Interview: Comic book writer Jim Zub talks Thunderbolts, Wayward and much more
Jim Zub is a writer on the rise. He has written everything from Samurai Jack to Dungeons and Dragons comics, as well as his own supernatural adventure, Wayward, over at Image Comics with artist Steve Cummings (of which three volumes are already available). He also has a HUGE on-line presence and freely shares his own creative process with anyone who cares to have a look at his various websites. If that weren’t enough, he is also a teacher and a seasoned traveler (currently on a multi-week fun filled trek through Japan). Most recently, he’s taken over the duties of writing and revamping Marvel Comics’ premier anti-hero team book, Thundebolts (featuring breakout comic/movie character, The Winter Soldier, AKA Bucky Barnes). Jim was awesome enough to take some time off his hectic schedule of a hard travelling, writing and navigating the lives of superheroes to answer a few questions for us here at the ‘Gnarl.
TuffGnarl.com: Your take on Thunderbolts seems to be the closest in theme and attitude to the original ’90s incarnation. Were you a fan of that classic Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley run?
Jim Zub: Absolutely. I think Kurt and Mark built a fantastic foundation for Thunderbolts, with engaging characters and a morally complex series of hurdles to keep them jumping from story to story. If anything, that’s what I’m trying to emulate, not specific plot points but just the overall draw of compelling characters being put through the wringer.
For our readers, can you give us a roll call with names and powers?
Let me go even broader than that and explain Thunderbolts as a whole. Thunderbolts has gone through several different incarnations, but the overall thrust of the series has been to take morally ‘gray’ characters, anti-heroes and villains alike, and to bring them together for the ‘greater good’. Sometimes it’s bad people doing good things, other times it’s good people doing bad things. Either way, it’s a entertaining and action-packed.
The current version of the team I’m writing has the following characters on the roster:
Winter Soldier: James “Bucky” Barnes – Highly-trained operative with advanced combat skills and a bionic arm. New leader of the Thunderbolts.
The Fixer: Paul Norbert Ebersol – Mechanical Genius using advanced adaptable technology.
MACH-X: Abner Jenkins – Engineer in high-tech power armor.
Moonstone: Karla Sofen – Brilliant psychologist wielding ancient alien cosmic power.
Atlas: Erik Josten – Battle-tested bruiser able to increase his size and mass.
Kobik – Reality-warping energy from a cosmic cube made manifest in the form of a 4-year old girl.
Were the characters in place, or did you have the chance to choose a few of the team members?
The team line-up was already in place when I was asked to pitch on the series. Moving forward I have the chance to shake things up a bit, but I quite like the team as it stands right now.
What place do you think the Thunderbolts serve now in the current Marvel Universe?
The Thunderbolts are a strike team capable of carrying out nasty missions other teams wouldn’t be willing to tackle. They can make hard decisions other teams wouldn’t consider. Their villainous past will sometimes put them at odd with a lot of heroes, but they know that what they’re fighting for is more important.
Are the recent revelations involving Captain America going to play a role in your book? How will all this affect Bucky Barnes?
Absolutely. When I came on board Thunderbolts Nick Spencer (Captain America writer) and I talked at length about the big revelations coming in Steve Rogers: Captain America and we discussed how Bucky will be involved as it develops. I can’t really say anything beyond that at this stage because it’s all still unfolding and I don’t want to spoil things for our readers.
How about Civil War II? Will the ‘Bolt’s be choosing a side?
The Thunderbolts won’t be explicitly choosing a side, especially since they have their own troubles to deal with, but the events in Civil War II will reverberate and drive at least one of the Thunderbolts into a conflict they didn’t expect. Keep reading to see how it plays out.
What appeals to you about writing about more morally ambiguous characters?
The dramatic range on an anti-hero is far wider than on characters who stick to one moral extreme or the other. The Thunderbolts are far from ideal and those mistakes they’ve made define them. The duality of redemption or diving deeper into darkness keeps things interesting and keeps readers guessing which way their story could go.
Tell us a bit about your creator owned series, Wayward, published by Image Comics.
Wayward is a supernatural action series about teenagers battling traditional Japanese monsters on the streets of modern Tokyo. It’s a bit like “Buffy in Japan”. The series launched in late 2014 and we have three completed arcs so far, with the fourth story arc starting in September.
You’ve been on a recent lengthy trip through Japan. I’m sure you’ve done tons of research for Wayward, but how would you say such a trip affected you’re writing in general?
I’m actually still on the trip as I’m replying to these questions, so it’s hard for me to say what the overall affect will be, but it has been incredibly inspiring. It gives so much more context to the story Steven Cummings and I are creating in Wayward and strengthens my desire to show people the depth and breadth of mythology Japan has to offer.
You’re writing a great new Dungeons & Dragons comic series for IDW. Were you a gamer? What’s your connection to that property?
I’m a huge gamer and have been playing D&D and other tabletop RPGs since I was 8 years old. Being a Dungeon Master in high school and learning how to entertain my friends with stories and characters ignited my imagination. I don’t believe I would be a writer today if it weren’t for D&D and other RPGs. Having the chance to create new D&D stories alongside the 5th edition of the game and having readers enjoy them is a real thrill. It’s been a ton of fun.
You’re a big presence online and share so much about the process of writing through your blog and Patreon sites. Share with us how starting this has helped you as a creator.
When I’m not writing comics I teach at an art college in Toronto called Seneca. That teaching bug never really goes away, so when people ask about how I do things I start breaking it down into a teach-able series of thoughts. That’s really how the How-To blog posts started. People on Twitter asked me about how I write comics and I realized that answering that in 140 character tweets wasn’t going to cut it so I started writing more extensive articles. Each one grabbed a bit more attention and now there are over 40 articles about scripting, pitching, networking, marketing, conventions, and some of the economics of making creator-owned comics.
All the How-To articles at www.jimzub.com are free, while the Patreon site is a deeper dive into my work. If people pledge a small amount per month they can see my actual pitches, story outlines, and scripts, giving them greater insight into my writing process. It’s not the only way of doing it, of course, but it hopefully shows them what professional quality comic writing can look like.
Note: The featured image used was taken from nerdforaliving.com and TuffGnarl.com claims no rights whatsoever to it. Upon request, we will take the image down.
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