Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead comic books and executive producer of Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics, discusses why comics dominate pop culture, what Image Comics means to both him and the industry, and why he never wants to stop writing comic books.
Q: Why did you want to make this show?
A: I think it’s hard to deny that comics, as an industry, are driving pop culture in almost every aspect at this point. There’s no end of movies or television shows that are based on this subject matter. It’s unfortunate that more people don’t know the people behind it, or the stories of the people behind it and their struggles along the way, and just how interesting these behind-the-scenes stories actually are. To be able to take something so important to the world as a whole and that touches so many people’s lives whether they realize it or not, and explore the stories behind the stories is a great opportunity.
Q: As someone who has worked in comics for so long, were there any of these stories that you’d never heard? Which one surprised you most?
A: Most aspects of these stories are things I’m aware of, but in each episode, there were always one or two tidbits we would discover in the research or would come through in interviews that always took me off-guard and were things I wasn’t quite aware of. I’m pretty well-versed in this world and to know that someone entrenched in this industry as I am could get something out of the episodes and learn something made me confident that this could appeal to all kinds of people. I think the most surprising thing was we discovered a radio interview with Jack Kirby where Stan Lee called in and they had an argument on-air. I had never heard that recording and didn’t even know it existed. That was shocking.
Q: Several of the episodes highlight the tensions between collaborators through the years. Do you think there is something unique about comics that creates those tensions?
A: Anyone who’s ever seen Behind the Music or any documentary about the production of a movie or the behind-the scenes workings of any television show [know that] creative industries always seem to lead to these kinds of clashes. I definitely don’t think it’s something unique to the comic industry. It’s everywhere and it’s interesting to know that everyone is aware of how rock bands can fight, directors and argue with actors, executives can argue with writers…to see that it’s present in the comic industry as well is interesting.
Q: You’re obviously featured heavily in the documentary about Image Comics. How would you describe the impact that company had on the industry?
A: Image Comics is an event that really changed the industry in ways that people don’t even realize. You can look at a comic published in 1991 and a comic published in 1993 and even the ones that weren’t published at Image start to look different. You had seven guys that were kind of driving what it was that comics were and had them break off on their own and pull the industry along with them. By putting creatives at the helm, that led to better paper quality, better coloring and better treatment of creators across all companies. It really changed the landscape in ways that are still benefiting comic book creators now whether they realize it or not. I think it’s one of the most important events in the history of comics. It’s getting harder and harder to dispute that as time goes on and we see the influence of these guys continue.
Q: It also had a huge impact on your career specifically. What does Image mean to you personally? Do you still find it hard to believe you are now a partner with them?
A: It’s a pretty strange and alarming thing. It’s not something I’ll ever get used to. It’s weird to have a company that exists that I was a fan of from the very beginning and then have it drive my career in directions I never thought possible. And then to also be a part of the company and have a hand in paying it forward and doing things for the creative community, it’s been an amazing experience.
Q: How do you feel that you helped facilitate Rob Liefeld’s return to the company? Did you view it as returning the favors he had done for you?
A: I like to think I would have done that because it was the right thing to do and not necessarily because he had helped me out. As far as repaying Rob or what any of these guys have done for me, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely make things even because of how life-changing their influence on me has been. Anytime I’m in a position to do anything for any of these guys, I’m going to step up.
Q: The Walking Dead brought you to TV, yet you still are very active in comics. What itch does comic writing scratch that you just can’t let go of?
A: I grew up wanting to be a comic book writer. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a TV writer or movie writer. I’ve always wanted to do this. While I’m very thankful for my opportunity to work in film and television, and I do enjoy it a great deal and find it extremely rewarding, comics are my first love and my main passion. I don’t foresee a time where I’m not working regularly in comics alongside the other things I do. It’s a medium that speaks to me on a very deep level. It’s something I absolutely love and adore. It’s a great way to tell stories. The freedom that it gives me is unparalleled. I just absolutely love it.
Q: Comics are as big as ever and basically dominate pop culture. Do you see a ceiling on how far the industry can grow?
A: I think it’s just going to keep going. I don’t think there’s any end in sight because comics are not a genre in and of themselves. It’s a medium and an art form. I think Hollywood and television and movies at large discovered this treasure trove, this “other” stream of creativity that exists completely unimpeded by budget or any other things that can hold back creativity. It’s a wealth of stories that are never ending. As this industry continues to grow and people continue to break new ground and tell new stories, it’s always going to be the engine that drives pop culture. I don’t think there’s any going back from that.
Read a Q&A with Todd McFarlane, one of the co-founders of Image Comics.Read More