TFAW Interviews: PATHFINDER’s Jim Zub and Erik Mona

by Jeff

jun121004 TFAW Interviews: PATHFINDER's Jim Zub and Erik MonaMillions of players can’t be wrong: Pathfinder, the award-winning, best-selling fantasy RPG, is one of the most popular games in the world. Released in 2009 by Paizo Publishing, Pathfinder has gained a legion of fans who are passionate about its exciting adventure paths, dynamic characters, and multiple expansions.

Speaking of “expansions,” the next step toward total world domination takes place this week, with the debut of Pathfinder comics from Dynamite Entertainment! We had the chance to interview writer Jim Zub and Paizo Publisher Erik Mona about this exciting new series and what it holds for fans.

Make sure to check out our five-page preview of Pathfinder #1, out this Wednesday. Plus, make sure to “Like” TFAW on Facebook and take part in our contest, beginning at 9 a.m. PST August 15, to win an amazing prize package including a copy of the Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path Anniversary Edition hardcover, signed by the entire Paizo staff, a copy of their newest release, the Pathfinder RPG: Ultimate Equipment hardcover, and two copies of Pathfinder #1 signed by the series’ creative team! Plus, three runners’ up with receive signed issues of Pathfinder #1. Make sure to visit us on Facebook August 15 to enter our contest.

TFAW: How did you become involved with the Pathfinder comics?

Jeff Zub: I’ve known Erik Mona, Publisher at Paizo, for years and did some work with him and the Paizo gang back when they were publishing the Dungeons & Dragons magazines. As their company grew and they started Pathfinder around five years ago we stayed in contact, would see each other at conventions and would talk about comics, gaming, and entertainment.

tfaw_pathfinder1p1_thumb TFAW Interviews: PATHFINDER's Jim Zub and Erik MonaLast year at Gen Con in Indianapolis, Erik mentioned to me that a Pathfinder comic was a possibility and I told him to keep me in mind for writing. Good to his word, when Dynamite Entertainment licensed Pathfinder for comics, he put my name forward as a possible writer for the series. I put together a pitch package and it impressed both Paizo and Dynamite enough that they put me on board.

TFAW: I read in a previous interview that you started playing Dungeons & Dragons when you were 8; did you also play Pathfinder when it debuted?

JZ: I did play Pathfinder when it launched and, although I’m too busy to maintain a regular campaign right now, I do try to find time to play. Tabletop role-playing games are a wonderful source of creativity and I always enjoy collaborating with friends over a gaming session.

TFAW: Can you talk about the process behind and challenges of taking an RPG and turning it into an ongoing comic book series?

JZ: When you’re adapting between any two mediums I think it’s really important to understand what makes each one tick. You want to maintain the strengths of each medium in the adaptation process. Fantasy role-playing games focus on creating an in-depth and compelling setting players can use as the canvas for their story and character ideas. At first glance it might be tempting to show tons of world-setting material right off the bat, but the actual focus of game sessions is on interesting character stories, so that’s what we’re building from for the comic. We get to use the comic medium to its full advantage, telling a visual character-centric story, while slowly widening the view of Golarion with each adventure.

TFAW: How involved was Paizo Publishing?

tfaw_pathfinder1p2_thumb TFAW Interviews: PATHFINDER's Jim Zub and Erik MonaJZ: Paizo’s been heavily involved, but not in a bad way. They’re obviously the Pathfinder experts and it’s been wonderful bouncing ideas off of the staff there. They’ve been really good about allowing me to build the characters and overall plot for the comic, while making great suggestions about setting, rules elements that can be incorporated seamlessly, and tiny details fans of Pathfinder will be thrilled to see.

TFAW: Can you introduce us to your debut storyline? What characters are featured?

JZ: The goblin clans of Varisia, Pathfinder fan-favorite antagonists, are being controlled by a strange evil force that’s motivating and organizing them. The adventurers are drawn in thinking they’re dealing with a regular goblin raiding band, but quickly realize something much larger is at stake. The mystic forces being called upon by the cult at the heart of this dark plan are creating something much more dangerous, a horrifying creature that will threaten the whole region if it’s not stopped.

