Creator Commentary: SKULLKICKERS #1

This week the new series Skullkickers kicked its way onto comic shelves, and with considerable anticipation. Earlier this week, Bleeding Cool reported that advance copies of the book are going for two-times the face value on eBay. The series has been described as “a buddy cop film meets Conan”, and features two nameless warriors who do dirty deeds for the highest bidder in a supernatural world filled with werewolves, zombies and dark magic galore. The series got its start as two self-contained short stories in the second and third volumes of Image’s Popgun anthology, and was greenlit for a full series due to the positive response of fans.

In June, Newsarama talked with writer Jim Zubkavich and artist Edwin Huang, and now with Skullkickers #1 on shelves we invited them in to go through the first issue in a sort of “Director’s Commentary” fashion. We flip through the book and ask questions about particular panels and scenes, and they tell us what’s going on and what’s coming up.

SPOILER WARNING

We advise you to read the first issue of Skullkickers to avoid being spoiled. If you’ve read it – or feel adventurous – venture on into this unique Q&A.

Newsarama: How did you guys come up with the unique design for the cover?

Jim Zubkavich: Both covers are masterfully designed and rendered by Chris Stevens. I honestly just left it in his hands. All I told him was to make it eye-catching. The skull motif jumped out so strongly that we took that

and used the silhouette of it as our trade dress for the rest of the covers.

Chris is a major talent I know is going to blow up big in the industry. Other publishers, please hire Chris to rock all your covers but leave him just enough time to do one Skullkickers piece per month, okay?

Nrama: This alternate cover is a homage the classic Hulk cover by Jack Kirby. Whose idea was it to homage this Kirby classic?

Zubkavich: I can’t remember whose idea it was to homage a classic superhero cover, but picking that particular one was all Chris. I’m pretty sure I told him to look at famous issue #1’s and when he was hunting through

potential covers the Hulk #1 one jumped out because of the bold tagline ‘Fantasy As You Like it!’. That line just seemed too fitting to ignore and he was all over it.

We’d talked about an homage cover and Chris sent this to me out of the blue – no rough, no discussion of which one to use, nothing. I just opened up my e-mail and there was an incredible finished piece right there ready to go. Approved!

Nrama: A fat werewolf; now that he mentions it, I haven't seen one before. Where'd the idea for this come from?

Zubkavich: I wanted to get the issue off to an action-packed start and to set the tone for Skullkickers within a few pages, so it needed to be a punchy opening with a fantasy creature that’s just a bit off from what

you’d expect.

When I brainstormed possible monsters, a werewolf seemed like a visually entertaining choice and something easily recognizable, but I wanted it to be just a bit “off”. I listed traits typically associated with werewolves and then imagined whether or not it could still clearly be a werewolf with one or some of those traits adjusted. ‘Muscular’ as a trait, became ‘portly’ and then when I wrote it up in the script I pushed that even further and told Chris to design the guy with a full blown beer belly.

Nrama: You really start the bloodshed here, which continues on page 5. How'd you decide how much to show, and when to hold back?

Zubkavich: When I look at a page of blood or gore in Skullkickers, I should chuckle, not actually feel sick. That’s the general rule of thumb.

Skullkickers treats its violence in a bit of a cartoonish slapstick way so we can get away with stuff that borders on being disgusting, but it doesn’t feel as harsh because it’s done with a bit of a wink and a grin. Monsters get absolutely mashed but, because it’s not mean-spirited, it’s slightly goofy rather than stomach churning.

Nrama: This new scene gives me a chance to ask about the world Skullkickers takes place in. I see werewolves and swords. Is there sorcery? What can you tell us about this world?

Edwin Huang: The first scene helps ease up a lot of potential storytelling hiccups. Starting with an obviously fictional character like a werewolf instantly gives the reader an idea of what’s possible in the world of Skullkickers.

Zubkavich: Yeah, exactly. The werewolf gives people a clear idea that magical fantasy stuff is the norm. It’s high fantasy from the lowbrow perspective of these two mercenaries. The world the Skullkickers inhabit

is a nasty place packed to the brim with every kind of fantasy monster and flashy sorcerous magic you can imagine.

The vast majority of regular peasants are terrified. They do their best just to keep their head low and go about their lives. The only people who stand out are magical, politically powerful or both. The Skullkickers are the exception to that and they’re so damn cock-sure of themselves they don’t realize that they’re constantly in over their heads.

