The Corner Box

The Corner Box S1Ep46 - The Jim Zub Interview: Avengers, Conan and Beyond!

June 25, 2024 David & John Season 1 Episode 46
The Corner Box S1Ep46 - The Jim Zub Interview: Avengers, Conan and Beyond!
The Corner Box
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The Corner Box
The Corner Box S1Ep46 - The Jim Zub Interview: Avengers, Conan and Beyond!
Jun 25, 2024 Season 1 Episode 46
David & John

Episode Summary

On this episode of The Corner Box, Jim Zub, joins hosts John Barber and David Hedgecock in Part 2 of this conversation to talk about Jim’s history with Conan, becoming known as a writer, his 18-year pitch, what it takes to write effortlessly, and the exciting future of Conan.

 

Timestamp Segments

·       [00:58] Jim can’t be Jim.

·       [02:34] Making money from comics.

·       [05:34] Jim’s first published credit.

·       [07:18] Becoming a writer.

·       [18:11] Jim’s 18-year pitch.

·       [21:44] The Adventures of Conan.

·       [29:21] Channeling Robert E Howard.

·       [32:30] The Conan team.

·       [38:57] Did Conan write himself?

·       [44:57] Plans for extra issues.

 

Notable Quotes

·       “We’re the only book in the Top 50 that’s not Marvel, DC, or Image.”

·       “I can write a little bit like Two-Gun Bob, but I work very hard on it.”

·       “The next writer of the Avengers, 99% of readership’s sticking around for that book. They don’t care if you’re the writer or not.”

 

Relevant Links

You can see what Jim Zub is up to on his site:
www.jimzub.com

David is having a Fun Time. Let's GO!
Fun Time Go, Inc.

John is helping PugW take over the comic world!
https://www.pugworldwide.com/

For transcripts and show notes:
www.thecornerbox.club

Show Notes Transcript

Episode Summary

On this episode of The Corner Box, Jim Zub, joins hosts John Barber and David Hedgecock in Part 2 of this conversation to talk about Jim’s history with Conan, becoming known as a writer, his 18-year pitch, what it takes to write effortlessly, and the exciting future of Conan.

 

Timestamp Segments

·       [00:58] Jim can’t be Jim.

·       [02:34] Making money from comics.

·       [05:34] Jim’s first published credit.

·       [07:18] Becoming a writer.

·       [18:11] Jim’s 18-year pitch.

·       [21:44] The Adventures of Conan.

·       [29:21] Channeling Robert E Howard.

·       [32:30] The Conan team.

·       [38:57] Did Conan write himself?

·       [44:57] Plans for extra issues.

 

Notable Quotes

·       “We’re the only book in the Top 50 that’s not Marvel, DC, or Image.”

·       “I can write a little bit like Two-Gun Bob, but I work very hard on it.”

·       “The next writer of the Avengers, 99% of readership’s sticking around for that book. They don’t care if you’re the writer or not.”

 

Relevant Links

You can see what Jim Zub is up to on his site:
www.jimzub.com

David is having a Fun Time. Let's GO!
Fun Time Go, Inc.

John is helping PugW take over the comic world!
https://www.pugworldwide.com/

For transcripts and show notes:
www.thecornerbox.club

Welcome to The Corner Box, where we talk about comics as an industry and an art form. You never know where the discussion will go or who will show up to join host David Hedgecock and John Barber. Between them, they've spent decades writing, drawing, lettering, coloring, editing, editor-in-chiefing, and publishing comics. If you want to know the behind-the-scenes secrets, the highs and lows, the ins and outs of the best artistic medium in the world, then listen in and join us on The Corner Box.

 

[00:31] John Barber: Hey. This is John Barber welcoming you back to The Corner Box. With me, as always, is my friend, David Hedgecock. Hi, John. I'm David Hedgecock. Wait, no. He's not actually here right now. This is me recording an intro because we went long last time, and it's a two-parter here. We are back with more of our really fun interview, with Jim Zub. Hope you enjoy it.

 

[00:58] Jim Zub: I remember going out for dinner one night with Scott and Lea Hernandez, and James Kochalka, of all people. It was a weird spread of people, and Lea looks over at me at one point, and we're chatting, and she’d just met me, and she goes, “Okay, so Jim,” and I said, “Yeah?” She goes, “the problem is, you can't be Jim,” and I was like, “What do you mean?” And she goes, “Well, there's already too many Jims in comics.” I said, “Okay.” She goes, “you want to be a name that when people just say it casually, everyone knows who you are.” She said, “so, when people say Jim, they think Jim Lee. If you're in the industry, and you casually say Jim, everyone knows you mean Jim Lee, and if it was the 80s, then it would be Jim Shooter.” I was like, “okay.” She said, “you're not Jim anymore.” I was like, “I guess, I'm not Jim anymore.” She goes, “if you say Neil, you mean Neil Gaiman. Formerly, it would be Neal Adams, but now Gaiman has eclipsed him. If you say Frank, you mean Frank Miller. If you're like, ‘I was out for drinks with Frank last night.’” I went, “Oh, okay,” and she goes, “so, what are we going to call you?” I said, “Well, when I was in residence, there were three Jims, so I just went by Zub,” and she goes, “Zub is perfect. No one will ever take that.”

So, then I was just Zub. I would get introduced to people, first as Zub, to the point where people wouldn't know my name was Jim, and it just stuck to a point where now, even at Marvel, I remember I was at one of those summits, and everyone's talking about big Marvel projects and Tom Brevoort, the executive editor's like, “All right. So, Zub will handle this,” and I'm thinking, “that's the casual name my friends call me, but now it's my professional handle.” So, it's very odd how it transitioned off it.

