Author Archives: Jim Zub - Page 2

Zubby Newsletter #44: Pull the Ripcord

Late last week I walked away from an unannounced and unfinished project. I’m pretty sure that’s a first for me.

(No, I won’t publicly say what it was and probably never will. I’m not here to sling mud. There are a lot of wonderful people involved who did great work and they don’t deserve any more stress than they’ve already got.)

In some ways, it’s a good thing – a signal to myself that there is actually a limit in terms of how much I’m willing to be yanked around before the time-money-hassle equation no longer adds up.

Of course, my pragmatic freelancer-fueled brain tried to fight me every step of the way. I had a hard enough time convincing it that I could turn down work from time to time even if a project wasn’t a good fit, the schedule was too tight, or the pay involved was insultingly low, but this…this was different – it was a great fit, the original schedule worked fine, and the pay was in my range…but then the whole thing slid into chaos.

When you contribute to licensed properties, obviously, the licensor gets approval. I know the drill and I work damn hard doing the research and bringing the things I do well into the mix while fitting within the confines of an existing IP. I’ve done it dozens of times on plenty of well known properties.

I’ve also done my fair share of revisions and rewrites. I don’t think my words are sacrosanct or unchangeable, by any means. I deeply appreciate editorial and licensor feedback to make sure we all have something we’re proud of when the finished project is out there in the world.

But, in this case – I was almost done writing, multiple scripts were approved, and there was finished art well underway when we were suddenly told that everything our team had done was now “unapproved” and we needed to start from scratch – That’s just unnecessary, unprofessional, and I can’t trust anything you tell me going forward.

Why even have ‘approvals’ if they don’t mean anything?

It became pretty clear that the people reviewing the work had changed and the licensor no longer wanted this project to exist at all. It was a vestigial limb hopelessly dragging behind a previously agreed upon deal. I had to decide if I was going to pull it all back to the starting blocks and bitterly try to figure out the moving target of their expectations or step away and use my time and effort more productively. I chose the latter and, despite some twinges of freelancer guilt, I’m glad I did. The Zub of 5 or 6 years ago might have made a different decision and it would have been ulcer-inducing.

I don’t know if this is a sign of success, but it’s certainly a sign that I know what I bring to a project and that I’m willing to communicate that more clearly, in any case. Every creative career has highs and lows (and lows, and lows…), and I’m thankful that, at this moment, I have the freedom to make this choice and lean into other projects that engage and challenge me without breaking my brain.


Cover art by Joe Jusko. Logo by Dan Panosian. Pre-order now!

A Savage Story

Speaking of challenges, this week I finalized my prose piece for Savage Sword of Conan #1. Marinating in Robert E. Howard’s famous fiction before I tried to rock out a short story of my own for the Cimmerian was suitably humbling, in all kinds of good ways. Summoning a scene without an artist to make me look good is a much different prospect and flexes a whole different set of creative muscles.

I have never taken any formal writing classes. I did a swack of Creative Writing in high school and learned some script writing when I took a year of Film & Multimedia before I started Classical Animation, but the rest of my ‘training’ has been reading about the craft and putting my own work out into the world; improving story by story and project by project. With my art background, the visual rhythm of animation and comics make the most sense to me. They’re where I feel most comfortable. I love the visual medium and love collaborating with artists.

Stripping everything back to the primacy of prose exposes a lot more of my imposter syndrome. I struggle to quiet that inner critic because I can’t point at the great art and tell it to shut up. It’s just my words sitting out there exposed on the page and either it grabs the reader’s imagination or it doesn’t.

I can write emails, blogposts, tutorials, curriculum, critique, pitches, ad copy, art notes, informal descriptions, and dialogue aplenty but, you know, that’s not ‘real’ writing. That’s not the power of the written word to weave worlds of wonder.

I wrote a Conan short story and, this time, it’s just me.

It’s very pulpy and punchy and I like it, even though it felt strange as a process. (Not bad, mind you, just strange.) People who edit this stuff for a living have read it and liked it and I’m being paid for it, so either they’re all lying because they don’t want to hurt my feelings, or I did okay.

It’s called “Sacrifice in the Sand”, it’s based on Joe Jusko’s gorgeous cover art and, when the big first issue of our mighty magazine hits stores in late February, readers get to decide if it hit the mark or not.

Either way, let me know.


