Robert Kirkman's spotlight panel might have had its share of abuse from creator to fan, but every one of those fans was ready and willing to take it and even come back for more.
Kirkman came onto the stage in room 5AB on Thursday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego to thunderous applause from a room full of slavering fans. The writer isn't a rock star, but you wouldn't have known it from the cheers of his fans packing the room. The first thing Kirkman said is that he wished that he could come onto the stage amidst pyrotechnics, but the crowd didn't seem to mind. The panel started a little late due to clearing the room from the previous panel, but this actually served to keep the talk moving along rapidly. Sina Grace moderated the panel, but most of the time he was simply playing straight-man to Kirkman's antics and very playful degrading of the audience members.
The biggest topic of discussion was the recently announced formation of Skybound, Kirkman's comics production company. Skybound is a new imprint through Image Comics where the Image partner will be able to supervise and shepherd new creators and projects to print. He impressed that he is not leaving Image, that this imprint is still a part of Image and that he's very happy with the publisher. The announcement of this company occurred on Monday in "The New York Times," and already he's been flooded with a deluge of pitches from everywhere, more than he can handle. He plans to start the company small, not handling too many books and making sure that what he chooses is cool and good. The newly announced comic book mentor is already scouring the Internet and hunting for new creators and projects and making calls to them. However, he is not taking submissions now as they may already have more books planned than they can handle.
The first book that Skybound will be publishing is "Witch Doctor" by writer Brandon Seifert and artist Lukas Ketner. Kirkman pulled Seifert and Ketner from the audience, having them come on stage to talk about the book, which was described as a horror/medical drama. The way they pitch it for the non-comics crowd is "House" meets "Fringe," but for the comics crowd it's Dr. Strange meets Dr. House. "Witch Doctor" is going to have a mix of magic, gods and nearly any other genre, as well as a basis in weird biology, all combined with the intent of creating a creepy, thrilling ride. The book is planned for a 2011 release and there were preview issues being handed out downstairs on the convention floor. Kirkman sounded just as excited about this comic as he did about his own projects, including the upcoming "Walking Dead" television series. The writer said that he genuinely wants to get new, unique comics published, and he wants Skybound to be a new, unique imprint in comics. "Witch Doctor" mee3ts his goals. For the rest of the panel, Kirkman and Grace gave out issues of "Witch Doctor" to fans who asked questions during the Q & A session of the panel.
Skybound may have been Kirkman's big announcement for the show, but it wasn't the only big project he has in production. Perhaps the even bigger deal, at least to the non-comics world, is "The Walking Dead" television series which is due to premiere in October on AMC, the channel famous for its original programming like "Mad Men." "The Walking Dead" is Kirkman's wildly popular, ongoing Image series, begun in 2003, which captures a realistic, grim view of a world where zombies have taken over and a scant few survivors have to survive not only the unrelenting zombie army but also each other. This television adaptation of the comic is not news but now that the series is only a few short months away from finally being revealed to the world, the fans are chomping at the bit for it. Kirkman jumped on this as his next topic and much of the questions from the audience were about the television adaptation. Kirkman delayed talking about the "The Walking Dead" television series so that he could talk about "The Walking Dead" comics series, which is still ongoing and has no end in sight. Predictably, Kirkman wouldn't say too much about the comic, since the audience already knew what had come already in the series and he couldn't talk about the events that are still to come. The best he could do is to verify that, yes, that there will be more turmoil for Rick and there will still be zombies in the book. Also, the 13th volume of trade paperback collections will be released in November.
The next most-favorite comic of Kirkman's is "Invincible," of which also he was reluctant to reveal secrets except that the current "The Viltrumite War" story will wrap at issue #78 of the series then it will be on to the next thing. He promised that there will lots of changes in the book after the war ends since much time has passed on Earth while the characters were fighting in space.
At this point, Kirkman opened up the Q&A session and let his fans have at it, with an excited line forming quickly at the microphone near the front of the stage. Kirkman thought it was fair to be standing just as the fans were, so he left his seat and headed to the dais on the side of the stage, freewheeling with a microphone and moving about as needed. At one point, the audience's microphone gave out. As a quick fix, Grace offered his own, leading to the fan asking to come right to the stage. This made Kirkman uncomfortable with giving rude answers, since there was less distance between him and the person he was (always playfully) insulting. Kirkman was anything but sincere with his rude comments, playing a role of a crabby, old man because it was funnier and seemed to entertain the audience more than straight answers. Regularly he would answer with "That's a stupid question," which got uproarious laughter from the audience. It may have made the person asking the question sightly uncomfortable, but the popular creator always ended up giving a legitimate answer.
