Jim Zub completed his 30-issue opus Wayward last November and it seemed like it would be his last creator-owned title for a stretch. He’s busy writing Avengers weekly series for Marvel and even relaunched Champions with Wayward co-creator Steve Cummings. But, out of nowhere, ComiXology Originals dropped the first issue of Stone Star from Zub and Max Dunbar, his collaborator on Dungeons & Dragons titles. Seeing a trend of writing comics of all ages, I was excited to interview my most frequent guest about Stone Star, writing for Marvel, and Zub’s interest in writing YA comics.
Stone Star started began soon after Wayward ended its run. Is it important for you to consistently have a creator-owned book on the stands?
Absolutely. Work-for-hire and creator-owned projects each flex different creative muscles, and ideally I’ll always have at least one of each on go at the same time.
I didn’t originally intend to launch a new creator-owned project in 2019, but when Chip Mosher from ComiXology and I started talking about the flexibility digital-first could provide and their ongoing plans for ComiXology Originals, Max was available and I realized that if we didn’t go for it and make Stone Star there might not be a good time to make it happen down the road. As much as I wanted a break, I wanted to build something fun with Max even more.
Now that we’re in the thick of it, as crazy as it is in terms of my schedule, it also just feels kind of right.
The art in Stone Star is different from Dunbar’s past work, a little less intricate but much more lively. Is it a style he’s wanted to try for a while?
This is me letting Max just go wild with whatever look he thinks will fit the story. I’m encouraging him to design up a storm and have fun with it. Same with the pages themselves. I’m writing dialogue-heavy sections in full script and then going “Marvel-Style” for the action beats so Max can decide if those scenes end up being tightly choreographed fights with lots of panels or bigger blow out pages. The more excited he is about the book, the better results we get in the finished pages.
Stone Star feels like the kind of book put out by a YA publisher like GRAPHIX or Random House. Is the bookstore market on your mind for the print version?
Stone Star definitely skews younger than Wayward in terms of subject matter and art style. The book market is a natural fit for the collected edition and my fingers are crossed that we can make a splash there once it’s released.
I have a few story concepts I’d love to develop for the same age range, the kind of adventure-centered stories that would have grabbed my attention as a young reader.
Co-writing with a veteran like Mark Waid and someone as established Al Ewing, has working on the two Avengers storylines served as crash courses in writing Marvel comics?
Al and Mark are stellar collaborators. I’ve had the good fortune to co-write with Gail Simone (on Conan-Red Sonja) and Pat Rothfuss (on Rick and Morty VS D&D) as well, but the kind of sprawling continuity-laden stuff Mark, Al, and I put together for No Surrender and No Road Home was kind of next level. It was a masterclass in superhero storytelling, character and team dynamics, and learning how to communicate effectively, both on the page and with each other.
On No Surrender I felt like I was the “new guy,” and I was desperate to prove I could carry my share and wouldn’t let the team down. On No Road Home we’d already been through the fire and come out the other side, so we just got right back to work without any hesitation. I knew what I could bring to the table and knew what everyone else’s strengths were too.
As obvious as it may sound, that’s what the Avengers do – work together to battle the foes they can’t handle as individuals. Having stellar art teams and editorial backing us up just makes it that much better.
What’s the co-writing process like with Dan Slott on Iron Man?
Dan’s the biggest Marvel fan I’ve ever met, and I mean that as the highest compliment. I jump on a call with him and I know it’s going to be at least two hours of pure enthusiasm packed with incredible story concepts and dramatic payoffs he can’t wait to tell me about. We start riffing off each other and the story just gets bigger and better.
Since I stepped into the story Dan’s been building, the first few issues felt like I was getting up to speed, trying to match Dan’s energy and do my best impression of him. Now that I’ve done that for a few issues, I’m getting comfortable putting more of myself into it and bringing Dan on board with a lot of my ideas as well. It’s a ton of fun.
Working with Mark, Al, and Dan, with Tom Brevoort overseeing the whole thing – What a wild ride. We’re all Marvel-obsessed storytellers with a deep need to honor and build on the comics that inspired us. There’s a level of respect and one-upmanship I absolutely love being a part of.
With newer heroes, every story does more to define the character. Does that make writing Champions a liberating experience?
That’s exactly it. There’s a freedom to define these younger characters and shake them to their core in ways that’s a lot more difficult with more established heroes. With Champions I set out to prove that these new heroes could step up and face threats just as intense as any classic Marvel icon. Whether or not I succeeded, well that’s for readers to decide. I’m too close to it right now to say.
Is there a certain member of the team you’ve come to especially appreciate writing Champions?
Champions is an ensemble cast, varied and eclectic, so I go through phases of focusing on different characters at different times. The first few issues introduced Amka and put Riri through the ringer, then Sam, and then Viv. Currently, it’s Kamala and Miles in the hot seat. Kamala, Sam, and Viv have more trouble they’ll be dealing with in upcoming issues and showing the strain that keeping this team pulled together takes on them is important to me. Just because they’re teenagers doesn’t mean it should be easy. If anything, it’s even more difficult – they have a ridiculous amount of responsibility heaped on them without the experience to back it up, plus teen angst.
How does your collaboration with Steve Cummings change working on a Marvel title as opposed to creator-owned?
In a lot of ways, it feels the same. Steven started drawing Champions a week after he wrapped Wayward, so I had to rewire my brain a bit to remember that we were looping in editors now and that we couldn’t just keep doing whatever we wanted.
The reference gathering is different. Instead of Steven heading out to the streets of Tokyo to gather visual ref of neighborhoods for Wayward, I’m compiling Marvel character ref and getting him up to speed on continuity for all these teen characters.
The 13-hour time difference still has a magical quality to it. I wake up in the morning and there’s almost always new art waiting in my inbox. It’s a nice way to start the day.
Between Stone Star and Champions, a lot of your work has a young adult appeal. Is that where you wanted to steer your career or did it happen naturally?
The next generation of readers is connected and vibrant. That feels like a good space to plant a few flags, absolutely. For all the angst I’m putting into Champions, the overall message is one of persistence and hope in the face of adversity. I think readers need some of that right now. I know I do.
Matt Chats is an interview series featuring discussions with a creator or player in comics, diving deep into industry, process, and creative topics. Find its author, Matt O’Keefe, on Twitter and Tumblr.
Writer of Stuff. Journalism for The Beat, articles for websites, blogs for businesses, comics for publishers, and so on. Writing is my least and most favorite thing.