Robert Kirkman may seem like he's filling all his time with a certain zombie apocalypse, what with plans to go bi-weekly with The Walking Dead comic book this fall, plus season four of the television series of the same name launching in October.
But the writer also continues to write several other series, while also shepherding the Skybound imprint at Image Comics, personally guiding titles like Thief of Thieves and looking for new potential hits like Clone and Ghosted.
We caught up with Robert Kirkman at Comic-Con International: San Diego to find out how he manages all these separate projects, why it's important, and why he thinks publishers that reboot/renumber are missing the point.
Newsarama: Robert, with how busy you are right now, how are you keeping up with some of your other comic book work? What’s your schedule like, and why is it important to you to keep the variety in your comics?
Robert Kirkman: It’s important because it’s fun! I enjoy what I am doing, I’m lucky in life to be doing that. I really love working on The Walking Dead, I love doing Invincible, I love Super Dinosaur. I love working on very different things, having certain moods for the things that I do. I love telling different kinds of stories. I really enjoy it, I make time for it. I have a fairly regimented schedule where I do this here, do that there, and if I slip up I have to work at night, but it seems to all work out, and I love what I’m doing.
Nrama: So each of your projects come from this need to scratch a different creative itch?
Kirkman: Yeah, definitely. I love that all of my projects are completely different. I feel like if I was doing something exactly like The Walking Dead I’d get bored doing the exact same thing. I love that I get different things from different books. They’re all different.
Nrama: So, Invincible just saw the return of arguably is greatest villain, Angstrom is back again! What is it about him that led to him becoming this years-long arch-nemesis?
Kirkman: Well, I get carried away sometimes. Angstrom was not supposed to be out of the book from like issue 63 to issue 103. I remember looking back at one point and going “oh, I haven’t gotten to that yet. Dangit, that’s been a lot of issues!”
But I really like telling long-form stories, and I love that superhero comics are the kind of comics where a guy is introduced in one issue, then five issues he does something else, and ten issues later he does something bigger, and you can tell these stories over long periods of time. I don’t know that Angstrom is necessarily Invincible’s biggest villain, or his Nemesis, but he’s definitely a big part of the story. I think that having him come back after so much time gives it weight. It’s really cool to me that fans can read issue 103 or 104 and know that there’s stuff in that issue that was planned when I was writing issue 60.
It’s kind of stupid that it took me so long to get to it. I feel like when you have a superhero book that’s been running over 100 issues, people have invested a lot of time in that! People are invested in the story and the characters, and you have to pay off things. You have to reward them. This is your reward for reading issue 60 through 103. Everything means something, nothing’s going to be forgotten. I do a lot of work on making sure that’s the case here.
Nrama: Other publishers are a little scared of high issue numbers, it seems, of late…
Kirkman: It’s incredibly foolish! All market data indicates that the new number strategy doesn’t help books longterm, which I find hilarious. But keep doing what you’re doing!
Nrama: What do you do to keep Invincible fresh so that new readers can come into it if they’re finding you through your other work?
Kirkman: I think the trade paperback program is very important. Having all your trades in print, and clearly numbered so that it’s a series that’s almost like a manga series – when you go into a book store and see there’s 45 volumes of Naruto. That, I think, encourages you to try a series and get into it.
I don’t understand the thinking that “Volume 17” is something you don’t ever want to see, that people would see that and say “I can’t get into that, that’s too many books!”
Because of the digital market and the prevalence of trade paperbacks and graphic novels in the bookstore market, they’re very available, and it is fun to be able to go in once a month and buy a new Invincible trade and get caught up! I think having the big numbers, having a long-running series, gives a series weight, it makes it seem substantial. It makes it seem like it’s worth investing time into. But, I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong!
Nrama: I find the whole format of Thief of Thieves very interesting, the idea of creating this character and circumstance, then handing it off to other people, checking back in, what was the impetus behind that?
Kirkman: Sure! I’ve been overseeing the book since the beginning, sort of like a showrunner. Nick Spencer, James Asmus, Andy Diggle, those are the guys writing the scripts, but the overall story is something that’s worked out between all of us, and was dictated by a lot of my plans for the series early on, and a lot of ideas that have come up along the way.
It’s a lot like a television show, that’s where it came from. I thought it would be a fun exercise to have a lot of different writers contributing to the same story, so that the overall tapestry would be richer. There’s a lot more experiences being plugged into it. I was really enamored to see how things work in a television writers room, and wanted to try that in comics. So far it’s been really cool!
Nrama: So are these your guys now? Are these three going to continue to rotate in, or will you be adding and subtracting folks as time goes on?
Kirkman: We’ll just have to see, won’t we? (laughs)
No, it’s an ongoing process. Whether or not there are other new names brought into the mix, we’ll have to see. But I think it’s going really well and it’s a fun process.
Nrama: Super Dinosaur is very unique in its quest for fun – you seem to have a lot of fun telling those stories. Do you find yourself giving something relatively new like that the same amount of focus that you’d give Invincible or The Walking Dead?
Kirkman: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it’s a monthly series, all my books get the same amount of focused. Every now and then I’ll get sidetracked on things with everything, but I feel like we get caught back up. I’m super invested in Super Dinosaur. I feel like it’s an important book, because there needs to be more kids stuff. I think it’s great that all-ages books are doing so well in the marketplace in a lot of different areas for different publishers.
It’s a lot of fun to do. I like being able to take a break from Invincible and Walking Dead and Thief of Thieves, where it’s very adult-oriented dark stuff and do something that’s a little more fun, a little more light-hearted, but still complex and cool and has big storylines. It’s a lighter side of the ideas that I have.
Nrama: Do you feel like that stems from being a father and wanting your own kids to be able to read your work?
Kirkman: Oh, definitely. Jason Howard and I were working on Astounding Wolfman, and his kids are a little older than mine, but we’d talk about it and we’d realize “it’s really kind of cruddy. We do a book, we work in comics, and our kids can’t see anything we do!” So Super Dinosaur was something we both decided to do so that we could share with our kids. Our kids really do enjoy it quite a bit.
Nrama: Are there some other ideas you have in the works that maybe are just a page of a notebook but not out there getting developed yet?
Kirkman: Oh man. I’m always working on stuff that’s all behind the scenes that could come out years and years from now, or next month. I have a lot more projects in me. Let’s just say that. I have a few things in the works that hopefully will be announced someday soon, we’ll see! There’s definitely more stuff out there that I’d like to do.
Nrama: Why is Skybound so important to you as an imprint, and what has the process of bringing other creators in and helping them tell their stories like Clone and Ghosted been like for you?
Kirkman: I think doing The Walking Dead and my other work has given me the opportunity to shine a spotlight on cool stuff. Any Skybound title that I do is a title that I found, that I think deserves the biggest spotlight possible. If I can use my resources to bring new readers to something, I think it’s important to do that. It’s nice having my own little corner of Image Comics that I can do whatever I want in.