And Yet, More Advice

Despite me exposing my fiction fears, I’m still out here writing advice to people who want to pursue a comic writing career. Ridiculous!

The latest tutorial, added to the pile of over 50 free tutorial posts on my website, is all about starting with “No Experience.

Give it a read and, if you find it helpful, feel free to share it around.


We Sold Out – Again!

Conan the Barbarian #6 arrived in stores last week. Readers seemed to really like it and the pent up demand (it had been delayed two weeks after shipping problems) blew reorders past the overprint, which means there’s a 2nd print coming at the end of the month, with a line art version of the stunning cover art by Jae Lee.

We’re now in the rare position of having sales rise as the series continues, which is an incredible vote of confidence for our team’s hard work. Thank you once again and please keep reading!


More Shenanigans

Despite the fact that I’m a quitter, a sham, quite ridiculous, and a sellout, I also can’t shut up when it comes to talking about my work and the craft.

On the latest episode of the Comic Shenanigans podcast, I spoke to Adam Chapman all about working with Tom Brevoort at Marvel, the comic writing process, and relaunching Conan the Barbarian at Titan.

For Conan fans, the Hyborian chatter starts at around the 22 minute mark. At the 37 minute mark I talk about my Marvel run of Conan issues and reflect on what I did well, things I still needed to learn, and things that were out of our control.

It’s always a pleasure talking with Adam. He’s enthusiastic, well researched, and subtly moves the conversation into some great places. Give it a listen and feel free to check out past interview episodes I link to below-

Episode 368: Thunderbolts and More
Episode 794: Agents of Wakanda, Conan the Barbarian, and More
Episode 986: Conan, Thunderbolts, and Life Of Wolverine


Current + Upcoming Releases


Links and Other Things

• Chaosium has a Humble Bundle going for a huge PDF collection of Call of Cthulhu tabletop RPG material at a fraction of its normal cover price. If you’ve ever wanted to run or play a Lovecraftian RPG, this might be the right time to dig in.
• I can get behind Jon Purkis’ list of 50 Rules For Board Game Etiquette. Lots of great stuff in there.

That should do it for this week.
Jim

Conan the Barbarian #6 Reviews

Our second story arc, Thrice Marked For Death continues as we hit the midpoint of our story.
What did the critics think? Let’s find out-

ComicBook.com: 8/10 “Mixing the old school, barbaric violence with green and ghoulish supernatural elements is just a killer combo for Conan.”

Comical Opinions: 9.5/10 “-a pitch-perfect example of a classic Conan adventure. Zub combines brutal action with supernatural evil for a rousing tale. Likewise, Braithwaite’s artistic style suits the Cimmerian and his exploits to a tee.”

Comicon: 10/10 “the saga unfolds with a brilliant narrative of the stoic Cimmerian navigating and triumphing over the forces of darkness and horrors from the strange beyond. Yet, amidst these epic struggles, Jim Zub skillfully emphasizes that the one constant our hero cannot elude is the haunting specter of his own past.”

Grimdark Magazine: “issue 6 answers some questions while raising several more. I’m excited to learn more about the black stone and its ghostly servants, and I hope to continue to see Conan’s past with Bêlit influence his current adventure.”

Hither Came Conan: “This issue was just brutal. Very violent, very bloody. There were boobies, and it really earned the ‘Mature Readers’ warning on the cover.”

Infinity Flux: “The art is fantastic. There’s some great action in here and the dialogue feels classic…Another great issue of a classic-feeling run.”

My Kind of Weird: “This isn’t just a comic book issue. This is a f**king experience…Conan the Barbarian #6 is an adrenalin-filled heist adventure that leaves us with a climax that will demand the purchase of issue #7.”

Pop Culture Philosophers: “If you are a Conan fan, this is the best Conan book in years, if not decades. This is awesome, awesome stuff.”

Sci-Fi Pulse: 9.8/10 “The writer works brilliantly well with the art team and goes all out to portray the real brutality and savagery of the Conan character.”

Set The Tape: 10/10 “This is by far the best comic in the series so far; a glorious read from start to finish. It cannot be recommended highly enough.”

Stygian Dogs: “I am decidedly enthusiastic about Doug Braithwaite and Diego Rodriguez’s work on this second arc. I can’t get enough…In many ways, issue #6 may be my favorite so far.”

