Kirkman on "Thief of Thieves," "Walking Dead" & Writer's Rooms

By his own admission, Robert Kirkman has more story ideas popping around his head than he'll ever get to. But, that doesn't mean he's a slouch in the writing department by any means. His longest-running Image Comics series, "Invincible" and "The Walking Dead," are both on track to hit the 100-issue mark this year, he and the writing staff are hard at work on the third season of AMC's "The Walking Dead" TV series, and other projects including the all-ages "Super Dinosaur" and his graphic novel series "Album" with "Walking Dead" artist Charlie Adlard are moving along nicely. Even with all that on his plate, today marks the launch of another brand new comic called "Thief of Thieves" featuring a rotating group of co-writers teaming with series artist Shawn Martinbrough.

After experiencing the communal nature of television writing while working on "The Walking Dead," Kirkman decided to do the same with "Thieves," which focuses on a career criminal going by the name Redman who decides to put his personal life back together at the cost of his professional one. While the writer remains tight-lipped as to the full roster of writers he's working with -- he said there are four in total -- the first co-conspirator is none other than "Morning Glories" creator and "Ultimate X-Men" writer Nick Spencer. With "Thief of Thieves" #1 on sale now and many irons in the fire -- not to mention Kirkman's appearance at the first ever Image Expo in Oakland, CA February 24-26, where he will appear on several panels. -- CBR News spoke to Kirkman about working with other writers, celebrating Image Comics' 20th anniversary, the return of "The Walking Dead" to TV screens this weekend and his recent split from collaborator Rob Liefeld on "The Infinite."

CBR News: How has the writer's room style of creating stories you first experienced working on "The Walking Dead" TV series adapted to comics so far?

Robert Kirkman: So far it's been pretty neat. I've been working with Nick Spencer on this first arc and batting ideas around. I just had a writer's meeting with a few of the other writers who are working on other arcs of the series in Los Angeles a few weeks ago and it's kind of fun to walk into a room with a nugget of an idea and sit there for an entire day saying "Oh, this could happen. That could happen. What if we did that? This could lead to that." Like in the "Walking Dead" writer's room a group of writers comes up with things that one person might not necessarily come up with on their own. It's neat having different people come up with different angles on stories or suggest things you hadn't thought of or -- my favorite thing -- noticing plot holes you aren't aware of or really picking things apart so what we end up with is a story that has been crafted into tempered steel as I like to say.

After hashing out the details, how is the actual script-writing done? Do you work off the same document or work it out via phone calls and emails?

There's a little bit of that. Right now we're going off of various story documents, passing those around and tweaking those before scripting is actually done. With Nick [Spencer] it was a few phone calls here and there and I had written up a bunch of documents laying out what the series was and what I was going to do with it and who the characters were and what the story beats were. You know, the main structure of the story. Then Nick went off and started doing scripts based on that stuff. There are cool things that happened. There's a car-stealing scene in the first issue. It's really cool and has great dialogue and has a fun bit of insight into both characters and also a master class on the best ways to steal a car. There's cool things like that where I would have never done that on my own and he's throwing that into the script, that's a contribution of his.

One of the things that jumped out at me was how seemingly realistic all the statistics in that scene were and how you guys came up with that.

I want the series to be as grounded and realistic as possible. The more non-genre stuff that's out there in comics -- things that aren't horror or sci-fi or superheroes -- the better. Keeping "Thieves" as a grounded, realistic heist/caper kind of story is important. We're always trying to do things that aren't terribly unrealistic.

The first issue feels like a complete heist movie with the job in the beginning, the flashback, talk of another job and the big cliffhanger ending. Were those elements ones you came up with before getting into the room with the other writers?

It's a little bit of both here and there, mainly.

Was the relationship between Redman and his female assistant Celia always there from the beginning?

Yeah, their relationship is really key. Him having this assistant that is a major part of his life and more or less the only friend he really has -- and she definitely has feelings for him that we'll be learning at some point soon -- and how that conflicts with his mission to rekindle things with his ex wife, and hopefully get back together with her, is a central theme to the overall storyline. That was very much a big part of all the initial planning.

