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Graphic Novel Friday: Interview with Robert Kirkman

It's probably unnecessary at this point to introduce Robert Kirkman. As the creator of The Walking Dead, he's watched his zombie apocalypse series go from comic book success to televised event. Riding high on the second season's biggest ratings yet, Robert's future plans are not limited to the undead--or even comics. At Emerald City Comicon 2012, we spoke at length about his many other projects, including superheroes, long-form heist plots, novels, dinosaurs, and yes, those flesh-hungry zombies. It can’t be easy to introduce a new superhero in today’s comics climate, yet Invincible is nearing triple digit issue numbers. How has Invincible thrived where so many new heroes have not?

Robert Kirkman: Invincible is everything I’ve ever loved about superhero comics thrown into one book. I am a superhero comics fan as much as anyone who reads Invincible. The book speaks to that kind of a fanbase. It’s just a cool little superhero universe that I get to play in every month, and it’s got amazing artwork by Ryan Ottley. It struggled early on because there is a glut of superhero comics in the industry, but it’s held on. I couldn’t be happier that it’s held on, but I don’t know exactly why [it has]. I’d like to think that it’s because it’s entertaining, but maybe it’s because the artwork’s really good.

Omni: Maybe it's the ton of characters you’ve packed into the book. Atom Eve is a character who began more on the periphery but has now become front and center. Was this always the plan for her?

Robert Kirkman: Yeah, I think she was destined to be Invincible’s true love or whatever, but I didn’t want to make it too obvious and I didn’t want to reveal too soon that that’s where things were going. So we did kind of dance around that for a good long time. But she’s always been sort of a central character to the cast. She was somebody very early on to befriend Invincible and show him the ropes, telling him what it’s like to be a teenager and a superhero at the same time. They’ve grown up together over the course of 100 issues. I feel like their romantic bond is pretty strong because it developed over the course of 60 issues, and I don’t know—I just really enjoy writing that character.

Omni: That bond has been a central theme of at least the previous two volumes, the last being a particularly gruesome arc. Where do you go after you literally tear your heroes apart?

Robert Kirkman: [Laughs.] Well, I put them back together again and I tear them apart again. No, one of the most fun things about Invincible is to sit down and think, “These are guys who can break battleships over their knees. How would you actually portray this story realistically?” Realistically, every time they fight I think they would tear each other apart. Invincible does get to become somewhat of a violent comic as we introduce more and more powerful villains for him to deal with. That kind of stuff happens.

Omni: After the bloody events of The Viltrumite War, is the latest volume, Get Smart, a pause for the characters and readers to catch their breaths?

Robert Kirkman: Yeah, The Viltrumite War was something we’d been building towards since the beginning, and it’s the longest volume of Invincible. The Get Smart volume is about Invincible changing his methods again. One of the things I play with in Invincible is that he’s very young. He started being a superhero when he was 17 and now he’s in his early 20s. So, he’s maturing and he’s changing his methods, and in Get Smart, he’s deciding, “I have these powers. What would actually be productive for society for me to do with them?” It is kind of a breather story arc, but it also sets up the next ten volumes of Invincible [laughs], so it’s a very integral story.

Omni: You’re targeting a different demographic with Super Dinosaur. What can you tell your regular readers about this book?

Robert Kirkman: It’s about a young genius by the name of Derek Dynamo who is ten years old. He lives in a secret complex built atop Mt. Rainier with his father Dr. Dynamo. His best friend is a nine-foot tall, genetically altered Tyrannosaurus Rex that has robotic arms it controls with its little T. Rex arms. They go on adventures at the center of the earth, where there’s a special mineral called DynOre that is an incredible source of power—so, there are all these villains who are trying to get to Inner Earth, while Derek and his dinosaur are trying to safeguard the planet.

It’s an All Ages comic, and I think it would appeal to a seven-year-old, a 15-year-old, and I’m 33, and if I weren’t writing the book I think I’d enjoy it. It’s really my desire to have a comic out there that is a true All Ages comic. It’s not necessarily “dumbed down” for a younger audience, but there’s no profanity, there’s no graphic violence, and there stories are kept in a contained way so a younger reader can understand them. There are a lot of dramatic undertones and dark subplots that are appropriate for kids but are intriguing enough for an older audience. Also, every now and then a Tyrannosaurus Rex shoots missiles out of its back and punches a “dinosaur-guy,” so it’s a pretty fun book.

Omni: Is this part of your Skybound imprint?

Robert Kirkman: Yes.

Omni: With all the creative freedom and success that you’ve had, why form this imprint for yourself?

