In addition to writing the standout comics Skullkickers and Makeshift Miracle, Jim Zubkavich is an avid gamer and an editor at UDON Entertainment, which publishes comics and graphic novels based on games. So it’s only natural that he would be involved in Shifty Look, a new project from Bandai Namco Games, the creator of classic games like Pac-Man and, more recently, the Naruto Shippuden game. Jim will be one of a number of creators who will be turning classic characters into webcomics… But let’s let him tell us about it.
Robot 6: Can you explain what Shifty Look is all about?
Jim: Shifty Look is an experimental new website put together by video game/media giant Namco-Bandai. They have dozens and dozens of intellectual properties in their vaults and a lot of that material hasn’t been utilized in many years.
Rob Pereyda and some of his colleagues at Namco had this brilliant idea to use a bit of seed money and see if they could refresh/reinvigorate old content in a way that wouldn’t cost a ton but could also have impact. They struck upon the concept of webcomics and brought the UDON studio on board.
We went through lists of old IPs and did a bunch of research. Some of these titles were never released in North America, some hadn’t been used at all since the 80’s… but it’s a whole new world now. Properties that might have seemed “too Japanese” back then are a perfect fit for the modern manga-reading North American audience. Other games had a visual hook we could turn into something new or even just a title that sounded like it had potential.
Jim Zubkavich got plenty of buzz for his comic Skullkickers when it was just in print, but now that he is running the early chapters on Keenspot as a free webcomic, it’s really a hot ticket: One month after the comic debuted on Keenspot, his traffic has reached over half a million page views from over 38,000 viewers.
As you will see below, Zubkavich is not afraid to talk real numbers, and we quizzed him on why he would take a hit comic and put it on the internet for free and how his other online comic, Makeshift Miracle, is working out. In part two of this interview, we’ll ask about his newest project, Shifty Look.
Robot 6: Skullkickers has gotten all sorts of critical acclaim, and I assume it has sold well in its print incarnation. Why did you decide to put it online? And why at Keenspot, as opposed to your own site?
Jim Zubkavich: No matter how well Skullkickers has done as indy creator-owned comic, the unfortunate reality of the print comic business and retail system in 2012 is that once the series is running, it’s incredibly hard to keep growing the audience on monthly issues. Some readers you started with convert to trades, others move on. The reading audience nowadays is less likely to jump in to a random issue and start from there unless you give them an easy way to catch up. Serializing our earlier issues online is the equivalent of lending thousands of new readers our earliest adventures as a way to get them on board the Skullkickers concept.
Keenspot has a massive loyal online audience that consistently reads webcomics. They have great outreach and experience in building that audience, along with a solid ad revenue system in place thanks to the tens of millions of pageviews their combined sites get each month.
Instead of starting from scratch and spending my time trying to find people, Keenspot allowed me to get the site running and in front of a huge group of potential readers who are primed for the type of content we’re doing. That way I can focus on making great comics. It’s not a turnkey solution and there is upkeep and interaction, but a lot of the infrastructure and outreach is taken care of. I wouldn’t have that kind of impact on my own site, not without a massive outlay of time and extra money.
The first Image Expo kicks off this Friday at the Oakland Convention Center, featuring panels, signings and creators galore from the publisher. And like all good conventions, there will be exclusives, like variant cover editions of Chew, Walking Dead and Artifacts, among others; a Hell Yeah ashcan; and the above map of the Skullkickers world, which we’re happy to show you sans the promotional text after the jump.
Created by professional cartographer Mike Schley, who worked with series writer Jim Zubkavich, the 18″ x 24″ map harkens back to the days when my brother and I had the World of Greyhawk map taped up on our wall, so we could plot the adventures of our Dungeons & Dragons characters across its danger-filled mountains and majestic plains. Click below to check it out in its full glory.
The Image Expo runs Feb. 24-26, where you can also meet Jim and have him sign your map.
Legal | Neil Gaiman comments briefly on the settlement agreement that ends his decade-long legal dispute with Todd McFarlane over Medieval Spawn, Angela and Cogliostro, and a handful of derivative characters: “The main thing is, I feel like an awful lot of good things have come out of it. … I think the various decisions, particularly the [Judge] Posner decision, were huge in terms of what the nature of dual copyright in comics is. What is copyrightable in comics is now something that there is a definite legal precedent for. There were a lot of things that were … misty in copyright [law] that are now much clearer. And it’s of benefit to the creator.”
While the details of the settlement are confidential, it’s known that Gaiman and McFarlane now share ownership of Spawn #9 and #26, as well as the first three issues of an Angela spin-off series. [Comic Riffs]
The fantasy-action-comedy comic Skullkickers was one of the surprise hits of the past year, and now the creators are going to post the back issues on Keenspot. The web version starts out with two prequels, short stories that writer Jim Zubkavich and artist Chris Stevens created for Image’s Popgun Anthology.
