After his debut in comics with the self-published superhero parody series Battle Pope, Robert Kirkman has steadily rising through the rank and file of comics creators. His two creator owned series The Walking Dead and Invincible served as foundation for a career that saw him work with the icons of his youth at Marvel for years before returning to Image in 2008 full-time as creator – and full-fledged partner in the company.
Newly invigorated by this promotion, Kirkman has become an ambassador for creator-owned comics – speaking out notably online, in interviews and in-person at conventions. Both Invincible and The Walking Dead comics have bucked the industry trend and risen steadily in sales month-by-month, becoming two of the top-selling non-Marvel or DC comics on the market. He’s also expanded with several near series, as well as the inception of a new imprint at Image called Skybound, which will be the home for not only his titles, but new ones by others that he’s taking under his wing.
Amidst these busy weeks leading up to the television premise of The Walking Dead, Newsarama carved out some precious moments to talk to Robert Kirkman about comics, his place in it – and their place in his life.Newsarama: So Robert, how’s the past few months been for you with all this TV business?
Robert Kirkman: It’s been kind of awesome, but not anything you can really plan for in comics. I really did not expect it to go this well or be this awesome. It’s been amazing, every step of the way. To be on set, to talk to the actors, and to be in the writer’s room and work with them – hell, even to write an episode. It’s been amazing, and I couldn’t be any more appreciative of Frank Darabont, Gale Anne Hurd and AMC; they’ve all been awesome.
So yeah, I can’t say much more than to say ‘it’s awesome’. [laughs]
Nrama: I’ve seen creators take on very different roles when movies or TV come a’knocking to develop their comics. You’ve been pretty hands on – would you recommend it for others?
Kirkman: I’d highly recommend everyone to get their comics told in movies or television – just for the money aspect only. Honestly, it’s been pretty sweet. And if you have the ability to exert control over the production, that’s even better. If creators are allowed to be involved, be involved.
Early on when asked in interviews about it, I didn’t know how involved I would be able to be. I knew they were allowing me to be involved as much as I want to be – as an Executive Producer – but I didn’t know if I’d be able to be on set as much as I was; I didn’t want the comics to fall behind schedule, and I wanted to keep doing the workload I was doing on a daily basis. If comic creators are able to juggle it, it’s a totally fun process.
Nrama: So you’ve got your first major adaptation of your comics work – but you have loads of ideas, as seen from your creator-owned work, especially knocking out five ideas in Top Cow’s Pilot Season earlier this year. Any chance you could develop new ideas for television or film perhaps?
Kirkman: Yes, I actually do. But I never want to be one of those guys that has an idea for television but forces it to be a comic. I have several ideas that wouldn’t work well as a comic – in the comic book format, there are certain things you have to do to keep readers entertained in a certain way – and likewise, certain things don’t work well in comics.
With The Walking Dead television series, I have an avenue to pitch things to become television or film series. Moving forward my goal is if I make a television series, it has to be good – just the way I do comics. I very much consider myself a comics writer and not a ‘TV guy’, so I’ll probably just do more comics. That’s where my heart is, and that’s what I want to be doing. I’m not planning to make the jump anytime soon; I’m not Brian K. Vaughn or something.Nrama: A couple years back you became a partner at Image, and you’ve pushed your ambition in comics further with the creation of Skybound Entertainment – your own imprint at Image. We’ve seen exciting titles like Invincible and The Walking Dead come under the banner, as well as the announcement of several new titles co-written or shepherded by you. What exactly do you have in mind for Skybound?
Kirkman: It’s my company, and anything I do will be under that banner. And aside from my books, there will be new books I didn’t create – with new creators that I’m trying to do my best to get their work out to the masses. There are two wings: the things I do, and the things from other people I’m trying to give a leg up.
Nrama: How would you classify your role in Skybound? Editor-In-Chief, Publisher… Grand Poobah?
Kirkman: Eric Stephenson’s the publisher at Image, and we’re more an imprint – besides, that kind of stuff sucks to do – I’ll leave that to them. What I’ll do is have a hand in marketing, helping get the word out, and be bouncing ideas around with the others. A good example is the upcoming series Witch Doctor; it’s our first new book, and I’ve been talking with writer Brandon Seifert about his story and what he wants to do.
Nrama: It sounds like you assuming a mentorly role as a comics' veteran entering your tenth year in comics. Back when you were just starting out, who filled that role for you?
Kirkman: Erik Larsen is probably the best example of that; Eric Stephenson too. I’d bounce ideas off those guys and they would give me advance, and tell me different things I should do. I definitely learned a lot from those guys – and I still do.
Nrama: Where do you see Skybound in five years, Robert?
Kirkman: I don’t know. Just a continuation of the books I do. I’m not really anticipating a huge growth; it’s not like I’ll say “I need to have 10 Skybound titles up and running by the three-year mark!” It’s going to be a much more organic growth based on the success of the stories themselves. If Witch Doctor comes out and it’s a huge hit, we’ll probably seek out more titles. Skybound’s focus right now is on Witch Doctor and to help it find its audience. If Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner can make a living with it, then it’s successful.
I don’t foresee Skybound becoming a line of 20 books or something; I don’t want it to grow to that level. I see it more as a boutique line of things.
Nrama: With all this on your plate, what’s a normal workday like for you, Robert?
Kirkman: I have two very young children I like to see, and a wife whose company I enjoy --- so I try to work 9 to 5, and I manage to keep that schedule pretty well. The only thing that’s changed is that there’s a lot more travel – I get a lot of work done on planes, so I’ve been able to make that work. Sometimes I go into a ‘writing zone’ on plans and get a lot more done than I would in the office even. But I do work a lot more than I Have in the past. Sometimes I work after the kids go to bed. I’m very committed to doing work. It’s not hard to put in the extra hours when it’s something you love doing, and something that’s yours.
Nrama: How would you think the 2000-era Robert Kirkman think of you now?Kirkman: I got into comics to do my own Savage Dragon; it was my favorite comic growing up, and I wanted to have my own book go on for years and have total control. And now I have that times two in Invincible and The Walking Dead. I wake up in the morning feeling pretty ridiculous; things seem to be working out really well, thanks to the fans.
I would do almost anything for those readers when they come up to me at conventions. I let people bring as many books as they want, and I give things away for free sometimes. I wish I could give everything away sometimes. The fans put food on my table, and clothes on my children’s backs. I’m really thankful, I didn’t think things would work out so well.
Nrama: Speaking of work you love – you’re established long relationships with artists on your books, from Cory Walker, Ryan Ottley, Cliff Raithburn and Charlie Adlard. Even though comics is primary a solitary craft, do you consider them friends?
Kirkman: I would call all of them but Ryan Ottley friends.
Kirkman: Ryan and I just don’t get along at all. [laughs]
But yeah, they’re all buddies of mine. When you work with people, you get to know people – and get to like them. Cory Walker and I have known each other for damn near a decade. So we’re all good friends. And guys like Cliff Rathburn and Russ Wooton work together with me on multiple books, so we talk a lot on the phone and by email.
I actually work in a physical studio with Cory Walker. Sometimes Nate Bellegarde pops by to do work, as well as Benito Cereno. I keep inviting Ryan Ottley to fly in and work, and I think it’d be a lot of fun. Once you find talented people that can stand working on my scripts, I’m certainly not going to let those guys go.
Also because of Haunt, I’ve gotten to know artist Greg Capullo. I’ve admired his work for years and years, and to have him actually turn out to be an awesome dude is great. I definitely feel lucky to work with the people I’m able to work with, and I hope to work with new people more as well.