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Robert Kirkman Reflects on 100 Issues of “Invincible”

by  in Comic News Comment
Robert Kirkman Reflects on 100 Issues of “Invincible”

SPOILER WARNING: The following interview contains major spoilers for “Invincible” #100.

It was nine years ago in Pipeline that the term “Kirkmania” was coined. It’s been going strong ever since.

I don’t think there’s any creator who takes up as big a portion of my collection of comics from the last decade than Robert Kirkman, who I’ve followed since his “Savage Dragon” spin-off, “Superpatriot: America’s Fighting Force” hit shelves in 2002.In those early days, Kirkman wrote a little of everything.  Take October 2003, for example, when “The Walking Dead” #1 came out alongside “Invincible” #6, “Capes” #2, “Masters of the Universe: Dream Halloween” #1, “Space Ace” #2, “Tales of the Realm” #1, and a backup story in “Savage Dragon.”

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed most everything he’s written, including short-lived Marvel runs like “Jubilee” and “Captain America,” which read like the exact kind of stories I wish I would have written, had life gone another direction.  They were filled with the characters who were regulars in series I was reading a decade prior.

As time has marched on, his career has settled into creator-owned stuff, and a more regular schedule of diverse titles that includes “Thief of Thieves” and “Super Dinosaur.”  But it’s the other two titles in his Image catalogue that attract the most attention.  And they’ve both recently hit big anniversary numbers.

“The Walking Dead” #100 was a comics publishing milestone in 2012, being the top-selling comic of the year, if not the past decade or more.  And now, 2013 starts off with “Invincible” #100.  It’s that title which gave CBR an excuse to talk to Kirkman about the series and its decade-long run.  My name came up as the writer best suited to make the call. I jumped at the chance. Nobody knows the material better, which is half the battle.  And I had some questions I wanted to ask, too, comics fan to comics fan.

I spoke with Kirkman on the eve of the landmark Image Comics release, and we discussed exactly how — and if — Invincible fits into the modern Image Universe, the challenge of keeping track of the dozens of characters in the series, how new reader-friendly the book is, marketing and series expansion.

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CBR News: First, I give you credit: You have a clone here. I thought the world of comics had shied away from clones for the past couple of years. Good job.

Part of this might be that he has less of a reliance on needing a father figure or mentor, because those always haven’t worked out so well for him in the past. In various ways.

[Laughs] Exactly.

Mark has lived through a lot in 100 issues, but how much time has elapsed? Mark was in high school when he started, and now he’s 20-ish?

I hate to nail down time, but if you went through the issues and you put in every instance of someone saying, “Oh, it was a couple of months ago…” I think I stopped defining Mark’s age a while back. I was like, “Oh, this is getting a little hairy.” In my head, I always imagined it being at least two years, possibly three. I like to keep that fairly malleable.

You did this “Death of Everyone” ad campaign leading up to this. In the end, a million people died, but all the people we expected might, didn’t. Is the ad campaign you proving a point about superhero comics, or you having, to paraphrase Jimmy Carter, “bloodlust in your heart?”

[Laughs] I like to play with the familiar tropes of comics with “Invincible.” That’s been our motif over the last six, seven years. I think comic readers have grown a little bit tired — or at least I have, as a fan — of the whole, “Hey, the main character is going to die and we’re going to do six months worth of marketing about the fact that the main character is going to die and then at the end of that story the main character is going to die which is the thing we’ve been telling you for six months and also we’re going to bring him back in six months anyway so this whole thing was kind of ridiculous.”

I thought it would be really fun and a different way of doing things if I did the marketing and made everybody think the main character was going to die and then the main chacter did die — but instead of waiting six months, I brought him back in the exact same issue, so the character didn’t actually die at all.

The statement I was trying to make — and I guess it’s up to the fans to judge whether or not it worked, and maybe it didn’t — I just wanted to say you can do a monumental, series-changing issue without killing off the main character, or doing something extremely drastic. Let’s try to tell an interesting story, let’s try to do something different with the characters. Killing characters and bringing back characters has gotten to be a bit too much of a crutch in superhero comics. I thought it would be a little bit of fun to play with those tropes.

Speaking of mass carnage, we have a million people dead. We’ve had other major events in “Invincible,” such as when Las Vegas was turned into a sheet of glass. You have a small family of titles that work back and forth with each other and do interact in some ways, but it doesn’t show up elsewhere at Image. There seems to be less and less reliance at Image Comics over the years of there being an Image Universe. These days, there doesn’t seem to be one at all — just the infrequent crossover cameo. Is the the Image Unviverse is something you miss or would like to bring back? Or is it the product of a bygone era?

