IMAGE EXPO: Kirkman, Spencer, Seifert on Skybound in 2012

Robert Kirkman fans attending Image Expo saw a sneak preview of upcoming comic books being released through the writer's Skybound imprint at Image Comics, and were treated to a long Q&A session with the panelists. "The Walking Dead" and "Invincible" writer Kirkman was joined by his "Thief of Thieves" co-writer Nick Spencer and "Witch Doctor" scribe Brandon Seifert. While the Skybound Panel started a little late due to Robert Kirkman running behind schedule, the three creators in attendance wasted no time getting down to business.

Seifert started by discussing his "Witch Doctor" series with artist Lukas Ketner, saying it "takes the idea of being an occult doctor who investigates the supernatural and then plays it straight."

The writer wanted to combine the occult with a medical drama by trying to show how supernatural events could be investigated by doctors in a hospital setting and then how things like possession and vampirism could be treated.

Nick Spencer talked about the new series "Thief of Thieves", which utilizes a writer's room approach, and described the main protagonist as a man who has "lost the light and is trying to reconnect with the light he has lost."

"Thieves" is about a master thief who wants to give up his life of crime but cannot quite do it and has decided to start stealing from other thieves. In the meantime, he is also trying to reconnect with the family -- the aforementioned "light of his life" -- he left behind long ago when he chos a life of crime.

Kirkman then discussed what readers can expect from the next storyline in his long-running "The Walking Dead" comic book series. "It's about Rick and the group connecting with the rest of the world," Kirkman said. "They discover a larger world and more dangers in it. They encounter other groups that are far more vicious than them."

He then told the fans in attendance that Sunday's episode of "The Walking Dead" TV series on AMC was one they definitely need to see. "Gotta watch tonight's new episode," Kirkman said. " A guy hits another guy with a motorcycle, while not riding it. And there's a bunch of zombies in it too." He then said jokingly that while he does not want to spoil anything, that a certain character whose first name starts with an R gets into it with another character whose first name starts with an S.

Kirkman next turned his attention to future issues of "Invincible" series with artist Ryan Ottley and said protagonist Mark Grayson becoming stricken with the Scourge virus has big repercussions in the series. "Because he's sick we got another guy taking over the mantle for a while," Kirkman said. "It's a new direction."

Finally, Kirkman turned the conversation to his all-ages "Super Dinosaur" series with artist Jason Howard, saying he needed to do a light and fun book after dealing with the dark and grim worlds of his other books. He also said he wanted to do a comic book that his son could read safely. "Super Dinosaur is the best comic book ever written," Kirkman said, asking how anyone can resist a dinosaur with a jet pack. "We're just trying to do a fun comic."

With that, Kirkman turned the floor over to the audience for questions. The first question was whether or not Kirkman would be giving some back story on The Empire from "Invincible." Kirkman said that he will be revealing some information about that and that readers will learn more about them.

Another audience members asked what would be a good jumping on point for "Invincible." "Number one?" Kirkman asked back, which garnered some laughter. "I would recommend starting from the beginning. We keep the trades in print for that reason."

The writer then talked about how new readers of an ongoing series should expect to have to do a little bit of catching up at first. "There is always going to be a little bit of a transition period when diving into the middle of a series." Kirkman then joked that people could just torrent the earlier issues of the series, to which Spencer quipped, "Don't do that!"

Kirkman said when he was writing for Marvel, he did not really know anything about the character of Annihilus and couldn't find his first appearance anywhere. He ultimately resorted to downloading it via torrents so he could learn more about the character, allowing him to write "a really bad Annihilus story for Marvel."

He reminded the audience in attendance that the Image Expo edition of "The Walking Dead" #94 has a code on the back for downloading the entire first trade paperback of "The Walking Dead" from digital comics retailer ComiXology. "That's me," Kirkman joked. "Trying to screw over the system."

Kirkman then talked about how working on "The Walking Dead" TV show inspired him to bring a writer's room style to producing issues of "Thief of Thieves." He said having multiple writers allows for every angle to be explored and creates an atmosphere in which writers try to one-up one another, which allows better ideas to come about.

