"Skullkickers'" Jim Zub Takes a Stab at IDW's "Samurai Jack"

Good characters may never die, but the great ones get brought back to life. Just ask IDW Publishing as they resurrect popular animated series "Samurai Jack" in comic book form this October with a new series by "Skullkickers" writer Jim Zub and original "Jack" character designer Andy Suriano. "Samurai Jack," which ended its run on Cartoon Network in 2004 after 52 episodes, followed the struggles of ancient samurai Jack after he's stranded in the far future by evil wizard Aku.

Zub spoke with CBR News about what attracted him to "Samurai Jack," revealing details about his first story arc, teasing significant closure for long-time "Jack" fans, peeling back the curtain on IDW's pitch process, giving an update on "Skullkickers" and more.

CBR News: Jim, what attracted you to take on "Samurai Jack?"

Jim Zub: Jack is a classic hero -- upstanding, forthright, honest and courageous -- who's been exiled to a future that's unlike anything he could have imagined. I think the contrast of that old world heroism slamming up against the strange and surreal world he's been thrust in to is a winning combination.

Is "Jack" planned as an ongoing series?

The first storyline is five issues but everyone involved is hoping the fan response is strong and we can just keep it rolling from there. I already have a ton of other story ideas and would be thrilled to stay on board as long as IDW and Cartoon Network want me involved.

Well, we certainly hope you get a chance to tell those stories. What's your first one about?

An ancient artifact called the Rope of Eons was an important tool used by the shape-shifting wizard Aku to understand the magic of time travel. After he learned its secrets he shredded it so no one else could benefit from it. The magical fibers left behind are now known as the Threads of Time and if Jack can gather them back together he may be able to re-wind the rope and rewind himself to get back to the past.

The quest for the Threads of Time will challenge Jack like few things have before.
Aside from trying to recover the Threads of Time, what sorts of enemies will Jack face in his inaugural IDW adventure?

Gladiators, robots, ghosts, martial artists, musket-firing knights and a certain arch nemesis shape-shifting demon wizard... Jack's definitely got his work cut out for him.

Are you working with creator Genndy Tartakovsky or anyone else from the show when developing the new stories?

I pitched the Threads of Time story arc as-is and Cartoon Network enthusiastically approved it, so there is oversight to make sure it fits their plans and works to continue the story from the show, but I'm not developing plotlines directly with them right now, I'm just doing my best to deliver on the show's amazing legacy.

How did you get involved with "Jack" initially?

Late last year I spoke to [IDW editor] Carlos Guzman about a different comic project but it didn't work out in terms of scheduling with other projects I had on the go at the time. I told him I'd let him know when I was available. In March, I dropped him a line and he mentioned that IDW was looking for a proposal for "Samurai Jack" and I could throw my hat in the ring if I was interested. I was, I did, and thankfully it all worked out.

What are some of your favorite episodes from the show's run?

Hmmm... so many awesome ones to choose from.

A few standouts for me are "Jack and the Scotsman," "Jack Learns to Jump Good," "Jack vs. Mad Jack," and "Samurai vs. Ninja."

Of course, now that I've typed that list I'm going to re-watch some other episodes while doing research and wish I'd added in a few more.

The show ended with Jack still stranded in the future, never accomplishing his series-long goal of returning to his home era. Any plans to finally conclude that plotline?

This first story arc definitely ties into that over arcing "back to the past" storyline, but I can't give away anything beyond that.

How will you be utilizing Andy Suriano's considerable artistic chops for this series?

Since Andy was a character designer on the original TV series, the best thing I can do is step back and let him work his magic. So far it's been wonderfully straight forward -- I write up the issues in full script, he designs the heck out of them and then puts together beautiful page layouts that channel the essence of the show into the printed page. I smile gleefully. He finishes the pages. Rinse and repeat.

