Author Archives: Jim Zub - Page 2

The Writing Marathon – Ten Years Later

In late 2013 I put together a blogpost discussing productivity that included a dorky bar chart showcasing how many comic pages I wrote each year from 2009-2013. That period was explosive for me in terms of career growth and visibility. It was exciting to launch my new creator-owned series and slowly use the momentum that came with it to get work for hire projects at some of the largest comic publishers in North America.

It’s strange looking back on that chart and realizing that some of my highest profile projects, ones I’m now closely associated with, had not happened at all yet – In 2013 I hadn’t written anything for Marvel, Dungeons & Dragons, or Conan the Barbarian.

So, almost a decade later, what has changed?

As you can see, the year-over-year wild increase that happened between 2009-2013 leveled out and then decreased. I mentioned in that original post that juggling 1000 comic pages a year alongside a full-time teaching job played havoc with my personal life and that was certainly true. I look at the most productive years on this chart (2013, 2014, 2018, 2019) and remember the intense stress they brought to my personal relationships and physical health. I also remember the pressure I felt from 2015 to 2017 to ramp things back up and maintain a crazy output level, to make sure I wasn’t squandering the higher profile projects I was a part of.

I’m still extremely proud of the books I’ve written, but also know that by the time 2019 wrapped up I was on the cusp of burning out. That’s one of several reasons why I planned to take a teaching sabbatical in 2020 so I could focus more on writing and travel. After the pandemic flared up, those ambitious tour plans came to a grinding halt, but so did a bunch of the writing…

…And that was, surprisingly, a good thing.

Being forced to slow down, write less, and not travel finally showed me a better work-life balance, one where I could still be creative, but also enjoy more personal time. I went for long walks with my wife, exploring our neighborhood in Toronto with the same sense of relaxed curiosity we previously only reserved for trips abroad. I learned how to cook dozens of new dishes, unlocking a satisfying hobby I never would have imagined for myself when I first moved away from home and could barely operate a stove. I jumped into tabletop RPGs on Zoom and, once in-person activities resumed, board game nights at home, strengthening social bonds with industry peers and other friends. I signed on with a company to handle convention appearances so Stacy and I didn’t have to spend crazy amounts of time and effort figuring out the logistics behind each trip.

I also took on writing projects outside of comics – consulting work, a bit of prose, scripting for an unreleased video game, and continuing the D&D Young Adventurer’s series. It was a period of trying different things and realizing that the skills I’d been honing in the comic industry could be leveraged in other places.

Bringing things back to productivity, what have I learned so far?

I don’t think quantity is the only measuring stick when it comes to writing, art, or any other creative pursuit, but it’s still a valid metric. How much you create does not equate to its quality, but there is natural skill growth that comes from regularly finishing projects and releasing them out into the world. I am a much better writer now than I was ten years ago, and a large part of that came from the volume and variety of projects I worked on.

Having a schedule you stick to or a deadline imposed by a client can help push past the natural creative resistance we all feel, the “imposter syndrome” that halts us in our tracks or other self doubts that keep us from achieving our goals. The early years of ramped up productivity helped train me to get into “writing mode” more easily.

And yet, productivity can also overwhelm a lot of other things and blind us in terms of how we value our time and why we create in the first place. I’m trying to be more vigilant about my time and where I put it, while also planning for a future creative semi-retirement down the road where I get to create stuff I’m passionate about on a more relaxed schedule.

The page count represents a concrete measurement of work completed, but those numbers also have meaning to me as an ebb and flow of my career. High output years are not necessarily ‘good’ and lower output years are not necessarily ‘bad’, they’re all part of the journey I’m on. The most important thing is that I still have a ton of passion for telling stories and, if I’m careful and cognizant, that gets to continue long into the future with many more bar charts to come. 🙂

If you found the above thoughts helpful on your own creative journey, feel free to let me know here (or on Twitter), share the post with others, and consider buying some of my comics to show your support.

Zubby Newsletter #9: It’s Gonna Be Maaay

May 1st, already?! My god, this year is an absolute rocket…

This Saturday – Free Comic Book Day!

Saturday, May 6th is FREE COMIC BOOK DAY and that means CONAN THE BARBARIAN #0 is finally unleashed at your favorite local comic shop! This free prequel issue has an all-new 12-page story (that will not be in issue #1) that acts as both a prequel and mission statement for a new era of Hyborian adventure.

Our entire creative team is pouring blood, sweat, and soul into this new series, so make sure you pick up a copy of #0 for FREE, let us know what you think of it, and then put in your pre-order for Conan the Barbarian #1 charging forth in July.

The response we’ve been getting from readers and retailers even before the launch has been incredible. I can’t wait for everyone to check this out.

Also arriving in July – the trade paperbacks for RICK AND MORTY VS CTHULHU and UNBREAKABLE RED SONJA. If you missed those mini-series in single issues, it’s the perfect time to snap up the softcovers.

I spoke to George and Reilly from the Hypothetical Island podcast all about strange scenarios involving lycanthropic ewoks and gnashing teeth, and then after that we chatted all about Conan the Barbarian.

