Writer Jim Zub broke into the comics scene a few years back with his Dungeons and Dragons turned-on-its-head series Skullkickers. Since then, Zub has busied himself with other writing for licensed properties like Samurai Jack for IDW and Shadowman for Valiant. Now, Zub, with artist Steve Cummings, he returns to the world of creator-owned with his new horror series Wayward.
Published by Image, Wayward tells the story of young Rori Lane, who finds herself, and her friends, fighting against monsters and haunting figures of Japanese lore. Newsarama spoke with Zub and Cummings about Wayward, the cultural influences behind the world, and the kind of horror fans can expect from this new series.
Newsarama: Jim, this is your first creator-owned series since Skullkickers. How long has Wayward been rattling in your brain?
Jim Zub: Right after Skullkickers launched I started brainstorming other creator-owned comic concepts, but Wayward is the first one where all the ingredients finally came together and, oddly enough, it’s actually one of the more recent story ideas in the mix. Steve and I started seriously talking about doing a series early last year and I sent him the initial idea for what would become Wayward in mid-July 2013. About a month later Steve sent me the first round of character design sketches and we had a story outline and pitch ready to go by September.
I took it to New York Comic Con last year and showed it to a few publishers before finally settling at Image and beginning production on our first story arc.
Nrama: All the promotional material features a mysterious girl surrounded by cats. Can you tell us a little bit about her?
Zub: The solicit talks about Rori Lane, our touchstone character, but the first cover actually shows another character named Ayane. In any case, Rori is a half-Irish, half-Japanese girl who’s never actually been to Japan. Her mother is Japanese, but Rori grew up in Ireland. The family travelled around for her father's work, but they never went back to Japan. She has Japanese cultural elements her mother has instilled in her – language lessons, cultural lessons, and she’s seen tons of photos – All of that has given her a grounding in what Japan is all about, but no matter how much research she’s done, she has no way of truly understanding it until she experiences the country firsthand.
Once her parents divorced, Rori stayed with her father for a while, but it didn’t work out. In her second year of high school, she moves to Tokyo to be with her mother, and that's where the story begins, with her arriving in Tokyo for the first time. She has expectations about what Japan is, what Japanese culture is and what living with her mother is going to be like but the reality of that, and beyond that, the hyper-reality of the supernatural, takes it all to another level.
Steven Cummings: The interesting thing about Rori is that with a mother who is Japanese she already has a foot in Japan so to speak. And we learn early on that she has studied and learned about Japan while living abroad, but none of that can really prepare her for the culture shock she has when she arrives. Something about a person having culture shock by visiting a country that is an ostensible homeland for them is, for me at least, really intriguing. I think that is what makes her a really interesting "in" for the readers to experience a bit of Japan through.
Nrama: Jim, you've compared Wayward to something in the vein of Buffy. How is it similar, but curiously, what sets it apart?
Zub: The Buffy comparison is shorthand for the general “teenagers fighting monsters” feel of the series. Like in Buffy there’s a group of teens who end up coming together to kick ass. They’re balancing real world problems and supernatural ones. I think Buffy fans will enjoy what we’re building but, beyond that base level of comparison, Wayward really is its own thing.
Japan’s mythic lore is fertile ground for exploration and I think that will help set us apart. Steve and I are building a series where you don’t have to know Japanese mythology or cultural elements to dive right in and understand what’s at stake. The mystery unfolds for Rori just as it does for our readers.
In addition to our characters, Steve is illustrating the streets of Tokyo in incredible detail. From densely packed urban streets, to lush green spaces, historical sites, and off-the-beaten path locales, we want to give readers a sense of scope and texture for one of the most populated cities on the planet.
Wayward will have action, drama, and mystery in exotic locales with some neat twists on mystic powers and monsters you’ve probably never seen before. It’s a bombastic supernatural series about myth, magic, and finding friends who will stand by you against all odds.
Nrama: Now Jim, you've mentioned that you both built the series from the ground up. What is the collaboration process between you two?
Zub: Since this is a creator-owned series we're all pretty hands-on with the process.
With Steve living in Yokohama, a 13-hour time zone difference, the working process is different than on other projects. We try to chat a few times per week via Google Hangout as I'm heading to bed and he's starting his day. It's a good way to touch base and see where everything's at. The first couple issues have involved a lot of back and forth as we build up a working process and understand the characters and world we're putting together.
Steve sends me high resolution raw scans of his pencil line art. I darken it up and remove any scanner scuff marks in Photoshop, then send it to our color flatter, then send the flatted layered file over to John for coloring. Since this is a new series and John and I haven't worked together before, we're slowly getting a pipeline going, figuring out what color schemes and rendering techniques will work best to showcase Steve's wonderfully detailed linework. It's a lot more time-consuming than a work for hire project where the editor shepards the story through production, but that's all part of owning the work.
Cummings: Well initially we were talking about this one picture I drew for the Udon art book VENT which had a girl with a spiky club surrounded by cats, looking down a staircase towards the reader. Jim asked for the story behind the girl in the picture and after telling him about her we went over various ideas to come up with what eventually became Wayward. The magic of the modern internet makes it really easy to talk about ideas or script questions or discuss any changes I want to make to a page in progress. So we do video chats and lots of back and forth emails. It helps he is up at night writing while I am getting up in the morning here in Japan. But the process is a simple back and forth with questions and suggestions.
Nrama: When writing Wayward, were you more inspired by things like Buffy or more of Japanese horror films? Also, Steve, what were some of your inspirations when designing things?
Zub: For me it’s a pretty wide range – mythology research, monster movies, martial arts films, teen dramas, urban explorer journals, a bit of manga (though not as much as you might expect since we’re not trying to make a manga series or use those well-worn tropes), and my own travel experiences in Japan.
Cummings: I am foremost inspired by the very normal world around me. That is what I find the most interesting and that is what I want to try to imbue the pages with. I have always found extraordinary things being done in ordinary settings to be the some how more exciting for some reason so that's probably why I put so much work into backgrounds and environments. When I design I try to find references to fashion that might make the characters seem more grounded in when and where they are supposed to be. But when it comes to the supernatural monsters that start to appear in Wayward the normal world doesn't really help me and I end up looking at historical ideas for much of the designs.
Nrama: Jim, you mentioned Steve's attention to detail, but did you guys have to do an insane amount of research to get the imagery just right or have either of you been a fan of Japanese monsters and lore and knew what you wanted?
Zub: Steve and I are both big fans of Japanese mythology, so we started with that and then did more research from there. In addition my friend (and fellow writer) Brandon Seifert put me in touch with Zack Davisson, who is a well of knowledge when it comes to Japanese myth and monster lore. Zack’s been offering helpful feedback on my outline and scripts and will be writing mini-essays in the back of each issue about Japanese myths, creatures, and society. You can see his website dedicated to Japanese myths right here: http://hyakumonogatari.com/
Last week I read the draft of Zack’s essay that’ll be in our first issue, titled “Welcome To Weird Japan” and it’s really great. I think readers are going to love it.
Cummings: Japan's mythology and folklore is pretty well-documented. It's also used and reused in literature, manga, anime, you name it. So we have a wealth of sources to draw from but we only just start with what information we find because ultimately we are making these creatures our own versions.
Nrama: Speaking of the monsters, what sort of creatures can we expect from Wayward? Are there any original concepts?
Zub: The first issue has a twisted take on a classic, the kappa (turtle men) from Japanese lore. Future issues have all kinds of monsters, spirits, and shapeshifters. Violent, innocent, or just downright strange... all kinds of good stuff.
We do have new elements we're bringing into the story. Our teen protagonists have their own secrets and some of them have powers/abilities that will help keep things interesting and unexpected as the story unfolds.
Cummings: Jim and I have discussed a few creatures for potential use in the second arc that are based less on the canon of Japanese folk creatures. I don't want to spoil anything for our readers other than to say it will be epic. But the first arc has great stuff in it, Kappas, Kitsune beasts (fox-like creatures) and a handful of other baddies. But our heroes also have some craziness hidden inside them so it's a wild ride!
Nrama: Does Wayward lean towards more the "spooky" like, say, the Courtney Crumrin series over at Oni, or is it full-on horror?
Zub: If I had to pick between those two I'd say it's more towards horror. The first couple issues are more "monster of the week" kind of threats but each issue gets a bit more unsettling as we move through the story and the stakes get deeper.
Cummings: I think horror is closer, too but for me this is a supernatural story with lots of action and lots of Japanese monsters. A real modern-day fairy tale with dark overtones at times.
Nrama: Lastly, what are you hoping fans get out of something like Wayward?
Zub: I hope readers discover engaging new characters worth rooting for and are intrigued by the bigger ideas we're going to unveil about myths in the modern world. If they learn something new about Japanese culture and ghost stories at the same time, even better.
Cummings: I hope our readers can see a different side of Japan while we explore its legendary creatures. Lots of creepy icky things that occasionally wield swords!