Between the BalloonsJim Zubkavich has been receiving a lot of attention lately due to him being on the new creative team to revive Marvel’s Thunderbolts hitting shelves in May 2016. Jim is one of the busiest men in comics and is the premiere writer for fantasy comics including Skullkickers, Pathfinder, and Dungeons & Dragons. We got the time to chat about Role Playing Games, Fantasy Comics, and of course The Thunderbolts.

Ryan Mount (for Two-Headed Nerd): One of the most fascinating things I have noticed about your works is that you are really given room to tell your stories over a long period. Skullkickers ran for six volumes, Wayward just finished volume three, and your run on Samurai Jack was 20 issues. Are you more comfortable with that that type of breathing room to tell a story?

Jim Zub: I don’t know that I have a particular preference. Skullkickers’ long run was a way for me to establish myself early on as a creator with regular output so I had extra motivation to keep it rolling above and beyond the fact that it was such a joy to work on. I’m hopeful that Wayward has a long and healthy run as well because we have a lot to explore there. It’s definitely nice to have room to build something long term, but I’ve had a lot of fun doing mini-series like Figment or Legends of Baldur’s Gate.

The unfortunate part is that the market doesn’t seem as interested in long runs on series anymore. You can get quite a bit of excitement for a launch and then, after one or two story arcs, there’s a sense from press, readers, and retailers that you should be moving on and announcing something new. The overall attention span seems shorter than ever.

RM: What you are doing over at comics.skullkickers.com is a bold move. What was the decision process to make the entire run available online for free? Have you seen more fans come to the book since the launch of the website?

JZ: Like I mentioned earlier, maintaining excitement on longer runs is becoming more difficult. Our early issues were sold out and sales on the trades were good but a bit flat so I decided to remove the barrier to entry and allow people to start reading the series, banking that if they enjoyed it they’d want to get the printed collections later on. We’ve absolutely seen growth because of it and far more of our readers have discovered the series through the online site than through traditional comic shops.

Between the BalloonsRM: You seem to have found yourself heavily immersed into the fantasy genre. Is that the genre that got you into comics?

JZ: The first comics I remember collecting were Marvel’s G.I.Joe books, which lead me into Marvel’s other superhero titles. I was a big sword & sorcery fan in general though as I grew up. I read fantasy novels, watched Conan the Barbarian over and over, and played lots of Dungeons & Dragons.

RM: What were some of your first fantasy comics you picked up while growing up?

JZ: I read some of the Conan and Red Sonja comics and I remember reading the original Dungeons & Dragons series published by DC. Between that and Dr. Strange and Thor, I had a good fantasy fix.

RM: What about sword and sorcery do you enjoy writing so much?

JZ: There’s something really exciting about taking away all the technology and having characters exploring the unknown with just some survival gear, weapons, and a bit of magic. There’s a simplicity to that kind of journey and the unexpected things that can happen. The highs and lows of wonderment, the fantastic, and the inherent danger of it really clicks for me.

RM: Not only do you write a lot of RPG inspired comics, but after following you on twitter it appears you have quite the interest in the actual games as well. How long have you been playing?

JZ: I’ve been playing table role-playing games since I was around 8 years old. My brother received the classic ‘red box’ Basic D&D set and that ignited our imaginations in a big way.

RM: Which are some of the games you are still playing today?

JZ: I don’t have time to run a regular RPG campaign, but I still play some D&D/Pathfinder, and really like games like Feng Shui, Exalted, Call of Cthulhu, and Shadowrun. We have semi-regular board game nights and our current favorites include co-op games like Zombicide, Arkham Horror, Pandemic, and Dead of Winter.

RM: If you could hold a comic celebrity D&D game with anyone who would it be? Do you currently play with any other creators?

JZ: I know that Vin Diesel is a big D&D fan, so it would be a blast to run a game with him. I have a feeling that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler would be great players, improvising their way through hilarious adventures.

