Practitioners 57: Robert Kirkman

It’s back!! Practitioners, our article featuring the people who made the comics industry is updated occasionally between issues of Moon. Practitioners Reloaded present the previous 1 – 53 (Simon BisleyChris Bachalo) for those who want to read more.

Born November 30th 1978 in Richmond, Kentucky, Robert Kirkman would be the only non-founding member of the third largest comic book company in the US and the creator of a black and white Zombie-fest that would be hailed as the ultimate in ‘independent’ comic books. The Walking Dead picked up on the global enthusiasm for Zombie stories and made it accessible in a way that saw it developed into a mainstream TV series.

Kirkman’s sense of identifying attention grabbing ideas is complemented by his capacity to carefully and enjoyably develop them, walking the line between enjoyment and engagement for the reader.

Kirkman’s first comic book work was the 2000 superhero parody Battle Pope, co-created with artist Tony Moore, and self published under their Funk-o-Tron label. This, perhaps, is the nature of indy publishing. A well presented, deliberately fringe creation never intended to find a place in the mainstream, that engages readers in a way the mainstream can’t and creates a viable alternative. The perfect synthesis between high (and funny) concept and professional execution (something now only too visible in British indy titles such as Lou Scannon, Stiffs and ahem… Moon).

Kirkman Battle Pope 03 - page 03-04

Later, while pitching a new series, Science Dog, Kirkman and artist Cory Walker, were hired to do a Super Patriot (of Savage Dragon fame) mini series for Image Comics. Not content simply on that, Kirkman developed the 2002 Image Series Tech Jacket, which ran for six issues, with E.J. Su. In 2003, Kirkman and Walker created Invincible for Image’s new superhero line. Again, the story lines were acutely mirroring the work being produced on Marvel’s Ultimate line. Invincible, following the adolescent son of a superhero, who develops his own powers and attempts to start his own superhero career. Kirkman’s genius is an extension of Stan Lee’s some 50 years previous. It hinges on the normalisation of the super, bringing it down to the earth without an overly revealing bump.

Kirkman Invincable

Invincible was one of the titles that made the US comic industry a 3 company, rather than a 2 company one. In 2005, Paramount Pictures announced it had bought the rights to produce an Invincible feature film, and hired Kirkman to write the screenplay. Still nowhere to be seen, most likely the success of Walking Dead has put this particular project on the back seat for the time being.

Walking Dead Kirkman

In 2003, Kirkman began his most well-known and mainstream title, The Walking Dead. It represented an unusual change in the already popular gamut of zombie material that has dominated popular culture for the last ten years. Whereas all previous appearances of the Undead had been one-offs (aside from occasional cameos in George A. Romero’s increasingly marginal series of zombie films) this was an ongoing series, with an ongoing cast and an ongoing threat. The expected result of any Zombie film is that all parties will be decimated by the final reel, the relevance of the plot being the journey those characters took in the face of an unending threat, but Kirkman’s series would cause the threat to be unending. There is no indication as to how the series might end as there is no intention for it to, only that, by Kirkman’s own volition, any character is fair game and can be killed at any time. Even the central character, County Sheriff Rick Grimes, has been given a mortality extending only as far as the reader’s interest. It’s ongoing nature has allowed ideas to be developed in ways that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. The depiction of a ‘herd’, a force of nature generated by a world populated by Zombies, in which wandering Undead intersect their ongoing paths, the rudimentary stimulus of the physical world causing them to travel in large groups, like a tide being forced through a river. Add this to the effect of a gun shot or explosion to draw the undead from a wide area and the actions of civilians in future Zombie stories will have been changed by this series.

