EXCLUSIVE: Interview With UDON’s Jim Zubkavich

If you are a comic book reader and/or a Street Fighter fan then you are likely familiar with the great Street Fighter comics put out by UDON. I actually recently had the privilege of asking UDON’s Jim Zubkavich, the writer of Street Fighter Legends: Ibuki, a few questions about the the creative process of bringing Capcom’s World Warriors to life on panel.

Can you talk a little bit about the company culture and work environment at UDON? What’s it like when a bunch of artists and creative minds who love video games and anime get together every day?

In a creative environment like UDON, it’s always a bit of an adventure. Everyone has their own schedules, their own work habits and methodology, so it’s not a typical office. Constantly seeing work coming in from everyone on various projects tends to keep everyone’s drive up, producing healthy competition as we all try to bring our A-game to each new thing that comes in the door, whether that’s for client work or our own internal publishing projects. That variety of challenges is our lifeblood.

Convention season is when the UDON crew really gets to cut loose though. Meeting fans, interacting and travelling together – the cons are where the UDON crew really reinvigorates that energy and inspiration in what we do as a company.

You’ve been at UDON for quite some time. Why is this the first time we’ve seem you do any major writing?

It’s true that I’ve been with the company since 2003 and haven’t formally contributed to writing Street Fighter until now. Ken Siu-Chong’s been our guiding hand on the writing and done a fantastic job of weaving together the many Street Fighter games in to a cohesive whole. Erik, Matt and I have always thrown ideas in to the mix but Ken’s been the chef who’s cooked up those ingredients in to a final dish.

With Ken finishing the SF4 mini-series, completing SF2 Turbo and doing the Darkstalkers mini-series at the same time, it was the most he’d ever written simultaneously. Omar had just wrapped up Street Fighter Legends: Chun-Li and was looking forward to tackling another Legends series and Ken had too much on his plate to write that as well. As we were discussing it, I brought up a story idea I had for Ibuki. The fact that she and Makoto would be appearing in the SSFIV game around the same time helped give it extra momentum and we rolled from there, pitching it to Ono-san and going in to production.

Why even do an Ibuki series? The Street Fighter universe seems to have an abundance of female teenage fighters. What makes Ibuki deserving of her own title?

At UDON we’re always trying to balance our desires as fans with a level-headed business approach to creating content. Ideally we find stories we want to tell and make sure they’re commercially viable at the same time. In this case, it fulfilled both aspects.

Omar and I are big fans of Ibuki and her appearance in SSFIV gave us the chance to try out something we’d wanted to do by piggybacking it on her increased exposure from the game release. The Sakura mini-series was a fun and energetic ride our fans responded to well and I felt Ibuki could have a similar effect without retreading the same type of story.

The Ibuki mini-series is a bit of an experiment for us – Can we get people on board with a lesser known character? Will fans try out something different? As the issues and trade paperback come out, we’ll see the results.

Though she certainly has her fans, Ibuki isn’t nearly as well known as a Ryu or Chun Li. When doing a series starring a less established character, do you find yourself free to mold the character as you like or are you fighting against what fans may have created in their minds about that character?

All of the new characters who were introduced in the Street Fighter III games are pretty light on back story. Ibuki’s personality has been limited to game endings and oh-so brief lines of dialogue from her victory quotes, so expanding upon those with this focused story is an honour and a challenge. Having open space to fill in motivations/back story and connect the dots with material already there is a thrill.

We do our best to use the material that exists as the foundation for what we’ve come up with, always trying to add material that jives with what’s been officially stated in the canon.

Obviously I have my own ideas about who Ibuki is and how she thinks. The fact that there’s room within the canon for that interpretation makes it all work.

As you mentioned, you’ve included characters and mannerisms associated with Ibuki that have only been touched on in opening animations before her fights or in the background of her stage. Can you please walk us through the process of researching the Ibuki series? What all did you have to look at to compile who this character really is?

