Category Archives: Substack

Zubby Newsletter #28: A Tiny Piece of History

I received a copy of LORE & LEGENDS, the history and art of D&D 5th edition by Michael WitwerKyle NewmanJon Peterson, and Sam Witwer, arriving in stores on Oct 2nd.

It’s an incredible tour filled with great anecdotes and illustrations. Surreal to see my books and face in the mix, a tiny piece of Dungeons & Dragons’ illustrious history.

There are a lot of memories wrapped up in the pages of this book. A decade of development with many colleagues who have since become friends.

And, a silly point of pride, I’m the only “Z” listing in the index. 🙂

Win the Battle, Lose the War

After several friends recommended it, I recently watched Jurassic Punk, a documentary about Steve ‘Spaz’ Williams, the Canadian animator who pioneered a ton of 3D animation and special effects technology that changed the face of moviemaking for better and for worse.

The story of Steve’s innovation, rebellion and self destruction is compelling stuff, but also quite sad. The same qualities that caused him to buck the system and develop groundbreaking visual effects also put him at odds with the corporate hierarchies and social relationships that run Hollywood. He proved his technical skills in the battle on a few key creative projects (The Abyss, Terminator 2, and Jurassic Park) but couldn’t win the war when it came to handling people – colleagues, friends, or his family.

When I was at Sheridan for Classical Animation we heard a lot about Spaz – the rockstar party hard computer animator blowing up the way things used to be done who could not be stopped. Almost thirty years later, he absolutely made his mark but it cost him almost everything. The recent scenes of Steve bitter about his place in film history battling severe alcoholism are a far cry from the confident take-no-shit genius of his youth.

As I watched it all play out in the documentary, my opinion toggled back and forth (and I’m sure that was by design). I could see Steve’s impressive ambition and tenacity, but it also seems he would’ve been an unbearable bastard to work with.

Creative industries are about results, but your ability to stay relevant and keep creating in a corporate environment also requires you to be a good communicator and collaborator.

Internet Dead Zone

Going through my ‘Art Tutorials’ bookmarks to find a few gems to post here and I realize many of the hundreds of helpful art links I’ve saved over the years are now defunct – dead URLs or empty images.

The internet giveth and it also taketh away.

It’s a good reminder of why I encourage my students to gather their own digital ‘scrap file’ of tutorials they find that are helpful to them.

I have thousands of art tutorial images saved and organized into folders curated to my needs and taste, the digital equivalent of old school filing cabinets of reference images in an art studio.

Assume stuff online is transitory and back-up ref material, just in case.
You won’t always have access to the things you want to keep.
Future proof it for yourself.

Links Aplenty

You’re reading this newsletter because you want to keep up on what I’m up to but I also want to direct your attention to people I think are creating great work or generating interesting discussion. Here’s a round-up of some good stuff from collaborators, friends, and other folks who have recently caught my attention:

That’ll cover it for this week.

Zubby Newsletter #27: Sprinting to Slow Down

Cascading deadlines, teaching, and conventions. It’s a whole lot right now. Stacy warned me I shouldn’t “fill every box on the calendar like Tetris” and, surprising no one, she was right.

I got back from Edmonton after midnight on Sunday and I’m feeling pretty tired after a day of email catch-up and administrative everything. The To-Do List will get done bit by bit, just like it always does, but this current pace, as fun as it can be at times, is also not sustainable. I definitely need to calm things down a bit in the months ahead.

How About a Turtle?

Kind little old lady at the Edmonton Expo –

“I don’t read any of these action books, but I do collect things with turtles on them. Will you draw a turtle for me?”


Steel Souls

Major Spoilers has preview pages up for CONAN THE BARBARIAN #3, in stores Wednesday, September 27th.

I received my print comps late last week and it’s another stunner. The team is absolutely roaring at this point. No other way to put it. In this issue – Our big villain is revealed and souls are stirred. Can’t wait for all of you to see it.

The Conan fandom has been coming out in force to my convention appearances since the launch and it’s been incredible to meet them in person and talk about how much these stories and this world means to them. Their excitement reminds me why we’re working so hard.

The solicits and covers for CONAN THE BARBARIAN #6 were also released last week. Jaw dropping cover art from Jae Lee, Pat Zircher, Dan Panosian, and Joey Spiotto.

Doug Braithwaite is drawing our second story arc, a tragic and brutal caper that takes place after the classic Robert E. Howard tale Queen of the Black Coast, and he’s delivering career-defining pages of stirring emotion and gut-wrenching violence. The 4-part story is called Thrice Marked For Death and, if I may be so bold, you are not prepared for what gets unleashed here.

Rob De La Torre has already begun work on pages for our third story arc (title still under wraps for now), so my inbox is an endless parade of the best damn sword & sorcery art I could imagine. It’s humbling to have these two titans drawing stories I’ve written and then have colorists like José Villarrubia, Dean White, and Diego Rodriguez enhance every panel before the legendary Richard Starkings pulls it all together with the best lettering in the business. What a dream.

What Was I Made For?

I finally had a chance to watch Barbie. Stacy saw it in theaters, but with my crazy summer schedule I missed out until the recent digital release.

I was impressed. Every time I thought the film was going to tip into being too much – too corny, too preachy, too self congratulatory – it managed keep things moving instead of getting bogged down. It’s peppy and ridiculous right up until it’s not and the ending was more poignant than I expected.

I can see why Barbie conquered the box office this summer, but it’s also mind-boggling to me that Mattel or WB think they’re going to franchise build from here. If they think they can reproduce that success with sequels or other toy brands in their empire, I think they’ll be sorely disappointed. It feels like a film that should just be, not the beginning of a Mattel-verse of films or whatever.

Or maybe I’m wrong and the Hot Wheels movie will deftly critique car pollution and racing culture while Polly Pocket encourages us to embrace a future of tiny houses off the grid. 😉

Links and Other Things

Okay, that should cover it this time. Have a great week!