The format also allowed the events taking place to breathe in a way that other Zombie stories couldn’t allow. Whereas convenient environments are found near-fully formed in films such as Dawn of the Dead, with access to food, water, protection, power – in Kirkman’s world, every viable haven is deficient, solutions having to be found in order to make it safe or sustainable. There is interest in this angle and Kirkman’s new format gives this subject room to be investigated. The flaw in the format however, becomes increasingly clear the longer the series runs. Kirkman has applied the rules of the Undead pretty strictly, although augmented. Those being the discovery of a world in which the Undead have taken over, the discovery of the hopelessness of the situation, the loss of society and resources, the loss of family and friends, the discovery of an enclosed haven, the failure of humanity to maintain it, the realisation that humans are the deadliest species. The difficulty with this is that the same plot has effectively been repeated several times, the inevitable breakdown of the walls around the main characters through their own actions becoming obvious and the threat of the Undead increasingly diminished as the characters and societies have to be more established in order to have survived this long. The title has slowly become a doctrine of post apocalyptic politics as the human race gains a grip on a dead world. Whether this was Kirkman’s intention is uncertain but the title remains engaging, even beyond it’s original remit and has always been written by Kirkman.

Kirkman Walking Dead Headless Dead

This, accompanied with a number of other projects in the same period, hired by Marvel Comics to reintroduce it’s ’90s series, Sleepwalker, sadly cancelled before being published and the contents of issue 1 included in Epic Anthology No.1 in 2004. As the Avengers became increasingly ‘Disassembled’, in Marvel’s dismantling and reboot of the central title, Kirkman was given control of Captain America (vol 4), Marvel Knight’s 2099 one-shots event, Jubilee #1–6 and Fantastic Four: Foes #1–6, a two-year run on Ultimate X-Men and the entire Marvel Team-Up vol. 3 and the Irredeemable Ant-Man miniseries.

At Image, Kirkman and artist Jason Howard created the ongoing series The Astounding Wolf-Man, launching it on May 5, 2007, as part of Free Comic Book Day. Kirkman edited the monthly series Brit, based on the character he created for the series of one-shots, illustrated by Moore and Cliff Rathburn. It ran 12 issues.

Kirkman announced in 2007 that he and artist Rob Liefeld would team on a revival of Killraven for Marvel Comics. Kirkman that year also said he and Todd McFarlane would collaborate on Haunt for Image Comics.

In late July 2008, Kirkman was made a partner at Image Comics, thereby ending his freelance association with Marvel. Nonetheless, later in 2009, he and Walker produced the five-issue miniseries The Destroyer vol. 4 for Marvel’s MAX imprint. It’s unsurprising that Kirkman wanted to continue his association with Marvel, given that he named his son Peter Parker Kirkman, after one of Marvel’s most central heroes.

Walking Dead TV

In 2010, in a fanfare to the success of Walking Dead as a comic book series, AMC began it’s production of the still-ongoing Walking Dead TV Series which has become a mainstay of Sunday night viewing and has brought the original story of Rick Grimes, Lori and his son to a new and much wider audience. This has revealed the capacity for even relatively new books and concepts to find their place in wider media in an industry dominated by titles developed in some case, for more than half a century.

A surprising number of artists have failed to remain working alongside Kirkman, Cory Walker being replaced by Ryan Ottley on Invincible and Tony Moore replaced by Charlie Adlard after 6 issues of Walking Dead. While there is an innate tolerance in modern comic books on precise deadlines (mostly driven by Image and Dark Horse’s independent beginnings) this stands out with Kirkman’s almost solitary retention on the Walking Dead TV series senior team, with some extremely noteworthy walk outs (Frank Darabont the most noteworthy perhaps). These things are always subject to more politics than is publicly visible and are no doubt subject to a great many different pressures, however Kirkman is often the last man standing. This durability and sustainability perhaps the reason he has found himself in such a senior position in Image itself. However, this is open to a great deal of rumour and conjecture and is inevitable when someone such as Kirkman has risen alongside such long standing names of comic, film and TV.

Regardless of what the future holds for Robert Kirkman, he is made an indelible mark on the face of modern comics. He has moved the focus away from super hero comics, even challenging longer established characters and titles in wider fields. He has taken his place among comic book legends to run the third largest comic book company in the world, while still maintaining his own titles. Kirkman should be an inspirational figure to those in independent comics below him and an example of what careful and considered ideas, well developed can achieve.

