SDCC: Robert Kirkman's Skybound Explores "Walking Dead's" Shocking Fallout

Unfortunately, "The Walking Dead" creator Robert Kirkman had to cancel his appearance at this years Comic-Con International in San Diego. But that didn't mean that his Skybound label at Image Comics had any less to talk about in their annual spotlight panel.

MC'd by Skybound editorial director Sean Mackiewicz, the discussion included "Ghosted" and "Birthright" writer Joshua Williamson, "Thief of Thieves" writer Andy Diggle and Chris Dingess, writer of "Manifest Destiny."

Mackiewicz started by noting that the show marked Skybound's fifth anniversary and said it was a sign of the company's growth that no one on the panel had been involved at that stage of the company's life.

One of the latest series in the company's expansion is Williamson's "Birthright" -- the story of a kidnapped boy named Mikey who returns to his broken father a year later as "a full-grown man who looks like Conan." The writer said much of the tension in the book surrounds whether the family can believe this bearded stranger who says he was taking to a fantasy land and trained to fight is actually their little boy. "For me, it's about all these '80s movies I loved as a kid where kids would get taken to fantasy lands and then come home...but there were never any consequences for those kids. I thought 'How would the real world react to that?' And a huge part of it is the family drama...he has an older brother who is now his younger brother and had to stay back and watch their family be destroyed."

The extra-sized issue #11 of the series arrives in November and shows some of the early days of Mikey's time in the fantasy landscape when he was still a child but training to be a warrior. The story will tell the background of Mikey's ax, and Williamson said that he recently plotted out the book well through its second year.

Williamson also spoke about the recently wrapped "Ghosted." "Working with Skybound and with 'Ghosted' changed my career and changed my life," he said. While the book began as a high concept "Ocean's Eleven In A Haunted House" kind of series, Williamson said that ultimately it became a redemption story for lead thief Jackson as he pulls himself out of a downward spiral.

Kirkman's "Invincible" was up next on the discussion block, and the book recently did a $0.25 issue where Mark Grayson has relocated to another planet with his young family, but incoming issues will show how the Guardians of the Globe are dealing with the occupied planet earth. In October, the series will embark on a storyline called "Reboot?" in issues #124 to 126 where Mark goes back to the beginning of his superhero career with all the memories of his adventures in order to try and do it better. Spoiler warning: things don't go smoothly.

Diggle talked about his unlikely role as the ongoing writer of "Thief of Thieves." The book was planned out as a series with rotating writers who would team with Kirkman on each new arc. But as the series continued, Kirkman's time commitments made it harder for him to complete the story -- which became a problem when the series hit its promised point of an ultimate heist. Diggle had been on for one arc and asked Kirkman what the plan was for the big score, and the creator essentially said "I dunno." From there, Diggle pulled together all the characters, teases and plot threads of the book to essentially solve Kirkman's mystery for him. The creator loved it, and Diggle has been in control ever since.

Artist Shawn Martinbrough joined the panel and talked about his role in the collaboration on the series. "When we started the new arc, I told Andy I wanted Conrad to be clean shaven so we could kind of reset him." he explained. The incoming story involves how a thief deals with his life after he's accomplished the ultimate heist. Diggle said, "For the next arc, I want it to be a bit more fun and games and less doom and gloom. We've put the characters through a lot in this past year." However, the writer promised that Conrad would not win a happy ending with his ex wife because it would seem like rewarding a creepy stalker to give him everything he wanted after being such a dubious person for a long time.

Kirkman and Paul Azaceta's "Outcast" was next, and the slow boiling series about demonic possession is just ramping up after its second arc without shying away from mysteries, Mackiewicz said. "We've mentioned this many times, but it's almost here -- there's going to be an 'Outcast' TV show on Cinemax later this year," he noted, showing a TV poster based on one of Azaceta's comic covers. "The pilot is very faithful to the story so far...there were several scenes in the pilot that made me turn my head away. It's pretty gross."

Dingess talked about "Manifest Destiny" -- a "secret history" comic focusing on Lewis & Clark fighting demons and monsters as they go West. The series deals with action and adventure ideas, horrific monsters and a healthy dose of humor. The writer spoke to how different working on the series is from his day job of being a writer on Marvel's "Agent Carter" TV series. While the show involves collaborative writing and rounds upon rounds of notes from both the studio and network, writing a comic like "Manifest Destiny" is a happily solitary kind of work.

"It's a very different way to approach storytelling for me because I'd spent a decade writing television," he said. "I've never written for a big comic book company, and the notes from you guys are always 'If that's what you want to do, it's great.' I'm so used to getting notes from the network I feel like 'No! You should be telling me I suck and to rewrite half of it.'"

The writers on the panel agreed that the Skybound process is less invasive than working for bigger comic publishers who own their characters. Diggle said that a good editor is a co-pilot while a bad one wrestles the steering wheel out of your hand. To that, Mackiewicz noted, "We're not here to tell your stories. We're here to help you tell the best version of the stories you want to tell" adding that most of the notes he sends out are trying to get clarity on ideas rather than offer his own.

The panel wrapped with a spoiler-filled discussion of "The Walking Dead" #144 -- the end of the third major compendium of Walking Dead tales that included a shocking character death. "There's a lot of fallout to come. If you're looking for parallels, I think it'll be like what happened after issue #100," Mackiewicz said. In the coming war with the Whisperers, Rick and Maggie will be drawn into conflict in the months ahead.

Brian K Vaughan and Macos Martin will soon produce the first in-continuity "Walking Dead" story by someone other than Kirkman, Tony Moore or Charlie Adlard. The story will be released simultaneously in print and on Vaughan and Martin's Panel Syndicate digital service.

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