Robert Kirkman: It All Comes Down To Luck
Interview conducted by Yannis Agapiou, Yannis Kouroubakalis and Nikos
Edited by Dimitris Sakaridis
One of the young comics writers who has managed to put his mark on the American mainstream is definitely Robert Kirkman. Admit it, five years ago you probably didn't even know his name, while now it's quite probable that you're reading at least one of the 15.3 million comic books he writes every month. You probably are intrigued by the post-apocalyptic melodrama of THE WALKING DEAD, or you find the re/de-constructing superhero-ism of INVINCIBLE fascinating, or you might even think that MARVEL TEAM-UP kicks ass. The point is that you almost certainly have a nice thing to say about some work by Robert Kirkman. And so do we...
COMICDOM: When did you first decide to become a comic book writer and how did your family and friends react when you mentioned it to them?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: I decided shortly after I drew my first comic and realized I would never be good enough to draw comics for a living. Once I started focusing on the writing, things started looking up. My parents are supportive. I don't think they quite realize exactly what it is I do.
COMICDOM: How did you try to crack the industry? Did you send writing samples to the big-time publishers or was it your decision to self-publish from the beginning?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: Self-publishing from the beginning. But I did send a few samples of BATTLE POPE out AFTER I had solicited the book to see if I could AVOID self-publishing. I knew that publishing it myself would be hard, but after BATTLE POPE was turned down by more than a few publishers, I knew it was the only option.
COMICDOM: THE REAPER and BATTLE POPE were (correct me if I'm wrong) your first two works. Both books have a very "cult" feel about them, though they're pretty different from a storytelling point of view. Now, after almost five years of a very successful and promising career, when you look back on those two books, how do you feel about them?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: REAPER came MUCH later (OK, we screwed up). I did BATTLE POPE followed by (in this order) SUPERPATRIOT, TECH JACKET, INVINCIBLE, SPACE ACE, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, TALES OF THE REALM, CAPES, BRIT, THE WALKING DEAD, CLOUDFALL... THEN REAPER (OK, we screwed up big time!!!). I'm proud of BOTH books, though. I think REAPER was a brilliant idea by Cliff Rathburn (artist on REAPER) and I had fun helping him realize it. I think it's a beautiful book. BATTLE POPE was fun, pure and simple. The art is a little rough around the edges at times but I think it's still a high-quality book. I learned to write during its 14-issue run. I like looking back on that old stuff.
COMICDOM: How did you come up with the idea for THE WALKING DEAD? Were you always interested in zombie stories?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: I've always loved zombie movies... and I've always hated it when they end. THE WALKING DEAD is the zombie movie that never ends. I wanted to follow a group of characters through a zombie-infested world on a long-term basis. That was the genesis of the idea.
COMICDOM: Though THE WALKING DEAD initially seems to be a regular zombie tale, it quickly becomes perfectly clear that it's much more that that. In my view, it's about people and how they adapt/react in unfortunate or dangerous situations. It almost reads like a psychological study at times. Was this your intention from the beginning, or did you start wanting to tell a good "end-of-the-world" story?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: I didn't set out to do a psychological study... but I did skip over all the "end of the world" stuff to get to the "what-do-we-do-now?" stage of things. It was always meant to be an exploration of character.
COMICDOM: Is it supposed an open-ended series, or does it have a definite ending at some point in the future?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: It's supposed to be open-ended. I have an ending in mind, but I have no plans to do it for a VERY long time.
COMICDOM: The first few issues of INVINCIBLE indicated that this would be a superhero comic with a very "Silver Age" aesthetic, but then came "the revelation" that took the readers completely by surprise, changing pretty much everything they thought they knew about the book. From then on, the title came much closer to modern sensibilities. Was that a conscious choice on your part? Was it your plan from the beginning to "mislead" the readers and then surprise them? If that was the case, wasn't there a substantial amount of risk that you could possibly target the wrong audience when the book started?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: It was planned from the beginning, and yeah, the risk was there - but you've got to break a few eggs to make an omelet. I think most people just complained that the book lacked depth before the reveal. So I think it all worked out.
COMICDOM: How did you land the gig for MARVEL TEAM-UP?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: Marvel editor Tom Brevoort really liked my work on INVINCIBLE and called up one day to offer me the gig.