Zubby Newsletter #26: Back to School

Hanging with movie-style Thulsa Doom in Atlanta.

After back-to-back four-day conventions, Fan Expo Canada in Toronto and Dragon Con in Atlanta, I immediately rocketed into the Fall term at Seneca. It’s my 19th year teaching in Seneca’s Animation program and the consistency of that schedule, semester after semester and year after year, creates a season-centric structure I enjoy. Each Fall there’s a brand-new set of students stepping into the program, bringing their enthusiasm and energy into the wing, reminding us why we do this and why it’s so satisfying.

At least a half-dozen current professors in the Animation program are also alumni, former students I taught many years ago, which feels extra-surreal even while my heart swells with pride that they’re back with us and excited to bring their knowledge and skills into the classroom to teach a new generation of animators, storytellers, and designers how it’s done.

I don’t talk a heck of a lot about my teaching career in interviews or other comic book press because most of that time gets spent promoting current projects or talking about the writing process. I also don’t talk a heck of a lot about my creative projects in the classroom. It’s not because I’m trying to hide it or anything, it’s just that my job at the college is focused on teaching  structural drawing (usually perspective drawing and environmental design) or film development (helping final year students put together their story pitches and film production teams), not promoting my work. The students pay tuition to learn specific skills, not be advertised to. Don’t get me wrong, when I have an anecdote or reference material that’s relevant I’m happy include it, I just try to make sure it’s appropriate to the lesson we’re covering or is after we’ve covered the school-centric lecture first.

Back on campus at York University, home of Seneca@York.

The start of the 2023 Fall term feels familiar, but in a way that’s far more reminiscent of 2019 than recent years of pandemic and transition. The halls and classrooms are once again packed with students just like the packed aisles of the comic conventions I’ve been attending all summer. Things aren’t 100% ‘normal’, but they feel closer now than at any other time in the past four years.

At one point on Tuesday there were so many new students chatting with each other, excitedly talking about movies, games, and comics before class that I had to use the authoritative “Okay, gang. Let’s calm down and get class started!” voice I haven’t used in years. The chatter was intense, but also oddly comforting compared to tiny Zoom postage stamp screens with muted mics and half the cameras turned off. I can hold my own in a loud room and it energizes me a heck of a lot more than the eerie silence of remote learning.

Two years ago, I had to complete a “Faculty Portfolio” that organized my thoughts and approach to teaching so the college would have access to it for future instructors. Here’s a small excerpt from that portfolio write-up:

Teamwork and community fulfill important roles in the animation industry. Very few animated productions are created by individuals working in complete isolation. Almost every production is the result of a robust team coming together to build films through a production pipeline – concept and story development, visual development, character and environmental design, storyboarding, rough animation, final animation, editing, compositing, and postproduction.

I strongly believe that even though students will choose one or two of these areas to focus their skills and portfolio when they graduate, they need to understand the holistic whole of how a production works, not only to make an informed choice about their future career path but also to better support people in other departments.

In a similar respect, I work to create a strong sense of community with students to remind them that their peers in the classroom will similarly become their peers out in the industry and that having a productive and positive environment in both areas will be needed for success.

Individual achievement is important, of course, but just as important is a shared learning environment.

respectfulencouraging, and engaging classroom is the ideal I strive for.

Creative Development

Most assignments in the Animation program are focused on deliverables – concreate drawing or animation output that demonstrates application of theory covered in the lectures. Discussion is valuable, but skill building through demonstration is how students internalize the learning process, taking these lessons from theoretical practices to instinctive approaches that become a regular part of their creative toolkit.

That said, teaching students any specific drawing method can easily lead to them not wanting to deviate from what they’re shown for fear of doing it ‘wrong’. Templates and demonstrations can feel like strict limits that funnel students toward an extremely homogenized output that has a veneer of learning but doesn’t encourage them to apply those theories outside of the confines of the assignment.

With that in mind, I try to give wider ranging ‘themes’ for assignments and show copious examples of student work that deviates from my demonstration, so students understand that they need to bring their own creativity into the mix.

Professional Examples

As mentioned previously, I’ve kept up with my freelance work while teaching at Seneca, which provides two types of professional examples in my classroom environment:

Quality: Students see exactly what is required on high profile projects working with intellectual properties they recognize and admire. The theory we cover in the classroom is directly linked to the deliverables I show in my own professional work.

Organization: The frenetic pace of the entertainment industry is reflected in my own work and travel schedule. When students see that I maintain a series of cascading project deadlines and industry events alongside teaching and grading expectations in the classroom, it gives them a greater appreciation for the organization and communication required to keep up that pace. I try to be as open and honest as I can about the highs and lows of it all – the pride I have in my work and respect I have for my collaborators along with the stresses that come from ongoing projects with a variety of clients.

Storytelling and Setbacks

Character and storytelling are fundamental to what we teach in Seneca’s Animation program, but also central to how we learn from each other and contextualize information. Reinforcing the theories covered in my lectures with stories – a quick joke, an aside, or an industry anecdote – has a huge effect on the way students engage with and remember the material covered. It makes the entire teaching process more personable, engaging, and meaningful.

This same concept works for both success and failure. When I’m honest with my students about struggles I had in school or if I discuss common pitfalls I have experienced in the industry, it humanizes the learning process and reminds them that it’s okay to make mistakes. What’s most important is the ability to keep going and keep trying rather than give up on a problem that in the moment seems insurmountable.

Professionalism and best practices must show a full range of experiences and include setbacks as well as successes. Yes, meeting deadlines and delivering on all fronts is what we should strive for, but even out in the industry there are times when schedules slip and situations spin out of everyone’s control. Normalizing those problems, stressing the importance of keeping communication going throughout, and showcasing that success can be found on the other side gives students more confidence to overcome issues that come up during their creative development.

