Category Archives: Skullkickers

GameFan Skullkickers Interview From December 2011

A fun throwback I found while reorganizing things in my office – Here’s a Skullkickers interview from the December 2011 issue of GameFan Magazine:

You Kicked Those Skulls – THANK YOU!!

We did it! We broke through the $40,000 stretch goal with your support, unlocking the Villain Paths and enhancing everyone’s RPG adventure!

THANK YOU.
Thank you for your enthusiasm and energy.
Thank you for your confidence and kindness.

This is my first crowdfunded project and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the support we’ve seen has been incredibly heartwarming and humbling.

A huge round of thanks to our hard-working creative team.

On the comic creative team:
Line Artist Edwin Huang. Colorist Misty Coats. Letterer Marshall Dillon.
Original Skullkickers co-creator Chris Stevens.

On the RPG team:
Designers and writers Mike Olson, Eleanor Jordan, Clint Cronk and welcome Ian Moss (who just joined us after working as Lead Designer on Bunkers & Badasses).
Cartographers Marco Bernardini and Mike Schley.
Artists Max Dunbar, Steven Cummings, Kurt Michael Russell.

And, last but certainly not least, our Campaign Manager George Rohac.

Having people put their faith in you as they help to build up your ideas and add to them until it’s something all of us can be proud of is incredibly special. I never want to take that for granted.

Progress on Caster Bastards is going great. The comic story line art is all done and the first letter proof is in the works. The RPG adventure is cooking along well. More artwork and maps are getting done. We’re on schedule for delivery next year and this book is gonna be a beauty.

I’m going to leave your inbox alone for a bit as we celebrate, and then get back to work finalizing this book so we can send it to YOU.

How Skullkickers Began


Creativity is rarely a singular creator with an instantaneous idea. Concepts grow and change over time and, when new collaborators get brought into the mix, projects continue to evolve from initial idea hopefully through to finished work that gets released to great acclaim and fanfare.

It’s the 10th Anniversary of Skullkickers #1, the action-comedy sword & sorcery comic series that propelled my comic writing career forward in a big way. When I’m interviewed about the series I usually summarize it as “my love letter to Dungeons & Dragons and Conan the Barbarian” because that’s what it is for me, but I’m not the sole creator of Skullkickers.

So, here on our anniversary, I thought it would be appropriate to break down the timeline on how the series started and give extra context to the strange and winding road of a creative project. This is how real collaboration happens, how things change, and the way small decisions cause big adjustments later on.


Chris Stevens was a freelance artist doing work at the UDON studio and I worked at the studio as a Project Manager, soliciting work from a variety of clients and organizing art teams who delivered all kinds of different ad work, illustration, design and comic artwork. Chris and I got along quite well and, as a way to get him extra commission work between projects, I helped get him set up a DeviantArt page to show off his incredible work. Some of those pieces I posted up caught the eye of Joe Keatinge, who was working at Image Comics and co-editing an anthology series Image was putting out called Popgun and, in September of 2007, he offered Chris a spot in Popgun Volume 2.

Chris assumed Joe would pair him with a writer, but then he was told he could do whatever he wanted and emailed me about it to ask if I had any ideas for a story-

September 21, 2007:
Genre….well, I’d have to say fantasy is the way to go. You’d think I might be sick of it, but to be honest, it’s the most flexible genre to use and I’ve become a fan. I’ve got dick for ideas at the moment, but since it’s gonna be so short, the idea’s probably going to be the hardest part. I’ve tossed around a few ideas in my head but can’t seem to focus at the moment

It’s kinda tough to think of something. I mean, it’s really short and there’s no real rules. Not much to grab onto is there? Well, think about it when you can and let me know if you get any ideas.


I asked Chris about how things went from there-

“I was reluctant as usual, but you talked me into it and we started talking about what I’d be interested in doing. I decided on a D&D style high fantasy setting. I did this because I knew it would be fun and flexible and it was a setting I was familiar with through all of my UDON work.

