Samurai Jack was an animated series created by Genndy Tartakovsky for Cartoon Network. The series followed lost in time samurai warrior "Jack" (voiced by Phil LaMarr) in his lonely quest to find a way of traveling back in time and defeating the demonic wizard Aku (voiced by Mako Iwamatsu). Episodes ranged from dark and epic to comical, but often contained little dialogue. Stories relied on the series' highly detailed, outline-free, masking-based animation, as well as its cinematic style and pacing. The series premiered on August 10, 2001 and ran for 52 episodes before its cancellation on September 25, 2004. Now 9 years later Jack has returned in the pages of IDW Comics. Written by Jim Zub and illustrated by Andy Suriano. This team brings back the magic that is Samurai Jack! I had the pleasure of interviewing both men about their careers and what’s new with the man named “Jack!”
Michael Garone: Hi guys! Who or what inspired you to become a writer? An artist?
Jim Zub: Playing Dungeons & Dragons stoked a storytelling fire inside me when I was a kid. Having that framework to build ideas from really encouraged me to develop characters and eventually start running the games, interacting with my friends and coming up with wild story ideas. That love of storytelling would spread out to encompass comics, video games, and animation.
Andy Suriano: As far as comics artist's influences, I'd say the biggest for me were MAD Magazine artists like Don Martin, Sergio Aragones and Jack Davis specifically. They were able to tell stories within stories by adding tangential visual gags that helped create a fuller world without taking away from the gag or punchline at hand. Brilliant.
MG: First job as a comic book writer-artist?
JZ: The first comic I ever finished was a self-published web comic called The Makeshift Miracle that ran online from 2001-2003. In 2011, on the 10th anniversary, I actually went back and rewrote it, with new artwork by a watercolour artist named Shun Hong Chan. The first ‘professional’ comic I wrote (in this case co-wrote) was Exalted published by UDON in 2005.
AS: Hmmm, it was ages ago but I THINK my first comic's gig was on a beginning days of Image book called Labman. I believe I segued that into my own book titled Big Hair Productions Inc., also thru Image.
MG: Do you relate any character development based on your own life experiences?
JZ: Absolutely. I think even the wildest fictional concepts end up touching upon experiences you have. Makeshift Miracle reflected thoughts and fears I had as a young teenager who was afraid of becoming an adult and losing touch with the simpler goals of youth. Skullkickers, the creator-owned series I’m doing at Image, is a fantasy-comedy that channels early D&D playing and my love of sword & sorcery stuff like Conan and Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser.
AS: My compulsions and psychosis are spilled all over my pages! My style(s) range as broad as my interests, so I am always able to tap into at least some aspect of myself, while still selflessly serving the title at hand.
MG: Who is the one character you have written stories about that you connected with the most?
JZ: Colby from Makeshift Miracle is the most connected, but characters I write always have little elements taken from me. When I wrote a mini-series for Street Fighter with a teenage ninja girl named Ibuki, I made her extremely punctual and had her write out her texts in full without any texting short forms, which is something I do. Every character has little personal touchstones.
AS: Joe Casey and myself appeared in our Charlatan Ball series as ourselves, so I'd say that counts! hahaha But seriously, having spent so many formidable years on the animated Samurai Jack TV series at Cartoon Network, the character has been engrained within me in a very profound way.
MG: Who of all the characters you have ever written about is your favorite? Why?
JZ: Really hard to say. I think it shifts and changes as you go along. That said, writing the Skullkickers has been an absolute joy and it’s became the foundation of my career as a comic writer, so I definitely have a special place for those two lunkheads.
MG: Samurai Jack is 14 years old and still stands the test of time. When I opened issue one it was like 10 years had not passed at all and we were right back in the thick of his adventure. How far along have we come from the final episode (Ep. 52)?
JZ: Like the show itself, there’s no exact time measurement. We’re never told how long Jack has been questing or how many years pass between episodes/seasons. I think it adds to the mythic quality of the storytelling to leave that vague. The comic definitely takes place after the show, but we don’t need to know exactly how long that’s been.