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BTB Awards: Best TV Show

We’ll admit we don’t watch much TV at Beyond the Bunker (we tend to catch this stuff on DVD – which this year would’ve led to reviews of Firefly and Battlestar Galatica) but we’ll try to make sure we keep up next year as best we can. Or review DVDs we’ve seen. Or get rid of it completely. Never-the-less here’s an attempt at the Best series of the year awards 2011 based on the buzz and our own personal choices.

Denied Winner – Game of Thrones (Season 1)

According to popular buzz surrounding HBO’s blood and thunder epic Game of Thrones, featuring LOTR’s Sean Bean, Conan’s Jason Momoa and Tesco’s ad’s Mark Addy in various roles we know nothing about, it’s an absolute corker and the best thing out this year. However, because of delays in releasing the DVD – causing online bloggers all over the web to declare that they’ve been left with no choice but to pirate it to get their fix in spite of wanting to support their favourite TV programme – we haven’t seen it. But we hope to. Oh yeah.

Based on George R.R. Martin’s epic series of novels the series has an enormous following and from what we’ve heard – rightfully so. As seven families fight to control the mythical land of Westeros, political and sexual intrigue is pervasive. In all of this chaos, clear and entertaining characters are struggling to gain increasing amounts of power – through savagery, skullduggery and sexual manipulation. Sounds great.

Winner – Sherlock (Season 1)

In spite of the fact that the decision by the BBC to produce a modern day turn for the world’s most famous detective, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as the titular detective and his now unwilling partner, Watson generated some concern regarding the dumbing down of a British classic, Sherlock proved to be one of the best series released in recent years for a number of reasons.

It proved itself so slick, challenging and interesting that even die hard fans of the original Sherlock were brought on board. Initially, a three episode series, Cumberbatch’s depiction of an ostrasised and maligned genius detective being followed by a beleagured and bemused hobbled war veteran turned journalist through his first set of cases wooed audiences and made Cumberbatch a household name, previously restricted to period costume and theatre performances that while no doubt engaging failed to reach so wide an audience.

Combining assured and intelligent scriptwriting by Dr Who and (in one one case) League of Gentlemen scribes Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss, BBC’s primetime production values and an award baiting turn from relative unknown Andrew Scott as Sherlock’s new found nemesis Moriarty – the game is very much afoot for Series 2.

With Season 2 starting on New Years Day on BBC1, now would be a good time to familiarise yourself with the return of the great detective in this assured, intelligent and gripping series.

Best Current Series – Walking Dead (Season 2)

Frank Darabont’s translation of Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead serialisation has been happily consistent with it’s source material. The bravery of focussing on the assembled survivors allows such a series to be created but the sense of scale that is realised – particularly in the devastation of Atlanta in the opening episode of Season 1 – gave the feel of the piece a much bigger scale than most American series. This was continued in Season 2 from the very first episode, featuring a debilitatingly tense scene involving ‘a herd’ and a plot point unexpectedly introduced from further through the comic book series.

It is a careful adaptation, using large swathes of detail from the original series – both following Sheriff Rick Grimes, his wife, child, best friend and a host of disparate survivors through a world now overrun by Zombies. But it darts and diverts from the original, allowing any devotees of the books guessing as to what is happening next an excellent and original experience. Developing its own storylines it remains rewarding both when it diverges from and converges on moments from the popular series.

The effects work is fantastic, easily on par – or beyond – work previously seen in various Zombie Movies. The presence of the Zombies is never lost, keeping tension in scenes where otherwise there may be none. This is also fuelled by the camerwork as the stark cinematography is deliberately sparse and simple, constantly making the viewer aware that empty space has the possibility of being occupied but most poignantly emphasising the isolation the central figures have found themselves in.

Effectively a survivors epic it has the added joy of the wandering undead to liven things up should the action become too leaden as it can at times in other long running series. Season 1 was only 6 Episodes long but with season 2 considerably longer it will allow central characters to develop in a way that will make the inevitable loss of them even more effective.

Epic scale narrowed to engaging character plots and the possibility of Zombies at every corner. The promise of this series based on events in the original books is potentially phenomenal and this series has to be seen.