COMICDOM: Most team-up books tend to be very unrealistic as far as storylines go (sure, "unrealistic" when talking about superhero stories is a bit weird, since they're all, pretty much, unrealistic from the get-go, but anyway...). Most of the times, the character reactions and interplay are messed up as they're often put in situations which they wouldn't "normally" be part of. You seem to know the drill very well, since you manage to playfully build all these strange and unusual team-ups in MARVEL TEAM-UP, using the characters in stories that combine humor, intrigue, mass-destruction and a lot of "classic superhero shit", essentially managing to make team-up books fun again. Do you think that it's simply "in your blood" or is there some special method you're using?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: With MARVEL TEAM-UP I took the stance that for a team-up to actually occur every issue, things have to be silly or the book itself will look stupid. And by "silly" I just mean "off the wall". The reasons for the heroes to meet up have to make sense, but they can be ridiculous to a certain extent because the very idea of a version of New York City overrun by thousands of super heroes is ridiculous in and of itself. I just try to have fun with the book and make it as entertaining as it can be.
COMICDOM: How easy was it for you to convince Marvel to have characters from INVINCIBLE appearing in MARVEL TEAM-UP? How exactly did this deal come to fruition?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: It was pretty simple. I asked, they agreed, the paperwork was signed and a few short months later the book was on the shelves.
COMICDOM: How long do you plan on staying on the book? Can you give us some hints for future plots and characters?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: I'm on the book for the foreseeable future. The next arc coming up is called "League Of Losers" and features little seen characters from the 90's like Sleepwalker, Darkhawk, Speedball, Dagger, and Terror, Inc.
COMICDOM: You seem to be one of a very select group of creators who have succeeded in maintaining commercially viable creator-owned titles. What's your secret?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: Luck. I think that's ultimately what it comes down to.
COMICDOM: Aside from your personal, creator-owned projects, you've pretty much worked exclusively with Marvel. What are they offering that others don't? Do you see yourself working with DC in the near future?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: I'm not opposed to doing DC work in the future. Marvel came to me first, though, and I'm loyal to them. I grew up on Marvel comics because as a kid those were pretty much the only ones I could get. I didn't get into DC until high school so I'm not quite as familiar with their characters. I love Marvel Comics and I'm very happy there.
COMICDOM: As a fan of the recent trend to make comics as complex as possible, I'm sometimes amazed at your totally straightforward writing style (this is meant as a compliment, by the way). Do you feel that this may be the key (or one of the keys) for your success? How important do you think it is for a writer to have his own unique style in order to succeed?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: Very! I mean, ultimately we're just names. Artist's work is very visible. If a writers work is just like everyone else what's the point? I mean, there's got to be some difference or you just get lost in the crowd.
COMICDOM: Do you pick your collaborators personally? What are you looking for in an artist in order to work with him?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: TALENT and something original. I just pick guys I like for the most part. It helps if they're not complete jerks. So far I've been lucky.
COMICDOM: Are there any artists you'd "absolutely die" to work with?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: Tons! Ed McGuiness, Sal Buscema, Erik Larsen, Walt Simonson, Joe Quesada, Rob Haynes, Jason Pearson, Dave Johnson, Geoff Darrow, Frank Miller, Stuart Immonen, and thousands of others that could easily make this the longest answer ever.
COMICDOM: Are there any corporate-owned characters that you'd like to take a stab at writing someday?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: MARVEL TEAM-UP has allowed me to do most of the ones I want already. I'd like to do a long run on Spider-Man at some point and I'd really like to write the Wolverine solo series for any length of time. The Incredible Hulk is also a favorite of mine.
COMICDOM: THE REAPER was just published in Greece (by Jemma Press). What other projects of yours have been translated in foreign languages in the past and how do you feel about foreign editions in general?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: I can't keep track of them all honestly. I think almost everything I've done has been translated into one country or the other. I don't really think about the foreign editions. In most, if not ALL cases these books are being published in places I'll never even get to visit, which is a little surreal to me. I mean, there's at least ONE person in Greece who knows who I am? That's weird. They could ride on pink giraffes in Greece for all I know... but someone there knows who I am. That's weird.
COMICDOM: What comics are you reading these days?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: Just look at the list of artists above... whatever books those guys are doing. And MANY MANY more. I also really like the writing of Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Brian K. Vaughan, Joe Casey, Warren Ellis, and many others. I also like GIRLS and a lot of the other Image books coming out right now.
COMICDOM: How did you feel when Marvel offered you ULTIMATE X-MEN? Since this is the first "really popular" book you'll be working on, do you have any fear of... screwing up?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: I've been screwing up non-stop all this time and I've been fine so far. We'll see how this works out. I'm so excited to do this I can't imagine that not translating to the final product. I'm really digging what we've been able to put together so far.
COMICDOM: Tell us a bit about your future plans. What other projects do you have in store for the following months?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: I'm all projected out for the time being. Between INVINCIBLE, THE WALKING DEAD, MARVEL TEAM-UP, MARVEL ZOMBIES and ULTIMATE X-MEN, I don't have time for anything else.
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