AS: What Jim said!
MG: How much freedom do you have with the Samurai Jack license? Does each script have to go through the powers that be at Cartoon Network and Genndy Tartakovsky?
JZ: Like with any licensed project, the license holder gets input and approval, but Cartoon Network has been really open to our story ideas so far. It’s been a surprisingly smooth process with minimal edits so far. When I sent in my first script I was really nervous because every client can be different, but we haven’t had any problems yet.
AS: I think we get far greater leeway on this property due to its absence from TV, which is refreshing.
MG: Will The Scotsman or Aku return?
JZ: The Scotsman shows up again for a 2-part story in #6-7. I don’t want the comic to retread too much. Aku will always be around because he’s the big bad at the heart of the story, but beyond him I want to forge new stories and take Jack new places, just like the show did.
AS: I just drew both The Scotsman (for issue seven's cover) and Aku (issue five).
MG: Will Jack’s true name ever be revealed?
JZ: Nope. If Genndy didn’t want people to know it I don’t see why I should change that. It’s not important to the story.
AS: It will always be Jack.
MG: Do you have a favorite episode or two from the series? Mine is "Jack and the Baby.”
JZ: I really like “Jack Versus Mad Jack”, “Jack and the Scotsman”, and “Samurai Versus Ninja”. There are a ton of great episodes.
AS: I feel a stronger affinity for the episodes Genndy encouraged me to run wild and put my own stamp on: "The Haunted House" (which I won an Annie Award for), "The Zombie Graveyard" Eps, just to name a few that stick out to me right now.
MG: What can you talk about or reveal on what’s coming up in future issues?
JZ: We’re treating the comic like a fifth season of the show, so lots of new stories that bounce between serious and silly, just like they did in seasons 1-4. There’s a big battle with Aku in issue 5 and the Scotsman comes back in #6-7. Beyond that Andy and I are teaming up to co-write issue #8. I think that issue will be almost entirely silent, which should look pretty cool on the printed page.
AS: Jack joins a barbershop quartet in issue five. You heard it here first!
MG: Will Jack’s story finally be resolved and will we see the end of Aku?
JZ: Unless Genndy and Cartoon Network asked me to end the story, I wouldn’t do that, no. My job is to continue Samurai Jack’s legacy as strongly as I can in the spirit of the original animated series, not to finish it off.
MG: Do you have any current or future projects you can talk about?
JZ: I’m doing a lot of different comic projects right now actually – Skullkickers at Image, Pathfinder at Dynamite. I wrote a one-shot kids version of Red Sonja called Li’l Sonja that’s coming out at the end of this month and have a special one-shot with the regular adult Red Sonja arriving in April. I’m writing a Suicide Squad one-shot story for DC comics coming out in March and have a couple other creator-owned and work-for-hire projects that should be announced in a month or so.
The best way for people to see what I have on tap is by checking out my website www.jimzub.com . I post about new projects there and also have a bunch of tutorials about working in the business – how to break in to comics, how to pitch stories and write scripts. All kinds of stuff.
AS: I am still cranking out Mickey Mouse shorts for Disney, TMNT licensing art for Nickelodeon and aside from hopefully more Jack's with Jim, I'll be cranking out web and print comics with Homestar Runner creator Matt Chapman at Cosmicscoundrels.com, another series with Image comic's Tyler Shainline, another with film and TV writer Quinton Peeples, a few other ideas that I've written myself and then, after a nap, a couple things I can't talk about yet--so I hope you will want to when I can! People can always hunt me down thru andyupdates.blogspot.com or via twitter @wolfboy74 as well.
MG: Thank guys!
Samurai Jack issue 4 is out next Wednesday January 22nd. Please see the slideshow for a preview. Here is the synopsis:
A mystic queen of great power and beauty accepts no criticism, especially from a lowly wandering samurai. Can Jack find another one of the Threads of Time before he’s imprisoned for royal heresy?
Keep up with Jim and Andy on Twitter: Jim:@JimZub & Andy:@wolfboy74