Best Non-geek Series – Fresh Meat (Series 1)

The series follows a group of six students about to embark on the most exciting period of their lives thus far University (yawn, right?)! Away from home for the first time, on the brink of adult life, they are about to discover who they really are. From the moment they ship up as freshers at their shared house, their lives are destined to collide, overlap and run the whole gamut of appalling behaviour and terrible errors of judgement.

Sounds like every coming-of-age college series there is but this one proves itself different. The assembled characters move well out of their archetypal characteristics like students at their first university stand-up gig. Where similar series have relied on stereotypes and presumed reactions to arriving at university this one takes each individual and offers them realistic and familiar situations which they deal with in the way anyone else would. Quite badly.

The expected central figure Kingsley (Inbetweeners Joe Thomas) is sidelined pretty swiftly to share room with all his fellow housemates, in spite of a fantastic central plot involving a burdgeoning mutual attraction to fellow housemate Josie (Kimberley Nixon) which somehow always ends with them discovering the other has slept with someone else – sometimes hilariously audibly through their shared partition wall (while drunkenly arguing with each other at one point). Add to that the socially awkward Howard (Greg McHugh) who is pursued by a borderline psychotic classmate he developed a brief friendship with, straight talking hard-living Vod (the incredible Zawe Ashton) and Oregon (Charlotte Richie), desperate to be cool and terrified of being boring and you have a great mix.

But bizarrely, it’s Jack Whitehall’s character JP that walks away with the crown. A public school boy with an over inflated sense of entitlement, Whitehall manages to instill enough humanity into the prat that you do understand why the rest put up with him.

The jaunty and intelligent script bounds away through numerous scenarios, both realistic enough to be occuring but wild enough to be entertaining and the incredible cast bring it both harmoniously and raucously to life. An excellent series and well worth a look.

Most anticipated DVD – Star Wars: The Clone Wars Seasons 3 and 4

Unseen as yet and as I understand it ongoing at present – Clone Wars Season 4 is the continued influence of Star Wars on kids TV channels. Less engaging than the original 2 Dimensional seasons directed by Genndy Tartakovsky but offer more plot and development to the whole saga. With each season the CGI improves and more worlds are revealed in higher detail. Still 2 seasons behind at present however I (Steve P) have to put this on my guilty pleasures list because it expands the Star Wars Universe and is occasionally noticably created by true die hard fans who jump at the chance to develop part of the SW universe.

Most Cause for Concern – Dr Who (Season 6)

Matt Smith is an excellent Doctor, Karen Gillian is a great sidekick and we know that Steven Moffat is a great writer. However, somehow, indiscernably, the last series of Dr Who has lacked the pathos and light hearted touch that previously won it so many fans. No doubt a deliberate intention by Moffat to darken and broaden the Who, it appears to be beginning to lose it’s grip on plot this season. In spite of an introduction of The Silence, the scale and adventure wasn’t as bedded down in character and engaging emotional situations as it has been in previous seasons.

Upping the sci-fi quota, scripts have become slightly convoluted and less involving as a result. Matt Smith, while entertaining as the lithe and slightly dotty Doctor lacks the strength that the more seasoned Doctors had and while, initially, the scripts played with this they have now put perhaps too much emphasis on a young actor to imbue wonder and concern at every turn every time a ‘tree whispers’. Somehow less surprising than previous series, the science babble has gone up, the lunatic and dastardly alien beings have gone down and the geek wish fulfilment is beginning to become too visible.

I have loved Doctor Who but I am concerned that continuity is beginning to fray and that it needs a rest between seasons before it collapses under it’s own weight of expectation. Still excellent, it is however less excellent than it was, seemingly relying overly on emotional resolutions to tie up convoluted plots and slightly unoriginal concepts.

However, still excellent. Hopefully Moffat et al will see the slight error in their ways and get behind an excellent Season 7. God knows the BBC wants it!!

Stan Lee Awards 2011 (part 1)

Mark Millar’s been playing his Kapow cards pretty close to his chest in recent weeks in preparation for next Monday’s promised mega announcement about the convention. But at least there’s at least one bit of news that we won’t have to wait until the 14th for: the Stan Lee Award nominations are here!