While it may seem odd to post a comic for free while it’s still available for sale, this move makes a lot of sense: I’m guessing single issues that came out more than a year ago are no longer readily available (although digital editions still are at comiXology), but as the trades have sold pretty well, the creators may figure the value of the new readers who will come to the comic through Keenspot — and ultimately buy the print or digital editions — will more than compensate for any sales lost from those people who might have paid but decided to read Skullkickers for free instead.
This is a calculation every creator should make, because it may lead them to choose, as Zubkavich & Co. have done, to pre-empt the pirates and make their work available online on their own terms.
I’ve been meaning to check out Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin’s all-ages comic Princeless ever since reading an online review of it last month, and now it looks like my procrastination has paid off–Princeless: Save Yourself, the collection of the first volume, will include a new story featuring a Princeless/Skullkickers crossover by Skullkickers writer Jim Zubkavich and drawn by Goodwin.
You can see Goodwin’s sketches of the characters, from her Deviant Art site, above. The collection arrives in April.
[Note: this post was assembled by both Tim O'Shea and JK Parkin]
This is our final post for our big birthday bash, and what a post it is. No matter how much stuff we line up, people we interview, etc., there are still tons of folks we like to hear from and include in our giant New Year’s/anniversary/birthday activities. So, as we have in past years, we have asked various comics folks what they are excited about for 2012 in comics–something they aren’t working on and something they are.
There’s a lot of great stuff here–hints at new projects and even some downright announcements. Our thanks to everyone this year who responded!
I’m most anticipating the 30th Anniversary of HEROES CON (June 22-24, Charlotte, NC) . For any convention 30 years is an amazing run, but the fact that Shelton Drum and his extended family have put this show together every year with nothing but blood, sweat and tears is flat out super heroic.
On the personal front, the challenging and exhilarating ride that’s been Loose Ends will come to a close with issue 4. It’ll be bittersweet to send our child off to into the real world but I can’t wait for you guys to see the work Brunner & Renzi are doing.
I’m also super excited to dip my own toes into the Mignola-verse with the BPRD: The Pickens County Horror [March 28, 2012] and to read the end of Jason Aaron & RM Guera’s Scalped, which is my favorite series in years.
This sounds politic, but it’s genuine: what excites me about comics in 2012 is what’s exciting every year, the work of the talent. Seeing what the best are up to and how the up-n-comers have grown as artists and writers. In the new year, I’m also excited about illustrating several books and covers that feature my favorite Avengers.
Comics | Matt Pizzolo discusses the Occupy Comics project, which raised more than $28,000 on Kickstarter: “The way the money is allocated is actually through the individual contributors. The artists and writers are all paid a proportional share of the revenue based on the number of pages they provide versus the total number of pages in the book, but all of the artists and writers are agreeing to donate that money to the protesters. Most contributors want to donate as a group to get the most bang for their buck, but they don’t have to — anyone can just take their share and hand it to the protesters at their local park if they want.” [The Morton Report]
Comics | Todd Allen compares the relative positions of DC’s New 52 titles in November with their September rankings; the November orders reflect the adjustments retailers made after seeing how the different titles sold in September. The results: Animal Man shot up by 10 slots, The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men sank by eight, but most titles only moved a few notches up or down. [The Beat]
Following a request from a scanlator for unlettered pages from Skullkickers to make the comic’s translation into Russian easier, creator Jim Zubkavich has stumbled across re-lettered versions of two covers from the popular Image series.
“This one blows my mind,” he wrote this morning on Twitter, indicating the cover of Issue 8. “They even translated the signs around their neck.” He later added, “That’s high class comic pirate rock n’ roll.”
Jim Zubkavich’s Skullkickers, a lively action-comedy series about two monster-fighting mercenaries, has been one of the success stories of 2011 in the North American market, and now it turns out to have overseas fans as well. Last week, Zubkavich got an e-mail from someone named Roman who is translating Skullkickers into Russian, then carefully cleaning the English words out of the word balloons and replacing them with the new text. Roman actually e-mailed Zubkavich and asked if he would be willing to send unlettered pages to make the job easier.
“I have no idea how to properly respond to this,” Zubkavich wrote on Twitter. “I mean, I can’t send him page art like that, but it’s just so damn bizarre.” Zubkavich noted that he owns Skullkickers (which is published by Image), so he knows there are no plans for a Russian edition. A fascinating Twitter conversation followed, with Cameron Stewart arguing for sharing the files — “it may be ‘piracy’ but I’d reckon the goodwill you’d get from authorizing it is significant” — and Indigo Kelleigh expressing reservations: “But politely point out that him giving your work away for free makes it difficult for you to enter that market legitimately.”
Zubkavich is still mulling it over, but he shared his e-mail reply to Roman with Robot 6:
‘Tis the season for decking those halls, trimming those trees, lighting the menorah and, of course, figuring out what to buy for your friends and family. To help give you some ideas, we reached out to a few comic creators, asking them:
1. What comic-related gift or gifts would you recommend giving this year, and why?
2. What gift (comic or otherwise) is at the top of your personal wish list, and why?
We’ve gotten back a bunch of suggestions, which we’ll run between now and the end of the week. So let the merriment commence …
1. Exclusive 2011 Janet Lee Holiday Ornaments
Every year, Janet does about 12 ornaments, three sets of four. This year, she has done Hipster Animals, Scary Toys and Art Nouveau Angels. They are signed and dated, and at the end of the season, that’s it! She stops making them. I’ve been collecting them since 2007, and now our tree is almost completely filled with Janet’s art. You can buy them exclusively through her Etsy shop.
