A long time ago in on a comic shelf far far away, a two young creators were making their major comics debut. It was the summer of 2002, the title was a spin-off of Erik Larsen’s popular Savage Dragon series starring the patriotic hero SuperPatriot, and the creators were two guys named Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker.
Maybe you’ve heard of them.
2002’s four issue series SuperPatriot: America’s Fighting Force was the Image debut for both Kirkman and Walker who had been working out of Kirkman’s self-publishing outfit Funkotron. The pair had pitched a project to Image earlier that was turned down, and they were working on a new-creator owned proposal called Bulletproof -- which became Invincible. Image founder Erik Larsen saw something in the pair, and offered the two relatively untested creators an all-access pass to take his SuperPatriot character and run with it. And run with it they did.
SuperPatriot: America’s Fighting Force showed off Larsen’s half-cyborg superhero fighting swastika-wearing super villains, dealing with superhero children and more in what the cover says is “Pulse-Pounding Patriotic Pandemonium!” The series put the pair on the track for future successes in Invincible and Kirkman’s The Walking Dead with artists Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard. Long out of print, this week Image collects this early formative work in an all-new Trade paperback.
Newsarama talked with Robert Kirkman by phone about the project, from learning comics with Erik Larsen, sharing a house with Cory Walker, and his love for geriatric good guys.
Newsarama: Image is re-releasing the SuperPatriot miniseries you did with Cory Walker back in 2002 – your first work at Image. What’s it like looking back on that and how far you’ve come?
Robert Kirkman: It's kind of cool. It's a lot of fun to go back and look at stuff and all the discussions I had with Erik Larsen and then working with Cory in a room in my house. I think the works holds up well and is a cool story. It's a fun time capsule, and everything we did in SuperPatriot led up to the creation of Invincible. We were actually creating Invincible while doing SuperPatriot.
Nrama: Can you tell us about that time in your life?
Kirkman: I lived in a shack of a house that had two rooms. I purchased it when I was 19, and it was in a rundown part of Lexington, Kentucky. Cory and I got the offer to do SuperPatriot while we were pitching Science Dog to Image. For some reason, Image turned down Science Dog. They didn't like talking animals – this was before Richard Starkings turned in Elephantmen to them. [laughs]
It all started because Cory had done a pin-up of SuperPatriot for an issue of Savage Dragon, and they liked it and someone said we should do a SuperPatriot mini for Erik. I knew Erik, and interviewed him back when I was doing Battle Pope and had gone out of my way to befriend him. I pitched it to Erik, and he said "sure, let's do this."
It's kind of amazing that Erik gave us SuperPatriot for a miniseries, and let us do whatever we wanted like it was a creator-owned book.
Anyway, I was living in that rundown 2-room house in Lexington, and Cory's lease was coming up and needed to get a new apartment, but he couldn't do that and quit his dayjob to work on the comic. So I kind of suggested he hop on a bus and move from Phoenix, New Mexico and live in our house. Cory basically slept in a sleeping bag for 9 months when it was all said and done.
We did the first three issues of Invincible that way too. We worked all day and watched Star Trek: The Next Generation while we ate lunch. It was cool living in the same house, and we still got a lot of work done. Being able to give Cory a place to live and a place to work really jumpstarted it all for us.
Nrama: You’ve done two SuperPatriot miniseries early in your career, and he’s popped up numerous times in Invincible. What’s your attraction to this particular character of Erik’s?
Kirkman: I've always made it pretty clear that Savage Dragon is my favorite comic. When it debuted in 1992 I wasn't prepared for how awesome it would be – especially with Larsen churning it out on a near-monthly basis for awhile.
Dave Johnson did some SuperPatriot issues, Keith Giffen wrote some and the Bierbaums wrote some too. The character has a really cool visual – with those robot arms and legs and the flag on his chest. He came with a cool back-story as well, and one of the most original Captain America-esque characters. SuperPatriot's origins start like other patriotic heroes, but then things got interesting and original.
Nrama: In your SuperPatriot miniseries it shows the flip side of a young up & comer like Invincible, displaying an aging hero. You and Cory re-visited this idea in the great Destroyer series from Marvel, and you also had a superhero with Alzheimer’s in the Pilot Season book Stealth. What are your thoughts on the idea of a superhero getting old?
Kirkman: Elderly superheroes might be my favorite genre.
Kirkman: Battle Pope is old, so is the Brit, SuperPatriot, Destroyer and Stealth. I have some other ideas in the same area, so I obviously think it's a fun thing to explore.
I really like old people, and think they are awesome. Most old men are grumpy as sh#!t, and don't care what they're saying or doing. It's really interesting to explore that period of someone's life, and there's an infinite number of story ideas there.
Nrama: Did you have any specific inspirations for these older characters you've done?
Kirkman: I don't know. There's a lot of different things. All of the above would be the simplest answer. I was pretty close to my grandfather before he died, and I have a pretty good relationship with my father and he's getting to be an older person. Then also – I'm the most boring "old man" person around, so I look to myself for quite a bit of stuff.
Nrama: Earlier we talked about this SuperPatriot being your first Image work after some self-publishing you did before. So this series was the "big time" for you, and not only were you working at Image but you were given the reigns to one of the founder's characters – while also dreaming up what would become Invincible and The Walking Dead. What was it like doing that?
Kirkman: Working on SuperPatriot was great for me at that time, because from a storytelling standpoint I got a lot of tips and pointers from Erik. When we'd send pages into him he'd remark back, saying "do this" and "don't do that". There were a lot of different page layout rules as well as lettering placement rules I didn't know about.
As far as scripting goes, it wasn't that different. But lettering – man. For my first couple years I did the lettering to all m books, and I learned a lot from Erik about framing pages, putting panels in order, and helping guide the reader's eye.
Doing SuperPatriot was an integral step in my career – I definitely would have ended up differently if I hadn't had that opportunity.
Nrama: After this, you did a second miniseries with E.J. Su called SuperPatriot: War on Terror. Any chance we’ll see it in a nice collection anytime soon?
Kirkman: There's very little work of mine that hasn't been collected. The Jubilee series from Marvel, Savage Dragon: God War and a couple other things. It bugs me to have so much available but these little pieces unavailable. Assuming this first SuperPatriot collection does well, I'd like to do SuperPatriot: War on Terror and Savage Dragon: God War. As for Jubilee, it's up to Marvel.