As much as most of the above may seem obvious, in practice in the actual classroom it can be quite different. I’ve met quite a few people who are extremely skilled in terms of drawing ability and have extensive production experience but were unable to communicate most of that effectively to a class or mentor and encourage their students. Raw skill and experience are crucial components in teaching, but far from the complete package.

Links and Other Things

Since we’re on a roll this time talking about teaching art and animation, here are some rock-solid resources for drawing and art you can add to your reference pool-

  • I just discovered that Francis Manapul has a YouTube channel jam-packed with great material. He covers art techniques and career advice in a really appealing and effective way.
  • I’ve mentioned them before, but the Etherington Brothers have one of the most eclectic and useful art blogs on the internet. Their pool of drawing advice is vast and they’re always updating with new lessons.
  • The Proko team has some of the highest quality and most consistently professional art training advice you can find online. I worked with them on their recent Marvel Storytelling courses, but beyond that you can also find hundreds of other great free or paid resources on their site.
  • Another site I’ve mentioned previously is Love Life Drawing – their videos are brimming with classic art training tips that will change the way you visualize the human form.
  • Speaking of Life Drawing, my figure drawing instructor Werner Zimmermann is on Instagram right HERE.
  • VZA has a slew of great close-up videos where you can watch professional artists draw. Analyzing how artists make marks on the page can bolster your understanding of tool control and technique.

Okay, that should cover things this week. I hope September looks bright where you are!

Zubby Newsletter #25: Finding My Fortune

Dungeons & Dragons has had a bevvy of amazing campaign settings over the past 49 years and I have a deep amount nostalgia wound up in GreyhawkRavenloft, and Mystara, but Planescape holds an extra-special spot in my heart.

Years after I’d stepped away from D&D and was playing a slew of other tabletop RPGs with my high school gaming group, Planescape’s whimsical ‘anything goes’ swagger, interdimensional scope, and Tony DiTerlizzi’s unbelievably appealing and engaging art pulled me back in right from the start. I was amazed at how confidently it married roleplay-heavy moral conflict and strange factions with D&D’s existing dungeon delves and dimensional doors.

Tony DiTerlizzi’s Planescape artwork still blows my mind.

I have an almost complete collection of original AD&D 2nd Edition Planescape books here in my studio. I’m currently only missing two: The Inner Planes sourcebook and A Player’s Primer to the Outlands set.

*sigh* Some day I’ll get ‘em all…

Having my wild mage Delina travel to Mechanus in Evil at Baldur’s Gate #3 back in 2018 was a way to scratch a bit of that Planescape itch, but what I really wanted was for Wizards of the Coast to announce a full blown return to greatness for 5th Edition D&D so I could justify pitching a Planescape-focused comic mini-series and go bone deep into what I love about the setting and its distinctive and dangerous potential.

Evil at Baldur’s Gate #3 cover art by Max Dunbar

Last year, the D&D crew teased Planescape’s return, and now-

The Planescape – Adventures in the Multiverse 5th edition D&D game set arrives in stores mid-October and, now I can excitedly reveal, that DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: FORTUNE FINDER, a brand new Planescape IDW D&D comic mini-series will launch one month later on November 15th!!

As you might imagine, I am ecstatic.

Here’s the main cover and solicit info for our first issue:

Fortune Finder #1 cover art by Max Dunbar and Sebastian Cheng.

Story: Jim Zub
Line Art: Joe Jaro
Colors: Adam Guzowski
Cover Artists: Max Dunbar, Joe Jaro

In the city of Sigil, an amnesiac hero known only as “Finder” tries to uncover who they are and why they’re being chased by planar beings intent on capturing them-or worse. But as their tumultuous journey unfolds, they discover that their fate is tied to grand forces that dictate reality itself throughout the planes!

A shocking surprise lurks around every corner in Fortune Finder, a miniseries inspired by the new Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse.

In Shops: Nov 15th, 2023 SRP: $3.99

If you haven’t read any of the previous D&D comics (you really should), don’t worry, Fortune Finder is completely new reader friendly and self-contained with new characters and an eccentric twisting story that hits the ground running on the very first page and does not quit.

Artist Joe Jaro is drawing Sigil, the Outlands and other distinctive multi-versal locales with confident grace and his characters are wonderfully expressive. This is the Planescape comic I’ve been wanting to unleash for a long, long time and I hope you’ll join us!

Such a Damn Sellout

Minutes after I sent my previous newsletter that included news about Conan the Barbarian #2 needing a second printing before it even arrived in stores, Titan announced that Conan the Barbarian #1 would be heading to a special third printing less than a month after our launch.

It’s staggering and wonderful. Thank you for supporting us on this new era of High Adventure!

(And if you haven’t seen what all the excitement is about, you can read our Free Comic Book Day prelude issue online for FREE right HERE.)

How Many Conventions?

When people ask me how many comic/gaming/video game/animation conventions I’ve been to, I say “at least 100, maybe 150”. Last week, out of curiosity, I did a proper count using photos I’ve taken over the years (I can’t think of a show where I don’t have at least one photo).

So, what was the count?

*Drumroll please*

Fan Expo Canada 2023 in Toronto was show #174!

I started attending convention in 2002, so that’s an average of just over 8 shows per year (and I have a few more this Fall, so that average will pop up slightly).

Conan the Barbarian: Bound in Black Stone

Near Mint Condition has the scoop on our first Conan the Barbarian trade paperback collection, arriving February 2024.

The trade collection of Conan the Barbarian #1-4 and our Free Comic Book Day prelude is going to be a beauty, but our single issues will continue to be the complete Hyborian experience, with Robert E. Howard-centric essays by Jeff Shanks and Chain Mail, our bold and barbaric letters page.

Links and Other Things

• Cats Don’t Dance is coming to Blu-Ray in late September. This is one of the finest animated feature films most people, even animation fans, haven’t heard of. It’s directed by Mark Dindal, who brought a similar level of energy and spark to The Emperor’s New Groove.

