Jim Zub is the definition of inspiration for countless fans. Since the onset of his career in 2001 with his own self-published title and a dedicated growing fanbase, Zub steadily gained the attention of the industries premier publishers. Though modest and grateful for his success with equal talent as both writer and artist, there is no denying that Zub has become one of comic’s creative heavyweights and one of the industries most recognizable names.
CW: So as I prepared for the interview, which I am so thankful that you have been so gracious to give us some of your time, I went straight to social media to talk to fans and gauge their thoughts and feelings. One question that I heard more than once was how you entered into the industry? What was the early period like for you?
ZUB: My first taste of the comic industry was online back in 2001. I was working in animation and teaching part-time at a small art college while living in Calgary, Alberta. I started my own webcomic and worked on it in the evenings. Through that site, I started to build a small readership and meet other webcomic creators. When I took a break for the holidays I posted a little note on the site begging readers not to go away and that updates would start back up in the new year. Keep in mind this is in the days before RSS feeds and social media, so if people didn’t bookmark and check a site regularly it could quickly implode in terms of web traffic.
Anyway, Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics) sent me a really nice note telling me not to worry, that I was doing a good job and that readers like him would definitely come back. It was a huge morale booster for me and lead to emails back and forth and eventually a couple phone calls. Scott felt that online comics were on the cusp of breaking out into a much wider audience and wanted as many webcomic creators as possible to meet in person at San Diego Comicon that year to talk about the possibilities. He would introduce me to a whole host of other creators and make me feel like I was part of the bigger comic community.
It would be years before I was on the radar of the “mainstream” comic industry, but those early years were crucial in teaching me about comic storytelling and the bigger social aspects of creating comics.
What advice would you give aspiring writers and artists looking to forge their own path into the comic industry? Maybe something you wish someone shared with you way back when.
ZUB: Create work you’re passionate about rather than looking to copy current trends or create things you think the industry wants to see. Creating comics is a lot of work so if you’re not invested in the story you’re making you won’t have the momentum to carry it through to the finish line, especially when you’re just starting and are spending your own money and time to do it. Some of the biggest independent hits from the past decade or so have been unexpected stories channeling something different from the norm: Walking Dead, Scott Pilgrim, Bone, Saga, and Sex Criminals, to name a few.
Start small and create short stories with a beginning, middle, and end. 3 pages, 6 pages, 10 pages…Work your way up to more complex storytelling by learning the craft and making mistakes with those smaller/shorter stories. I’ve seen way too many would-be creators try to make their first work something epic and long form and run out of steam because they tried to run a marathon before they even knew how to walk.
If you can think back to the days when you were just getting started to when your career began gaining momentum, what would you say was the one statement or piece of feedback you got that stuck with you through the years?
ZUB: Good finished work is better than brilliant unfinished work.
Considering all the comic book titles you’ve worked on in your career, what comic would you like to have a crack at if you had the opportunity? What would be on your bucket list?
ZUB: Amazing Spider-Man and Doctor Strange are at the top of the list, as are Harley Quinn and Suicide Squad.
Speaking of bucket lists, in terms of creative collaborations, who would you like to team up with one day?
ZUB: Arthur Adams (will he ever do sequential pages again?), Paul Smith, John Byrne. All very much pie-in-the-sky wishes, but it’s nice to dream anyway.
You have so many projects going all at once. How do you juggle it all?
ZUB: I make extensive To-Do lists (physical ones where I get the satisfaction of crossing off each item as it’s completed) and my Google Calendar is a bloodbath of organization. The most valuable thing I’ve learned over the years is how to gauge my productivity in a way that’s pretty accurate. I don’t commit to a project or a schedule unless I know I can deliver on it.
You have a Patreon page for new and aspiring writers to learn how professional comics are written. This is really interesting. For as much as you do, I have to say you are really good to fans, encouraging them to keep at it. Can you give some insight into your “How to Tutorial about Making Comics” came about? How do you hope this will impact other creators out there in terms of benefit?
