Saturday, 16 June 2012

Pathfinder Comic Interview With Writer Jim Zubkavich



I want to say a big thanks to Paizo Publishing for allowing me the opportunity to talk to Jim Zubkavich about the upcoming Pathfinder Comic series.
Read below to see what information I managed to get from him about the series and his own style as a writer and RPG gamer. 




Hi Jim, thanks for giving us this opportunity to find out a little more about the Pathfinder comic book series coming this August initially to Gen Con Indy, then in shops later that month.

You'd had some previous experience with Eric Mona (head of Paizo) for him to know you were the right man for the job hadn't you? Tell us how you met him.
Erik and I have known each other for several years. I work at the UDON studio as a Project Manager, handling the studio’s freelance projects with game, comic, movie and advertising clients. Paizo hired the UDON crew to create artwork for both Dungeon & Dragon magazine titles when they were licensing them from Wizard of the Coast, so we got to know each other through those art projects. Since then, we’ve seen each other at conventions and kept in contact. I really feel like we see eye to eye on the gaming and entertainment business.



Your approach to Golarion and the characters of the world obviously won them over (Paizo Publishing and Dynamite Entertainment) in your pitch - but what was that angle? What defines your approach, your take on this? A theme? Something else?
I stressed that the comic needed to be about characters, first and foremost, not just info dumping on the vast and complex setting Paizo has created. I also made it clear I wanted to create a comic that was completely new reader friendly and didn’t require prior knowledge of the game or fiction line in order to work. Thankfully both of those aspects fell right in line with what Paizo wanted too.



As a writer yet tabletop RPG gamer yourself, how often do you find you're able to get round the table with others and play a session of something these days?
It’s pretty rare nowadays, unfortunately. My work and travel schedule is intense and a weekly gaming session doesn’t work well, especially during summer convention season. I still pull together friends for the occasional one-off or multi-session RPG session. Other times, we’ll have big board game nights at my place. I still have a lot of love for gaming.


Also as a writer you're used to having directive control over plot. Do you tend towards Games Mastering RPG sessions? Or does it work the other way, a sort of relief factor of time off from creative design letting others GM it?
I’m a GM at heart. I can’t help it. I grew up as a player, letting other people dictate the stories but, by the time I was in high school, I was almost always the person running games for my friends. No matter how much I want to just play the game, I can’t help but start thinking about how I’d run things and ways to work with the plot material. The storytelling bug has got me bad.



Have you ever considered using real tabletop gaming events or characters as inspiration for stories? I say that, because I've done the same in writing and had exciting dynamics of unexpected character death that doesn't feel "written".
Some smaller stuff has definitely crept into my work – funny lines, bizarre action scenes and the occasional amusing NPC. The spontaneity that comes from gaming is a great way to get creative juices flowing.

I think RPGing is important as a storytelling exercise but that just writing sessions as fiction isn’t necessarily a good approach. It has to be refined and adapted, using the strength of each medium properly.




The characters in the story will already be familiar to pathfinder fans won't they, why?
They’re very familiar visually since the iconic characters in the comic are on the cover and interior art for almost every Pathfinder product since the game started in 2008, but their personalities and histories have never been defined. It’s a really unique challenge working with characters who are simultaneously familiar but unknown to fans.



Could you introduce us to the party as if you were a friend of theirs summing them up?
Valeros is a mercenary fighter who has disobeyed orders so many times he's not quite sure how to be loyal to anything or anyone. His courage and temper make him a formidable and dangerous warrior.

Seoni is a mysterious sorcerer whose tattooed body and mystical dreams make those who first meet her wary of her power. Strangers may call her a barbarian based on appearance, but her keen strategic mind gives her a distinctive edge in battle.

Merisiel is an elven rogue whose glib banter and flashing smile lead people to assume that she's unintelligent and shallow. Her fears and long-lived life drive her in ways few will ever understand.

Ezren is a middle-aged man who came to wizardry quite late in life. The march of time mixed with his desire for knowledge keeps him pushing himself to new limits.

Harsk is a quiet and contemplative dwarven ranger with deeply-sown seeds of vengeance and anger buried under the surface.

Kyra is a battle-hardened cleric of Sarenrae who will stop at nothing to destroy evil, constantly testing her faith and will against those around her.