Todd Luck: “The interior artwork continues to be amazing by Doug Braithwaite. He used to do comics like Thor and I thought he would be so perfect for Conan and boy, is he! I would be neglectful if I didn’t also mention the incredible coloring that enhances this line work by Diego Rodriguez. This is just one of the nicest looking comics you could possibly buy.”

We Have Issues: “Best Indie Book of 2023. It’s very much a classic Conan…What a book. It’s been really, really good.”

No Experience?

I received a comment here on my site that covers a common question I and many other writers get, one I want to answer and expand upon so I can point people toward it here in the future-


Hey Jim,

When one pitches a comic to a company (like UDON, IDW, Image, or something like that) is a four issue mini-series (like your Ibuki/Cammy comics) a fine request for someone with no experience?

Or would asking for something like a one-shot/issue comic be a lot more likely to be accepted?


Right from the start, you have the wrong idea about how this works-

A publisher will not look at any unsolicited pitch, one-shot or otherwise, for an established property and won’t ask you to submit one until you have creative work they can check out.

The key here is when you said you have “no experience”.

You need to gain experience by making your own comics (or at least other writing).

Create work, finish it, and then, if you feel it’s professional quality, send that work to publishers as a portfolio showing the quality you could bring to them.

A publisher is not going to approve a project proposal from someone with no credits to their name or portfolio to judge. Legally, they won’t even look at it, because if it’s similar to anything they’re developing it could open them up to legal hassles.

If you look at the long and rambling trail of my career, the vast majority of projects at the start were my own independent ones because no one would pay me for writing until I proved I could make writing worth paying for:

The shortest distance between the work you do and the work you want to do is key-

Create comics if you want to work in comics.
Create screenplays and make films if you want to work in film or TV.

Create work that exemplifies your best qualities so potential clients
will want to hire you to bring those qualities to their projects.

Quality work in another medium can bridge the gap if it’s a similar genre or has a similar mood.
Tom King wrote a superhero novel.
Brian K. Vaughan started with play and screenplay writing.

Most importantly, be honest with yourself-
If you were a comic editor and your job hung on hiring people who could hit the mark on a story and deadline, how much experience would you want to see to feel confident about giving them a job?

The smaller the publisher, the easier it will be to break in and gain more experience, but in most cases the pay from those smaller companies will also be low/non-existent. Expect that establishing yourself and your work will take time, effort, and there are no guarantees of success.

This is true for every creative career (and almost every non-creative one)-
The work almost always starts with independent creation – short film production, an indie band, indie game development, self publishing, local theater, you name it.

Finish stuff, release it, see if it gains traction, and then keep going.


If you found this post helpful, feel free to let me know here, share the post with your friends and consider buying some of my comics or donating to my Patreon to show your support for me writing this tutorial post instead of getting paying work done. 😛

Zubby Newsletter #43: The Future Unconquered

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I hope your holidays have been prosperous and that the new year is looking bright.

I haven’t updated my YouTube channel in quite some time, and with everything that’s been going it’s not something I’ve had time to concentrate on, but I put together a video on January 1st thanking fans for reading and teasing what comes next.

Please watch and share-

In my Year In Review message I mentioned how excited I am for 2024, and a solid part of that centers around-

The Age Unconquered Begins in March!

Comicbook.com has the exclusive announcement and cover art for the third arc of Conan the Barbarian and it’s going to be huge!

Rob De La Torre is back for Conan the Barbarian #9-12 and we’re absolutely blowing the doors off in terms of story and visuals. An epic adventure to cap off the first year of our relaunch!

Conan #0-12 is our mission statement for what classic pulp-inspired sword & sorcery can be in the modern era. You’ve made 2023 a winner for our team and I can’t wait to show you what we have planned for 2024 and beyond.

cover art by Rob De La Torre with colors by Dave McCaig.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #9

– Writer: Jim Zub
– Line Art: Roberto De La Torre
– Color: Dean White
– Letters: Richard Starkings
– On sale date: March 27th, 2024

BEYOND FLESH. BEYOND DEATH. BEYOND TIME.

Conan has traveled far and seen much in his legendary journeys, but nothing he has experienced thus far can prepare him for a quest to lands beyond to answer dark riddles of the past. Unexpected allies await, fierce enemies loom, and the strange power of the Black Stone stirs in THE AGE UNCONQUERED!