• Cybersix is finally coming to Blu-ray in October. My buddy Derek and I are big fans of this animated series originally released in 1999 based on an Argentine comic strip. Some great animation, especially for TV at the time.

• Baldur’s Gate III is absolutely crushing it. I’ve barely had a chance to play with my current work and show schedule, but I thought the early access version was worth its pre-order price and it’s waa~aay more polished and refined now. So amazing.

Okay, that’ll cover it for this week.

Zubby Newsletter #24: Common Critique

The always amazing Steve Lieber put together an extremely helpful list of 12 common comic art portfolio critiques and asked if any comic writer wanted to do the same kind of thing, so I picked up the baton and ran with it.

(Of course, Zdarsky’s version is probably the most realistic out of the three of us…)

Read, learn, and if you like it, feel free to share far and wide.

Creatures Collected, Bigger Than Ever

The D&D Young Adventurer’s Monsters & Creatures Compendium just arrived in stores on August 22nd. It’s a larger trim size collection of creature content (with some text updates) from all of the released D&D Young Adventurer’s Guides so far. Perfect for libraries and game clubs, it also makes a great gift for the new gamer or Dungeon Master in your life.

A 248 page full color hardcover for only $24.99 USD!

Apparently I am a Sellout

I received the incredible news that you have done it AGAIN – one week before release and reorders for CONAN THE BARBARIAN #2 blew way past the deep overprint Titan Comics put together!

Conan #2 second print, in stores September 27th, will have a cover by Ravaging Rob De La Torre (or you can snag a ferocious first print copy when it hits shelves next week like a thunderclap) 😉 .

This launch has been the biggest of my career so far and so much of that has been thanks to the enthusiasm of readers, reviewers, and retailers. THANK YOU for your support. It means a lot.

Forbidden Planet TG

Conan editor Matt Murray and I had a wonderful chat with Andrew Sumner at Forbidden Planet TV all about our creative careers, our favorite Cimmerian, cataclysmic comic creation, and other curiosities! Give it a watch-

A Savage Livestream

A few nights ago, Richard Pace did a Conan the Barbarian sketch cover livestream and it turned out great.

Richard and I are currently collaborating on a brutal story for the new Savage Sword of Conan series launching in 2024. Can’t wait for you to see what we’re cooking up.

Garlic Lemon Salmon Pasta

I put together a tasty pasta dish on Sunday using ingredients and techniques from a couple other recipes to make it my own. It feels so good to be able to confidently choose ingredients and experiment rather than feeling like I have to strictly follow a recipe in order to get good results.

I usually eat quite quickly, so I know a dish works well when Stacy wolfs it down just as fast as I do. She just kept digging in and saying “Goddamn, this is good.”

Ingredients (two servings)

  • 10-14 ounces of salmon, skin off
  • 4 Tbsp butter (2 for the sauce, 2 for the fish fry)
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 cup grated old cheddar
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • half a lemon
  • pasta of your choice
  • dill, parsley, basil, kosher salt, pepper, other spices of your choice
  1. Start up a large pot of boiling water and salt it well.
  2. Chop up the garlic, dill, and parsley. Grate the cheese.
  3. Make sure there are no bones in the salmon and cut it into bite-size pieces with a sharp knife.
  4. If you’ve never made a roux (which will become a cheesy mornay sauce) before, it’s surprisingly simple – in a sauté pan, large frying pan or medium pot set to medium heat – melt half the butter and then add the flour, whisking it together (if you’re using a non-stick pan use a plastic whisk/spoon so you don’t scratch the coating) until it’s a paste that’s not liquid or powdery at all.

    (If you want an even more flavorful version of this sauce, you can use meat drippings/lard instead of regular butter. Just about any 1:1 fat to flour combination should work.)

  5. Slowly drizzle in the cream and keep whisking. You want to whisk out any lumps and you’ll soon see it start to thicken up beautifully. Turn the heat down to medium-low and then add in the grated cheddar so it melts and incorporates. If the sauce starts to thicken too quickly, add a bit of water and keep stirring/whisking. You actually want the sauce to be quite liquid at this stage because it’ll thicken up once it interacts with starch from the cooked pasta.
  6. Add dill, parsley, pepper, salt and any other spices you want to the sauce, to your personal taste.
  7. Start the pasta boiling, setting an alarm for when it will be al dente.
  8. In a separate frying pan, add the rest of the butter to a hot pan and then add the salmon pieces and chopped up garlic. It will fry up quite quickly, you just want to cook the outside and give the fish a bit of color. Don’t worry about cooking pieces all the way through in the pan since they’ll be added to the sauce and will keep cooking there.
  9. Add the fried fish, garlic and butter to the mornay sauce and stir.
  10. Once your pasta is done cooking, it’s go-time.
  11. Right before you plate the dish, add the zest and juice from the half lemon to your sauce (being careful not to let any lemon seeds drop in) and stir. This gives the sauce a wonderful bright finishing flavor. If your sauce has thickened up too much, scoop a bit of water from the boiling pasta pot to add it to the sauce and it’ll liquify again.
  12. Plate the pasta, add the sauce, and then garnish with parmesan cheese, some fresh cracked black pepper, and a basil leaf.
  13. Take that classy food photo and eaaat!

    Links and Other Things

    The BAM Animation duo have put together an incredible pair of tutorials on drawing and digitally coloring animation backgrounds. So much good advice, the same kinds of theories and tips I teach my Seneca students each year, jam-packed into these two videos with solid examples. Even if you’re a working pro you will probably find some useful tips and working methodologies here.

    That should cover things for this week.


Zubby Newsletter #23: Entering the Uncanny

On social media some fans and creators were recently sharing anecdotes about the first issue of Uncanny X-Men they read, especially if it hooked them on the series, and that pulled me into a bit of a nostalgia vortex.