For the Hyborian fandom, if you want to skip the preamble and get right into the Conan stuff, fast forward to the 19 minute mark of the episode.

Adventures Overseas

Next week, Stacy and I head to Wales for the Swansea Comic & Gaming Convention happening May 13-14. It’s our first overseas trip since Fall 2019, so we’re excited to be heading somewhere new and have built in a bit of extra time for exploration and relaxation, especially with my birthday coming up on May 18th.

It feels a bit surreal getting back on the convention circuit in a big way, but it’s exciting too. You can keep track of signings and conventions I have confirmed on my website right here.

Seneca 2D Grad Films

In addition to comic writing and other creative projects, some of you may not know that I’ve been teaching drawing and storytelling courses at Seneca College (now Seneca Polytechnic) since 2004.

Each year, the 2D Animation stream splits into production teams and puts together a series of original animated short films, giving our soon-to-be grads solid production experience before they head out into the industry. Every aspect of these films, from initial concept to design, direction, animation and post-production, is handled by the students with staff mentors like me providing feedback along the way.

Here are the Seneca 2D Animation grad films for 2023. I’m really proud of these crews and all the hard work they put into each production:




On Tuesday, May 2nd at 6pm is the Seneca Creative Arts and Animation grad show called Coalesce. If you’re in the Toronto area and work in film, animation, art, theatre, or music and want to see what our grads are capable of, feel free to register for a free ticket and stop by.

Chicken Karaage – You Will Crave It

During the height of the pandemic I craved the fried chicken Stacy and I had when we traveled across Japan. Chicken Karaage isn’t heavy or greasy like a lot of deep-fried food – the batter is thin and crispy while the meat inside stays tender and incredibly flavorful.

It took me several tries to find the right recipe and get that ideal savory crunch, but once I finally got it, I was thrilled. It’s a dish I love having as part of my cooking skillset.

There’s a tweet thread from last year where I went through the karaage cooking process complete with photos of each step. Here’s a text summary:

  • Use deboned chicken thighs (leaving the skin on for extra flavor and crunch), cut them into two-bite size pieces and marinade them in a mix of sake, soy sauce, a sprinkle of sugar and some squeezed juice from fresh cut ginger. If you’re short on time you can marinade the chicken pieces for 15-20 min and it’ll work fine, but 4-5 hours in the fridge or even overnight is better.
  • The dry dredge is super important. You’ll probably have to shop at an Asian grocery store to find potato starch, but it’s worth the search. Some online recipes say you can substitute corn starch and, yes, it will still make tasty chicken with some crunch, but it won’t taste quite like real-deal chicken karaage.

    Even when I found potato starch and followed recipes I found online, it wasn’t quite as flavorful as the karaage I had in Japan. Zack Davisson solved the missing piece of the puzzle for me – He suggested I add a a bit of powdered chicken stock to the potato starch and it worked wonderfully! I haven’t seen any recipes that include this crucial step but, trust me, it brings out a lot of extra flavor.

  • Coat each piece generously with the potato starch + powdered broth mix. Don’t leave any chicken exposed. Let the pieces sit on a wire rack (so air can circulate above and below) for at least 10 min to really let the starch adhere.
  • You can use a deep fryer to cook the chicken, but I just use a steel pot with peanut or canola oil on the stove. Make sure the pot you’re using is no more than half full to avoid spills or splashes!

    Use a thermometer to check the temperature. The oil should be between 325° and 350° F before the first fry starts.

    Yes, first fry. We’re triple frying these pieces for maximum crunch and flavor! The meat is encased in the potato starch batter so the outside gets crisp while the meat inside steams, keeping it moist and tender.

    Don’t overcrowd the pot. You need space to keep the heat up and let the hot oil circulate around each piece. Fry the chicken pieces in batches and put them on your wire rack between each round.

    Approximately 30-45 seconds for the first fry.
    Approximately 1 min for the second fry.
    Approximately 1-1.5 min for the third fry.

  • After the third fry, put the chicken pieces in a large mixing bowl with a paper towel to wick off any excess oil and then sprinkle on some salt so it attaches to the hot chicken.

    The traditional pairing with karaage is a wedge of lemon and kewpie mayo with a sprinkle of 5-spice on top. Japanese beer is a proper addition as well. 🙂

  • Essentially, I follow this video recipe (but add a bit of powdered chicken broth to the starch) and it really hits the spot – bringing back the full karaage sensory experience I’d been missing from Japan:

Also, don’t just ditch the cooking oil after you’re done. After the oil cools down completely, carefully pour it through a fine mesh strainer (to get rid of particulates) into a bottle or jar and keep it for next time. You can re-use the oil 4-5 times without any problem.

Links and Other Stuff

  • This history and analysis of the storytelling and panel choices from Bernard Krigstein’s famous EC Comics short story is really compelling, made even more impressive by the fact that this is the first video on this gent Matttt’s YouTube channel. If he keeps up with content this good it’ll definitely be a channel worth following.