The triumphant new era of Conan continues in this brand-new tale of brutal heroic adventure from acclaimed creators Jim Zub (Avengers, Dungeons & Dragons) and Rob de la Torre (Invincible Iron Man, King-Size Conan)!

– Cover A: Mike Deodato
– Cover B: E.M. Gist
– Cover C: Roberto De La Torre
– Cover D: Chris Moreno
– Cover E: Blank Sketch Variant


Some Frequently Asked Questions I’ve been getting since that info went out to the public:

Wait a sec, is that Yag-Kosha?
You’ll have to read Conan #9 to find out.

Is this a new adaptation of Tower of the Elephant?
No. This is a new story that builds on the canon Robert E. Howard stories and elements introduced in Conan #1-8.

Will we see Doug Braithwaite and Diego Rodriguez return in the future?
Yes! I’m thrilled to confirm that Doug and Diego are working on Conan #13-16, our fourth story arc.

What is best in life?
Working on this series with this killer creative team.


Almost every page, especially the action scenes, have major story spoilers (seriously), so it’s hard for me to tease what’s coming up… Hmmm~ how ‘bout this?

That’ll have to do for now, my friends.


Land of the Lotus

Script sample for Conan the Barbarian #19 from 2021. Line art by Cory Smith. Inks by Roberto Poggi. Colors by Israel Silva. Letters by Travis Lanham.

Over on my Patreon, the full scripts for part 1 and part 2 of the Land of the Lotus storyline published in 2021 are now up. Learn how comics are made for the price of a fancy coffee. There are over 300 scripts in my Patreon archive.

I learned a lot on this arc and refined my ‘voice’ for Conan and the pulp-fueled narration that makes his comics feel quite distinct. At the time I was hopeful we’d be able to build momentum toward issue #25, (which was also legacy #300 for the series) and carry on from that anniversary issue. Obviously that didn’t end up happening, but all of it led to where I’m at now, which I’m thankful for.


Current + Upcoming Releases


Links and Other Things

Tegan O’Neil has a wonderful profile on Sergio Aragonés from last April I missed. Give it a read!

• I received a copy of Renegades & Rogues: The Life and Legacy of Robert E. Howard by Todd B. Vick for Christmas. It’s a quick read but I quite enjoyed it as it covered some aspects of his life I wasn’t aware of before.

Have a great week!
Jim

Zubby Newsletter #42: Year In Review, 2023

For the past 13 years I’ve been putting together a ‘Year In Review‘ post on my website as a way to summarize my thoughts and feelings on the year that was. It’s a nice way to measure highs and lows, and help jog my memory as things carry forward.

No pressure of course, but if you’re curious about what I was thinking in late December each year, here’s a complete link archive:

2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022

Jim and Stacy at Spitalfields in London – May 2023.

Stacy and I are plugging away on creative and personal projects aplenty and it feels extra-chaotic right now because there are towers of boxes stacked all over the house. Our basement is being refinished after we had to tear everything back to the foundation + studs to fix leaks that were getting worse, year by year. We had to haul a bunch of stuff into storage and even more stuff is temporarily piled high in almost every other room. It’s taken time, money, and a lot of hassle to get that foundation reinforced and leaks plugged, but when it’s all done that base will be solid and ready for what comes next.

Honestly, that’s a pretty good summary of 2023 for me as a whole-

Reevaluating, repairing, and reinforcing things that matter and trying to clear out the debris that doesn’t.

In July, I talked about slowing down to enjoy conventions more and I’m trying to carry that attitude through to other interactions as well – Deeper conversations and a greater appreciation for time spent with the people I care about, and making sure they know that every step of the way.

Last year I mentioned that 2022 felt transitional and I hoped 2023 could “finally arrive somewhere new and exciting”…and, on a creative level it did in a surprising way.

(Yes, this is the part where I talk about Conan the Barbarian. You knew this was coming.)

I had high hopes for the Heroic Signatures-Titan Comics relaunch on Conan, of course. I wanted to use this second chance to make my mark on a character and world that’s stirred so much of my imagination over the years. All those hopes and wants are great, but actually seeing it come through so damn strong, both in terms of sales and the response from readers, has been unbelievable.

How do you catch second struck lightning in a bottle? I don’t know, but I’m holding this one as tight as I can and using its energy and inspiration like a lantern to light my way as we head into an uncertain future.