What was it about Nick Spencer that made you want to include him in the project?

Nick has a knack for good and interesting dialogue which is something I can admit I'm somewhat jealous of. He writes believably modern characters. I think a lot of people try to write characters that are somewhat hip and it's a little hilarious, but I think Nick has a real ear for that. I read "Forgetless" from Shadowline/Image and had been quite taken with that. I had actually brought him on to "Thief of Thieves" before he had done anything at Marvel. This project has been gestating for a while. Watching Nick's star rise at Image was a pretty fun thing to witness. Seeing a guy come into the company and do "Existence 2.0" and do "Shuddertown" and dive into "Forgetless" and eventually get into "Morning Glories" was a a cool thing to see. I'm always impressed with people who have their shit together, come in, have a lot of new ideas; everything is interesting and engaging and a cool mess of books and not one superhero book among them which is always impressive. I was very impressed with everything he'd done up to that point.

On a similar wavelength, what was it about Shawn Martinbrough's artistic style that made him the right choice for "Thieves?"

I like to think that when you're looking at Shawn Martinbrough art that you're looking at movie stills from a different dimension. He's got a very cinematic flare to him. It was really important to me for "Thief of Thieves" to have somebody who can portray characters realistically. I didn't want anyone to be too stylized, I wanted the art to be very grounded. At the same time, a lot of people who have that kind of -- I'm noting to say 'photo real' because that stuff is way boring -- but somewhat photo real style, the storytelling is very straightforward and not very action packed. I wanted somebody who had the ability to do dynamic splash pages and go big when we need to go big, but also make the quiet moments look as interesting as they need to look. I think that Shawn is able to do that and he's working with colorist Felix Serrano. The two of them working in tandem create a pretty amazing looking book. We're getting pages in for issue #5, which is what he's working on now, and seeing the evolution of the series over those five issues is pretty crazy. I feel like I've got another Ryan Ottley situation on my hands where we'll be looking back at old issues and marveling at how cool the book has gotten as we're learning these characters and better learning how to work together.

You've kept the other writers involved in the project a secret. Will you be announcing them as their arcs come up or all at once?

We'll be doing it as their arc is coming up for the most part. I might do an announcement at the upcoming Image Expo in Oakland coming up at the end of February, but we'll see. I haven't really decided yet.

Can you say say how many other writers are working on the book with you?

Right now, it's a total of four writers.

Speaking of Image Expo, was that something you had a hand in bringing together?

It was something that Rob Liefeld was really pushing for with the success of comic book conventions. I don't know if people are really paying attention to this, but comic book conventions are really exploding and it's becoming a real cool thing. It's something that people like to go out for, these smaller conventions are actually getting a lot more people attending them and it's becoming kind of a boom. I think that's why Wizard got into the game really heavy a few years back. With Image's 20th anniversary we thought it would be really cool to have an Image branded con that celebrates Image Comics, plus the company itself has just an outrageous amount of amazing things happening this year. It being January and me already knowing basically what we've got planned for the rest of the year, it's just -- when people find out what's going on behind the scenes it's going to be pretty insane. Having Image Expo is going to be a good way to kick off 2012 and there will be a lot of cool stuff coming up in 2012. Anchoring a year-long celebration of our 20th anniversary with a convention seemed like a cool idea.

Not counting upcoming projects that haven't been announced yet, Image has done a great job bringing writers over from Marvel and DC including Brian K. Vaughan, Jonathan Hickman and Ed Brubaker, did you have a hand in those deals?

