Robert Kirkman - 50 Issues of Invincible
When Mark Grayson first donned the costume that is so familiar to readers of the Image Comics series Invincible, he was a high school kid who thought being a superhero was going to be a lot of fun. His biggest worry was living up to the stellar image of his famous father as he tentatively worked to figure out how his powers worked.
But as Invincible hits #50 with a 48-page issue that's slated to come out next week, that's all changed. Our little Mark Grayson has grown up, and starting with Issue #51, his new costume and attitude are going to reflect it.
Launched in 2003 by writer Robert Kirkman and artist Cory Walker, Invincible originally seemed much like any other superhero comic. But the twists and turns that Kirkman has thrown into his character's way over the years has readers begging for more and sales on a steady rise. As a result, Invincible has developed into the pillar of Image Comics' superhero line. Now drawn by Ryan Ottley, the comic was even picked up by Paramount Pictures, and Kirkman wrote the draft of a screenplay for a full-length picture.
Now that Invincible's turning 50, we talked to Kirkman about how far the comic has come, what happens now that the character is no longer his old naive self, and how far he hopes Invincible goes into the future. And we get an update on the movie, as well as any spin-offs from the series.Newsarama Note: Click the arrow in the box at the upper right for an exlcusive five page preview of "Cecil's Origin" from Invincible #50 Newsarama: Let's start with the big 50-issues mark, Robert. Did you ever imagine when you started this series that it would go 50 issues, and that your story would go in these directions?
Robert Kirkman: I always hoped. I mean, I always had a game plan just in case. It was my hope of hopes to do this book for so long. But Cory and I didn't know if it would go past Issue #6. We didn't know that things would work out so well. And we definitely didn't expect things to keep going the way we're going. In fact, we had a plan to cancel at Issue #13, at some point, because sales had continued to drop. But starting with Issue #11, our sales spiked up quite a bit, so we decided to hang on and keep going.
With it being Issue #13, I thought, well at least we'll get that Omni-Man story out of the way. That will be cool. But sales spiked up and actually, sales haven't stopped going up since. So that's pretty exciting.
NRAMA: With this and The Walking Dead, does the success of it depend a lot on the success of trade sales?
RK: Not necessarily. The book definitely, at a point, around issue #14 or #15 or something like that, we were working on the success of our trades because we hadn't gotten to a sales level that was sustaining us. But at this point -- buy the trades, buy the single issues -- either way. The single issues get us money faster, so if you want to be nice... whatever. But I really don't care how people read it. And it's not like we need one or the other. We make money off the single issues and we make money off the trades. I like having both. And the book's doing really well right now.
NRAMA: Let's look back at the very beginning of this character. Where did he come from? And what were your hopes for him as you started the series?
RK: Cory Walker and I had worked together on my Battle Pope series, and we had put together a book we wanted to do called Science Dog, which featured fairly prominently in the Invincible series. So we wanted to do that, but Image didn't want it because they don't like talking animals unless they're written by Richard Starkings, but we ended up doing a Super Patriot mini-series for Erik Larsen instead. And while we were working on that mini-series, we got wind of the fact that Jim Valentino, the publisher at the time, was putting together a superhero line for Image, because at the time, they didn't publish very many superhero books. So Jim kind of set out to hunt down people that could do superhero comics and get more superheroes at the company.
NRAMA: And you wanted to be a part of that?
RK: Sure. I liked superheroes as much as the next guy, and I was excited to be a part of that. So I threw our names in. I was like, "If you like this Super Patriot we're doing, Cory and I could totally do a different superhero thing for that line." And we were open to seeing what we could come up with, and what we came up with was Invincible. We just wanted to do something new and different. So it wasn't a character I came up with in high school... it wasn't even anything Cory and I had thought about before. It was while we were working on the Super Patriot mini-series, we sat down and Invincible's what we got.
NRAMA: When you sat down and came up with something "different," what was it about Invincible that fit that description and made you want to give him a chance?
RK: When I was growing up, they did a Robin series with the Tim character, and I really enjoyed reading that. Some of the older Spider-Man comics when he was actually a teenager -- I had read some of those. So I decided that I wanted to do a teen superhero. Ultimate Spider-Man had just come out, and looking around, I didn't really see any more teen superheroes. I'm sure somebody on a message board will say, "Oh, you forgot this guy, this guy, this guy, and this guy." But at the time, I didn't see a wealth of teen characters out there. So I decided to go that way. And we just tried to come up with a cool teen superhero and how things could work. And I came up with the idea of the father being in play, and having him be a superhero. And having the legacy aspect of him taking over for his father.
