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August 21, 2010

Deep Discussions with Decapitated Dan: Jim Zubkavich

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Written by: DecapitatedDan
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Welcome back kiddies. I have lured Jim Zubkavich into the depths this week to pick his brain about his new book Skullkickers. So sit back and relax as he tells us about who he is, what he does, and what we can expect from him in the future. Trust me, you will like what you read!

Decapitated Dan: Hey Jim, thanks for taking time to talk with me about Skullkickers. First of all, let’s talk about you. Who are you and what do you do?

Jim Zubkavich: I’m a creative guy living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada who has a few different hats right now.

My primary job is as a Project Manager at UDON Entertainment, assembling teams for art projects being done by the studio. UDON has worked on artwork for comics, video games, movies and toys and you’ve probably seen our work even if you didn’t know it was the UDON studio on board . UDON is probably best known for working on Capcom’s famous fighting game properties Street Fighter and Darkstalkers, but we’ve also done work on properties like Star Wars, World of Warcraft and Dungeons & Dragons.

At the same time I’m also teaching at Seneca College here in Toronto. I lecture on animation, digital painting and film theory/history. My actual educational background is in film and animation, so it all ties together quite well.

Now, in addition to those two things, I’m launching the Skullkickers comic at Image this fall. 
In short, I’m a big ol’ professional nerd.

Decapitated Dan: How did you find yourself getting into making comics?

Jim Zubkavich: Before I joined up with UDON I had my own web comic online and used that as a way to learn the craft a bit and tell my own story inbetween freelance work I was doing at the time.

The work I do at the UDON studio has always been indirectly tied in to making comics, even when I wasn’t overseeing the studio’s actual comic projects. As things have evolved I’ve become more involved the comic end of the company, helping put together creative teams in editorial and writing stories for the books as well.

Most recently I wrote the new Street Fighter comic mini-series centered around Ibuki, one of the newer World Warrior characters who was introduced in Street Fighter III.

Decapitated Dan: So, what can you tell me about Skullkickers?

Jim Zubkavich: Skullkickers is a buddy cop film slammed in to Conan. It’s a gritty and funny fantasy adventure filled to the brim with monsters and mayhem.

Two mercenary warriors travel around a muddy fantasy world kicking the crap out of monsters while getting in to trouble and find themselves embroiled in far bigger things than they can imagine. The comic is about taking the classic fantasy novel tropes I love and putting them through a sarcastic filter, sort of like Army of Darkness.

Decapitated Dan: Are there any main characters?

Jim Zubkavich: The two main characters are an unnamed human and dwarf. In the tradition of western flicks like The Man With No Name, no one knows who these two basses are or where they came from. They’re jerks but you end up liking them anyways because they’re funny, confident and capable, regardless of their questionable morals.

Decapitated Dan: Where did the ideas for this story come from?

Jim Zubkavich: The initial concept spun out of a short story pitch done for Image Comics’ Popgun anthology series. Chris Stevens (the original artist) and I came up with a wish list of fun things we’d enjoy working with and it all boiled down to this core of black comedy fantasy. It was like blending together horror, fantasy, humor and old D&D gaming sessions in to a cohesive whole.

Image liked the concept enough after the initial short story showed up in Popgun that they recommend I take it further and pitch it as a full blown series.

Decapitated Dan: If you were to give this book a movie style rating (G, PG, PG-13, R, X), what would it get, and why would you say that?

Jim Zubkavich: It’s an edgy PG-13 with quite a bit of blood and violence. Swearing and nudity isn’t a focus, so we’re able to keep it under that R line but it’ll be nasty and action-packed with a slew of monsters at every turn.

Decapitated Dan: In terms of horror, what can we expect?

Jim Zubkavich: There’s a funny gory quality to it. I think horror fans will get a kick out of the level of nasty-fun in the book.

In the original short story the dwarf burrows in to the brain of a giant worm/leech monster by hacking a hole in to the back of its head with his axes. In the first issue of the full series a fat werewolf is shot in the belly button and gets stabbed in the eye with a silver teaspoon. Those are pretty good indicators of how fights will roll out as the issues continue.

Decapitated Dan: What are you hoping readers can take away from this book?

Jim Zubkavich: In short I hope readers read the first issue and think – “These two characters are amazing idiots and I want to see what trouble they get in to next.”

Fantasy as a whole is an awesome backdrop for stories. I want people to dig in to this easily accessible book and have fun with it. If they’re entertained and are eager to read the next chapter, we’ve succeeded. Simple as that.

Decapitated Dan: So I have taken a peek at the first issue, and I want to know the inspiration behind the fat werewolf.

