Next Generation Storytelling Chops Make Robert Kirkman One to Watch

Next Generation Storytelling Chops Make Robert Kirkman One to Watch
At the age of 26, Robert Kirkman is one of the youngest new comic writers to hit the scene. Despite no formal training in the art of writing, he's creating believable characters and interesting situations in a variety of books like family/superpowers tale Invincible and comic zombie title The Walking Dead. He's currently writing more than a couple of books a month — both for independent publisher Image and for industry juggernaut Marvel — delivering them on time, and balancing the differences in the two publishers' approaches.

"I always wanted to do comics," Kirkman says, "ever since I read the credits in a book and realised ‘wait a minute, people get paid to do this?' I originally wanted to be an artist, but I was much better at writing and I thrive on doing many things at once. Drawing is more of a one-thing-at-a-time thing."

Growing up, his major comic influences were the big names of then-small publishing company Image Comics. "I'm a '90s kid," he says. "All the Image guys were responsible for my reading material: Eric Larson (Savage Dragon), Todd McFarlane (Spawn) and Rob Liefeld (Youngblood) especially. I eventually went back [to classics by the likes of Alan Moore and Frank Miller], but my start was with the Image guys."

It's no surprise that Kirkman publishes his own work through the company whose books he grew up reading. Kirkman's early comic influences can be seen in his work and although he credits many of them for his start in comics, Eric Larson's Savage Dragon made the biggest impression on him. "I remember working at a comic shop during my later high school years practically forcing customers to buy that book because I loved it so much," Kirkman admits.

The influence is evident in one of Kirkman's Image titles, Invincible. It follows high schooler Mark Grayson, whose father is the world's greatest superhero, Omni-Man. Mark begins to develop his father's powers and has to learn how to deal with the strain of being a superhero and finishing his homework on time; add to it a crappy part time job that he would love to quit but can't because his father thinks it will build character. Invincible is quickly finding a devoted audience who appreciate the quirky humour and inside jokes with which Kirkman peppers his stories.

In addition to the creator-positive independence Kirkman enjoys at Image, he's also done a chunk of recent work for more controlling bosses at Marvel; he's careful when comparing the atmosphere between the two. "They both have their upsides and downsides, and I enjoy them both equally. I like Image for the freedom, but it's a hell of a lot of work to manage and basically be the editor on the books I do there. With Marvel, I'm as involved as I want to be, which in most cases is a lot, but it's nice to know that if I really wanted to, I could just turn in a script and move on. It's nice to know that there are qualified and dedicated people looking over your shoulder. I enjoy the safety net. With Marvel, I feel like if I do anything too stupid or crazy, someone will tell me. So I go all out. At Image, I can fall flat on my face and it'll be all my fault. But I can do anything in my Image books and that gives me the freedom to really explore the characters."

One Image title that illustrates this point is Kirkman's The Walking Dead. A huge fan of zombie movies, he imagines a world in which the zombies are real and the remaining people have to fight to survive. But underlying the comic horror are deeper, human issues about moral responsibility and its repercussions. Despite the people-munching, Kirkman insists this book isn't just about people being eaten by zombies. "I don't want to do a book about people in danger being scared and getting attacked all the time. I want to see human drama and character development. I'm trying to write a book that I would like to read, which is what I do with all my books."

Character development is crucial to good storytelling no matter the medium. Despite his youth, Kirkman has developed a knack for telling timely, fascinating stories populated by complex, flawed characters. People can only read so much superhero stuff before their brains begin to cry out for more substantial comic stimulation. Kirkman has heard your cries for better characters, funnier stories and inside potty references and has answered with a plethora of different titles to choose from. Go read some.

Comic Icon Will Eisner: 1917-2005
It chronicling the evolution of the comics industry, Will Eisner's name comes up the most. He was among the first to use the comic medium as a platform to discuss social issues, but it was his desire to tell complex, serialised stories that resulted in his greatest contribution, an invention that changed the industry and the form of comic storytelling: the graphic novel.

He first gained attention, starting in the late 1930s, for his work on The Spirit, a comic strip that pushed boundaries years before anyone came close to surpassing his innovative efforts. Another early title that reflected his desire to chronicle an adult world was The Dreamer, which followed the journey of a young man (a stand-in for Eisner himself) who struggles to achieve his dreams of becoming a comic artist. Its biographical form was a mere stepping stone to a history lesson about the evolution of comics and how the industry has adapted to social change.

In 1978, Eisner published one of his greatest works, and forever changed the industry. A Contract With God, four sequential stories set in Eisner's childhood world — a Jewish neighbourhood in Depression-era Brooklyn — were published as a novel-length book. Its success further legitimised the form as one that not only wasn't for children, but rivalled any form of American literature.

There is perhaps no greater tribute to Will Eisner's legacy than the fact that the comic industry's highest profile awards, the Eisners, bear his name. On January 3, Will Eisner died of complications from heart surgery. He was 87.