Interview: Jim Zub on 'Stone Star'
We chat with the writer about his new sci-fi/fantasy collaboration and discuss how it checks all the boxes in his genre-loving heart.
Why trap yourself to one genre when you can run wild through six or seven? Stone Star exemplifies everything we want an adventure comic to be. The new young adult graphic novel from Jim Zub, Max Dunbar, Espen Grundetjern, and Marshall Dillon is a rollicking sci-fi/fantasy/western/sword-and-sandals conspiracy thriller!
Set aboard a nomadic gladiatorial space station, Stone Star tracks the desperate scramble of its young protagonist, Dail, to stay alive in the shadows while the arena spotlight and his destiny beckons. Around every corner, a new character reveals themself, and very quickly, our hero collects a ragtag fellowship. There are sinister forces at play, and despite a lifetime of running in the opposite direction, a confrontation with dark forces proves necessary.
Stone Star is yet another YA adventure that inspired giddy, nostalgic glee from us both. We wish we had comics like this one to read when we were Dail's age, but the great thing about Jim Zub and company is that they don't direct their narrative to a particular height. Small or big, young or old, Stone Star will capture your heart and your imagination.
We were equally giddy to talk with Zub about Stone Stare. We discuss its purposeful genre-mashing and how the collaboration process solidifies the story Stone Star needed to become. Zub is a firm believer in recognizing your collaborators. You'll notice that everyone from the writer, artist, colorist, letterer gets their full name on Stone Star's cover. That's not an accident.
Stone Star began with Jim Zub and artist Max Dunbar, but beginnings are only a portion of the story. The ending, or the final product, is what matters most, and all involved deserve recognition - something we comic book podcasts and websites could do a better job of recognizing some days.
This interview was edited for length and clarity, but you can listen to the entire forty-minute discussion on our Patreon feed. Just 1 Dollar. We may be biased, but it's worth those hundred cents. Over there, we dive deeper into the collaboration conundrum as well as Jim Zub's newfound pasta-making obsession.
Published by Dark Horse Comics/ComiXology, Stone Star Volume 1: Fight or Flight hits shelves on 7/2/21.
Brad: this concept of a nomadic gladiatorial arena, allows you to pull in from so many different genres character-wise.
Brad: You have your sword-and-sandal characters, you have your sci-fi characters, your Western characters, your fantasy characters. I'm curious about the delight that must have come over you when you were assembling this found family.
Jim: Yeah. What's great about it is that a lot of times when I'm putting together a story, I'm kind of writing it all out, and then the artist is designing based on those outlines, but because Max and I knew we were going to build this together, it was a lot more back and forth, where I had certain characters like Dail, and Durn, and Volness, who's like the mentor figure. I knew kind of who they might be, and I wrote some brief character personality stuff, and then I let Max's sketches determine their personality, and the way they speak, and the way they would go about their business.
I left it really open because I wanted his designs to help inform the personalities, and then with each new character, sometimes even just characters he would sketch out for the world, I would like, "That's really cool. I love that character. Let's give them a bigger role. I just want to see more of them, because I think they're really neat," or, "Let's delve into these cool areas," because Max would be really enjoying designing a particular aspect of it. So things like that. There's a crazy battle royale that happens in the middle of the first arc with that creature called Most-Maw, The Mega-Muncher.
Brad: Most-Maw! So good!
Jim: And I originally kind of envisioned in my head like it was going to be your typical gladiatorial thing with these small skirmishes, and then Max is like, "What if we had all these characters attacking a giant Godzilla sort of monster?" And I said, "Oh, man, if you want to do that, I'm down for it." And as Max threw these visual ideas into play, I found ways to incorporate them into the story. Just to amp things up. And that's the best part of this kind of collaboration. I brought some of the initial ideas to play, but then Max's art informed so much of it, and we're both having a blast, and I think that really comes through on the pages.
Brad: Most-Maw has to be one of the best combinations of name and creature design that I've seen in a while.
Jim: Thank you.
Brad: I just love saying the name, "Most-Maw, The Mega-Muncher."
Jim: [Chuckles] Yes.
