IMAGE EXPO: Robert Kirkman talks Image Expo, "Walking Dead"

Robert Kirkman is a very busy man. Currently sitting on his plate are writing chores for his hit comic series "The Walking Dead" and "Invincible," launching a new collaborative comic "Thief of Thieves," running his own Image Comics imprint Skybound, a recently returned "The Walking Dead" TV show and, as if that wasn't enough, Kirkman was in Oakland on Friday to launch the first ever Image comic book convention, the Image Expo. Kirkman has been a partner at Image since 2008.

The Image Expo is a celebration of not only Image Comics' 20th anniversary and the comics they're putting out right now but of the comics industry as a whole. Beside the obligatory Top Cow, Skybound and other Image imprint booths are tables full of independent comic companies such as IDW and Archaia, as well as an artists' alley and retailers galore. Taking place at the Oakland Convention Center, the Image Expo is seen by many Bay Area residents as filling the hole left by WonderCon, San Francisco's beloved convention that is leaving SF for Anaheim this year.

Kirkman managed to find a little bit of time to sit down with Comic Book Resources in Oakland on Friday morning before the convention started to discuss the Image Expo, what's going on with "The Walking Dead" comic and TV show, and his new series "Thief of Thieves" with Nick Spencer.

CBR News: So Robert, did you just get in to the Oakland/San Francisco Bay Area?

Robert Kirkman: Got here yesterday, actually. Went to the Cartoon Art Museum, which is hosting a bunch of Image art right now across the bay in San Francisco. It's pretty cool.

Now that you've relocated to Los Angeles, do you find yourself coming up to the Bay Area often to visit the Image headquarters in Berkeley?

This is actually the first time I've been to this office. They moved a few years ago and I haven't been able to make it up here in a while. So I got to see the new offices. Well, they're not new now they're four years old; I don't make it up here often, sadly. I was in San Francisco for WonderCon last year but I didn't have time to check out the offices. I'm very busy.

Image Expo is the first time Image has hosted a convention of this type. How did it come about and how much of a hand in the planning did you have?

This is something that Jimmy Jay, the convention promoter, retailer and comic book guy, wanted to do. He wanted an Image-centric convention to celebrate the 20th anniversary, so he talked to Eric Stephenson and myself and put it together. Image has been instrumental in putting a lot of the different things together too, though. It was something that Image Comics and Jimmy Jay did together.

Would you consider it to be Jimmy's convention or Image's?

Well, it's definitely the Image Expo, but Image is not a convention company so we need a convention promoter to do all the nuts and bolts stuff.

Moving on to your writing, how do you find the writing process differs between writing for an issue of "The Walking Dead" comic book and writing an episode of "The Walking Dead" TV show?

It's vastly different. When I'm working on a comic book, I'm sitting in a room by myself typing away on a keyboard and going "it'd be neat if this happens... ok it happened! Done!" When I'm in the writer's room [for the show] I go "wouldn't it be neat if this happens?" and then we talk about it for six hours and break for lunch. It's a much longer process. I think there are benefits and pitfalls for both. The writers room process is really cool and I think that a lot of good ideas come out of that which you wouldn't have been able to come up with on your own. Writing by yourself on a comic, I think, is a lot more spontaneous and you get cooler ideas and you can write yourself in to a corner and then write yourself out of it. That's a cool writing muscle to have and a neat process in and of itself. They're both awesome.

Do you ever find yourself working on a comic book script and TV script at the same time?

Oh yeah, I'm always bouncing back and forth. Every now and then I'll be writing a comic book in the writers room office and I'll have to stop and go work on [a TV episode.] Then I'll have to go work on an outline for the show or whatever. My days are filled with all different kinds of nonsense.

Have you ever written anything for the comic that you wanted to bring to the show before realizing the show's continuity is 80 or 90 issues behind you?

I don't even really think of it that way. I think that even if the show went for seven seasons we wouldn't even get to the point that we're at now in the comics. Right now, I'm writing stuff [for the comics] that will never make it in to the show. But I could be wrong, who knows, maybe the show will go for 20 seasons. Yeah, thinking about it right now, there are some cool things that I'd like to see [crossover from the comic book to] the show but I never think about it when I'm actually writing.

Has any idea ever ended up switching medium entirely? Either taking a scraped idea from the show and incorporating it in to the comic or vice-versa?

No, it's weird but that never happens. I think its cause a lot of what's going on in the show doesn't translate in to the comic, as it exists now. There's a never been a case of me working in the writers room and hearing an idea and going 'that'd work in the comic too!' It just doesn't translate because the stories are so different now.

Are there any big epic storylines coming up in "The Walking Dead" comic book?