Ten years ago, I was slowly climbing out of a creative crater from the asteroid impact that was working briefly on the DC New 52. Based on that baffling experience, I felt pretty sure my time in ‘mainstream’ comics was going to be brief. Instead, I managed to carve out a career for myself with creator-owned and commercial work that played to my strengths and am more excited about making stories than at almost any other point in my life.

There are so many factors involved that are out of our control. So many other projects where I felt like we had something special, and yet the market and readership did not respond the way I thought they would.

Sometimes you work hard and no one notices.

Sometimes you make big plans to take a big teaching sabbatical in 2020 and then a global pandemic comes along and everything changes…

(In theory I’m taking that 16-month teaching sabbatical starting late April 2024, but I’ll keep that here between brackets for now because I don’t want to jinx it. 😉 )

I know at some point the wild ride will end, but at this moment I’m feeling the rush and relishing every minute of it, because it is impermanent, fleeting, and hard work does not always equal success.

Starting up this newsletter again almost 25 years after my original email updates for friends and family was a way to cut through the noise of social media and rebuild a base of who I am and what I’m doing.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for your kind messages and support.

Here’s my writing output for 2023:

25 comics and 5 other books I contributed to.

I hope 2024 looks strong for you and your loved ones.

Be good to each other. In the end, that is the only legacy we have any control over.

Jim

Zubby Newsletter #41: Happy Holidays, By CROM!

CROM of the Mountain may not care about you or yours (or me…or anyone, really) this season, but I want to wish you and your family the happiest of holidays – Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Whatever you celebrate, whoever it’s with, I hope it’s a good one!

Thank YOU for helping make 2023 one of the most exciting and creatively rewarding years I’ve ever had. It’s been an absolute rocket ride and I owe so much of that to people like you supporting my work and sharing it with others.

I hope that time with family, friends, and good cheer are coming your way.


Hearing From Readers

I’ve been getting messages like this every week since Conan launched in early August – emails, texts, Facebook messages, tweets, comments, you name it. Dozens and dozens of them. Most in English, of course, but many in Portuguese, Spanish and French as the foreign editions start to ramp up for release early next year.

It’s incredible hearing from so many lapsed fans and new readers. They tell me that they’ve been heading to their local comic shop on release day every month and have set up a pull file, many for the first time in well over a decade.

Getting this second chance with one of my favorite characters was an unexpected thrill. Having it do so damn well this time is both gratifying and humbling.

All of us on the creative team are doing everything we can to keep the excitement going in 2024 – our first trade paperback and the new Savage Sword of Conan magazine arrives in February, The Age Unconquered in March, and Free Comic Book Day in May will carry us into the summer.


Current + Upcoming Releases


Links and Other Things

Next time, I’ll have my annual Year In Review. Until then, HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Jim

Zubby Newsletter #40: A Question of Pacing

A peek behind the scenes, with slight spoilers for the new Conan the Barbarian series-

In the epilogue at the end of Conan the Barbarian #4, we see a traveler from Asgard pick up a fragment of Black Stone, the strange eldritch material at the heart of several mysteries in Robert E. Howard’s pulp stories, most notably the titular horror story The Black Stone from 1931. This discovery is a classic set-up for a future tale, making our reader wonder when they might see it again, presumably at some future date…

…And then, just one month later at the end of Conan the Barbarian #5, we reveal that our second story arc ties back in with Black Stone.

Weird, right?

I saw a couple reviews where people felt we jumped the gun a bit by having two Black Stone-centered stories one after another and, under different circumstances, they’d be right. In a classic monthly comic run from the 1970’s or ’80’s this kind of set-up and payoff would have been many months apart, with unrelated 1 and 2-part stories between to clear the decks and focus readers elsewhere before we brought it back as a surprise. In an ideal scenario, that’s exactly what I would’ve done as well.

But~ you also have to understand the broader context involved.

Here and now, looking in the rearview mirror with six months of shockingly strong sales for the relaunch behind us, it seems obvious that the pacing could be/should be less frenetic and that we have lots of time to set up and pay off big ideas over a longer span, but when we planned this out more than 18 months ago there was absolutely no way we could have known how successful it would be.

Titan Comics is obviously a smaller comic publisher than Marvel or Dark Horse (the previous licensors for Conan comics). Direct market comic shop sales in North America have been shaky as of late and, while comic sales for Conan in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s were spectacular, that hasn’t always been the case in the modern era. Couple that with me at the center of this relaunch, the writer who quietly wrapped up the run at Marvel during the pandemic, and things looked even less certain.

