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Empty Halls

Formal lectures re-start on Monday, but we did a connection test yesterday afternoon.

It was surreal having the class online with students asking questions in a chat window or via audio, but so far they seem to be handling things okay.

By default I had mics muted, but when I did unmute the group I was really impressed with how quiet they stayed, letting each student ask questions and not contaminating the stream with background noise. They did better than our staff during a livestream earlier in the week.

I tested out streaming a video, mimicking what we’ll be doing in the coming weeks for our Animation History class. I’m trying to keep the live component and screening intact. Having mics open and hearing their chuckles during the film brought a lot of warmth to the stream.

After the test, I had an open Q&A, answering their questions and addressing concerns about the next four weeks and as we wrap up the term. Again, it all went well.

At the end, I asked if they had any other questions-

“Zub, how are you doing? Are you okay?”

*Jim’s lip quivers*

I held it together, but I really appreciated that they were thinking of me too. They’re a great group.

It’s been a rough week, far worse for many, many other people, but we all have our own problems we’re dealing with.

Knowing that in the grand scheme of things I’m good and this will pass, but also allowing myself to feel sad and disappointed that this is how my time in charge of the Animation program will end and my sabbatical plans are a flaming wreck is a weird balancing act.

I drove to the school and grabbed a few things before they finished locking down the campus.

Normally when I walk the empty halls it’s because I finished submitting end of term transcripts.
It’s the sign of a job well done.

This time it feels out of sorts, but we’ll persevere.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

14 years.

That’s how long I’ve been coordinating Seneca’s 3-Year Animation Advanced Diploma program.

I’ve been teaching at Seneca for the past 16 years, and 14 of those have included managing curriculum development, student issues, instructor schedules, budget projections, and evaluating portfolios.

Being Coordinator might be the longest and most consistent thing I’ve done in my life. I worked at UDON as an artist and project manager for 9 years. I’ve been freelance comic writing for 11 years. When Stacy and I started dating in 2007 I was already Animation Program Coordinator, so it’s been a constant through our entire relationship and marriage.

Until now.

Juggling both teaching and writing, two full-time careers running in tandem, has been a challenge at times. I’ve earned a few grey hairs thanks to it, but also wouldn’t trade it for anything. The friends I’ve made, projects I’ve been a part of, and places I’ve traveled to, it’s been such an incredible ride.

At the end of last year, we finished our 5-year program review. Animation broke records for applications and portfolios for the fourth year in a row. Our student body is enthusiastic and focused. Our instructors are top notch. Our graduates are working for some of the biggest animation, game, and special effect companies in the world. Seeing all that laid out in black and white in front of me, it felt like a good place to evaluate my own progress as well.

As I looked ahead to 2020 and beyond, I realized how much more would be required, both with the creative projects I have lined up and the expanding needs of one of the college’s most popular and successful programs. Something had to change, otherwise I’d burn out trying to keep doing it all at the same time.

So, I spoke to Mark Jones, a dear friend and Seneca’s Chair of Creative Arts, and requested a professional leave from the college. My professional leave starts late April 2020 and continues through to end of August 2021 – 16 months to focus on my writing and other creative development, working away on some stuff that’s already public along with a couple secret projects I’m excited to see come to life.

When I return after my leave, I won’t be picking back up the Coordinator mantle. After 14 years of building and running the Animation program, it’s time for someone else to take charge. Sean Craig, current Coordinator of our post-grad 3D Animation program and the 3rd year Digital Animation stream, is stepping up to take over. He and I have been discussing this changeover for many months and he has a rock-solid vision for where the program needs to be in the years ahead.

So, that’s the news. After April 22nd, I’ll be focused on writing and other creative endeavors along with expanding my travel schedule so Stacy and I can go places we’ve never been and spend more time in the places we enjoy. I get to see what it’s like to have one crazy creative career instead of two and a half. 

I got into this business (art, animation, comics, games, teaching, all of it) because I love storytelling. Getting to work with so many skilled people who love it as much as I do has been a dream.

What comes next? Keep watching and we’ll find out together as the future unfolds.

Wish me luck,
Jim

Year In Review

As I’ve done in years past, I try to sum up the year that was in a post here on my site. 2019 had some of the highest highs and lowest lows in recent memory, closing out the decade in ways I never could have imagined.