That should cover it this time.


Arriving in October – D&D: Nights of Endless Adventure!

Almost as soon as the first Dungeons & Dragons comic omnibus, called Days of Endless Adventure, arrived in stores, I had readers asking me if the later volumes of the series would also be collected in the same format.

This fall, the wait is over – D&D comic volume 4-6 (Evil at Baldur’s Gate, Infernal Tides, and Mindbreaker) will be collected in a second omnibus, called Nights of Endless Adventure!

Make sure you pre-order from your favorite comic shop or bookstore.

Dungeons & Dragons:
Nights of Endless Adventure Compendium

(collects Dungeons & Dragons vol. 4-6)

The Heroes of Baldur’s Gate, led by fan-favorite characters Minsc and Boo, risk life, limb, and dignity to protect the city they love. Whether fending off the devilish forces of Avernus, rooting out a takeover of the city’s elite by sinister mind flayers, or confronting their abundant personal problems, Minsc, Boo, Delina, Krydle, and the others never stop adventuring! Collects Evil at Baldur’s Gate, Infernal Tides, and Mindbreaker.
Barnes & Noble

Zubby Newsletter #8: Soul Stirring

A different format this time, as I dive into anecdotes and analysis about one of my obsessions-

What Is It About Those Souls?

Hidetaka Miyazaki, the developer of Elden Ring, is one of TIME Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People in 2023, only the second video game industry person to ever make it on the list (The first was Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario, Donkey Kong, and Legend of Zelda).

Even though “Soulsborne” titles have been lauded and influential in video game circles for years, Elden Ring broke through with a level of mainstream success no one could have predicted. It launched to sales numbers that eclipsed the lifetime sales of most other FromSoft titles and has fueled a surge of interest as gamers go back to rediscover the rest of the “Souls series”: Demon’s Souls (2009)Dark Souls 1-3 (2011, 2014, 2016)Bloodborne (2015), and Sekiro (2019).

These games have an infamous reputation for being difficult and obtuse, cultivating a fandom obsessed with their challenging game play, mysterious lore, and strange characters.

That rep is rightfully earned:

  • They are difficult, especially compared to most other video games on the market.
  • The game play is obtuse and in-game instruction is minimal.
  • The fandom is obsessed and many enjoy deep-diving into lore, symbolism and connectivity in the games, implicit or implied.
  • The characters and their in-game plot lines are quite strange.

And yet, Souls games are also incredibly compelling.

I didn’t try any of them until 2018 when my friend Ray Fawkes (who I’ve known since college and collaborated with on Murderworld) heaped praise on Dark Souls, telling me how fierce and fascinating the series was. With a level of glee I’d rarely seen in him before, he wove a narrative about his hapless hero stumbling through gloomy corridors, being ambushed by monsters and doing everything he could to survive in the face of near certain death. Violent sword and sorcery is certainly my jam, so I snagged Dark Souls Remastered, installed it…

…And did not see the appeal at all.

Dark Souls seemed crafted from a bygone era of video gaming, one where clear instructions and an intuitive user interface were not a priority. The cinematic opening promised epic adventure, but the starting area in-game was a cramped dank prison filled with tricks, traps, and asshole enemies ready to gank me at a moment’s notice. The action felt awkward and unresponsive, the world seemed small, and I wondered what Ray saw in this that I was somehow missing.

Eight months later, Playstation had a sale on digital games and on a whim I picked up Bloodborne, not realizing it had the same development team as Dark Souls. The twisted gothic setting grabbed my attention and I waded in, unsure if this would be a repeat of my first Souls experience.

Bloodborne is cut from the same cloth as Dark Souls and, in theory, it should have repelled me the exact same way, but it didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the game still felt weird and kicked my ass, but the atmosphere was so rich and locations so interesting that I stuck with it, creeping forward street by street and section by section, struggling to make progress but compelled to keep trying.

I must have spent at least four hours completing the opening section of Yharnam, the sprawling Stygian labyrinth where Bloodborne begins. My character died dozens of times, but my attitude around those deaths changed. It became apparent to me that the game was consistent in its approach and I was the one making foolish mistakes each and every time.

What felt like poor design when I played Dark Souls for the first time began to slowly fall away, revealing something far more intentional. As I explored Bloodborne further, a message started to emerge through the din. It was simple, but also demanding-

“Are you paying attention?”

  • Are you paying attention to the environment around you – looking carefully at where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going?
  • Are you paying attention to the enemies you encounter – how they sound, how they move, and what they’re capable of?
  • Are you paying attention to your character – especially the speed and reach of your weapon as you attack?
  • Are you paying attention to your inventory – the items you pick up, their description and purpose?

Many video games want the player to feel empowered right from the start, giving them clear goals and, with a bit of effort, the abilities to achieve them. There will be a certain amount of hand-eye coordination involved, but where you have to go and what you have to do when you get there is rarely in question. These games want to please you.

