We recently caught up with comic writer Jim Zub, who is penning the latest comic series based on Dungeons & Dragons (see “'Dungeons & Dragons Legends of Baldur's Gate'”), published by IDW. Zub, who has written several Pathfinder comic adaptations (see “'Pathfinder' GN a la RPG”), as well as comics based on other licensed properties (see “Disney’s 'Figment' by Jim Zub” and “Dynamite Announces 'Red Sonja & Cub' & New 'Solar: Man of Atom' Comics”), discusses his experience adapting a multi-platform media property, bringing back a fan-favorite character, and how playing D&D in his youth shaped him as a storyteller.
The last time we talked, you were working on Pathfinder and you discussed how you had come to work on that part of the fantasy gaming universe (see “The Creation of 'Pathfinder' Comics”). How did you end up working on D&D?
That was an interesting conversation. I’ve actually been talking to Ted Adams at IDW (Publishing) about different projects – I’m doing the Samurai Jack book over at IDW (see “IDW's New 'Samurai Jack'”) and it’s going really well. They really like the book and I love working on it, and it sort of organically grew out of conversations that Ted and I had where he said to me, ‘It would be great if I did some more stuff over at IDW, was there anything I really liked that they were publishing?’
I remembered that he did a series of D&D books a couple of years ago and I really liked them, and I asked why they weren’t publishing any more D&D comics. I said, ‘The 40th Anniversary of the game is coming up this year and I think it would be the perfect time to do more D&D,’ and he agreed and put me in touch with Wizards of the Coast. The conversation grew from there. So it was an off comment that turned into the conversation that turned into the project.
Can you discuss the storyline of the Baldur’s Gate miniseries, and how it fits into the current expressions of storylines in other places people may be encountering Dungeons & Dragons.
Baldur’s Gate is a really popular video game series based on Dungeons & Dragons, and so there’s a huge storyline that’s happening with the launch of the new D&D game rules, called Tyranny of Dragons and there’s a lot of complex stuff happening in that storyline.
When I was talking to the Wizards people, one of the things I expressed was that I wanted to make sure we put a story together so that a new reader, who was just trying the game for the first time or had never picked up a Dungeons & Dragons story before, could easily grab our comic and not feel overwhelmed with all the lore and historical stuff that is going to be happening in the main storyline. So although this is happening at the same time as Tyranny of Dragons and has some threads connecting it, it’s really meant to stand alone and be a new reader-friendly story for people to be able to pick up, whether or not they’ve played the Baldur’s Gate video games or whether or not they’ve ever read a D&D story before.
In D&D Encounters organized play, they did Baldur’s Gate earlier this year leading into the Tyranny of Dragons storyline (see “Changes to ‘D&D’ Encounters”), so do the events in the comics happen before the Tyranny of Dragons storyline, or what’s the time frame connection?
It’s happening in the midst of it. The adventure that happened in Baldur’s Gate happened just before our story. So if you play through that D&D Encounters adventure and know the events that happened there, you’ll notice things that line up with that particular adventure, but it’s not a situation where you have to know it intimately to read the story.
The actual Tyranny of Dragons events are taking place somewhere around 100 years after the events of the video game, so those events are kind of reflected in the larger history of Baldur’s Gate, but it’s not immediate or recent.
When we interviewed (Wizards of the Coast’s Head of Publishing & Licensing for D&D) Liz Schuh a few months ago (see “Exclusive Interview: 'D&D's' Liz Schuh on the New Edition OP”), she did say there was going to be a Tyranny of Dragons story in the comics, so will that follow out of this one?
It’s quite possible. Some of the events that are happening in our story do tie to the bigger Tyranny of Dragons, but it’s not necessary for readers to be following both simultaneously. If you are following along with the adventure and you have knowledge of what’s going on in Tyranny of Dragons I think this will help enrich it and help broaden some of the perspectives of other events that are going on, but it’s meant to stand on its own as well.
Other than the connections we just discussed, is there any reflection or acknowledgement of the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons in the comics?
Well, obviously it’s going to correspond with all the material, the rule sets, spells and races that are in D&D. Dungeons & Dragons is really built from a legacy of stories and places, particularly since this is happening in the Forgotten Realms. It’s not like with a rules system; I don’t want to create a story where readers feel the ‘gamey-ness’ of it; I don’t want it to feel like you could pick out all the rules or particular elements. I want it to feel like a great fantasy story first, and then it’s a D&D story. It’s something that obviously corresponds to the game and the game world; but I want people to get into the characters and enjoy the adventure that we’re building rather than feeling like you’re watching a game played out in front of your eyes.
