Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations, first and foremost, on the release!
Jim Zub: Thanks! It's a really surreal experience, because we didn't pre-announce and we didn't tease the series or anything. We just dropped this thing on everybody and now to have this kind of excited momentum with it - it's the best. It's kinda what we were hoping for.
BD: For our listeners who may be unfamiliar with the premise, would you mind telling us a little about the story?
Max Dunbar: Yeah, absolutely. It is essentially about a roving gladiatorial arena built into an asteroid; it travels from planet to planet, entertaining the people of that planet with pretty savage gladiatorial combat.
BD: Right now, we have a lot of nostalgia for ‘80s sci-fi and action adventure movies. Do you feel like that was a big impact or influence on this story?
MD: Yeah, absolutely. I'd say the sort of fun, high adventure, space opera feel is definitely something that Jim and I both love, and we're both going for it big time on the comic.
BD: Can you talk a little bit about whether there were specific influences or inspirations that you had for the series?
JZ: For me ... one of the things I loved a lot growing up was that idea of playing tons of Dungeons and Dragons when I was a kid - and monsters. The reason why you go into dungeons to fight monsters is that it's like a really easy reason to create to conflict. You're like, we're going to get treasure and we go into these dungeons and we fight stuff. The simplicity of giving reasons for conflict and the idea of an arena and that sport-ish kind of aspect made it very simple for us to generate conflict.
There was also this really weird, little game on Commodore 64, when I was a kid, it was called Mail Order Monsters. We're probably talking 20 years before Pokemon, and you made a little monster and you added a bunch of weapons to them and then they fought. And you bang on the keyboard, and the harder you hit the keys, the lasers would fire and all this stuff. My brother and I loved it, we were obsessed with it, and I think something primordial in there has stuck aroundThe original idea I had was it was going to be a planet and the whole planet was an arena, and then I thought because of my writer brain, "Well, how do they get there?"
Everyone has to go there, so what if the arena moved around? What if it was the traveling circus of the future, and it went from planet to planet, bringing entertainment. But it also has its own culture and its own secrets beneath the surface. You can't just have a arena; someone's gotta take out the garbage. Someone's gotta build things. There's a whole city community that's built around this entertainment mecca.
There's some fun and weird societal stuff with celebrities versus the regular folks. There's the scavengers like Dale, our main character, and how he gets pulled into the spotlight and has to figure out his place in Stone Star. There's that young adult coming-of-age story, there's the sci-fi, Star Wars-y kind of thrill with classic sci-fi storytelling, and then there's a bunch of weird, I don't know, Pokemon animal fights and monsters and giving Max room to design up a story.
BD: Max, as the artist, there's a very kinetic style to this complex and fantastic world in the comic book series. Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process in bringing it to life?
MD: Yeah, absolutely. Jim is a fantastic writer of action and adventure to begin with. He also gives the artist a huge amount of room to play and come up with cool sequences and angles. So, I really wanted to focus on keeping it fun and engaging and super kinetic if I could. So, with sequences of action, I really try and focus on making it cinematic and making sure that the reader, hopefully, feels some excitement as they go through these action sequences. And we're just going to keep ramping that up as the comic goes, because the story starts off fairly small, but it's going to get very big once you get into the arena. So, it's almost like practice, getting to that point, and the sky's the limit when it comes to what is possible in the arena. We're just going to keep ramping it up.
JZ: I think one of the things I find when I talk to new writers is that they have a very frozen vision of a story or an idea and they want an artist to be the art robot and read the idea from their mind and put it down on the page perfectly. That is not how collaboration works. The earlier you can bring someone else into it and build with them the synergy of your ideas will feed the end result.
Getting Max in on the ground floor and going: Here is a premise, what does that bring out of you when I talk about it? What do you want to see and what are you excited about drawing? Then, I will lean into that and then you get more excited and then we feed on each other's excitement for it. Max literally said that he wanted to create a Godzilla-sized crazy creature; give me a reason in this story to have a bunch of people fighting one huge monster. I was like, oh ... in my mind originally all the gladitorial stuff would be these one-on-one fights or small skirmishes. There's no reason why they couldn't have a battle royale against a giant monster; let's do it!
BD: This is a five-issue series that's going to be coming out through Comixology. Is there anything you're able to share about the upcoming issues (without getting you into trouble)?