In comparison, many older video games could feel opaque at times due to awkward design or limitations of fidelity, but there was also a gratifying surge that came with figuring things out on your own or having a friend pierce the veil of confusion alongside you.

Souls Games issue a distinct challenge to the player. They establish a foundation of consequence inside a harsh environment that will try to destroy you. It can be extremely frustrating at times, but the commensurate satisfaction I feel as I figure out each piece of the puzzle and overcome each challenge delivers old school gaming delight magnified many times over.

Bloodborne requires careful planning before each major encounter and then quick thinking once the action kicks in. The game constructs a deliberate atmosphere of mystery and dread before violently unleashing new tests on the player as the environments twist around and through each other.

You can stumble through the whole game and even complete it with no idea why you have to slay these creatures and escape this nightmare, or you can slow down on the journey and start to see tiny threads of motivation and emotion woven into conversations and item descriptions that hint at a larger tapestry, fascinating questions and themes lying just out of reach.

You can rail against the darkness all by yourself or summon help, either through AI-controlled NPCs who are fulfilling their own mysterious plot lines, or via online multiplayer fighting alongside fellow human hunters looking to take down their prey.

I fell in hard, conquered Bloodborne and the Old Hunters expansion, and then played through the other Souls titles (and several other games inspired by them). Once that was done, I went back and ‘platinumed’ many of the games, completing every achievement, no matter how demanding or obscure.

Demon’s Souls was the first game in the series and it shows. At times it struggles to execute on its vision for combat and exploration, but it can also be surprisingly confident in game play precepts that will be honed in future titles.

The Dark Souls trilogy iterates on that original game, expanding character possibilities and the types of encounters it throws at you while also broadening the narrative scope of its epic fantasy world. The environments have branching paths that coil around each other or ‘hub’ locations that act as waypoints so you can choose which way you want to head next. Many of the boss battles are epic and the final decision you’re given, to renew the world with fire or send it spiraling deeper into darkness, feels well earned.

Sekiro is a more focused narrative set in a mythical version of Sengoku-era Japan. It has extremely demanding combat that requires meticulous timing, but also generates an adrenaline surge like no other video game I’ve played before.

I’ve enjoyed them all. These are worlds to be explored and challenges to be relished.

Which brings things back to Elden Ring and the TIME Magazine article about its creator.

Elden Ring is a culmination of sorts. It’s an ambitious and massive open world version of Hidetaka’s previous games. While it has the most content to uncover and can be extremely challenging, it also benefits from 13+ years of design experience, balancing that feeling of uncovering a mystery with abundant character options you can use to traverse and conquer the many challenges set before you.

Souls Games are the peaty scotch of video games – a powerful flavor and acquired taste that many people are never going to enjoy no matter how it’s packaged or presented.

As much as I rave about Souls as an experience, the rawness of the design and age of the engine used to build these games can also hamper them at times – There are weird game play systems that don’t become clear unless you look up a guide online and enemy AI that can be deliberate and fiendish one second and then dumb as rocks when taken out of the combat parameters or specific environment it expects. At times Souls fans hand wave some really weird-ass aspects of these games, chalking even genuine programming and optimization errors up to intentional design to a degree that borders on the delusional. There’s a lot of duct tape holding these monstrous beauties together.

Elden Ring’s scope can also be quite overwhelming at times. The open world approach doesn’t allow for a focused path that carefully amplifies the threat, scene by scene. That means its challenge level swings wildly depending on how you build your character and which way your wanderlust takes you; One moment you’re effortlessly trouncing enemies, the next you slam into a proverbial wall and are sent sprawling to your doom.

Despite all that, you’re never trapped. There’s always another direction to go or location to unearth, giving you the chance to earn experience elsewhere and come back to claim victory down the road. The journey is vast and it can be both breathtaking and ridiculous multiple times within the span of a single play session.

Elden Ring isn’t my favorite Souls game (Bloodborne’s eldritch tendrils still have a powerful hold on me), but I’m glad it exists and has introduced millions of people to these games. I’m also glad Elden Ring has won so many awards and gained so much mainstream attention. I wouldn’t say it’s an experience everyone needs, but I do think there’s gold in them thar hills if you’re looking for a challenging and thoroughly satisfying video game rush…

…Just be prepared for a wee bit of obsession if it finds its mark, the kind that makes you pump out a 1600-word essay about it instead of promoting your own work.

Speaking Of Eldritch Horror and Promotion…

Over on my Patreon, I posted up the script for Rick and Morty VS Cthulhu #4 (of 4), the climactic conclusion to our epic nihilism VS narcissism battle as Rick Sanchez tries to stop the Cthulhu Mythos from infecting his dimension and destroying his family.

There are now almost 300 scripts on my Patreon page, a deep archive of my comic writing where, for the price of a fancy coffee, anyone can dig in and compare what I wrote to the final published version, along with pitches, frequently asked questions, interviews, and more.

My Patreon page grew out of more than 40 free writing and industry How-To articles I wrote over on my main site (check the right-hand column labelled #ComicsSchool for links to the most popular articles), covering common questions around how to break into comicshow to write a project pitchhow to find an artist to collaborate with, the economics of creator-owned comics, and much more. Even as the industry has changed and continues to change at a rapid pace, a lot of that information has remained evergreen.

