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Exclusive Interview with the Wayward Team

With the upcoming release of Wayward issue #11, Talk Nerdy With Us had the chance to sit down with Jim ZubSteven Cummings, and Tamra Bonvillain and chat about the series. Read our interview below!

How is the story arc going to change in the upcoming issues?

Jim: [Laughing]. Everyone keeps asking us about where things are headed with the story. I don’t want to spoil stuff for everyone. Well, I’m sure that both Steve and Tamra will be put through the ringer for the arc because that always changes the case with each new issue. Obviously the stakes have been raised. Issue 10 was pretty apocalyptic. It’s pretty huge in terms of revelations and in changing things up for our characters. They’re all in one place, but the scope of that is really broad. I’m excited for you to see where we take it. I don’t want to reveal too much about what’s coming down the pipe, but it’s bigger. Let’s put it that way!

The superpowers, that Rori and her friends have are unique. How did you come up with those?

Jim: It was actually one of the more difficult parts of developing the series. I guess rolling it right back to the start, Steve and I had talked about this for quite some time. God, Steve. I don’t even remember, when did we start talking about working together?

Steven: I want to say it might have been around 2010 or 11. Schedules didn’t cooperate and people were busy and then you started Skullkickers and I was doing something, I don’t even remember what it was. Every now and again it would come up in a conversation. I don’t think it was until 2013 that we finally had schedules open enough that we could actually do more than just say, “Wouldn’t it be cool to work together?” Then the conversation ends and it doesn’t actually go beyond that. [Laughs].

Jim: I think that was one of the weirder things. It kept coming up when we would chat and we would say, “Oh this would be cool” or “It’d be fun to do something,” but it was never specific. The only time I ever brought up something specific was that original illustration of Ayane. She didn’t have a name at the time. We were both working at the Udon Studio and that was where everything got put together.

Steve had done this illustration for the Udon 10th anniversary art book. It was this really cool image of this girl surrounded by these cats in some Japanese town. It was really evocative stuff. I asked Steve about it and he’s like, “Oh I’d always love to do a supernatural story set in Tokyo, because I think the city never really gets its due whenever they show it in the movies or in other stories.” That’s cool. I’d write that. We laughed it off and away we went.

In 2013, when we started talking again more seriously, and I had Skullkickers under my belt and I was doing other writing, all of a sudden, that idea of, “Hey we should work together,” finally seemed like a real, viable thing. This wasn’t just talking it was now like, hey we could have something. I have a bit of a reputation and we’re able to … We can build something.

I can’t remember if Steve brought it up again or if I brought it up again about that particular image and Steve said something about, “Well, this girl is …” I think he said possessed by cats or she’s made from cats, I don’t remember what the original thing he told me was. 

Steven: You mentioned the illustration to me again. I’d forgotten about it completely. [Laughs]. You remembered it. The story that I told you was that she was composed of the sum total angst of all the cats in the area. She was supposed to organically do their bidding. That was the idea.

Jim: Cool. I remember thinking that it was such a cool idea. What if we built off of that? We started jamming different ideas. I said, “I don’t want these to be superpowers like, this is a character that flies, or this is a character that shoots fire.” I didn’t want something really corny like that. I wanted them to be really different, off the wall and reflective of ideas of either mythical or modern Japan. I tracked that to the core concepts of what is a modern Japanese lifestyle. There’s a little bit of a cliché about this idea that Japanese people don’t let their emotions out or they don’t let themselves show their emotion. So, by having this idea of a character who not only didn’t show his emotions but he collected emotions or he absorbed them and then repurposed that emotional power, I could use real Japanese concepts. That’s where Nikaido came from, building off concepts like that.

All the characters have touchstones to ideas about Japan culturally or Japan mythological that we tie into to give them a bit of a skin.

Steven: I’m going to jump in and say that for Nikaido, when we first were talking about him, his name was The Trapper because he would trap other people’s emotions floating around on the surface.

Jim: That’s right! All the characters had, for lack of a better term, code names. We were never going to use them in the story but when we were sketching them and coming up with them, they just had these broad names before we gave them specific real names. We never thought we’d use them in the actual story. They were just like, “Okay, this is what the character’s power is.” Shirai’s code name was the Ghost Biter.