NRAMA: As readers find out eventually in the series, his dad's intentions aren't what they seem. When did you decide to put that twist in the story?
RK: We had it all laid out and we had characters designed, and then while I was writing the pitch that I was sending to Image, I could see that it was a fairly standard superhero book. It was like, this guy's dad is a popular superhero, and he's got to live in his shadow, and try and live up to his image and be a good superhero who doesn't embarrass his father. And that was pretty much it. That was the whole extent of the book.
And I was reading that, and I was thinking that's fairly generic. It wasn't a good enough hook. There wasn't enough meat to this. And I thought, I need to come up with something that really makes this book shine. And I sat down and sort of racked my brain and came up with the twist of Omni-Man working for another civilization that's wanting to take over the earth. And I pitched that we'd reveal that eventually. And so the last page of the pitch detailed all of that.
NRAMA: And you knew you wanted to keep it secret for so long like that?
RK: Well, at that point, I didn't want to reveal any of that until issue #25. So that was the original idea. And even before the first issue got its number in, Jim Valentino said, "Yeah, you know what? The thing that makes this book cool is the stuff you're trying to save for #25. I think building to that is awesome. We'll build a very cool story. But the fact of the matter is that you might not make it to #25, and you might want to push that a little earlier in the book."
So I think the ending to issue #7 was originally going to not show who killed the Guardians of the Globe at all, and it was just going to be a mystery for a long time. And I think at the last minute, I was just like... nah, show Omni-Man on that page. [laughs] It was just going to be a big gory panel of everybody laying there beaten up and ripped apart and stuff.
NRAMA: Are you glad you moved it up earlier?
RK: Yeah. 'Cause if you think about it, we had just met the Guardians of the Globe characters in that issue. So originally, we were going to have them killed, and it would be, like, who killed them? And we were going to have that be the big mystery for a bunch of issues. And as it turns out, when I decided to show it, the readers were like, "Oh, that's not Omni-Man. It couldn't be Omni-Man. It's somebody posing as Omni-Man." So there really was a mystery aspect of it, even though I didn't mean for there to be. So that worked out really well.
NRAMA: Well, you had established him as a good guy. And with all our experience with shape-shifters and clones, we could all come up with 500 scenarios where that was not Omni-Man.
RK: Yeah, you can get away with anything in comics now.
NRAMA: Let's talk about he journey that Mark has taken, which has really run him through the ringer.
RK: He gets beat up a lot.
NRAMA: Well, yeah. There's that. But the psychological beatings he's taken since Omni-Man's revelation, with what his mom has gone through and now with Cecil. This kid had grown quite a bit since that first issue when he says, "Cool! I can fly!" Hasn't he?
RK: Yeah, and when people see issue #50, people will see a shift in his character. I've tried to purposefully show how naive he is at times, and how certain things mess up because of him, and how he makes stupid choices because he's a kid.
But moving forward, starting with issue #50, he's grown quite a bit as a person. He's become a lot more intelligent and thoughtful when it comes to his actions, and different ways to get out of different scenarios. It's kind of fun to do a series so long that you get to see that kind of growth in a character. To see him mature and change. At this point, he's very much becoming an adult, even though he's still only, technically, only 18 years old. He's had one birthday in the book so far.
NRAMA: We've got to assume, after that ending in Issue #49, that once Mark gets through this, he's not going to be that naive kid anymore. He's going to be a lot more mistrusting of people, isn't he? Do you feel at all sorry you don't get to write that kid anymore? Do you kind of miss him?
RK: No, that's why Oliver is there.
NRAMA: [laughs] Oh, OK.
RK: [laughs] See? I don't mess around. I've got it all planned out. No, I mean, I think going forward with issue #51, we're definitely going to see Mark taking the role that Omni-Man had in the early issues of Invincible. And Oliver taking on the role that Mark had. In a lot of ways, the issues coming up that I'm really excited about that are going to take place after issue #50 -- they very much call back the way the series used to be before the Omni-Man reveal. And at the same time, it's going to set up a lot of things that are on the way. But you'll get to see some of the superhero learning, and you'll see Mark in a completely new role. I'm pretty excited about what's coming up.