The Stans are a new award, created for Kapow that are designed to celebrate mainstream comics in all their glory. While the Eisners have traditionally championed lesser known books and creators, the Stans have their sights set firmly on the mass market. Abstract comics about the plight of Spanish chair makers can be extremely good, but you won’t find them anywhere on this list. Nor indeed will you find anything by Millar himself as, being the organiser of the awards, he’s chosen to remove himself from the nominations list.

The list of people responsible for nominating attests to this mainstream quality as well. A quick scan of the publications that participated will bring up names like IGN, Empire, The News of The World (insert phone tapping joke here) and Forbidden Planet. Seth Rogan even makes an appearance to help add some star power to the list.

So we know what they are, now let’s dig into the nominations themselves:

Best Writer

Brian Michael Bendis

Robert Kirkman

Grant Morrison

Garth Ennis

We said it was a list for big names and you don’t get much bigger than some of the names here. Bendis and Morrison are pretty much Marvel and DC’s respective frontmen at the moment so you it’s a pretty good indication of where the rest of the list is going. Not that this is a bad thing, there’s a reason that these guys are big names. I think it’s a shame to see Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning missing out on a nod as their work on Marvel’s cosmic books has been superb, but I guess you can’t have all your favs there.

My heart is with Kirkman on this as I’m a massive fan of the Walking Dead, but if I were a betting man then I think the smart money would have to be on Morrison. Batman Inc may not be everyone’s cup of bat-tea but there’s no denying that his run with the character has been nothing short of monumental. Plus he killed My Chemical Romance, which is bound to score him a few votes.

I’d have to peg Bendis as an outsider in this race. Marvel’s top guy has given us some cool moments over the last twelve months but I’m hard pressed to think of anything that really lives up to the best stuff we’ve seen from him in the past. That said, he remains the king of banter and Bendis off form is still better than most writers at their best, so don’t count him out too early.

Ennis? I think he may just be a bit too indy for this award. I’d like to be proven wrong but I think you’d be taking a chance betting on the Preacher’s horse.

BTB pick for Best Writer - Grant Morrison

Best Artist

JH Williams III

Steve McNiven

Duncan Fegredo

John Romita Jr.

McNiven is flat out one of my favorite artists and his work on Old Man Logan is frankly breath-taking, however I have a feeling that Kick Ass is going to come through and win it for Romita. If it does go that way then it’ll be well deserved. Kick Ass is, to my mind, Romita’s best work and it’s a true example of a book where you honestly couldn’t imagine another artist taking it on. Old Man Logan is amazing but it’s hard to bet against a man when a character he designed is on the side of every bus in the western hemisphere.

Interestingly Fegredo’s nomination makes it two nominations for he and Jonathan Ross’s Turf, an impressive feat for a relatively small book.

Edit – Ducan Fegredo is, of course, the current artist on Hellboy and not Turf. That honour belongs to Tommy Lee Edwards. I shall now go read Ultimates 3 six times as penance for the error.

BTB Pick: Best Artist - John Romita Jr.

Best Series

The Walking Dead

Batman & Robin

Avengers

Batman Inc.

Well with two nominations in one category, you’ve got to favour Morrison here, but I have a feeling that Walking Dead may just sneak it. Batman and Robin has been fantastic this year but a lot of people are still having a little trouble buying Dick Grayson as the caped crusader and the lack of jumping on points for new readers could hurt the series chances. Add into that the fact that the awards are being decided by an online poll and you have to give the edge to the web darling that is Kirkman’s zombie-opus.

Batman Inc surprised me a little bit with its nomination here. It’s groundbreaking for sure, but it’s also pulled a lot of flak for being too similar to some of Morrison’s earlier work on X-Men and I’m surprised to see it edging out books like Secret Avengers and Invincible Iron Man.

Avengers sells a lot of books, but I suspect that most of those sales are to people who, like me, just want to stay abreast of what’s happening in the Marvel universe. It consistently pulls in the lowest ratings from critics of all the Avengers titles and, while it’s an entertaining read, I just don’t see it competing with the other nominees in this category.

