Walking Dead creator explains the importance of Asian superheroes
While creating a comic book empire, Robert Kirkman mastered the art of writing long.
His sagas rarely wrap up quickly. In 2003, he began crafting the series that would take him on a path straight to Hollywood: The Walking Dead, a zombie apocalyptic adventure that ran for 193 issues, published its final issue in 2019, after it had become a television phenomenon at AMC.
Kirkman's Invincible also began in 2003 and had a similar decade-and-a-half run, printing a final 144th issue in 2018. Those comics are the inspiration for Kirkman's big debut in the world of animation.
Invincible, a family saga that begins with a teenage protagonist named Mark Grayson becoming a superhero just like his father, began streaming on Amazon Prime Video in March. The season's final episode aired recently, with many more cliffhangers yet to come after Amazon announced Invincible has been renewed for a second and third season.
Q What has Invincible meant to you over its long run of 144 issues at Image Comics and what has it been like adapting it to animation?
A No one really gets to do a decade-plus run on a comic book. It's a pretty rare thing, and for me to have been able to do it twice, I feel so fortunate, just because having a long run on a series that you control, that you can have fun with and do whatever you want with was really my only career goal. I went back to Square 1 in animated form, and I get to go on this journey again and hopefully adjust and improve along the way. But I get to relive something that I really, really enjoyed. It's an amazing feeling.
Q This Invincible animated series is not for kids. It's bloody, violent and intense. Does it help that there has already been some prominent mature-audience comic book entertainment both in live-action and animation, so it doesn't feel like you're breaking the mould?
A I think the superhero genre of storytelling exists pre-Deadpool and post-Deadpool. I can't give enough credit for Tim Miller, Ryan Reynolds and that entire team that put that movie together. They really kind of expanded what it is a superhero story can be. It primed the audience to accept that these things can be very dark and very graphic and very enjoyable and are still a superhero story, but with a much different flavour.
Q The voice cast you've assembled for Invincible is a who's who of Hollywood talent. J.K. Simmons. Steven Yeun. Zazie Beetz. Sandra Oh. Did you ever think you'd have so many big names voicing the Invincible universe?
A Stephen Yuen (who voices the title character) was the linchpin of the show. I think that having worked with him for as long as I had, I knew that we needed somebody that could grow and evolve season to season the way Mark Grayson would, and that's what I saw Steven do to an excellent degree with his Glenn Rhee character on The Walking Dead. Once we had him in place, he was the magnet that brought talent out of the woodwork. Everyone is saying he's having a moment right now (nominated for a best actor Oscar for Minari), but I promise you this is only the beginning.
Q The last decade in the comic book industry has been one of inclusion, with new characters of colour like Miles Morales/ Spider-Man, Riri Williams/ Ironheart and Jessica Cruz/ Green Lantern. That wasn't the case in 2003, when the Invincible series first debuted. What made you decide back then that you'd want the protagonist of your tale to be a hero of colour?
A I have to admit, if anything, his race in 2003 was ambiguous. You could kind of see him if you were Filipino as a Filipino character or if you were Italian, you could see Mark as Italian. We would have (Mexican fans) and they would say, “I'm so glad that you made Mark Mexican.” And we were really kind of taken aback by that because we were dumb white guys that were doing comic books and we had never really considered what Mark's race was.
So seeing just how important this representation was really kind of opened our eyes to the fact that this matters. Never underestimate a white person's ignorance when it comes to this kind of stuff. Growing up a white comic book reader, you don't even understand what it's like to not see yourself in these stories.