Well, first of all I focused on all of the Ibuki material Capcom has put together – the game endings, victory quotes and the “All About Street Fighter” and “Eternal Challenge” Japanese books that cover character history canon and what-not. I needed to know exactly what’s been written down about her and what aspects of her story were “set”. Then it was about looking at the character animation in Street Fighter III and trying to get a sense of her overall attitude and personality.

From there it was really about filling in the gaps – defining her motivation to go to University and break away from Ninja training, creating valid antagonists and building up conflicts and resolutions that make sense with the material Capcom already had set out; Adding to what was there without contradicting any of it.

After that, I wrote up those ideas in to a cohesive issue-by-issue breakdown that was submitted to Capcom and Ono-san (the Street Fighter IV Producer) for their feedback and approval.

In my mind Ibuki has fantastic duality, juggling her school and ninja lives in the same way a superhero has their secret identity and super self. It creates instant tension and answering that question of what is more important, the teenager or the ninja, is what makes it engaging.

How do you feel Ibuki’s portrayal in Super Street Fighter IV, as being quite a bit “boy crazy”, fits with how you’ve shown her to be in her comic series?

The Ibuki I’m writing is less “boy crazed”, but that’s because she’s focused on a lot of heavy stuff – final exams, ninja tests and her self confidence. Ibuki in Super Street Fighter IV is at a different point in time where those concerns aren’t as pressing so she can cut loose and focus on hunting for a boyfriend.

I feel that Ibuki is a well rounded character who can be many things. I assume she, like everyone, has times where she’s kooky about love and other times when she’s focused on her missions and other goals.

The Street Fighter Legends Series has been great in giving fans a look into some of the background storylines of the Street Fighter Universe. Are there plans for the title to continue going into the future and if so what characters might star?

It’s an ongoing discussion in terms of doing the Legends books and who may be next for the “Legends treatment”. We’ve talked a lot about which characters would work well in terms of our enthusiasm for them and the commercial viability of it. Serious ones like Akuma or Gouken have come up, as well as ridiculous joke options like Street Fighter Losers: Dan or Super Stretchy Team-Up: Dhalsim & Necro. It really depends on artist availability and scheduling as well as the stories we feel strongest about.

At this point in time I can’t really say too much beyond that. Hopefully we’ll have more to announce soon.

What is the future of Street Fighter comics overall? The main series is supposed to move into Street Fighter III territory and it seems like you guys covered Street Fighter IV side by side with Street Fighter II. So, with there not being any other main games in the series to cover are you guys at risk of running out of source material sometime soon?

Developing the tournament storyline and covering as much of the game material as we could to take us through that arc has been a blast. There’s a satisfying build up and pay off as we see the growth of main characters in that story – Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Guile and Cammy, in particular.

We’re in ongoing discussions with Capcom about what comes next. What we’ve been discussing with them is the idea of moving in to the Street Fighter III timeline, but showcasing everyone in the Street Fighter universe of characters. For example, we know what Ryu, Ken and Chun-Li are doing in SFIII, but how have Guile or Vega changed? What’s happening elsewhere as Gill puts his plans in to action?

If we get to move in that direction, I think it’s a really exciting evolution of our comics. We’ve done everything we can to take the canon material and stay true to the Street Fighter game storylines. Now, being able to move that forward and generate new stories that take us beyond the established material is a real testament to the strength of those characters and their longevity.

Readers have generally been pleased with how UDON portrays the Street Fighter characters with respect to how they are in the game but if there is one thing that UDON has done that has ruffled some feathers is having Geki be a whole clan of ninja instead of just one fighter. Why make that sort of change?

In the concept of Street Fighter as a game, every character is important. For that reason it’s difficult to create the dramatic feeling of a fighter taking on an army of other martial artists, which is a satisfying visual and dramatic battle that doesn’t happen in a one-on-one focused fighting game. You don’t want to show “named” fighters getting their butts kicked constantly (unless they’re Dan. ;) ).

Daredevil fights the Hand, the TMNT fight the Foot, Han Solo shoots down Stormtroopers, the Fantastic Four fight an army of Skrulls… it’s a visceral thrill having that “few against many” type of conflict. In a story like Street Fighter where martial artists are the key, having an entire ninja clan as a foil seems the perfect fit and gives the characters something more than just Shadaloo to fight against.

