X-POSITION: Burnham, Culver, Villalobos Spell Out "E Is For Extinction"
I spoke with writer Jim Zubkavich about Skullkickers, the Image Comics series created by him and artist Edwin Huang at the beginning of the year. With the book’s second story arc kicking off in issue #7 today, I thought I’d catch up with him on what he and Huang have planned for the two as-yet-unnamed (but that’s about to change) mercenaries in the book.
The solicitation text for issue #7 says: “After the events collected in Image’s hit trade paperback SKULLKICKERS, VOL. 1, the second SK adventure begins here! In this issue: a den of thieves, a city of danger, nobility, stupidity, dinner parties and bloodthirsty faerie folk. Jump onboard and see why Ain’t It Cool News says: ‘Everyone who loves comics should buy Skullkickers.’”
My thanks to Jim for doing this interview this week, especially considering he’s on his honeymoon right now. Congrats to the happy couple on their recent nuptials!
JK: I was going to ask you to fill in anyone who hadn’t read the first six issues on what exactly happened, but you guys do that quite well in the first two pages of the preview CBR has up of issue #7. So instead I’ll ask you to tell me about the lady who gives the intro — who is she?
Jim: She’s a new mystery character whose influence is going to be felt in the second arc in some subtle ways. I know it’s hard to imagine anything about Skullkickers being “subtle”, but it’s true. I’m not ready to tip my hand on her just yet, but I think readers will enjoy what she brings to the mix with our two monster-mashing mercenaries.
JK: What can you say about the next story arc?
Jim: The first arc set our base line in terms of how our Skullkickin’ boys operate and in this arc we expand that outwards and show a bit more of the world around them while also placing them in situations that don’t cater to their instant-violent forte. They’re grizzled low brow idiots dragged into a noble-centric city situation alongside a host of new enemies. I think our readers will enjoy the plans we’re cooking up.
JK: One thing I’m excited about is learning a bit more about the two main characters’ back story, or at least their names. Why the mystery around their names?
Jim: When the Skullkickers concept was just the two Popgun short stories and the original Image mini-series, I imagined that it would be a spaghetti-western kind of thing where these two “Men With No Names” would roll into town, tear apart any monsters causing trouble for local townsfolk and be on their way with no one even aware of who they were or where they came from.
Now that the book has a core readership and is slowly gaining momentum with good word of mouth and Image’s value-priced first trade paperback, I realized that the “no names” paradigm was going to limit our ability to tell a grander story. We could stretch it out and keep the gag going until it was really awkward or just deliver the names and get back to telling an energetic and entertaining story on a larger scale. That’s what I opted for. It was a fun little gimmick and it created some extra chatter early on but now I want our readers to dig in for a longer ride and one of the best ways I can get people more attached to the duo is to give them names and a bit more depth, while making sure I don’t stray from the violent and funny stuff that’s brought us to this point and made the book such a fun romp in the first place.
JK: You guys delivered the book on time each issue; how important has that been to building an audience?
Jim: It’s crucial for building reader momentum and it’s even more important in terms of creating retailer confidence. If retailers don’t order and put the book out, it’ll never reach potential new readers. In short, comics can’t survive without strong retailer support. They’re the front line who recommend new series to their regular customers and bring a great deal of momentum to up and coming books. As far as I’m concerned, when you make a promise to deliver a regular shipping product it means everything to carry through on it to the best of your ability. I know many retailers can be gun-shy about putting muscle behind new series because they’ve been burned by so many late/missing books, but I’m hopeful that as we steadily deliver on time more of them will come around to believing in us and recommending the series to their patrons.
JK: And speaking of which, how has the book been doing?
Jim: There was an initial surge of hype around issue #1 after our initial orders were low and good advance reviews started floating around. The second and third printings of issue #1, and subsequent press releases/chatter helped give extra buzz to a book created by relatively untested talent. As with many books, we had an issue #3 drop as speculators moved on to other up and coming new series in the queue, but we’re holding steady since then and working hard to grow in a market that tends toward attrition. What’s been very promising since then has been how quickly the first trade paperback has moved and the momentum that’s brought to our second story arc. Image printed what they thought was enough trades to last us through the summer and those instead sold out in about two months. I’m hopeful that new readers who trade-waited will come back to the monthly issues to stay on top of the continuing story. As we did with the first arc, each issue will have extra material that won’t be in the trade paperbacks as a way to reward our monthly readers and keep people guessing what goodies we’ll be adding into the mix.
JK: After this arc, what are your long-term plans for the book — do you have a set ending in your head, or do you plan to go as long as you can?
Jim: I have best and worst case scenario plans. I know exactly how the series will end and I hope we get enough time in the middle for me to build it up to an epic level before that crazy pay-off. I’m planning for the long haul and doing everything in my power to help get us there. The third story arc, in particular, will lay the groundwork for the big stuff, though this second arc has some revelations of its own to reveal before we’re through.
The comic business can be a really razor-thin line in terms of make-or-break and we’re a long way from being the “next big thing” so I don’t want to screw myself and leave our readers hanging. At the same time, I’d love to bust out a long and healthy run, skewering some of my favorite fantasy tropes bit by bit as we go.
The fact that we’ve been able to launch an action-comedy fantasy title and make it stick in this market is amazing to me. I hope the fact that we’re delivering something a bit different from the norm helps us stand out and brings new readers on board.
Creator-owned books like Skullkickers live or die based on reader/retailer support so, if you’re reading this right now and you haven’t tried SK yet, please snag our $9.99 first trade (holy crap, that’s cheaper than a b/w manga) and read our $2.99 issues as they come out. Thanks!