ZUB: My blog posts about how to write comics and work in the industry started from questions I was receiving on Twitter. Readers asked me how I write comics and how I pitched my stories to Image when I first got going. Twitter’s limited character count wasn’t going to cut it in terms of advice, so I started writing a post on my site about my writing process, then realized there was more involved than I could fit into one article. As I posted each part up, people asked more questions and more blog posts came from them. There are now over 40 articles on my site about the economics of creator-owned comics, pitching stories, writing, and more. Many of them have been shared online over the years.
Some of the people who read and enjoyed my tutorial posts asked if there was a way they could support me directly and so, eventually, I started a Patreon site where I put up finished scripts for my work-for-hire writing and advance previews for my creator-owned comics. The original articles are still free, but this is a way that people can dig into the writing process more in-depth with real examples while also showing some support for my free tutorials.
I never expected those original articles would be shared so far and wide across the internet. All I wanted to do was give people a little bit of insight into things I had to figure out through trial and error or by hearing it from other pros. I’m thrilled whenever I hear that people have learned from those articles and it’s inspired them to make their own comics.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far? What’s the first thing that comes to mind?
ZUB: Avengers: No Surrender is definitely a career highlight right now. The size and scope of the project is bigger than anything I’ve done before and with the weekly release schedule, it has more momentum than a typical monthly.
Let’s talk about No Surrender. I have to say this is probably one of my favorite storylines to hit the comic scene in years. I love the characters, the concept, the drama, all of it! With its story nearing its conclusion, can you give readers any insight on what the will be the repercussions to the mainstream Marvel universe overall? How far will the story reach in the aftermath? What can readers expect?
Thanks for the high praise. Our team worked incredibly hard on it and the response from readers and retailers has been really gratifying.
I can’t say too much beyond what’s already been revealed: the return of the Hulk, the wrap-up of the current Avengers teams, and several heroes in deep, deep trouble as we come to the end of the story, especially Quicksilver.
We have a few more surprises before the story wraps up. Avengers #689 is the end of the big conflict, while #690 acts as an Epilogue and farewell.
Voyager turned out to be a big shock for everyone. More than once during the storyline actually! So what was the inspiration behind her creation? What does her future look like?
We knew we wanted to include a few mysteries at the core of the story and injecting a new “founder” into Avengers history became one of those ideas at the table that just kept building. It tied into the whole “Marvel Legacy” branding and gave us a reason to use nostalgia in an unexpected way. In addition, Voyager’s power of teleportation was something the Avengers didn’t have back then, so it felt like it added to the team without taking the spotlight away from established team members. The fact that it also allowed us to shift characters around the board for our cosmic game just all fit together nicely.
I can’t say what happens to Voyager by the end of No Surrender, but keep reading!
I think probably one of the biggest questions on the minds of the fans would be how do you feel about your upcoming move from Avengers to Champions?
ZUB: I’m really excited to chart new paths and build new stories for these young heroes. They have so much potential. I hope Sean, Marcio, and I are able to create stories that become synonymous with them down the road.
Where would you like to take the Champions in terms of storylines and elements?
ZUB: I want to channel some of the classic teen superhero action and drama I loved in series like New Warriors, Generation-X, or New Mutants, showing how these heroes are trying their best to juggle superheroic responsibilities and their teen lives. Alongside that classic feel, I’m also trying to reflect current issues teenagers face: social media, technology, anxiety, and a world pushed to the brink with global conflict, climate change, and fears for the future. Writing Champions is a challenge and an incredible responsibility.
A lot of readers are familiar with your work with Marvel and DC. What other stories or comics that you have done would you love to see get more attention? What are you really proud of?
ZUB: My creator-owned work at Image is obviously near and dear to me: Skullkickers, Wayward, and Glitterbomb. All of them mark important parts of my career and show different sides to my writing. They’re pure/unfiltered Zub-ness.
On a non-DC/Marvel level, Dungeons & Dragons and Samurai Jack have been two of my favorite writing projects. Both series play to my strengths and I’m incredibly proud of the comics our team put together.
Can you give us some upcoming date and events fans can come and see you?
ZUB: In the next few months I’m at Chicago for C2E2, in Calgary for the Calgary Expo, Toronto for TCAF, then Moncton New Brunswick for the East Coast Comic Expo, and Johannesburg South Africa in late June for Icon CGC.
If people want to find out more about me and my work, check out jimzub.com
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