Brad: It's so silly, but it's also just gnarly and bad-ass at the same time.
Jim: It's interesting because we push and pull between the very colorful, and the ridiculous, and the dramatic. The series has a lot of pathos and kind of dark elements to it, but it's in this overall kind of colorful competition and these worlds. And so I wanted to be able to play with those kinds of things. The style isn't necessarily manga, but one of the things I noticed about a lot of the Shōnen manga series, is this idea of the characters are heavily motivated. They've got everything stacked up against them, and particularly, the opening chapters are about setting up all these pieces, and pushing these characters into new and exciting areas.
And that was something I wanted to emulate a little bit in Stone Star, that it's got that kind of momentum where you feel like, "Oh, man, I just got to know this character, and their situation is already rough, and then it's that much worse. It's that much more difficult. It's that much further deeper. How far can we go with this thing, and just put these pieces into place?"
Brad: And maybe I see some manga in Max's art, but again, mostly what I see manga-wise is in its pacing.
Brad: This is a comic that you watch as much as you read, and it has such a unique vibe apart from Western comics.
Jim: Aw, thanks. Yeah. I'm really proud of the amount of material we're able to cover in those five issues, and there's a feeling that you're seeing glimpses of this station and these worlds, but it doesn't feel surface level. There's clearly more going on there, and there's political intrigue, and there are old deals, and old flashbacks to history that's gone on before. And in the second volume of the series, we dive even deeper into that. Where did the arena come from, and what are these old loyalties that determine a lot of the current political setup of Stone Star? It's that stuff that we tease here in the first volume, and then we're able to drill down even deeper now that we've set the stage.
Brad: When you're in the early stages of creation, how are you communicating with Max? Are you throwing references to other comics, to television, to movies? How are you narrowing it down?
Jim: So in a lot of cases, I'm giving Max a name, I'm giving him some sort of core traits, and then I might say, "This is an attitude that I want to have come across." But because Stone Star is this interplanetary thing where there are literally aliens, and creatures, and robots, and it's kind of an open field for him to just go design-crazy. I was happy to see what those names and those personalities evoked in him. I said, "Okay, this is this young scrapper scavenger," and he started sketching out possibilities. Or I said, "Okay, this is the big chunky robot that are these things called Effigies that people are able to control." And then what does he come back with? And we go back and forth, and back and forth in terms of what that could look like.
What's so exciting about it is that I have a broad idea and a name that I feel evokes something, and then once Max summons it from the ether and starts designing it, it's like he makes it real. He puts that personality into it, and really it's no longer an abstraction, now it's something that we can build on, or I can sort of say, "Oh, this is really cool. How can we push this a little bit further," or, "What are these particular traits that you're excited about, and I'm excited about, and then we can go even further with them?" And what's amazing to me is how close he gets on some of them from the get-go.
The characters go through a bit of an evolutionary process, but it's usually just some minor cosmetic stuff as he hits the mark with it, or just gets more comfortable. A character like Volness is hilarious, because the very first character sketch is the final design. He sent me that character with the detached arms and all this stuff, and I was like, "Yep, that's amazing."
Brad: Yeah. And that sketch is in the backmatter of the collection?
Jim: As soon as I looked at it, I'm like, "Man, this is like Clint Eastwood as an alien with this detachable arm. This is awesome. This guy looks so good, and he's got that bitter, world-weary feel to him." As soon as I saw it, I'm like, "Yep, that's the mentor figure. That's all I needed right there."
And that's all you'll need too. Saddle up with these adventurers by scoring your copy of Stone Star Volume 1: Fight of Flight, available from Dark Horse Comics and ComiXology on 7/7/21. You can also track Jim Zub down at www.jimzub.com where you can learn about his other comics like Conan the Barbarian and his new Stranger Things and Dungeons & Dragons collaboration with Jody Houser and Diego Galindo. And go pester him on Twitter by clicking HERE.
Also, remember, you can hear our entire conversation with Jim Zub over on our Patreon page. If you dig this chat, you'll probably like our recent conversations with Matt Lesniewski and Juni Ba as well.