Pathfinder already has a particular artistic style in its visual renderings. It's very vibrant and almost looks like a comic book already. I suppose you knew your artist was going to have to remain consistent to that vision?
Yeah, absolutely. Having that really strong visual design already clearly established in the game books makes it easy to build the story within the world. The reference material is extensive.



You found Andrew Huerta (artist for this comic) via his deviantart gallery. Why did you end up using him in particular?
I sent links to the portfolios of several different online artists I’d been keeping an eye on to Dynamite and Paizo. After a couple test pages Andrew’s art really jumped out and Paizo chose him to draw the series. The final decision wasn’t up to me, but I put his name forward because I really liked his work. There was a really nice balance of dynamic and stylized art with strong storytelling chops.



Which way round do Dynamite handle the comic creation process? Do you submit a rough outline which is then drawn with dialogue being entered in last (the Marvel method)? Or do you submit the whole script through to Andrew?
I write full script and then make minor dialogue adjustments after art is submitted. I’m pretty anal about the story building process and that’s the way I prefer to work. I always start with a general outline and build the main story “beats”, major plot points that need to be covered. Then I break things down by issue and, after that, by page before I start scripting. I’m quite methodical about it so I have a solid plan in place before I script individual scenes or dialogue.



Are there any places where you feel Andrew has brought his own take to the series, any ideas submitted by him - tweaks to lines or perhaps the look of certain characters? Or elements that when drawn have a perspective to them that you hadn't previously considered? Or is it kept very close to your initial vision?
My background is in art and animation so I always ‘visualize’ the scenes in my head when I write them, but I don’t expect the artist to draw exactly what I’ve described. There’s always a surprise when I crack open the latest pages to see what the artist has done. I mean that in a good way though. It’s all part and parcel of collaborating. I want the artist to put their own spin on it as long as it fits with the script and tells the story well.

Andrew’s attention to detail is great. He puts in all kinds of extra background elements and big expressions into his pages.



Is this comic run intended as a limited story arc or will it be ongoing?
Dynamite has solicited it as ongoing, so my fingers are crossed that we get a big healthy run on it.


The first issue will be bumper sized won't it? What does that help you accomplish as a writer concerned with pacing and character introduction?
The story portion is 22 pages, but Dynamite and Paizo are including extra story and game material in the back to make it a real deal and grab the Pathfinder fans. It’s going to be a pretty sweet package.



If somebody isn't a current player of the Pathfinder game, will they still find accessibility within the comic?
Absolutely. That was absolutely core to my initial pitch. I didn’t want it to push away potential fans with confusing back story. It says “issue #1” on the cover and that should clearly mean “start here”.


What about the veterans out there who will have the title pre-ordered and on standing order? How much implementation and exploration of their game world can they expect?
Getting really clear visuals on places and creatures, seeing all kinds of subtle back story woven into the main plot and, of course, great character, NPC and adventure ideas will make it a fulfilling ride for Pathfinder fans.


What other projects can we find you in currently?
I’m probably best known for my sword & sorcery send-up comic series Skullkickers, being published by Image Comics. You can start reading the story online right here:
http://skullkickers.keenspot.com/d/20120106.html

I’m also doing a surreal-mystery graphic novel with UDON called The Makeshift Miracle, also available online:
http://makeshiftmiracle.keenspot.com/d/20110926.html

In addition to those two projects, I’m writing some original content for Bandai-Namco, the video game company. It’s a busy time right now!




Do you think you'd ever consider writing module adventure books for the system of Pathfinder if they asked, given your gaming roots?
Pacing a module and building encounters is storytelling, but it’s a different set of skills. I’d be interested but I have to admit it would be quite intimidating, especially when there are so may experienced RPG writers already at Paizo.



Finally, any last comments or words you would like to add about the series that you want us to know in the run up to its release?
The Pathfinder comic is going to be fantasy done “right” – great characters, big adventure and a fun ride. I hope people get on board and try it out when it’s released in August.


Thanks for joining us Jim, good luck with the Pathfinder comic! I'll look forward to reading it soon.
Thank you.


Follow the man at these places:



Twitter    @jimzub
Blog       http://www.jimzub.com
UDON       http://www.udoncomics.com



Now kick back and enjoy some preview art pages for the comic: