Robert Kirkman Chats Oblivion Song, His New Alt-Dimension Sci-Fi Comic with Artist Lorenzo De Felici

The Walking Dead Co-Creator Discusses Survivalism, Scheduling and Saying Goodbye

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Robert Kirkman Chats <i>Oblivion Song</i>, His New Alt-Dimension Sci-Fi Comic with Artist Lorenzo De Felici

This interview first ran in October 2017.

OblivionSong01_24x36Poster.jpg It’s entirely possible that Robert Kirkman doesn’t sleep—how else to explain his ability to juggle creative duties on massively successful series The Walking Dead, the soon-to-conclude Invincible and Outcast, producing multiple live-action adaptations of his own work and spearheading the Skybound imprint at Image Comics? Starting March 7th, 2018, Kirkman will add a brand-new notch to his creative belt: Oblivion Song, an ongoing sci-fi series with co-creator and artist Lorenzo De Felici, colorist Annalisa Leoni and longtime letterer Rus Wooton.

Oblivion Song follows government agent Nathan Cole, who risks his life to rescue people stuck in the alternate dimension known as Oblivion. A decade ago, 300,000 citizens of Philadelphia were suddenly lost to this hellscape, and while the government
initially made every attempt to recover them, their patience—and funding—has since run out. Nathan Cole’s hasn’t, especially considering his own deeply personal connection to Oblivion and the survivors still scraping by in a world full of incomprehensible monsters.

Kirkman and De Felici have been working on Oblivion Song for over a year, and Paste had the opportunity to sit down with Kirkman earlier this week to discuss De Felici’s major U.S. debut, Kirkman’s fondness for survivalist themes and saying goodbye to Invincible after all these years. We’ve also got an early look at interior art and a trailer for Oblivion Song.

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Paste: Let’s start with your collaborator, Lorenzo De Felici. Aside from the Skybound cover variants, he’ll be a new name for many American readers. How were you introduced to his work and what made him the right artist to bring Oblivion Song to life?
Robert Kirkman: He’s somebody that [artist] Cory Walker had turned me on to. Cory Walker and I share a studio space so most of the writing I do, I do fairly close to him in a physical room. He’s always calling me over and going, Ah, I found this guy online, you should look at his art, you should look at his art, oh look at this guy, he’s great, and he had found Lorenzo somewhere on the internet—I think he had stumbled across his DeviantArt site or something—and I started cyber-stalking the guy, I guess.

Oblivion Song had been an idea that had been kicking around inside my head for a very long time and it wasn’t until I saw a lot of the stuff on his DeviantArt site and had done some research into some of the projects he had done in Italy that I realized, Oh my god, this guy would be the perfect guy to bring this world to life! He’s just such a well-rounded artist. A lot of the work he colors himself, so he’s able to top-to-bottom do the illustration work and some brilliant concepts. And being from another country, there are a lot of unique things that he brings to his work that aren’t necessarily present in U.S. work. He has a level of originality that I think is very exciting and that I think people are really going to respond to.

Paste: His monster designs reminded me of some of Guy Davis’ and James Harren’s best work. How have you and Lorenzo worked to create these beasts and visually define the series?
Kirkman: He definitely earns his co-creator credit. I lean on that guy quite heavily when it comes to that stuff. His parents were biologists so he has a fairly adept understanding of how animals work, and how ecosystems function and stuff like that. Working with another dimension and trying to come up with visuals for creatures that exist in a whole different alien food chain can inform where he comes at from a design sense, and that’s something that he’s been doing a really great job with.

I’ll literally be like, I don’t know, it’s like a bunch of alien dogs being chased by an alien cheetah, the alien cheetah is eating them—but don’t make it look like a dog, don’t make it look a cheetah, I’m just giving you a size-relation thing. Like the monster in the first issue: I’d like it to be a big giant alien gorilla, but I don’t want it to look like a gorilla, I just want it to have that kind of mass. And he comes up with, Well, I think one of the arms would have an extra elbow because it has evolved to form this thing, and this is the way it eats, and I’m just like, “Great man, that all sounds awesome.” There are little things where I’ll suggest things, but for the most part, like the way the mouths work, that’s all him.