Honestly, I would say it’s a little bit of a product of a bygone era. I’ve always loved the Erik Larsen concept of, “Savage Dragon” exists in its own universe, “Invincible” exists in its own universe, but all of the characters exist in those universes. Invincible and Dragon can cross over, and they are kind of in the same universe, but if I blow up Las Vegas and Larsen blows up Chicago, it’s fine if Invincible doesn’t, in his book, say, “What happened to Chicago?” and readers who don’t read “Savage Dragon” are confused as to why that happened and don’t know what’s going on. We don’t want to do anything that’s going to confuse readers, is my take on things.

At the end of the day, you sit down and you go, you’ve got Marvel and DC who are the huge juggernauts in the industry, and they do the shared universe thing fairly well. What’s the point in trying to compete with that? You’re basically offering a very small readership the exact same thing that they’re getting from bigger companies with more resources. I think Image is doing very well trying to do something different. Basically, we’re doing a lot of new ideas that are not interconnected in any way. Even with our superhero books, you get something very different from “Savage Dragon” than you do from Marvel books, something different from “Invincible” than you do from “Savage Dragon.” They all exist separately fairly well. There’s always that potential for seeing the characters show up here and there. Because that is still kind of fun.

How do you keep everything straight in your head with 100 issues worth of continuity behind you? There are a lot — a lot — of characters in those pages.

I do a lot of referencing. Thanks to comiXology, I can carry around an iPad that has 100 issues of “Invincible” on it. I don’t have to carry around a library of books. I remember everything in “Invincible” well enough to very quickly go, “Oh, Rampage! What issue did that guy last show up in? I think it was around the 40s.” It takes me five minutes to find the pages he appeared on, and then a very quick read will remind me about everything that’s going on.

I will say, I keep a staggering amount of just useless information on both “The Walking Dead” and “Invincible” rattling around in my head. Which makes me a little bit scatterbrained and hard to have a conversation with in normal, everyday life, because half the time I’m going, “Where’s Octoboss again? Was he in prison last time we saw him? Or was he not in prison? When’s the last time we showed Squidmen? Have I ever expalined who they are?”

There’s a lot going on.

With all that happening in the background, how do you keep the book focused? Is there any way to keep it new reader-friendly? And how do you attract new readers to a book like “Invincible” when you have a comics market these days that wants to start everything at #1 or else they don’t want to read it at all?

Everything is available now. Back when superhero comics had to be new reader-friendly, “[The Amazing] Spider-Man” was on issue #283. If you wanted to read issues #1 – 282, you had to find a bunch of back issues or wait until they reprinted them oddly in the middle of the run or did a “Marvel Tales”-style reprint series. Most people just kinda picked up and ran with what they did. I think comics are different now. Now, it’s, “I heard that ‘Invincible’ book’s really good. Maybe I’ll try the first trade. If I like that, I’ll keep going. If I catch up, I’ll start buying the single issues.”

I think that it’s certainly possible for someone to say, “Hey ‘Invincible’ #101 looks pretty good, I’ll just dive in right there.” You’re going to be lost for a few issues, and then you’ll be fine. It would be a better experience if you got the trades, and the trades are readily available. I think we’re quite lucky to be able to find that material and read it in the intended order and keep those spoilers out of the picture and be able to actually find things and get into it.

Is this how you pictured “Invincible” working out when you started? As this big sprawling superhero epic almost at a scale of “Savage Dragon” with this huge cast and all the changes it’s gone through?

Yeah, it’s kind of ridiculous. “Invincible” and “The Walking Dead” both — I thought that both of them would be canceled by issue #10, but I hoped that they would become what they became. “Invincible” was always meant to be everything I’ve ever loved about superhero comics put into one series, which is, as people can now see, quite a lot.

I always intended to have this crazy massive run where you get to see Invincible grow and change over time and do new things and meet new people and watch his evolution as he grows into adulthood. I never thought it would actually happen. It’s kind of weird. But I’m happy that it did.

And it’s expanding, as “Guarding the Globe” is becoming “Invincible Universe.” How much of a guiding force are you for that book? Are you working closely with Phil Hester?