I decided on a big human with a gun and a dwarf who were scumbags. People of low morality and character but still somehow likable. I chose that because I was loving Eric Powell’s The Goon and thought it would be fun to do a different take on the shady duo idea and I liked the visual of a big guy teaming with a small one. I also liked the idea of a guy with a firearm in a setting that doesn’t usually have guns. I designed them and gave them their weapons and armor. You were great and ran with all of my suggestions and since I’d never written before, I was grateful to have you take those criteria and create a first short story from that.”


October 5, 2007:
Chris sent the first sketch design of this duo while I organized the story.

Here’s how I responded to it-

The sketch looks pretty damn sweet, Chris. Probably my only suggestion is possibly to exaggerate their features a bit. Since we’re going for over the top violent it will probably work better if it’s a bit more Madureira than Charest, if you know what I mean. Imagine these characters up to their waists in zombies and entrail goo – YUM.


October 8, 2007:

From Chris-
Couple more sketches of our duo. Definitely a good call on the more exaggeration. I’m liking the vibe they have a lot more already and it fits a lot better. Didn’t make too many changes, but some things are a bit different. Mostly on our dwarf.

October 10, 2007:
Here’s my original outline for the story-

2 Copper Pieces
No Magic. No Problem

Story by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Chris Stevens

Pitch:
In a backwater fantasy world filled with all manners of magical beasts, poverty, disease and other horrifying threats, it’s a daily struggle to survive. Most people keep their head low, stay in the village they were born and eke out a life as a farmer or simple tradesperson. The only people strong enough to have anything else are protected by sorcerous powers or in the employ of the demonic.

Except for our two protagonists – They thrive by being stubborn and tough as Hell.

No one knows where this human and dwarf came from or how they’ve survived so long without using a speck of magic. They travel the land slaying every kind of beast in their path with sheer physical grit and vicious trickery. They’re not heroic or even nice – in fact they might be two of the most irritating and ornery assholes to ever heft a blade. No matter how obnoxious they may be, no one can argue with their results and the huge trail of corpses left in their wake. In world of the weak, they’re fighters.

Some folks despise them, others praise or even worship them – they don’t care.
They’d kill anything for 2 copper pieces.

Overview:
2 Copper Pieces is a fantasy parody on steroids. It revels in the clichés of sword and sorcery while injecting them with an extra spark of sass and violence. It’s not deep and meaningful by any stretch, instead keeping the reader engaged with snappy dialogue and inventive use of monsters. Like Ash from Army of Darkness, our “heroes” are so full of themselves and capable that you like them, even when they’re being absolute jerks.

Anthology Story:
The Popgun Anthology story would be a short 8-10 page quest by our protagonists, dropping readers into the middle of their world and a “typical” day for our deadly duo. We follow along as they hunt down a gigantic zombified worm that decimated a village near a boggy marsh. Even against the massive monster, our pair buckles down and gets to work using its own size and weight against it as they out maneuver it and stab deeply time and time again.

Just as our heroes think they’ve finished it off and carved the big worm open, they’re confronted by something even worse – the now exposed decaying remains inside the beast have been marinated in zombie stomach goo and are now a rampaging army of corpse parts lurching towards them. The duo shrug and prepare to wade in to the fray, confident they’ll emerge triumphant no matter what.


Chris liked it and Joe approved the pitch.

October 19, 2007:
Chris sent a design sketch of the worm.

Over the next three and a half months, Chris would digitally paint up the 10-page anthology story in between his other freelance projects and the holidays. Marshall Dillon lettered the story and we handed in the finished files in late January.

The response from Joe and the rest of the Popgun team was really strong.

February 4, 2008:
Erik Larsen, Publisher at Image Comics at that time, reached out with praise for the artwork:


Joe fired over some of your pages and I was pretty much floored by what I saw! You’ve got some serious chops, fellow. I dunno how fast you are or how versatile you are but I think you have some real promise and I’d like to help line you up with some work once you’ve wrapped up your Popgun yarn. Is there a website where I can see some more of your stuff?

Joe asked if we wanted to do more for Popgun Volume 3, which was already in development even before Volume 2 arrived in stores. I was excited to do another story with the boys from 2 Copper Pieces, but Chris was worried about the amount of time it would take.