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Oblivion Song #1 Interior Art by Lorenzo De Felici & Annalisa Leoni

Paste: In addition to actual monsters, your protagonist Nathan faces government bureaucracy that prevents him from getting the resources he needs to help people. Does that plot point feel particularly timely to you right now?
Kirkman: I was writing these issues two years ago, so this was very much before the Trump era, so it’s not like the ineptitude of government is an entirely new concept, but it’s certainly not a response to any of that stuff. I definitely don’t ever want to portray government as being evil or wrong or outright—evil, I guess I’m just going to say that word again—because I do try to see the other side of it. Pumping billions of dollars into a program to rescue one person every six months is somewhat unrealistic, and especially if there is that strain on the dimensional barrier that they’re worried about. Even though our scientist, Nathan, is like, That’s all fucking bullshit, you don’t need to be worrying about that. [Laughs] I can see [the government] very easily coming up with reasons why they wouldn’t be doing that. So I don’t want to say that they’re necessarily bad people for doing that. But it seems like a very government thing to do.

Paste: Survivalism is a theme that runs across your career. Why do you find yourself repeatedly drawn to groups eking out a living against impossible odds?
Kirkman: I have no idea. I don’t know. There’s definitely something going on with me. I think there’s something inspirational about seeing people trying to overcome insurmountable odds. I think that’s the basis of most storytelling. My desire is just to tell really cool personal stories, and to do really good drama. That’s always my attempt. Whether I succeed or not is the audience’s decision. And I think that apocalyptic settings and things like that lend themselves very well to putting characters in places where they make for interesting conversations and interesting conflicts. So I guess that’s my go-to crutch, as you say.

But I think that there’s a very important distinction with this book. The Walking Dead is in many ways more grounded; this is a much bigger alien world with different things that will come into play as the series progresses. Being able to pop back into our everyday lives and tell stories of people in coffee shops and things like that—and having people sit and drink coffee while monsters are just one dimensional portal away—I think is really interesting. Hopefully I’m breaking some new ground and not just telling the same old apocalyptic stories over and over again, but it’s entirely possible that may be the case.

Paste: So there’s no secret doomsday bunker beneath the Skybound offices?
Kirkman: No, definitely not. [Laughs]

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Oblivion Song #1 Interior Art by Lorenzo De Felici & Annalisa Leoni

Paste: What’s the scope of Oblivion Song? Is this a finite story or is the world open to years of storytelling?
Kirkman: It definitely has an end in mind, but I do plan for it to run several years. I don’t think that I’ll ever be passing The Walking Dead number-wise but it is something that is a long, involved story with a lot of scope—but it is a story that does have an ending. The scope will continue to grow and expand as the series progresses, and at some point it will all come crashing down in, hopefully, an interesting and satisfying way.

Paste: Aside from you and Lorenzo, who else has helped to make Oblivion Song a reality? What’s been going on behind the scenes creatively and administratively these last few years to bring the book to shelves?
Kirkman: We struggled to find a colorist because Lorenzo colors his own work for the most part, in Italy, and that’s just not something that’s feasible with the schedule of American monthly comics. So we tried to find someone else who could do justice to his work the same way that he does on his own. We tried a couple of people, and people weren’t available, and I went to him after a few people had fallen through, and I was like, “Hey, you have any suggestions? Are there any cool Italian colorists?” And he was like, “Well, I work with Annalisa Leoni sometimes, she’s my girlfriend, I don’t know if she’d be good.” And he sends me some of her samples and I’m just like, What, she’s one of the best colorists who’s ever worked in comics, why wasn’t this brought up first? So she’s been absolutely essential, Annalisa has. I think they go back and forth on pages with him giving her notes and helping drive the vision of the book before I ever see anything. So by the time I’ve seen something, they as a team have tweaked it and perfected it and gotten it where it needs to be. I think that’s made the art as spectacular as it is, them having such a close relationship professionally and personally. She’s been absolutely essential.

Rus Wooton, who letters all of my books, is also lettering this, and has designed new fonts and new balloon types and things like that. Something about modern lettering that I think is really cool is that every book has its own unique flavor and look to how it’s lettered, and that’s something that Rus does very well, so it’s comfortable having him aboard knowing that we’re in good hands visually on that front.

And then Sean Mackiewicz, not for nothing, that guy does a lot of work behind the scenes making sure everyone knows where they’re supposed to be and what’s supposed to be happening. This is something we’ve been working on for a good long time. Lorenzo is working on issue #9 right now, and that wouldn’t happen without the structure of Skybound and the work that Sean does to keep everyone on schedule, and it puts us in a good place moving forward. It’s very important.