Talking to a Pair of Rogues

I spoke to the gents at the Rogues in The House podcast all about sword & sorcery, Conan the Barbarian, historical fantasy, and more.

For those of you who are hardcore fans of the Hyborian Age, our Conan chatter gets underway at the 28 minute mark of the podcast. The other stuff is great too, but if you’re focused on that aspect, now you know.

Okay, that’s more than enough this time. Have a good week.


Zub on Hypothetical Island

Rub a dub dub, it’s time for Jim Zub! Reilly and George welcome the prolific writer to the Hypothetic Isle for a wide-ranging talk on all things Conan, good dental care, inhabitants of the forest moon of Endor and the correct way to pronounce “Cimmerian”.

Zub Comics Arriving July 2023

Story: JIM ZUB
Cover Artist(s):
COVER F: E.M. GIST (MAY231138)


Years after the battle of Venarium, a weary CONAN returns to his homeland to seek rest and solitude. However, a mysterious scout rides in to warn the Cimmerians of an imminent threat on the march from the Pictish wilderness. Will CONAN and his new ally be able to hold off this new horde of invaders?
In Shops: Jul 26, 2023


Story: JIM ZUB
Art and Cover: TROY LITTLE

When their home is infested by eldritch terror, Rick Sanchez and the Smith family traverse a Lovecraftian hellscape to track down and defeat the big guy himself: CTHULHU.

On their journey through Arkham and the realms beyond, they’re waylaid by literary monstrosities and the characters obsessed with them-fighting off hordes of fish-people, finding and losing love, battling sentient cosmic color, and taking potshots at ol’ HP along the way.

Collects Rick and Morty VS Cthulhu #1-4.
In Shops: Jul 19, 2023


Story: JIM ZUB

Red Sonja carries a hazy vision that lurks just out of reach in her memories. The answer to that mysterious moment will unlock a journey of forbidden magic and searing steel as Sonja’s past and present collide in a quest beyond anything our scarlet-haired hero has faced before!

Dynamite Entertainment is proud to present a sweeping story of sword and sorcery and high adventure by writer JIM ZUB (Conan the Barbarian, Dungeons & Dragons, Avengers) and artists GIOVANNI VALLETTA (John Wick, James Bond) and JONATHAN LAU (Battlestar Galactica, Warlord of Mars)!

Collects Unbreakable Red Sonja #1-5 and the one-shot Red Sonja and Cub.
In Shops: Jul 12, 2023

Zubby Newsletter #7: Days of High Adventure

CONAN Unleashed

Titan Comics and Heroic Signatures rolled out a bunch of cover art and preview pages for CONAN THE BARBARIAN #1, the series relaunch I’m writing that arrives in July!

  • Nerdist showcased Dan Panosian’s cover art and a first glimpse at Rob De La Torre and Jose Villarubia’s incredible interior art.
  • spotlighted Rob De La Torre’s cover colored by Dean White and another interior page.
  • Newsarama highlighted variant cover art by Stanley ‘Artgerm’ Lau with our new hunter-scout character named Brissa and an homage cover of the original Conan the Barbarian #1 cover from 1970 by Pat Zircher and colorist Giada Marchisio.
  • CBR had an exclusive reveal of the Mike Mignola variant cover colored by Dave Stewart and the stunning new Hyborian Age world map illustrated by cartographer Francesca Baerald.
  • Bleeding Cool unleashed Erik Gist’s painted variant cover and a special throwback variant that uses the classic poster illustration from the 1982 Conan the Barbarian movie.

You can see why I’ve been so damn happy about this. Every day or two I get one of these pages or cover images in my inbox and, well, just LOOK at them! Mind blowing stuff.

Each chance I get to be a bard for the barbarian is special but this time, this launch, man oh man, it’s the best one yet.

Make sure you snag our issue #0 on Free Comic Book Day and then, get HYPED for Conan the Barbarian #1 arriving in July.

Here’s the solicit text for our first issue:

Author: JIM ZUB
Publishers: Heroic Signatures / Titan Comics
32pp, $3.99, On sale date: July 26, 2023


Years after the battle of Venarium, a weary CONAN returns to his homeland to seek rest and solitude. However, a mysterious scout rides in to warn the Cimmerians of an imminent threat on the march from the Pictish wilderness. Will CONAN and his new ally be able to hold off this new horde of invaders?

Free Comic Book Day Has Three Eyes!

Free Comic Book Day is Saturday, May 6th and I’ll be at THIRD EYE COMICS in Annapolis, Maryland for the big day.

Steve and Trish at Third Eye have been steady supporters of my work ever since Skullkickers launched back in 2010. Each time I sign at their shop I’m blown away at the way they’ve built their store(s) and the passionate readership they’ve cultivated. It’s an absolute pleasure to be there again launching the new Conan series with our special free issue #0.