That’s pretty awesome!

Jim: Rori’s code name was Street Spell because she would draw patterns in the street. That was the original idea.

I’ve seen Wayward compared to Buffy and Saga, what do you think of those comparisons? Do you agree/disagree?

Jim: We engendered the Buffy comparison on purpose. That was a total shrewd move on, I don’t know if that was my part, I guess.

Steven: That was you!

Jim: Hey, I’d like to be compared to Buffy! That’s got a real popular fan base and it’s got a strong emotional attachment. The Buffy thing, I think is valuable as a shortcut, as a way for us to tell people, “Hey, if you like this you’ll like that.” It was never our intent to say, “Hey we’re going to rip off Buffy.” It was a matter of saying, “Oh, you like teenage drama and supernatural action. That’s what we’re going for.” That’s the age range, that’s the kind of setting in that broader sense that we want to encompass.

I think what’s so great about the work that Steven and Tamra are doing is that it really draws you in that way, it really grabs you on that level.

With the world of binge-watching TV, do you guys find that readers want to binge-read your series, instead of read issue by issue or do you think many fans still want to get that next issue?

Jim: The single issue market for comics is so valuable! It’s so important to have a regular, monthly readership of your book. We try and pack every single issue with that added content, with the essays and with other stuff that wouldn’t necessarily be in the trade because you want people to feel like they’re getting their good bang for their book and that they’re going to get something really awesome for it.

We had one issue where Tamra showed step by step how she colors a panel or additional sketches or back matter material so that the single issues feel like you’re getting something special every single chapter. The reality is the book market is huge and a lot of people are going to be picking this up in trade and we’re seeing a lot of people who have started reading thanks to the trade, but I don’t think … The single issues have worked well for us so far. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

I could totally agree with that. I buy single issues and the entire book.

Jim: Obviously, we’d be happy if people double dip because we’re a small, creator-owned series. [Laughs]. 

How do you guys work around creating a cohesive story but being in different time zones and different parts of the world?

Jim: Tamra, How do you put up with us sending you ludicrous expectations of doing detailed art work and reference material and, hey by the way, here’s a brutal deadline?

Tamra: I have a lot of coffee, and not a lot of sleep. [Laughs]. It is definitely hard but I’m proud of everything we’re doing together so I mean, it’s worth it in the end. It’s definitely challenging. How I put up with it, I don’t know? You just do it!

I mean, Steve’s putting in a lot of work too, clearly in his art work.

Jim: You guys are both monsters. [Laughing]. I got to tell you, whenever Steve puts in a new page or something, I’m like, I almost feel guilty when I’m sending the script out and it … This’ll be a brutal sequence. Why am I doing this? I think it’ll look good. I think it’ll be powerful to the story and I know Steve’s going to put every little piece in there. It’s wild.

A lot of it is about scheduling, I think. Steve and I, we try to jump on Google Hang Out if we can, at least once a week and talk about what’s going on. It hasn’t been as consistent lately because we’ve both been crazy with other stuff and I’ve been jumping around to conventions, but we try to stay in touch pretty regularly, get the schedule put together pretty far out, when stuff’s going to need to get done.

A lot of creator-owned books is about self-scheduling, self-policing yourself in order to make sure that everything is moving forward. For me, I’ve got to make sure Steve’s got enough script, and it’s never enough. I’ve got to try to make sure I’m staying ahead of the ball and planning stuff out. Every time I think we’ve got a pretty good buffer, it just gets eaten up. You’ve just got so many things happening, so many balls in the air, that’s working for hire, you’ve got an editor who’s constantly checking those deadlines, but with us you’re just, we’re like self-policing.

The fear of Steve running out of pages, that’s what keeps me on deadline. [Laughs].

Do you guys find that when you get the script or you get the art work that it matches up to what you were thinking? What you were envisioning it would look like when you were writing it? And what you envisioned the next script would be when you were drawing it?

Jim: I don’t know about you, Steve. Obviously you have a visual when you read the script.

