Most comic book writers don’t get to celebrate the publication of 100 issues of their creator-owned series, but then, Robert Kirkman isn’t most writers. After hitting the centennial mark with “The Walking Dead” earlier this year, Kirkman is set to open 2013 doing the same with his Image Comics/Skybound superhero comic “Invincible”, a decade after the title debuted in January 2003. Accompanied by the series’ two artists, Ryan Ottley and Cory Walker, both Kirkman’s “Invincible” #99 and #100 mark the final two chapters of “The Death of Everyone” storyline.
Kicking off in December’s issue #98, “The Death of Everyone” follows a newly re-powered Mark Grayson working along with Zandale Randolph — the hero known as Bulletproof who took over for Grayson as Invincible and still sports the identity — and a group of other heroes trying to save the world from Dinosaurus. The type of villain who claims to have the greater good of humanity in mind, Dinosaurus posits that the only way to save the world is by destroying a large portion of its population.
CBR News spoke with Kirkman about the events leading up to and following “Invincible” #100, future Skybound titles and the current state of the “Thief of Thieves” TV adaptation at AMC. And while he obviously wouldn’t say for sure, the writer hinted several times that this grimly-titled story just might lead to Mark Grayson’s death, along with “everyone” else’s.
CBR News: A lot of things in “Invincible” have been building toward the “Death of Everyone” storyline as well as the 100th issue. Seeing as how you teased Bulletproof taking over the Invincible identity a full year in advance, how long has this plan been in motion?
Robert Kirkman: “Invincible” is planned out extremely far in advance. Sometimes storylines move here and there, but for the most part, the basic road map has been laid out for a while. I’ve been putting Dinosaurus in the issues he needs to be in for this story for at least 20 issues or so. It’s all been leading up to this, which is pretty exciting going into the 100th issue.
Between closing the chapter on Rex and Monster Girl’s time away, revealing Zandale’s true origin and announcing a story titied “The Death of Everyone,” it sounds like you’re wrapping up a significant chapter of the book.
I think any time you reach any kind of milestone, you have to give some kind of resolution. In a long-running series, I think it’s important to not give too much of a resolution because you don’t want to give the readers a sense of, “Oh, that’s a perfect ending, I’m checking out now.” At the same time, you have to be setting up new stories with new beginnings. That’s pretty much what this storyline is about; it’s closing a chapter on Mark Grayson’s life and possibly opening another one. Assuming he survives.
You’ve never shied away from showing big, violent fight scenes that have huge repercussions and leave characters dead. Do you feel a need to top yourself with this story?
When you do a series like this, it’s all about escalation. You always have to be able to go up one more level and do something else. Whether that’s leveling up in violence or leveling up in story content or the way the storyline effects Mark Grayson — or doing the unthinkable and actually offing your main character. There has to be some sense of one-upmanship, otherwise it gets to be pretty dull after so many issues.
One of the things people love about “Invincible” and your other books is that they really don’t know what you’re going to do next, because it’s creator-owned and you can do whatever you want. In fact, you had Science Dog’s creator Phillip Schaff say essentially that to Mark in #97.
I have a lot of fun doing little asides like that here and there. I try to not make it too intrusive because that kind of stuff can be a little annoying, but I like to poke the readers every now and then to see if they’re paying attention. I think “Invincible” is a really good example of what you can do in a creator-owned comic. The fact that it is a superhero book and does deal with the same kind of stories that the Marvel and DC books do, really kind of shines a lot on how different things can be when the creator is in control and tells whatever storyline they want without any kind of fear of corporate oversight.
In that same scene with Schaff, he says that after his dark lead-up to #100, he tried making things lighter. Are those your plans for “Invincible?”