 

[02:34] David Hedgecock: It seems like that was a pretty formative time, in terms of you changing your mindset, from “comics are an unattainable, unreachable goal” to “Hey. Actually, people are making comics, and Scott McCloud says I'm in comics if I'm making comics. So, maybe I can do this.”

 

[02:52] Jim: I could make stuff, but it wasn't going to pay my bills.

 

[02:55] David: Okay, so this was the evolution of the thinking. So, now you're at a point where “I can make this and have some fun with it, and people might pay a little bit of attention to what I'm doing.”

 

[03:05] Jim: But I'm going to this Comic Con, and I'm losing money, and there's no way I could possibly do this as an actual career, and at the time, I was living in Calgary, Alberta. I had moved for this studio job, and then that crumbled. I moved to Halifax for another animation studio job, and while I was in Halifax, I finished Makeshift Miracle, because I had to start a middle and an end, and that was one of the things that Scott liked about it. It wasn't a gag strip. It was a narrative, and there was a plan, and I finished it, and I learned a lot. I literally taught myself Photoshop and a bunch of other things while I was doing it, and I taught myself HTML, and I made this website, and by the end of it, I was like, “Oh, now I can make something that's semi-professional looking.” I don't know that I would ever get it published, but I've got this thing, and I was like, “now I've got this audience. I'm going to make my real comic,” and then fear just took over, because I was like, “now it has to be amazing.”

Previously, when I didn't understand what I was doing, or I wasn't plugged into the industry, I could just make a thing fearlessly, because I didn't know any better. There's the glorious ignorance of “just do the thing,” and now I felt like I had to make something seminal. I don't know. I didn't know what the hell I was thinking, and so, I froze up after I made that first book, and didn't know what to do next, and I was working in animation. I was paying down my debts, and I'll just focus on this for a little while, and I came back to Ontario when my next studio job crumbled, and I thought I was going to go back to school for 3D animation, but one of my old friends, he was working at an art studio called UDON, and they were doing all sorts of artwork.

They were an illustration studio in Toronto. They were doing toy design and storyboards, and concept art, and comics. They were doing a bunch of coloring for Marvel, and they would do ad artwork and covers, and all sorts of funky stuff, and he was doing work for them for real comics, real publishing, and I was in awe that this was even possible, but it was a really cool thing to be able to do, and so, what I did was, I showed him a bunch of my work, and he showed me how they were coloring comics for Marvel, and the process and the layers, and how they were using Photoshop, and it was way beyond the stuff that I had been doing, but I learned a ton just looking over his files, and then I got a summer job coloring comic books.

 

[05:28] David: They gave you a job coloring comic books?

 

[05:30] Jim: Yeah.

 

[05:31] David: Were you working on Marvel stuff?

 

[05:33] Jim: No. This is the most hilarious thing. My very first published credit in comics is, drum roll, please, Conan the Barbarian. So, what happened was, Dark Horse had the Conan license, and they were reprinting the Marvel stuff, but they were worried about using the original colors, because it was so flat and simple, and so, the digital coloring was all the rage, and so, they wanted this liquid, digital chameleon look, like in the Image books, and all those things. So, UDON was one of the companies that was recoloring a bunch of comics, and they got the contract to recolor a bunch of old Conan comics, and I was available. So, my very first published credit, still with Jim Zubkavich, is Chronicles of Conan, and I colored three issues of Conan the Barbarian, Barry Windsor Smith stuff.

 

[06:28] David: Nice. That doesn't suck, having to color Barry Windsor Smith.

 

[06:33] Jim: Well, it's very early Barry, but no, I mean, it was golden for me. I couldn't believe I got to do this. So, that was my first published credit, was three issues of Conan, and the funniest part is that one of the issues I colored was Frost Giant's daughter, which is this incredibly classic Conan story, which now, this summer, I'm going to be doing my own take on Frost Giant's daughter in the new Conan series.

 

[07:01] David: Spoilers.

 

[07:02] Jim: It's in solicits, and now I write Conan the Barbarian. I'm the flagship writer of Conan.

 

[07:10] David: Yeah. You’re the Conan guy, now.

 

[07:12] Jim: It is so surreal. My first comic credit is Conan.

 

[07:18] David: When did you decide to move from the art side to the writing story side?

 

[07:23] Jim: Becoming a lazy writer. I was doing coloring, and it was a lot of fun. At UDON, I eventually became an art director and a project manager. I was an editor. I just got to learn all the different pieces. I did some lettering. I did lot of editorial. I did some illustration work.

 

[07:40] John: You did some work with Marvel on Custom Comics. That's where we reentered each other's lives again.

 

[07:47] Jim: That's right, yeah, doing all different stuff over there, and what happened was, at UDON, they were usually just doing the art end of things, but every so often, a client would want them to do the full package, to do the writing, and whether it's a custom comic, like John was saying with the ad comics, or it would just be some concept package, they had a byline, and they were like, “we just need some cool words to go with this concept art.” There was one other writer guy, and he was the go-to, this guy, Ken, and he was writing the Street Fighter comics that UDON was doing, and so, I really wanted to write, but I didn't feel like there was any place for me to do that at UDON at the time, and then Ken got married, and then his wife had all sorts of complications with her pregnancy, and so, he basically dropped all of his projects in order to take care of her, understandably, and all of a sudden, we had a client job come in that required writing, and I just jumped up and said, “I'll do it,” and my boss was like, “Okay. Put it together this weekend. We're going to send it in without any credits on it, and if they accept it, then you're the writer,” and so, I just snaked my way in there on my first writing. That client came back and said, “This is even better than the last stuff,” and then my boss was like, “I guess, you're the writer.”