Introducing the Geki as a clan of ninjas gave us that kind of awesome threat and didn’t conflict with any established story material Capcom had set out. The original “Geki” character still exists in Street Fighter I continuity, as part of the clan or as a solo assassin, and we were able to generate a new group of antagonists for other Street Fighter characters to fight against. In the Ibuki mini-series it ties together SF1 and SF3 a bit tighter and generates the big climactic battle of the final issue. I hope people like the way we evolve things a bit.

I know your site is focused on dedicated fans so I’m trying to be as honest as possible about our motivations. If people are bent out of shape about this relatively small adjustment to a character from SF1 who has never shown up in any other game and has practically no back story to speak of, I’m a bit surprised. The masked and mysterious nature of him as a ninja gave us flexibility to interpret it and Capcom gave us the go ahead so we could have more story options.

Lastly, If you didn’t have to worry about stuff like potential sales, what Street Fighter character would you most like to write a series for?

As corny as it may sound, I’d love to write more Ibuki adventures. I think she’s a fun character who balances her “regular” and “fantastic” life in an entertaining way much like Spider-Man or Buffy. On top of that – ninjas! Ninjas have gone full circle from cool to cheesy and back to being retro awesome so they’re definitely fun to work with.

Makoto has been very fun to write. Her surface brash confidence and intensity is a blast to portray. It’s so clearly a defensive reaction to the momentous task she’s put ahead of herself – defeating every martial arts school to prove the superiority of her father’s techniques. I don’t know if four issues of that would wear out its welcome, but I’d be intrigued to try that out.

Beyond Ibuki or Makoto, it would be a hoot to write a mini-series on Karin. I loved the short Karin-centric stories that Nakahira wrote in the Sakura Gabaru manga where Karin’s own family is trying to kill her and she keeps evading their best attempts. Karin’s ridiculous confidence and capabilities make her far too entertaining. You know deep down you should dislike her because she’s so cocky but you end up being too amused to ever really hate her.

Juri’s story is dark and complex, which could be good fodder for a Legends mini-series. It would be neat to delve deeper in to what makes her black heart tick.

Hmmm… it sounds like I’ve got a thing for the female fighters here. There are no guys in that list at all. :P

All in all, almost every Street Fighter character has some spark of a story within them that could be expanded with the right motivation. Capcom’s excellent design sense helps these stories germinate and we do our best to help them grow.

Once again it has been a privilege to have Jim answer some of my questions and I thank him.

In case you didn’t already know isuues #1 and #2 of the Street Fighter Legends: Ibuki series are already available and #3 will be available in June. For more information on UDON’s various Capcom related books, go to www.udoncomics.com.

On a side note make sure you also check out some of the artwork for the upcoming issue of Street fighter Legends: Ibuki here

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Article by Mike "Evorgleb" Belgrove

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  1. [...] Belgrove talks to Jim Zubkavich, an editor at Udon and the writer of Street Fighter Legends: Ibuki, about his latest [...]

  2. alexlascano says:

    hello, im from venezuela
    and i love the comics from street fighter legends i hope they will create
    all histories from the street fighters characters
    :) even Dan, Deej jay, honda, vega, blanka and rufus! :D
    i want to see histories from Cammy, gule, alex, abel, c viper, and so many others :D

  3. Awesome Man says:

    I’m loving the Ibuki comic so far, but the reason I was interested in it was actually for Makoto since I was planning on maining her in SSFIV :) . I wanted to see how ridiculous her personality was in an actual story based format… and its pretty awesome. I think you’re doing a great job portraying her as well as the other characters.

    I went back and read the Sakura Legend after reading the first issue of Ibuki and found that to be a lot of fun as well. Anyway, keep up the good work. These comics are great.

    Also, this will probably never happen but it would be awesome to have some of these legends adapted into really short animes.

  4. I enjoyed Makoto a lot too

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