Robert Kirkman is one busy writer these days. Not only is he the man behind two of Image Comics‘ most acclaimed comics, “Invincible” and “Walking Dead,” he’s also writing the fan favorite “Marvel Team-Up.” Oh, and he’s also defying expectations with Marvel Comics‘ “Marvel Zombies.” Some fans initially scoffed at the book, thinking it might be a retread of the zombie-centric “Walking Dead,” but the response has been the opposite, with fans buying the book in droves and causing a recent sell-out. CBR News caught up with Kirkman to talk about the series, and he explained how he became attached to the project.
“Editor Ralph Macchio called me on the phone one day and said “We’ve got this thing going on in Ultimate Fantastic Four that features a Marvel Universe that is ravaged by a zombie plague. Do you think you’d like to write a mini-series set in that world?” I of course said yes. I’ve said before that the reason I write so many comics is because it’s so fun for me… I’m enjoying myself so of course I’d want to do as much of it as I can. Two things I enjoy the most are zombies and superheroes. Putting them together was only a matter of time. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
Kirkman is aware that some were ready to dismiss this book as another zombie book by the scribe, but he credits the fresh approach to a fellow Marvel writer and explains what makes zombies so interesting to him. “First off, the unique spin on zombies should be credited to Mark Millar. He set all this up in his first Ultimate FF arc. It was his idea to make the zombies smart, and retain their powers… and essentially be the heroes we know and love… but with a taste for human flesh. So that’s another feather in his cap. As far as what I see in zombie stories? Well, I think I see the same thing that all people who love zombie stories see and that’s an examination on the human condition. It’s not all mindless violence and gore, that’s just there to keep you interested. At the heart of all these stories, even the bad ones, it’s about people put under extreme circumstances and how they react to them, and how they let the events around them change them.”
Though the end of “Marvel Zombies” will tie into an upcoming “Ultimate Fantastic Four” story, Kirkman says he was given free reins over the storytelling choices and reminds fans that this series stands alone quite will, without “UFF.” “No restrictions whatsoever. Mark Millar and I got to chatting in passing and I brought up how I ended my story and we figured out a good way to tie it in with his final arc on ‘Ultimate FF.’ So in a small way ‘Marvel Zombies’ comes from and leads back into ‘Ultimate FF.’ Of course… you don’t need to read ‘Ultimate FF’ to understand anything in ‘Marvel Zombies,’ but Marvel Zombies is essential reading if you want to understand ‘Ultimate FF’… or ‘Civil War.’ It’s quite important. Everyone should buy it.”
The quick sell-out of issue #1 caught Kirkman off guard, even though he admits the ingredients were all there for the resultant success. “I never expect success. I get disappointed really easy and so I try to plan for the worst in hopes that I’ll be surprised. I think it would be tempting fate to expect a book to be a success. That said, zombies are hot right now, and marvel heroes usually sell okay. But I mean… this is such an oddball series I don’t see how anyone could have seen it as a sure bet.”
Just like any good creative relationship, Kirkman can’t help but gush over the work of penciller Sean Phillips, whose work on “Marvel Zombies” has earned the artist even more acclaim, after coming off a successful run on “Sleeper.” “Sean Phillips is goddamn awesome,” exclaims Kirkman. “Every time I turn in a script I can’t wait until the day the pages start rolling in. And with Sean, once they start it’s an avalanche of page after page in rapid succession. He so thoroughly nailed the tone of this book, making the gruesome things gruesome and the silly parts silly. I think he’s mostly to blame for the success, it’s just a FUN book to look at.”
There’s been some speculation that “Marvel Zombies” might continue on after the limited series concludes, perhaps in the form of an ongoing series, but Kirkman isn’t about to show his cards quite yet. “All I’ll say is that I had a boatload of fun working on this mini-series. And it seems like it’d be a CRIME to not get more of those Arthur Suydam zombie covers. I should say, though… that there are no plans for a sequel just yet.”
Still, there’s been a disparity in reaction to Kirkman’s work at Image and his work at Marvel, with critical reaction being almost universally positive in the case of the former and far more mixed in the case of the latter. When asked how he’d account for this difference, Kirkman answers, “Frankly? There has been, in the history of comics, a fine line between creator-owned and company-owned books. Anything goes in creator-owned books. ANYTHING that will make the story more compelling, no matter what it does to the status quo, gets done. That’s not really true with MOST company-owned books. That’s why I think most readers, were they to break out of their comfort zone and give these books a shot, would get more enjoyment out of ‘Powers,’ ‘Ex Machina,’ ‘Godland,’ ‘Noble Causes,’ ‘Savage Dragon,’ ‘Girls,’ ‘Sea of Red,’ or I don’t know, ‘Invincible’ than they would a 100 issue long run of Batman where the creative team changes thirteen times and there’s no real character development at all. Over at Marvel, Joe Quesada and the fine editorial team are aware of this and they’ve given everyone freedom to do those things, to change things, to “break the toys” and really run amok. Which is why you see the things happening to Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America, Iron Man, Daredevil, Thor, etc. that keep the internet buzzing and the stories jumping.
“In my case, my only continuing gig at Marvel has been ‘Marvel Team-Up.’ I have no room for character development or story progression because I have a rotating cast, a cast who is prominently featured in other books. In upcoming arcs I’m playing with characters that AREN’T in seven other books, so I can give them a black eye if I want, and I think people will respond to those a little more. Also with things like Ultimate X-Men, Marvel Zombies and my upcoming ________series I can stretch my wings a little and fly. I think fans are going to really enjoy the things I’ve got coming up from Marvel, I’m pouring my heart and soul into this stuff. It’s going to be a wild ride.”
While there are only a few more issues of “Marvel Zombies,” Kirkman implores you to check it out, “For more of that great ANYTHING GOES madness that they know and love. To see Spider-Man rip of his own leg and to see The Hulk pop out Hercules eye-ball. Also, there’s the sweet Sean Philips art and those amazing covers by Arthur Suydam. It’s a cool damn series and there’s nothing else like it out there. You’ll be sorry if you miss it.”
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