April 11, 2008:
I sent Chris a concept for a 3-page story called ‘Gotcha’, a short interlude with our 2 Copper Pieces boys and Chris illustrated it over the next four weeks.

April 18, 2008:
I attended New York Comic Con (which ran from April 18-20 that year) and chatted with Erik Larsen. He asked if we were interested in pitching 2 Copper Pieces as an Image series.


May 13, 2008:
I email Joe and Erik an update on our progress-

Chris has been on a tear after wrapping up that second short story for Popgun v3. We’re going to put together a full comic proposal for Image built off of the “2 Copper Pieces” characters, having them storm their way through fantasy scenarios with violence and verve. After talking with Erik at New York Comic Con about it, he mentioned that the title should be catchier, so we’ve also got a few new title ideas that we think convey the concept in a catchy way:

Scumbags (Simple and straight to the point. Having this in a flowing calligraphy font for the title would have some amusing contrast to it)
Less Than Legendary (Also quite descriptive)
Never Legendary (Similar Concept)
Good Samaritans (Which, of course, they are anything but)
Dwarf & Baldy (a bit like Sam & Twitch)


May 14, 2008
Email back from Joe:
I don’t like any of those titles, including “Dwarf & Baldy”. I don’t see the Sam & Twitch connection.

Think more along the lines of BATTLE CHASERS. Something exciting, dramatic, that is still fantasy oriented. Good Samaritans is just plain boring.

By early June I’d come up with “Skullkickers” and bought the www.skullkickers.com URL, just in case.

June 13th, 2008:
I pitched Skullkickers via email and, a few hours later, Erik gave us the green light to go ahead with our first arc. I was absolutely blown away. We were two months from the first short story even coming out and we already had an Image series in the pipeline…or so I thought.

On August 12, 2008:
Popgun Volume 2 was released and the Skullkickers make their debut-


Between freelance work that had to take priority and family issues that had come up, Skullkickers #1 art production slowed to a crawl. By October, Chris had roughed out the full issue but only completed 11 pages of pencils. Over the next few months, he sent a few more pages of pencils, eventually getting up to page 15 completed, but it was clear we’d be too slow to make it a regular series so, before the end of the year I told Chris he could let it go. In all honesty, he sounded relieved.

I asked Chris about it recently-
“I’m very proud of my work on Skullkickers and the short stories. I worked hard on all of that and put everything I had into the shorts and concepts. My decision to step away from the comic was entirely financial. I had no way of assuring myself that I was going to make any money and the prospect of doing all that work with no guarantee was too much of a risk for me to take.”


April 8, 2009:
Popgun Volume 3 is released.

At that point, it looked like Skullkickers as a full blown series was dead, but 10 months later, things took an unexpected turn.

February 17, 2010
Edwin Huang reached out to me to send me his latest sequential portfolio after I’d seen his work the previous year. I reply-


Your sequential work is really looking nice. You’ve got some well paced pages and solidly put together sequences.

My only critique would be that the pages work well right now as portfolio pieces but if those same pages had dialogue and sound effects many of them would get pretty cramped and lose their flow. You need to make sure you leave more space for the text required alongside the art. It’s something easy to adjust depending on the amount of dialogue in the scripts you’re working with, but it is worth noting for future reference.

I’ll be totally up front with you. I don’t have any comic work right now at UDON that I could offer you, but I’m impressed with what I see. I may pass the link along to other people I know who are looking for artists.

We start emailing back and forth and I ask Edwin if he’s interested in a concept I’ve had on ice for almost a year.

Edwin checks out Chris’ page art for Skullkickers #1, is understandably impressed, and asks if he can ink the existing pages as practice. Once he finishes those inks, he uses Chris’ roughs as a guide to draw out the rest of the issue. By the time he’s done, I ask him if he’d be interested in taking over the series and he agrees.

By end of February I ask Chris if it’s okay for Edwin to pick up where he left off and Chris gives his blessing for us to go ahead, offering to illustrate covers for the series if it all works out.

