If there are two creators in mainstream comics who can get people talking, then Robert Kirkman and Rob Liefeld fit the bill. And yesterday, when the pair announced a new August-debuting sci-fi series from Image Comics called “The Infinite,” fans took notice immediately.
While the two creators have collaborated before, if only briefly — years ago on Liefeld’s “Youngblood” property and recently on the delayed “Image United” — “The Infinite” marks their very first full-on team-up, telling the story of time traveler Bowen who must recruit his younger self to fight against the titular foe: an unstoppable force that has destroyed Bowen’s world. While the first word of the book contained a brief teaser image and a little bit of info from the creators, CBR News reached out for the full story on the launch of this new title starting with Liefeld. Below, the artist talks about returning to his signature style on “The Infinite” and how Kirkman is helping bring out the best in him as he gears up for his first round of all-new character creation.
CBR News: Let’s start at the beginning: Comic-Con International. It seems we hear about so many projects being born at that show and how people bum around and talk shop. What were the circumstances that led you and Robert to collaborating on this? Did one of you approach the other, or was there some kind of discussion that finally pulled the trigger on a team-up?
Rob Liefeld: Well, to back up completely, Kirkman and I had completed our work on “Killraven” last spring, and we joked about buying it all back from Marvel and publishing it ourselves as something else and how completely impossible that would be. Bottom line, we both really enjoyed producing “Killraven,” and we started talking about what else we could do together. We talked last spring, and we agreed to start putting the creative pieces together in San Diego. We set a date after preview night and we started the ball rolling over nachos. The con provides great atmosphere and great energy, so it’s naturally a great backdrop for the creative and competitive juices to get flowing.
More specifically, did the concept of “The Infinite” come whole cloth out of that show? With whom did the time travel concept originate, and what was it specifically that got you excited/made you want to develop this world?
By early fall, Kirkman was spending a lot of time in L.A. and we were meeting as often as possible between all his commitments. He sat me down during lunch one afternoon and said in no uncertain terms, “I want the ‘X-Force,’ ‘Youngbloood’ Rob. I want gear, shoulder pads, knee pads, pouches and big ass guns.” I just smiled. I’m like, yeah, that’s where I live and breathe. He said, “stop running from all this stuff that you do so well…you’ve got to bring it on this!” So from that point on, we were locked and loaded, and we attacked the concept, there was a lot of ” should it have monsters? What kind of monsters? Vampires? No, we don’t want vampires?…What’s the heroes mission? Okay then, what does the bad guy want? How about time travel?” That’s how it all beat itself out.
We didn’t want super heroes. We were looking at a compelling science fiction yarn rather than a group of crime fighters. After one afternoon, we had a good idea of where the story and the characters were headed. I agreed to go up and meet him again the next day, and I had a bunch of names scribbled out for the title of the series. We sat down over pizza, and Robert said, ” The book is called ‘The Infinite.'” Bingo. I crumpled up my paper. He said, “Whaddya got there? What are your names?” I was like, “Nah, they’re no good.” Seriously, we had it. That was September, and the train had left the station. I started drawing tons of designs and character sketches and was sending them through at a pretty rapid fire rate. We met many more times, talked every day. I went to Kentucky, we just hammered this thing into place. Time travel, the mission the characters, it all fell into place.
It’s early yet, but let’s get a bit into the nitty gritty of the book, starting with Bowen. What’s makes his younger self so central to the idea of stopping this future threat? What, for you, is the fun of designing a character in two time periods and playing them off each other?
Well, that’s the central mystery to all of it, and at the heart of the story is the great question we’ve all asked ourselves — what would I tell myself if I could go back and intervene in my younger life? What would I change, what would I say? Much of this is addressed early on. The series hits the ground running. Bowen is a man hell-bent on a mission. His strongest ally is himself. There are attributes we all had when were younger, some of which we wish we hadn’t lost as we matured and settled in. Bo is a rottweiler in many ways, unharnessed, ready to be honed by Bowen. It’s a great dynamic. Robert has written some funny stuff between them. Great, natural developments. Really good emotional stuff.
So far, we’ve seen two rad-looking supporting characters in the first teaser image. What can you tell us about who our laser-swinging warrior and our gun-toating lady are at this phase in the game?