Not specifically. You always have to have your peaks and valleys. “Walking Dead” has very depressing dark periods and somewhat uplifting periods, periods of high action, periods of no action. “Invincible” follows that same model. I’m very proud of the fact that there have been issues that are pretty funny and then issues that have been kind of funny and weird for half of it and then dark and violent for the other half. The tale can kind of turn on a dime and that’s the kind of stuff that’s frowned upon. You’re told not to do that as a storyteller, but I like to break those rules and do a different kind of book depending on what kind of story I’m telling. I always like to say, “If you were doing a story about someone’s life, sometimes it would an action movie and sometimes it would be a drama, sometimes it would be a romance, sometimes it would be a comedy.” Everyone goes through these different things in their life. In telling the story of “Invincible” and trying to accurately portray different aspects of superheroes’ lives, you will slip into different genres like that from time to time.
On that note of mixing things up, the Phil Schaff scene came immediately after Zandale’s girlfriend killed his parents and he helped dispose of the body. Will that story be brought up again?
That will always be kind of hanging there. Zandale, Bulletproof, Invincible, whatever he’s going by this week, he’s a character that’s been in the background for so long and we haven’t really known that much about him. As we learned more and more about him, we’ve learned that he’s a complicated character. Now we’ve learned that he’s sort of a murderer, and I think it’s going to be really neat with the “Death of Everyone” storyline, a bunch of superheroes are going to show up and fight together and it’s going to be the same thing that’s happened in “Invincible” fifty times already. Zandale’s going to be in the mix and he’s going to be helping people, doing the superhero thing, but the reader is going to be like, “Wait a minute, two issues ago, this guy helped his girlfriend murder his parents. This is totally strange.” I like having that undercurrent in the story, just to keep the readers guessing. Where that story will go and when I’ll pick it up again, what the resolution of that will be, those are all complete unknowns and that’s what’s been exciting about “Invincible.” You don’t know what’s going to happen.
“Invincible” is no longer a book about just one person, but in fact a whole universe of characters. How do you decide who to shine the spotlight on?
Everybody has got their place, and I kind of know where I’m going with every character. I like pulling the focus away from Invincible himself from time to time, just to show readers, in advance of a storyline called “The Death of Everyone,” that there is a rich enough cast in this book that could carry the book if the title character were to suddenly die. Maybe there’s a plan to it all, I don’t know.
Speaking of the larger universe, you’ve got Phil Hester and Todd Nauck working on “Guarding the Globe.” You’ve said you passed some story ideas for the characters appearing in that book to them. Has that been difficult as a creator?
No, not really. What happened is that Cory Walker, Ryan Ottley and I created so many characters for “Invincible,” characters I really like, enjoy and want to see more of, but we don’t really have the room. So it’s been easy to partition off characters like Kaboomerang and Best Tiger and a lot of the characters that were created specifically for the Guardians of the Globe to focus on them and get to see someone else play in the universe.
Having Phil Hester and Todd Nauck come in and giving them carte blanche to do whatever they want in that corner in the Invincible Universe has been a real treat for me to see what they’re going to do month in and month out. It’s been awesome.
Much like with “The Walking Dead” #100, you’ve got a number of artists to do variants for “Invincible’s” centennial. One name that stuck out a bit was Art Adams — how did you get him involved?
I’ve talked to Art many times at conventions, I’ve been a fan of his for years. I asked a lot of people, and oftentimes I’m not able to get them because of Marvel and DC exclusive contracts and stuff like that. I guess Art was able to squeeze it in, thankfully. I can’t wait to show it off; it’s one of the best variant covers I’ve ever gotten from anyone. It’s startlingly awesome. I will say that was Sean Mackiewicz, our new editor — he pitched in to go after Art, so bravo to him.
One of the things we do at Skybound is we work on books for a really, really long time. “Clone” has been in the works for almost two years. When we got it to a point where it was ahead of schedule enough to have a stress-free launch, we put it out. To that end, we’ve got three or four other books in the works that we’ll be announcing over the course of 2013 and possibly into 2014. We really like to take our time and make sure everything’s right. We’ve got a bunch of books planned on the horizon that we’ll be announcing at some point soon.
