In the ten years Robert Kirkman has been in comics, he’s done a lot and seen a lot – and in the second part of our interview, we talked to him in-depth about his own comics reading habits, his views on creator-owned comics, and a challenge to a certain comics creator to do a creator-owned comic.
Newsarama: With all your success, do you have a chance to be a regular comics fan from time to time?
Robert Kirkman: I’m usually in a comic store every week. I used to get them shipped to me for about a two-year period, but it got to a point where I didn’t want to wait for that box to come in – it wouldn’t get here until the Monday after they came out at the earliest. Honestly, I didn’t like waiting so I started going to a comic shop about two years ago.
I’m in a comic store every Wednesday, picking up the books I like. Sometimes I don’t get the chance to read them right away because I’m so busy, but I try to find time. I feel like if I purchase them then I’ll read them eventually. I hope that once the first season of The Walking Dead runs its course, I’ll have a chance to dive into this growing stack of comics more.
Nrama: What kind of comics do you pick up, Robert?
Kirkman: I read anything written by Jeph Loeb, especially the Ultimate books which I’ll read until the cows come home; he does great fun comics for readers. Jonathan Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D. is good, and I recently got the chance to read Jeff Smith’s Rasl; I think I like Rasl more than Bone even. I like Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips’ Incognito and Criminal, and James Stokoe’s Orc Stain. I think Chew is excellent, and I read the heck out of Savage Dragon.
I’m sure I’m forgetting books by people I love the most.
Nrama: At this point in your career and in these economic times, I’d consider you on pretty solid footing for job security – you’re your own boss! What do you think of that as you’ve grown into this position?
Kirkman: I think one of the reasons I work so hard is because I don’t feel like I have job security; sales could drop any minute. Things are going really well right now, but we never know what the future holds. I try to work my hardest on my books, so people will continue to read them. I certainly haven’t hit a point where I can lean back and relax. I think once Steven Spielberg is doing the Invincible movie I’ll be more secure, but that announcement’s not for a couple more weeks.
Nrama: [laughs] I’ll take that as a joke… I think. I guess you take it day-by-day though, unless those Skybound guys offer you an exclusive or something.
Kirkman: [laughs] Yeah, I’m hoping the people at Skybound value me enough to one day offer me an exclusive. But there’s not a need; they know I wouldn’t leave.
Nrama: Getting serious though, like you said – things are going great but you don’t know what the future holds. You had a very public exit from Marvel, but how do you view those years at Marvel?
Kirkman: I think that doing work-for-hire helps promote the creator-owned work – anything that gets your name out there helps. But I don’t know if it translates as much as people hope it would. I know that The Walking Dead and Invincible were rising in sales before I went to Marvel, and continued to rise in sales at a steady pace during my time there but also after I left. The Walking Dead has risen at a higher rate now that the shows happening, but there wasn’t anything like that when I was doing Ultimate X-Men or whatever.
It’d be ridiculous for me to claim that Marvel didn’t help me in anyway – but there’s not a clear issue-to-issue comparison. I know that on some of my Marvel stuff people bought it because of my creator-owned books, so it works both ways. I definitely feel like I learned a lot, and it was fun to write those characters. I had a good time there, but I just really didn’t enjoy it; I didn’t like having to be told there were certain things I could or couldn’t do. I much prefer doing my own stuff.
After I finally convinced myself that I didn’t have to work at Marvel, things got a lot easier. Even if The Walking Dead TV show didn’t happen, I couldn’t be happier. Everything is much better for me now.
Nrama: Would you recommend it to other creators who work primarily at Marvel or DC? Is there anyone you’d like to call out right now and say ‘hey, do some creator-owned comics!’? [laughs]
Kirkman: I’d love to see Jeph Loeb do creator-owned books, but I don’t know if he has any original ideas. [laughs]
I actually love Jeph, but I’ve seen him talk crap about me before so I’m trying to get back at him in this interview.
Kirkman: I’d love to see Jeph do creator-owned books; he is utterly and completely commercial in his thinking. Guys like Ed Brubaker do absolutely brilliant and really well-executed stuff too; crime stuff that isn’t necessarily commercial. Jeph has a real commercial sense. It’d be awesome, but he’s a corporate guy with a job in their TV department now. But I’d love to see him do an Icon book.
Now that I think of it, here’s a public challenge for Jeph; Jeph, let’s see it. If Jeph doesn’t do a creator-owned book in the next two years then its official – he has no original ideas.
Nrama: Big words, Robert – I remember you calling out Todd McFarlane years ago that prompted Haunt.