The first X-Men issue I remember reading was quite the head trip-

Uncanny X-Men #141, first part of the legendary “Days of Future Past” story. As far as I remember, my older brother bought it from a used bookstore in Oshawa that sold comics. The issue was released in late 1980, but I think Joe bought it a couple years later because I must have been 7 or 8 years old at the time.

I didn’t even know who this cast of characters were and they were already thrust into an alternate universe post-apocalyptic future where most of them were dead and their very survival was at stake. It was intense, emotional and incredibly compelling, even if I didn’t understand large parts of the story or had any inkling of the character history at the time. It begged to be explored.

My first point of confusion was the guy on the cover with metal claws. I thought he was “Beast” because he had the exact same haircut as the guy on the poster right behind him-

No one in the story called him “Beast”, they called him “Logan”, but that just added to the air of mystery around him. 😉

Anyways, Joe started collecting Uncanny X-Men a few issues later and I started picking up Amazing Spider-Man and G.I.Joe around the same time.

There was an unexpected joy to dropping right into the middle of the narrative instead of an issue #1 to start things off. Reading and collecting became about filling in holes of the past just as much as it was about engaging the new ongoing stories that arrived each month

Having Uncanny X-Men #141 as a starting point meant that Kitty Pryde was central to the X-narrative and everything Jean Grey/Phoenix-related felt like “history”. I had a similar demarcation point in Amazing Spider-Man – Hobgoblin was the current big bad, so anything Green Goblin-related felt “old” in comparison. (Not bad, of course, just old.)

Marvel Tales and Classic X-Men allowed us to dig into the past and fill in gaps in our collection since we couldn’t afford expensive back issues, especially for “key” moments (first appearances, character deaths, things like that).

It felt like rocket riding through a huge interconnected world that extended way behind us while also zipping confidently forward.

Like a lot of comic collectors, over time we’d start to focus on the creators as much as the characters. Who made the books became just as important as the titles we looked for – John Byrne, Michael Golden, Chris Claremont, Roger Stern, John Buscema, Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman, George Perez, Art Adams, Ann Nocenti, Walt and Louise Simonson, and a slew of others became names we recognized and work we craved because it seemed to stand head and shoulders over others at the time.

And, through it all, the X-Men reigned supreme.

Uncanny X-Men was the best damn soap opera in comics. Claremont and company kept their big cast moving forward with an impressive amount of thoughtful evolution. The team line-up changed constantly. Romances flourished and failed. The month-to-month narrative clipped along with A-plots, B-plots, and occasionally almost completely forgotten C and D-plots that finally popped back up to surprise and delight. One month the team might be in outer space and an issue or two later they could be in the Savage Land, Tokyo, or just playing a game of pick-up baseball in Westchester, New York.

The heroes, villains and supporting cast were deeply flawed and beautifully human. There’s a reason why the series was an absolute sales juggernaut…and it wasn’t because sometimes a character named Juggernaut showed up to break shit.

I don’t think anyone could or should try to put X-Men back in same mold in the here and now, but it’s valuable to re-read those older issues to try and understand why it was so vibrant and how it generated so much loyalty in its readership over so many years.

In an age of endless new #1’s that act as both jumping on and off points, dozens of variant covers every issue, and near-instant digital access to both new comics and almost every issue of the past, it all feels very different. Some things have been gained and other things have been lost and that’s the way life goes, but hearing that prompt of “What was your first X-Men?” brought back a lot of good memories so I thought I’d lean into that a bit here.

Talking Conan

I know this will seem odd, but I’m still talking about Conan the Barbarian. 🙂

Someone filmed the Conan the Barbarian comic panel from San Diego Comic-Con, so you can check that out on Forbidden Planet’s channel:

This panel was on Sunday morning, so our voices are pretty shot by this point. Other than that, it was a ton of fun and we were really impressed with the turn out and enthusiasm from the crowd.

I also spoke to the team at Geek Hard all about our Conan the Barbarian relaunch. The interview starts at the 7 minute mark of their latest episode and runs until the 36 minute spot in the show.

Current + Upcoming Books

Upcoming Events

Links and Other Things

Marc Brunet is a former Art Director from Blizzard who goes through a variety of drawing and rendering techniques on his YouTube channel. Like many popular YouTube creators, over time he’s become an exaggerated parody of himself as a way to get more traffic, but if you ignore the twitchy behavior and edits his tutorials are solid and well worth checking out. This new one about rendering skin tone shadows is the same method we used at the UDON Studio on our official Capcom artwork, and a great tool to have in your digital rendering toolbox-

That should cover it for this time.

Next week is Fan Expo Canada!

Zubby Newsletter #22: Gen Conquest

A bunch of readers signed up for this newsletter at SDCC and Gen Con, so – welcome!

Zubstack is where I keep people up to date with my creative projects (mostly comics and games) and also dig into things on my mind, recipes I’m cooking, games I’m playing, articles I’m enjoying, and more. For my main website, go HERE and, for an archive of past newsletter installments jammed with info and links, go HERE.

Social media is more mercurial and annoying than ever, so being able to go old school internet and reach fine people like yourself directly is really nice. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, that’s fine, but at least you get to choose instead of algorithms choosing for you.

Okay, on we go~

Flights to Gen Con were annoyingly expensive for such a short hop, so Stacy and I decided to drive down to Indianapolis instead (9-ish hours on the road depending on traffic). It was a bit of a throwback to my earliest convention years racking up kilometers and crisscrossing the border at strange hours.

In my previous newsletter I talked about how much has changed for me at shows like Gen Con since I first started attending 20 years ago, but it’s even clearer when you see Darrin’s incredible booth set-up for Howard and I this time-

Conan the Barbarian comics, D&D Young Adventurer’s Guides, the D&D Ultimate Pop-Up BookD&D comic trade paperbacks, SkullkickersWayward, and so much more. There were several times when I was asked which books I worked on and just motioned to my left and said “All of those”, which felt cool but also weird. There’s no way we can stock everything, but even this cross section of my work feels like a heck of a lot.

