He's such an unstoppable juggernaut at only 25 that you could call him "Captain Kirk" and it'd be an appropriate name.
That'd be Robert Kirkman, the young writer whose work is attracting more attention each month and a creator whose refreshing vision of a variety of genres has re-energized many fans. CBR News spoke with Kirkman at length about two series he's currently writing for Image Comics, "Invincible" and "The Walking Dead." Today's focus is on "Invincible." Please note that there are some spoilers in this article.
"'Invincible' is about Mark Grayson and what it's like to grow up as the son of the most powerful superhero on the planet," explains Kirkman. "We're right with Mark from the beginning, from the day he discovers his new powers to the first time he fights a supervillain. I like to think of it as a practical exploration of the super-hero genre. I'm trying to show how mundane the fantastic can be if that's all you experience all the time."
While that point of view is the hook for some readers, the majority will agree that the characters make the series a compelling read and Kirkman provides a brief introduction of "Invincible's" cast. "Mark Grayson, aka Invincible is the main character. He's your average all-American teenager, only he can break a battleship over his knee. Mark is sort of thrown into this world of super-heroics and has to learn how to use his powers while juggling all the normal teenage crap we all go through. Nolan Grayson, aka Omni-Man, is his father. He's your average all-American father, only he's not from this planet at all. He's been here twenty years, he's gotten used to the place, and has dedicated himself to being its sole protector, or at least its primary protector. Debbie Grayson, the wife/mother. She's a housewife, which I seem to catch some flack for. She's washing dishes and doing laundry while the boys are out fighting giant ant eaters and saving the world. I gotta do something to ground this book though."
In issue #7, Omni-Man murdered the "Invincible" version of the Justice League and that act has shocked many fans. "Yeah, the last page of issue #7 seems to have gotten people talking, and that was the point. It sets up major events that will be impacting the book for its duration so I'm glad people are paying attention. As to what exactly is going on... you'll know everything by issue #13 so readers won't be in the dark much longer."
The act of dropping many hints along the way and picking them up issues later is deliberate- "I like to layer stuff," explains Kirkman. "The story in issue 5 sets up stuff for issue 13, issue 6 is going to be followed up in issue 19 or so. I want to set stuff up and let it linger on the minds of the readers. What seems like one issue stories will be followed up in a big way as the series goes on. Eventually what we'll end up with is a layer of intricate threads running throughout the book that will hopefully keep people interested in this stuff for years to come. Issues 1-12 are all about laying foundation for the future of the series."
Romance is a part of almost every super hero comic book and "Invincible" has no shortage of romantic tension, namely that of teammates Atom-Eve and Invincible. Their "will they? won't they?" storyline has excited many readers and it may well never end. "People seem to love it when there's a strong female character that should get together with a main character but never does. They may come close, but it just never happens. It's been a staple of television writing forever. So I figured I'd give it a shot. That's not to say that Eve and Mark will never get together... but y'know... I like things the way they are right now."
Something of interest to readers looking a bit deeper is that Mark's mother seems very nonchalant about the superheroing of her family- but is that because she's well adjusted or because she feels her place is second or is it something more? "Like I'm going to give it away here," laughs Kirkman.
Writing superhero comic books in this day and age isn't an easy task, with so many stories being told each month and Kirkman has deftly avoided most of the clichés. Kirkman says it isn't actually that hard and explains, "When it gets down to it all what I'm really doing is seeing where people in the past have zigged and zagging instead. I'm trying to keep things fresh. If it's been done before, I'm not going to do that. I'm trying to make this book interesting, not a regurgitation of all the comics I've enjoyed as a kid. Whether or not I'm succeeding is anyone's guess but I'm certainly trying. It's really as simple as reading a comic and going, 'man, it would've been cooler if they did this instead' and then throwing that in the comic. Of course... that could just be considered regurgitation comics I enjoyed as a kid. Hell, I don't know what I'm doing. Next question [laughs]."
