Jim Zub On ‘Wayward’ And The Pressures Of Being A Magical Teen [Interview]
Last week, Image Comics announced that Jim Zub and Steve Cummings‘ Wayward would be launching in August. Billed as “the perfect new series for wayward Buffy fans,” the new ongoing series is focused on a group of teens in Tokyo, dealing with the monsters of Japanese mythology, and it’s Zub’s first creator-owned title since he launched Skullkickers back in 2010.
To find out more, I spoke to Zub about the inspiration for the series, why you won’t be seeing Rori, the main character, running around with a slice of toast in her mouth, and how her feelings of being isolated reinforce what’s going on in the series. Plus, we have an exclusive first look at the variant cover for Wayward #1 by Adam Warren!
ComicsAlliance:Let’s talk about Wayward, your new Image series that’s out in August.
Jim Zub: It actually feels weird to finally be talking about it. Whenever you’re working on something that hasn’t been announced yet, there’s this strange, wonderful, secretive quality where you can just concentrate on it, and people are like “oh, what are you up to?” and you’re just like “Stuff. I’m doing things. I don’t have to tell you!” Now that the title’s out there, it feels like I’ve wrecked the secret. Now everyone knows, and it’s weird but also great. I’m very, very excited about it.
So yeah, this is my first creator-owned book since Skullkickers launched in 2010. Wayward is a big, supernatural rollercoaster ride of myth, magic and finding friends who will stand with you against all odds.
CA: With the exception of the supernatural elements, which are a big part of the fantasy-inspired world of Skullkickers, this sounds like the exact opposite of that book.
JZ: [Laughs] I don’t know about “the opposite!” There’s still going to be a good chunk of action. The opposite of Skullkickers would be, like, Peacekeepers. It’d be people going places trying to make sure everyone got along and spoke nicely to each other. This has action, there’s going to be some banter and humor, though it won’t be the sarcastic slapsticky stuff you see in Skullkickers.
Don’t get me wrong, I love that stuff, but this will be more “nuanced”, shall we say.
CA: So what is Wayward?
JZ: Wayward is a supernatural story set in Tokyo. It’s a classic teen coming-of-age story injected with Japanese myth and the supernatural.
CA: I notice the press release calls it “The Perfect New Series For ‘Wayward’ Buffy Fans.”
JZ: That’s Image’s little jab there, yeah. I think the Buffy comparison is apt. I don’t want to say “Hey, we’re just another Buffy!” but I think there are positive qualities in comparison, in the sense that you’ve got appealing characters and emotional elements, but also fun and action and teen characters pulling together into a little family unit.
We’re not just trying to co-opt the entire Buffy thing, but people love that show. There’s a reason why it’s mentioned in the PR that way, and yeah, I’d be more than happy to have Buffy fans check out what we’re doing. I think we have a lot to offer. It’s a fair comparison.
CA: As a creator, I’m sure you’d love to have that fan base.
JZ: I had a really funny moment after the Figment book, the Marvel/Disney mini-series I’m writing, was announced. Someone tried to insult me on Twitter by saying “The only people who will buy that are Disney fans!” And I was like “You know there’s a couple of those fans out there, right?” You know Disney, that little company? [Laughs] I’d be totally fine with Buffy’s fanbase.
CA: Is this a project you’ve been kicking around for a while?
JZ: Yeah, it’s something Steve Cummings and I created together. We’re co-creators and have been plugging away bit by bit on it for about two years. Steve illustrated this really cool piece in the Udon 10th Anniversary art book called “Vent,” and it’s now actually our release image for Wayward.
It has the girl standing there with the spiked bats in her hands, and the cats. It was a black and white line drawing he’d done, and I thought it was so visually compelling and I said “Steve, that’s awesome. What is that?” and he said “Oh, I want to do some kind of supernatural story set in Japan, but I don’t know what it’s about, exactly.” I said “If you ever want to develop that, I’d be more than happy to get on board,” and then a good year went by, and we were both busy as all get out, but I’d been getting the itch to do another creator-owned book, and he and I started talking. It was a really good time for it, the momentum was there, creator-owned books had a banner year all around, he’d just finished a couple of other projects, and we started plugging away at the concept more fully. I had some themes I wanted to explore and bounced them off him, and it just coalesced from there. We realized we had very similar sensibilities in terms of the type of story we wanted to tell, and the strengths we could each bring to it.
CA: I know you wanted to do it as a creator-owned book, but did you ever think about taking it somewhere other than Image? You’re a guy who’s having a busy year all over the place.
JZ: We did, actually. We bounced it off a couple of other publishers but didn’t find the right fit. There were discussions at New York Comic-Con in October, we already had the full pitch ready to go, and we shopped it around a bit. I wanted to see what was out there in terms of possible publishers or deals, and who was looking for what. I didn’t want to close off any options. After all was said and done, Image is the ideal spot for it. It’s the right choice and going around to other publishers was a way for us to know that for certain.
It’s been an incredible time over the past year, seeing so much excitement about new creator-owned comics Image and everywhere else. Readers are more willing than ever to find something new and experiment and open up their reading list to new genres and ideas. I think if you’re going to gamble on yourself with creator-owned, now’s the right time to roll the dice.