So, all of a sudden, I started doing writing projects for them, and I really loved it. I loved interacting with the art teams. I loved interacting with the clients. I loved doing story development, and being able to be at that genesis of those ideas was really powerful, and so, I was managing all these projects that they did at UDON studio. I was learning how everything was made. I understood conventions, and I could make budgets, and I could do contracts, and it was really powerful stuff, in terms of understanding publishing, but was very few chances for me to be creative, and I totally lost my own creator-owned, making things. I was just, “I'm paying down all my debts. I'm going to save up and get a house. I'm a responsible adult. I don't have time for dreamy, make-my-own things,” and then one of the artists that I worked with at UDON, Joe Keatinge, was doing an anthology at Image, called Popgun, and it was this catch-all, everything, kitchen sink anthology that Image was doing, these big telephone books of just big-name artists and nobodies, doing whatever the hell they want on the page, and he loved the artwork of this guy, Chris Stevens, who I worked with at UDON.

So, he reached out to Chris and just said, “Do you want to do a story in Popgun, my anthology,” and Chris contacted me, and he said, “Is it okay if I do this?” I'm like, “You're not on an exclusive contract with us. You can do whatever you want. Just hit your deadlines on your regular work,” and he said, “Well, cool.” So, he contacted Joe and said, “What do you want me to draw?” And they said, “no. We don't have a script for you. Do whatever you want,” and so, Chris comes back to me, and he goes, “they want me to do whatever I want.” I was like, “Cool. What are you going to do?” And he goes, “I have no idea,” and so, on the phone, we just brainstormed a bunch of stuff, and he loves sword and sorcery, and so, we brainstormed a stupid sword and sorcery story, and he's like, “cool, man,” and I said, “go make it and just give me a special thanks or whatever,” and a day later, Chris called me back, and he goes, “it was really funny what we were talking about on the phone, and I tried to write it down, and none of it makes any sense. Will you just write it?” And I said, “Sure,” and I wrote this story called Two Copper Pieces, and that's the first Skullkickers story.

Chris illustrated these 10 pages of this kooky story, and Erik Larsen, who was publisher at Image, saw it and loved it, and Larsen reached out to me directly, not knowing many years earlier, he told me my sample pages sucked, and he reached out to me, and he said, “this is fantastic. Do you guys want to do a regular comic?” All of a sudden, I had an Image offer. It was this gravity pull, you would not believe, that just said, “you can make things. You are not just executing other people's IPs. You are not just the widget getting things done. You can create something.”

 

[11:52] David: That completed the circuit, in a way. Now, you're at a point where “my name can be on the front.”

 

[11:57] Jim: Yeah. “I'm going to make this thing,” and so, Chris and I came up with Skullkickers. It was supposed to be a mini-series. Eventually, Chris had to back out as the artist on the inside. He was the cover artist, and then this guy, Edwin Huang, came along. He had applied to UDON to be an artist in the studio, and I was the one doing the portfolio reviews. By this point, I had started teaching art in an animation program here in Toronto, and so, my boss, Erik, would always get me to look over the damn portfolios, because I could be a teacher about it, and so, most of the samples we would get, of course, were terrible. You've done portfolio reviews, but this guy had real promise, and so, I sent him a pretty extensive review and encouraged him to keep up, and one of the big problems he had with his pages was that classic thing of not leaving enough room for text, for dialog, and for captions, and I said, “Are you working from a script on these sample pages?” He's like, “no. I'm just making this stuff up as I go.” I said, “Well, you need to work from a script,” and he said, “Well, can you send me a Street Fighter script?” And I was like, “I can't. We're not allowed to send that stuff out. The only sample script I've got is the one I wrote, this un-produced Skullkickers thing,” that at the time, we didn't have an interior artist for, and I sent it to him along with the unfinished pages that Chris had done, and he looked them all over, and he learned from them.

He inked them all, and then he did the next series of pages in the book and basically earned himself the job. So, all of a sudden, we were doing a monthly comic at Image, and the minute that that book came out, and it was my book. We were making a thing together, and people saw me as a writer for the first time, instead of just project manager guy, guy at the convention who will let you know when the artist is going to stop by, or whatever. That was huge. That was formative, to me, and I could not get enough of it, to the point where my boss at UDON, that summer, we went out for dinner and he's like, “I've lost you. I can see in your eyes, you are one foot out the door, because you want this so bad, and you want to make things, and it's not just about making money anymore, and it's not just about being at a convention. It's like you want to be the guy.”

 

[14:11] David: That's funny that he saw that.

 

[14:14] Jim: Within a couple of years, I was doing my first regular monthly. I did work for Dynamite, and then IDW, and then obviously, I was doing some writing for UDON, by that point. I did some stuff on the Street Fighter things, everything else, and then DC, and then Marvel.

 

[14:29] David: What did you do over at DC?

 

[14:31] Jim: I haven't done much. My first DC gig was a big, huge nightmare. I was supposed to do stuff for the New 52, but like a lot of different creative teams, we got washed away in the tide of ridiculousness that was going on, editorially, at the time. From month to month, it was a moving target, and each group of people were being told different things, and then just getting vaporized, and so, at one point, I was supposed to take over Birds of Prey at DC, and then that just crumbled. I ended up doing Legends of the Dark Knight story for Hank Kanalz that was very well regarded, to the point where I got a note from Paul Dini, and he said that I did a great job with a Harley Quinn story, and it got republished in a Best Of Harley Quinn collection that, at the time, I mean, paid me the most ridiculous royalties I'd ever seen.