Gen Con was sold out every day, which also meant Saturday-style crowds every day. I have never seen the exhibit hall so consistently packed, hour after hour. I stepped out for some meetings around meal times and managed to visit friends after the floor closed, but during show hours it honestly felt better to have the table between us and the torrent of people moving through the aisles.

Each morning of the four day show, here’s how it looked before the exhibit hall opened-

Gamers were back in full force, ready to play and buy. Sales soared and a lot of the other exhibitors I spoke to said it was their best year ever. Most of the new books I brought sold out by Saturday and I ran out of Rick and Morty VS D&D sketch covers long before the end of the show as well.

Like at San Diego this year, I tried to slow things down to enjoy richer conversations with old friends or deeper impressions with new people I met. Tons of nostalgia and appreciation, that’s for sure. Lots of chatter about possible future plans as well.

Cromulent Interviews

I know this will surprise you, but I’ve been talking about Conan the Barbarian. Here are a couple interviews shot during San Diego a few weeks ago:

Speaking of Conan-

The reviews for issue #1 are incredibly kind and I posted a teaser of issue #2 on social media that I’ll include below-

Issue #2 keeps the momentum of our first issue going and then some, my friends.
Line artist Rob De La Torre and colorist Dean White deliver a stunner on every page.

Given how fast issue #1 blew off store shelves, make sure you get your pre-order in for our second slashing attack.

Current + Upcoming Books

Upcoming Events

Links and Other Things

Here’s a quick list of games I picked up at Gen Con, in case you’re interested-

My schedule for the rest of the summer is intense, but I look forward to digging into these when things calm down.

That should cover it for this week.

Zubby Newsletter #21: Gen Con, On and On

The Hyborian Age is Back, Baby!

Conan the Barbarian #1, the launch point for a new era of Hyborian Adventure, is finally out in comic shops nationwide on Wednesday, August 2nd.

Thank you for your patience. We think it’s worth the wait.

If you pick up a copy (before they vanish and our second print drops), let me know what you think and, if you like it, tell a few friends as well. Building a readership in for the long haul is even more important than our launch numbers.

The Best Four Days In Gaming – Every Year

This week is the mighty GEN CON, North America’s largest tabletop RPG, card, and board game convention. I’ll be there, as always.

When I was a kid, my brother and I would read that an adventure we owned was “originally used for the official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Tournament at Gen Con” and our imaginations would run wild

What if, some day, we could GO to Gen Con? What would that be like?!

18 years later, I’d finally find out-

In 2003, I attended my first Gen Con as a rep for the UDON studio. It was the first year the show set up in Indianapolis (instead of Lake Geneva, which is its namesake) and the locals were thrown off by over 20,000 gamers descending on their city (in 2023 it’ll be more than 70,000. Thankfully, Indy is now well prepared for the invasion.).

It was amazing and I met so many incredible people, many of them still dear friends to this day.

Gen Con 2003 – Roll for initiative!

In 2011, Howard Tayler (Schlock Mercenary, Writing Excuses) invited me to hunker down at a corner of his booth with his friend Tracy Hickman (Dragonlance, Ravenloft) so I could promote my new fantasy-comedy comic called Skullkickers.

Gen Con 2011 (left to right: Laura Hickman, Jim Zub, Howard Tayler, Tracy Hickman)

I’ve been set up at the show with Howard and our convention family (Sandra, Darrin, Mike, Robin, and many others) every year it’s run since then. My career keeps growing, bit by bit, and when we get together at Gen Con we celebrate, commiserate, and keep planning for the future.

Much like San Diego, my head spins a bit when I look through photos and see so many memories. Twenty years has gone by in a flash. I’m deeply thankful I’ve had these experiences and met so many amazing people who love games, comradery, and sword & sorcery as much as I do.

Sooo~ at GEN CON 2023, we’ll be set up at BOOTH 1249. If you’re at the show, please come on by and see us! Lots of books, games, artwork and good conversation. We’ll also have the Dungeons & Dragons Ultimate Pop-Up Book on display and a chance for visitors to win a free copy each day of the show.

While you’re there, make sure we grab a photo so 20 years from now I can look back and be amazed at how damn young and vibrant we looked.

Next year is the 50th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, so Stacy and I are looking to widen our travel circle even further with conventions we haven’t been to before so we can promote our work and celebrate the hobby that means so much to us.

Nights Of Endless Adventure

Speaking of D&D

Solicits are out for Dungeons & Dragons: Nights of Endless Adventure, the second D&D comic omnibus collecting volumes 4, 5, and 6 of my Baldur’s Gate heroes getting into trouble in grand and unexpected locales-

If you missed out on Evil At Baldur’s GateInfernal Tides, or Mindbreaker (which also acts as a prelude to Larian’s massive Baldur’s Gate III video game launching this week), in October you can get all caught up thanks to this rockin’ tome.

When I wrote the return of fan-favorite characters Minsc and Boo back in 2014, I never could have imagined that scene would appear in a video game, let alone in such an epic way-

(If you don’t have D&D comic volumes 1-3, they’re collected in D&D: Days of Endless Adventure!)

Between the Nights omnibus, two D&D Young Adventurer’s releases arriving soon (details here and here) and other projects yet to be announced, I have a lot more D&D on the horizon.

Conan? I’m Shocked! Shocked, I say

I know, I know. The Conan guy is talking about Conan.

• At SDCC, editor Matt Murray and I chatted with Fanbase Press about the relaunch and how it ties into a 90+ year legacy of sword & sorcery:

• The solicits for Conan the Barbarian issues #3 and 4 are now out. Peep those covers.