I game with some friends here in Toronto who are also comic creators – Andrew Wheeler (Another Castle), Tory Woollcott (Mirrormind), Kean Soo (Jellaby), and Stacy King (Udon’s Manga Classics).

RM: Any plans to launch or help design your own RPG card or board game? Or even have a hand in an established one?

JZ: We’ve talked about the possibility of Skullkickers or Wayward making the jump to games, but nothing to announce just yet. It would be wonderful to see it happen, absolutely.

Between the BalloonsRM: Getting back to comics, Wayward already has 15 issues completed with #15 hitting the shelves March 30th and Volume Three trade coming out at the end of May. What’s next for the series?

JZ: We’ve got our standard break between arcs happening as we reorganize and build up our buffer of material for the fourth story arc. Issue 15 ends with some big changes, so carrying through on that with our next set of issues should be really fun.

RM: Let’s talk Thunderbolts. The Thunderbolts title may not stand out like the Avengers, but it has always seemed one of Marvel’s staples with them publishing over 200 issues over the years. How does it feel to come onto a long running and storied title?

JZ: I’m excited to pick up the torch and run with it. I’d read Thunderbolts before but digging in and seeing how long and varied the series has been over the years gave me a much better appreciation for how good it can be and what we have to live up to with our new run.

RM: What are some of your favorite Thunderbolts moments? Creative Teams of Past?

JZ: Obviously, Busiek and Bagley are the originals and the foundation they build resonates strongly, even now. There were so many great ideas with fun twists and turns.

I enjoyed Warren Ellis’ bleak and violent run on the title. Ellis really thrust the concept into the modern world. It’s textured and really stuck with me.

Jeff Parker and Kev Walker built such an eclectic group. There’s a delightful sense of the weird and wonderful that permeates their issues.

RM: Greatest Thunderbolts Leader of All Time? Hawkeye, Bucky Barnes/Winter Solider, or Baron Zemo?

JZ: I’m biased, but I’m pushing for Bucky. He’s going to bring something new and exciting to the team.

Between the BalloonsRM: Right now in the Marvel Universe, the event AVENGERS STANDOFF has begun. With AVENGERS STANDOFF: Welcome to Pleasant Hill we saw a major reveal of a pivotal Thunderbolts team member. It also appears that AVENGERS STANDOFF concludes right in time for the launch of Thunderbolts #1.

With that in mind, did you have your Thunderbolts story you wanted to tell which helped shape Avengers Standoff or did Marvel put the toys in the sandbox and tell you to have fun?

JZ: The cast was already set when I was brought on board, but I’m still bringing my own spin to it and they’ve given me a lot of freedom to take that baseline and go in some fun directions with it.

RM: When we last saw Abner Jenkins aka Mach-V he was over with Superior Foes of Spider-Man. That book brought out the “lighter” side in each of the characters and was wondering if you will be building off that or looking to the more classic mold?

JZ: I love Superior Foes, but Abe will be closer to his Thunderbolts characterization. That said, everyone on the cast will get some punctuated moments of humor because that kind of stuff just naturally finds its way into my dialogue.

RM: What else should fans know about the book before picking up Thunderbolts #1 in May?

JZ: Jon and I are building a series filled to the brim with big action and big trouble. The Thunderbolts are on a collision course with some of the biggest heroes and villains in the Marvel Universe and, with all the excitement coming after Standoff, there’s going to be a lot of unexpected surprises in store.

RM: Where can we find more about you and what you are working on?

JZ: You can follow my work the most convenient place is my website: www.jimzub.com. In addition to interviews, previews, and ordering links I have a pretty extensive set of tutorial articles about creating comics – writing scripts, pitching stories, the economics of creator-owned comics, conventions, and more. If they want to ask me questions or just say hi, I’m also pretty active on Twitter: @jimzub.

RM: Thanks so much for your time.

Remember to pick up Marvel’s The Thunderbolts #1 in May 2016 at your local comic shops or in the meantime dive into any of Jim Zub’s work on Wayward or Dungeons & Dragons. And I implore you to go over to comics.skullkickers.com and read the entire run of Skullkickers for free.