Robert Kirkman and Rob Liefeld plan on making their new series “The Infinite” big. Literally.
The tale of time-traveling soldier Bowen who comes to our modern era to recruit his younger self into a war against the titular villain, the monthly comic from Image Comics and Kirkman’s Skybound label is looking towards a few oversized formats on the way towards its August debut. First, “The Infinite” will land at Comic-Con International in San Diego later this month with an extra-sized and limited edition of its first issue, and then when the book lands in comic shops weeks later, fans will have the option of purchasing the regular print edition or a Deluxe Edition with bonus material from both writer and artist.
With all the pieces moving, CBR News caught up with Kirkman to learn the background of his love for Liefeld’s art, get some new hints as to how the future world of “The Infinite” was built to shake up the present, hear the ins and outs of how his new print formats serve a separate market than digital comics, see the first final pages from #1 and get a tease for one more new project the writer has on tap for Comic-Con.
CBR News: Robert, last time we talked about “The Infinite,” you said you wanted this book to be Rob Liefeld at his Liefeld-iest. It made me wonder…what was your gateway drug to Rob as a reader? “New Mutants”? “X-Force”? “Hawk & Dove”?
Robert Kirkman: I think the polybagged “X-Force” #1 was the first Rob Liefeld book I bought. I probably got two copies -Â one to keep in the bag and one to rip open and read. So Marvel got me. [Laughs] But after reading “X-Force,” I went back and dove into the “New Mutants” stuff and tried to read up on as much stuff as I could. I absolutely loved Rob’s work. “X-Force” is a kick-ass action comic. All the characters look cool, and it’s just a fun book. I followed Rob and all the other guys from Marvel over to Image, which I’ve talked about a lot. Image was the main stuff that I read from the ages of 14 to 17. I was hooked on all that stuff.
One thing that Rob has always been able to do in his books is have a variety of types in his superteam casts from hot shot leaders to guys with crazy swords to big, mountainous bruisers. As you were developing “The Infinite” did you try and hit all the Liefeld grace notes, or was the process a bit different than riffing on that boilerplate?
Really, it’s been a lot more collaborative than that. I came at him with the core concept of “guy goes back in time to team up with his younger self” and we started developing things. He would just draw cool characters in some cases. “I like this one, what do you think of him?” In some cases, I would be able to say, “This guy looks awesome. What do you think of him being this guy in the story?” and then I’d come up with the back story based on the drawing. In other cases, I’d come up with a character and say, “This guy works this way, so you’ve got to do this.” It was really a back and forth. Sometimes he’d start a character, and sometimes I would. It was a true collaboration in every sense of the word. It wasn’t me going, “We need a Warpath in here!” [Laughs] Mostly it was Rob coming up with the kind of stuff he wants to draw at the moment and me coming up with the stuff I want to draw at the moment and us meshing the two together.
With your lead character Bowen, it must be a challenge to have two versions of the same guy yet also make them feel significantly different. What are the defining characteristics he has regardless of time, and what’s different about the two versions?
It’s kind of funny to think about because they are the same character, the same person, but if you think about yourself now and yourself ten or 15 years ago…if you were to interact in the same time and space, you’d quickly realize you’re not the same at all. Bowen has dealt with a lot in his time. He’s dealt with a lot of pain and loss. It’s affected him and changed him. Now he’s coming back to a time when he’s encountering a version of himself that’s a little more optimistic and more naive and just a little more short tempered. He’s completely lacking of any kind of wisdom that Bowen is bringing to the table. So it’s almost as if it’s his annoying little brother that he’s teaming up with. Keeping the two of them separate and making sure that they have distinctive personalities really hasn’t been that difficult. I know if I were to go back and encounter my 19-year-old self, I’d more than likely just be annoyed by the guy. [Laughs] “I can’t believe you’re doing this!” and “Did you just say that? What the hell?” So it’s cool to play with this stuff.
And I will say that Bowen is a guy who’s come back in time for a reason. He’s dealt with a lot of horrible stuff, and he’s coming back to prevent it from happening at all costs. He’s very driven where his younger self is not. So they’re going to be butting heads quite a bit.
In some of your other work, “Invincible” in particular, you’ve taken the time to build up a big cosmology for the characters and their world between the Viltrumites and Allen the Alien and what have you. We know that in “The Infinite,” the title character is a villain with an army coming after Bowen, but what other kinds of creatures and creations might be along for the ride?
The world’s not as cosmic as all that. There’s definitely time travel, but as far as space aliens and stuff, that’s just not at this point yet. But definitely every single character Bowen worked with in the future exists in the past. Part of the fun of this is him recruiting himself but also trying to recruit the other members of his team. Not to spoil anything, but you’re going to learn pretty quickly that Bowen wasn’t exactly the leader of his team in the future. He was kind of just the guy that survived. He’s going to be encountering a lot of people that are CIA Agents and soldiers and different people he’ll have to say to, “By the way, you’re one of the greatest soldiers that’s ever lived…you just don’t know it yet. You need to come with me to save the world.” We’re going to learn a lot about these people, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to see that -Â to watch these people get thrown into situations they’re not prepared for and that they don’t really want. Bowen is going to have to convince them that this is important and tell them the sky is falling in a way that makes them believe it so they can stop it.
Shifting gears a bit, you’re debuting the book at Comic-Con some before it ships in August. There’s a lot of talk about who’s coming to Comic-Con for what stuff of late, and last year you sat in a perfect storm where “The Walking Dead” TV show was a big presence at the same time as the comic. What do you feel like you’re dealing with this year? Is the crowd at the show different, or is hand-selling to fans the same no matter what event you’re at?
