Jim Zubkavich doesn’t just poke fun at the fantasy genre, he’s also a fan. The creator of the wild and sometimes ridiculous Image Comics title “Skullkickers” often takes a skewed, humorous look at the tropes and standards of the genre, but it’s all done out of love. The writer, who got his start in the comic biz working at UDON before jumping into the world of creator-owned comics, went back to some of those early connections to get his latest gig: writing Dynamite Entertainment’s upcoming “Pathfinder” ongoing title, drawn by Andrew Huerta and based on the RPG developed by Paizo Publishing.
Taking advantage of the Open Game License, which allows for new games to be built around the skeleton of existing “D&D” game mechanics, Paizo Publishing’s “Pathfinder” debuted in 2009.Â Like it’s predecessor, “Pathfinder” takes place in a world filled with fantasy characters and settings. Considering the subject manner, Paizo head honcho Erik Mona believes Zubkavich — who he knew from working together in the early days of the company — is the right person to handle the writing on the comic book adaptation, which will greatly expand upon the world set forth in the game.
Even though he’s dealing with a world created for a tabletop RPG, Zubkavich wants potential readers to know that there’s more to the upcoming series than simple fan-service. He intends to offer fantasy adventures that require absolutely no foreknowledge going in. CBR News spoke with Zub about how this book will work for fans of his, further developing existing characters and how his old job helped him get this new one.
CBR News: How did you get involved as the writer on “Pathfinder?”
Jim Zubkavich: I’ve known Erik Mona, head of Paizo, for many years. As a Project Manager and artist at UDON I worked with Erik creating artwork for “D&D” magazines when Paizo had licensed them from Wizards of the Coast. We hung out at several different conventions and always saw eye to eye on the gaming-hobby-entertainment business. Watching him and the rest of the Paizo gang break out big with their work on “Pathfinder” has been wonderful.
After “Pathfinder” was licensed by Dynamite, Erik put my name forward as a potential writer for the comic series. He’d seen my other writing work and felt I had a solid balance of gaming and comic experience that could work well with the series. I pitched, letting them know how I’d approach it if I was at the helm and both Dynamite and Paizo really liked my view on the world and characters. That was that. It was actually one of the smoothest pitch-job offer scenarios I’ve ever had in this business.
I know from our previous conversations that you are a big fan of fantasy worlds. Was “Pathfinder” a game you were a fan of before jumping on board this project?
I’m a longtime tabletop RPG nut, so “Pathfinder” and all of its amazing source material is near and dear to my heart. I’m really impressed with the in-depth world that the gang at Paizo put together, channeling classic fantasy ideas with a level of cohesiveness you don’t normally see in games or fiction. In short, I’m a big fan. I have a d20-shaped heart that’s been pounding heavily ever since I started getting involved with the project.
When it came to the characters, was there a lot already in place as far as their histories are concerned, or did you get to build that up?
It’s a neat situation because the “icons” at the heart of the “Pathfinder” comic series are the heroic characters used in almost every piece of art or advertising for the game, but they’ve never been fully defined as far as history and personality go. There have been some base ideas in the sourcebooks, a few sentences about attitude or upbringing, but nothing in-depth. Having such incredible character designs that are well known by a fanbase but still being able to enrich who they are and what makes them tick is really unique. I’m relishing it.
Working on something like this seems to offer an interesting situation because the characters are at least partially defined in the game, but there’s obviously quite a bit of room to build them out —
That’s just it. These characters are really only defined visually. How they met, where they’ve travelled, their broader motivations, their relationships, successes or failures — all of that was previously left blank. I’m able to take these interesting templates and turn them into well-rounded characters.
When I pitched it to Dynamite and Paizo, I stressed that the characters have to come first. If we didn’t create a series where our readers grew attached to the cast then it would die on the vine. It had to be new reader friendly and be about engaging personalities alongside entertaining adventure. That ensemble cast is what I wanted to play with and, thankfully, Paizo and Dynamite believed that was the right approach, too.
How did you go about choosing which characters to feature or was that something brought to you by Paizo? What can you tell us about the main cast members?