Advice in the Mighty Marvel Manner

Marvel’s The Art of Storytelling digital training course is now rolling out on Proko and my sections on Story Development, Scripting, and Ideation are the first ones out of the gate, so the studio put together a free video with clips from some of the supplementary interviews I did in and around the formal lessons. Lots of good advice and the production quality is really nice too.

(My voice isn’t normally this smokey sounding, but these videos were shot the day after SDCC last year, so I was coming off of a week long talking binge at the convention.)

Links and Other Things

• An architect breaks down design traits of the classic American Diner and it’s a fascinating little bit of culture and history.

• Some art tips from the Helioscope studio, including a couple things I teach my students every year.

• Painter Chris Fornataro breaks down a crucial technique that adds clearer structure when rendering forms. His examples use oil paint, but the technique involved easily transfers to other mediums.

• Ben Eblen discusses how he improved the line quality in his drawings. Good analysis and technique here as well.

Have a great week!

Zubby Newsletter #20: A Sunstruck Conanza

Well…that was one hell of a week.

We launched CONAN THE BARBARIAN #1 at San Diego Comic-Con ahead of our in-store release date (which shifted from July 26th to August 2nd due to a shipping delay out of our control) and the response has been absolutely electric.

• Advance reviews are strongDamn strong.

• It’s the best selling Titan Comic ever and one of the strongest sellers in comics of the past few years, especially for a Mature Readers non-Marvel/DC book.

• The first printing has blown out at the distributor level before release even with a large overprint, necessitating a second print before copies even hit the shelves of your favorite local retailer.

Readers and retailers are buzzing right now and it feels really, really good. The hard work we’ve put into this is coming through on the final printed page and all of us on the team are damn proud.

Sales do not equate quality, but I felt like we put forth a strong mission statement with our Free Comic Book Day issue #0. We hoped that both new and lapsed fans would show their support…and they have in a huge way. Thank you!

I’m Not Even Supposed to Be Here

On Sunday morning at SDCC we had a Conan the Barbarian panel and it was packed, which is extra-wild given that it was on the last day of the big show and, by every right, people should have been exhausted. I mentioned something there I want to echo here as far and wide as possible-

This kind of thing doesn’t happen. People don’t get second chances on titles like this, especially if your first attempt wasn’t considered a big commercial success.

Taking over the flagship Conan series in early 2020 was an absolute dream come true, but none of us could have possibly known how things would actually roll out with the world at large. We released part 1 of a 4 part story (called Into the Crucible) in February 2020 and almost immediately received a ‘pencils down’ pandemic order that meant part 2 didn’t arrive in stores until 7 months later. After we came back, momentum was understandably spent and we were fighting to stay alive until things wrapped up on that incarnation of the series in September 2021.

Given everything I know about publishing and promotion, it would have made complete sense for Heroic Signatures to hire a brand new writer for their big relaunch at Titan. The unwavering faith that Fred Malmberg and the rest of the Heroic team has shown in my vision for Conan and my desire for long term myth-making in the Hyborean Age, honestly, it blows my mind.

Conan the Barbarian is the Superman of sword & sorcery. He’s the icon that built an entire genre with a 90+ year legacy of excitement and adventure. He brings out the best from creators because he deserves the best. I was honored to be part of this legend before, and am even more honored now.

Issue #1 sales and great reviews matter, of course. Launching with as much visibility and momentum as possible gives us a clear mandate and opens up all kinds of other opportunities – BUT – a big flashy opening is not as important as a strong ongoing readership. Speculators stashing away variant covers is part of the comic business and I’ve made my peace with that, but my goal is that people read and love this series because it’s damn good and high quality, month after month. I want issues #12, 13, 14 and beyond to be just as good and even more exciting. Is that possible? I don’t know, but I’m going to work like hell and find out.

Savage Sword is Back – in Bold Black & White!

Also announced during our Conan panel at SDCC – Savage Sword of Conan returns in 2024 to celebrate its 50th anniversary. It’s back in its original oversized black & white format along with a murderer’s row of talented creators, classic and new, ready to contribute unfettered fantasy fury on the page.

Confirmed creators include John Arcudi, Frank Tieri, Patch Zircher, Howard Chaykin, Rafael Kayanan, Cary Nord, Rebeca Puebla, Dan Panosian, Richard Pace, Gerardo Zaffino, and me!

Richard Pace is illustrating a brutally tragic tale I’ve had rolling around in the back of my mind for years and, even at this early stage, it’s looking stellar.

Conan editor Matt Murray has spearheaded Savage Sword’s return (while keeping the flagship monthly Conan book charging forward) and none of this would have happened without his bottomless energy and tireless toil.

If you never read the original Savage Sword of Conan magazine (reprinted in wonderful omnibus editions that are going back to print this Fall), just know that it was the series that hooked a ton of fans with visceral artwork and bombastic storytelling.

That’s a Whole Lotta Conan, Jim…

I know! It’s the launch so everything’s pretty nutso.

• I spoke to Tim Cundle at Mass Movement all about sword & sorcery storytelling. It was a really fun interview that covers a lot of my thoughts around working on big commercial characters and continuity.

• I spoke to Will Salmon at Newsarama about what makes the new Conan series click and mysteries of Robert E. Howard’s mythic Black Stone.

• I spoke to Jed Keith at Freaksugar about the unexpected winding path that led to this new Conan series.

• Matt Murray and I spoke to Collier Jennings at AIPT all about our big plans for the relaunch.

♫ ~ Slow Down, You Move Too Fast ~ ♫

Despite the fervor of this whirlwind Conanza, I made a real point this year at the big show to slow down at key points and have better conversations.

If you’ve never been to San Diego Comic-Con, it may not make sense but, seriously, it’s easy to get caught up in the chaos of 150,000+ people going pop culture crazy and forget to enjoy who is there and why you like this stuff in the first place. You see people you know and care about, but your schedule is packed so you just wave or high-five as you move past and, by the time the show’s over, you realize you didn’t get a chance to really connect with anyone.