Valeros is a mercenary fighter who has disobeyed orders so many times he’s not quite sure how to be loyal to anything or anyone. His courage and temper make him a formidable and dangerous warrior.

Seoni is a mysterious sorcerer whose tattooed body and mystical dreams make those who first meet her wary of her power. Strangers may call her a barbarian based on appearance, but her keen strategic mind gives her a distinctive edge in battle.

Merisiel is an elven rogue whose glib banter and flashing smile lead people to assume that she’s unintelligent and shallow. Her fears and long-lived life drive her in ways few will ever understand.

tfaw_pathfinder1p3_thumb TFAW Interviews: PATHFINDER's Jim Zub and Erik MonaEzren is a middle-aged man who came to wizardry quite late in life. The march of time mixed with his desire for knowledge keeps him pushing himself to new limits.

Harsk is a quiet and contemplative dwarven ranger with deeply-sown seeds of vengeance and anger buried under the surface.

Kyra is a battle-hardened cleric of Sarenrae who will stop at nothing to destroy evil, constantly testing her faith and will against those around her.

TFAW: Your creator-owned book, Skullkickers, also a fantasy book, contains quite a bit of sly humor that pokes fun at the genre. Is there any of that in Pathfinder?

JZ: Pathfinder is far more character-focused, with a larger cast and more involved plot. There is some humor in Pathfinder, but it’s more character personality-driven rather than the overarching sarcastic and over-the-top tone of Skullkickers. I think even the most serious and dramatic stories need a bit of levity to help create highs and lows in the story.

TFAW: What is it about fantasy that attracts you, as a writer?

JZ: Good question! There’s something primal and wonderful about myth and fantasy stories. The genre seems very open to massive scale creation and expansion, wielding larger-than-life forces and creating situations that reflect on our common ideas about heroism, sacrifice and belief. The lack of modern conveniences infuses these stories with a greater sense of survival and self reliance, which I also find really intriguing as a writer.

TFAW: Are you tempted to write for the games themselves?

JZ: Hmmm . . . I’m not sure if my story building would lend itself to game adventures. I love gaming and have created adventures for friends over the years, but it would be tough coming up with an “official” game scenario that has to be able encompass just about any group plugged into it. The Paizo crew is really good at what they do, so I’d definitely need their guidance. If they asked me I’d definitely have to consider it.

tfaw_pathfinder1p4_thumb TFAW Interviews: PATHFINDER's Jim Zub and Erik MonaTFAW: What’s next on your wishlist: what type of comics do you want to tackle next?

JZ: I have a horror mini-series I’m slowly developing, as well as a supernatural thriller with a neat story hook I’m excited about exploring. I also have concepts for a dystopian super-soldier story and a fantasy graphic novel for kids. It’s hard to know which one will gain traction based on artist availability and publisher interest, so I try to keep each one slowly moving forward until one of them really heats up. My fingers are crossed that they all happen at some point down the road.

TFAW: Erik, what is it about Pathfinder that’s made it so incredibly popular, in your opinion?

Erik Mona: The Pathfinder RPG lets you create any kind of fantasy adventurer you can imagine, with robust rules for different character races and classes, and tons of special abilities that let you pull off in tabletop combat the sort of spells and combat moves that you imagine in your head. That’s a hugely compelling experience for gamers, and as Pathfinder games go on and on, players have lots of chances to develop their characters in any way they want. The game is very flexible and very fun, with diverse elements like tactical combat and even a touch of improvisational play-acting, so there’s a little something to keep everyone interested.

TFAW: Why was now the right time to launch a Pathfinder comic?

EM: We launched the Pathfinder brand about five years ago, and in that time it’s managed to overtake the previous industry flagship game to become the best-selling tabletop RPG on the market. More gamers are aware of Pathfinder now than at any time in the past, and even those who have never played it have certainly heard of it. Since many gamers are also comics fans, now seemed like the right time to launch a Pathfinder comic to show everyone what all the fuss is about.

TFAW: Can you describe your vision for the comic?

tfaw_pathfinder1p5_thumb TFAW Interviews: PATHFINDER's Jim Zub and Erik MonaEM: Ever since the beginning, we’ve included a party of “iconic adventurers” in the illustrations of all of our Pathfinder products. Folks like Valeros the fighter and Seoni the sorcerer have been around since the first day of Pathfinder, but I’ve always been holding back on telling their back stories and establishing their personalities, as I felt from day one that a comic book would be the best medium for that type of story.

