Debuting this week, Image Comics' Oblivion Song is Robert Kirkman's first new series in four years - but not the first time his imagination has took him to an apocalyptic scenario. Illustrated by Lorenzo de Felici, Oblivion Song follows Nathan Cole as he travels between dimensions to rescue people who were trapped there due to yet unknown and mysterious reasons.
At the beginning of Oblivion Song, Nathan is busy saving others but in his mind he's harboring a survivor's guilt over the loss of his brother, who he believes is lost out there in this alternate dimension.
“Yeah, that’s the pretty core concept of the story," Kirkman told Newsarama. "How much guilt Nathan feels and how much that he allows to drive him in the first arc and beyond.”
The bond between brothers is something Kirkman keyed into for Oblivion Song as a change from the father-son dynamics he has explored in The Walking Dead, Invincible, and Outcast.
“Yeah, The Walking Dead and Outcast have both strong father son dynamics and needed to change it up, but I think two brothers with a very strong bond would be interesting to explore in a science fiction story," Kirkman said. "It seemed like a something that could yield a lot of story potential.”
When describing Nathan Cole, Kirkman said he’s far from perfect - but still a good man.
“Nathan is a character who sees injustice and wants to do something about it.”
Nathan does have a little bit of dirt on him, but Kirkman said he is one of the most altruistic characters he’s written.
Kirkman co-created Oblivion Song with de Felici, an Italian artist making his North American debut. According to the writer, it was his Invincible co-creator Cory Walker which put them in touch.
“It must have been three years ago at this point, but I think he’s a good fit especially with how monster heavy Oblivion Song is.”
When asked about the differences working with Lorenzo than working with Charlie Allard, Kirkman joked that he definitely preferred the Italian. “No, but seriously, it hasn’t been that different,” he explained, “I think Lorenzo and Charlie are agreeable chaps and both hard working. It’s been great getting to know Lorenzo. I always know what I’m going to get from Charlie...so that makes it exciting with Lorenzo because I don’t know what part of the script he’s going to adhere to. It’s a lot of fun.”
de Felici's parents were biologists, and growing up in that environment contributed to a healthly dose of real science being included in Oblivion Song. Kirkman said that Lorenzo’s style could be adapted to draw people at a cafe and make it look interesting, but also really great at making an entire alien ecosystem seem real.
“Finding somebody who could juggle those two worlds could be difficult, but I knew Lorenzo was going to be able to handle it.”
When asked to compare working with de Felici on Oblivion Song to Charlie Adlard on The Walking Dead, Kirkman joked that he preferred Lorenzo - but quickly pulled back to say it's very similiar.
“No, but seriously, it hasn’t been that different,” he explained. “I think Lorenzo and Charlie are agreeable chaps and both hard working. It’s been great getting to know Lorenzo. I always know what I’m going to get from Charlie...so that makes it exciting with Lorenzo because I don’t know what part of the script he’s going to adhere to. It’s a lot of fun.”
Oblivion Song is Kirkman's first new, original comic book in four years - and in that time he's become a key figure in television and movies. How has that side of his career changed him as a comics writer? Kirkman said he tries to prevent it from changing him - even though he admits Oblivion Song could someday be adapted into a television show or movie.
“That’s something I try to ignore. It’s not like it’s me and my artists sitting around thinking about how we could turn something into a cool movie," Kirkman said. "It’s really just a goal to entertain yourself. As long as you strive to make something as cool as possible... but we’ll see. It’s always something in the back of my mind, but I’m a comic book writer first and foremost.”
That being said, he said TV production has informed how he paces comic books and the "run and gun" nature of comics currently.
“I think the main thing I’ve taken away from my experience in television is the production of the comic,” he said. “I think that we in comics do ourselves a disservice by running and gunning with everything we do. I think people will be surprised to learn that when comics show up in the catalog to be ordered, they’re not complete. I think a staggering number of them haven’t even begun. That’s kind of crazy to me since television will complete a season before they market it. Making a movie or TV show is vastly more expensive than making a comic book and more complicated with a lot more moving parts.”
Kirkman's Skybound Entertainment took a thorough, methodical long-term approach to introducing Oblivion Song to the public - beginning with providing comic book retailers a chance to read the first six issues before #1 even comes out in hopes of garnering retailer confidence.
“We’ve done a lot of retailer outreach so retailers have the first six issues before they even place an order," Kirkman said. "So I’ve learned that taking your time with a project and taking it to market is a winning formula to an extent.”
Kirkman said that they were working on Oblivion Song for over a year before it was announced in October 2017 - and its afforded him the chance to hone the material more than he's been able to in the past.
“There’s been a tremendous amount of polishing I was able to do," the writer explained. "Even in the first issue, I added some pages because of something when issue nine was completed and it would be nice if this scene was here and it made for a much better comic.”