In news that to many comics readers is completely unexpected, yet also universally understood, "Walking Dead" and "Invincible" writer Robert Kirkman was revealed to have been named partner at Image Comics this week by way of a story in the New York Times and panels at Comic-Con International in San Diego.

Kirkman joins the remaining quartet of artists who represent the seven founders of Image - Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Todd McFarlane and Jim Valentino - as a creator who will hold just as equal a share in shaping the company's creative and business strategies as he does in shaping the storylines of his Image titles. And what Kirkman plans for the company is to help Image regain its status as a creative and commercial force in the industry to rival the sales supremacy of Marvel and DC.

"I want to jump in there and stir up the hornet's nest and get people excited about comics again," the writer told CBR. "I think that Image was a very important contender in the comics industry at one time, and I'd like to do whatever I can to get it back up to that level, and that's what I'm setting out to do."

"This is kind of a simplistic way to put it, but I think it's nice to have new blood coming into the company," added Image publisher Eric Stephenson joining the conversation by way of conference call. "Robert has a different perspective on things than the original guys do, and I think he shares the same goals as everybody, but he definitely has a different slant on things. I think that's going to be a tremendous asset to the company going forward."

Step one in Kirkman's role as a partner is, unsurprisingly, focusing on the creation of comic book series for Image. With three monthly titles already under his belt ("The Astounding Wolfman" being the third), the writer has completed all work for Marvel Comics with no plans for any new projects that won't fall under the Image banner. But before he launches any new monthlies, Kirkman wants to focus on delivering the stories that landed him the partnership on a more consistent basis.

"I would like to put them out more frequently," he said. "That's definitely what I'm setting out to do now that I'm shifting my focus from Marvel and Image books to just Image books. Part of that is that I started in this industry shipping my books on time, every time. Somewhere along the way I got busy, and now I'm trying to come back at it with a renewed focus and see if I can get those things out like clockwork.

Kirkman's Image career was jumpstarted in 2003 by the publication of "Invincible"

"You're not going to see if you can get those things out like clockwork. You're going to get those things out like clockwork," joked Stephenson, drawing a quick response of "Yes, sir, Mr. Publisher. I apologize. I misspoke" from the scribe.

Kidding aside, Stephenson noted that involving all the partners on a consistent creative basis on the characters fans know and love is a priority for Image moving forward. "That was the key factor in Erik [Larsen's] decision to step down as publisher - so he could take a more active role in terms of creating, and that's what we want out of all of these guys. For me, the ideal Image Comics is a company that has its partner members creating comic books."

Moving beyond a personal commitment to publishing the ongoing adventures of Invincible and the rest of his characters, Kirkman's secondary function as Image partner will be to help build a strong talent base across the Image line with eyes on competing for comic book sales with brand new characters and big name creators. "I think coming out of San Diego, the company will look stronger than it's looked in a long time, and we'll continue to build on that momentum and strengthen the company - cut the fat, bring in better books," he said.

"Image started out as the best of the best. The company's books were done by the top creators of Marvel and DC. They would leave, and they would come to do books at Image. Over the years, Image has not continued that. It's been more a farm team where people like me have come up at Image and graduated to Marvel and DC. I don't see a reason why Image can't be both. It's not a bad thing to be the place to come to see the best and brightest and comics starting out before they do Marvel and DC books, but I don't see any reason why it can't also be the premier place for the A-list comic creators to come and do their creator-owned work."

Kirkman added that it was too early in the game to talk about names of creators or projects that might find their way to the company, but he did put out a call to any comics talent at any level to view him as the ambassador for the Image method of comic making. "I'm trying to make myself available to all people in the creative community that have questions about Image Comics or need any kind of information that's not necessarily public knowledge because that's not how publishing is done.

"I'm not necessarily headhunting any specific people, but if anyone is interested in coming to Image Comics or doing creator-owned books and they want to know what Image has to offer, I'm not just a partner, and I'm not just a company shill. I have been in the trenches doing Image Comics for a number of years now, and I've been fairly successful at it. And I've also been not successful at it with some books. So I can tell people all sorts of information they're not able to get elsewhere, and hopefully I can start driving people to Image Comics in droves. That's what we're after."

Keep your eyes on CBR all weekend for live Image Comics panel coverage from Comic-Con International in San Diego, as well as an exclusive video interview with Robert Kirkman!

Now discuss this story in CBR's Image Comics forum.

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Tags: image comics, robert kirkman, eric stephenson, invincible, cci2008

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