March 2, 2010:
I re-pitch Skullkickers to Eric Stephenson, who had since taken over as Publisher at Image, and he gave us the go ahead.

By late March I hire Misty Coats to join us as colorist on the series after her friend Emily Warren recommend her work. Marshall Dillon agrees to continue lettering my creator-owned projects. Finally, we have our creative team locked down and we go into full production.

July 16, 2010:
Skullkickers #1 is listed in the Preview catalog for September release and featured as a ‘Gem of the Month’

July 22-25, 2010:
I’m at San Diego Comic-Con and, when I’m not working at the UDON booth, I hand out Skullkickers postcards trying to drum up more orders for the series.

September 22, 2010:
Our first issue arrives in comic shops and sells out quickly, leading to two more printings of issue #1, and two printings of issue #2 and 3.


Once Skullkickers launches, I start to back fill in the story, incorporating a bunch of my favorite sword & sorcery tropes and building out the world so I can tell funny fantasy yarns without just doing parody. The only thing I didn’t know how to square at first was Baldy’s gun.

Chris had added that in there as a way to mix things up from the typical sword and shield stuff, but now I had a fantasy book with a guy using a shooting iron, which felt more like something out of a western…so I took that to the next logical step and decided Rex was from a western, filling in his origin with Thool and all the cowboy and dimension-hopping stuff. Problem solving led to plot, and that little gun twist would define a lot of the series over the long haul.

Like I said at the start, collaboration is complicated. Ideas grow and change over time and with more input. At each stage of development the project that became Skullkickers could have gone a different direction. I poured a lot of my favorite things into the series, but it really all started with Chris – His artwork, his aesthetic and the weird ideas that made him laugh when we chatted on the phone.

More than a decade later, it’s weird and wonderful looking back at how it all started. I’m so incredibly fortunate to have worked with so many great people on so many amazing projects that have come from releasing Skullkickers. I’m also pumped for our 10th anniversary celebration project called Skullkickers: Caster Bastards and the Great Grotesque.

Vintage RPG Interview

I spoke to John and Stu at the Vintage RPG podcast all about Skullkickers, the D&D Young Adventurer’s Guides, Strangers Things and Dungeons & Dragons, and more! It’s always a blast talking to these guys about gaming goodness and I’m really happy with how the interview turned out. Give it a listen!

Caster Bastards on Comic Book Resources

I spoke to Dave Richards at CBR all about the Skullkickers 10th Anniversary Kickstarter campaign and what we have in store for this new comic story and tabletop RPG adventure. Check it out!

Skullkickers: Caster Bastards and the Great Grotesque!

Here we GO!

SKULLKICKERS: CASTER BASTARDS and the GREAT GROTESQUE is a new sword & sorcery comic story AND 5e-compatible tabletop adventure, funding NOW on Kickstarter!
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/skullkickers/skullkickers-caster-bastards-and-the-great-grotesque

Please help spread the word far and wide and, if you like what you see, back the campaign!
Come celebrate 10 years of skull-kicking goodness with us. 🙂

SKULLKICKERS in Development at Copernicus Studios

Jim Zub’s SKULLKICKERS
in development at Copernicus Studios

New adult 2D animated comedy adventure series in the works


New Skullkickers artwork by Edwin Huang. New Skullkickers logo by Tim Daniel.

Halifax, NS: Copernicus Studios Inc is proud to announce a development deal to adapt the SKULLKICKERS comic series written by Zub and illustrated by Edwin Huang and Chris Stevens into an animated action-adventure series for adults.

“Demand for adult animated content is on the rise.” Says Paul Rigg, President of Copernicus Studios. “Over the past few years we’ve seen the popularity of anime and other content for mature audiences increase in North America. Shows like Castlevania, Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal, and Rick & Morty are grabbing attention for good reason. It’s a great time to make our mark in this space.”

SKULLKICKERS is a sarcastic send-up of sword & sorcery stories about a trio of mercenaries who kill monsters and cause mayhem in their quest for money, fame and adventure. The series was first published by Image Comics in 2010 and has built a loyal following over the past decade alongside surging interest in fantasy-based entertainment.