We had to come out of the gate roaring like Hell and not hold anything back, otherwise readers wouldn’t see anything special they had to read and collect every month and we’d quickly sink. If Black Stone sets up big mythic storytelling and can make readers and retailers take notice, then, by Crom, it has to be Black Stone all the way! Back-to-back stories with a plot point that acts as a clear throughline for year one (issues #1-12) to build an epic saga of cannot miss comics!

That’s the plan, at least. So far, so good.

It reminds me of interviews I read with Robert Kirkman around Invincible where he originally planned to have the big twist for the series (a key character betraying our hero and turning the entire narrative on its head) arrive in issue #25. Like me, he grew up reading superhero comics in an era where that absolutely would have worked, a wonderful slow burn build up and pay off over two years, but the Publisher at Image at the time (I think it was Jim Valentino) warned him that he didn’t have that luxury. Modern readers decide almost immediately if a series is worth their time and money and drop it in a heartbeat if they believe it’s not, so slam that accelerator pedal down at the start and cover as much ground as you can because you will not get a second chance to earn their loyalty.

(Although weirdly, in this case I kind of did, because this Conan relaunch has had way stronger sales and staying power than my initial run, which is highly unusual.)

Invincible delivered its big twist in issue #7, and I genuinely think if the series launched in 2023 Robert would’ve done it by issue 4 or 5 to get the same jolt.

Anyways, if we’d known right off the bat that the Conan relaunch would be the smash hit that it’s been, I’m sure we would have made different narrative choices, but then maybe those choices wouldn’t have led to the same surge of interest. It’s chicken and egg, in full effect.

Now that we have some momentum it’s a bit easier to set up future plotlines without the same level of fear around a quick cancellation. I’ve always been committed to at least 2 years/24 issues on the new series (and am now looking at possibilities beyond that), but I’m sure that if we would’ve flopped right at the start the plan would look very different right now.

Speaking of which, I’m in the thick of year two writing on the series and am happy to report that readers will get more variety as we keep rolling- Arc 4 will be 4 issues, but after that we switch things up with some 2-parters and even some done-in-one adventures. Different times in Conan’s life, different locations and circumstances…All kinds of creative levers we can pull to keep the excitement going.


Gut-Wrenching Beauty, Coming Your Way


Speaking of excitement, I received my CONAN THE BARBARIAN #6 comp copies late last week.

Doug BraithwaiteDiego Rodriguez, and Richard Starkings are crafting something special. The words are pretty good too 😉

Issue #6 arrives in stores December 27th. Preview pages are right HERE.

In Conan #6-8 we certainly earn our ‘Mature Readers’ rating. It is violent, sexy, tragic, and gut-wrenching in ways readers have never seen in a Conan comic story before.


Links and Other Things


Jim

Zubby Newsletter #39: Disco Dystopia

Over the weekend I finished playing through Disco Elysium, a twisted story-driven game in the style of King’s Quest or Maniac Mansion that uses RPG character exploration a bit like Planescape: Torment.

Disco Elysium is about a murder investigation in a seaside port town.

  • It’s also an absurdist character study of a cliché down-on-his-luck detective with amnesia.
  • And a tragic noir story about economic and moral decay.
  • And a cynical parody of political extremism framed through a complex web of manipulators, burnouts, and the ignorant.
  • And a sarcastic send-up of escapist fiction and role-playing games.
  • And a dystopian parallel existence with confident worldbuilding that feels intensely grounded in familiar-yet-strange customs and cultures.

It’s a lot of surreal trippy stuff jammed together and I quite enjoyed it, sometimes despite itself.

Like many old school point-and-click adventures, there is a rambling narrative and strange leaps of logic as you start to explore Revachol, the crumbling city at the heart of the story, but over time the seemingly nonsensical bits of back story and intense history lessons you receive from NPCs weave together into an oddly-convincing fictional tapestry – one that feels decisively misanthropic and bleak even as it’s punctuated with genuinely amusing and thought-provoking moments amidst the gloom.

If you’re looking for a tight whodunit plot you can solve ahead of the big reveal, you won’t find that here, but there’s a surprising amount of humanity in this swirling stew of characters and calamity.

I bought it during a Steam sale back in 2020 (and it’s on sale again right now at a ridiculously good price) but bounced off it back then because it felt too pessimistic during the pandemic. I’m glad I pushed through this time because it’s well worth exploring and some parts will definitely stick with me.

