Interview: Jim Zub on the Evolution of 'Wayward' and What He's Learned Along the Way

wayward 30 cover
(Photo: Image Comics)

In 2014, Jim Zub and Steven Cummings' Wayward launched at Image Comics drawing readers into a story that, at the time, was described as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Japan." Now, four years later, the story of Rori Lane and her friends have taken on a variety of monsters and creatures in a story that has become so much more, but is coming to an end.

This week, that story will come to a close with Wayward #30 with Rori and her friends taking on the Yokai in one final battle for not just their lives and those of their loved ones, but for the very nature of fate and reality itself. With so much riding on the final issue of the series, ComicBook.com caught up with Zub to talk about how Wayward has evolved over the past four years, how he'd describe the series now, what the series has taught him along the way.

ComicBook.com: Wayward has been running since 2014, and the finale is coming. When you first began the series, did you know then exactly where the ending would find the characters, or has the story evolved over the years?

Jim Zub: I had the main thrust of the ending of the series worked out, the big moment it all leads to, but exactly how the characters got there and who survived the final conflict was not nailed down until more recently.

Were there any characters whose story and evolution surprised you?

The relationship between Emi and Shirai was something that grew more than I expected, but in a good way. The series needed a bit of romance, and it was a way for both of them to find an emotional port in the storm.

One of the more interesting elements of Wayward is its use of Japanese mythology and culture -- I was specifically blown away by the depiction of the death penalty in Japan in #26. What was your process like when it came to digging into the details of the world you've created in Wayward?

Story always came first. I didn't want the lore or historical facts to overwhelm the character beats or emotional stuff we were building. Thankfully, the more research I'd do on a subject or the more material Steven [Cummings] and Zack [Davisson] sent my way, the more character stuff flowed naturally from it.

Using "real" myth and real locations was a challenge, but it also forced me to try different things and go places with the story I wouldn't have done if we didn't have that as the foundation. It was a lot of work, but I'm really proud of how it came together to make something unexpected for our team and our readers.

What would you say the biggest thing you've learned since starting Wayward is? Either in terms of the subject matter or the process of creating the book.

Having an overall plan is important, but allowing spontaneity to be part of the story development is crucial too. New ideas enter the mix and they spark even more changes to where you thought things would go. All of that is part of the process.

Right from the start things changed, and it was for the better. I originally had the "team" get together at the end of issue #5, but it felt too easy, too safe. As I was writing it, I realized it would be better to fracture the group and have Rori and Shirai away somewhere else. That changed how Emi was introduced and created all kinds of different emotional scenes and unexpected turns. It pushed us out of our comfort zone and kept things from being a standard "monster of the week"-style story.

Wayward was pitched as "Buffy set in Japan." I know that many readers would argue that the series has become so much more than that. If you had to pitch Wayward now, how would you do so?

Wayward is a story about myth in the modern world and Japanese teens battling to find their way forward in a country and a world on the brink of destruction. It's a teen supernatural action-drama that uses real mythology and real places as the foundation to tell a big crazy story.

wayward ayane
(Photo: Image Comics)

The last two issues or so have had some big surprises for readers with the return of Ayane as well as Shirai's transformation. Are there any big surprises still in store?

The final issue, Wayward #30, delivers some of the wildest visuals our team has ever put to the page and huge world-shaking moments. Not everyone is going to survive, and the battle for the future of the supernatural will be decided once and for all.

Looking back, is there anything that you would change about Wayward?

I wish we'd had the space to tell a bunch of smaller and intensely emotional supernatural stories before we propelled things to the higher level of fate and the yokai war, but in the current comic market where sales are uncertain on even big titles, let alone creator-owned, we needed to make sure we would have the chance to deliver the big stuff, so that's where we took it.

Do you have a favorite scene or arc of Wayward's run and if so, what is it?

Arc two is where I felt like we hit our stride. Lots of action and character moments we were able to delve into after getting the introductory stuff out of the way in arc one. Steven and Tamra [Bonvillain]'s art really gelled. There are probably higher highs in later arcs, but arc two is probably our most consistent.

Which character do you feel has evolved the most?

Emi Ohara went from a timid and safe schoolgirl to an absolute powerhouse by the end. She probably changed the most, emotionally.

With Wayward coming to an end, is there anything you will miss about this particular story?

1comments

Working on Wayward was the perfect excuse for me to dig deep into mythology and culture, travel to Japan, and eat a ridiculous amount of my favorite foods. Clearly, I need to set future stories there so I can keep working with Steven and get my fill of kaiten-zushi.

Wayward #30 goes on sale Wednesday, October 31st.