Kirkman: Yeah, so let’s see what happens.
For other guys, I love seeing Jason Aaron doing Scapled and then doing a lot of really good work at Marvel. Jason does some of the best books at Marvel, and I wish people would notice that more. His Wolverine, Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine and Punisher Max are all really good stuff.
I don’t care if they do it at Image, Icon, or wherever. I’m not saying ‘hey everyone, come on over to Image!’. But yeah, Image has a better deal that everyone else. Do it at Dark Horse, IDW, I don’t care. I hear Jonathan Hickman is doing more creator-owned work, and Brian Bendis is coming over to my way of thinking with Taki-O and Scarlet. I think it’s really cool to see him doing more.
The cool thing about creator-owned comics is that it’s usually quite different from someone’s work-for-hire output. There’s people whose commercial work I can’t stand but whose creator-owned work is great. I think everyone should do a creator-owned book; you’d be surprised at what these people have up their sleeves. Take John Layman, for example – seeing such an amazing concept as Chew come out from a guy who was best known as a Wildstorm editor who wrote a couple comics before that. Chew is a brilliant concept, and John is a really good writer.
I think anybody could do it – even Joe Quesada! I’d love to see Joe do that – but he’s a corporate suit at this point. He comes around every year or so and ruins Spider-Man, so he must be a corporate suit.
Nrama: But going back to what you said – if worse came to worse, could you see yourself going back to work-for-hire?
Kirkman I would eat my words in a minute if my career in the toilet. Writing comics, whether it’s creator-owned or work-for-hire, is better than working in the salt mines or whatever I’m qualified to do. I don’t ever plan on doing it as long as things are okay, because it’d be admitting defeat…and I don’t feel like I need to do that.
That being said, I could see myself doing Batman – but I don’t plan to do it anytime soon. I’ve never done any work for DC, and I don’t have any cool ideas I’ve been harboring for years. But in a vague sense doing Batman at some point would be interesting. I’m having the time of my life doing creator-owned work.
Nrama: With everything you have going, what’s a good day for you?
Kirkman: I think what’s good Is that there’s a sense that anything goes. At any point I could have Invincible do whatever I want in the book. I could have him go into the ocean and be underwater for twelve years, and have his head chopped off or whatever. I like the thrill of succeeding or failing based on my own making. There’s really no safety net – I Like the idea that I could ruin my books at any moment, so every issue that I don’t qualifies as a success to me.
And I also like the idea that I’m not raping Stan Lee’s corpse – but he’s not dead yet. I’m not cashing in on Jack Kirby’s work, and not retelling the same basic stories over and over. Once you create a character, that’s the concept. Peter can’t pay the bills, he really loves his Aunt, yadda yadda. I love the stuff that Lee and Ditko set up in the 60s. Telling variations of that now in 2010 is kind of fun. If you can do something awesome with the framework that Marvel has set-up, that’s awesome. I’m super-excited for Dan Slott’s turn on Amazing Spider-Man -- I’m glad it’s not a team-written book anymore – and I’m excited to see Humberto Ramos draw it.
Nrama: Speaking more specifically, are there things that happen sometimes that make your day?
Kirkman: It’s things like realizing I got 8 pages done instead of four in a given day, which sadly doesn’t happen as much as it used to. I get excited when Ryan sends me new Invincible pages, or when Cory Walker finishes another page. I get a huge charge from that stuff. When Greg’s Haunt pages come in it’s amazing; he’s really chugging along. And working on several books simultaneously, I get that thrill several times a day.
And when I’m writing something and a new idea pops up on the fly and changes the plot a little bit, that’s really exciting too. A lot of times with working on Invincible or The Walking Dead I have the next 25 issues all mapped out, but then I write a scene where it veers off – “this leads to that, which then goes here and makes this happen” - -and over the course of a half hour I’ve come up with 6 or 10 new issues I have to write NOW. Things get pushed back as new ideas pop up.
And it’s cool to have the freedom to do that. I think that with the “Conquest” storyline in Invincible that happened – originally it was going to be a lot shorter, but once it came along and I started writing it it just expanded with so much good stuff. It’s really cool to be able to shift gears an ddo what you feel is right with no hesitation.
Nrama: I’m about to let you get back to work, but I can’t help but ask – what’s coming up on your plate next? Monday Jason Howard said he’s working on a new project with you after the end of Astounding Wolf-man.
Kirkman: I’m doing some very cool stuff with Jason that we should be announcing soon, and I also have a new series with Cory Walker. There’s also a few things I can’t really talk about with new artists I haven’t worked with before.What's your favorite Robert Kirkman work?