The fact that the creators of Disco Elysium are now caught up in their own whirlwind of legal troubles, personal problems, creative theft, and shareholder revolt, is darkly ironic given the game they produced. Even if a sequel does come about at some point, it seems unlikely it’ll have the same spark as this one.



Tom Gauld’s Kierkegaard comic strip from last year is amazing and feels quite appropriate alongside my Disco Elysium thoughts above.


A Cursed Blade, Concluded

Over on my Patreon, I posted the full script for Conan the Barbarian #18 from 2020, the second part of the “Curse of the Nighstar” story that acts as a bridge between “Into the Crucible” and “Land of the Lotus”.

Learn how comics are created for the price of a fancy coffee. Hard for me to believe, but there are now over 300 scripts in my Patreon archive!


Links and Other Things

Have a great week!
Jim

Zubby Newsletter #38: Deathtraps & Dinosaurs

It’s D&D (Deathtraps & Dinosaurs) in the Merry Marvel Manner!

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I might have some Marvel Multiverse TTRPG news coming up and – BAM – here it is!

THE MURDERWORLD THAT TIME FORGOT is an exclusive Marvel TTRPG adventure I wrote for Demiplane that launches…TODAY!


Young Zub – Some day you will write RPG adventures!

Arcade, the infamous game show assassin, unleashes a twisted new Murderworld theme park, this time built in the heart of the Savage Land!

The Murderworld That Time Forgot is a brand new tabletop adventure for characters Rank 1-3 specifically built to teach new Narrators/Game Masters how to successfully run a tabletop role-playing game and also how to structure and execute an exciting Marvel superhero story! There are lots of extra notes and tips on setting up the game, pacing each scene, and keeping players engaged.

Adam Bradford at Demiplane knows how passionate I am about tabletop gaming, so he recruited me to help launch their new line of original Marvel RPG material. With my background in game writing and as co-writer of the recent Murderworld comic, it was the perfect match-up.

Here is a chat between Adam and I all about the adventure on the Demiplane developer livestream this morning

And here are the creative credits on the adventure-

Everyone on the team did a fantastic job and it’s all ready to run online or in-person with the speed and convenience of the Demiplane tabletop tools.

I can’t wait to see gaming groups create their own superhero stories filled with twists, turns, and T-Rex’s galore.

I think the new Marvel Multiverse RPG is really well put together. It simulates comic book-worthy action and drama in a way that’s easy to get into and using world famous heroes is an easy way to get new players to try tabletop RPGs, because it gives them an immediate framework to work with. Instead of feeling intimidated by what they ‘should’ do during the game, they can easily get into character by imagining “What would Miles Morales do?” (or any other hero they want to play).


Words, Images, & Worlds

I was interviewed by Jason DeHart at Words, Images, & Worlds. We chatted about working on comics and the collaborative process-


A Cursed Blade, Revisited

Now on my Patreon– The full script for CONAN THE BARBARIAN #17 from 2020, the first of a two part story called “The Curse of the Nightstar“.

Look at that bad ass cover by E.M. Gist!

Learn how comics are created for the price of a fancy coffee. Hard for me to believe, but there are now over 300 scripts in my Patreon archive!


Links and Other Things

  • Toniko Pantoja has a ton of great tutorials about hand drawn digital animation techniques that are well worth checking out. His recent video about best practices for beginners really hits the spot.
  • Creating effective mysteries in tabletop RPG sessions can be difficult. This gaming tips article, the Three Clue Rule by Justin Alexander, is a classic for good reason. I was reminded of this as I played through Baldur’s Gate 3 and saw how almost every plotline in the game has multiple routes to bring characters in and almost every location has multiple entry points so players can organically move through the story and explore the game world without feeling intensely railroaded along the way.

That should cover it this time. I hope your December is going strong.
Jim

Zubby Newsletter #37: Off The Cuff

It’s the Dungeon Master’s World – We’re Just Trying to Survive It

In my previous newsletter I mentioned that in 2024 I’ll be at a pair of tabletop gaming events in Wisconsin celebrating 50 years of Dungeons & Dragons. I’m looking to run some old school games at those shows so, with that in mind, I pulled together an impromptu Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition character roll-up and game session with a few friends to refresh my brain on the old rules and gameplay.