It was great. It was wonderful. At DC, I think I've done three stories over the years. I've done two Batman stories and a Suicide Squad one-shot, and then at Marvel, but it was great because I'd already done editorial at UDON, and I had art directed and done all these other things. So, the minute that I got myself in with these companies, or with these editors, I could hit on spec. I knew what they wanted to see. Something as simple as solicit text. I remember the first time I was doing the monthly book at Dynamite, and they asked me for solicit text for the catalog.

This is really boring stuff to someone on the interview, but it is important, believe me. Get that catalog text in, and I said, “Well, this is the day they want it, and it's a monthly book. So, I just put in my Google calendar every month, they're going to want the solicit text on this day,” and I just started sending it in, and the first time I sent it in without the editor asking for it, they were just like, “Oh, my god. Why did you send it?” And I said, “Well, it's a monthly book. Don't you need it a month after the last one?” They go, “no, but normally I have to hound people, and I’ve got to chase them down, and you’ve got to get that thing,” and I'm like, “Yeah, but if I was an editor, I wouldn't want to do that. So, let me just fix the problem for you,” or I would send reference material and they would all be labeled to the page and the panel that the reference was related to, because, of course, it should be, and the editor and the assistant editor are just like, “oh, my god. Working with Jim is the best.”

 

[16:46] David: Really is true. Working with Jim is the best.

 

[16:48] Jim: Assistant editors become editors, and then they want to hire you, too, because they know you're easy to work with. When Tom Brevoort brought me in at Marvel, he had a new assistant editor, and he said, “Jim, show her the ropes. Show her how it's done,” and it's like, “oh, well, that's great. That's a good rep to have. That's a good way to work your way through the industry.” Stuff like that. So, I did a lot of the custom comic stuff and ad stuff for Marvel, until I proved myself over there and then leveled up. Bill Roseman was really formative to my career at Marvel. I did a bunch of stuff in the Special Projects department, and we were supposed to do a regular monthly book in the Marvel Universe, but then Secret Wars happened. Hickman’s Secret Wars nuked everything, and they were starting a bunch of stuff over, and by the time Secret Wars was over, Bill had gotten this job, a promotion, to do Marvel games, and all of a sudden, he was leaving the office. He was the only guy giving me work at Marvel. So, I was like, “I'm done. I'm ruined at Marvel. How am I going to get work on a regular basis?” And on the way out the door, I guess he stopped in Tom's office and just said, “you should hire Jim.” So, Tom reached out and said, “Bill was so complimentary of working with you. I want to see if you're for real,” and so, that's how I got my foot in the Avengers.

 

[18:11] David: You're not currently doing anything at Marvel?

 

[18:15] Jim: No. The last project I did at Marvel was Murderworld, which was a really fun miniseries, and also my oldest pitch ever. So, when I started working at UDON, this is 2003, I was working at UDON, and I told Erik, “I really want to be a writer,” and he was like, “Okay. Well, we don't really have writing projects, and we have a writer. That guy's name's Ken, and he does the writing here in the studio,” but I'd mentioned that I wanted to be a writer, and he said, “Well, I know Joe Quesada, and they might be looking for people up at Marvel,” and I was like, “Oh, my God,” and I was terrified. I wanted to put a proposal together, and my friend, Ray Fawkes, he had just finished a Vertigo miniseries called Mnemovore that had come out. It didn't make much of a splash, but now he had contacts at Vertigo, which meant he was the most professional writer I knew, and we had met each other during university and stuff. He and I brainstormed up this Battle Royale, because Marvel was doing those MAX books.

So, we said, “Let's take Arcade and make it a MAX book. Let's make it this murderous game show. We're going to push it like Battle Royale and Lord of the Flies, and we're going to have everyone kill each other,” and I put this proposal together, and I gave it to Erik, and Erik send it to Joe Quesada, and Joe Quesada sends back this email and goes, “Yeah, this is pretty cool. Who is this guy? Who are these people?” Basically, we had to say that we had one guy who did a Vertigo book, and the other guy has no writing credits, and Joe was like, “go get some experience,” and that was 2004. I know for sure, because literally 10 years later, 2014, I was working for Bill Roseman in Special Projects at Marvel, and he said, “do you have any other ideas?” And I said, “I have this idea for Murderworld,” and he said, “We just did a book called Avengers Arena with Arcade, and Arcade’s not interesting enough that we can immediately turn another Arcade book around. Just keep it. Hold on to it. Maybe it'll come around.”

Then, eight years after that, I'm on a call with CB Cebulski, and I just pitched what became the most recent Thunderbolts miniseries that I did, which had this “what if we did Ted Lasso by West Coast Avengers,” and CB loved the pitch, and he was really into it, and he said, “if there's any of those other ideas you have that are current, pop culture thing, by way of Marvel, please bounce them off me.” He said, “if you’ve got a Squid Game in your back pocket,” I said, “CB, I've got a Squid Game in my back pocket,” and he starts laughing, and he goes, “Are you serious?” I said, “I'm 100% serious.” I said, “you guys have got to do a mature take on Murderworld,” and he goes, “Sure, but what's the twist?” And I just told him this 18-year-old pitch, and he said, “sounds great. Send me the pitch,” and I just dusted off the old work, changed the dates on it, and sent it to him, and we had a green light within a week, and I got to call Ray, and I said, “Hey, man. We're going to co-write this book at Marvel,” and he said, “I don't even remember what we wrote,” and he's like, “you just could do it yourself,” and I said, “No. We pitched it together, and we're going to do it together.”

 

[21:27] David: Nice.

