Even though I was never quite in love with the considered-a-classic Samurai Jack TV show, I’ve been infatuated by Samurai Jack the comic book since before Issue 1. The stoic, solemn character interacting with a colorful world works, in my opinion, better in sequential form than it does on the screen. Writer Jim Zub is a big reason why. That’s why I was excited to talk to him yet again, this time about wrapping up his continuation of Samurai Jack with Andy Suriano and other artists.
You said you felt like you could write Samurai Jack forever. What makes the character and the series feel so endurable to you?
Genndy and his crew put together a really powerful alchemical mix of elements when they created Samurai Jack. It’s a genre melting pot, fusing martial arts, fantasy, science fiction, and just about any other type of genre fiction you can imagine. It can be downright silly at times but also surprisingly deep and philosophical. That incredibly broad range, all of it “in-play,” is a wonderful sandbox to play in. It continually generates new ideas and I don’t think I could ever run out.
How was the pre-established history of Samurai Jack a challenge?
Over four seasons the Samurai Jack animation crew tackled a slew of amazing iconic concepts, so a lot of my initial brainstorming would slam up against something that had already been done. At first that was intimidating but over time it became a blessing.
How was it a blessing?
It forced me to push further and come up with unexpected approaches to the stories. It also convinced me that the best way for us to continue Jack’s legacy was to keep moving forward, coming up with new characters and situations instead of only re-using bits from the show.
Given that he worked on the original animated series, what was your collaboration like with Andy Suriano?
It was a real dream come true. No matter what crazy stuff I came up with, Andy was always there ready to take it to the next level with his art and design. The wilder he got with it, the more I wanted to push things with the next issue. We fed off of each other’s excitement.
Andy didn’t use the line-free style of the cartoon, but he channeled the look and feel of the show while optimizing it for the comic page. It wasn’t about rigidly following a model sheet. Andy’s work is all about translating that motion and energy to the page.
Did it take getting used to working with somebody who had been involved with the property since almost the beginning?
I kept expecting Andy to tell me I was doing it wrong, that I was doing something too weird or that “Jack wouldn’t do that”, but that didn’t happen. We just hit the ground running and Andy was 110% supportive of my story ideas. It was genuinely one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve ever worked on and Andy was a huge part of the reason why.
Have you talked about doing other work together?
Yeah, absolutely. At Emerald City Comicon last year we actually talked about the fact that this would end at some point and we should do other stories together. I know he’s super busy with his animation day job and working on Cosmic Scoundrels, but I really do hope we get to build more awesome stories real soon.
How is your working relationship different with fill-in artists?
Carlos Guzman, our awesome Editor at IDW, handled most of the fill-in stuff. I would write ahead not knowing who would be doing those one or two part stories and he cast artists based on their strengths.
I pushed really hard to get Brittney Williams on for the two part Scotsman story because I’m crazy about her artwork and felt she’d be a perfect fit. She did a great job.
Sergio Quijada was a huge Jack fan who peppered us with fan art until we couldn’t help but bring him on board. I’m really glad he had the chance to do the two part “Master of Time” story.
Were you involved in the decision to give Suriano an issue to write and draw on his own?
That was factored in early on. Before I was brought on board there was talk of Andy writing and drawing the whole series, so we wanted to make sure Andy could get a story idea he had percolating down on the page. The dialogue free “Caves of Crystal Calamity” story from issue 8 is also one I scripted based on Andy’s story idea.
As a long-time fan of Samurai Jack, what did you think of Andy’s issue 18?
It was great! It felt weird reading a Samurai Jack comic I didn’t have a hand in, but that’s what made it so cool. Andy built a cool action set piece and just went wild with it.
Samurai Jack is your second-longest work, behind Skullkickers, and your longest on a property that you don’t own. What did you take away from doing a more lengthy run?
It was really nice settling in with a concept, almost indulgently so at times. Weird little ideas I’d brainstorm had time to gestate and I didn’t feel like I had to cram everything in all at once. Almost every story idea I included in my original pitch for the series found its way to the printed page at some point during the run and a lot of other little details or in-jokes made it in there too.
Samurai Jack #20 is such a definitive way to go out. With such a strong ending, would you feel comfortable returning to the character, if given the chance?
Absolutely. “Mako the Scribe” is definitive in a lot of ways and delivers a possible ending to the series, but it’s also cast in the far flung future. Andy and I had a bunch of other story ideas bubbling around in our heads that would happen before that big ending.
When I finished writing the 5 part “Quest For the Broken Blade” story I thought I’d gone as big as I could go with Jack and possible threats he could face, but within a few weeks I came up with a new 5 part epic that would have originally been issues #21-25. If Cartoon Network or IDW ever want us to do that story as a mini-series, standalone graphic novel, or animation (Genndy – Call me! :) ) I’m there in a heartbeat.
Between Samurai Jack and Figment, you’ve had a lot of success breathing new life into older concepts. Are there any other forgotten or ignored properties that you’d like to revitalize next?
That’s hard to say. Samurai Jack and Figment weren’t properties I sought out and yet they became near and dear to me during the pitching/writing process. I enjoy the challenge of digging in with something unexpected and finding aspects that resonate with me (and hopefully readers too).
What do you think you added to the character of Samurai Jack during your run?
That’s a really hard thing to answer because the show was already a modern classic before I ever came along. We did our damnedest to build on the amazing work done on the show and tell entertaining stories that pushed Jack to new limits. In the end our contribution is up to the fans and Genndy Tartakovsky to decide. I hope people look back on these stories fondly and that they have a really long shelf life.
What new lessons did you learn from the experience?
A lot of my previous comic work was dialogue and sound effect heavy. I was afraid of letting a panel fall silent, like I was somehow not doing my job properly if there wasn’t a bunch of text jammed in there. Working on Jack opened me up to the strength of silence. He’s the silent stoic center while everything else is loud and crazy all around him.
More than that though, working on Samurai Jack recharged my creative batteries. Right before the Jack gig came along I hit a real low point in my writing career. I was supposed to take over Birds of Prey for the New 52 and when that inexplicably crumbled I genuinely felt like I’d missed my big chance and wouldn’t be able to get out of that slump. Writing Samurai Jack reminded me that this crazy creative career is more than just one opportunity. Making work I’m proud of over the long haul is the true measure of success.
MATT CHATS is a weekly interview series with a person of prominence and/or value in the comic book industry. Find its author, Matt O’Keefe, on Twitter and Tumblr. Email him with questions, comments, complaints, etc. at firstname.lastname@example.org.