Yes, absolutely! We are in the middle of "A Larger World" right now, which is running for four issues, and that's going to be about Rick discovering further pockets of civilization and other little communities that have popped up where humans are actually surviving and surviving well. In a large part, it's going to be about the possibility of reestablishing civilization in this world and "fixing" the zombie problem as much as you possibly can and that's going to dovetail directly in to a big storyline we've got that starts in issue 97 and runs all the way through issue 102. That will include the monumental issue 100 as the climax of the storyline and that will be called "Something to Fear." It should be starting in April or May.

We've gone from the farm to the jail to a town. Is Rick headed towards the next big set piece anytime soon?

Going from set piece to set piece is something that the book has kind of done so far, but it's not really a long-term goal. I think the book is always going to be evolving. The book was about a group of people that lived near Atlanta. Then it was about a group of people that were on the road trying to find a safe place. Then they found a safe place and then for a while the book was about them going from safe place to safe place until they found a community in Alexandria. Will the book evolve further and move away from that? I can't really say because I don't want to give anything away but I will say that the idea of the book being anything that can be tracked or a repeating cycle won't last for long. [The status quo] may last for four years, but it will always evolve in to something new. Not something that I think will alienate readers at all, but this is a long-term exploration of the fall of civilization.

You can't keep telling the same stories or things are gonna stagnate. I've done 100 issues. Right now it's all about opening up the world and dealing with bigger stories and bigger ideas. The idea of them finding a safe place and continuing to do that is something that they've moved beyond. They're better than that, they know this world now and know how to survive in it. We're going to start telling different kinds of stories moving forward and that's really exciting to me.

It's been said that part of "The Walking Dead's" success is that unpredictability that you're talking about. You don't know what type of story you'll get each month and anyone can die at any moment. Have you gotten any pushback from AMC about not having such drastic changes or deaths from week to week in the TV show? It seems like it could be hard to translate that to TV, since most networks frown on having main characters die, let alone die often.

"The Walking Dead" should never have been made in to a TV show. I'll just say that right now. When I was doing the comic, never in a million years did I think that anyone would ever go "oh, zombies on TV? Good idea!" It's not a good idea. It's a huge risk. It's gotta be gory, it's gotta have characters dying. It's like you said, it's a very hard thing to adapt for TV.

[Nick Spencer walks in the room and Kirkman immediately admonishes him.] You're like an hour late! The guy you were supposed to talk to is gone!

Anyways, it took AMC to have the guts to say "oh you know what, that is a good idea, that would be kind of neat, we would like to try and make that a TV show." So no, I haven't gotten any pushback. They read a large portion of the comic; I think issue 65 was out by the time they were trying to make it in to a show. They knew what they were getting in to. They loved the comic and they wanted to adapt that. There was no push back because they knew what they were doing. I can't gush about AMC enough.

Moving on to your other major series, are there any big plans coming up this year for "Invincible?"

"Invincible" is almost getting too big. That's kind of a hint as to some of the things coming up. There's some awesome stuff. Invincible has been infected with the Scourge virus, so we will be dealing with whether he dies or not. He may die, you never know. We're going to be bringing in a new Invincible leading up to a new storyline that will come out of that, which we'll be announcing in the next month or so. Then we'll be ramping up to our issue 100, which will be shipping in January 2013, on the tenth anniversary of the launch of "Invincible" which is a pretty cool thing. There's going to be some crazy stuff. They punched a planet and made it explode in issue 75, so I've got to top that somehow. Be on the look out.

You just launched a new project at Image, "Thief of Thieves."

That book sucks! [laughs and looks over at Nick Spencer, his co-writer on "Thief of Thieves."]

You use a rotating set of writers for "Thief of Thieves" that all work from plots you and Nick Spencer developed. Why did you decide to use this style of collaborative writing and how has it worked out so far?

Look, I'm brilliant and that's all you need to know [laughs]. I talked a little bit about the writing process in television earlier, which uses a similar writer's room technique. It's a fun thing. Because Nick's standing here, I can say Nick is a weird guy. Nick did not grow up the way I grew up. He's had different experiences; he's had different jobs, different talents and different skills. He was a car thief for a while, that's interesting.

Different writers bring different ideas that I would never have come up with on my own. That's something that I learned working in television. Being able to say "I have this cool idea and this happens and then this happens" and then turn to another writer and go "what do you think?" is great. Comics naturally have that to a degree because you are working with an artist and good writers will work with their artist and use their ideas, but having other writers in the mix is a cool thing. I think it makes "Thief of Thieves" better because of it.

Will Nick Spencer continue to co-plot after writing the first arc?

We'll see. That's really up to him. Nick is very much in the mix. We are having different writers come on to do different arcs and it'd be nice to have everybody stay in the mix, but he's a busy guy.

Nick, do you want to come back after the first arc?

Nick Spencer: Absolutely, yes!

Kirkman: Maybe it's not up to him anymore, we'll see! [Both laugh.]

"The Walking Dead", "Invincible" and "Thief of Thieves" are all available monthly from Image Comics. New episodes of "The Walking Dead" TV show air Sunday nights at 9 on AMC.

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