 

[21:29] Jim: That's the last project I did at Marvel, and it was a lot of fun to do, and I'm always open to do other stuff, but the Hyborian Age has eclipsed everything.

 

[21:36] David: I was going to say, now you don't even have enough time. You're a busy man.

 

[21:44] Jim: Yeah, I'm writing the ongoing monthly Adventures of Conan.

 

[21:48] David: How's that been? What's that like for you?

 

[21:51] Jim: It’s been one of the most enjoyable. I mean, it's weird. I've written Conan stuff off and on since 2015, but now to have my hand firmly on the steering wheel, it's incredible. I'm doing the monthly book. I'm doing occasional feature stories for A Savage Sword of Conan, and I'm doing an event miniseries for them this fall, called Battle of the Blackstone, which is a bunch of Robert E Howard characters all coming together to fight against Ultimate Evil. So, it's Conan, Conan, Conan, all the time, and I could not be happier. The fan base is responding well, and I'm having a ton of fun with it. It is very surreal for someone who grew up on this stuff.

 

[22:25] David: I think, I saw it on social media somewhere, but your co-conspirator there on the main book, De la Torre. Man, I feel like that guy was literally born to draw Conan.

 

[22:39] Jim: De la Torre has been in the business for years.

 

[22:42] David: No, I know.

 

[22:43] Jim: but he was doing journeyman stuff at Marvel, and his artwork didn't look the way it is. This could be mythmaking, so I don't want to talk too far, but from what I know, he was basically doing just private commission stuff. People would hire him to do superheroes and drawings, and pin ups, and whatever, in his spare time, and someone asked him for a Conan, and he basically did up a Conan, and I've seen the image. It looks good. It doesn't look as good as his stuff now, but it looks really cool, and it went around those fan circles of the original art websites, and they were like, “check this out,” and so, the next couple of people that got commissions from him asked for Conans, and then his commission list just became a solid block of Conan, and that's when he got on my radar. Some people sent it to me. I was doing Conan at Marvel, and he was doing these killer commissions that looked like John Buscema, by way of Frazetta, with a little bit of Hal Foster.

 

[23:40] David: It can't possibly be more perfect.

 

[23:43] Jim: So, I talked to my editor, and I was like, “does this guy do sequentials?” And he goes, “Yeah, we know Rob. We've hired him for other books. It never looked like that. What is this?” “I don't know, man, but look at it,” and so, we got him to do some variant covers, and then he did a story in King-Size Conan. I didn't write it, and stuff like that, but I thought he was just the perfect fit, but we already had other commitments with other artists. I didn't want to spike someone who was already doing the book, or whatever. Then by the time I could have even, a space had opened up, the pandemic happened, and the book stopped for eight months, and by the time we came back, we were already on death row, and then I was the guy who had to take Conan out back and shoot him, finish off the series at Marvel, and I thought, “well, that's the last time I'll ever get to be a bard for the barbarian, and that'll be that.”

But Fred Malmberg, he's the head of Heroic Signatures, the rights holders for Conan, he stayed in touch, and we had always gotten along well, and he liked what I do, and he said, “we're doing a new publishing initiative. We're going to start from scratch and we're going to bring it in-house. Do you want to be involved?” And I said, “Well, of course. That would be amazing,” and I thought it was genuinely going to be the all-star game, on an anniversary, or for an annual or something, they would ask me to do a Conan short story, or a miniseries, or you skate out on the ice, and you go, “I Conan’d once,” and that would be that, because that's what you do, and that's all there would be to it, but he said, “give us a proposal. We're taking proposals.” It was a bake-off. Multiple people were going to be putting in these proposals for what to do with Conan. If you start fresh, how do you do it, and what do you keep, and what do you dispose? I told my wife, I said, “Well, I just did the book. I'll never get it.”

 

[25:27] David: You finished the book. You're not going to be the guy to relaunch the new book. There's no way.

 

[25:32] Jim: That would be the worst marketing ever. Why would anyone do that? She said, “then pitch fearlessly, because what have you got to lose?” And so, I wrote these really passionate documents about what Conan could be, and what the Hyborian Age is, and why the book was a bestseller in the 70s, and why it didn't seem to be now, and what the fan base seemed to want, and what was missing. It resonated, I guess, with Fred. It was a couple of weeks later, and he said, “Can we jump on a Zoom call?” And I told my wife, I said, “Wow. They're going to turn me down on a Zoom call. That’s very classy of them.”

 

[26:06] David: You really believed that?

 

[26:08] Jim: I really thought that, because it seemed impossible. Why would you hire the same guy? And so, we get on the call, and Fred is talking about, “we read through all these proposals, and we were going through all the things, and we divorced ourselves from the credits. It wasn't about who did it. It was the content. What are we reading, and what do we believe?” And I'm listening, and I'm nodding, and I'm like, “yeah, yeah. I get it,” and in my head, I could literally hear the next line, “and Jim, we love you so much, and we love your work, but you have to understand, we’re going in a new direction.” I could already hear him say it, so I was paying attention, but in this drifting way, and he goes, “and all of us agree, wholeheartedly, that you're the man for this.” What? I literally couldn't believe he had said that. It was like a thunderclap. I couldn't even believe it.

 

[26:52] David: You're all “okay, I understand. I'll see my own way out. Wait, what?”

