I’ve interviewed Jim Zub at least half a dozen times at this point, but I learn something new every with every conversation. I was really happy to schedule a Wayward Celebration interview to commemorate the end of the 30-issue fantasy series now that the last issue is out. Zub had a lot of interesting insights about representing Japan faithfully, pacing and plotting, and how he’s grown as a writer since the series debuted in 2014 that you’ll be fascinated to learn in our discussion below.
All art used in this post illustrated by Steve Cumming and colored by Tamra Bonvillain
You described Wayward as “Buffy in Japan” because it was a strong marketing hook and gave potential readers an idea of what to expect. Obviously, though, that’s very much a simplification. Having finished writing the series, how would you describe Wayward to someone now?
It’s a teen supernatural drama about mythology in the modern world. Teenagers battle ancient monsters on the streets of modern Japan and uncover a war for the future of everything.
Colorful hair is such a staple of manga and anime. Was Rori’s red hair (which made her immediately stand out) a nod to that trope?
Rori’s red hair definitely helps her ‘pop’ out against the traditional Japanese cast, and Ayane’s multiple hair hues were a callout to the anime tropes of strange colored hair and the “cat girls” you see in so many anime, which in itself is a call back to the classic ‘cat daughter’ yokai, so it’s really a full circle homage.
Every arc was five issues long. If packaging trades wasn’t a concern, would you have varied arc lengths up, or do you prefer the consistency?
Trade length determined a lot of that pacing. In an ideal world where sales and branding wasn’t as much a concern, I think we would have done a slower burn at the start, sloooowly revealing secrets and the larger mythological world, but the modern reading audience needs big answers sooner so we took a more dramatic and immediate approach.
Since the backups contained so much information about the culture, rituals, and societal norms of Japan, did you feel extra pressure to portray things faithfully in the story itself?
The back matter essays came after the scripts were written, so Zack Davisson (or Ann O’Regan for our Irish lore essays) filled in the bigger picture of what I’d written rather than me trailing behind. The research was done beforehand, and it helped me flesh out the larger world, the places and creatures we’d be using, and then after I wrote the issue I’d ask for essays to showcase what we couldn’t put on the comic page.
Did you personally gain a deeper understanding of life in Japan from writing Wayward?
Absolutely. It gave me an excuse to do a slew of research, broaden my understanding of Japan and Japanese history, and travel there on several extended sabbatical trips for both research and promotion. I want to set my next creator-owned series somewhere else cool so I have an excuse to travel more. :)
All the characters received their own unique endings. Did the conclusions to their stories develop as you wrote the series, or were they there from the beginning?
Some were set early on and others evolved right up until the end. I knew exactly where Rori and Ayane were headed, while the others solidified in my head as we moved into the final arc.
The finale felt like one major scene after another, so you really went out with a bang. Was it a conscious decision to pack the last issue with surprises and big moments?
That was definitely the plan. The final issue is sweeping and breakneck. It has slow moments, but they encompass so much that there’s kind of a ‘rush’ involved with them. Steven’s line work keeps even the wildest elements grounded and solid and Tamra’s colors add an intense amount of beauty and atmosphere to it all.
You said in the afterward that you weren’t sure whether Wayward would end on a hopeful or tragic note. If it had veered tragic, what would be different?
I had thoughts about our surviving teens looking at the destruction they’d caused and feeling rudderless without the strings of fate to guide them. The unknown that the future represents can be terrifying if we let it haunt us and build up doubt within ourselves.
But, when it came time to write the finish, that wasn’t how it felt. The new myths bring a sense of mystery and wonderment that carried through to a more hopeful ending.
Numerous countries have interesting mythology and folklore beyond Japan and Ireland. Do you know how you would approach other parts of the world of Wayward?
If Wayward was a Walking Dead-sized hit then I could have envisioned Wayward titles to represent all kinds of different places, each with their own cast of teens struggling to find their place in an unknown supernatural future. Parts of Africa would have been fascinating, as would South America.
If the characters visited America (or Canada!) what gods would they find there?
The Native American gods might be weak or they might just be ready to reawaken from a long slumber, looking to exact revenge for decades of mistreatment and scorn.
You’re now at a rare point where you don’t have any creator-owned series running or announced. Do you have plans for something new, or is Marvel keeping you plenty busy?
It feels a bit surreal, to be honest. With Skullkickers, Wayward, and Glitterbomb all overlapping as they were released, this is the first time in 8 years I won’t have an Image title in development or on the stands.
That said, I do have a creator-owned concept percolating, something I’m working on with an artist I’ve collaborated with before, but I don’t know exactly where it will end up or when it will launch. I want to make sure we have the time to build it up and deliver our best. For the first time in a long time, there’s no rush. I don’t need to prove that I can deliver a book and that feels pretty damn good.
Wayward ran for five years, a good portion of your career in comics. How did you feel yourself growing as a writer as the series progressed?
Wayward was the most ambitious series I’ve ever tackled. The real-world setting and historical aspects kept me buried deep in study and the ensemble cast that refused to function as a typical team kept me on my toes in terms of pacing and emotional payoffs.
Wayward taught me a lot about what kind of stories I enjoy making and how to tap into a variety of influences to make something different. It tested me at times and frustrated me in spots, but it was always worth it in the end, and that’s a good place to be when you’re trying to build something and improve as a storyteller.
I thought I was a solo character writer before I got into this business, but Wayward really secured me as a ‘team guy’. I love writing group dynamics and playing characters off each other. There’s a joy in unexpected combinations and the friction that builds up in every scene. Wayward set me up for everything I’ve done at Marvel and yet still managed to be its own thing in the end. Looking on my shelf and seeing what Steven and I built together, it’s a milestone in my creative career.
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. Email him with questions, comments, complaints, or whatever else is on your mind at firstname.lastname@example.org.