Paizo asked me to use four core iconic characters and then I chose two more to give us a solid group of six to work with in this first story arc. The group may grow and change over time, but these six are my focus right now:
Valeros is a mercenary fighter who has disobeyed orders so many times he’s not quite sure how to be loyal to anything or anyone. His courage and temper make him a formidable and dangerous warrior.
Seoni is a mysterious sorcerer whose tattooed body and mystical dreams make those who first meet her wary of her power. Strangers may call her a barbarian based on appearance, but her keen strategic mind gives her a distinctive edge in battle.
Merisiel is an elven rogue whose glib banter and flashing smile lead people to assume that she’s unintelligent and shallow. Her fears and long-lived life drive her in ways few will ever understand.
Ezren is a middle-aged man who came to wizardry quite late in life. The march of time mixed with his desire for knowledge keeps him pushing himself to new limits.
Harsk is a quiet and contemplative dwarven ranger with deeply-sown seeds of vengeance and anger buried under the surface.
Kyra is a battle-hardened cleric of Sarenrae who will stop at nothing to destroy evil, constantly testing her faith and will against those around her.
Was there any worry that you’re the writer who pokes fun at fantasy conventions and tropes when it came to pitching the book?
It was never a concern for me, and once Erik made it clear what he wanted to see in the series, I felt confident I could hit the mark with it. I’ve got a lot of different influences, so it was about channeling the ones that were most appropriate. If you’re a professional, I think you should be able to switch gears and challenge yourself with different stories and different moods. I don’t want every comic I do to read like “Skullkickers” or “Makeshift Miracle,” my two current creator-owned comics. I have those books and they each scratch a different creative itch for me. They’re wonderful but I want to built new experiences, not just rehash them.
In order to make fun of something and really drive it home you need to know the material you’re lambasting. “Skullkickers” is an over-the-top sword and sorcery send-up, but I think it’s pretty clear that it comes from my deep-seated love of fantasy characters and stories. Having the chance to play the genre “straight” in “Pathfinder” and deliver a solid character-driven fantasy tale is an absolute thrill for me.
Is there potential for elements you create for the comic to become new aspects of the game?
Absolutely. In the first story arc we use a group of antagonists from the game, but the specific baddies within it are created by me. Their plans use concepts hinted at in the game books and take them somewhere unexpected and nasty. I’m hoping we get to keep digging beyond that, adding cool new aspects to the mythos and history of Golarion, the world of “Pathfinder.”
How has it been working with Andrew Huerta? How did he end up as the artist for “Pathfinder?”
I found Andrew’s work online while browsing through deviantART favorites, hopping from artist to artist to see what’s out there. Ever since I started working on “Skullkickers” I’ve been more apt to bookmark blogs for artists I see who’s work jumps out at me or people whose work I think is growing and has potential. Andrew had some killer stuff in his gallery and I kept it in my “Good People To Keep an Eye On” bookmark folder.
When Dynamite gave me the go-ahead on writing “Pathfinder” and mentioned that they didn’t have an artist on board the series yet, I sent them links for a few I thought were sharp and Andrew’s dynamic and detailed art really knocked them out. It’s really gratifying to get to work with him and I’m excited about collaborating and watching his skills develop. Even just watching pages come in on issue 1, I can see his work making great strides in confidence and storytelling.
How would you sell this book to people who are more familiar with you and your style than the game itself?
If you’ve enjoyed “Street Fighter Legends: Ibuki,” “Skullkickers” or “Makeshift Miracle,” then I’m hoping you’ll trust me to take you on another entertaining ride. “Pathfinder” is character-centric fantasy tying together a wonderful cast of engaging characters with big exploration and adventure. You don’t need to play the game or read the fiction to jump in. It’s new reader-friendly and starting in August, it’s going to kick all kinds of ass.
“Pathfinder” #1 debuts in August from Dynamite Entertainment by writer Jim Zubkavich and artist Andrew Huerta with covers by Lucio Parillo, Matteo Scalera, Dave Dorman, and Erik Jones.