 

[26:56] Jim: I had both feet out the door, and I was […], whatever, and all of a sudden, this chill runs over me. “Oh, my God,” and what Fred didn't know was, I was talking to De La Torre. I had gotten a private commission from De La Torre, and we had been talking over Facebook Messenger, and he was like, “Man, I can't believe it's not Marvel anymore. I really wanted to do more with it,” and I say, “yeah. That would have been cool.” I said, “what if we just filed the serial numbers off and just did a creator-owned book? It's basically Conan, it's Bonan, or whatever, and we just do our thing, and we won't hit the highs of Conan, but we'll certainly grab a fan base that would want that old-school thing,” and he's like, “that'd be cool. It could be fun,” and we were jamming back and forth about the possibilities of that, but it was really amorphous at that point, and then all of a sudden, Fred said, “You're the guy,” and he goes, “now we need an artist that's going to really grab attention.” And I’m like “well, I’m actually […] De la Torre,” and he goes, “Are you sure? We've heard he's really mercurial, and he doesn't always communicate, and he's this mystery man,” and I'm like, “I’ve got a tether. I might be able to make this happen,” and one of the things that Rob was caught up on was this idea of, he didn't want to do full scripts. He didn't want to be told how many panels. He's a real complete package. He knows what he's doing as an artist, in a real old-school way.

So, I said, “Well, we could do it old-school, Roy Thomas, plot style. I just write the general outline for what happens on the page and where the page turns are, and the scene transitions, and then you put the panels down, and then I'll dialog it,” and he says, “Do people do that?” And I said, “I can try.” So, that Free Comic Book Day last year with our proof of concept, that was our first attempt, and as soon as the pages came in, and I'm no longer writing dialog in my head, “I think it's going to look like this, so I'm going to write this, but there's the artwork right in front of me, and I'm writing to the artwork. That is the balloon that's going to go right there, and that's the narrative caption. Oh, god. I have to live up to that beautiful, insane artwork.” I felt this elevated sense of responsibility, and also because I had gotten Conan, it slipped out of my fingers. I lost this diamond, and I somehow caught it before it hit the ground. It didn't make any sense. Now, I'm holding it so tight, like I'm going to bleed. It's one of my favorite things, that I got it back my practice. Don't lose it again. You know what I mean?

So, I dove back into the original Howard texts. I read a bunch of the original comics, and I read the original Robert E Howard, and I would write whole sentences, and I would write very particular words that Howard used, that I would not normally think to use, and I had pages and pages of these sentences and these poetic, lyrical way of speaking, and I had some lyricism in my Marvel Conan issues. Every so often, I'd have a real turn of a phrase, and it felt right. It felt like the old-school, but most of the time, I was just doing my own thing. I was doing the way I write comics, and it was fine, and it worked, and people liked them, and I liked those stories, but this time, I just totally marinated myself in the source material, and all of a sudden, Rob's artwork is coming in, and it looks like this mythic Bronze Age book that you didn't know existed, and now I've got to live up to it. I’ve got to be Roy Thomas, by way of Robert E Howard, by way of me, and I started putting these lines down. I knew if it fit, and I would come down to the table after I would be working away on a lettering script, and my wife would look at me, and she's like, “Are you okay?” and I'm just like, “something's crackling across the keyboard. It's really happening. There's something cool going on here. It feels alchemical.”

That Free Comic Day issue came out, and people really sat up and took notice. Old-school collectors heard through the grapevine that this thing was happening, and with every month, we were getting more and more momentum, and more and more excitement, and it's been a year now. San Diego Comic Con is the launch last year, and the difference is profound. At New York Comic Con in October, I had maybe eight or 10 old-school collectors from the 70s, old enough to be my uncle or my dad, telling me they really liked the new Conan, and then I was at Emerald City Comic Con in March, and there were probably 70 of those guys. It was a constant lineup, and these guys were old enough to be my dad, and they got sparkles in their eyes, like teenage girls, and they're like, “you're doing Conan,” and they're shaking my hand vigorously, and their wives are looking and nodding, and going, “he really likes it,” and I mean this in the most kind way possible.

 

[31:42] David: Of course. It's very gratifying.

 

[31:45] Jim: Incredible. It's an honor, and it's profound, and it's very heartfelt, and De la Torre sends me this nice note that's like, “Hey. You just changed my life,” and we get Doug Braithwaite, one of my favorite artists, and he's on that arc that Rob's not doing, and Doug's doing some of the best pages of his life, and Doug Braithwaite’s a phenomenal talent, and I'm terrified to write for this guy, and we're three months in, and we get on a call, and he's like, “I think I want to come back and do another arc, because I thought about other things I want to work on, and Marvel and DC asked me what I want to work on, and I said, I think I want to do Conan more, because I love working with you,” and I was just like, “What is happening?”

 

[32:27] David: That's awesome. I'm a longtime Braithwaite fan, but I have to say that De la Torre stuff is so perfect, for me. I can't get enough of it, man. I can't get enough.

 

[32:37] Jim: I get the pages and there are times when literally, the pages hit my inbox, and then my phone rings, and my editor, we don't say hello, he just starts swearing. He's just like, “fucking look at this shit.” That is literally the phone call. We both get the inbox ding and then 30 seconds later, my phone rings, and it’s like “Oh, my God.”

 

[33:02] David: Is that Chris?

 

[33:04] Jim: Yeah. Just freaking out. The work is so good, and we're so proud of it.

 

[33:15] David: I'm really excited about Diego Rodriguez coming on to handle colors regularly. I think he's a good choice.

 

[33:24] Jim: Richard Starkings.

 

[33:25] David: Oh, yeah. Starkings is crushing the lettering.

