Image Comics partner Robert Kirkman took the stage to applause in a packed panel room on Saturday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego, ready to hang out and discuss his upcoming projects while sharing a few amazing stories from his time as one of comics' most recognizable independent creators.
The panel kicked off with a technical difficulties instead of a slideshow apparently, they were locked out of the laptop with the images -- but Kirkman made the most of it by thanking his assembled fans.
"I think my wife bought some groceries earlier today -- that was because of you guys," he said. "I really mean it. I really appreciate the relationship we have where I make stupid stuff and you guys give me money for it. Thank you, very much, and thanks for coming to the panel!"
With no slides available and a technician working to crack the password on the laptop, Kirkman quickly opened the floor up to audience questions, one of the first asking about a crossover between Kirkman's books, specifically "Battle Pope" and "The Walking Dead." "Probably never," Kirkman responded. "'The Walking Dead' is a very serious book and it just wouldn't fit. Here's a funny anecdote I'll give you. Marvel really wanted me to do the 'Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness crossover' and I thought it was a bad idea because I thought it lessened the Marvel Zombies brand to tie it into Army of Darkness at the time.
"They really wanted me to do it, to the point where I actually got a call from Dan Buckley, who is the king of Marvel Comics," Kirkman continued. "He called me up and he said, 'So, we really want you to do this. We're really invested in this, we really want to do this miniseries. If you do this miniseries, we can make it worth your while. We'd be willing to do a 'Walking Dead/Marvel Zombies' crossover. I just said, 'You have never read 'The Walking Dead,' you have no idea what it's about.' Could you imagine Rick Grimes fighting a zombie Spider-Man? That would be the absolute worst thing that's ever happened in comics."
Another fan question prompted Kirkman to comment on the high mortality rate or characters in his ongoing zombie epic. "'Walking Dead' is 'Walking Dead.' Bad things have been happening to the characters since the very first story arc. It's going to continue to get worse, I guess I should say. If you're reading 'The Walking Dead' and you don't want characters to die. I don't know -- go read a Marvel comic. Although, they kill characters all the time."
In between the next few questions, Kirkman hit on everything from waxing eloquent on how awesome the "Mario Galaxy" series of games are and inviting a panel-goer to his house to play video games ("That's all I do," Kirkman said), until the idea of an "Invincible" animated series came up.
"Unfortunately, I'm not quite to the level where I can just go 'animated series' and it happens. It's definitely something that I'm open to," he said. "We've definitely been in talks with people and sometimes the ball gets pretty far down the court -- but it just hasn't happened yet. It's always in the cards." Kirkman also expressed his frustration with movie projects that are announced prematurely. "I try not to let anything slip out unless it's definite. When you do finally hear that there's going to be an 'Invincible' cartoon or 'Invincible' movie or 'Invincible' lunchbox, it's actually going to happen. So, you know. Maybe someday."
One of the more interesting questions came from a fan asking about the father/son dynamic between Invincible and his father, Omni-Man. "A lot of it come from my relationship with my father, even though my father's not evil and didn't try to kill me," answered Kirkman. "So, some of the better aspects of it -- I'm very friendly with my father, so a lot of the friendly nature between Nolan and Mark kind of touched on the relationship with my dad. I guess moving forward in the series, some of it will come from my relationship with my son. That's kind of a cool evolution, to have a child of your own during the life of the series so that there's a different thing informing you. I'm just making stuff up. That's what writing is, so a lot of that stuff is just, 'This would be neat.'"
As the questions continued, the slideshow finally got into order. Kirkman answered a quick question about his weapon of the choice to fight in the zombie apocalypse with. "I don't wanna sound like I would be in any way effective with that weapon," he said. "A weapon of choice? Someone else to fight for me."
Asked about continuing his series "The Astounding Wolf-Man," Kirkman replied, "I would like to do that sometime. I didn't put that Dracula scene at the end of the issue just for fun. I would like to eventually get back to that series. I think a miniseries, like 'The Astounding Wolf-Man vs Dracula!' That would be funny, right? We'll see."