At the center of it all was one of the most difficult things Stacy or I have ever gone through – early in the year Stacy’s Mom discovered she had cancer and, through the spring and into summer it aggressively overtook her and she passed away on July 12th. Doreen, my second Mom, was an incredible woman filled with deep love for her family and a joy for making things and bringing happiness to others. Her loss struck us hard. Navigating the latter half of the year has been tough and we’re still finding our way through it, bit by bit.

School and writing are both going incredibly well even in the face of our family tragedy and the contrast between those two aspects of my life are surreal and, honestly, sometimes hard to ratify. Talking about comics, games and creative projects seems small at times given these tumultuous times.

So, I think that’s the lesson of 2019 – The work is important, but not as important as the people in my life and the bond between us. There’s joy to be had in writing, convention travel and the ridiculously nerdy things that define my career but they’re in service to love, family, and friendship. We have to help each other while appreciating the time we have and the experiences we get.

Dungeons & Dragons became a real focal point this year with comics, the Young Adventurer’s Guides, D&D Live in Los Angeles, and a TEDx Talk all about how D&D changed my life, but in the end it still filters down to creating and maintaining emotional connections. The same goes for my creator-owned projects, my Marvel work, and teaching at Seneca.

What lasts are the bonds built between us and the stories we create, so I’m trying to head into 2020 with hopes of strengthening those bonds even further and telling as many people as I can how much they mean to me.

I hope you do the same.

All the best to you and yours as we head into the new year.

BBC News Article on Comic Piracy

I know the recent BBC article on comic piracy was intended to be helpful, but it skims so lightly along the subject that the whole thing becomes anecdotal. The fact that I’m “quoted” twice, but just from tweets not an actual conversation with me, makes it even more awkward.

I wasn’t going to say anything about it, but since it’s on the BBC site it’s hitting a more mainstream audience than usual and now I’m getting a swath of messages praising/punching me for it.

The anecdotal nature of the article really annoyed me, but I also realize that it strikes at the heart of why the piracy conversation always goes sideways so fast:

Anecdotes are all we have because the actual help/hindrance of digital piracy is nearly impossible to accurately measure.

There are stats of a sort (page views, torrents, downloads) but we have no way to measure how that translates to sales lost or visibility gained.

Some readers justify why they do it or explain how it helped them and then project that experience across the whole thing. Equally, creators see their own struggles and the shakiness of the system and project those losses on to the whole. Neither is accurate, but neither is completely wrong, either.

I’m not a fool. I don’t think every illegal download is a lost sale. I know it’s complicated and everyone can point to themselves or others as reasonable/justified/worthy customers who pirate stuff for the “right” reasons. The complexity destroys any reasonable discourse.

The fact that it’s digital and a whole other segment can get pedantic and explain that it’s not actually “theft” because it’s a just a copy and nothing was physically stolen muddies the whole thing even more.

Piracy is a diffused mess of disparate data injected with enough anecdotes and frustration that none of us has to change our opinion or behavior.

Everyone sees what they want to see and keeps on screaming.
Which is online discourse in a nutshell right now.

The easy play is to just smile and nod and pretend it’s all good.
“Fuck you, I got mine” feels very 2019-appropriate.

There isn’t much else to say that hasn’t already been said-
Be good to each other.
Be honest with yourself.
Support creative work the best you can.

Thanks for reading (my work, not the social media vortex).

Talking Serpent War With CBR

I spoke with Dave Richards at CBR all about CONAN: SERPENT WAR, bringing together Conan, Moon Knight, Solomon Kane, Dark Agnes, and more in a swirling sword& sorcery spectacle.

Give it a read, check out the exclusive interior art preview, and get ready for a ride starting in December.

Indiebound Links Now Added to my Buy Page

I just added a whole slew of new links to Indiebound over on my BUY page, listing a variety of outlets where you can order my books. Indiebound represents a huge community of independent bookstores benefiting individual store owners and their local communities. If you want to buy comic collected editions (or really, any books at all) and support your local retailers, please consider using Indiebound!