Sure. Look, I've been navigating these waters for a while and proving that it is a viable way to stay employed, so I think in that respect, I sure haven't hurt the process. I have relationships with Brian K. Vaughan and Ed Brubaker and other creators and Image Comics is, by far, the best place in the entire comic book industry to do new comics. Because I know that to be a fact, I'm always singing Image's praises. I do my part in just making people aware of what's available to them. Eric Stephenson deserves the real credit here. In his tenure here as Publisher, he's done amazing things with the company and has made the company a stable home for that level of creator. I think all of his hard work, which up until very recently has gone unnoticed, is really revitalizing the company and definitely preparing it for the next 20 years. This is really what we're trying to focus on for the 20th anniversary, celebrating what we've done, but also saying that Image Comics is all about "the new." We do new ideas, we do new concepts, our line of books is always evolving, we've always been the ones bringing you the most new ideas. So the 20th anniversary is about bringing you the best new ideas over the next decade or two decades. It's going to be a cool year and I really have to say it's due, in large part, to Eric Stephenson.

Between both versions of "The Walking Dead," "Thief of Thieves," "Invincible," "Super Dinosaur" and more, you already have a ton on your plate. Do you have any other projects in the pipeline for this year?

Look, I have far too many projects planned than I will ever be able to do. I don't know for certain right now if another will creep into 2012. I know I have "Passenger" with Charlie Adlard as part of our "Album" graphic novel series that was announced at Comic-Con last year but still [hasn't] come out. That will definitely be on stands this year. I've got a few things on the back burner, but unfortunately this whole TV gig takes up a lot of my time, so I haven't had a lot of free time to get back to a lot of the comics projects I've wanted to do. But, I've got "Thief of Thieves" and other things happening. There will be more comics by me before long, I promise.

[SPOILER WARNING: The following questions contain spoilers for the first half of "The Walking Dead" Season Two.]

Speaking of "The Walking Dead" TV series, that was a crazy mid-season finale with the Sophia reveal. Was there ever any static from the network about shooting a little girl viewers had gotten to know throughout the series?

We opened the show with shooting a little girl, so I feel like we're pretty safe at this point. It's important for us to not pull any punches. From day one I had people saying, "Oh, 'Walking Dead' is going to be neutered because it's not on HBO," and I think we've proven with every single episode that this show has teeth and we're willing to do an accurate portrayal of what this world is and what would happen in this world. If you thought that that episode was intense, you haven't seen anything yet. The stuff coming up in the last six episodes of the season blows all that stuff out of the water.

Can you tease any of those events or if you'll be hitting any of the familiar mile posts from the comic before the season's end?

There's a few mile posts here and there that we'll be touching on and seeing pieces of. The whole season was meant to be one piece and it kind of lulls you into a sense of security and then blows you out of the water, so now we're getting into the blow it up out of the water part. I can say that Sophia coming out of the barn and all the tension from that are just the beginning of an escalation that will bring us to the end of the season, so every episode is going to get bigger and crazier as we continue on.

How far along are you in the process of writing and shooting for the show right now?

The next part of the season is completely done, we finished filming that in November. We're currently nearing the end of the third week in the writer's room on Season Three. If I can tease a little bit of Season Three, it's even crazier.

Finally, there's been rumblings online about Rob Liefeld leaving "The Infinite." Do you want to comment on what happened there?

Sure, the thing is, I hate to have any project end or have some kind of an abrupt hiatus, but the fact of the matter is that Rob and I did have a disagreement over the art on the book. He wanted to take his art in a different direction and I wanted to keep the book consistent. We butted heads over that issue. The beauty of a creator-owned arrangement and also the curse of a creator-owned arrangement is that the creators get to decide what happens with that project. Rather than drive each other crazy -- because we are good friends -- we decided it would be better to part ways professionally for now. It is what it is. It's definitely an unfortunate situation. I don't think Rob or I are happy with the particular outcome, but it was better than driving each other crazy. It was definitely a case of creator differences and it's just one of those unfortunate things that happened. What can you do.

"Thief of Thieves" #1 is on sale now, and the "Walking Dead" Season 2 resumes this Sunday at 9:00PM EST on AMC. Kirkman and a host of Image Comics creators will be appearing at Image Expo February 24-26 in Oakland, California. For more information, visit skybound.com.

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