Interview: Robert Kirkman on Skybound

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Comic-Con was Robert Kirkman’s big week. Besides the building momentum for the forthcoming AMC series based on his comic book The Walking Dead, he announced a new imprint called Skybound that he’s running at Image Comics. He talked to us about the new company, its structure and its business model.

TECHLAND: So what’s the story with Skybound?

Robert Kirkman: It’s an imprint I’m forming at Image Comics–I’m going to be working within the Image Comics banner. Sina Grace recently came on as editorial director of Skybound, so he’ll be keeping the ships running on top. I’m also going to be taking new creators under my wing and using my vast experience in the comics industry to help them reach a wide audience through Image, and also just oversee the books directly. I’m going to take an active hand in helping them put their books together. The first one of those we’ll be doing is Witch Doctor by Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner. They’re really talented, and they did an amazing book in Witch Doctor.  It’s a wholly original, really fantastic concept.

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And then I’m going to be creating some books that I’ve hired some people to do for me. The first one of those is Thief of Thieves, which will be coming out in 2011 after Witch Doctor comes out. We’ve got a fellow by the name of Nick Spencer who is going to be running that. We’re still looking for an artist. We’re having a talent search that we’re hosting on the web site. We’re going to be looking for artists, and it’s possible that they will go onto Thief of Thieves, or they may go on to something else, I’m not sure. I’m just looking for what’s out there and to see which artists we can use. I’m looking for some talented folks. That’s Skybound in a nutshell, I guess.

It’s a little bit different from the business model that Image has used in the past, right?

It’s different in that Image Comics was designed for creators by creators. Image Comics gives you complete and utter freedom. They take no rights whatsoever. For someone like myself who can handle infrastructure, it’s the best deal in town. It’s absolutely the best deal in town. Skybound is there for people who don’t feel like they can do it on their own. So I’ll be there helping out with international rights, dealing with foreign publishers, and helping them expand their reach that way. I’ll also be using what I learned on The Walking Dead show about doing rights exploitation, trying to get television and movies picked up. And for these services, I’ll be taking a smaller percentage than any other publisher in comics, next to Image.

Can you say what that percentage is?

No, I can’t. But I know the other publishers’, and it’s the second best deal in comics, I like to say. So I’m really just providing resources for publishers who feel like they need that extra assistance.

For the titles you create, are those going to be work-for-hire deals? How are those going to work out?

Yeah. I think with Thieves, it’s going to be something I create and then I’ll be paying everybody who is working on that a page rate, kind of like what Marvel and DC do.

How big are you planning to expand Skybound?

Skybound is a very exclusive, boutique-like wing of Image Comics. We’re not accepting submissions. I already found the Witch Doctor guys–I found that on my own. That’s how I’ll be continuing to find the Skybound originals, as we’re calling them. I liken it to AMC, just because I’m doing a television show with them. They had Breaking Bad and Mad Men, and they made sure those were successes, and now they’re expanding with things like Rubicon and The Walking Dead. I think that’s definitely the way to go. I think too many of these upstart comic publishing house are like, “Yeah, we’re going to do four books.” Or, “We’re going to do ten books.” It’s just too much work. I want to try to establish readers’ buying habits with Skybound get them invested in the company and excited about what we’re doing before I try to bombard them with too much stuff. So, we’re definitely going to start small, but the sky is the limit.

(More on Techland: Robert Kirkman Talks Image United)

For the titles you’re creating, is there just going to be one at first? Again, what’s your plan for expansion?

We’re moving forward. I have a lot of ideas that I really like and want to get out there. There are only so many comics I can write, and there are guys out there who are really wanting to do work-for-hire work. It works for Marvel and DC. It’s a big part of this business, guys who want to make a living doing comics. So, on their way to doing what I feel they should be doing, which is creating comics on their own, if I can pay them to do really cool comics for me to help facilitate them on their way to doing it on their own, then all the better–someone like Nick Spencer, who is actually getting work at DC–and give them the financial push so they can continue doing comics. It’s really hard starting out in independent comics and making a living and being able to focus on it. If I can help them along the way by paying them to do something that I came up with, I think that’s a good thing.

I should note that Nick Spencer is, obviously, an extremely talented writer who’s done great work at Image on things that he’s created and owned, and it is definitely going to benefit me as well to have him write a work-for-hire book for me. That’s not an aspect of it I would try to ignore or even downplay. Sure, it’s going to help him to get a new page rate and a cool job in comics and everything, but just like any business, it’s also to help the business and help me, because I get another property out there, and that’s always cool. But it’s about the same as DC and Marvel’s business model. They hire guys work-for-hire, and they try to get them to keep their properties relevant. It’s basically the same thing, only hopefully my properties will be a little cooler.

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