Matt Fraction’s Sex Criminals can outsell Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, this character that was featured in a billion-dollar movie, right? People want to see Kieron Gillen and Jame McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine just as much as if not more than they wanted Young Avengers. I think that’s really cool, that those creators have built that cachet, that readers are following them because of the quality of their storytelling. That’s all you could ask for. I think creators worry about being entrenched in superhero stuff, if that’s the only thing they’ll be known for, or whether people follow. Is their notoriety because of the characters they’re working on, or because of their work? That’s a really cool thing right now. Creators are free to do the commercial work they want, and then create the other kinds of stories they want to create. And hopefully, if the quality is there, the market follows them.
CA: Let’s talk about the characters of Wayward. The one we know from the press release is a young lady named Rori Lane.
JZ: Rori is a half-Irish, half-Japanese girl, but she’s never been to Japan before. Her mother’s Japanese, but she grew up in Ireland. She’s a bit of an outsider, she’s never really fit in while she’s been there. She had difficulty with her parents and her parents had difficulty with each other, and eventually they get divorced and her mother headed back to Japan. Rori was supposed to stay in Ireland until she finished high school, and from there could decide what to do with her life, but things between her and her father go south and she decides to go to Tokyo to be with her mother in her second year of high school.
That’s where our story begins. She’s arriving in Tokyo for the first time and has all these weird expectations, this buildup about Japan. She’s learned the language from her mother, she’s seen photos, done research, but as much as you can know anything about a place from afar, going somewhere and experiencing it firsthand is always a revelation.
What works great about that as a storytelling device is that, although we’ve got a bunch of Japanese culture, as much as we’ve got Japanese mythology, Rori is our touchstone character. There are other main characters in the story, a group of teenagers that will all come together, but Rori is the first one we experience the story through. In turn, we’re able to give readers, whether or not you know anything about Japan as a country or anything about the mythology, she’s picking up on them as much as the reader is. It’s a very easy entry point for you to discover and enjoy the story as we pull back layers from the onion.
CA: Jim, I have to say that I’m a little upset about your insinuation that I don’t know everything there is to know about Japan, even though I’ve watched 800 episodes of Power Rangers.
JZ: I’m not saying you personally!
CA: 800 episodes, Jim.
JZ: What else could you possibly need to know?
CA: I have also seen some Kamen Rider.
JZ: [Laughs] It’s one of those weird things, too, where I don’t want people to feel like they even have to be anime or manga fans to dig this. I think that’s why we stressed the Buffy angle. It’s not about doing a knockoff manga, that’s not the headspace we’re heading into. It’s a supernatural story set in Japan, and obviously there’s fantastical elements so it’s not realistic, but the geography and the city and the cultural elements are drawn from real life. We’re not playing with the anime clichés or things like that. That’s not where we’re at.
CA: No toast hanging from her mouth?
JZ: No toast hanging from her mouth, no waterfalls of tears pouring down her face. I like anime and manga, and those things are great in the context of their comics, but we’re not trying to ape their comics. We’re telling a supernatural story built off the sensibilities Steve and I have, not knockoff manga elements.
CA: It’s been a while since you did it, but you were also the writer on one of my favorite miniseries of the past decade, which was also about a young girl who was an outsider having to deal with Japanese culture.
JZ: Oh, are you talking about Ibuki?
CA: I am.
JZ: We had so much fun putting that together. We were playing off anime and manga elements in that, but even that was weird. It was filtered through the video game sensibility, and piecing together what little there was of continuity for Ibuki and the other Street Fighter characters, while still trying to find the heart of the story beating underneath it. I’m glad you liked it so much.
It’s funny, there’s a reason why teenage characters are so popular. You have so much potential with that coming of age element, as a character is maturing and making decisions about their future and where they stand. That’s a universal experience.
CA: It might have a similar tone in ways, but obviously, a book like Skullkickers is not told from the point of view of a young woman. Did you have to go back into the kind of mentality you had while writing Ibuki, or did it come more naturally than that?
JZ: I feel like any type of character development is roleplaying, so you try to get yourself into that headspace and think of your own vulnerabilities at that age, or talk to people and bounce those concepts around. You remember that part of your life and the sorts of things you were thinking, what your priorities were. Even re-reading old emails from 15 years ago, realizing the way you carried yourself or things you thought were incredibly important, and why you thought they were important. Not just the surface level, but reconnecting with those emotions. All those pressures and vulnerabilities you had. Then we drive this added tension and story pressure into it with the supernatural stuff.
It’s the same kind of thing they do with the X-Men, right? Not only are you an outsider kid, but you’ve also got freaky powers and now you really don’t fit in. It’s that same aspect, with added pressure because Rori’s also in a place she doesn’t understand. She thinks she understands it, and that’s even a little more compelling. It’s not like she goes in and figures “I’ve never been here before so I need to be careful,” she’s got just enough knowledge to make mistakes. She goes in with a sense of “no no, I know the language, I know the culture, I can do this!” She’s just a little more confident than she should be. Japan, or any other sort of exotic locale, is going to throw you for a loop. You’re going to learn things about the world and yourself.
We’ve got more characters we’re going to reveal over the next few months. Rori’s the touchstone character so she’s getting all the airplay right now, but as it gets closer to launch we’re going to be doing updates on the other three characters circling the center of this first story arc. We’re going to have monster designs, and Steve’s jaw-dropping interior art to tease people with. He is killing it on every single page, and I’m unbelievably stoked for people to see what we’ve got. It’s a thrill to work on.
Not to say that Skullkickers is easy, because I don’t think comedy is easy, but trying to stretch myself into new areas or stress things in my writing and show people I’ve got a broader range, I’m hoping people give Wayward a shot.
CA: Can I give you one piece of advice before we go?
CA: Give her the toast, Jim.
JZ: No! Not gonna happen.