The last question before the slideshow finally began involved whether the filming process of the "Walking Dead" television show has inspired Kirkman when it comes to the book. "That's actually a really good segue to the slideshow. A little bit of the writing process has kind of crept in to things that I want to do for comics."
The slideshow booted up at this point, and Kirkman began speaking about his upcoming Image comic "Thief of Thieves," co-written with "Morning Glories" writer Nick Spencer, and how working with AMC has informed this partnership. "I've been working in the writers' room this season. It's been a lot of fun working in the 'Walking Dead' writers' room. Writing for television is different from writing for comics in that when I write for comics, I just go, 'It would be really great if we cut Rick's hand off,' and then four or five issues later, I'm writing these scenes where Rick's using a can opener. I have to rethink all of that.
"In television, you say 'I want to cut Rick's hand off," and then you spend a total of 29 hours over the course of 3 days discussing all the ramifications of that and all the stories that would bring. On this 'Thief of Thieves' series, I've created the book and I've brought in Nick Spencer, who's been working with me. I've plotted a course for the series, and then we go back and forth talking about what's going on."
Kirkman said Spencer will be the first of many different writers to do stories on "Thief of Thieves." "We're gonna have different writers for different story arcs, but we're all going to be working together as a group plotting the whole series out, so it's going to be really cool." The book will be drawn by Sean Martinborough and debuts in February of 2012.
Another ongoing Skybound series from Kirkman and Rob Liefeld, "The Infinite," debuts August 3 and was available from the Skybound booth at CCI in a special hardcover edition. "It's a cool science-fiction, time travel, action-adventure romp. It's gonna have all kinds of cool character drama and emotional stuff like 'The Walking Dead,' but we're gonna have all kinds of pouches and kneepads and big swords and giant guns."
The now-familiar "Invincible" teaser was next up on the docket, with Kirkman only teasing a few tidbits through images of somebody else in the Invincible costume and Mark Grayson in front of arch villain Dinosaurus. "There are changes afoot. It certainly seems like Invincible is with Dinosaurus -- there's a lot of weird stuff going on in this book." Kirkman implied that the new direction would either be launching in very early January 2012 or December 2011. He also said that he plans on getting Invincible back on schedule by the end of the year, and to that end, original series artist Cory Walker will be filling in on Issues #85 and #86.
Kirkman's newest hit, "Super Dinosaur" was next, with the announcement of a trade paperback dropping in November collecting Issues #1-5 and the 0 issue. "The book has done way better than I ever thought it would. We're really having a great time doing it. It's everything that Jason Howard and I absolutely love doing. We both have young kids now, so we're always talking about ridiculous things that we can do in this book and different robot suits that they can wear. It's just been a lot of fun doing the book. I will say there's a lot of cool drama and twists and turns coming up in the issues."
Kirkman did spoil one future development in the series, which involves giant robots. "In issue 5, we've got Derek Dynamo in his robot suit and Super Dinosaur in a bigger version of his harness, like a robot suit, and they're fighting a five-story tall velociraptor. At a certain point in the issue, those two suits come together to form a bigger robot."
One of the more exciting announcements from Kirkman was a new joint project between himself and Charlie Adlard. "It's a series of original hardcover graphic novels that are going to be in the French format, so it'll be like big French albums. They're running about 56 pages." Kirkman and Charlie Adlard have created a slew of self-contained original story spanning a number of different genres. "It could be a story about ducks in a bathtub, I have no idea." Kirkman predicted that the first of the new project, a science fiction story called "The Passenger," would hit in March or April 2012, with a new one releasing every one or two years.