Robert Kirkman: Well, Images Comics is really a grouping of talented individuals. There are five partners now; I’m the newest one to be added, and we all have our own little houses within Image Comics that offer different books. So, there’s Image Top Cow, Image TMP, which is Todd McFarlane’s company, Image Shadowline, which is Jim Valentino’s company, and then there’s Image Skybound, which is what I operate under.

It’s really just a marking of “These are the books that Robert Kirkman is overseeing.” The Skybound imprint is a way for me to brand all of my books so that people know they are from me, but one of the things I’m also trying to do is find new talent; to do the type of comics that you don’t necessarily see in the comic book industry. I think The Walking Dead is a very good example of something that honestly doesn’t have a right to be a comic. It’s a dark, dramatic survival horror story, and when people think of comics they think of superheroes. So Skybound’s mission is to find the new talent with the new ideas that aren’t necessarily superhero ideas—things like Thief of Thieves, which is a crime noir comic about people pulling heists.

Then, we do a thing called Witch Doctor, which is an occult comic about a guy who treats supernatural threats in a medical way. He knows the supernatural is real and has to be treated in a tangible way. [Skybound] is about bringing new ideas and having a lot of fun doing it.

Omni: I’m glad you mentioned Thief of Thieves. I read the first two issues and they are very cinematic. What heist films influenced you?

Robert Kirkman: There’s the Thomas Crowne Affair, the Ocean’s movies, Out of Sight—mostly anything with George Clooney in it [laughs]. To Catch a Thief. It’s really just telling a long-form story that you would find in movies and television. It’s about this thief named Redmond and finding out what his family background is and what his goals are and what his mission is—and exploring this in a long-term situation where you see him going from heist to heist and how it takes a toll on him.

Over the course of the first story arc, he’s going to realize that he’s absolutely, completely and utterly addicted to the thrill of being a thief. But he’s still very much in love with his wife and has to reconcile his lifestyle when thinking about the point in his life when she said, “It’s me or this life as a criminal.” He regrets his decision and has these two sides of himself that are diametrically opposed, and his only recourse is to essentially become the “thief of thieves.” He’s going to steal for good, steal from other thieves and return those items so he can feed that addiction but also still be a good guy and hopefully reconcile with his wife, with whom he’s still very much in love. And his son, who is now an adult, is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps, but Redmond is the greatest thief who has ever lived and his son is not.

Omni: Amidst all this, you are still writing The Walking Dead—and not just in comics form. I think a lot of fans were surprised that Rise of the Governor released in an entirely prose format. Why not tell this story in a comic?

Robert Kirkman: I’ve always liked the idea of doing stand-alone Walking Dead novels. I think that it’s a fun medium to work in, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I have a strict rule that I don’t like to do a lot of backstory in The Walking Dead. It was kind of an easy out for me to do a backstory in a different format. The Governor is a very interesting character in the comic series; he’s very beloved as a vile villain. I always had a lot of backstory for him that I never intended to get to, but being able to do it as a novel seemed like a good idea. You know, I’m very busy and never had the time to actually make it work.

My manager introduced me to Jay Bonansinga, who is a brilliant novelist, and I started talking to him about the possibility of co-writing the novel and it all came together. I’m very proud of the work Jay and I did, and I think we’ll be doing it again very soon.

Omni: That was my next question, and it sounds like you have more novels in you.

Robert Kirkman: I do, I do. You know what, I’m just going say that the second novel will be out in October, I believe, and it’s going to be called The Walking Dead: The Road to Woodbury, and it’s going to be a direct sequel to Rise of the Governor. We’re going to meet new characters as they come to Woodbury and see how Woodbury is founded, and how the Governor continues to grow as a character. It all takes place before we met the Governor in the comic book series, and there’s a lot more story to tell with that guy. We’ll also look at others—Lilly is going to be another focus. It’s going to be fun to explore those characters again.

Omni: But back to the comics. The latest volume, We Find Ourselves, is a more contemplative look at the survivors. In such a long-form series, how do you plan for the pacing? Is it deliberate?

Robert Kirkman: It’s definitely a see-saw effect. I try not to make it too predictable. I feel like there has to be those moments of calm where do get to know the characters, and you get a sense that they can actually survive in the world. We Find Ourselves is one of those volumes, and the volume after that, A Larger World, is going to get more intense and the volume after that, Something to Fear, is going to extremely intense. I have long plans. You have to have those quiet moments to make the intense ones all the more intense. There’s always an ebb and flow.


P.S. That wraps our ECCC 2012 coverage for the week. See also our interviews with Greg Capullo, Rick Remender, and Brandon Graham. I'll be on vacation next week, folks!


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