So, this year, I promised myself I’d do it differently. Conversations were more focused and meaningful. Compliments were free-flowing. Smiles were easy to find. Photos were frequent.

Reconnecting, celebrating, waxing nostalgic.

Look at us. Still here. Still making stuff and having fun.

So great to see you. Things are busy but it’s okay, take a deep breath, we’ve got this.

We’re veterans of these Comic-Conquests.

There was a lot to celebrate this year, but I also hope a bit of the zen I summoned here carries over to future shows as well…especially with the unstoppable swirl that is Gen Con coming up next week!


Zubby Newsletter #19: SDCC, Past and Present

Next week is Comic-Con: International (aka. San Diego Comic-Con, aka. SDCC), the massive pop culture convention that always feels like a milestone and a millstone at the same time.

My first SDCC was 2002, a weird and wonderful trip where I flung myself out into the unknown to promote my fledgling webcomic and learn more about the industry. It all happened thanks to Scott McCloud’s encouragement and help from a few other online creators along with a plane ticket bought by my Dad because my brother told him if I didn’t take this unique opportunity I’d regret it for the rest of my life.

He was right. That trip changed so much.

Modern Tales 2002 (left to right: Dirk Tiede, Derek Kirk Kim, Jim Zub,
Jesse Hamm, Chuck Whelon, Joey Manley, Lea Hernandez, James Kochalka)

For the very first time, creators whose work I’d seen and enjoyed became real people I could interact with and learn from in person. It was amazing, inspiring, and a bit scary.

More than 20 years and over 200 conventions later, I’m still making stories, meeting people, and finding inspiration when I travel to these shows.

Even though I’ve been to conventions all over the world, San Diego has a mystique all its own. Comics, movies, prose, toys, and games all smash together for a week of celebration and surprises. It’s a business and a joy with lots of potential work and money swiftly swimming alongside an obsessive need to see and be seen in this business. The more you go, the more ‘normal’ it all seems, but deep down you know it’s something special and you’re still a big ol’ goobery fan just as much as you’re a working professional.

UDON Crew 2015 (Too many people to name!)

And yet, despite all the spectacle, when I look back, the photos that anchor me year after year are the ones I take with friends. So many incredible people I’ve met and grown close to because we share these convention experiences and love what we do.

At the CDLF Party 2022 (left to right: Jackson Lanzing, Jody Houser, Phil Sevy,
Cara O’Neil, Jim Zub, Collin Kelly)

Last year, Troy Little was the best damn roommate I could have asked for. Getting to hang out with him and do the whirlwind of events and parties made it feel like no time at all had passed even though convention season went into stasis for almost three years. It was a fun return to form as I tried to reabsorb all the best parts of the San Diego experience without letting the negativity creep in.

At the Eisner Awards 2022 (Jim Zub, Kevin Eastman, Troy Little)

Negativity? Absolutely.

SDCC is an emotional roller coaster and, no matter how hard you try to resist, there are inevitable moments where you get worn out or beaten down by it all. Even though I’m incredibly excited about everything on tap for this year, I’m also aware that there will be times where I feel absolutely out of place, unwanted, and ignored in and amongst the sheer chaos of it all. You want to be acknowledged and accepted by your peers. You want to celebrate each victory and forget each failure. You want to make headway with new creative projects and chart exciting plans for the year to come. San Diego is a Gauntlet in every sense of the word. It tests your resolve, it punishes your hubris, and it makes you feel very small…

…And yet…

…And yet every single time I go (18 times as of this year) I end up having these moments, these ridiculously wonderful moments I never could have planned for, moments that remind why I do this at all. Sometimes they’re big weird celebrity interactions, other times they’re intimate conversations with peers or newcomers, but either way they’re the kind of thing that wouldn’t have happened anywhere else. I cherish those moments even more than I dread the exhaustion and fear of rejection that will inevitably be part of it as well.

If you’ll be in San Diego this time and you see me, please say “Hi” and let’s take a photo, so that years later I can get wistful about how young and amazing we looked way back when.

Zub at SDCC 2023!

Over on my site is a post I’m keeping up-to-date with signing times and panels, so please check there for info on where I’ll be each day. That way I’m not sending out a one-time email with times or places that may change.

The show floor is too big to fit the whole map here in my newsletter. Go to my site for the full-size SDCC Hall A-G honker. Just remember – Artist Alley Table GG-18.

The CONAN THE BARBARIAN launch happening at the show is big in a way I don’t know if I’ve fully come to grips with. There are four show exclusive variant covers for this first issue, including an extra-special one I’ll have for sale at my Comic Sketch Art table in Artist Alley (GG-18) illustrated by the legendary Dan PanosianThere are also signings every day, interviews, and panels. It’s a bit nuts.

We announced the Conan creative team last year at SDCC and this year at the same time we launch the first issue. I can’t believe how fast these 12 months have gone.

I know I sound like a broken record at this point, but I’m incredibly proud of our whole creative team and honored at the great response so far for the series. If the plans we have for the next two years (and more) go forward, it’s going to be an absolutely wild and wonderful ride.

Obviously, if you’re at the show, I encourage you to pick up a copy of our first issue (one week ahead of the in-store release) so I can make it less than mint with my signature and then you can read it and tell me if we did right by our favorite Cimmerian.

The Art of Storytelling Begins!

The first lesson for Marvel’s The Art of Storytelling online course is now out in the wild and next week I’ll be with the Proko + Marvel crew promoting it at SDCC. Stan Prokopenko covers major aspects of the course and its structure here in this new introductory video

Links and Other Stuff

• Comrade Bullski has a great tweet thread on the changing geography of the Hyborian Age.

• Watch Rob De La Torre sketch in Procreate:

• Toronto is getting a Lego-themed pop-up burger restaurant in October?

Okay, that should cover it for now. Wish me luck at the big show!