Several readers have already reached out asking how to get signed copies of this Conan FCBD issue. If you won’t be seeing me at a convention or signing this summer, you should reach out to Third Eye and mail order a signed copy ahead of time.

Want to see how amazing Third Eye Comics is? I shot a quick video tour of their flagship store back in 2018 and, if you know anything about retail, you will be gob smacked at the quality of their layout and inventory:

(Their board game and TTRPG shop two doors down is equally impressive.)

Bonkers, right? Like I say in the video, if there was a comic shop like Third Eye in every major city in North America, the comic book industry would be completely different than it is now.

If you’re in the Annapolis, Washington DC, or Baltimore area, make sure you join us for an epic return to the Hyborian Age on May 6th!

Dragons + Dungeons + You

With the release of the Dungeons & Dragons movie a couple weeks ago and the game’s 50th anniversary coming up in 2024, there’s been a lot of chatter about gaming and I’ve been getting more people than usual asking me what D&D is and how to play.

Nate at WASD20 has a really solid overview of the game and how to get started:

I think that video summarizes things for beginners even better than many of the official starter videos on the Wizards of the Coast site.

If you don’t want to spend a dime, you can get the core D&D rules for free right here on the official site, but if you haven’t played a tabletop RPG before it’s going to be a bit of a challenge to dive in on your own. Most people learn how this hobby works way faster by jumping in for a demo session with friends or at a local game shop.

I talk about what roleplaying games are and how they encourage cooperation and creativity here:

Young or old, die-hard gamer or newbie, RPGs are a wonderful outlet that can build lifelong friendships and memories, in person or online.

In a world where we’re inundated with media choices, most of which are passive viewing experiences, getting the chance to create weird and wonderful stories with friends and family is even more special.

Lots of people ask me if I still find time to play – Absolutely!

Just in the past month I’ve been part of three different games – I wrapped up running a Feng Shui adventure for some friends in Toronto, kicked the tires on an introductory scenario for the G.I.Joe RPG with friends online, and am in the midst of playing through a rambling and raucous supernatural adventure in the Old West in Call Of Cthulhu: Down Darker Trails online with a group of comic industry pals.

It can be tough to sync up everyone’s schedule, especially as convention season kicks into gear and project deadlines loom, but when we carve out the space to play together it’s always worth it and engages me more than almost any TV show or movie available at my fingertips.

Links and Other Stuff

  • Stan at Proko has a new video about how to improve line quality. His explanation of the process is, forgive the pun, really sharp:
  • Stephen Travers covers some great illustrative techniques for staging detailed compositions and tricking the viewer into thinking more is being portrayed in a drawing than the actual marks on the page:
  • Ron Lemen has a quick and simple rundown for improving how to visualize depth and form when working from photo reference. Standing figures should have a sense of volume and perspective, even if you don’t draw a background.
  • Jason M. Waltz sent me a PDF of Hither Came Conan, a collection of essays about the original Robert E. Howard Conan the Barbarian prose stories and I’m working my way through it in between other reading and research. Lots of information and commentary if you’re interested in the legendary source material for our favorite Cimmerian.
  • On the food front, last week I was raving to friends about this Rosemary Salt recipe so it makes sense that I share it here:


Zubby Newsletter #6: Covers to Come and Cosmic Clarification

(Zubscribe to the Zubby Newsletter by clicking here)

Feeling Barbaric?

You should be. Look for CONAN THE BARBARIAN #1 cover reveals and interior preview pages later this week at several of the larger comic news sites…

Until then, these Barbie-Meme pics using older artwork put together by Matt Murray and Zack Morrissette will have to suffice.

After the fantasy barrage in my previous newsletter I promised this edition would have less sword & sorcery (no such promises next week once those covers and preview pages are out in the wild), so let’s move on-

Behind The Scenes of Avengers: No Road Home

Over on Tom Brevoort’s latest newsletter post (make sure you subscribe if you haven’t already), he posted up some behind the scene notes from the Avengers summit held May 18, 2018 at the Marvel offices where we laid the ground work for AVENGERS: NO ROAD HOME, the second weekly run for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes co-written by Al Ewing, Mark Waid, and I after our first run (called No Surrender) did well with readers and retailers.

As we brainstormed set pieces and ideas, Tom would jot good ones down on notecards so we could easily swap pieces in or out and figure out the overall structure of the story:

At the same time, Alanna Smith (assistant editor at the time, now full-fledged Marvel editor) wrote down bullet points to help us remember other bits and pieces that came up in discussion, leading to a back matter page in Avengers: No Road Home #9 that still creates a little ripple in Marvel fandom to this day-

That one note –

“Scarlet Witch is the only mortal connected to the House of Ideas”

– has been brought up by fans of Wanda Maximoff dozens of times as ‘proof’ that she has godlike power and is Marvel’s most powerful magic-wielder but, as I’ve said many times in social media posts or replies to specific messages about this – if it’s not in the printed comic, it’s not canon. As mentioned right on that back matter page, these were concepts we came up with at the meeting and some didn’t make the final cut, including that explicit connection between Wanda and the House of Ideas.