Does part of that preparation involve you working one-on-one with the writers regarding story, or is it more about getting a certain number of issues in the can before launch?
It’s a scheduling thing, for the most part. I feel like you can do better marketing the more of a book you have done. Also, I think it takes the stress away from the creative team not to have to be under the gun from the minute you start working on a book. I think that’s really counter-productive and restricts the creative process. Thankfully, Skybound has the resources to invest in a book and give it that time to grow and mature over time. Setting the schedule against the pace of the creative team is a lot better than setting the pace of the creative team against the schedule.
At NYCC, you announced that Andy Diggle would be co-writing the next “Thief of Thieves” arc. Was there a specific book of his that made you want to bring him into the fold?
I’ve read a good deal of his Marvel work and a good deal of the stuff he did at DC. I’m very familiar with his work, I really like his “Daredevil” run. He’s a talented guy. I would say that “The Losers,” and the fact that he loves heists and loves planning capers, which is something his brain really does well — his enthusiasm for that world specifically made me seek him out. The dirty little secret about “Thief of Thieves” is that I really like the idea and really wanted to do it as a comic, but I don’t think I’m very good at writing heists. It’s incredibly complicated and painstaking work that I might not be capable of. So, instead of pushing myself and trying to do that, I was like, “Hey, let’s find some other guys who can do that stuff for me. That would be awesome.” Andy is a perfect candidate for that.
Has there been any movement on the “Thief of Thieves” TV show?
It’s coming along. We’ve got a pilot script now, which we didn’t have before. They were working on that over the summer. It’s in with AMC and we’re waiting to hear back if we’re going to shoot it. The process is moving along at a pace that is traditional and we’re very optimistic that things will continue to go along as well as they have been.
“The Walking Dead” continues to do the unheard of in this market and actually keeps gaining readers. Do you think that has to do with viewers of the TV show finally catching up with the comics?
I don’t really know. Some of them are. Anecdotally, I’m hearing from a lot of comic book shops that there are new people that they haven’t seen before coming in and seeking out “The Walking Dead” comics. I think some of that is filtering into the single issues, a lot of that is going into the trade paperbacks. On a whole, every version of “The Walking Dead” out there is selling better than a month ago and way better than it was two months ago. It’s remarkable to see those kinds of numbers and see the book continue to rise, but it’s totally awesome. I think it’s great, I’m fine with it.
Has there been a similar rise in digital as well as print versions of the issues and collections?
Yeah, actually there has. I don’t really know the hard numbers off the top of my head, but I know when it started at comiXology, we were doing 5% and as we’ve continued to work with comiXology and branched out into other digital platforms, we’ve seen digital sales go from 5% of print sales to we’re getting close to 25 to 30% of print sales. The digital market is jumping and rising and growing exponentially while the print market continues to grow. I can say that I’ve seen that on all of my other books too, books like “Invincible.” The digital market continues to double over time, while the print market is completely unaffected. While I will say that there’s a lot of retailers out there and people who are hardcore fans of print comics that see digital as a threat, I can say that I’ve seen no end of evidence that that’s not the case at all, that we’re seeing a growing digital audience coinciding with a growing print audience and the two seem to be feeding off of each other in a way that seems to bring more sales to both, which is a really exciting and uplifting thing to see for the industry as a whole.
Digital seems like a much better option for people already used to getting their entertainment that way. You see the show, you grab your tablet and buy some issues and enjoy them without having to leave your house.
Absolutely. A lot people say that the digital marketplace is replacing the convenience store, the grocery store, the Walmart, the place where you used to be able to see a rack of comic books all beat all to hell and you’d buy one off of. There is a collector’s market, and I think there is a resurgence into the public reading market that used to exist that we lost along the way in the ’90s.
“Invincible” #99 and #100 by Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley are set for release from Image Comics and Skybound on Jan. 2 and Jan. 23, respectively.