Head on over to my BUY page and you’ll see Indiebound links for almost every book I’ve contributed to. It was a bit time consuming going through them all to add them to the database, but I think it’s important to have as many choices as possible so readers can easily find their next favorite book.

Thank you, as always, for your support!

DIE RPG Session at SDCC 2019

Shaun Manning at Comic Book Resources put together a write-up about the DIE tabletop RPG test game Kieron Gillen ran after this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Check it out to get a sense of how DIE’s meta game-within-a-game structure works and how our one-shot session played out.

15 Canadian Comic Book Creators You Should Know – on CBC

I’m thrilled to have been included in the CBC profile article on 15 Canadian comic book creators you should know. Thanks for the support!

Year in Review

I’ve been writing these ‘Year In Review’ posts since 2010, and each time I try to summarize what’s happening in my life and the gratitude I have for all these incredible experiences.

2018 was intense but saying that at this point feels redundant. They’ve all been intense. Intense is now normal, I think I’m just better capable of handling it.

That was kind of the theme this year – This is crazy but somehow, we press on and make it work.

At Seneca we’re lining up our Animation program review for 2019, and it looks like big changes will be happening again as part of that process. It’s hard to believe I’ve been coordinator of the program for 12 years. I’m proud that we keep innovating, making improvements to keep the courses relevant and make sure our grads are ready to go out and kick butt in the industry. I’ve been here long enough now that some of our grads are coming back to teach as well and that’s a surreal and gratifying experience.

The new subway stop at York University has completely changed how I get to school for teaching. Instead of grinding my way through traffic and worrying about parking, I start my days by reading my lecture notes or catching up on comics. It’s been transformative and cut down on stress that used to eat into my day.

Speaking of reducing stress, I started working out in late July and it’s helped me keep moving so my sedentary jobs don’t continue to wreck my neck and back. I feel better than I have in years and I’ve lost a bit of weight too, so that’s been exciting and unexpected.

Stacy and I did the regular convention circuit in North America and also traveled to Johannesburg and Vienna. Zipping around the world for comic conventions, balancing work and sightseeing, is becoming a reality and it’s something I hope we get to keep pursuing in 2019 and beyond.

Creatively, 2018 was mind-boggling:

Hey Jim, how would you like to co-write the world’s biggest superhero team while their new billion-dollar movie comes out? While that’s going on, how about co-writing a crossover between one of the hottest cartoons on TV and your favorite hobby, the one that inspired you to become a writer in the first place? Just for good measure, how about taking the reins on a new generation of young heroes to guide their formative years?

Yeah.

I look at that insane rundown of releases and I’d say I could hardly believe it, but I’ve got the gray hairs to prove that it all really happened. Between teaching and writing it really is two full-time jobs, with promotion and travel heaped on top. I love all of it, but the juggling has been wild at times.

I decided to cash in some of the creative credit I built up at Marvel and worked with Nyla Innusuk and Sean Izaakse to create a new Canadian superhero. The response to Amka, and the way readers from Canada and abroad have embraced her has absolutely blown me away. If we get any Snowguard cosplay in 2019 I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle it.

Wayward the comic series wrapped up in October, but we still have our final Deluxe Hardcover and the co-op board game (designed by Jon Gilmour) arriving in 2019. The animated series fell through and the rights have been returned to Steven and I, so my agent is now back on the attack looking to get it attached elsewhere. Fingers crossed.

Writing Evil at Baldur’s Gate and co-writing Rick and Morty VS Dungeons & Dragons made this year special, but I’ve got even more Dungeons & Dragons material coming in 2019. Comics and game stuff aplenty, but I’m sworn to secrecy for now. More details coming soon.

2019 is looking good. If things go the way we’re planning it could be another banner year.

If your 2018 was rough, I hope the new year brings better news and brighter days. If the year was good, let’s keep that momentum going!

2018 Joe Shuster Award!

Just found out I won the 2018 Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Award in the ‘Outstanding Writer’ category.

Thank you to Kevin Boyd and everyone else involved! I deeply appreciate the support.

Congrats to all the other winners, including my friends Andrew Wheeler, Djibril Morissette-Phan, Stuart Immonen, Gisele Lagace, Hope Nicholson and Mark Askwith!