Steven: I always envision ninjas and there’s never ninjas so I’m always sad. [Laughs].

Jim: We’re in a no-ninja zone! That’s our version of Japan.

Steven: Exactly. I read it. I read the script and I usually imagine it one way and then I go eat breakfast and come back and re-read it again and then I realize it might be saying something completely different and I was … I read a lot of Manga so honestly, I think I have to be careful that I don’t let that affect the way I approach the art too much.

Jim and I talk about these things in advance, so from a plot-point standpoint I usually know what’s fully decided and what’s coming. 

Jim: It’s not usually much of a surprise.

Steven: Yeah, although sometimes the things that I’ll tell you, “Hey there’s this cool thing, let’s use that,” and you’ll say, “Sure!” Then when it appears, it’s always really a unique take on what I’ve told you, instead of what would feel like the most obvious choice. It’s really an interesting way to see how those ideas get really organically changed in a really short time.

Jim: I think probably the biggest curveball … In the original outline for Issue 5, Tamra was fully on board by this point, we had a much more standard wrap up to the first arc. It was like, all the kids beat back Yokai and then they go off and they’re like, “Oh, man we’re on the run now.” It was really simple and I thought, “Man, this is toothless. I want to push this a lot further.”

I remember emailing you and being like, “Hey, I’m changing the end of number 5. I’m going to blow everything up and people are going to think that Rori and Shiri are dead.”

Steven: Yeah, I remember that. That was a really … I was really happy about that.

Jim: You emailed me exactly like, “Oh, that’s cool!” 

Steven: Yeah, I mean I thought it was cool. I thought that we could really have some interesting drama and more importantly, it might be fun to actually put that together on the page. It was really cool because people didn’t know what was going on. All the comments I got from readers were literally like, “What the hell is going on?”

Jim: Yeah, “How could you do that?” Then we also got –

Steven: Yeah, “How could you do that?” That was a real system shock for readers.

Jim: I love the fact that with a creator-owned I don’t have to … The only person I have to justify that to is Steve. The only person I have to justify that to says, “Hey man, this is what I’m thinking. I had this idea we could do it better. Let’s just go for it. Let’s just take a risk,” rather than being like, “Oh, this corporate-mandated thing. I don’t know if they’re going to let us do it.” You know what I mean?

Steven: Yeah. We really do have complete freedom and the only trade-off is that we don’t have the guaranteed money that you would have on a work-for-hire book.

Jim: We don’t have the safety net but that also means we can take really cool risks. I think we’ve done it again with Issue 11 coming out in end of November. We took some risks in terms of focal point. We took some risks in terms of characterization. We’ve introduced some new characters again and we’re throwing people new curve balls. I like that we can do that. I like that the series can evolve and I can still work towards the goals that we have but it can still surprise you too, you know?

Steven: I was going to say, Issue 11, which is the one Jim was talking about, is for me the most interesting issue we’ve done so far and I’m several issues beyond it but it is … I think it’s a real pivot point for the entire series. I just cannot wait for this issue to get into the hands of readers because it makes Wayward … It takes that end of Issue 10 where we have Rori making this incredible statement about what she thinks is her new mission and it really… It’s like putting sugar in your tea. It just really flavors that and we get to see the world in a different way. It’s great! It’s going to be a blast!

The first handful of issues were very Rori-focused and then as the story went on we grew and we learned more about the other characters. Is Rori going to remain the main character or are we going to learn about her friends and other characters in the story little bit more?

Jim: I think that Rori is obviously, she’s a fulcrum for a lot of things that are happening so she’s an important character because she’s a catalyst for a lot changes and big things but she’s not the only important character. She’s not the only … Everything she does is changing the stuff around her but then that reveals other stories and so I think Rori’s always going to be, as she’s in the story she’s doing things that are important, but it’s very much an ensemble kind of piece moving forward.

The story’s expanded from just about her and her fears, it’s almost like as her world has expanded, hopefully the readers have as well. They see that there’s a lot of other moving parts and I think it’s going to certainly open up people’s minds to the fact that there are a lot of other things moving because of what she’s done.

What other graphic novels do you guys nerd out about?

