Robert Kirkman has been writing hit comic series for what seems like forever. From his offbeat Marvel Zombies to his hugely successful The Walking Dead he’s created many worlds toying with horror, science fiction, and superheroes. Now for something different.
Kirkman sat down with AiPT! and other members of the press yesterday to talk about his upcoming series Oblivion Song. Out this March from Image Comics, it explores a possible future where an entire chunk of Philadelphia is zapped to another dimension. The protagonist has been making inter-dimensional trips to save as many of the trapped 300,000 civilians as possible.
After reading the first issue I can say without a doubt Kirkman has something really special and that’s in large part due to artist Lorenzo De Felici and colorist Annalisa Leoni’s work. Teaming up with De Felici in a lot of ways was a perfect match for this series, as Kirkman said about De Felici, “I had no idea that his family were biologists and that he actually had a background.” That was a valuable asset not only because De Felici could call on his knowledge of how animals work, but also environments. “It seemed his art would really allow him to thrive on this book.”
When asked how his work in TV has influenced him, Kirkman responded he tries to ignore that. “It’s not like, me sitting around with artists coming up with you know, oh my gosh how do we do something that could easily translate into a very cool movie or television show.” First and foremost Kirkman said he’s a comic book writer and when it comes down to it the story needs to be something he will enjoy. Like The Walking Dead Kirkman said the fun will be going on for some time. “I plan to have it go for a number of years. We will be seeing more aspects of the world as we get deeper into the story and paint a wider and wider picture of what the situation actually is.”
While Kirkman has technically written science fiction with Invincible this is his first pure sci-fi series without superheroes. When asked what makes good science fiction, Kirkman said, “The hallmark of great science fiction is science fiction doesn’t alienate and actually kind of accentuates the human story.” Oblivion Song has some wild concepts like teleportation (and alternate dimension monsters) but above all else, “We look at it very realistically and that the characters have very real reactions to it all.”
Kirkman also revealed this comic has been in the works for some time and a good chunk of the issues are already written. That comes with some perks, like being able to improve things throughout the series. “I’m able to sit back and look at a year’s worth of Oblivion’s on issues that are completed and then decide, Oh this story aspect from issue four, I can use that in the marketing and oh I can take this art from issue six and use that here and it’s given us at Skybound an extreme amount of leeway in how we do the book.” Kirkman pointed out that he learned this from working on TV since most shows finish filming long before commercials are even airing. “If anything I’ve just learned that you know taking your time with a project and not rushing it to market is a winning formula to a certain extent.”
A lot more was said in the call, but it was quite clear Kirkman is pumped to get this in readers hands. Read below to see Kirkman’s answers to my questions where he goes into detail about a new relationship dynamic he’s focusing on, creating creatures from the ground up, and more!
AiPT!: There’s a relationship between two brothers in this comic and I was wondering was there a reason why you used this relationship dynamic?
Robert Kirkman: Yeah I mean you know both Walking Dead and Invincible and Outcast have pretty strong father son dynamics and I was like, “You know I need to change the game. I’m in a bit of a rut but, but no, I mean I don’t know.” I think that the relationship between two brothers is a very strong bond that I thought would be a, you know, interesting thing to explore in a science fiction story. I think that you know anyone who has a brother knows there are a lot of unique aspects to that relationship. I have a younger brother and there’s a lot of dynamics there that don’t really exist in any other relationships that I have. And so it seemed like a good area that you know, would yield a lot of cool story potential.
AiPT!: There’s a memorial scene in the first issue and I’m curious is there any significance to the names on the memorial?
RK: Those names are extremely significant in that Lorenzo found them in a phone book somewhere, I think. [laughs] There are so many names. I did debate on that scene quite a bit because I was like, “You know I could definitely hide some stuff that would be kind of cool.” This monument is a significant part of the story and it’ll be coming back into play a lot as the series progresses.
AiPT!: When you approach building this whole new world do you lift out creatures like, “Look okay we need a couple flying creatures we need a couple four-legged creatures, two-legged creatures.” Are you approaching it in any certain way or is Lorenzo going completely on his own in that regard?