NRAMA: Pretty big cliffhanger at the end off issue #49 where Cecil's completely turning on Mark now. Is that part of the new direction?
RK: Yes. And a lot of people are like, "oh, he's going to be a government fugitive, and it's playing up on Civil War." But it's nothing like that. I think people are going to be surprised with where we go on this.
NRAMA: The big things that are coming -- can you hint what former storylines will be followed up on, or what people might be seeing as we go forward?
RK: I will say, just to be a little critical of myself, I was looking back at the issues in the 40s, and while they're fine issues and definitely hold up, I think I should have had more things happen. Going forward, there's something huge that happens in Issue #50, there's something huge that happens in #51, there's something huge that happens in #52. The book is going to be very volatile going forward. There's going to be a lot of villains that you may not expect. There are going to be characters exiting the series in ways that you might not expect to see in Invincible. Or maybe you would, if you've read the whole run. There are going to be some deaths going forward, and there are going to be some new characters introduced. Omni-Man is going to be in the book more. A lot of cool stuff coming up.
NRAMA: You mention Omni-Man. Is there going to be more of the Viltrumites?
RK: Oh yeah. That's the main undercurrent of the book. What's going on with their interplanetary conquest, and whether or not it's going to reach earth. And how that affects Mark. That's kind of the core of the book. And moving forward, we'll see that a lot more.
A lot of people don't realize how little has been revealed about the Viltrumites. I guess some people do, but I don't get questions about them very much. I think people assume that they kind of know what's going on with them, and they really don't. There's a lot of secrets going on there. How big is their empire? How many of them are there? How powerful are they? There's a lot of stuff going on there, and I think people are going to be surprised how much they don’t know about them.
NRAMA: Looking at the overall tone of the book, well, I laugh a lot when I read it. There are times that I might think something is horrible -- like we said, he's been through the ringer -- but there are also really funny things that happen. Is the tone of the book going to be pretty much the same going forward? Even though Mark is changing, is it still going to be lighthearted at times?
RK: Yeah, I don't think the tone will ever really change. There's always going to be the odd issue where things are kind of light and airy, and there will be funny things going on. But I think it's important to point out that this isn't a comedy book. It's got a very serious tone and there are very dramatic occurrences. It's just like life, you know? You go see a funny movie, then your grandmother dies the next day. It's always ups and downs, and lights and darks. You know? I think to have a superhero book that's completely serious 100 percent of the time, or to have a superhero book that's completely comedy 100 percent of the time, doesn't really show how life actually is. And I always try to think about how a certain person would live if they were they to have superpowers and what their life would be like. So that's where some of the drama comes in, and that's where some of the comedy comes in. But I'm just trying to be true to life. And true to the streets.
NRAMA: True to the streets. Yeah, man. Are there going to be any more spin-offs, like the Atom Eve series?
RK: Yeah. Definitely. I think that the Atom Eve thing was a big success. I was really pleased with how well it was received and how well it sold. I personally enjoyed it quite a bit. And I think it did a lot of things with the character that I really wanted to achieve without having to deal with it in the main series. There are a lot of other things like that that I would like to do.
I know what the next mini-series is going to be. I just don't know exactly when it's going to come out. I will say that I've got to have some way to collect Atom Eve into a trade paperback, and the only way to do that is to do more of those kinds of mini-series. There's definitely going to be a few more. Hopefully before the end of the year, but we'll see.
NRAMA: Can you share who might be working on it?
RK: Possibly the same team. I don't like to share very much. So these guys seem to know the characters really well. I don't want to have to explain all this crap to somebody else.
NRAMA: But what characters might we see spin off?
RK: Well, I don't want to give that away. It's definitely on par with Atom Eve in the book. It won't be Allen. And it won't be The Immortal. I think everything I want to tell with Allen will be told in the series. We've got a stand-alone issue that's coming up that's all Allen for the entire issue again, just like issue #23 was, so we'll be doing those periodically. I'm a big fan of The Immortal. I would like to do a mini-series with him at some point. I would probably do that myself, so it would be a completely different thing. A lot of people ask if it's going to be one of those two characters, and it's not.
NRAMA: Let's talk about your artists on this series. How important are they to the success of the comic as you reach the 50 mark?
RK: Not at all!
NRAMA: [laughs] Well, we know it's all you.
