Sometimes, things don’t quite go as planned, as Robert Kirkman and the Skybound crew discovered during their Skybound: On the Rise panel when they had a bit of trouble with a slide show, but the always affable creator of “The Walking Dead” and “Invincible” took everything in stride. Joined by “Invincible” artist Ryan Ottley, artist Jason Howard, “Thief of Thieves” co-writer James Asmus, “Witch Doctor” artist Lukas Ketner, “Witch Doctor” writer Brandon Seifert and writer Andy Diggle.
Kirkman didn’t wait before declaring Skybound’s big New York Comic Con announcement: Diggle is writing the third arc of “Thief of Thieves.” With the big news out of the way and the panelists still waiting for the Power Point presentation to kick off, Kirkman began discussing “Invincible” and the series’ upcoming 100th issue, pointing out that the centennial issue will actually come out 10 years after the first issue hit stands.
From there, the focus moved to Seifert’s “Witch Doctor,” which continues in November with the second miniseries, titled “Mal Practice.” He declined divulging too much detail, but Seifert said it will be the worst 36 hours of Dr. Morrow’s life. Ketner added that this arc features some of the things he’s been most excited to draw when he and Seifert first talked about the “Witch Doctor” world.
Kirkman then refocused the panel’s attention on Diggle, whose first issue of “Thief of Thieves” will be #14. “I’m behind on everything else, but ahead on that,” Diggle declared. The writer said jumping on to a long running Marvel or DC character can be difficult, but “Thief” was a different story. “Stepping up to this, you guys have created these really strong characters. It was really easy to step into,” Diggle said. “Usually it’s like pulling teeth with me.” Kirkman added that Diggle’s heist is the most complicated one so far.
Moving from high-level criminals to armor-wearing dinosaurs, Kirkman teased a new bad guy coming up in “Super Dinosaur.” Tyrannosaurus X will premiere in issue #18, along with some other characters showing up in the coming issues.
At this point, the projector issues were resolved and Kirkman narrated over a presentation of a series of cover images, including “Walking Dead” #106 — Charlie Adlard’s 100th issue. The cover sports a wraparound image featuring Rick and Michonne fighting a horde of zombies. On a similar note, the cover for “Invincible” #100 will also be a wraparound by Ottley illustrated in the same vein as the one from “Walking Dead” #100, featuring Invincible fighting Dinosaurus over a pile of corpses from the story teased as “The Death of Everyone.”
The slideshow then moved to a new promo image of the upcoming Skybound series “Clone,” which drops in November from TV writer David Schulner (“Do No Harm”) and artist Juan Jose Ryp. Colorist Felix Serrano, who came to the party a little late, added, “Every panel is just saturated with detail. Every time you turn the page, you wonder what happens next.”
With the presentation finished, Kirkman opened the floor to questions, many of which turned in to people walking up to the mic and simply thanking Kirkman and company for making comics.
The first actual question was about the portrayal of the relationship between the Governor and Michonne in the upcoming third season of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” wondering how faithful the show will be to the comic.
“What you’re talking about is a very dark scene. It’s dark and involves the big ‘R’ word,” Kirkman replied. “You’re saying, ‘Is that rape going to be in the TV show? Where’s that rape?’ We’re not going to be pulling any punches.” He went on to say that AMC has not shot down many of their ideas this season.
Another person asked about how much control Kirkman keeps when his properties start getting adapted across different platforms. He said that he doesn’t have enough time to be completely involved in everything, but he does want to make sure everything’s cool. The way he sees it, if people think that adaptations suck, they might think the comics suck and that’s bad for business.
The next question asked very simply what Skybound’s tagline would be if it had one. “All awesome, all the time,” Kirkman responded. “I’m really happy that Skybound is a company that can do something like ‘Walking Dead’ and ‘Witch Doctor’ and ‘Super Dinosaur.'” Kirkman said Skybound is less a particular brand and is more a sign of quality and uniqueness.
A very passionate “Witch Doctor” fan asked Seifert and Ketner if they’d be able to keep more of a regular schedule for the book. “What we can guarantee is that the second miniseries will ship on time,” Seifert said. He explained that everything’s written, the first four issues are drawn while the last two will need to be drawn. “Lukas and I would love to make it come out as much as humanly possible. If I did just one issue of each of my favorite ‘Witch Doctor’ stories, it would go for three years.”