The first question was about "The Walking Dead," as most of them were, wondering where it was filming and how a fan might become part of the production. Kirkman said they were filming the fifth episode on Monday and that the whole series was already in production with its own crew, so anyone added to it would be impossible. Kirkman had no idea how a person could get involved with the production but said that they're shooting in Atlanta.
The next question, perhaps predictably, was about how much Kirkman had to change "The Walking Dead" to accommodate making it into a television show. Kirkman, an executive producer on the show, says it's true to the source material and he's very pleased with how it's come out. Frank Darabont, director of "The Shawshank Redemption," "The Green Mile," and "The Mist," is the writer, director and executive producer on the series.
A fan asked if there were too many zombie comics nowadays, with Kirkman responding by noting that there are fewer now than there were just a few years ago and that there has never been a television show with zombies. That fan ended his two-part question by asking Kirkman what his favorite rock band is. Kirkman, keeping with the fun, smart-aleck answers, shrugged and said "Rock Band 2" which detonated the audience into an explosion of laughter. He later noted that he's never played the game.
There was only one question about "Haunt," Kirkman's collaboration with Todd McFarlane, but he still seemed dedicated to the project. He only wished that it came out more regularly, and with a new inker coming on at issue #8, he hoped that the series will get back on track soon.
The next fan asked about "The Walking Dead" originally being shopped to NBC before being taken to AMC. Kirkman said he was disappointed at first, but the change turned out to be a blessing, as he and his collaborators on the show could make it better since they could be more independent and do more of what they wanted to do to make it the best that it could be. If it had gone to the network station, it would have had to be toned down and it just would not have been right. At NBC, there would have been more money but be less freedom.
The next fan asked about "Guarding the Globe," a new comic series starting in August starring a team of characters from the "Invincible" universe. Invincible himself is the most notable figure in the cast but the Wolf-Man, from "The Astonishing Wolf-Man" will appear in issue #3. Kirkman scoffed at a question that he might kill off that character just because his series has ended.
A question came about Kirkman censoring himself and how much of that, if any, he does. Kirkman admitted that he self-censors a lot more now that he has kids, that he relates to the situations in the comics he writes and some material might hit a little too close to home. The writer in him also recognizes that he is changing his stories because of that, and may actually be going back the other way, making the material even harsher to make up for acting "like a sissy."
One fan asked what current-running series from another company he would write if he could. Kirkman said he had no interest in taking someone else's comic since you might like the character but you have to write what the editors want you to write and he has no interest in that. He said that Spider-Man might be interesting, though he continued to express no interest in even entertaining the thought…before abruptly cutting himself off mid-sentence with one blunt word: "Nova."
A fan asked if there was a consideration to do "The Walking Dead" on television in black and white, like the comic, but Kirkman said there was always that fear that someone at home might be flipping through channels, happen upon it, think it's an old movie that they don't want to watch and click on past. The next question was what will keep "The Walking Dead" going. Kirkman's response was that it was a variety of factors but mostly, predictably, ratings.
In response to the next question, Kirkman said an Invincible action figure would eventually become a reality.
Upon being asked how to break into comics, Kirkman repeated the oft heard advice that it's nearly impossible for a writer to get in and the best way to do it is to find an artist and make comics. As odd as it sounds, the best way to break into comics is to make comics.
Prompted by another question, Kirkman said that yes, there will be a "Science Dog" trade soon that will collect the back-up features appearing in "Invincible." There aren't enough Science Dog stories yet to make anything more than a very thin "Science Dog" trade paperback, so there may be a new miniseries just to fill out the collection. There will also be a new Science Dog story in "Invincible" #75. Kirkman admitted that he does the stories mostly because it makes him laugh that there are 12-page stories with the character every two and a half years (the last one appearing in issue #50).
And with that, the panel came to an end with Kirkman closing the gathering by promising pyrotechnics for next year.