RK: [laughs] No, Cory was instrumental because he designed almost all of the characters. He really put forth the tone of the book and the way the stories are going to be told. Even though he stepped off the book with Issue #7, he's still very much involved. I will sometimes just call him up. Just like I'll call Ryan and talk about the story to see if he's got any questions or suggestions to help me come up with things. It's a big part of doing the book, is keeping your artist involved. There are certain times that I'll change my mind just because I know it's something that Ryan doesn't want to draw. And now that Ryan knows that, he's constantly complaining, which is really annoying.
But I call Cory the same way, and I'll discuss things with him, and he'll make suggestions. One of my favorite things about the Immortal was that we revealed in issue #25 that in the past, he was actually Abraham Lincoln. And I think that's hilarious and totally awesome and adds a whole new layer to that character that makes him that much more interesting, and that was something Cory suggested while I was working on issue #25. So he's still very much involved. And he sometimes does character designs for characters that are showing up now. Ryan and Cory tag-team on a lot of stuff like that. Invincible's new costume was put together by the three of us.
NRAMA: The new costume debuts in a couple issues, right?
RK: Yeah! Issue #51. Everyone's favorite costume. [laughs] So Cory's very much involved.
And Ryan is a genius. If you look at Issue #50 and compare it to Ryan's first issue -- issue #8 -- you will see that by Issue #100, Ryan will probably be the greatest artist who has ever lived. Writing pages knowing that Ryan draws them makes me want to write them that much better. So I'm very excited to be working with him. He's the heart and soul of the book. That Ryan Ottley. We love him. And then Bill Crabtree has been coloring the book since the beginning. Nominated for Harvey Awards and such. Blockbuster memberships. You know. All kinds of stuff. But he's a talented fellow and we're happy to have him on board.
NRAMA: We've talked to you before about the status of the Invincible movie screenplay you wrote, and there wasn't a lot of movement. Do you have an update?
RK: The rights have reverted back to me from Paramount. The option has run out and I'm back in control. That said, there's already something new happening with Invincible that will be announced at San Diego this year. I'm very excited.
NRAMA: You know, this issue has been a loooong time coming, Robert. As you hit issue #50, are you going to do a little better job getting this coming out?
RK: We're very late. I'm not going to deny that. This issue was planned to be out awhile ago, but we hit the holidays and weird things happened, and I got behind a bit, and Ryan got behind a bit, then I got behind a lot. Basically, we're shipping issue #50 way later than I ever would have wanted to. And that sucks. But it's a big 48-page issue when it finally does come out. We're so late that it must be great! That's what I like to say.
But yeah, we're definitely 100 percent corrected now, and going forward, we should be back on schedule and remain on schedule from here on out.
NRAMA: Last question, and you totally opened the door for it, talking about when you get to issue #100 -- are you on this as long as people are still reading it? Is this something that doesn't have an ending in sight, and are you going to be the guy sticking with it for the foreseeable future?
RK: I don't think they ever planned on ending Spider-Man, so I don't see why we would plan on ending Invincible. With the Walking Dead, I like to say I'll write the book until I die, or I'll write it until it sucks and then I'll keep writing it for another year or so. And then I'll end it. I don't really have an ending in mind. But I do see at some point capping that thing off. It will be, like, I've explored this for 500 issues and it's time to go home. But with Invincible, the idea is that I would like to see the book go long enough that someone else can take it over and ruin it.
Now I wouldn't like to see that happen until after Issue #500. I don't plan on leaving anytime soon.
NRAMA: Or it could be as big as Spider-Man someday and have lots of people working on it many times a month.
RK: Yeah! It could have tons of people ruining it all the time!
NRAMA: [laughs] Oh, no you didn't!
RK: [laughs] That's a joke, folks. Dan Slott's a friend of mine. He's a fantastic writer. I actually like Amazing Spider-Man quite a bit these days. So I don't want people to think I'm bagging on that.
But no, I want people to be reading Issue #700 of Invincible one day and go, "What?? That's not how the origin works! They're totally changing that! What are they talking about? Aunt May wasn't in the house! That's retarded!!" I think that's neat. It will mean that Invincible has become that kind of character, and that's what I'm working toward.
And who knows? Maybe I'll be ruining it at issue #700. I turn 30 this year, and I'd like to live until at least 60. Maybe 50. I don't know. I don't want to ask for too much. But I think I could keep this book going for quite a bit.