Monday, Image Comics spent the start of New York Comic Con week rolling out a series of cryptic teasers whose word-by-word revelation added up to one idea: a new horror comic from "The Walking Dead" writer Robert Kirkman and artist Paul Azaceta -- the project that was announced this past March to already be in development as a TV series.
The team-up will be only the latest new launch from Kirkman's Skybound imprint at the creator-owned powerhouse, and it represents the first collaboration between the writer and Azaceta who's made his name on a variety of series at Image ("Grounded" and "Graveyard of Empires"), BOOM! Studios ("Unthinkable" and "Potter's Field"), Marvel ("Daredevil"), Dark Horse ("B.P.R.D." and "Conan") and elsewhere.
To unleash the full details on the project, Image hosted a press call with Kirkman, and CBR News was on hand as "Outcast" was unveiled to the world.
"I've been working in TV for a while, but I still love comics, and it's still my main focus," Kirkman said at the top of call for what he said was "Outcast" – his first monthly horror series since launching "Walking Dead." He said that the book is a riff on the exorism/demonic possession genre about "Kyle Barnes [who] has been plagued by demonic possessions his entire life, and he's decided that he's going to dive deeper into what's been occurring to him...and try to figure out what it is he's been experiencing." Along the way, he starts to realize that the things that have threatened him his whole life also threaten the entire world. "It's a big, epic story," Kirkman said.
The writer went on to say that the exorcism genre is "open to a dramatic, realistic interpretation" and in the same vein of his zombie epic can be a series of tropes which he can hang deeper character stories on. "We'll be injecting some new elements to that and doing some cool character work and really playing with the genre."
Comparisons to "The Walking Dead" kept up as the press asked the writer about the series, and while he said that there will be some shared DNA in how he approaches horror in general, but beyond the idea of a horror series with a cast who center on one man, there won't be too many crossover ideas. "It's going to be a big story – very epic – and we're going to meet a lot of characters along the way and probably lose a few of them. There probably won't be as much of a blood bath as 'Walking Dead'...but when you're doing an independent comic and can do whatever you want, it's fun to keep people guessing."
Kirkman also revealed that the series is already underway as a possible TV series with his partners at Fox International who handle "The Walking Dead" TV series in other countries. "I'm very excited about that side of things, but I will say this was only ever intended to be a comic book series," he said. "I certainly like that side of the business and love working in television, but it is something that like 'The Walking Dead' where I'm working on the comic book series and the TV show at the same time...but the two projects are kept separately in my head."
Pressed for more details on the story, the writer played coy as he often does about the plots of his stories."His mother was possessed when he was very young, and so it's something he's kind of grown up with," Kirkman said. "When we pick him up in this series, we'll see him at his lowest point where his life has spiraled out of control because of what's been happening to him." The character's outcast status at this point serves as the title of the series as well as the through line for how he'll discover more about the world of possession.
As for his artist's role in the series, the writer called Azaceta the perfect fit for this series. "His art is so moody and atmospheric...his general rendering style fits this concept perfectly," he said. Kirkman noted that he loved the idea that this would be Azaceta's first long-form project rather than a short arc. "This is the first time he's going to be investing in something for the long haul. It's always daunting for an artist to look that far ahead...but it's going to be cool seeing him grow and evolve and get more comfortable with this world as we go along." He compared that process to his other long-term collaborators like Charlie Adlard, Ryan Ottley and Jason Howard. "It changes an artist as they get more comfortable, and I think that's a fun process to witness."
The writer said that he's waited this long to return to the horror genre in a major way because he wanted an idea that he could push forward into new territory. He also rejects the idea that comics today are still dominated by superhero stories first and foremost. "Comics is adaptable to all kinds of storytelling," he said adding that horror works very well in the medium. "The thing about horror is not just the scares. It's the psychological storytelling that goes into that...I think getting emotionally invested in a character is something that comics does really well because the read is so much more in control of the story than in any other medium."
"Outcast" has been in development for almost two years, and so Kirkman is planning the story to a much more specific extent than the early days of his other ongoing series where he had to fly by the seat of his pants more as they established themselves in the marketplace. "This is the first time I've started a series where I have the end completely mapped out, which is new for me," he said, noting that he only has had vague ideas for an end for "The Walking Dead" while his superhero comic "Invincible" is totally open-ended. "While this is another long-running series – and the hope is that this will continue for years and years – it's fun to think that this has a definitive end down the road that we're heading to."
Image said that "Outcast" will launch in 2014 and promised more talk about the series and all of Kirkman's work at New York Comicon this weekend.