The Skullkickers are back — and this time, we're getting personal.
After a short break following its first arc, Jim Zubkavich is ready to bring back his two rough-and-tumble magical fighters back into the spotlight. Following the first six issues — starring a hot-blooded dwarf and his straight-man giant of a partner — Zubkavich has combined mysticism, swashbuckling, an epic arrow shot to the head, a knife wound giving someone's leg sentience and a heaping handful of explanatory sound effects.
Now that the Skullkickers have been celebrated as the Heroes of Mudwich, that doesn't mean their hapless misadventures are finished just yet. With the sophomore arc of their adventures due out on May 25, we caught up with Zubkavich to talk about what makes his nameless characters tick, his collaboration with artists Edwin Huang and Misty Coats, and why is now the best time to finally give this pair names of their own.
Newsarama: Jim, just to start off with — how have you felt about the reaction that Skullkickers has gotten, just in terms of its first six issues?
Jim Zubkavich: Honestly, it’s been a great start. It’s a crazy time for creator-owned comics and I’m proud to be putting out a book in the midst of such an exciting transitional period.
When I look at how many different comics are launching lately and the sheer amount of content that’s being produced in the industry month after month, it’s amazing to me that we’ve been able to get the momentum we have and are slowly building solid word of mouth. I think a big part of that has been thanks to our consistent shipping and having a value priced first trade paperback that makes it easy for new readers to jump on board and see what the buzz has been about.Skullkickers #7
variant cover.Nrama: For those who haven't been following the adventures of your two nameless protagonists, how would you describe the world of Skullkickers to a prospective reader?
Zubkavich: I tend to describe Skullkickers as “a buddy cop movie slammed into Conan the Barbarian.” It’s fantasy hi-jinks and a touch of black-hearted violence that moves at a rapid pace with a healthy balance of action and sass. This isn’t Lord of the Rings-style sword & sorcery, Skullkickers is entertaining low brow high fantasy.
Nrama: Our heroes have had a decent run of things right now, and they're currently the Heroes of Mudwich. What's next on their agenda, and how do you plan on escalating the stakes past what you've already done?
Zubkavich: These two monster-mashing mercenaries don’t think too far ahead, so they’re almost completely caught up in drinking deep into their rewards as they arrive in Urbia, the capital city of this region. They may not have actually earned their heroic accolades, but they’ll happily go along with other people’s ignorance of reality. What they don’t realize is that they’re getting themselves embroiled in a whole new level of trouble. The capital city has layers of politics, gangs and mystic threats that are looking to use them for their own ends.
At its heart, Skullkickers is a love letter to the fantasy novels I grew up with told with an extra sarcastic slant as it bulldozes through traditional ideas of how these stories are supposed to go. The first arc set a base line of how these two guys work, and now we’re expanding that to a larger world as we set the stage to deconstruct the whole “heroes of destiny”-style storyline.
Nrama: Is it too early to discuss the villains of the piece? I'm curious what kind of threat the Skullkickers are going to have to face this time.
Zubkavich: Not at all. This second story arc gives me a chance to play with a host of new enemies for the dungeon duo to face off against: ruffians, nobles, pit-fighting monsters, bloodthirsty faerie folk and the city guard, amongst others. It’s going to be a fun mass of trouble.
Nrama: I understand that you'll be actually revealing the names of your two protagonists in this arc? I know I'd simply been calling them Shorty and Baldy — what made this the right time to give these guys names?
Zubkavich: When Skullkickers was just a couple short stories in Popgun or a mini-series it was part of a simple “Man With No Name” mentality. These two jackasses would roll into town, kill monsters and leave without ever formally introducing themselves to the townsfolk. It was a joke and in that original structure it worked fine. Now that things have grown and we’re looking at sticking around for a longer haul, I’ve gotten more ambitious with what we can do for the overall story and that “nameless” gimmick doesn’t work as well. Before it got tired or impeded our ability to tell the story, I wanted to establish those names and move on, focus on the plot and characters instead of worrying about continually implementing the gimmick.
Nrama: Looking back at the initial go-round of Skullkickers, have there been any moments that you've been most proud of, or maybe even pleasantly surprised by?
Zubkavich: I know it may sound odd, but putting out 6 issues and a trade in 7 months was a big achievement for everyone involved with the book. This industry has become so complacent with late shipping and I wanted to show that we could do what we said we were going to do - to retailers, to readers and to our publisher. Maybe they don’t appreciate that as much because they’re focused on the next big Marvel/DC event, but I hope it’s something we become known for and that more people show their support for. I feel really strongly about being professional and delivering the goods. When we had a print date on January 2nd for issue 5 and it looked like we were going to miss it because of Christmas and New Year’s, we all burned the midnight oil and made it happen. Just because the book is comedic doesn’t mean that we’re not serious about doing a good job and delivering it on time.
Beyond that, I’ve been absolutely thrilled with meeting our readers at conventions. The reaction we’ve been getting with the trade has been great and it really does help recharge my batteries.
Nrama: How's working with Edwin Huang and Misty Coats been working out? What do you feel they bring to the table, and how do you think they've grown since Issue #1?
Zubkavich: Edwin and Misty have been an absolute joy to work with. They’re professionals through and through. Ask anyone in this industry and they’ll tell you that quality and communication are both required to really excel in this business and they both deliver on that in spades. They schedule themselves well, they stay on top of the work, they’re eager and energized and they want to make the book the best it can be. I hope that every book I work on in the future has people as dedicated as Edwin and Misty. If I had a half dozen people like them, I’d Kirkman this place like no tomorrow. Yup, “Kirkman” just became a verb.
Nrama: Finally, for those who still aren't sold on Skullkickers — last chance, what do you say to sell them on this book?
Zubkavich: Skullkickers is like Army of Darkness with two “Ash” characters so they can banter and argue with each other. It’s an action-packed, continuity-free ride and you can get on board the series with a $9.99 trade paperback and $2.99 issues, each one jammed from cover to cover with great art, a fun story and entertaining extras.
I hear comic fans complain all the time that the series they used to love are joyless, too expensive and constantly shipping late. We kick all three of those targets in nuts and we’re creator-owned to boot, so your support and enthusiasm means the world to us. Go get the first trade and you’ll see.Visit Newsarama on FACEBOOK and TWITTER and tell us what you think!