Robert Kirkman is known for his big plans. Aside from the high concept twists and turns at the heart of the his “Walking Dead” series (which have hit big with non-comics audiences over the past two years thanks to its AMC TV adaptation), the writer also continues to doll out other comic book forms with his Image Comics/Skybound series “Invincible,” “Super Dinosaur” and the just-launched “Thief of Thieves.”
In his marquee superhero title, lead character Mark Grayson has recently given up the mantle of Invincible after being infected with a dreaded space virus meant to target his Viltrumite DNA, and in the hero’s place has stepped up a new Invincible -Â the teen character formerly known as Bulletproof. Meanwhile, readers are getting a look inside the family drama at the heart of “Thief of Thieves” whose unique writing process sees a different co-writer on each arc starting with Nick Spencer.
In advance of his appearance at this week’s Emerald City Comic Con, Kirkman spoke with CBR about both books, revealing how artists Ryan Ottley and Cory Walker will team for the inter-dimensional next arc of “Invincible,” how the action with Bulletproof will ramp up towards issue #100, the origins of the characters crossover with The Tick and the next phase of story for “Thief of Thieves” as well as a look inside the new “Walking Dead” hardcover on sale at the show.
CBR News: Robert, let’s talk about the current events in “Invincible.” A big part of this book from its earliest issues has been the act of you taking classic comic tropes and putting your own personal spin on them. In the latest story that started in issue #89, we see a riff on the “hero is taken out of action and someone must step into his costume” arc. What was the attraction to you in playing a new version of this idea?
Robert Kirkman: “Invincible” is a sprawling superhero epic, and it’s got its own elements and storylines that have been running through the book for nearly 100 issues now. But from time to time, I like to throw some ideas into the mix that…well, they don’t comment on the comic book industry because that would be boring. But “Invincible” really is about my love of superhero comics, and there are a lot of old standards when it comes to superhero comics. There’s the costume change and what happens when a character changes costumes and why did they change the costume and when are they changing back. That’s a story that almost every superhero comic has done, and so it’s something we did in “Invincible” right after issue #50.
Right now, we’re doing the “main hero is either injured or has died temporarily and is replaced by some other guys who’s been in the book before.” And we’re taking that idea and running with it for a while. And in true “Invincible” fashion, we’re doing it in a very different way and hopefully a way that people will enjoy. We’re taking this character by the name of Bulletproof who’s been in the book pretty much since the beginning, but we really don’t know anything about him. So I’m bringing him to the forefront, and we’re going to learn some interesting details about him, and we’ll get to know the side characters in the series a bit more. It’ll be a fun story arc, and it’s one of those cool things about “Invincible” where I can celebrate the superhero tropes and turn them on their heads and doing different things with them.
With Bulletproof, the joke has always been that he wore the yellow and orange costume that Mark initially didn’t want. What’s the origin of that costume? Is this something co-creator Cory Walker worked up early on that you didn’t want in the series beyond a side character?
It’s funny. That was Invincible’s original costume. When we pitched the book to Image for the very first time, that’s the costume he wore was the Bulletproof costume. Erik Larsen saw our pitch and said, “This costume is lame, guys. It’s not iconic. There’s nothing distinctive about it. It’s just a guy with a bunch of lines drawn on him. There’s nothing memorable or special. You can’t have your main guy look like this!” And Larsen gets a lot of flack online because he’s what I like to call “mouthy.” He likes to state his opinions, and sometimes they’re not what everyone agrees with, but I respect him for that. And I think he’s a bit of a genius.
So when we were developing Invincible, he said, “Look at Batman. You can tell from his silhouette that that is somebody named Batman. And if you look at Hellboy, you can tell from his silhouette that he’s the kind of guy that’d be called Hellboy. When you can have a character that is so iconic that their name works with their costume and their look is so great that you can knock it down to a silhouette that’s recognizable – especially in relation to the name – that’s the perfect character. That’s what you want to try to achieve.” And so Cory Walker and I were like, “Screw that. We’re never going to achieve that.” So we just put an “I” on his chest. [Laughter]
And it seems to have worked out pretty well for everyone.