I can’t say anything about those two. They are great, big characters in our saga. You’ve seen just a fraction of the characters that are coming your way in “The Infinite.” No doubt about it, “The Infinite” is rock ’em, sock ’em comics. It’s bold and new, and it doesn’t feel like anything that’s out there right now. Our purpose is to blow you away with the emotions, the action, the pacing of this big story. I was looking at a stack of comics the other day, and it was a group of John Romita Jr. comics from the ’90s — “Punisher War Zone,” “Daredevil,” “Cable” — and they were electric with energy. Each page popped out and slapped you in the face. That work is crazy. I was checking out Jim Lee’s “X-Men” and was like, “Whoa!” all over again! That work is tremendous. It’s bold, dynamic. Then I looked at the recent “X-Force” hardcovers that just came out, and I was like, “Where’d did this hyper-active artist go?” The urgency on the page, the layouts, again, I’m like, “There’s nothing like these books.” “The Infinite” is a return to a form of comic book that is hard to find nowadays. It rocks, period.
Overall, what kinds of design principals in general shaped your take on the world of “The Infinite?” From the one image we have, it looks like a mash-up of “Star Wars,” “TRON” and just classic Rob Liefeld. Are there certain things you’re looking to play with visually that you haven’t before?
I’m influenced by everything, so I try and incorporate all of it into my characters. Again, I have a pretty proven, pretty successful record with shoulder pads, pouches, big guns. Good or bad, it depends on your POV, but I’m designing characters with an aesthetic that I like. I don’t care what anyone else thinks or sees. Bowen is a soldier, Bo is a soldier in training. Characters from the future, I’m trying to give them a different flair, but you’ll see much of the gear and the armor is shared with the enemies, the soldiers that serve our bad guy, The Infinite. Bowen served in The Infinite’s army, he brought with him armor from that period that he has since modified. I’m trying to straddle the line where you don’t look at the characters and compare them to previous work I’ve done while retaining my personal style. When I look at “Avatar,” I see the Cameron aesthetic from his earlier films, like “Aliens” and “Abyss,” but it’s what I associate him as far as a Cameron style, so I dig it. Hopefully I can pull that off here. There’s a whole lot yet to be seen.
I recall you saying in the past year or so, you’ve felt that your time playing with some of your classic characters like Youngblood and Deadpool is winding down now, so you can create a new batch of heroes to move forward with. I’ve really been looking forward to seeing how that’ll shape up. Why is it important for you to keep coming up with new characters and concepts, and how will “The Infinite” stake a claim in that direction for you moving ahead?
Well, I still have a few “X-Force” and “Deadpool” commitments to wrap up, and I am proud of that work. It has stood the test of time. Those character designs have their own wing of Marvel Entertainment. But it’s time to create new worlds, new characters, new concepts — that’s what I enjoy the most. I’m addicted to creating comic book work. The bug hit me, and after delivering a years worth of “Deadpool Corps,” it’s become an obsession of mine to produce comics work by the volumes. There were, I think, seven Deadpool titles at one point last year. I believe one publication had Deadpool in 79 comic books. That’s a lot. At some point, the reverse of that equation becomes very attractive, you can be the only book, the only voice for a new character, a new world. That’s the attraction of doing it new. The books that really turn me on — “Kick-Ass,” “Nemesis,” “Superior”, “Invincible,” “Walking Dead” — they are the product of one voice, the creators, the collaborators. I look forward to providing some of the unexpected with Kirkman on “The Infinite.”
In general, what’s the fun in working with Kirkman as a writer? I know you guys have done some bits and pieces together here and there, but it always feels like his strengths lie in playing the long game on a series. What aspects of his writing are you most looking forward to drawing?
The guy is just a great writer. He’s just a great character developer. He delivers emotion, and he’s really clever with his direction. Even when I think I know what’s coming, he throws a curveball, and it’s always way better than I expect, and I expected it to be great! Robert gives me my own voice, which is a change of pace and refreshing in an age of, “Shut up, here’s your script.” But by no means am I the writer. It’s just, hey, can we consider this or that? We are talking it through like many of the best collaborations that comics has seen.
Finally, like I said, the series launch is a ways out from now. Can fans take that as a sign that you guys are working on banking some issues so you can stick with a monthly format once the launch hits?
Well, there will be an oversized special edition for San Diego, and I imagine a preview in some of Robert’s books before then…