RK: Well to a certain extent it’s been somewhat organic in that when I write the scenes I will call for different kinds of animals and give them different descriptions, size, a kind of an analog function on how they would relate to some kind of Earth animal that we both know. We talked out some initial designs and how I wanted creatures to look and, you know, I didn’t want them to be furry. [Laughs] I wanted them to be a bit gross and sickly looking.
Once we kind of established a general look then it’s just kind of a case-by-case basis as I write things I’ll just go, “I don’t know it’s like a cheetah.” And Lorenzo will be like, “Okay alien cheetah. Here you go.”
Over the course of the many issues that we’ve produced we’ve actually kind of cataloged and started naming the various animals so that we can reuse them. So I think we’ve gotten to a point where we’ve got like maybe 20 or 30 unique different animals. It got to be a little confusing when I’m writing issue eleven and I’m like, “You know, like that one thing thats kind of like a rat but it wasn’t like this butterfly thing.” So now we’re doing that. We’ve gone through the process of actually cataloging them, which is a lot of fun.
AiPT!: I understand you’ve been working on the series for over a year now. What was the hardest thing about that and what was the easiest?
RK: I guess the hardest thing was you know not showing anyone. Keeping the secret. [laughs] I mean that’s very difficult in this day and age. I mean luckily the artist was in Italy so you know it’s not like there was a huge artist in American comics that just suddenly wasn’t producing work and everyone on Twitter was like, “What are you doing what are you doing what are you doing?” I mean that was tough just keeping the lid on things.
But I think the thing that has been really great about it is you know when you have a number of issues done you can actually sit back and read the entire run and go “Oh why don’t we add two pages to this issue and move these two pages over here.” And there’s a tremendous amount of polishing that I’ve never been able to do on a comic book series before and so you know there’s a few pages in issue one that were added after issue nine was completed because I read through the series and was like, “Oh it’d be really nice if this scene went here and if this happened there and then I set this up…” And so I think its made for a much better comic.
AiPT!: There’s a lot of interesting use of color in the book like sickly green and a lot of purple. As a writer do you ever think about that or note in the script what color you want to use?
RK: You know I do a very good job of thinking about hiring a good colorist. [laughs] So you know I think colorists are very important to the art form of comics. After bringing on somebody as talented as Annalisa Leoni you really just allow them to do what they do. She worked very closely with Lorenzo. They’re both Italian and they live very near each other. They have to work hand in hand to kind of craft this world. It’s interesting Lorenzo was actually a colorist on his own and usually colors his work. But doing American comics on a monthly basis made that impossible and so he’s able to step back and work with a colorist which he’s enjoying and having a lot of fun to see how someone else interprets his line work. He works very closely with Analisa on the coloring before I even see the coloring. So they’ve gone back and forth on hundreds of notes, I’m sure, to get everything perfect before they even show anything to me.
AiPT!: Do you have a very clear defined border as far as where the 300,000 people were taken and the big chunk of the city of Philadelphia that was removed?
RK: You know I think Lorenzo has that somewhere because you know there’s a specific bridge and there are some fairly specific buildings as far as you know what exact parts of Philadelphia were sent over. So I mean yeah it is a fairly you know clearly defined space. At some point we might release a map or something so that people that are actually in Philadelphia can find out if they would have ended up in another dimension or not because that is kind of fun.
AiPT!: Makes you think about where the local sites are on the other side.
RK: Yeah, definitely. I mean yeah I mean I’m always reluctant to nail that kind of stuff down because if I want to write a scene at the Liberty Bell at some point then if I’ve already defined that the Liberty Bell is in the other dimension it’s like crap can’t do that. So sometimes I want it fast and loose for those reasons. But we’ll probably nail this down.
AiPT!: Is it possible that 300,000 people were lost because the Eagles won the Super Bowl?
RK: [laughs] Yes I think there were probably some people in Philadelphia last night that wish they could be transported to another dimension. But it is fun to be talking about a book that takes place in Philadelphia after something like that. I don’t think it was because of the Super Bowl thing.
The order cutoff for Oblivion Song #1 is February 12. Find it in comic shops March 7th or preorder it from Amazon digitally.