At the time I thought it could be a way to explain Wanda’s reality-bending abilities, but it never quite found its way into the final published story. Could it come up again at some future point? Sure, and I’d be happy to write that story, but until then it’s just material left on the cutting room floor.

Several times a month I get asked about the hierarchy of Marvel cosmology based on the House of Ideas concept introduced in No Road Home. I’m really proud of the work our team did and I’m glad the House part I came up with generates energetic discussion, but defining absolutes for cosmic powers in the Marvel Universe is not something I’m interested in. I don’t have a definitive answer on any of that stuff and, even if I did, whatever I say could be instantly nullified by future writers/future stories. That’s how these shared creative sandboxes work.

I’ve been a broken record about this when asked about it online and now, hopefully, by typing up a longer answer here I can point people toward this post and put it to rest, the same way I used my tutorial blog posts to provide more in-depth answers to common questions I get asked all the time, especially “How do I break into comics?”

Snapping To Attention

Snowguard is one of the newest characters added to the Marvel SNAP digital card game and the artwork looks great! From what I’m seeing on social media, her card is quite powerful in combination with others, but I haven’t played the game myself so I don’t know for sure.

It’s nice to see Amka’s legacy continue in unexpected places like this. I hope there are more comic stories in her future as well.

If you want to find out more about our Canadian spirit-infused shape changer, her first appearance is collected in Champions: Northern Lights and there’s a Snowguard solo story I’m really proud of reprinted in Champions: Weird War One.

Chez Zub’s – Fried Rice

I’ve been following some of the techniques covered in this video and it has seriously upped my fried rice skills using some pretty simple ingredients. Well worth checking out-

Links and Other Things

  • Line tangents are a common problem with art or photography where 2-dimensional lines from different elements look like they’re interacting when they shouldn’t, creating visual confusion. Finding clear examples of what tangents are and how to avoid them to show my students was a pain until I found the The Schweizer Guide to Spotting Tangents. Chris breaks down the concept incredibly well in this post. Read, learn, and share!

That’s it for this time. Take care!


Zubby Newsletter #5: So Much Sword & Sorcery

(Zubscribe to the Zubby Newsletter by clicking here)

Lots of fantasy fun this week, gang

We’ve Got It Covered

Conan dominates the cover of the Diamond PREVIEWS catalogue this month, showing off Dan Panosian’s rockin’ cover for CONAN THE BARBARIAN #1.

This is the second time in my career I’ve had a book on the cover of PREVIEWS (the first was with Stranger Things and Dungeons & Dragons in 2020) and each time it feels pretty surreal and amazing.

The ad on the inside gives you a Hyborian-charged glimpse at the art our creative team is putting together:

Stunning stuff, right? Hard to believe, but the interior story pages are just as awesome.

Rob De La Torre is drawing career-making artwork and I’m doing everything in my power to deliver soaring stories and dialogue to match. Everybody’s cooking on this one and I hope you’re excited to check it out.

Titan Comics and Heroic Signatures had the chance to snag this plum spot in the catalogue because they have so much confidence in this ongoing series, but the actual pre-order form arrives next month, so please keep an eye out for that.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #0: Free Comic Book Day in May.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN #1: Arriving in July. Get ready.

Dragons at the Movies

I had a wonderful time watching Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves with my family! There’s a true spark of adventure, comradery and joy that makes it all work. Congrats to the whole team.

My parents enjoyed the movie and they’re not fantasy fans in the slightest, so that tells you how wide a net they were able to cast with this film. As strange as it got, they were able to follow along with the characters and plot.

The comparisons I’ve heard to the first Guardians of the Galaxy film are pretty apt. It’s not the exact same, of course, but there’s a similar charm and momentum that carries the D&D movie, keeping it clipping along well through its 2 hour runtime.

Of course there are nitpicks I could make, but they fall to the wayside because the crew on this film kept their eye on the prize – good characters and fun adventure.

My only genuine disappointment during the D&D movie is that they didn’t give the original creators their due. “Hasbro” didn’t create Dungeons & Dragons or the Forgotten RealmsGary Gygax, Dave Arneson, and my friend Ed Greenwood deserved at least a Special Thanks.

That said, I hope the movie continues to have momentum and generates another huge wave of new players excited to join the hobby and build incredible memories with friends and family. That’s why we do what we do.

Speaking Of Dragons

All this talk around the Dungeons & Dragons movie reminded me how much things have changed in the past nine years.

Back in 2014 I begged IDW to try publishing Dungeons & Dragons comics again and they were skeptical because, even though they had the license as part of their Hasbro deal, their previous efforts around D&D hadn’t really taken off.

Ted Adams, head of IDW at that time, really liked the Samurai Jack comic series I was writing and asked what else I was interested in that they had access to. I said “Dungeons & Dragons or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles“.

Kevin Eastman was coming back to TMNT so that wasn’t an option but Ted didn’t think D&D had legs anymore. IDW had previously tried an ongoing and some mini-series but retailers and readers hadn’t jumped in the way they hoped.

Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition had strayed too far from key aspects of the game for many fans and Pathfinder had risen up to take quite a bit of D&D’s thunder at that time. Funny enough, I’d just finished writing a three-arc run of Pathfinder comics for Dynamite…

A new edition of Dungeons & Dragons was in development. Launching a new comic alongside 5th edition was the best shot they had for making it work.

We set up a conference call with reps from Wizards of the Coast and it went… honestly? Not great.

Tyranny of Dragons was the big adventure launching with D&D 5e and WotC wanted the new comic to adapt that story – an epic Lord of the Rings-esque adventure with Tiamat’s return, armies clashing, and the fate of the world on the line.

What I love about D&D is a tight-knit group of found family getting into danger. Scrappy, troublemaking, fun fantasy. A pack of well-meaning fools get in way over their heads and have to fight their way out.

Tyranny seemed completely at odds with my favorite aspects of the game and a lore-dense epic would be hard to deliver effectively in the format we were looking at: a 5 issue mini-series with 20 pages of story each issue.

Everyone was upbeat on the call, but I wasn’t feeling it at all. I even told my wife I was going to turn down the gig I’d stirred up in the first place. I wasn’t the right fit for what they envisioned and didn’t want to deliver a half-hearted D&D book.

Since I was going to bow out anyway, I sent a message to IDW and WotC expressing my concerns that I was the wrong fit and also sent them PDFs of Skullkickers, my creator-owned action-comedy sword & sorcery comic series.

To WotC’s credit, they 100% got what I was saying and pivoted completely. It would be far better if I was on board and enthusiastic than just pumping something out or stepping away. How could we make a fun new reader friendly D&D comic series instead?

Internally there was talk at WotC that doing a new video game set in Baldur’s Gate would be great. They wanted to establish a couple key things in the Murder in Baldur’s Gate adventure and then leave the city alone for a while.

I clearly enjoyed the action-comedy stuff, so we struck upon the idea of bringing back cult favorite characters Minsc and Boo from the video games. I came up with a way to bring Minsc and Boo into the present Forgotten Realms timeline with some wild magic and created a smaller stakes character-driven story that ran alongside Tyranny of Dragons.

Dungeons & Dragons: Legends of Baldur’s Gate launched in 2014 and I’ve been writing D&D comics ever since.

The first three Baldur’s Gate comic stories are collected in the Days of Endless Adventure omnibus: Legends of Baldur’s Gate, Shadows of the Vampire, and Frost Giant’s Fury:

The next three stories are still available in trade: Evil at Baldur’s Gate, Infernal Tides, and MindbreakerMindbreaker also acts as a prequel to the Baldur’s Gate 3 video game launching later this year.

Writing the official D&D comics had me regularly in contact with Adam Lee, head of narrative for the D&D team at that time. He advocated for me to get more involved with other projects in development, including consulting on the D&D sourcebook that would eventually be called Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus.

The time I spent in the office working on Descent Into Avernus generated discussions that turned into the D&D Young Adventurer’s Guide series (7 books and counting).

And that all led to the ridiculously incredible chance to attend D&D Live in 2019 and play Dungeons & Dragons on stage on my birthday with Dungeon Master Chris Perkins (D&D) and players Matt Mercer (Critical Role)Deborah Ann Woll (Daredevil)Mica Burton (Star Trek: Picard)B. Dave Walters (Invitation To Party), and Anna Prosser (Acquisitions Incorporated).

Rick and Morty VS Dungeons & Dragons with Pat Rothfuss and Troy Little (two mini-series and a game set), Stranger Things and Dungeons & Dragons with Jody Houser and Diego Galindo, a bunch of other consulting, the upcoming deluxe pop up book

…It’s honestly quite mind bending when I think about it.

Dungeons & Dragons changed my life when I was a kid and continues to change my life as an adult and creator.

So much joy and so many friendships. May the adventure continue ever onward.

Would You Believe There’s Also a Bundle?

With the D&D movie kicking butt at the box office, IDW and Humble Bundle decided now would be a perfect time to team up on a digital comic bundle.

You still have two weeks left to get in on this: 29 different D&D comic collected editions (including 7 of mine) for a fraction of their retail price, with money going to support the Hasbro Foundation charity.

If you haven’t read my D&D comics before, this is the perfect time to dive in and help a great cause at the same time. Please share the link far and wide.

Links and Other Things

If you’re an animation fan, I’m sure you’ve already seen the Lackadaisy animated pilot, based on the delightful webcomic by Tracy J. Butler and produced by Spike Trotman.

It’s a stunning achievement, especially for an independent animated production. Make sure you check it out-

Okay, that’s more than enough for this week. Thanks for reading this super-sized post. Next time, more non-fantasy stuff, I promise!


Talking Thunderbolts and Conan With Near Mint Condition

When I was at Lexington Comic Con I spoke to Near Mint Condition about working on titles like Thunderbolts, Wayward, and Conan the Barbarian.