Jim Zubkavich: It’s a bit of a comment on the sleek sexy werewolf that’s invaded the supernatural genre lately. I want some ugliness to drive the look of these creatures. The monsters in Skullkickers are a bit off from what you’d expect. They’re familiar but twisted, drawing inspiration from classic myths and all that but seen through that sarcastic lens.

Decapitated Dan: How has the reaction to the book been so far?

Jim Zubkavich: The first issue doesn’t come out until September 22 so the general public hasn’t gotten their hands on it. We’re obviously eager to give them a chance to read it and react.

I’ve been sending advanced copies to reviewers and friends/colleagues in the industry and they’ve been incredibly supportive and enthusiastic. A lot of people have been saying that it’ll stand out on the shelves with Chris Stevens’ eye-popping covers and Edwin Huang’s fantastic interior page work.

When it comes to comics, you need to make a strong first impression with the art and I know we’ve succeeded on that front. Once people are grabbed by that and dig in to the story, I want them to have a good time to match the spiffy visuals.

Decapitated Dan: Can we expect more Skullkickers material in the future?

Jim Zubkavich: The first story arc of the series is 5 issues and Image has said that they’re on board for more if we are, so hopefully we’ll see a lot of these two ass-kicking mercenaries once it gets rolling. I have a lot of stories to tell and an over arcing plan for how it will play out as the stakes get higher later on.

Decapitated Dan: Can we expect more titles from you in the future?

Jim Zubkavich: Absolutely. I have a bunch of ideas I’ve been accumulating in my brain box for years. I want to create and collaborate with great creative partners/publishers to make those a reality. If Skullkickers is the springboard to making that happen, that would be ideal.

Decapitated Dan: Any strange or interesting stories from shows you care to share?

Jim Zubkavich: Working at UDON you get a lot of fascinating interactions with fans of video games or movie properties we’ve been involved with. I love that people are passionate about their fandoms. It’s an amazing and strange business to be involved with.

I was the Editor on a book called Darkstalkers Tribute that commemorated 15 years of the Darkstalkers franchise. We received thousands of entries for a book centered around this game franchise that we love but hasn’t had a new installment in many years. That really took me aback. Fan momentum is powerful stuff.

Decapitated Dan: Were you into any horror titles growing up that led you to want to create a book like this?

Jim Zubkavich: Book-wise I was always more in to the fantasy thing more than the horror thing. The Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series by Fritz Leiber had a great balance of urban grit and fantasy. The Conan books always felt really visceral and awesome, especially with those dingy and brutal Frazetta paintings on the covers.

Movie-wise, the horror stuff wigged me out something fierce except for comedy-horror like The Evil Dead or Nightmare on Elm Street. I think the fact that it bothered me so much gives me extra incentive to take a bunch of it in now, like some weird guilty pleasure for being an adult.

No matter what I’m watching, the story has to work. Mindless violence doesn’t work for me. I want the whole package to engage – visual and story.

Decapitated Dan: What comics are you currently reading?

Jim Zubkavich: I love Blade of the Immortal by Hiroaki Samura. It’s the best samurai manga being published in English. The art is gorgeous and there’s a brutality, in terms of violence and character emotion, that shocks the reader and sucks them in.

Robert Kirkman’s Invincible and the Walking Dead are both stellar series. Kirkman really knows how to keep a lot of plot threads spinning without losing focus on the story as a whole.

Joe Hill’s Locke & Key series is brilliant. Moody supernatural mystery and horror that’s incredibly compelling with rock solid art to match. If you’re not reading it you really should be. It’s one of the best comics being published right now.

Decapitated Dan: So where can readers find out more about this book?

Jim Zubkavich: Even before issue #1 comes out I’ve got a website set up at www.skullkickers.com for people to follow along and see exclusive preview material of the book. It’s the hub for behind-the-scenes art, writing, contests and more. Visit the site and, if you have an RSS reader, please subscribe to our feed.

Decapitated Dan: So in summary give me a quick recap on Skullkickers and why fans should give it a try.

Jim Zubkavich: Imagine there were two Ash characters from Army of Darkness and they killed tons of monsters while bantering and causing Hell wherever they went. That’s SKULLKICKERS.

It’s violent fantasy gold. It’s sword and sassery.

Whenever I tell someone that, they always smile or laugh, just at that description. I think that’s a good sign.

Decapitated Dan: Thanks so much for your time, Jim.

Jim Zubkavich: Thanks! I’m excited about the book launch in September and hope we can stay in touch.

Decapitated Dan


One Comment

  1. Billy

    This looks pretty decent. I like the cartoony looking artwork. Good interview DD.

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