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Oblivion Song #1 Interior Art by Lorenzo De Felici & Annalisa Leoni

Paste: Some other major creators have sort of disappeared from monthly comics as their multimedia commitments pile up—
Kirkman: Pretenders, I say! [Laughs]

Paste: What’s your working schedule like to manage Oblivion Song, The Walking Dead, Outcast, the end of Invincible and your TV involvement?
Kirkman: Luckily I work best on an airplane, and I work really well in hotel rooms, so I can do the things I do while I travel. I’m very rarely without a laptop if I’m on set, and there’s a lot of downtime on sets. I actually was on set for The Walking Dead this summer, so I popped my laptop out, I’m looking at shots, I’m talking to actors, I’m working, I go back and forth. It all seems to dovetail. I really like what I do so there’s a passion there that keeps me waking up early in the morning and doing the work as best I can. It is a big puzzle putting it all together. I have to do a phone call on this, I’ve got to read a script for this, work on that stuff, but somehow it all works.

Paste: Speaking of—and I’m sure you’re getting this question a lot—are there any plans or hopes to bring Oblivion Song to the big or little screen?
Kirkman: Nothing yet, nothing worth talking about. It’s a reality of where I’m at in my career, because The Walking Dead has been so successful, that that’s something everybody’s always interested in, what I’m doing next out there in the old Hollywood, as they say. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an announcement of some sort soon, but this isn’t why I do comics. It’s always a nice cherry on top, but we’ll see where it goes.

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Oblivion Song #1 Interior Art by Lorenzo De Felici & Annalisa Leoni

Paste: Since we stole a little extra time with you, is there anything you’re particularly hyped about in the coming months for The Walking Dead or Outcast—and how are you handling saying goodbye to Invincible after all these years?
Kirkman: It’s tough. It’s really tough. I’m writing the final issue right now, and that’s been somewhat difficult because that’s something that’s been a huge part of my life for 15 years. It’s kind of weird thinking about being done by the end of October. In November I won’t be writing any Invincible. I’ll just be writing Oblivion Song and new stuff, so that’s very strange. You get to know the characters over time—they’re very real to me—so it’s going to be really upsetting killing them all. [Laughs]

We’re announcing a big storyline starting in The Walking Dead #175 called “New World Order” where we finally meet the Ohio colony that Eugene has been talking to on his radio for so long, and they’re much larger than anyone could have anticipated, and there are a whole bunch of structures and weird things that they’ve set up that are going to be changing the book moving forward in some very exciting ways, so that’s cool.

And then Outcast, starting with issue #32, we have this invasion storyline where we’re starting to see just how bad rural West Virginia has gotten and just how entrenched the evil-entity, demonic side of things have gotten, and just what kind of odds Kyle is facing as we move toward him trying to fix the world. It’s really a kind of ramping-up for the series that I’m really excited about. It’ll be much more fast-paced than it’s been in the past. We’ve got this new villain Roland Tusk who’s doing all kinds of horrible shit, so that’s going to be fun. We’ve got all kinds of exciting stuff coming up.

Paste: Finally, aside from your own books, what has you excited about comics right now? Which creators or books have you optimistic about the medium?
Kirkman: Image has a lot of really great new books. Head Lopper by Andrew MacLean. I love Rock Candy Mountain by Kyle Starks. I think Kyle is an amazing writer and that book gives me no end of enjoyment, reading all the weird dialogue he writes and stuff. There’re a lot of new ideas out there and there’s a lot of great stuff that people are coming up with that keep revitalizing the medium and keep things new and fresh. And it’s important that Image, and Skybound, keep providing a big alternative for people who may not be liking what’s coming out of Marvel or DC these days.

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Oblivion Song #1 Interior Art by Lorenzo De Felici & Annalisa Leoni

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Oblivion Song #1 Interior Art by Lorenzo De Felici & Annalisa Leoni

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Oblivion Song #1 Interior Art by Lorenzo De Felici & Annalisa Leoni

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Oblivion Song #1 Interior Art by Lorenzo De Felici & Annalisa Leoni

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Oblivion Song Promotional Art by Lorenzo De Felici & Annalisa Leoni

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