Comic-Con is always going to be a useful tool. It’s always going to be a place to meet retailers face-to-face and more importantly, meet fans face-to-face. So, to be able to sit at a table and sign autographs for hours and meet all these fans who read “The Walking Dead” and “Invincible” and all these other things and then to have a face-to-face conversation with thousands of people where I can tell them about my new projects like “Super Dinosaur” and “The Infinite” or things like “Witch Doctor,” that’s a really great, exciting tool to sell them on a personal level. You can’t get that anywhere else. Comic-Con is the biggest show and has the most people there.
A lot of people complain, “Oh it’s all about movies now! People just go there for the movies!” I hear a lot of annoying people in Los Angeles say, “That’s just a movie con now. They don’t even have comics there. Haha. My industry took over.” And that’s just not true. The reason the movie people are there is because of the comic fans who come. And while attendance has been growing and growing, I still think that the majority of the people going there read comics, go to the comic booths and attend the comics panels. I remember doing a panel years ago for Image and for myself and even Marvel panels way back that had far less attendance than these panels are getting now. Your average “Twilight” fan is not just going to roll into a Robert Kirkman panel for fun. I think comic fans are alive and well at Comic-Con. It’s getting more expensive, and it can be a big hassle. There’s certainly a lot more giant robot statues on Main Street advertising the next big movie in front of the con, but I can still go buy back issues. I think it’s called Comic-Con for a reason, and I don’t really agree with the criticisms that it’s Movie-Con now.
But do you find at the same time that you’ll have people coming up to you at the show who don’t read comics and going, “Hey, what is this Walking Dead thing all about?”
Definitely. But just because someone doesn’t know what “The Walking Dead” is doesn’t mean they aren’t a comic fan. It’s awesome to find people who aren’t familiar with my stuff. The book sells really well, but every time I can find someone who’s completely unfamiliar with the book and is discovering it for the first time, it’s really great. It’s reassuring to know that there’s a bigger audience out there, and that things can continue to grow for “The Walking Dead” and for comics in general. I’m always happy to meet people who have no idea who I am and what I do but are still interested enough to find out.
So what exactly are you debuting for “The Infinite” at the show?
What we’re doing at Comic-Con is, if you go to the Skybound booth we’re going to have a very, very limited edition oversided hardcover of the first issue of “The Infinite” in its entirety. It’s probably going to sell out quickly because we’re not bringing many copies to the con. You’re going to be able to get the entire first issue and read it, so hopefully that’ll help build word of mouth for the book.
And then in August, we’re doing a really cool thing because we’re doing “The Infinite” #1 in comic shops but we’re also doing a deluxe edition of “The Infinite” #1. What that basically is that I go into Target or Best Buy to look at DVDs – because I still like DVDs -Â and they always have your $17 version and your $24 version. I think that there are people who like paying that extra money to get the extras and the behind the scenes stuff and deleted scenes -Â to just get more out of the project. And Rob has been doing such amazing background work on this series. We’ve got basically books of sketches on “The Infinite” because we’ve been planning it for so long and he took so much time finding the perfect look for all the different characters, so we’ll be able to do Deluxe Editions for at least the first few issues. I think it’s cool to get that stuff out there because we have more material than we could possibly put in the page of a trade paperback or a hardcover. I think people will be excited for it because that’s the kind of thing that I would buy.
I’ve talked a lot with people about digital comics and their effect on print sales, but do you think that releases like that where the strengths of print and what makes it unique are played up help drive people to the physical shops? Is there a chance you’ll do a chromium cover or something crazy for stores?
I can say I’ve been doing research. I’ve been wanting to do a chromium cover forever. I wanted to do “Invincible” #25 as a chromium cover, but the people that owned the patent on chromium covers went out of business, and they took that technology with them, which frustrates me because I feel like I’m never going to have a chromium cover on one of my books. It makes me upset, what can I say? I want a chromium cover, and I don’t care what you think about it. [Laughter]
I will say as far as digital goes, “Walking Dead” has been day-and-date for over a year now, and “Invincible” is coming up on a year. It’s something I’ve been doing for a while through comiXology, and it hasn’t affected our sales at all. I can just say anecdotally from my experience to give retailers some peace of mind, for me they are completely different audiences. And to that end, “The Infinite” will be day-and-date available through comiXology the same day they’re in stores, but our Deluxe Edition won’t be on comiXology. That’s something we’re just doing for the print market.
The last thing I’d ask about is something you’ve been subtly teasing for a while, which is “Thief of Thieves” -Â a new comic written by you and Nick Spencer. You quietly announced this last year, and now there is a Saul Bass-looking logo floating around. Is that something we may learn more about at Comic-Con or is that beyond?
Yes. We’ll definitely be learning more about “Thief of Thieves.” It was a very loose announcement last year at Comic-Con. There was a preview in the “Witch Doctor” preview. We haven’t talked about it much because that was very early on, but Nick and I have been working on it for a year, and we’ve got a great artist that’s been working on it for a long time. One of the things I’ve been doing with my crew at Skybound is working on projects for a lot longer than I did in the past to make sure they ship on time, and that’s why “Thief of Thieves” has been such a slow burn, but we’ll learn more about it at Comic-Con.
“The Infinite” #1 ships to comic shops this August from Image Comics and Skybound.
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