the end of February, Daniel Elkin had the chance to chat with
writer, Jim Zubkavich, at Image Con in Oakland. As Skullkickers
#13 is released this week, Daniel and Zub chat about the origins of
the series, where the book is headed, and why Skullkickers
is, indeed, “quality literature”,
Daniel Elkin for Comics
Bulletin: At my house, Skullkickers has
consistently been one of our top reads. My first question actually
comes from my son, and it's the perennial: “How did you come up
with the idea?”
Skullkickers is basically like a love letter to all the
Dungeons and Dragons, and Sword of Sorcery stuff I grew
up with. So it's Conan the Barbarian, and Army of Darkness,
and the Dragonlance Chronicles, and playing D and D with my
brother and our friends, and all of the “mish mash” of Swords
of Sorcery stuff that I love- just on overdrive, you know? And
it's obviously sarcastic and ridiculous, but I think you can tell
underneath all that there is a deep seated love for the genre and for
the tropes and everything that drives it. So even when we're making
fun of it, it's like that best friend that can elbow you in the ribs
because they know you best. So that's really where it comes from.
Skullkickers is really my love letter to fantasy.
recently read Michael Chabon's novel, Gentlemen of
the Road, and as I was
reading it I couldn't help but picture the characters from
Skullkickers as the main
Zubanovich: Yeah, I mean
the core concept is that classic “buddy-cop” kind of element torn
into the traveling idiots. It falls on a lot of those classical kind
of story tropes, or old movie tropes of these two characters who are
dealing with each other, and dealing with whatever gets in their way,
over and over and over again. So those are sort of the things that
comes to mind, honestly.
CB: Did you come up with the
concept of the characters first, before you went with the story? Or
was it a story that you wanted to tell?
visuals actually of the two characters came out of the original
artist who did the two short stories for PopGun, Chris
Stevens. He designed these two characters as contrasting
opposites, you know, the big and the tall, the wide and the more of
that “bulky” top, so those visuals then sort of built the
personalities. So then it organically grew from that - and the
original story was much more closed. It was just these two nameless
idiots going through town, and they cause trouble, and they kill
monsters, and they leave. And the people in the town are like “Who
were those guys? They were worse for us than the monsters.” That
was sort of the original gag, and then it was building a bigger and
bigger base for them to bulldoze through, essentially. Now the big
story that we're telling is that - the classic fantasy story is like
the Heroes of Destiny - and so we're deconstructing that, and
destroying that and making fun of it. So that is now overlayed on
these characters and on this bigger world.
CB: How far out have you
exactly where we're going. My master plan is for us to do ideally six
story arcs, so that way we'll have six thin trade paperbacks, and
then three of them doubled up for the hardbacks. It'll be a fantasy
trilogy, right? And then we have these guys steam roll through every
major fantasy trope. We had them in town with all the political
intrigue and nobles, and the third story arc they're with the pirates
on the high seas, and I've got ideas for vikings, and the Northern
reaches, like they're trapped in the desert, or in the jungle. All of
those traveling fantasy tropes. Eventually they've just got to crush
CB: While it is certainly easy
to engage with Skullkickers in terms of the
humor and the action of the book, is there a larger theme you hope
your audience will take from it?
Zubkavich: Well, the
Heroes of Destiny tropeis like the ultimate theme where the audience will say something
like, “Hey, this is every fantasy story,” only you know it's a
fantasy story so we're going to play with it. Every time you think
we're going to go straight, we're going to go a little off kilter,
and stuff like that.
There's a British show called Red
this Sci Fi comedy, and if you watch each individual episode, it's
very funny. But if you watch seasons of it, you go “You know for a
very dumb show with a dumb core premise - this is surprisingly
complex.” This has bigger themes, and I can see jokes are coming
back around in echoes. You plan this very meticulously for something
so stupid, right? I think if we finish up the series people will look
back and go “That's the most intellectually complex stupid thing
I've ever seen. That is incredibly low brow-high fantasy, that's so
well constructed for it's stupidity.” I think that would be the
best compliment I could get.
CB: Are you planning on taking
Skullkickers elsewhere other than just books?