When dealing with such a large trans-media property, how much freedom does a comic writer have, given the constraints that are in this larger storyline that’s part of a huge universe that’s being expressed across multiple platforms?
That was one of my concerns early on, when we were talking about it. I wanted to make sure that we could tell a story about these characters rather than getting bogged down in a lot of other lore or material. It’s actually one of the reasons they suggested me working in the city of Baldur’s Gate, because after the initial Tyranny of Dragons, after that Organized Play adventure, the city is left to its own devices. It won’t be the battleground for the bigger Tyranny of Dragons storyline. We were talking back and forth about ways that we could nod to the greater story without taking anything away from my ability to bring a new group of characters into play and have them on an adventure that means something to them, that doesn’t position them as pawns moving on a bigger chess board.
One of the fun things that we were able to pull into it was a fan-favorite character from the video game who has not been followed up on since those games. His name is Minsc, and he’s not always quick on the uptake. He’s this slightly foolish ranger who is very heroic and very courageous and dives into trouble before considering the ramifications. He’s a character that has built a cult following over the years since the video game, until we came up with an ingenious way to be able to bring him into the present, 100 years forward from the events of the video game, and have him join our group. In this case, if you’ve played the video games, you’ll get something really cool out of it, you’ll be really thrilled to see this old fan-favorite, but if you’ve never read the stories or played the video games before, you can just jump in and this character is quite appealing and straightforward and you’ll understand what he’s about right from the get-go.
Anything else that our readers should know about what this series will be like?
I really wanted to try and channel the feeling of a great Dungeons & Dragons adventure. It will have a lot of action. Right from the first page, it really digs in, so that there is a real sense of energy to it. It doesn’t get bogged down in lots of conversation, or characters talking at length about lore or history, it’s really about the adventure and the exploration, the seat of your pants excitement of great fantasy storytelling. That’s really the kind of stuff that I love, and when I discussed it with the Wizards of the Coast team, that was really what I wanted and they were really enthusiastic about me bringing that to the comic page.
When you’ve got something like a fantasy novel, where you can have lots and lots of exposition, and tons of background material, it works very well for that medium. But here, in comics, this is a visual medium; let’s make big, visual action.
One other point. They did multiple sequels of the Baldur’s Gate video game, so it was played by literally millions of players around the world. It’s a really, really well known iteration of Forgotten Realms and the D&D world as a whole, so we think using that legacy and bringing it forward could bring in a whole new audience of comic readers.
Have you worked with this artist before?
I have not. However I recommended Max for this project, I’ve wanted to work with him for a couple of years now. I met him in a few years ago at Seattle at Emerald City Comic Con and thought his work was really great. So we had a couple of near misses where we were trying to put together a project that would work well for us and when the opportunity came for this, I recommended him, and his work really stood out to both IDW and Wizards so they jumped on it. He’s killing it. His pages are absolutely gorgeous.
This is a limited series, correct?
Yes. From what I’ve been told, they’re hoping that it does well and they’ll extend it out, either with more miniseries or just keep it going from here. The plan at this point is five issues.
Is D&D something you feel you’d like to continue to do additional work on?
Yes. I grew up on Dungeons & Dragons. It was absolutely core to me becoming a storyteller and a creative person.
When I was young, I played with my older brother and cousins and I was the youngest person at the table. When you’re the youngest, you want to be important, or you want to be a part of the group, and in a game of D&D, every time it’s your turn, you get to speak, you get to have a role and get involved. So every time it was my turn, it was my chance to make a good impression or entertain people or make them laugh, so right from the get-go, Dungeons & Dragons really taught me about making memorable characters or building stories or pushing myself as a creative person even though I didn’t know it at the time. I was only like nine or ten years old.
The more I look back on it, the game sort of grew with me – the things I liked about stories would change the way I would play the game. I played all the way through most of elementary school and high school; I would play with my friends in college. You really do grow with the game. It’s amazing to think it’s been 40 years of Dungeons & Dragons and you’ve literally got generations of people playing year after year.
It’s near and dear to my heart, and being able to be involved with it on this big anniversary is really special. I’m hoping it goes well and we can just keep it rolling.
'Dungeons & Dragons: Legends of Baldur's Gate'
July 15 2014 @ 1:50 pm CT
Four Hardcovers for Summer Release
January 30, 2015
Dark Horse has announced summer graphic novel releases from David Rubin, Cory Levine, Ethan Young, and Victor Gischler.