He then talked about how having a "The Walking Dead" comic book and TV show has been surreal for him at times. "It's really strange that there are two completely different 'Walking Deads,'" Kirkman said.

Asked if the character of Penny Dreadful in "Witch Doctor" would be given more of a spotlight, Seifert said "Penny Dreadful, one of the doctor's assistants, is something of an enigma. We want to give her more of a backstory."

He was then asked if he planned to revisit any of the patients in the first series and show more of the Board of Directors at the hospital. "Yes," Seifert said. "We only had four issue to show an entire world, and yet tell a story too."

Another fan wondered if "Witch Doctor" would graduate to an ongoing series if it proved successful enough or would it continue to run as a series of miniseries.

"Right now we are not producing the book fast enough to do an ongoing. It will continue to be in the format it is, a series of miniseries," Seifert said. "I will not rule it out though."

Questions returned to "The Walking Dead" as Kirkman was asked if any other characters such as Tyrese from the comic books would appear in the television show. "We haven't ruled out bringing Tyrese into the show," Kirkman answered, adding that current characters on the show are not just going to inherit storylines of characters from the comic books. "Darrell isn't just going to be taking up Tyrese's storylines."

Neither, according to Kirkman, will characters diverge completely from their comic book counterparts. "They aren't going to be living on a sail boat with frost giants. We're not going to be just diverging like that," he said. At the same time, Kirkman said he does not want to do things the same in the television show as the comic book. He still wants to be able to surprise the fans. He talked about the "Watchmen" movie as an example of that.

"I liked 'Watchmen' and it was neat to watch it," he said, explaining that it is okay for a movie to be very similar to its source material, but not for a television show. "I can't imagine doing the show in such a way that by watching episode two you know what is going to happen in episode ten."

Asked about how the group of writers on "Thief of Thieves" break their stories, Kirkman said he does extensive outlining for the series, and that Spencer was in charge of the first arc. Now that there are more writers on board, Kirkman said they are becoming similar to the writing group he works with on "The Walking Dead" television series. "We talk about You Tube and then get some work done. We put out ideas and then we discuss it. Then we settle on storylines and then we go from there," he said.

"Robert is really trusting with it," Nick Spencer added. "It was really rewarding to see the pieces fall together the way they should."

Kirkman is asked if he knows how "Thief of Thieves" is going to end or if he has a more general sense of the title's future. The writer said it was the latter, but there is nothing concrete because they want to keep the series going for a while, so they are focusing on current stories.

Seifert was then asked about the direction of the new "Witch Doctor" miniseries, "Witch Doctor: Malpractice," which runs six issues. "[The first series] was focused on the monsters. The new series is more focused on those who use magic," Seifert said. "Because we're treating it like medicine -- medicine is a tool, magic is a tool too. For example, morphine can be useful, but if you overdose on it you can die. We're going to focus on the consequences of magic."

Once again, questions returned "The Walking Dead" as Kirkman was asked if they were restricted at all by AMC, and if that would affect the upcoming third season's "Governor" storyline. "Yes, we are going to be going to dark places. We are at AMC and there are certain restrictions to what we can do, but we have done a good job of dancing around it," he said. The writer was quick to point out that "we did that autopsy scene in the first season that was farther than we did in the comics."

Kirkman said that if there is line the show cannot cross, the writers have not found it. "We have no idea where the line is, because everything we have done so far, AMC has gone 'Great!'" Kirkman said, giving two thumbs up. "So we're trying to find that line and we still haven't found it."

Another audience member asked what Kirkman was looking for in writers for his "Skybound" imprint. Kirkman said it was more about work ethic and showing they have what it takes to actually put out a comic book. He talked about Seifert producing books on his own and Spencer having done "like nine hundred books."

"So we're not really accepting submissions," he said. "There are always going to be questions of 'Can this person deliver?'"

Kirkman was asked about "Invincible" action figures to which he said, "It's a definite possibility." And a television show? Kirkman said there have been talks and some interest shown but it "doesn't mean anything until it happens."

The panel ended with Kirkman inviting everyone to stick around for his Q & A panel, which followed immediately after the Skybound panel.

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