BTB Pick for Best Series - The Walking Dead

Best Superhero or SciFi Movie

Scott Pilgim

Kick-Ass

Inception

Iron Man 2

I was really surprised when I looked at this list because I’d honestly forgotten just how good a year it’s been for comic book movies. I’d happily see any one of these walk off with a prize but I have a feeling that three of the contenders are going to resent the “SciFi” part of the category title. Simply put, Inception is just in a different class to its rivals here. As awesome as the other three are, Chris Nolan’s masterpiece simply outshines them. Heck it outshines pretty much every movie of any type released this year.

Again though, Internet fans can be a strange bunch and I wouldn’t put it past a hardcore contingent of Pilgrim or Kick-Ass fans to get together and pull off a coup. Not that that would be a terrible thing. Inception is set to clean house at the Oscars and has already made more money than the gdp of a small country, in the face of that it might be nice to see a true comic book movie take the prize.

 

BTB Pick for best film - Inception

Best Trade

Sweet Tooth Vol.1

Dark X-Men

Fantastic Four – Solve Everything

Blackest Night

It’s hard to see anything edging out Blackest Night in this category. Dark X-Men has a decent slice of fans but on the whole I think that Blackest Night is just too high profile to overcome. That said, Blackest Night could run into problems due the fact that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense by itself and relies on you buying two or three other trades in order to get the whole story (seriously DC, would it kill you to just do a Messiah Complex and organize the issues by when they happen rather than by which book they happened in?) but ultimately I think it’ll take it. To be fair on Blackest Night, it’s one of the better crossovers in recent years so I think it’s fair that it pulls some recognition.

Sweet Tooth is a great book but it doesn’t have the fanbase to win a poll like this. Bet on it only if you’re feeling very lucky.

BTB Pick for Best Trade - Blackest Night

Best Limited Series or Story Arc

Batman & Robin Must Die

Avengers Prime

Dr. Strange

Brightest Day

I’ve been reading a lot of praise for Dr Strange as of late, but I really can’t see anything on this list which I’d consider a serious challenger to Batman & Robin Must Die. Morrison’s reworking of the Dynamic Duo has just been issue upon issue of solid gold and this arc is no exception.

Brightest Day does have its moments and I wouldn’t put it past a few hardcore fans to try and throw a spanner into the works here, but ultimately I think the title’s just been a bit too hit and miss. Let’s face it, 52 it ain’t.

BTB Pick for Best Story Arc - Batman & Robin Must Die

That’s all for today. Pop back tomorrow for the rest of the list and more hot tips from your chums in the Bunker.

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Pages? Where we’re going we don’t need pages.

Evening all,

As well as playing an insane amount of Fable 3, I’ve been doing a bit of site redecorating as of late so I do hope you like the way things are going. There’s a few more changes in the pipeline (including a fair bit of rather exciting Moon related news), so keep an eye out for those in the next few weeks.

I’m freakin in love with the Comixology app on my iPhone at the moment. I chewed my way through most of the free comics in about a day and am now well and truly a slave to Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead epic. I’m notoriously bad at resisting cool looking digital stuff and at £5.99 for 6 issues I’m having to make an active effort not to blow all my spare cash on zombie related goodies. The book itself is as awesome as everyone says it is. More than most, Kirkman really knows how to end an issue in a way that makes you go right out and buy the next one. It’s like the first season of Lost…but with fewer bears. The thing that’s amazed me so much is how quickly I’ve grown to love the Guided View style of reading comics (essentially the screen flows panel to panel, rather than showing you the entire page). The biggest difference is that you no longer have the idea of each page being a mini story and instead just push on continuously to the end of the issue. It’s a different style to the one I’m used to and given how much time I spend working on page layouts, I should probably be less enthusiastic about this change in the way our stories are told. But then, it wasn’t that long ago that we thought every issue had to start with a splash page or that thought bubbles were a good idea. Our form of storytelling is, by it’s very nature, a very fluid one and if new technology allows us to tell our tales in new ways then I that can only be a good thing…up until the point we’re all struck down with RSI at least.

Now if you’ll excuse me, me and my dog, Growlbion, have got a kingdom to save/wreck.

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