Zubkavich: Yeah, we
actually got representation now so it's being shopped around in terms
of Hollywood, and video games, stuff like that. There is a really
popular fantasy card game called Munchkin by Steve Jackson
Games, and we're actually doing an expansion of Skullkickers.
It comes out this summer. I think it's going to be great for finding
new readers who are in the same mindset as what we do.
CB: What's been the most
effective marketing you've been doing for the book?
Zubkavich: What we
recently started doing is... well, see, the tough thing with
independent comics is really finding new readers. I mean, when we
were kids growing up reading comics, we would just buy a random issue
of Spider-Man, and if we got hooked we would just keep buying
it. But now these people want to go from the start. They want the
first issue. For Skullkickers, issue #13 is coming out in
April, and it's hard to get people to start with #13. They're not
going to want to do that. So, one of the things we've started doing
is serializing our older issues online for free. It's like I lent it
to you, or your buddy lent it to you, and people can get in from the
start. We've had really good success with that. We've been getting
really good web traffic, and people who have never heard of the book
now have heard of it, are reading it, and becoming fans of it. So
the internet touches everyone so it is a nice even base for us to
really get the word out. We get a lot of fantasy based fans in
general, so I kind of target those types of elements quite a bit, and
those types of websites.
CB: You're also doing a bunch
of other stuff, too, other than Skullkickers?
Zubkavich: I've got a new
graphic novel that I'm doing through Udon,
which is a very different book. It's called the Makeshift Miracle,
and it's kind of a mystery drama that I'm doing. Beautiful watercolor
artwork done by this guy named Shun Hong Chan. I've got other writing
that I'm doing for Bandai, the Media company in Japan. I've written
comics for Street Fighter. I've done all sorts of different
stuff. Skullkickers is near and dear to my heart, but I've
also got a bunch of other stuff I'm - so to say - exploring, and
hoping I can sort of play in all the different worlds.
CB: So Skullkickers
is opening a lot of different doors for you?
Zubkavich: Yeah, It's been
great. Image is a top tier
publisher, and so it gives you a level of exposure, and people take
notice of it a lot more. I could tell people “Hey it's the same
publisher as The Walking Dead” and someone takes you
seriously all of a sudden. I think we're all riding Robert's
coat-tails right now. That's sort of the reality of it right now.
It's been really useful to show
people “this is my work- this is the way that I do things”, and
it's fun. But it's well done, and it's professional and we're on
time. The book is silly, but I take it very seriously for lack of a
better term. That's what being professional is all about. It really
has opened doors, and it's given me some great opportunities.
CB: How did you additionally
hook up with Image?
Zubkavich: A friend of
mine, Joe Keatinge. who now does Glory, he was the editor on
PopGun the Anthology. He ended up contacting Chris Stevens,
the original artist and I, to do a short story. So we did the
original ten page short story of these two idiots. And Eric Larsen
was head publisher at Imageat the time, he took notice of that and he said “This is good,
I like it. You should do more.” So we did another short story in
PopGun vol.3, and then Eric Larsen said “If you pitch this
as a series, I'd be on board for that.” I had other freelance work
I was doing, and Chris was super busy. We just sort of fell by the
wayside. I guess that will never happen. Then Edwin Huang came along
and I was sort of pulling it out of the moth balls, and we went,
“Okay we're going to do this for real now.” It's been awesome
CB: I have to compliment you
on your inventive use of sound effects in the book, It's one of the
things that my son comments the most on after reading an issue. But
the whole package really appeals to him and his friends.
Zubkavich: To a young
teenage kid the book is like sugar, isn't it? You know, YALSA,
the Young Adult Library Services Association actually gave us a Great
Graphics Novel 2012 listing, and I'm reading their description and it
says “Quality literature” and all of this sort of stuff, and I'm
like “The American Library Association just told people that a book
called Skullkicker, where people's heads pop off, is 'quality
literature.” HA! We have truly gamed the system now. This is great.
This is exactly what I want. So if my parents ever say “I can't
believe you'd do a book about these guys punching a horned ape,”
I'm like “This is quality literature of the American Library
association, you have no say here anymore!”