"The Walking Dead" closed out the announcement and teaser slate, beginning with shot of a forlorn Andrea holding Dale's hat. ("Andrea, still upset over Dale," said Kirkman. "What are you gonna do?") The newest storyline in "The Walking Dead," "A Larger World," deals with the survivors attempting to creating a new civilization in the zombie-filled world. "This is something we've been working toward in the book since the very beginning -- how do you establish civilization?" said Kirkman. "Now, it's gotten to the point where it's actually getting kind of real. They're going to find other communities and start interacting with them. It's going to be a really cool evolution for the book."
With the announcements done, Kirkman turned the lights back up and took it back to Q&A, beginning with a question on how he plans on keeping "The Walking Dead" fresh in a world of zombie movies, TV and books.
"I try to make it good, that's an important thing," he said. "I also don't immerse myself in that world very much. I'll go see the cool new zombie movie, but it's not like I'm reading every single thing about zombies that's coming out. I actively avoid Max Brooks' work because I don't want to be inspired by it, because hear it's really amazing.
"'The Walking Dead' is only marginally a zombie story, it's really about the characters," he continued. "So, as long as people are interested in people hurting other people, I'll be fine."
Another question came up regarding the high mortality rate of his characters, leaving Kirkman to speak on the reasoning for killing a character from a writing perspective. "I will say that I try not to think about it. That's really the main thing. If you consider it too much and you mull it over, you're always going to talk yourself out of it," he said. "You get invested in these characters, like the readers hopefully do. If you're the one sitting there going, 'Oh, well I really like this guy, I can't kill him,' your stories start to suck. When I get to the point where the stories are such that the story would be more interesting if that character dies in that story, I just kind of do it."
Kirkman specifically referenced Tyrese from "The Walking Dead," saying, "I like that guy a lot. I had fun writing him and I had other stories for him. That's another thing that's important, I don't want to kill people when I run out of stories from them, because then it's like using up their value completely and killing them when it's convenient."
One fan asked about why Kirkman didn't have more merchandise for his products like "Walking Dead Tampons" or "Invincible Loofahs."
"I try to live my life by a few rules -- don't kill people, don't steal -- but one of those things is don't get greedy and don't be an asshole. It keeps me from doing stupid stuff," he said. "I got contacted by a company who wanted to do 'Walking Dead' perfume. It's not 'Walking Dead' tampons, but it's for girls and I hate girls -- just kidding!"
After the laughter died down, Kirkman continued, saying, "I just thought it was kind of dumb. I just said no. There's no amount of money that would get me to do 'Walking Dead' perfume. I just care about groceries. I don't need, like, a solid gold goat in my backyard."
Questions continued, with Kirkman speaking a bit about "The Walking Dead" video game. "We're doing a video game with TellTale Games that is coming out in October I believe. It's much more story oriented than action oriented, which I think is really cool. It's going to be releasing in chapters starting in October."
As the panel wound down, a fan asked specifically about "Invincible" characters Monster Girl and Robot, who have been spirited away to the Flaxxan dimension in "Guarding the Globe." Kirkman was able to confirm one thing: "Spoiler alert: They're coming back, and soon," said Kirkman. "They're some of my favorite characters, and we're going to be doing a lot with them. They come back from the Flaxxan dimension much different than we last saw them, and that's going to be cool."
Wrapping the panel, Kirkman gave a quick answer involving his seeming ability to produce any of his ideas as a comic. "I honestly believe there are a lot of people that can do that and they're not, because they're scared," he said. "I don't want to sound like I'm calling anybody out, but I feel like there are a lot of people who are just timid. And I can completely understand why they're timid, because I have kids and a mortgage and health insurance and all that kind of stuff and I know that there's a certain level of stability. I can do whatever I want now, but I'm not 100% sure that I will have 'The Walking Dead' and other things being as successful as they are in 10 years, so there is that element of insecurity. You just have to believe in yourself, if I could sound lame. I think there's a lot of creators out there who could be just doing what they want to be doing and having the best time of their life. I have to say, I'm having more fun working in comics than I have ever had. It's the best living ever."