MD: Yeah, absolutely. It starts pretty small. It starts pretty localized, and I think Jim was really smart to do that, because it introduces you to the world in a very consumable way. You don't feel overwhelmed, I don't think, by a huge amount of new characters or what the world is all about. He kind of slides you into it and then builds it up from there, so readers can really look forward to it becoming crazier and crazier as you learn more about the story and environment. You get comfortable with that. And then we can really ratchet up the action and the gladiatorial aspect of it. Basically, they can look forward to some crazy fights and huge action between wild aliens, monsters, and robots with millions of people spectating. Believe me, I've drawn tiny, little crowds so much at this point. I have so much more to do, but I think it really adds to the atmosphere.
You need to feel like you're in the arena yourself, so I'm hoping that readers will really enjoy that, and it's definitely something that they can look forward to.
BD: After this five-issue series, are there any plans in the works, either for continued story arcs or to expanding it to other entertainment mediums?
MD: I think Jim and I are both definitely open to other entertainment mediums should that arise. I mean, right now we're both definitely focused on making the best comic that we can, so that's our primary focus. We both love comics. And it's definitely not something that we're thinking about too much. But, of course, it's always great to see things in various different mediums, so you never know.
BD: You've worked with so many fantastic publishers throughout your career. What makes this book and this series the perfect home at ComiXology?
JZ: What Chip Mosher at ComiXology challenged me with was to bring my next creator-owned book to him, and I kind of threw it back to him and said, "Why?" Not because I don't like what they do, but I have great relationship at Image. We've done a bunch of creator-owned books over there. I know a lot of other publishers, so what can we do at ComiXology that no one else can do? We started to look at what digital provides. In our lives right now, whether it's Netflix or Amazon Prime or all these things, there's an instantaneous nature to it. We are inundated so much from so many different directions with ... teasers and people trying to gain your attention and particularly nostalgia and all those sorts of things. It is hard to get people's attention for something brand new.
So, I said, we really only have one chance for a first impression. What if that first impression is the release? What if we dropped this thing and literally go, when's Jim's new book? Now. When can you get it? Now. If you're on Prime, you can read it now. If you're on Kindle Unlimited or ComiXology Unlimited, it's waiting for you. You can just click on it and then put it in your account.
That was something unique that I couldn't get anywhere else. There was a instantaneous nature, there was a spontaneity, there was an energy to that that seemed to match the fun that we were having on developing the book. And the surprise nature of it, the idea that you've never heard of this thing before and now it's available to you. Not a teaser of a trailer for something coming out five months from now. You can tell your retailer to order, to go get it, to hope they ordered enough, and get a dog-eared copy or something. It was like, no, I wanted this to be a rush. What ComiXology gave to us was the ability to surprise people, the ability to reach an audience that is internet connected anywhere and show them what we got.
That felt very fun to me, because I could bring my current readers and fans and their willing to try something new that I'm doing. They could also bring an audience that's never heard of me in a fun, surprise way. All that together was like, yeah, that's something that no one else can do. Let's do it, ComiXology!
BD: I'm sure that your time is very much consumed by this project right now, but are there any other current projects that you'd like to share?
MD: I'm working on a few other things, some concept art for various different entertainment properties. I got to work a little bit on Dungeons and Dragons, which I am a huge fan of. That was a massive thrill for me. I'm not allowed to speak as to what it involved, but I think people are going to be really excited when they see what they have in store. It's a really cool property.
BD: For folks who may not be here at WonderCon, but who want to check out Stone Star, what is the best way to do so? And, what is the best way to find you when you're not at conventions?
MD: Stone Star is available on Comixology.com. It should be on the front page; it's a Comixology exclusive, but it will be in their Comixology Originals page, as well. In terms of finding me, I'm on social media (@Max_Dunbar) on Twitter, as well as Instagram. Those are my two primary places where I like to interact with people and share news and artwork. I'll be continuing to promote Stone Star, posting art, posting everything that I can. You know, without spoiling too much on those various social media sites.
BD: Thank you both so much for your time. And congrats again on the release!
MD: Thank you so much.
JZ: I really appreciate talking about it. Honestly, making comics is like I'm 10 years old all the time and to have people - this sounds really dorky - like it and want more of it, and then I get to do this as my vocation ... I never wanna lose how fun that is.