Further eschewing modern trends, Kirkman has focused on making every issue of "Invincible" a very "packed" comic and providing stand alone stories in almost every issue. In an industry where story "decompression" seems to be the trend, Kirkman isn't afraid to tell a lot of story in 22 pages and is happy to explain why, saying, "I'd rather compress a crapload of stuff in an issue and have a bunch of stories in one trade than decompress and have one drawn out story in a trade. I don't think it's realistic to assume that bad guys and problems in general always attack heroes one at a time. Y'know, it's like, okay The Red Skull is already attacking Cap for four issues, Doctor Doom has no idea he's doing that but for some reason he always waits until that arc is over before he attacks. I'm trying to portray Mark's life as a superhero as this chaotic mess where he's always flying around fighting guys. Half the time he doesn't even know why they're doing what they're doing. The meat of 'Invincible' is the character stuff, the villains aren't really an integral part of the story. So I show him fighting guys that will be back, that to them is an important encounter, but to Invincible it's just one of the five fights he got into that day. The first 'Invincible' TPB focuses on the human bomb thing that's going on with students in Mark's school. I could have saved all the other stuff that happened in that trade and stretched them out into other trades but instead that stuff all happened while the human bomb thing was going on. I think that's more realistic... aside from the obvious superhero weirdness."
The mandate for "Invincible" may seem like "fun super heroics," but Kirkman has a slightly different interpretation of his approach. "Different super heroics is more like it. Fun too, just because that's my style, but I'm really just trying to come at this at a different angle. I'm not trying to say I'm inventing the wheel here. I have no pretensions on the merits of my work. I'm just trying to have fun with this stuff, but the book is not always a light, fun, superhero romp. There's room in this series for serious drama stuff too, and you'll see that in the coming issues."
With the quick production of trade paperback collections, many readers opt to "wait for the trade" and in the case of "Invincible," those waiting are definitely buying. "Sales on the TPB are good. We've nearly tripled what the initial orders on it were and I think we'll sell through the first print run in under a year. I think the 'waiting for the trade' crowd is responsible for most of that. I just hope they pick up all the trades from here on out. The second trade will be just as packed with sketches and stuff as the first one was. I don't think people will be disappointed at all."
"Invincible" hasn't just succeeded because of the writing- the artists, from Cory Walker to current penciller Ryan Ottley, have given the series a youthful and unique look. "Cory had to move on and while I was sad to see him go, we both agreed that the book should continue without him. Ryan was an artist that I had talked to before about doing another book that never really came together because he was too busy. When I found out Cory was on the way out I contacted Ryan and asked him to come on board. I thought his style would be good for the book and it turns out... I was right. I couldn't be happier with how the book is looking and somehow, some way Ryan is getting better with every issue. Ryan is one to lookout for. I think Cory will wholeheartedly agree with me when I say the book is in good hands."
It's very rare, but "Invincible" has something very few comics can claim: rave reviews from both critics and fans, which leads some to wonder why the series doesn't sell more. "Sales are on the rise," says Kirkman. "We've gone up over 1000 copies in pre-orders between issues 10 and 12. Hopefully it's a trend that will continue. I think a lot of times the acclaim in this industry is from the vocal minority on the Internet and it doesn't always reflect the comic buying public as a whole. Also, for the most part, Movies and Music are available to the masses in a way that it doesn't hurt the retailers in any way. And the availability can easily match any demand. With the no return policy that the direct market currently operates under, a retailer is stuck with the burden of having to guess what he or she can and can't sell. If he thinks he can sell eight copies of Toejam Man and 20 people come to his store out of the blue wanting to buy it 12 of them are going home empty handed. If the majority of those 12 people just leave without telling the retailer they wanted it... the retailer has no idea that he should have ordered more. Some people think a retailer should say: 'Hey, I sold eight, I better order 20 next month' but who's to say that eight wasn't the exact right number to order. Just to be safe said retailer might up the order by one or two copies and if that sells out the next issue will also get bumped one or two issue but at the end of the day a book is on issue four, it's still selling out, and orders have only been raised four or five copies. By that time, the Toejam Man could be close to cancellation, even if twice as many people that buy the book want the book and can't find it. The system as it is... doesn't work."
If you're looking for hints as to what's coming up in the future of "Invincible" Kirkman is happy to whet your appetite. "Allen from issue five is back, fans seem to like him. Everything that was set up in issue seven and built upon in every issue after that is finally resolved by issue 13... and after that... that's when the series really kicks into overdrive. Is Mark's Dad a cold-blooded killer? Man... I can't wait to find out!!"
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