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COMMENTARY TRACK: Jim Zub on “Skullkickers” #14

by  in Comic News Comment
COMMENTARY TRACK: Jim Zub on “Skullkickers” #14

Jim Zubkavich’s “Skullkickers” has drawn an army of fans for its fun, monster-blood-soaked fantasy stories that don’t take themselves too seriously. The Image Comics series comic drawn by Edwin Huang focuses on a pair of mercenaries who have a tendency to stumble into more trouble than the job is worth, but the men known as Baldy and Shorty — or Rex and Rolf if you want to be technical — always come out on top in the end… eventually.

Zub, as he’s known to fans, keeps the series moving along quickly, but the most recent issue — this week’s “Skullkickers” #14 — surprised many by revealing the truth behind Rex’s golden gun. The weapon always seemed a bit out of place considering the book’s fantasy setting, but we imagine no one guessed the origin of the firearm shown off in the most recent issue.

[SPOILER ALERT: The following contains spoilers for the issue and the series.]

“Skullkickers” #14 is the second part of a storyline dubbed “Six Shooter on the Seven Seas,” and in this issue the story cut to Aden, New Mexico in 1876 where a cowboy faces off against a demon called Thool who grants him anything he wants from a pool of yellow goo. That man turned out to be Rex, and he was granted “a gun that won’t stop firing ’til everything’s dead.” So, a cowboy on Earth scored a magic gun from a demon and eventually wound up in a fantasy world fighting monsters with an axe-loving dwarf. To get the inside scoop on the origins of this story, how long it’s been kicking around his head and where things will go from here, CBR News spoke with Zub for all the details and teases about the title’s future.

CBR News: You and Chris Stevens first created these characters for “Popgun,”. Did you have an idea about the backgrounds for the characters at that point or did they develop as you wrote the ongoing?

Jim Zubkavich: Chris Stevens designed both characters after I came up with the “two mercenary jerks who cause more trouble than they fix.” He didn’t want to fall back on the cliche of the big guy with a sword and dwarf with a two-handed battle axe, so he switched it up with little hand axes and guns.

When it was just a couple “Popgun” short stories I didn’t worry about it — and in that first story Baldy actually has two pistols — but once we moved into the full Image series it was something I started percolating ideas around. By the time Eric Stephenson at Image asked if we wanted to make it an ongoing series I had the basic concept in mind on how the gun arrived and evolved it from there.

Rex’s gun always seemed important and a little out of place, did you always intend on going back and telling the story of where it came from?

If we only had our initial 5 issue mini-series and that was that then it would have stayed a mystery, but after we moved past that I knew it would have to be addressed and it would be a key component to the larger “Skullkickers” story we’re now building towards.

“Skullkickers” is about bulldozing through classic fantasy tropes and the mother of all those tropes is the “Heroes of Destiny” cliche. As with everything else we’ve done in “Skullkickers,” I want to throw off their expectations and deliver an enjoyable roller coaster ride of action and comedy.

We’ve learned bits and pieces about Rex here and there including his ability to speak with forest creatures. Is that related to what we saw in #14?

I think we were too subtle about where that came from, so I’ll spell it out here. In issue #9 when the little old lady gives Baldy back his gun she shakes his hand and we have leaves surrounding a sound effect titled “Lil’ Bit O’ Magic.” That’s actually powerful nature magic in action. From then on Baldy can talk to animals, as you see in the next scene in the sewers. It’s not something he expects or wants. It just is. That little old lady, who also gives readers the recap with each new arc, is another part of the bigger puzzle we’re putting together. She’s a key player in the big story.

The setting of “Skullkickers” previously seemed like more of a fantasy world than a different version of our Earth, but with this issue you directly connect the series to Earth. Will we see more worlds moving forward?

Yes we will, but the fantasy world is our main focus. I can’t say too much more beyond that right now.

You jump from a traditional fantasy story to a pirate one and then into a demon-filled cowboy tale, do you enjoy bouncing around genres?

It’s been an absolute blast. Being able to build this crazy cross-genre story just the way I want is wonderful. Image trusts in the overall quality of what we’re doing and lets us run wild with it. That’s wonderfully liberating and exciting. Sink or swim, it’s the story I want to tell.

Thool doesn’t exactly speak like you’d think he would saying things like “Awesome” and “Pretty bad ass, eh?” Why give him such modern-sounding dialog?

When Thool is trying to take over someone’s mind it’s a random assortment of symbols and raw bits of dialogue. The mind meld is incomplete at that point so “translation” between his mind and the victim’s is spotty at best. Once he takes complete control he goes all casual, which is both ridiculous and also a reflection of its power/knowledge. Thool and its children aren’t limited to one time or one universe, as you’ll see in issue #15, so it’s picked up some valley girl/modern colloquialisms along the way. The contrast of a giant alien evil with super casual dialogue makes me chuckle. In the end, that’s the most important part.

Can you tell us anything about what happens in the next issue? Will we find out why Rex loses his hair or how he got sent to wherever “Skullkickers” takes place?

Readers will see Rex lose his hair, how he gets to the “Skullkickers'” fantasy world and how the gun is able to keep firing bullets time after time. Telling you that stuff doesn’t ruin the “how” and that’s where the real fun of it comes in. I’m pumped to hear from people once we wrap up this side story and continue the main pirate plot. Good times ahead.

You recently asked readers for story and art to print in upcoming issues, how have the entries been for the next Tavern Tales issue been?

It’s been wonderfully daunting, overwhelming really. There have been so many fun story ideas and a piles of cool art too. If I would’ve known how much amazing stuff we were going to receive I would’ve made the whole issue fan submissions, though that might have killed me. Even though there’s only one winner in each category — writer and artist — I’m going to try to sneak in some runner-up art and pitches too if page count allows. If not in the printed issue, then on our website.

“Six Shooter on the Seven Seas” part 3 arrives in “Skullkickers” #15, on sale June 13.

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