As we move forward I definitely want to get even bolder with what we're doing on the comic page. The "Samurai Jack" cartoon did a great job at visually innovating and playing against viewer expectations and I hope that we're able to experiment with crazy panel layouts and storytelling ideas in the spirit of that on the comic page as we go along.

Do you feel extra pressure stepping into the writer's role for such a beloved property?

Absolutely, but that's a good thing. It drives me to research more, work harder and not make assumptions as I work away. I like balancing creator-owned projects with commercial work, especially when it's something as enjoyable as "Samurai Jack." It's like exercising different muscles. The greater the variety of projects I tackle, the better creative "workout" I get.

What's the pitch process like for a licensed book like this? Do you just throw them over an outline and cross your fingers or is it more involved than that?

Every publisher and project is a bit different so this isn't an absolute, but I tend to put together a 1-2 page overview that works from the broad to the specific: how I see the property, what kinds of influences I'd channel into it and themes/big ideas that resonate for me that I want to bring to the story.

Here's how I described "Samurai Jack" as a whole in my pitch:

"Samurai Jack is an iconic 'Wandering Hero' odyssey built on classic archetypes and pulp-style storytelling while pushing those themes and characters forward with new settings and unexpected challenges. It's Akira Kurosawa meets Ridley Scott with a side of Hanna-Barbera."

From there I go into more specific ideas about story and character: What I envision for the series and directions I want to explore. Lastly I have point form notes with specific story ideas summarized that are 3-4 sentences apiece.

If I'm able to grab an editor's attention with the 1-2 page version then they'll ask me for something more in-depth and I can flesh out the parts they like into a full story outline with all the story beats and plot worked out. If it didn't grab them then at least I haven't wasted their time or my own.

If I'm pitching cold on a property I know nothing about then I try to hunker down and do as much research as possible, taking quick notes about key things that jump out at me as I'm reading (themes, ideas, questions, etc.). In the case of "Samurai Jack," that wasn't required. I'm a big fan already and all I did was re-watch a few of my favorites episodes to get into the right headspace to put together the pitch.

Switching gears for a moment, how are things going with your creator-owned series "Skullkickers?

It's going great. "Book 4: Eighty Eyes on an Evil Island" just came out this month. That's the storyline that includes our five "unbooted" new #1's. It was a ridiculous and fun promotion.

With each story arc I feel like Edwin Huang (line art), Misty Coats (colors), Marshall Dillon (letters) and I grow even more comfortable with our work process together. It's an absolute joy to put together the series and I'm thankful that our readers, new and old, are so enthusiastic and supportive.

If people haven't read "Skullkickers" yet, they can sample older issues online for free starting from here: http://skullkickers.keenspot.com/d/20120123.html

Do you think your recent stunt of re-launching the book five times in five months using prefixes like "All-New Skullkickers" #1 and "Uncanny Skullkickers" #1 helped the book gain attention?

It did, yeah. In terms of sales and press it was the most interest we've had in the series since it launched in September 2010. We beat that horse to death with five #1's in five months, but that was the joke. Having a sarcastic series to do that with gave us a lot of latitude that I don't think retailers would have given to more serious fare. We're jerks like that.

The six-arc plan for "Skullkickers" is still chugging along. I don't think we'll have arc five in comic shops until the end of 2013/early 2014 but hopefully my other projects will keep people entertained in the mean time.

What are some of those other projects keeping you busy?

I'm still writing the ongoing "Pathfinder" fantasy comic for Dynamite, based on the award-winning RPG game. In October, the same month "Samurai Jack" launches, I have a Halloween-themed issue of "Shadowman" for Valiant coming out. I'm also still writing online comics for Bandai-Namco's "ShiftyLook" site, namely "Wonder Momo" and "Klonoa."

In addition to that I have a couple other creator-owned projects I'm developing with artists that I'm hoping will be ready to announce in the near future.

In short -- lots of fun stuff and my fingers are crossed for more to come in 2014.

"Samurai Jack" #1 by Jim Zub and Andy Suriano debuts this October from IDW Publishing.

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