But I always liked that first costume, so I thought it would be cool to definitely use it. We discarded it, and Cory designed something completely different for the main character, but I always wanted to see that costume used. So we ended up creating Bulletproof because the other gag is that as we were working on “Invincible” and trying to develop the book, “Invincible” wasn’t always the title. In fact, for a time the book was going to be called “Bulletproof” because the name came from the fact that I wanted to do a cool, modern name that wasn’t “So-and-So Man.” I wanted a name that was the definition of his powers, and I was like, “Superheroes are bulletproof. That’s a hip-sounding name. Let’s do a book called ‘Bulletproof.'” And we decided that name was a little too lame, but it morphed into Invincible. I thought, “Oh, that’s even one step beyond. He’s not just stronger than bullets. He’s invincible!” So Bulletproof’s existence has been tied to the book’s creation since day one, and it’s kind of cool to shine a spotlight on the character in these current issues coming out.
I think it goes Bulletproof, Invincible, Nigh Invulnerable in terms of the strength chart.
Yeah, and the Tick has that one locked down.
Speaking of which, I know you’ve recently given Invincible over to your buddy Benito Cereno to use in a crossover with the Tick for that character’s upcoming 100th issue. How did that story come about, and have you been working with Benito to shape how your characters appear there?
I need to call Benito! He’s a friend of mine, but I’ve kind of lost touch with him recently with my move to Los Angeles. He lives in Kentucky near me. But we’re pals, and he has been writing “The Tick” for a while and doing some of the best Tick comics ever published, which is really exciting. I’ve always liked the character of the Tick. And he told me that NEC was looking to do some crossover comics with the Tick and asked if I would allow him to use Invincible for a while. And because he’s had such a relationship with the Invincible Universe -Â writing the “Atom Eve” and “Atom Eve & Rex Splode” mini series -Â I thought it was a natural fit to have a guy who knows Invincible as well as he does do a Tick/Invincible crossover. It was a no brainer. I agreed to that pretty quickly.
One big thread in the main book of late has been the continued presence of the Viltrumites on earth. When they first declared that they were going to live quietly amongst the people of earth, I think everyone knew that wouldn’t last long. But the rollout of people in the book who discover their presence has been slow and deliberate. Is this the thread that takes us through to issue #100?
“Invincible” is a book where there’s always a lot going on. Right now in the book, there’s more going on than there usually is, which is really exciting to me. The Viltrumites are going to be part of the overall storyline in Invincible for the foreseeable future, but I think that what’s happening in “Invincible” #100 will somehow be bigger than just that storyline. It’ll be somewhat related, but it won’t be just about the Viltrumites. Issue #75 was all about the Viltrumites, and while they’re still a huge part of the book, we’re focusing on other areas moving forward. There’s some pretty amazing stuff coming out of issue #100.
The other big story thread in the book right now is the plans of Dinosaurus, and what I love about that character is that I can’t tell sometimes if you think he’s awesome or if you’re making fun of him. He comes along with a crazy name and design, but he’s got big ideas for what the world should grow into in the wake of superheroes -Â ideas that have impacted Mark’s view of things. What’s your take on how that character functions in the book moving forward?
I think he’s the single greatest character to have ever appeared in the “Invincible” book, and I have never poked fun at him. You’re wrong. [Laughter] But I just love the idea that you can take a guy with a crazy name like Dinosaurus and take him seriously and do something important with him. He’s a great villain/ambiguous possible hero kind of character. His story is going to be a bit of a focus moving forward in the series for the foreseeable future. What exactly is going on with Mark and why he’s not Invincible right now and all the things that are going on are tied in a big way into Dinosaurus’ plans. And what he’s really up to is something we’ll learn more about very soon.
And also coming up in the series is a big storyline starting in “Invincible” #92 that will really put the new Invincible through his paces. It’s called “Invasion” and it’s about the Flaxian army from another dimension coming back and attacking the earth in a big way. And over the course of that story arc, we’re going to be revealing what happened with Monster Girl and Robot. They disappeared for a long time into the Flaxian’s dimension, and when they came back they were much older and had lived through all kinds of things we didn’t see and now absolutely hate each other. And we don’t know why they hate each other. So during this new Flaxian invasion, we’ll learn exactly what happened to them over the years they lived in that dimension and what happened between them. And all of that is going to be told through flashbacks intercut through the story arc. And all those flashbacks will be drawn by Invincible co-creator Cory Walker who’s coming back to do a lot of pages in the arc. It’s pretty exciting.