 

[33:28] Jim: So, here's a funny little anecdote. I'm at San Diego. I've never met Richard in person until San Diego last year. He's always been around, but I've just never had a chance. He's lettering this book. God, it's brilliant. I'm wandering down the aisle, and he's got his Comicraft booth there, and he's holding court because he's Richard Starkings, and there's a bunch of people around chatting with him, and I'm walking past. I just wanted to thank him for his amazing work, but he's busy, and so, I walked by, and all of a sudden, I hear, “Jim, Jim,” and he stepped out of his booth, and he's running after me. “You’re not going to walk away, are you?” And I was like, “Oh, I didn't even think you knew what I looked like,” and he goes, “Well, of course. I've been watching your interviews,” and I'm just like, “Oh, you've been watching interviews I’ve been doing? About Conan?” He goes, “Yes, of course. Conan is my favorite thing ever, and you are crushing it.” He's like, “you've got the Robert E Howard coming out of your pores.” I’m just like “thanks, man.” He goes, “and Robert draws like a fucking demon. I'm so proud to be on this creative team. It's the most fun I've had lettering in over a decade,” and I was just like, “Oh, wow,” and we're just in the aisle jumping up and down, excited about our own comic book, like children.

 

[34:46] David: That's fantastic.

 

[34:48] Jim: It's crazy. Now, Richard messages me on Facebook every few days, and we're nudging captions and talking about flow and title treatments, because he just wants it to be perfect.

 

[35:02] David: The whole team is just crushing it, man. Congratulations. I'm really glad. I think, Heroic made a brilliant choice, whether they knew or not, by allowing you to steer the ship.

 

[35:14] Jim: It's insane. I remember when it got announced, and it was a dull thud of “what? Jim's writing it again?” I would look on some of the Robert E. Howard fan sites and they go, “Well, that's dead, on impact,” and not that they hate it, because they thought they knew what the book would be. They thought they'd already seen it, and even if they liked the stuff I had done at Marvel. It was like, “well, that's not going to bring new readers in the door. Well, that's not a new initiative. That's just the most ho-hum conservative choice.” I told Fred I was really worried about it, and he said, “Look, we can't worry about the whimsies of variant covers and splashy launches. Conan is an evergreen property. We have to make evergreen material, and Conan is going to last longer in the international market, and stuff like that, and they don't care about six-issue runs and reboots. They don't want 12 issues, and then get out the door and do it all over again. They want to come for Conan month after month, after month,” and then he said, “We want to make a long-term commitment to you. Will you make a long-term commitment to us?” And I'm thinking, “man, most of my friends doing stuff for Marvel and DC can't get more than six months at a time, and this is my favorite thing. Yes. Twist my rubber arm. You're trying to hold your cards close to your chest and be like, “Well, I think we can negotiate.”

It's been really amazing. It's been amazing to know that we've got this long-term plan, to pay it off, to be able to foreshadow stuff, and then really deliver on it, to have that confidence, and to have won back that fan base, and some of the most entrenched, angry, has not collected comics in 20 years. They are raving, shaking, grabbing other fans, and going, “why the hell aren't you reading this?” It's wild in the best way possible.

 

[37:07] John: We've talked about, especially early-on in this, we've talked about some licensed stuff and how there's properties that we might like, or whatever, but that aren't as relevant as they used to be, or whatever. The Dick Tracy series came out, and did pretty well, that stuff. I love Dick Tracy.

 

[37:21] Jim: Sure, but it's not about your passion. It's about, can that make it better?

 

[37:25] John: It seems like there's, post-Conan, it almost seems like there's been a shift in some of that stuff, where there's a genuine disagreement about that kind of thing.

 

[37:31] Jim: We're the only book right now I think, in the top 50, that's not Marvel, DC, or Image. The top mature-readers book. It's weird, in the best way possible. Like I said, the fan base, the passion is intense. I'm amazed when I hear from these readers, old, young, new readers, who are like, “I was intimidated. Conan seems like there's way too much material. So, this seemed like a good time to start, and now I can't get enough,” and they're freaking out, and it's very cool. There were artists that we reached out to, a lot of old-school artists that we wanted to do variant covers or to be involved in the new Savage Sword, and before the relaunch, we could not get people to email us back, and then that Free Comic Books Day came out, and then issue one came out, and then the emails were flying. We had our pick and choice of who we wanted, and everyone was like, “How do I grab hold of this rocket?”

 

[38:32] David: If I was an artist, I’d want to be trying to step up to the plate, because De la Torre is setting the table right now.

 

[38:38] Jim: It's so funny. David McCaig was like, “I'd love to do some coloring on covers for you guys. Can I color a De la Torre?” And that was his request, specifically. Geez. The guy is this award-winning, top of the industry artist, and he’s like, “Can I please color Rob?”

 

[38:57] David: It's interesting that also, Jim, you said that you went back and looked at turns of phrase that Howard used, because I do see that in the work now, where maybe I didn't see it before, and it is really has.

 

[39:09] Jim: And I don't copy it. I’m never going to take it word for word. I just want it to shine.

 

[39:13] David: Inspired by that, though, and it feels right. It feels right. So, it's interesting that you said that because I was wondering where that was coming from. I'm glad to hear that you’ve put in some hard work to channel that.

 

[39:26] Jim: It is hard work. One of the things that was funny, some of the reviews we got early-on, there was literally a review, I screenshotted and sent it to my wife, and it says, “De la Torre is drawing the best Conan in the modern age, and Conan has always written himself,” and it literally said that, that I wasn't writing it, that these words were just appearing on the page, and in some ways, that was the best compliment and also the most backhanded slap, “well, the words to happened.”

 

[39:56] John: Wasn’t that Howard’s whole thing, that he literally did write itself?

