Meet the Skullkickers.
They’re two un-named but unforgettable medieval mercenaries who are high on making money but short-tempered when it comes to magic. This trouble-making soldiers-of-fortune are in what their creators describe as “sword & sass-ary”, and this series comes off two popular story appearances in the second and third installments of Image’s Popgun anthology.
The new Image series Skullkickers is coming by way of writer Jim Zubkavich and newcomer artist Edwin Huang. While Huang is starting his freshmen year in comics having just graduated art school, Zubkavich is a long-time comics veteran having written the OGN Makeshift Miracle in 2007 and currently writing the new Street Fighter Legends: Ibuki miniseries for UDON, where he also serves as the company’s Project Manager.
Announced today in advance of the solicitation of the first issue in this month’s Previews, Newsarama.com talked to series creator & writer about the book which is scheduled to debut on September 22nd.
Newsarama: Jim, what can you tell us about Skullkickers?
Jim Zubkavich: Skullkickers is a fantasy-action comic with a sarcastic streak. It’s a loving homage to the adventure stories that inspired me as a kid rammed headlong in to the reality of how the stories would actually play out if no-nonsense warriors were put in those situations.
The horrible pun I’ve been using to describe it is ‘Sword & Sass-ary’. I know that’s groan-worthy, but I can’t help it.
I grew up obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons, fantasy novels and magic/mythology/supernatural-centric superheroes. Being able to revisit some of those broader ideas and come up with something energetic and fun is a real dream project for me. Fantasy as a genre has really seen a resurgence over the past few years and I couldn’t be happier.
Nrama: Can you tell us more about the two mercenaries at the center of the book?
Zubkavich: The two main characters are actually nameless so far, which is a bit of a challenge, but it plays in to their role as iconic ass-kickers; the fantasy equivalent of the Man With No Name.
One is a stocky human who wields a gun (which is an item out of its time in this world, but no one seems to notice that for some strange reason...). While neither would be considered an intellectual, he’s basically the brains of the operation.
The other is a trouble-making dwarf who talks in a near-Scottish brogue. His axes are never far from his grip. He chops first and asks questions later.
They’re thieves, bodyguards, assassins, hooligans – whatever’s required of them in order to pull off the job at hand. I want to evoke one part Conan and another part Army of Darkness with these two guys.
Nrama: Why are these two mercenaries together? What's their relationship like?
Zubkavich: Hmmm... I’d equate it to partners in crime. It’s a world of scared peasants under the oppression of a thousand different types of corrupted evil. Each of these guys is the only person they’ve found who deals with problems the same way they do – by not being afraid and beating it to a pulp.
Nrama: Can you tell us about what the two mercenaries are going up against?
Zubkavich: I don’t want to tip my hand too much, but what they think is a simple smash-and-grab operation to get back the corpse of a foreign dignitary from the town morgue turns in to something much more dangerous and undead-ly than they anticipated. Big baddies and hijinks ensue.
Nrama: You've got werewolves, skeletons, and black magic here - is anything supernatural off limits?
Zubkavich: No sparkly vampires? Hmmm, on second thought it might be good to have our duo stomp some of those in to mush.
Honestly, I could see all kinds of creatures being fair game depending on how we delivered it – Cthulian nightmare kinda stuff, mummies, giant sea monsters, mutant slugs... this muddy fantasy world is having a rough time when it comes to monster infestations.
Mind you, I don’t want to rip through the pantheon of monster goodness too quickly. There are so many fun mythological concepts to explore, especially if we can twist them up a bit and surprise the reader.
One thing I can say is that our main characters aren’t wielding magic of their own. They hate sorcery and fight their way through it with a combination of dumb luck and pure grit.
Nrama: How'd the idea for what became Skullkickers develop in your mind?
Zubkavich: The book grew out of a couple short stories that appeared in Image’s Popgun 2 and 3 anthology volumes. Chris Stevens (the original artist on those short stories) wanted to do a bit for Popgun and when I asked him what the subject matter should be, he told me he wanted to draw fun fantasy stuff. With that detailed description, I brainstormed a concept called ‘Two Copper Pieces’ that centered around two ruthless mercenaries who slay monsters to make money in a backwater fantasy world. The original idea seemed like a really straight forward one-off, but after it wrapped up I started coming up with a lot more ways those two characters could get wrapped up in action-fantasy capers and it quickly grew from there.
The series proposal went in to Image and was enthusiastically approved, but personal stuff got in the way and Chris had to back out of drawing the comic. I’ve been working in animation, comics and video games for the past seven years and I’ve seen a lot of projects implode so I was sad, but moved on to other projects.
I’d honestly given up on the book ever happening until I discovered an up and coming penciler named Edwin Huang. Edwin and I connected over e-mail and he liked the concept enough to take a crack at it. Everyone involved was blown away when he started sending in sample pages, and the next thing I knew he’s picked up the torch and we were back on track; Skullkickers lived again.
Chris is back on supplying cover art for the series and we have another newcomer named Misty Coats providing amazing colors on the book. All in all, it’s a killer art team and I feel very lucky to have it all rolling out the way it is as they bring the story to life.
Nrama: Do you plan this as an ongoing or miniseries?
Zubkavich: The first story arc is five action-packed issues. Assuming Edwin’s arms don’t explode and Misty is having fun too I’m hoping they’ll be up for more beyond that. The stories are there, certainly, and I'm eager to tell them. I hope people sign on for the ride and have as much fun reading the book as I've had creating it.
Nrama: You're best known for being one of the main guys at UDON, and writing some of the licensed titles they put out. What's it like to break out into something you created where the only boss is yourself?
Zubkavich: Working at UDON is fantastic. I love digging in to the variety of licensed projects the company is involved with. Licensed properties like Street Fighter are amazing because they have the name brand recognition and media backing that everyone wants to be associated with. It hits all the right notes with a 12 year old me who wanted to work in comics and video games. The studio has been edging its way towards developing original properties and I’m excited about that possible future but I also have ideas that don’t fit with the company’s brand and art aesthetic.
I’ve had Skullkickers brewing at Image for a while and they’ve been excited about it from the get-go, so when Eric Stephenson gave it the thumbs up I jumped on. Doing this book is a chance to cut loose and write something that’s completely mine, with all the potential for success and disaster that comes with it. It’s a creative boot to my skull and it energizes me.
I think every creator should balance those two things – commercial and creative. Licensed work teaches you a lot as you learn from the framework and ideas other people have brought to the table. Original work gives you a chance to indulge your own whims. They’re both great, in proper moderation.
Nrama: Do you plan on doing more creator-owned work in the future?
Zubkavich: Absolutely. I have other story concepts that have been slowly bubbling up over the years and I finally feel like they’re within reach – gritty adventure, romantic-comedy, black-humored horror. Finding the right collaborators who love what they do and companies willing to champion a book they believe in will give those ideas wings.