I wanted to talk a little bit about “Thief of Thieves” as well because so much of the talk ramping up to the issue was about the process of you writing it with a new partner on each arc, starting with scripter Nick Spencer. In that first issue, we saw a lot of the associates of Redmond at his party for just a panel or two. Did you layout a bunch of cast members and then leave it up to Nick when and how to introduce them in full?
Yeah. It was something where I basically came up with the concept of the series and who would be in it and what their deal was and some ideas for stories I’d want to do with them eventually, and then I sat down with Nick who came up with a lot of ideas in terms of where to develop them and at what point they’d show up in the story. That’s why the first arc of “Thief of Thieves” when it’s all said and done will be written like a delicious story onion. You start with the Redmond layer and learn more about him in each consecutive issue. Like in the second issue, we do a lot with his wife Audrey. And then in the third, we’ll deal with his son a lot. And there are more and more characters as the issues move along. You do get a lot of hints as to who those guys are in the first issue, but by issues #6 and 7, we’ll be learning a lot more about them and finding out what their deal is.
The other thing we’re starting to see a few issues in is that this is a crime comic and a heist comic with a very dramatic heart, but there is also a kind of tongue-in-cheek tone to some of the sequences, particularly those scene-establishing captions we get in the book. How have you been working with the other writers to balance an intense drama and a book that’s a bit “Ocean’s Eleveny”?
Well, the captions honestly were one of the things where I got the first script in from Nick and saw them and went, “Oh, that’s cool!” That was one of his contributions to the overall style of the series. But to me, I think the best stories whether they be in a comic, TV show or whatever are a bit of a mixed genre type of thing. “The Sopranos” is a great example, I think. That show was a drama, and there were some really dark elements in that, but at the same time, there were scenes in almost every episode that were laugh out loud funny. And “Mad Men” is another good example of that. That show has scenes that are absolutely hilarious. So “Thief of Thieves” will have some moments that are infused with comedy, but it’s also a very serious comic that’s going to be telling a dramatic story. In life sometimes funny things happen, and that’s something we’ll be acknowledging.
The last thing to talk about is this new “Walking Dead Compendium” hardcover on sale this weekend at Emerald City Comic Con, and it’s looking kind of like a Bible in its presentation. Who was this collection for? Is this one of those “I want to see this…hopefully someone will buy it” kinds of products?
Yeah. [Laughs] That’s kind of why every format exists. I go, “Oh wow! Let’s do a giant hardcover and maybe other people will buy it!” The Compendium is one of those things where I said, “Okay, now we’re going to take 48-issues and put them in one trade.” I knew Top Cow had had success with their “Witchblade” compendium and “Darkness” compendium, and they were just giant trades. I thought it was a really cool format to have on my shelf. I thought, “This is like the seventh format we’ve done with ‘Walking Dead,’ and it probably isn’t going to sell, but I’ll have one, and maybe someone else will want one.” And that ended up being our highest-selling format. I think last week it was #6 on the book list on Amazon. The ranking was “Hunger Games, Hunger Games, Hunger Games and then the Walking Dead Compendium.” It was blowing my mind! So I always do these formats thinking it’ll be a huge failure, but at least I’ll get a copy. Luckily, it hasn’t turned out this way.
But this hardcover is going to be an extremely limited, very rare thing that will be a cool keepsake for those who get in and get one and will make other people pissed because I didn’t make it more readily available. But we’ll have it at Emerald City, and we’ll have large quantities at Comic-Con in San Diego later this year. It’ll be a fun item I hope people enjoy.
And are the pages tipped in goldleaf?
No, they are not. It’s not quite that fancy.
Then there’s your next format!
I thought eventually I could do a book called “The Walking Dead Cubed” where the spine and the cover are the same width. When you look at the book, it’s just shaped like a cube. But I have to get to like 200 issues in order to be able to do it.
You and Alan Moore will have to get the same quantum glue that’s going to hold together the pages of his next novel.
It can be done! I’ve talked to printers!
Look for a copy of “The Walking Dead Compendium” this weekend at Emerald City Comic Con, and if you can’t make it, stay tuned to CBR for all the news from the show!