What exactly is the Skullkickers’ job in this town?

Huang: The Skullkickers are two mercenaries trying to make a quick buck, whether it is ridding the town of a big bad wolf or fighting off a mob of zombies. They’ll even screw the town over if it means making money.

Zubkavich: In short, they’re professional $%^& disturbers. They wander from place to place causing havoc and making as much money as they can without outright brazen stealing.

As the dwarf says later in the issue “...a guard, a thief or a killer if that’s what ye need”.

Nrama: Can you tell us about this Lieutenant they're talking to?

Zubkavich: He runs the city guard in the town where our story begins and he’s incredibly frustrated by the fact that the Skullkickers function outside the law and are killing monsters and assaulting people. Their effectiveness shows how ineffective the guard really is and he’d love to lock them up, but he’s not entirely sure his men could handle it, even if they attacked all at once.

Nrama: Royalty it seems -- who are they?

Huang: Our blond fellow here holds an important role in our Skullkickers’ journey in future issues. He seems a little arrogant but you won’t see much of it after his sloppy entrance.

Zubkavich: In short, the Chancellor is the MacGuffin of the story. His arrival is the catalyst that starts the whole chain of events rolling and gets the Skullkickers wrapped up in something far bigger and more ridiculous

than they could have imagined.

His appearance also hints at a larger capital city that the Skullkickers will see at some future point and a higher level of politics for the kingdom as a whole. It brings the sense of a broader world in to play quickly without making too big a deal of it.

Nrama: These last two panels aren't the first time we've seen you take dramatic advantage of silhouettes to get some moments across. How do you decide when and how to go this route?

Huang: I can’t take full credit for this page. Chris Stevens penciled this one before I took over full penciling duties on the book. The heavy blacks in the last two panels heavily contrast the bright and sunny event going on below. That makes it clear something’s going wrong.

Nrama: This points out the tall Skullkickers talent for seeing things. How would you describe the two guys unique attributes?

Huang: The tall human is built like a rock yet wields a dainty gun. He’s no typical brute; he’s actually the more levelheaded of our duo.

Zubkavich: The human looks like he’d be the bruiser and he’s definitely tough, but he prefers to hang back and use his pistol when he can. Neither of the duo is particularly a tactician, but of the two he’s the ‘brains’ of the operation, trying to think half a step ahead and make a plan.

The dwarf is all rage, emotion; ‘Chop first, ask questions later’. When he gets pissed off, which seems fairly often, he’s the fantasy equivalent of the Tasmanian Devil. I’m having a ton of fun writing his rage-induced dialogue.

Nrama: OUCH! That last panel with the arrow going through the guy's eye. Was that panel what you were aiming for from the beginning, or did it take a little bit of work to figure out this gem?

Zubkavich: In the script I just wrote “Hit him in the neck or face with the arrow. Something horrible looking and painful. We should have no doubt that he’s going to be very dead after this.”

When I got the page back, I knew it was a thing of beauty.

Huang: The bright orange Misty [Coates, colorist] used for the background really helps sell that painful shot.

Nrama: I see the tall Skullkicker wielding a gun, showing there's a little bit of the industrial age in this book. What exactly is the technology level?

Zubkavich: Good question. The pistol is definitely not the norm in this world. The human has a pistol and no one seems to pay it much mind, but it is pretty much unique. Everything else functions on a medieval fantasy mindset.

The world is not industrialized and that pistol is an enigma. We’re not going to cover it in this first story arc but at some point it will be addressed – why does the human have a pistol? Where did he get it? Why doesn’t anyone seem to care that he has this strange piece of tech?

Nrama: Wha-? I know it's meant to be a cliffhanger, but can you tell us anything about this scene leading up to issue 2?

Huang: Expect a clash between our Skullkickers, the grave robbers and their zombie minion there. How the fight ends is pretty interesting, to say the least.

Zubkavich: The simple break and enter job the Skullkickers have been given interrupts someone else’s plans for the corpses in the morgue. Between the assassination and body stealing, our boys are now up to their hips

in this whole thing and will have to fight their way out of it.

Without trying to sound too corny, skulls will be kicked. [laughs]

Do you still play City of Heroes? Have you written any Missions?

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