Robert Kirkman Talks Comics and Walking Dead

We talk to writer Robert Kirkman about his hit TV show, current comics like Invincible, and new books Witch Doctor and Superdinosaur.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

The Walking Dead - Robert Kirkman

Now that he’s a superstar comic book author with a hit TV series, Robert Kirkman is giving back to the next generation. He started the label Skybound so he could give new artists a shot. The first, Witch Doctor, comes out this month. I talked to Kirkman as he was promoting the new series with a mini preview issue. I got to talk to him about the comic book game, and a little Walking Dead too.


Crave Online: What is the world for upstart comic book artists these days?

Robert Kirkman:I mean, it’s a hard road to hoe I guess. It’s an uphill battle. I don’t know that it’s that much different than when I was coming up. There’s not a lot of sales out there. I think when you’re starting out, in a lot of ways I think it’s a lot like acting. Acting, a lot of people think, “Oh, I really want to be an actor. This is going to be great. I see Johnny Depp on these movie posters and this is my dream and I really want to do this.” People don’t really realize that 99.9% of actors are waiters and they have day jobs and it’s just really hard to get a break. When people think, “I want to be an actor” they think about the superstars. I think it’s the same with comics. Comics are very hard to break in as a new talent. Most people struggle for years and years until something happens.


Crave Online:With actors, there are people who will act anywhere, even a 20 seat theater. Is it similar in the comic book world, where there are people determined to draw and write and build up a portfolio while others just wait?

Robert Kirkman:Yeah, I’ve definitely experienced that. Sadly, there are friends of mine that are very good friends of mine that are doing that. They’re basically sitting by the sidelines going, “Why haven’t I gotten my gig?” I think people really need to realize that I was sleeping six hours a day and working 18 hours a day for the first 2-3 years when I was trying to do comics. My wife hated my guts and my friends didn’t talk to me. It was rough. I mean, my wife didn’t really hate my guts. I’m mostly exaggerating but there were a lot of arguments about, “Why are you doing this? What is going on?” Luckily it worked out but there was just as big a chance that it wouldn’t work out. You kind of have to be willing to take that chance, be a crazy person. I mean, I remember I would just sit in front of my computer for 20 hours sometimes when I was trying to get a book out. You just have to be willing to put that time in and devote yourself to it to make it work.


Crave Online:My favorite thing about post-apocalyptic stories is when they have to find supplies in the wasteland. Are there lots of supplies to be found in Witch Doctor?

Robert Kirkman:Well, it’s not really apocalyptic. It’s basically the world has supernatural threats so there’s always the threat of vampires, demons and they’re all kinds of things. Vincent Morrrow, the main character in Witch Doctor, is kind of tasked with solving these problems but the way he does it is with science. So he’s defeating supernatural threats with scientific means. So that’s really the thrust of the story there.


Crave Online:Does he have some Houseisms and wit?

Robert Kirkman:He’s definitely a peculiar character. You just have to really read the comic book. He’s quirky, very quirky.


Crave Online:How much of that is in the preview issue from WonderCon?

Robert Kirkman:Actually the preview issue is a completely original story. It’s a cool story that’s in the preview issue that gives you a good taste of what’s coming in the series, but when the series comes out that’s all going to be original material. I don’t like doing previews a lot of times because you read half the comic book and then later on you buy the comic book and you’re like, “Well, I’ve read half of this.” So I thought it would be cool to do an original story to preview the concept.

Witch Doctor - Robert Kirkman

Crave Online:How early does the first full issue get into the story?

Robert Kirkman:Well, this is just a side story that sets up what it is that Vincent Morrow does. When you read the series, when issue 1 comes out, if you read the preview, you’ll know a little bit more about the character than the average reader. You’ll be a little bit more well versed in his world and what he does.


Crave Online:Do they have to set up the different rules of the medical science of all the supernatural creatures?

Robert Kirkman:Yeah, that’s really the brilliant thing that Brandon Seifert, the writer of the series, is doing. He comes from a medical background. He went to med school and so he knows different anatomical medical things and he’s kind of applying that to this work of fiction in a way that’s really kind of remarkable. There’s a lot of things where you’re like oh, a vampire works this way and this kind of cool can do this. It’s really bizarre and it ends up being wildly entertaining because it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.


Crave Online:How do you like the screenwriting process on Walking Dead versus comic book writing?

Robert Kirkman:The process itself I really enjoy just because writing comics is a solitary act. You sit in a room and you type away and you send it off to an artist and they draw it. Most of the time I’m at least a half a country away from my artist. We talk on the phone but there’s just not a lot of interaction going on there. With television, it’s a whole room of guys having lunch together every day, talking about the story and really working together on things. It’s a fun camaraderie. I really enjoy it.