Sean Mackiewicz is the editor; I would probably be the story editor. I go over Phil’s plots. From time to time, I’ll say “Hey, this is a thing I intended to do in ‘Invincible’ but I never got around to it.” A lot of the things you’ll be getting in that book, and have been getting in “Guarding the Globe” thus far, are things that I always meant to get around to in “Invincible,” but because of the different storylines and everything going on, we just didn’t have room for it. It is a cool way to get more Invincible stories.

As far as the switch from “Guarding the Globe” to “Invincible Universe,” coming out of “Invincible” #100, it changes the world in such a way that having a separate book that just focuses on the Guardians of the Globe didn’t really seem like the right thing to do. There’s a lot of different characters and a lot of different things in play.

Also, we didn’t want to be beholden to telling stories about that team at all times. There’s a lot of different corners of the Invincible Universe that either don’t involve the Guardians of the Globe or don’t involve multiple members of that team, so this is a cool way to do a series that’s a much truer sister book to the “Invincible” series. We can have an issue that just focuses on Cecil and gives you some pertinent information about him and who he is and what his deal is in a way that we never really had room to do in the “Invincible” series. I think it’s going to be a really cool book and Phil and Todd are really kicking butt on it.

You have these other books from month to month that stick to the same style, but with “Invincible,” you play around a little more. You had the all splash page issue recently, and issues told from different points of view or an issue with 16 panels per page, etc. Is there a little more of a creative freedom that you have with “Invincible” that you don’t have with other books?

Maybe a little bit. I don’t know. Something like “The Walking Dead,” if I were to do a 16-panel grid issue or an all splash page issue — I think the storytelling in “The Walking Dead” is somewhat structured and kind of plain. It’s more about seeing these characters and what they do than doing weird interesting things from issue to issue. I don’t feel like there’s a lot of leeway with the stories I tell in “The Walking Dead.”

“Invincible” being about this sprawling universe — in my mind, having a universe where superheroes exist kind of throws out the rules. Anything can happen. You can have aliens and things from another dimension and you can just kind of get silly with it. It’s a lot of fun. I think that lends to doing those different things and taking those risks and doing “weird stuff” from time to time.

Speaking of which, there’s a lot of material remaining to be mined from Invincible. You’ve managed to so far stick with just doing the 22 pages a month, and aside from a couple of miniseries, you haven’t expanded it out much. “Guarding the Globe,” and now “Invincible Universe,” is probably the biggest expansion, really. Is it a time constraint on your part? Is it just that you want to be able to keep track of everything? You don’t think the sales would hold up on that many books? What keeps the Invincible universe so streamlined?

I think one of the appeals of “Invincible” is that you are kind of getting a superhero universe in one book, so you do get this one stop shop aspect of getting this whole world of different things. I think that’s a massive part of its appeal. While I think it would be fine to do two books, and “Invincible Universe,” as people will see, will focus on very specific characters as we go on and it makes sense to have those two books. Expanding it out too much would start to get a little bit unwieldy. We’ll see. Three years from now, I could very well be sitting here saying, “No, no, no — six books is a good idea. It really works out.” So we’ll see how it goes.

You and Brian Michael Bendis are the only two modern writers we could think of who’ve done 100 continuous issues of two different series at the same time. He has “New Avengers” and “Ultimate Spider-Man.” You have that black and white book with dead people and “Invincible,” obviously. Do you think this is something that could happen again? Is this comics market open to having continuous runs like that?

I don’t know. Hopefully we live in a world there will be 100 issues of “Saga” very soon. And 100 issues of “Manhattan Projects.” And maybe 100 issues of “Fatale” and “Chew.” I think John Layman’s crazy and has plans to actually end that series at some point. I think that there’s definitely the potential for that kind of stuff. Two series at once? I don’t know.

I think that Brian and I are just thick-skinned and bull-headed and want to just do what we do, so we just keep plowing away until we hit that number.

It’s funny — I think I saw somebody point that out on Twitter, maybe it was you [Guilty as charged. -Augie], but I had never even considered that. I guess that’s a thing. This is just like eating breakfast every morning. “Guess I gotta write another issue of ‘Invincible.'” I don’t even realize that it’s gone on for this long, and it is a somewhat rare thing.

I’m not going to complain about the state of comics. It is upsetting, with all the renumbering and all that kind of stuff. The structure and the stability that kind of washes away when you aren’t relaunching with new #1s and switching creative teams all the time does kind of bug me as a comic book fan.

Hopefully, there will be some Walt Simonson runs, some Chris Claremont-style runs still left in the industry. I think there should be. There’s potential for that.

“Invincible” #100, by Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley, is on sale now and both creators will be signing at Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks, CA this Saturday, February 2.