Jim: Okay, Tamra you go first because we’ve been doing all the talking. [Laughs].

Tamra: I have a hard time finding time to read stuff lately, but I try to keep up with a few things, like Saga, East of West, Walking Dead, the image stuff I try to keep with as best I can.

Jim: Is East of West good? I’ve only read the first couple.

Tamra: I like it a lot. I’m a big fan of the art too, totally.

Jim: Any non-image stuff you read?

Tamra: There’s a lot of stuff I try to read. Like I said, I buy more than I read. It just piles up here. I Really like Southern Bastards too.

Jim: Oh that one’s good.

Tamra: I read some random Marvels but I’m not as good about keeping up with that. That’s definitely all I can think of off the top of my head. There’s a lot of stuff. If something from Image comes out I probably read it.

Jim: Steve,  are you reading any American Comic?

Steven: I’d like to, but they’re so expensive over here. There is a comic book store. It’s called Blister and it’s up in Akihabara, it’s a really nice store but they –

Jim: And they carry Wayward!

Steven: They do carry Wayward! In fact, when I go up there to drop off stuff to sell, they tell me that it’s selling like their bigger titles. They’re going through 50 an issue of just the monthlys and the trades come in and they go straight out. In fact, they were even nice enough to order the deluxe, super, giant Wayward awesome brick!

We’re actually selling those over here and I’d like to read more comics but I just don’t have the time to read a lot and like I said, you walk in there and your eyes would pop out when you see the import prices, but I do read the Knights of the Dinner Table which is not a superhero comic. That’s just my absolute favorite comic.

Jim: Nice.

Steven: I mostly read Manga, it’s just close, on hand.

Jim: What Manga are you reading right now?

Steven: I’m really enjoying what Art Performance is doing with Gundam, with the return of Johnny Ridden and also their bizarre girls-turn-into-boat comic called Arpeggio. I don’t remember what the English title is but it’s Arpeggio and its’ this really weird story about how all the old, historic naval ships from past that fought wars all of a sudden come back to life and take over the oceans. It’s just a … It turns out they’re all cute girls. It’s a weird story but it’s really interesting.

Jim: That is so Japan!

Steven: [Laughing]. It is. I can only imagine what would happen if an American editor had a creator walk in and pitch that story.

Jim: That’s awesome.

Steven: Yeah. Of course, I read Wayward which is quite possible the best comic that has ever been created!

Jim: Oh my gosh. I’m reading a ton of comics. I read a pretty crazy cross-section. I used to try and read all the books that my friends were making and once I started doing more conventions and meeting lots of creators that is impossible. I can’t even keep up with what other people I know in the business are making, which is kind of embarrassing because whenever you go to a show, everyone comes in, and they’re like, “Oh you reading my new thing?” and you’re just like, “It’s not you man, it’s me. I’m seriously overwhelmed with the amount of good books coming out!”

I read, obviously, a lot of Image. I’m really liking Saga. I still read Walking Dead. I like Invincible a lot. I like Rat Queen. I sample a lot of the new Marvels and DC coming down the pipe. I love the magic and the supernatural characters so I really like the new Dr. Strange from Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo. I’m excited for the new Daredevil. I really liked Mark Waid’s Daredevil. In turn, I’m going to pick up the Black Widow series when it comes out. I quite like Nick Spencer’s new Captain America. I picked up the new issue of that and I thought it was pretty sharp. What else? Midnighter’s very cool. Steve Orlando’s doing good stuff.

Just little bits of everything. I read  just whatever I can get my hands on. I learn from stuff, even if it’s … I’m naming all really good books but I learn from the crappy stuff too. I won’t name those because that’s not cool [laughing], but I learn from crappy books. I read crappy comics and I’m like, “Oh, I will remember not to do that kind of thing.” Or “I need to make sure that we’re clear with our story telling,” or whatever. I think it all informs the art form. It informs the craft.

WAYWARD #11 Cover A by Steven Cummings and Tamra Bonvillain hits stores Wednesday, November 18th. Cover B by Nick Bradshaw and Cover C by Karibu will also be available Wednesday, November 18th.

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