There were D&D books before these ones, but for many
first edition gamers this is where the journey began.

(Three and a half years ago, I dug back into the original D&D B/X box sets while co-writing the Stranger Things and Dungeons & Dragons mini-series with Jody Houser and that stirred up a ton of gaming nostalgia from my youth, but I didn’t actually get a chance to re-run the game at the time.)

This quick session was a lot of fun, as expected, but it also reminded me of a crucial part of the original TTRPG experience-

Dungeon Master Fiat Is Everything in 1st Edition D&D

In books and fanzines there was always talk of the DM being “god” at the table, and I’d honestly forgotten how much that was actually the case. The old rules are specific about certain stats or limitations (the level limits for race-class character combinations, for example, or the percentage chance a character can bend the iron bars of a prison cell), but there is very little in terms of using character abilities, skill checks, or specific combat maneuvers as we think of them in modern gaming. Almost all old school dungeon delving is an off the cuff Player VS DM negotiation made in the moment.

“Can I talk these goblins out of a fight?” Maybe. Tell me what you say to them – how you try to bribe or intimidate them. I’ll decide if they’re convinced or make an arbitrary roll behind the DM screen and tell you what happens.

“Can I step in front of the Magic-User to keep them from getting hit by the goblins?” Yes. You’re an armored Cleric with a shield and they’re close by, so that makes sense.

“There was livestock in the equipment shopping list, so I bought a goat. Is that okay?” It’s your starting gold. Spend it however you want.

“Can my pet goat bite a goblin?” Why not? Make an attack roll and we’ll see what happens.

Seeing it all again through the old school lens, I was reminded just how much of the game hung completely on the Dungeon Master saying ‘yes’‘no’ or ‘roll this die and let’s see’ instead of absolutely codified combat or social skill checks that try to cover every eventuality.

I know technically that holds true for every edition of every tabletop RPG (groups can make or break any rule at the table they like), but the “we’re just making this up as we go along” quality feels really laid bare in the original rules, even more than I remembered.

Now that it’s all come flooding back, I need to figure out how much of that old school freeform DNA I want in this playtest game and these convention sessions – where I feel the dials should be tuned between ‘then’ and ‘now’. Wish me luck!



Speaking of D&D – Stacy, Andrew, and I spoke to James Grebey at Fatherly all about the Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides series and how they engage kids and other new players to help them create their own characters and tell fun interactive stories in a group setting.

The Young Adventurer’s Guides also made Polygon’s list of “Best Gift Ideas for D&D Newcomers’.


Thrice Marked For Death, Twice Marked For Print

One day after release, Titan went back to press on CONAN THE BARBARIAN #5!

Retailer orders are due by December 4th and it will be in stores on December 27th. Liam Sharp‘s killer variant cover is in black & white for the 2nd printing.

This kind of release day rush sellout is unusual for a first issue and on an issue #5 it’s practically unheard of. I know I sound like a broken record on these reprint announcements but, seriously – Thank you so, so much.

I don’t think I’ve ever received so many messages or reviews for the fifth issue of a comic I’ve written before. We’re doing all we can to prove worthy of your support, enthusiasm, and that cover price, month after month.


Bound in Black Stone, Bound in Book Form

Conan the Barbarian Vol. 1: Bound in Black Stone arrives in collected trade paperback in February. If my constant chatter about it here didn’t convince you to get on board the single issues, now you can read issues #1-4 (and our prequel issue #0) in one sitting and see what all the excitement has been about.

If you’ve been collecting the issues every month, this will sit nicely on your bookshelf, or act as a perfect way to hook friends and family on our new era of Hyborian High Adventure.

All this to say – now is a great time to pre-order!


Links and Other Things

  • Animator Marc Hendry has a stellar video all about clean final line work in 2D animation that goes through the process using digital tools. The techniques here are solid gold. I have not seen a video that lays it out so clearly before, let alone one free online. If you’re an animator or animation fan, definitely check it out.
  • Back in January David Hines posited some interesting theories around a secondary character in John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian movie, and I recently saw the thread pop up on social media again. It’s a neat bit of analysis about characterization that exists beyond what we see on camera in the film.
  • I keep linking Matt Colville videos here on my newsletter because his topics are cogent and timely. His latest, a rundown of various editions of D&D that is part history, part advice, is bang-on and feels even more appropriate after running AD&D this week.

Jim