In our game books, the iconic characters are stand-ins for the adventurers that the players will create to tell their own stories, so it’s not really appropriate to put too much detail into these guys there. But fans have been wanting to know more about them since they first came on the scene, and I’m thrilled that the comic finally gives us the opportunity to do it right.

TFAW: What made Dynamite the right publisher?

EM: Dynamite has a great track record with licensed properties, and their books always look absolutely great. Over the years I’ve gotten to know the core Dynamite team from conventions both of our companies attend, and I’m impressed by their knowledge and love of comics, their ability to create great-looking books based on existing properties, and their commitment to quality art and story. We spoke in general terms about working together for about a year before both companies decided (pretty much at the same time) that the time was right to move forward with a cooperative project.

A better question than what made Dynamite the right publisher, though, is what makes Dynamite the right publisher. In the months since we signed on with them, they’ve gone above and beyond to assemble a fantastic creative team for the book, and the cool variant and incentive covers they’ve put together continue to blow us away. Working with their editors and production people has been a joy, and everyone at Dynamite has been great about incorporating our feedback and thoughts (and game content, of course!) into each issue. I knew Dynamite would be a great partner before we gave them the license, and now I am absolutely sure of it.

jul120943 TFAW Interviews: PATHFINDER's Jim Zub and Erik MonaTFAW: How involved were you in the creation of the comic, and selecting the creative team?

EM: I have been pretty heavily involved in the decision-making regarding just about every creative element of the book. I have a long history with Jim Zub, as he was one of our most important contacts on the art side of Dragon and Dungeon magazines, which we used to publish. Jim coordinated all of the artists at Udon Studios and often did art for us himself, so I knew he had a lot of knowledge and passion for tabletop gaming that would serve him well on this project. Plus, his comic Skullkickers perfectly captures the zanier side of the sorts of things that happen in a Pathfinder game, so I knew he could handle the somewhat more serious subject matter we’d be covering in the comic in a way that still rang true for gamers.

I decided which of our six iconic characters would star in the series, where the series would be set (in the town of Sandpoint in the frontier nation of Varisia, home base to many Pathfinder adventures), and what sort of game content will be included in each issue. I also decide what images to put on the flip-side of the poster map included in each issue, and once Jim was in place I helped him and series editor Rich Young decide on Andrew Huerta as our penciller. I also lead the team here at Paizo that reads, comments on, and approves all of Jim’s scripts, and I sign off on every page of art as it is finished. I’d say I’ve been relatively “hands on” with the project so far.

aug121022 TFAW Interviews: PATHFINDER's Jim Zub and Erik MonaTFAW: What specific aspects of Pathfinder did you want to feature in the comic?

EM: I want to show how our iconic characters met, what their personalities are like, and how they relate to one another, things that are almost impossible to show in our RPG books, where they stand in as proxies for the player characters of the readers. I want to use the comics medium to show off the broad vistas and weird creatures that inhabit the Pathfinder world, and I want to produce an accessible story that reveals the excitement and awesomeness of the Pathfinder world to folks who haven’t yet given the game a try.

TFAW: What’s the next big thing coming up from Paizo?

EM: Next week we head to Gen Con, the biggest convention in the game business, where we’ll be formally debuting the comic with both Jim Zub and Andrew Huerta on hand to meet with Pathfinder fans, draw character sketches, and autograph comics. At the show we’ll also launch lots of brand-new products like Ultimate Equipment, a 400-page hardcover magic item catalog, a 65-figure set of Pathfinder Battles pre-painted miniatures designed to support our Rise of the Runelords campaign, and the first installment of our new Shattered Star Adventure Path. It’s going to be great!

We want to thank Jim Zub and Erik Mona for taking the time to answer all of our questions. You still have time to pre-order Pathfinder #1-3 and save 20%. Plus, remember to enter our Pathfinder contest on our Facebook page August 15 starting at 9 a.m. PST to win sweet swag from Paizo and Dynamite!

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