Wayward: Teenagers On The Attack, Yokai On The Brink [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: Every collected edition of WAYWARD up-ends the status quo in some way. What's the status quo of the cast at the beginning of the third volume?

JIM ZUB: WAYWARD, Vol. 3 opens with the immediate repercussions of Rori declaring war against the Yokai, moving things into a far more open and violent conflict between our supernatural teens and the traditional monsters and spirits of Japan.

STEVEN CUMMINGS: The status quo is that Rori is back with the rest of the wayward children and is trying to restart her life with them. Unfortunately, we know that something is waiting to take over and cause even more problems. So you could say that the status quo is that there are still struggles waiting for Rori and crew, and life stays just as hard as before.

IC: We see a lot more of Japan in this volume, from Tokyo Tower to temples to Shinjuku. I know you're both keen to avoid dipping into cliché—what's your trick to depicting Japan?

CUMMINGS: Indeed, we are trying to show the Japan that most people who only experience it though tv, movies, etc., wouldn't normally see. Those areas are usually the bigger, newer, more built-up areas, and honestly, those areas are for the most part based around stations and serve as transit points. They are places people move through to go from home to work or school. But those areas aren't where people live and spend most of their time. We wanted from the very beginning to show the "other" side of Japan and aimed for neighborhoods with their lived-in quality for the kids to fight their battles.

ZUB: Steven and I try to choose locations that are recognizable in Tokyo but aren't necessarily the most "touristy". Ikebukuro is a central hub in the city but isn't as familiar to visitors as somewhere like Harajuku or Akihabara. Sensoji in Asakusa is the temple most visitors would visit in Tokyo, but there are dozens of other prominent temples as well, so using one like Ryusenji is a way for us to give a broader look at the city and show readers areas they might not have known about. The character story comes first, but beyond that Steven is working extra hard to make the city as distinct and important to the narrative we're building.

IC: Rori Lane confidently declares that she and her friends are the new gods of Japan. The old gods were often based in specific fears and mores. What are the new gods based on?

ZUB: The term "old gods" isn't quite accurate, and Rori's declaration is partially based on her misinformed assumption that the Yokai are gods at all. Yokai are spirits and creatures that can represent all kinds of different things. Some of them have vast powers and are feared and respected, but they're not necessarily "gods" in the same way we think of them in Greek, Egyptian, or Norse mythology.

That said, the wayward teens also represent different aspects of the modern world they come from. I won't go through them all, because there are secrets still to be revealed, but as an example, Nikaido represents the emotional repression that many Japanese people feel in their day-to-day lives—that need to maintain absolute control and a detachment from what they feel. In Nikaido's case, the emotions he absorbs build up over time and finally explodes in an uncontrolled manner. His powers are that abstract idea made manifest.

CUMMINGS: These characters represent new facets of life in Japan from the outsider/foreigner to people who have problems connecting emotionally with others to the always popular idea of the neko-musume, or the cat girl. In the third arc, we get to meet a character who represents the idea that lots of people are obsessed with technology and live their lives through it (you know, spending all day interacting with people mainly online).

IC: The word "wayward" is used in reference to the children, which makes me wonder—who are the good guys here? Is it that kind of story?

CUMMINGS: It is indeed that kind of story! Thank you for noticing. We are trying to show everyone's side in this battle when we have time to do so. It adds some complexity and broadens the tale and helps humanize everyone.

ZUB: It's a story about characters in conflict, not necessarily one about good versus evil. Like anyone in extreme circumstances, these characters are doing their best to survive and are making decisions in the moment. The fact that they're inexperienced teens empowered with supernatural abilities that have wide-reaching ramifications only heightens that intensity. I've been careful to avoid calling the wayward "heroes" because that's never been my vision for who they are. They're our focal point, but that doesn't automatically make them "good" or "right."

IC: The kids are being manipulated, so what looks like a one-on-one war from the outside has a few more fronts than expected. How do you see the conflict in the series as creators?

ZUB: It's a messy story of survival with "tradition versus progress" at its core. The power our teens wield can shift the balance and the more strategic supernatural forces realize that, so they're trying to find ways to use them rather than simply wipe them out. Of course, getting a teenager to do what you want rather than what they want is always going to be a struggle.

CUMMINGS: I see it as a struggle for the future. One side might be on the way out, and the other side might be on the way in, but in the end I don't think it will be so clear-cut as one side completely loses while the other completely takes over. The voyage getting to that point at the end will take everyone by surprise.

IC: Stories are fundamentally about change, and WAYWARD tackles not just generational change, but individual change, as well. The new gods are teens, which feels a very pointed choice, and stuck in that transitory period between adulthood and childhood. How are you approaching the idea of change in WAYWARD?

ZUB: Change, both in the form of a generational divide and the way we reframe and cast off aspects of our past to forge our vision of the future, is at the very heart of the WAYWARD story.

CUMMINGS: Change is constant for these characters, so the choice of teens in the midst of that kind of change is intentional, as is the point that Rori has barely had a chance to sit down and take stock of her situation since she arrived in Japan. That changing time during adolescence definitely makes the characters' relationships volatile and adds to the roller coaster experience they are all having.

WAYWARD is available in three collected editions and ongoing single issues. WAYWARD, VOL. 3: OUT FROM THE SHADOWS is available now.