The next question had some spoiler elements for the previous season of “The Walking Dead,” but basically boiled down to how variations from the comic might change the series. Kirkman explained that while some characters might die or not be introduced in the right time to be included in the show, some of those comic book elements will make their way into other characters or events. “The event will happen, but it’s not the same characters in the mix.”
Asked if the line-up of original writers for “Thief of Thieves,” that already includes Nick Spencer, Asmus and now Diggle, will add more creators, Kirkman said he’s happy with the team assembled at this point, but might add a few new people and definitely wants the current guys to come back.
The concept of the writer/editor relationship at Skybound came up, and after some joking, Kirkman explained, “If he were to say, ‘This “Invincible” scene is a piece of garbage,’ I’d take a look at it. But if I want that scene to be a piece of garbage, then it stays.”
Kirkman next dodged a question about how far ahead he is on scripts a bit, noting that he keeps ahead enough before getting back to some of the differences between the “Walking Dead” show and comic. He explained that he’s in the writer’s room and they deal with the stories as they come, but also knows that he’s got six solid writers in the room who also come up with great new ideas.
On the subject of a potential “Invincible” TV show or movie, Kirkman said, “Of course. I’d be happy to do that. There’s interest, but it hasn’t happened yet.” He also noted that it’s more difficult getting a superhero show or movie made because there’s a lot more of that subject out there.
Another person asked about planning out the heists in “Thief of Thieves.” Kirkman said that the necessary complexity was one of the big reasons he wanted to bring in other writers. Asmus said his favorite heist reveal in the story has yet to happen, but he takes a lot of inspiration from real life events and does a lot of reading. “There’s fascinating material out there, non-fiction stuff that I got to look at, on master criminals and anti-thievery task forces,” Asmus said. “The reality of it was profoundly exciting and meaningful. We all had a wealth of knowledge and excitement going into it. Way harder than doing superheroes, but more gratifying.”
Diggle noted that he used a lot of similar elements when working on “The Losers,” but this is a lot more complicated, noting that it took series star Conrad three years to plan the heist. “It has to be worthy of that level of effort,” Diggle said. “I can’t really talk about it without spoiling it, but the research is inspirational. If you copy what you’ve seen on TV, it’s a photocopy of a photocopy. Real life is more interesting than what you see on TV.”
“It’s recurring in every comic book I’ve ever done,” Kirkman said when asked about the father-son relationship in “Invincible.” “I have a good relationship with my dad, though you wouldn’t think that to look at my work. I don’t know why. My father owned his own business when I was growing up and was very successful. I grew up in an atmosphere being told that every generation is better than the one before it. There was talk of taking it over in the future. I thought that would be cool to use with a superhero.”
Kirkman then explained that he left “Haunt” because of work-load issues, adding that he would like to return at some point because he misses those characters. The “Thief of Thieves” television show is also in the works, though he didn’t offer many new details.
On the subject of the Phil Hester-written “Invincible” spinoff “Guardians of the Globe,” Kirkman said, “It’s kind of like I’m the story editor. I go over the scripts, but Phil is generating the stories and writing the scripts himself.” Kirkman added that some minor subplots he planned for “Invincible” will make their way into “Guardians” instead.
The focus then shifted to Ottley, who was asked about his very consistent rectangular panels in “Invincible.” “When I started on issue #8, that’s the format that Corey Walker had laid out,” Ottley said. “Before that, I was always trying to do crazy panels. I try to stick with just the regular panels and do the cool stuff inside.”
The last topic of the panel got everyone involved discussing the subject of digital comics and day-and-date releasing. Kirkman said he’s proud of the fact that Skybound was one of the first companies to go day-and-date line-wide. He went on to say that numbers on both sides have gone up and digital is booming, but he’s still the kind of fan who might buy an issue for his iPad and then buy it in the store as well.
Asmus is also in favor of digital. “I have a lot of people in my life that want to support me, but don’t know where a comic shop is,” he said. “They can read it on an iPad, and colors look phenomenal on it.”
“It’s great to have it in a format that makes it easier to get in the hands of people without access to a comic store,”Ketner added.
Seifert said he was really excited when he heard “Witch Doctor” would be day-and-date. “[There’s] a lot of potential for digital both getting it into peoples’ hands but also for storytelling purposes,” Seifert said. “I love digital and want to see it become the standard alongside print.”