Jim Zub is a prolific writer based in Toronto, Canada. Over the past twenty years he’s worked for a wide array of clients including Marvel, DC Comics, Disney, Capcom, Hasbro, and Cartoon Network. Zub’s reputation has risen in comics and gaming with high profile projects including The Avengers, Samurai Jack, Rick and Morty VS Dungeons & Dragons and Conan the Barbarian.

“We have big plans for these head-cracking heroes!” Murray Bain, Copernicus Co-Founder and VP of Creative is keen to adapt the series. “There’s so much in the books to work with and we’re pumped to unleash that same excitement and a whole lot more in animation. It’s time to kick some skulls!”

Reading Material: SKULLKICKERS + WAYWARD Vol. 1 for FREE

2020 has thrown us all a bunch of curve balls and it looks like a lot of people are going to be home bound over the course of the next few weeks, possibly even months. In that case, you and your friends might need some extra reading material on your tablet or laptop.

Over on my Patreon page, free of charge and with no strings attached, are two full volumes of my comics:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/34846589

SKULLKICKERS is a bit like Deadpool meets Dungeons & Dragons. It’s an irreverent sword & sorcery action-comedy.

WAYWARD is a bit like Buffy in Japan, a supernatural teen drama set in modern Tokyo.

Enjoy, share, and be good to each other.

Jim Zub

Creator-Owned Economics: The Long, Long Game

It’s been more than two and a half years since I wrote anything about Skullkickers sales numbers. I didn’t avoid talking about it on purpose, I just felt that with the series wrapped up and Wayward still underway it should be the focal point for my financial analysis. Poring over the numbers takes time and so Wayward was the natural choice for that attention. Last week’s article about trade sales seemed to cover everything I needed to say about the current market.

Boy, was I wrong. I received my Skullkickers accrual statement late last week and the data in there kind of blew my mind. I had to put together a new financial article here to go over it.

Some back story for those of you catching up: Skullkickers was my action-comedy sword & sorcery comic released by Image Comics from 2010 to 2015. Co-created with Chris Stevens and illustrated by Edwin Huang and Misty Coats with lettering by Marshall Dillon, it was my “break-out” book, but mostly on a critical level. Fantasy can be a tough sell. Humor even more so. Put those two elements together with creators who weren’t known (at the time) and it was a challenge to make our mark. We had a wonderful and loyal core readership and good word of mouth, but never lit sales charts on fire.

Skullkickers wasn’t really profitable during its run, but it did get my name out to a much wider audience and opened the door for some of my early work-for-hire comic writing projects: 19 issues of Pathfinder at Dynamite, a Shadowman fill-in issue for Valiant, and a 2-part Legends of the Dark Knight story for DC. It was a way to show people what our team was capable of and build a body of consistent work.

When sales flagged, I ran contests, put together a ridiculous reboot parody promotion, and even started serializing the comic online for FREE to expand our readership. Each of those PR stunts helped us inch along and, in the end, we eked out 34 issues (six story arcs) and finished the story the way I intended. Skullkickers is now handsomely collected in 6 trade paperbacks or 3 deluxe hardcovers.

Every six months, I’d receive an accrual statement from Image that outlined how deep the financial hole was. They could see we were slowly digging ourselves out with digital and collection sales, but the numbers didn’t seem to be in our favor. When the series wrapped up mid-2015, I’d resigned myself to the fact that Skullkickers as a whole would probably never do better than break-even, even if it did propel me forward in terms of my writing career.

Cut to 2017. Check this out:

(Update: Image’s Accountant dropped me a line to let me know I that the way digital was shown on the latest accrual was being misinterpreted so I’ve made corrections. We are selling solidly on digital, but it’s a more reasonable percentage of our overall sales, not the gonzo spike in sales I thought it was. I’ve corrected the text and chart to reflect that change.)

