of his creator-owned Wayward, for a fourth arc, one that’s going to shake things up as he’s split his cast between two locales (two countries, with radically different cultures) and will be pursuing two parallel plots as a result. The back-of-issue essays on Japanese folklore/mythology/culture will now be supplemented with similar on Irish folklore/mythology/culture, and the issues will alternate — even numbers in Ireland, odd in Japan. While this means Arc 4 will feature three issues of Ireland and only two of Japan (which was a big part of the hook driving interest in the series), it’ll reverse for Arc 5 which is totally a thing. It’s good to know that you’ve got at least ten more issues to play with, instead of wondering if each arc has to wrap things up due to sales realities (a situation that affected both Skullkickers in its early days and Samurai Jack throughout its run).

The bigger news might be that September will also see the launch of his next creator-owned book, Glitterbomb, about Hollywood fame culture and failure (or maybe almost-success, which might be worse that failure¹), with a strong Chtonic horror element. He’s partnering up with Djibril Morissette-Phan on art, and can’t say enough good about him.

He’s an astonishingly accomplished artist for being only 21 years old, and has been cranking out pages of the most elaborate character, horror, and environmental designs at a rate of one a day, plus covers. Morissette-Phan is going to explode as a result of this series — I’ve rarely seen compositions so smart and assured², and full of beautiful little details. I’m still haunted by what could have been a time-saving splash page of a pair of characters leaning over a balcony railing, beers in hand, looking over a cityscape at night … a tableau where Morissette-Phan rendered every drape and wrinkle of clothing lovingly, and took the two rear center beltloops on one character’s jeans and crossed them as a fashionable flourish. It was gorgeous and impressive as hell.

It’s also done. Due to some schedule needs at Image, Morisette-Phan has finished drawing the entire first four-issue arc (the first issue is double sized) and there can be no delays. It’s a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and has an overarching structure that will permit as many 4- or 5-issue arcs as they care to do (and sales will support). Horror is a new world for Zub, and he’s feeling the need to stretch not only in new story directions, but in new ways of pacing.

The first issue being double sized makes telling plot a bit easier (also that you get five issues of story in four issues), but this is a man fully invested in the 20 to 24 pages that must stand alone compressed storytelling form that is floppy comics; the trade collection needs to be cohesive, but the floppies must stand alone. I asked about the possibility of a graphic novel and he expressed how he’s unsure of how to tell a story not structured in 20 to 24 page chunks³ but may be open to the challenge.

Naturally, he continues his work-for-hire run on Thunderbolts (12 issues announced and plotting past, just in case) and Dungeons and Dragons (they love his work and pretty much let him do what he wants). He’s a guy that came up reading Marvel and DC, and will always have a chunk of his time blocked out for the characters and companies that 10 year old Zub loved so much (current dream jobs: Doctor Strange, or getting to do a Harley Quinn series four-five years ago when she was being neglected and hadn’t blown up into the Wolverine of DC; he told them she would be a breakout hit, just based on the sheer omnipresence of Harley cosplay at every con, but did they listen?).

And then he was off to his next meeting, his next pitch, his next bit of data gathering for his next essay. He’s like one of those sharks that must be in motion at all times, one that leaves really great comics in his wake.

¹ I told him it sounded like a description of the overall narrative of The Venture Brothers, which is about the masculine form of failure that is not living up to expectation or ability (at least, when looked at as a whole; in the closer perspective it’s about wacky super-science and speedsuits).

² Stylistically, he’s nothing like her, but the same combo of skill and confidence at a young age reminds me of Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, about whom I may have said one or two things in the past.

³ I thought about pointing out that I first became aware of him when he sent me a copy of webcomic/graphic novel, The Makeshift Miracle. Then again, that guy was Jim Zubkavich and I was talking to Jim Zub. I’ll also note that I brought up the differences between longform story and 20 to 24 page story chunks in my interviews with Hope Larson and Gene Yang, each of whom had their own take on it. Still working on those pieces.

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