Oh, and if you’re REALLY nice, she MAY have a very limited Dapper Men ornament or two. Just ask!
2. This year, for myself, I’m going with a mix of Blu-Rays (portable Blu-Ray player, please, Santa!) and books. But the thing I’m REALLY excited for is the hardcover edition of the Complete Ripley novels, by Patricia Highsmith. Most people only know of Ms. Highsmith through The Talented Mr. Ripley (and classic film lovers through Strangers On a Train). There were actually five Tom Ripley novels, and the collection looks amazing. Why these books? My spouse recently Tweeted a quote from John Lithgow that struck me as a writer: “Duality, duplicity, truth and deception, good becoming bad and vice-versa are crucial elements of great storytelling.” Highsmith was and remains an unsung hero of mastering that, so I hope I learn something in the process!
Happy Holidays from the Dapper Lariosa-McCann household!
Jim McCann is the writer of Return of the Dapper Men and its upcoming sequel, Marvel Zombies Christmas Carol, Hawkeye:Blindspot and the upcoming Mind The Gap.
Creators | Sarah Glidden, creator of How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, chronicles her time at Occupy Miami Nov. 15-21 in a sketchbook. [Cartoon Movement]
Creators | Corey Blake follows up on the Bill Mantlo story published by LIfeHealthPro, including some clarifications of issues raised in the story and additional details on various fundraisers over the years to help pay for Mantlo’s care. [Corey Blake]
Creators | Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society Podcast interviews Skullkickers writer Jim Zubkavich about piracy and the Stop Online Piracy Act. [Berkman Center for Internet & Society Podcast]
Viz Media will release Art for Hope, a digital art book anthology that benefits Architecture for Humanity’s ongoing disaster reconstruction efforts in Japan, on Dec. 1 through VIZManga.com and the Viz Manga app for the various Apple devices. The art book, which will be available until May 31, contains contributions from 40 artists from around the world, including Chew co-creator Rob Guillory, Long Tail Kitty and Mr. Elephanter creator Lark Pien, muralist Sirron Norris and Skullkickers co-creator Jim Zubkavich.
According to the press release, each of the 40 artists participating in the anthology used Autodesk SketchBook digital paint and drawing software applications in some way to create original pieces for the anthology. Selections from it will also be exhibited at the Autodesk annual user conference, Autodesk University, taking place at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1. Access to the exhibit is free to the public.
You can find a list of all the contributors after the jump.
Most webcomics creators figure that once they have put up their comic in a free format that is accessible to everybody, they have done their bit. Jim Zubkavich is taking it another step: He just posted a PDF/CBZ version of the first chapter of his webcomic Makeshift Miracle, and he is inviting readers to spread it far and wide:
Download the torrent file, pass it around, re-seed as much as possible and convince your online friends to try it out, absolutely free. Once they’ve read chapter 1, they can come back here to continue the story with chapter 2.
While webcomics creators often promote their work on Twitter and in online forums, Zubkavich is taking it to another channel altogether. Torrenters have their own community, and getting noticed there will bring him new readers; he’s already getting some love on Scans Daily, which is probably not his usual audience. Beyond that, reading an entire issue of a comic at once is a different experience from reading an online comic that updates a couple of times a week. A lot of readers want to sit down and read a whole chapter at a time, and Jim is giving them that option. And if they like it, they can share it with their friends.
Piracy is a double-edged sword; it reduces sales of the comics that are passed around via BitTorrent, but it also brings in new readers. Balancing one effect against the other is a lot easier when you are giving the comic away for free to begin with. Obviously, Jim wants to drive traffic to his site, and ultimately he will be publishing a print edition of Makeshift Miracle that won’t be given away for free. And that will be the results phase of the experiment, when we see if his generosity now pays off in strong sales when the book is published.
Jim Zubkavich, the writer of Skullkickers and an editor at comics publisher UDON Entertainment, relaunched his webcomic Makeshift Miracle a few weeks ago with a revised story and new art. I interviewed Jim about the comic back then, but the artist, Shun Hong Chan, is from Hong Kong and doesn’t speak English.
Jim solved that problem by interviewing Hong himself with his boss, Erik Ko, who also speaks Chinese, acting as translator. He offered to share the interview with Robot 6 readers along with some exclusive teaser art—how could we say no? I was particularly intrigued by Hong’s description of how comics artists work in Hong Kong—it sounds like an assembly-line version of an Exquisite Corpse.
Jim: It’s been a thrill working with you on Makeshift and I’m excited to give readers a better idea of who you are and the passion you bring to your work. Can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers? Where were you born? When did you join the comic industry and what are some of your past creations?