(This interview originally appeared on GeekDad here.)
When it comes to comics, it’s not often that I’m immediately taken in and captivated by an ongoing series. It usually takes a few issues for the creative team to find its groove and for me to find something worth latching on to.
Wayward – from writer Jim Zub, artist Steve Cummings, and Image Comics – burst onto the scene last year, and from the very first issue, I was hooked. The story, often described as “Buffy in Japan,” was smart and intriguing. The art was phenomenal. And the series wasted no time in becoming fantastic. From page 1, Zub and Cummings felt completely at home in the world they were creating.
That comfort and confidence was evident on every page – every panel – and Wayward quickly became one of my favorite series.
The story follows half-Irish, half-Japanese teenager Rori Lane as she adjusts to her new life in Tokyo with her mother. Things don’t exactly go according to plan, though. Almost immediately, she’s attacked by mythical monsters no one else can see, discovers she suddenly has a superpower, and falls in with a small band of teenage “misfits” who possess other incredible powers.
This is an original superhero story without the spandex, a coming-of-age story that blends ancient Japanese mythology with modern Tokyo, and a good ol’ fashioned monster tale.
It’s also an epic in the making, and I highly recommend it.
Wayward Volume 1: String Theory collects issues 1-5 (the first story arc) and is obviously a perfect jumping-on point for new readers.
Jamie Greene: What led to setting the story in a mystical version of modern Tokyo? Were you both already interested in Japanese culture and yokai?
Jim Zub: Steve and I worked together at UDON when I was still there in my role as a project manager, and we’d talked a few times about working together on a creator-owned project, but it always got put on the back burner as other things came up.
In mid-2013, the discussion came up again. Steve had a gap coming up in his schedule, and we started talking about collaborating. I had a broad thematic idea about mythology in the modern world, and Steve really wanted to set whatever story we worked on in Tokyo, so it grew naturally from there.
Steve Cummings: Time-wise it finally clicked. I had done a pinup for the UDON art book Vent, and in it was the toned version of what we used for the issue #1 cover (also the cover to the trade) featuring Ayane. Talking about that character and what I imagined for her helped me push the idea of setting the story in Japan.
Cummings: I have really wanted to do a book set here since, well, forever.
GD: How much research did you both do before bringing this world to life?
Zub: I did a lot of reading about yokai, but also Japanese customs and some geography. I also read up quite a bit on modern Japanese society since part of our story is about changes the country has seen, especially from outside cultural influences. The nice thing about having Steve right there ‘on the ground’ is that I can focus most of my attention on the characters and overall plot, and he helps me navigate details that solidify the reality of Tokyo for readers.
Cummings: I take lots and lots of pictures for reference.
JG: How do you categorize the book? Do you see it as a coming-of-age story or as a story about Japanese yokai and mythology? Or do you see it as something else entirely?
Cummings: I see it more as a modern coming-of-age folklore tale than anything else.
Zub: I don’t think it has to be just one thing. To some people, it’s just an action-supernatural story with an unusual backdrop. For other people, their primary interest is the Japanese culture and mythic lore. Another subset of our readership is focused most on the characters–their emotions and challenges. Whatever aspect is bringing people in, one thing or a combination, I’m totally fine with that.
That said, when I’m giving potential readers a logline to gauge their interest, I usually say that Wayward is about teenage rebels battling Japanese mythic monsters on the streets of modern Tokyo. There’s obviously more to it then that, but ‘Buffy in Japan’ is a succinct way of giving people a broad sense of what we’re going for.
JG: Steve, the art in Wayward is incredibly detailed and plays a critical role in guiding the reader not only through Rori’s transformation but also through modern Tokyo. What’s the creative process like between the two of you? How much direction do you give each other?
Cummings: When I draw the pages, I want the Tokyo area to feel authentic and natural. It is in effect an extra character, so I try to put in as much detail as I can. And that sometimes means long hours to get it right. Mostly I just want to avoid the trap that some comic books set in America have fallen into where they go for either something weird or too ultramodern or just all Akiba all the time.
Zub: I write full script, but we have a lot of conversations (via e-mail or Google Hangout) to hash out particular plot elements, figure out locations for scenes, or talk about some of the finer cultural details I may have missed in my first draft. It’s a real collaborative give and take. I try to explain what I’m envisioning for the overall story, and Steve lets me know when there are specific aspects he’s really pumped to illustrate, character or monster ideas he wants to incorporate, or just subtle aspects of Japanese life he thinks will enhance a scene.
Cummings: Jim has been great for keeping the series moving forward and for usually being around in the evenings to talk when I have questions about what something in the script means or about events going forward. Also, he helps by checking the art for obvious mistakes and he handles all the lettering instructions I give him. That really helps this all come together.
JG: Jim, you are one of the most prolific writers working in comics today. In the past year, you’ve written for 11 different properties at 9 different publishers (forgive me if I missed anything). And the diversity of what you’ve written is pretty staggering: everything from Cow & Chicken to Red Sonja. How do you keep it all straight?
Zub: When you count it up like that it does sound pretty crazy. Yeah, 2014 in particular was a really, really prolific year for me. Each project has its own parameters and I genuinely enjoy the variety, especially when I have both creator-owned and work-for-hire projects on the go. Each one exercises different creative muscles and I find that, sort of like switching up a fitness routine, if I’m struggling on one I can switch over to the other and get my groove back. Whether I’m pitching, outlining, pacing, scripting, revising, or doing final proofing, I’ve always got a task I can work on and keep the ball rolling forward.
When you’re in the thick of it, you don’t always realize how much you’re working on at the same time. Each project is broken down into these bite-size tasks, and you’re just constantly inching forward on each one. It’s only when a bunch of them are finished that you have time to look back and it dawns on you how much work you completed.
Cummings: Jim does work too much. He should take a break. And come to Japan.
JG: Early in the first arc of Wayward, there’s a scene of Rori in the school bathroom cutting her arm. As a dad, this was by far the most affecting moment of the story for me so far. Will you be exploring that aspect of Rori’s personality a bit further as the story progresses?
Zub: Yes, though I’m being careful not to have things dip into “a very special episode” territory. I’m not here to be preachy about self-harm. It’s an aspect of Rori’s character, the way she’s dealing with a tremendous amount of stress, but the bigger story is about her finding her way in Japan, the supernatural forces she’s interacting with, and the growing bond she has with the other teens – not just the fact that Rori cuts herself. I don’t want to ignore it or glorify it, as it’s just one part of Rori’s overall character.
Cummings: I think we have to return to it because we subtly hint at it several times in the first arc when she is grabbing at her arm during tense situations. With it being an element of the story like that, I don’t want to just leave it dangling unresolved.
JG: What’s your superpower of choice?
Cummings: To be able to add extra days to the week so can have more downtime.
Zub: Lately I think I’d be down for stopping time so I could get more done in a day without feeling exhausted. Teleportation to cut down on travel time would be pretty sweet too. 🙂
Zub: The story takes a bit of an unexpected turn as we introduce a new character named Ohara Emi. She’ll give us a different view of events and provide a different voice to the cast as she’s pulled from her safe and dependable life into the chaotic and increasingly dangerous supernatural climate in Tokyo. Her experiences contrast with what’s happening to the rest of the cast in the aftermath of the battle in issue #5. By the time this second story arc is done we’ll reveal some of the bigger story pieces coming into play. I’m excited to see how people react to it all.
Cummings: Some new characters, especially a new member of the team and lots of insane action as they start to put things together and figure out what is really going on. And lots and lots of cats…