Crave Online:What are you excited about for season two?

Robert Kirkman:There are so many cool things that I wish I could talk about. There’s good zombie bits in every single episode. There’s so much cool stuff that we’re going to be doing with the characters and all kinds of cool character development. There are some good twists and turns that I think are really going to shock people and take people off guard. So there’s going to be more of everything people want and I think it’s going to be really cool.


Crave Online:How has the convention experience changed since The Walking Dead became a hit TV series?

Robert Kirkman:Well, it’s a little harder to walk through the halls. Sometimes, if I can complain, as if I have a right to complain about anything, for a minute, I don’t get to see people as much as I’d like to. Getting from one end of the hall to the next is sometimes a little time consuming because people recognize me and I do autographs while I’m walking and stuff. I don’t want to turn people away because I don’t think that’s cool. It’s a little hard sometimes because people will call me after the Con and go, “I was totally there. Why didn’t we see you?” It’s like, well, I was in a room doing interviews and then I was doing a panel and then I was over here doing this. So there’s a lot being packed into this time, a lot more than used to be, but I can’t complain. It’s been awesome.


Crave Online:Where are you with the Walking Dead books?

Robert Kirkman:We’re shipping monthly and things are trucking along. I’m really excited about the story that we’re doing right now. We’re in the middle of our No Way Out storyline where they get trapped in this perfect community. You realize that no matter how perfect a situation you think you’re in, the zombies can always come in and muck it up. Our characters are having a hard time with it right now.


Crave Online:What other sort of artists are you looking at for future titles on your label?

Robert Kirkman:Well, one of the things that Skybound is doing is we are focusing our efforts like a laser on Witch Doctor right now. There are other projects floating out there that we’re looking at but we’re not really looking to expand to the point where we’re doing 10-15 titles a month. Skybound I look at as a boutique imprint at Image Comics. I don’t care if an entire year goes by where we don’t do an original book that’s not mine, if there’s not a good one out there. So I really just want to find the absolute best material. We’ve got a few things on the horizon that we’ll be talking about at Comic Con but right now our focus is strictly just on Witch Doctor and giving that book the launch that it deserves.


Crave Online:What other titles are you actively writing?

Robert Kirkman:Right now I’ve got Invincible, The Walking Dead, I’m wrapping up my stint on Haunt, this book I do with Todd MacFarlane so I’ll be moving off of that title with issue 18 and they’ve got a cool new creative team coming on with issue 19. But then I’ve got a new book called Superdinosaur that I’m launching that’s my all ages book to go along with my depressing apocalyptic zombie book. Then I also have a cool new science fiction book that I’m doing with Rob Liefeld called The Infinite.


Crave Online:What is The Infinite about?

Robert Kirkman:It’s a sci-fi action-adventure romp that features a character coming from the future to team up with his 19 year old self to save the world.


Crave Online:So you don’t believe if you meet your old self, same matter would create a rift in space/time?

Robert Kirkman:No, that’s one of the things that I’m doing in The Infinite. It occurred to me that a lot of people have done science-fiction time travel stories to the point where some fiction writers actually treat time travel like it’s a real thing. They go, “Well, you can’t do this and you can’t do that and you can’t do this because I’ve seen that in other things.” That’s just crazy because time travel is completely fake and you can think about how it would work and make up your own rules. We’re trying to make up our own rules for The Infinite.


Crave Online: Is Superdinosaur self-explanatory?

Robert Kirkman:Pretty much. It’s everything that a 10-year-old me would want in a comic book. It’s a comic book I’m writing almost exclusively for my son. Jason Howard is drawing it for his kids too. It’s a fun action-adventure all ages romp, but it’s about a nine-year-old boy that teams up with a genetically altered nine foot tall tyrannosaurus rex that has robot arms and they shoot missiles and save the world.


Crave Online:Does it talk?

Robert Kirkman:Oh yeah, they’re best friends.


Crave Online:Is Invincible in the middle or wrapping up?

Robert Kirkman:Invincible just wrapped up its big Viltrumite war storyline. We just ended that and we’re going to be moving onto new things. I’m very excited about the next phase of Invincible.


Crave Online:Are you brainstorming or do you know what it is?

Robert Kirkman:Oh no, I know. It’s all coming out right now. I think issue 80 will be out soon. It’s just Invincible picking up the pieces after he’s been off the planet for 10 months fighting the Viltrumite role and he kind of returns to a very different earth with very different circumstances for a lot of his loved ones. He’s kind of having to deal with that. It’s a much quieter story after the big war.