Image has been smart about including Skullkickers in a lot of their digital sales, as well as putting the first 18 issues (3 story arcs) on comiXology Unlimited, a flat fee all-you-can-read service on the leading digital comics platform. Tens of thousands of new readers have discovered the series through Unlimited, and that led to more digital collection sales. The whole series is still available for FREE on our webcomic site, and yet we keep selling Skullkickers on digital platforms, month after month.

What does this mean? Well, here’s the accumulated debt versus sales chart, the one I feared would never balance out:

Thanks to slow but steady collection and digital sales, we are truly ‘in the black’. As of mid-2017, I can no longer say that Skullkickers is my lovable-yet-financially-forlorn creator-owned comic. It has finally climbed out of the pit and is holding the bloody detached head of its captor while letting out a triumphant roar.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be smoking hundred dollar bills or paying off my house with these profits. It’s quite slim right now, but it’s also open-ended; We still have print collections in stock (and our only expenditures on those right now are storage since they’re already printed and shipped to Diamond Distribution) and the digital platform never closes or runs out of copies. In six months we should make a bit more, and then a bit more, and then a bit more, hopefully ever onward into the future until every single person who reads the work I do over at Marvel realizes that the action-packed mirth they enjoy in Thunderbolts and Avengers was there right from the beginning with Skullkickers.

Image Comics (especially Publisher Eric Stephenson) deserves a ridiculous amount of credit for letting me make Skullkickers my own way, start to finish. 25 years ago, the company started with a desire to put creators first and they still do that every single day. I feel incredibly fortunate to have launched the series there and can’t think of another publisher that would have taken this on and let the long tail run its course this way.

Is Skullkickers a success? It really depends on how you measure it. This will sound dorkishly earnest, but for me it’s always been a success. We built a story I’m incredibly proud of, my love letter to Conan, D&D, and the fantasy genre as a whole, and got it out to a wider audience. It was a life-changing milestone in my creative development that led to a dozen other comic projects and where I am today. The dollars and cents are a crucial metric, of course, but not the sole reason for heading into a creative project.

Some words of warning: Please don’t use these charts as some kind of battle plan for your own comic-making dreams. Creative careers vary wildly and I’ve spoken to dozens of creators who have thrown inordinate amounts of good money after bad paying for art, coloring, lettering, printing, convention tables, and stomach pills for financial ulcers brought on by creator-owned comics. I was able to dig deep with Skullkickers because I had (and still have) a stable day job and solid freelance work paying the bills. I never put myself in a position where my day-to-day financial commitments were in doubt and if the series had never made a dime I still would have been okay.

The sales history of Skullkickers is very different from Wayward and Glitterbomb, my other two Image creator-owned series. Each series has its own unique sales history and, while this stuff is really interesting to analyze, it isn’t any kind of formula you could reproduce (and, with a 7-year bloody trek to financial sanity for SK, you probably wouldn’t want to anyway).

If you found this post interesting, feel free to let me know here (or on Twitter), share the post with your friends and consider buying some of my comics, donating to my Patreon, or buying comics from me in person if you see me at a convention.

Wayward and Skullkickers on ‘Best Of’ Lists for 2015

000-WaywardVol02Cover-FRONT

As 2015 comes to a close it was a real pleasure seeing some of the comics I worked on this year pop up on annual ‘Best Of’ lists. Here are a few standouts:

Comics Alliance nominated WAYWARD in two categories for their Best of 2015 awards: ‘Best Fantasy Comic‘ and ‘Best Comic For Teens‘. SKULLKICKERS was nominated for ‘Best Comedy Comic‘.

Comic Attack nominated the WAYWARD creative team for ‘Best Indie Artist‘, ‘Best Indie Writer‘, ‘Best Ongoing Indie Series‘, and ‘Best Colorist‘, the end of SKULLKICKERS for ‘Best Comic Moment‘ and SAMURAI JACK for ‘Best Licensed Series‘.

Bleeding Cool included WAYWARD Volume 1: String Theory on their ’11 Best Graphic Novels of 2015′ list.

• Review aggregator Comic Roundup listed their 20 Highest Reviewed Comic Series for 2015 and WAYWARD made the list at #9.