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.

The D&D Young Adventurer’s Collection!

Just arrived at our place and available from your favorite bookstore or game retailer, the
D&D YOUNG ADVENTURER’S COLLECTION has our first four books in softcover with a spiffy slipcase.

Introduce new players to the magic of Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop roleplaying!

Want more information on the series? Click HERE.


The D&D Young Adventurer’s Collection
Books 1-4
(softcover)

Immerse yourself in the fantastic world of Dungeons & Dragons! This collection introduces young fans to some of the exciting characters, locations, creatures, and magical elements useful for creating your own epic, adventure-filled D&D tales.

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Bookshop
Books-A-Million
Chapters-Indigo
Hudson Books
Indiebound
Powells
Target

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!

Dragon Talk – Talking Stranger Things, D&D, and More!

Jody Houser (Black Widow, Doctor Who) and I chatted with Shelly Mazzanoble and Greg Tito from Dragon Talk all about Stranger Things and Dungeons & Dragons, the 4-issue mini-series starting in November that delves into the 80’s gaming glory that defines the friendships of the Stranger Things cast.

I also chat about Beasts & Behemoths, the fifth D&D Young Adventurer’s Guide, and the 10th anniversary of Skullkickers! So much good stuff here. Check it out!

Wizards & Wordsmiths – Episode 3

Here’s Part 3 of Wizards & Wordsmiths! If you missed episode 1, you can check it out HERE and episode 2 HERE.

I Dungeon Mastered a special 3-part Dungeons & Dragons adventure for a group of YA authors.

Join me, Kevin Hearne (Ink & Sigil), Adib Khorram (Darius the Great Deserves Better), Andrea Robertson (Forged in Fire and Stars), Sherri L. Smith (The Blossom and the Firefly), and David Yoon (Frankly In Love) as we conclude our culinary and creepy adventure!

Talking Caster Bastards With The Pullbox

I spoke to Andy Patch at the Pullbox all about celebrating 10 years of Skullkickers with our current Kickstarter campaign, the current state of comics, tabletop gaming, and my other upcoming projects. Check it out!

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. 🙂

Wizards & Wordsmiths – Episode 2

Here’s Part 2 of Wizards & Wordsmiths! If you missed episode 1, you can check it out HERE.

I Dungeon Mastered a special 3-part Dungeons & Dragons adventure for a group of YA authors.

Join me, Kevin Hearne (Ink & Sigil), Adib Khorram (Darius the Great Deserves Better), Andrea Robertson (Forged in Fire and Stars), Sherri L. Smith (The Blossom and the Firefly), and David Yoon (Frankly In Love) as we continue our culinary and creepy adventure!