 

[40:03] Jim: Howard was a tall tale teller, and he knew how to myth-build, and so, there's two sides of Robert E. Howard. I’ve become much more aware of this stuff, the more research I've done. So, when Howard would talk in interviews, he would play up this mania. Conan was writing his own stories, and he was just relaying them to you, or he would talk about being possessed by Conan, or things like that. That is a bold-faced lie. In his private letters and everything else, he would talk about multiple drafts and how hard it was, and how he was grinding it out, and how he wondered if it was any good. Stan Lee, the hype-man, he knew that way to sell it, in a sense. He knew how to make it bigger than himself, and that has stuck, to the point where people are like, “he was schizophrenic, and he was crazy, and he thought he was Conan,” and you're like, “No, no, no.”

 

[40:55] John: He wasn't like Ian Fleming, eating and smoking like James Bond.

 

[41:00] Jim: That's right. Yeah. I mean, there's obviously his Texan spirit and machismo that's coming through in a lot of those stories, but when I say it's alchemical, I'm having these amazing moments where I know what works and what doesn't, and what feels good, but you're in the zone. The artwork’s right there, and it hits like thunderclaps, man, you're hitting the keyboard, and it's this weird thing, too, because I would work on a page, doing the lettering script, and I would put some stuff down, and it would be okay, and I was like, “I could send that in,” and I would always just go, “not yet,” and I would let it go for the evening and I'd come back at it in the morning fresh, and then it would just transform. “That line sucks. That's got to go here. Punch it,” and then I would send in that version, and Butera or someone sends me back and they go, “man, I got chills when I read that lettering. It's so effortless,” and I was like, “it's so not, but I'm glad it feels that way. I'm glad it feels like it is, but I am grinding over every page and line.”

I wrote a prose story in Savage Sword of Conan #1, and that is a 3000-word story, and I have never, ever belabored so much over every goddamn sentence and line, and again, the compliments I get on that, they're like, “it's so light on its feet, and it's airy, and it's perfect, and of course, Jim can write like Robert E Howard,” and it's just like, “can I? Yes, but man, I sweat over that.” I can write a little bit like Two-Gun Bob, but I worked very hard on it. Far more than whatever I got paid for it. If I thought about hours.

 

[42:35] David: Don’t think about that.

 

[42:37] Jim: Nightmarish amount of time.

 

[42:39] David: As long as you are in comics, don't think about that.

 

[42:41] Jim: Yeah, on a very short story. It's a very short story, and I'm like, “I can't imagine writing a novel like this. I would die,” but I'm glad I did it, and it was a really cool thing. I’ve got, in Savage Sword #3 that's coming out, Butera gave me a challenge and asked me to write a war poem, because Howard would do a lot of poetry, and I was like, “okay,” and I sweated over every verse and line, and the cadence of the whole thing, and De la Torre did a beautiful pin-up, and it looks incredible, and people are going to just read it in five seconds and go, “that's cool,” and I was like “you have no idea the blood that poured out of that keyboard to get those lines,” but that's great. That's the whole point that, in the rearview mirror, it's worth it because it works, and it really is working right now, and it's some of the most fun I've had, some of the best collaboration I've had. It's some of the best reviews, the most excited fan base. I know, there are other projects I've done that have sold more physical copies, but it's the most engaged I've ever had, in terms of a readership and a relationship with a fan base.

The thing is, when you're working on the icons, I got to work on Avengers while the Avengers movies were coming out. That's not you, man. That's the MCU and it's all […], and Disney, and everything else, and you get to ride a tiny bit of that lightning for a moment, but the next writer of the Avengers, 99% of readership’s sticking around for that book. They don't care if you're the writer or not. You know what I mean? In this moment, when people talk about the Conan book, there is no movie driving this excitement. There's not even a new video game out right now. It is us. We're the sharp tip of the spear generating the excitement, and I feel very fortunate and honored, and excited, and invigorated that that is the current situation, that we're the ones putting it on the map, and making a mark. That feels very special.

 

[44:47] David: Congratulations, Jim. I'm loving the work. So excited for you. So excited that you're running the Conan program. Can't wait to see what comes next out of there. Excited for the next few months.

 

[44:58] Jim: Issue 12 is an absolute, ridiculous banger, and that's going to be out, end of June, and in the original proposal, because I didn't know if the relaunch was going to work. I gave us 12. That made them promise me we could at least do 12. So, it's this big, epic adventure, and you can see the demarcation point of, “just in case, this is where they finish,” and then they can just shovel me out the door and go, “Well, that didn't work,” but it really is a wild one, and then, 13 and onward, we’ve got amazing, cool plans.

 

[45:30] David: Nice. Well, Jim, thanks for coming in, and hanging out with us today. Nice catching up with you. Nice to hear what you’re up to.

 

[45:37] Jim: Weird, winding path.

 

[45:39] David: I know. We didn't even get to everything. We didn’t even talk about Dungeons & Dragons, at least the comic book.

 

[45:44] Jim: We talked about the game.

 

[45:47] David: Yeah. So, thanks, again. Appreciate you coming on and chatting with us today. John, anything?

 

[45:53] John: Great to see you. Always ready to talk to you. 

 

[45:56] Jim: Absolute pleasure. You guys are both amazing. You’re two of my favorite editors I've worked with, which is awesome. Jam with both of you.

 

[46:05] David: Thanks, Jim. Check’s in the mail, buddy. So, Jim's work is on Conan right now. You can check that out, and I'm assuming it's Conan.com. Is that that where they’re doing stuff?

 

[46:13] Jim: It is.

 

[46:14] David: Look for it in your local comic shops. Thanks, everybody, for listening today, and see you again on The Corner Box.

 

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