Robert Kirkman is a busy guy. With two immensely popular comics, The Walking Dead and Invincible, chugging away and another likely hit, The Infinite, coming down the pike, he has started yet another title: Super Dinosaur. The all-ages comic follows the exploits of Derek Dynamo, a smart kid whose dad discovered an inner earth where dinosaurs still exist, and Derek’s friend, an armor-clad, missile-equipped Tyrannosaurus rex named Super Dinosaur. If you think that sounds pretty cool, you’d be right.
Kirkman, a father of two, wanted to come up with a comic his kids and other young readers could enjoy yet still capable of entertaining older audiences. He took some time to talk to GeekDad about the new title, the state of all-ages comics and why The Walking Dead has become more violent since he became a father.
Wired.com: Super Dinosaur is a departure from the projects you’ve worked on in the past. Why did you choose to create this title?
Robert Kirkman: I was working on a book called Astounding Wolf-Man with Jason Howard, who is also working on Super Dinosaur. While we were working on the book, he started having kids, I started having kids and we’re doing Astounding Wolf-Man, which has got some violence in it and not really appropriate for a younger audience. We had a lot of fun doing it, but we started talking to each other and with young children who were getting older by the day, we were thinking that this is kinda awful that we work in comics and we do all this fun stuff, but our kids can’t look at what we do because there’s so much graphic violence and mature themes and stuff like that. We both expressed a desire to do something that’s appropriate for all-ages and that our kids can enjoy, but also something that still had enough depth and character development and cool drama to keep us interested and so we set out to do an all-ages book and Super Dinosaur came from that.
Wired.com: Other than cutting down on the blood, profanity, amputations and stuff like that, how do you approach writing an all-ages book?
Kirkman: I don’t approach it any differently at all. I read comics when I was fairly young and all of those comics had the occasional character dying and Disney movies have characters dying and there are big subplots. Some of the classic comics that came out in the ’60s through the ’90s that were geared toward children were very complex and had long running stories that were similar to comic books that myself and other creators are doing today. But it seems like you don’t really get that from kids comics so much anymore.
I’ve gone to great lengths to not change my writing style. Super Dinosaur has subplots and plot twists and really dramatic elements on top of “Hey, look at this awesome dinosaur shooting missiles out of his robot arms.” And that stuff’s just cool. So, I really tried to make sure that I’m writing the same way I do Invincible and The Walking Dead, but I just don’t have as much sex and murder.
Wired.com: You’re a father now; has becoming a parent affected your writing at all?
Kirkman: Yes, but not in the way you would think. With The Walking Dead in particular, when I had a child, I did the same thing every human being does when they have kids, I think. They go into that mode where realistic human violence is a little more unnerving for them, especially anything involving kids. My wife and I used to love watching violent movies together and then, after we had kids, it’s this whole thing where you think “Now I understand the affection that you have for a kid, and this is somebody’s child in this ridiculous Rambo movie.” You tend to want to avoid violence.
And what that has made me do is, anytime I’m writing The Walking Dead, and I come up with a violent scene or a big event that’s pretty gruesome, I’ll sometimes think “Is this too much?” and then I’ll go “Don’t puss out, Kirkman! Just because you’re a parent doesn’t mean you have to change this. You would have done this before you had kids. You don’t want The Walking Dead to be different because you have kids.” And so I do it. Whereas, before I had kids, I might have talked myself out of it. I might have been like “Maybe this is a little too intense.” Now, I’m like “You’re only thinking this because you have kids, do it anyway.” I feel like The Walking Dead has become more violent because I have kids.
Wired.com: I see that you’re planning on having subplots and making Super Dinosaur a complex book that kids can still enjoy. Is that a nod to adult readers or are you giving kids credit for being pretty darn smart?
Kirkman: It’s actually both of those things. My son is 5 and I read the book to him and he follows it fine. He asks me some questions, but after we’re done, he comments on things and asks why a bad guy was doing a certain thing. He doesn’t fully grasp every single bit but he at least grasps enough to enjoy it, so it works for him at that age level.
But then a 10-year-old is going to be reading the book on his own and I feel like they should be able to follow along and if there are, maybe one or two things that are over their heads, it’s not going to deter them from wanting to read. In fact, it might make them want to read the issues with their parents so they can understand what’s going on and figure out why it is that they don’t understand a certain word or something. So it might lead to good things where they’re trying to learn more. Hopefully, an older reader like myself, if I wasn’t doing Super Dinosaur, I would probably read Super Dinosaur because the idea of a Tyrannosaurus rex with robot arms is pretty cool to me.
Wired.com: Derek Dynamo is a smart, inventive kid and a great hero that young readers can get behind. When it came to character creation, did you begin with him and build the rest of the cast around Derek or how did that work?
Kirkman: It all kind of came together at the same time. The initial idea was that Tyrannosaurus rex are cool and kids like Tyrannosaurus rex and I love Tyrannosaurus rex and Jason Howard loves em but they have those little useless arms – how do you get around that? How do you make an action hero out of a Tyrannosaurus rex when he can’t really do anything with his hands?
So I came up with the idea of giving him the big mechanical arms and the robot suit and that was the basic idea. Then all the other characters came out of that. Derek was developed, a little bit, based on my son because my son is very confident, almost to the level of being overconfident, which is something I struggle with just because he’s young and seems to be pretty good at some things. But most kids these days seem to be too overconfident, so that was something I wanted to instill in the character of Derek Dynamo. And there will be a development where he matures a little bit as the book goes along and maybe realizes he doesn’t really have reason to be so confident and gets a little more realistic expectations for what he’s doing.
Wired.com: Image Comics is, little by little, turning into one of the better places to find all-ages books, with Super Dinosaur, Reed Gunther, New Brighton Archeological Society and Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors. Was there a decision made at the top level to do more titles for kids?
Kirkman: Not really. The thing about Image Comics, that makes it so special, is the kind of books that Image Comics is interested in publishing at any given time is whatever books creators that come to them are most excited about doing. For instance, Image Comics isn’t necessarily making a concerted effort towards doing all-ages books, but Image Comics is always open to the diversity that comics celebrate. And so because I am really excited about doing Super Dinosaur and that’s something I want to do, Image Comics supports creators and so they’re into doing that.
Reed Gunther and New Brighton and all of these other all-ages books are there because those individual creators feel strongly about doing them at this time. And so, it’s really driven by the zeitgeist of what the creators are into doing. I think that more and more creators are deciding that in order to reach a broader audience, in order to bring new people into comics, we have to go for a younger demographic. I’m really excited about that because that’s the thing, more than anything else, that comics need to be doing to ensure a healthy future for our industry.
Wired.com: Super Dinosaur has some pretty great armor and gadgetry on his harness. Will he continue to get new goodies for each issue or will he have a go-to getup?
Kirkman: He has standard armor – the red and white armor that he wears in issue one – and he’ll have it again in issue four. But he will have specialized armor for anytime he needs to … go underwater, or fight someone in the sky, or fight someone in a volcano or fly out into space. I think seeing that variation is cool and having different armor is, visually, pretty interesting and while it won’t be an every issue thing, he will be wearing different armor quite a lot. I can say that Jason Howard has already designed about 20 different armors for him to wear. We’ll be seeing all of that stuff as the series progresses.
Wired.com: Judging from letters and artwork sent in and seen at the back of issue #2, reaction to Super Dinosaur is very positive from both adults and kids, which is great. But the real question is, what does your son think?
Kirkman: Ha! Thankfully my son really does enjoy the book. When a new issue comes in, I end up reading that to him every night before bed at least for a week or two. Then we start cycling through older issues. He really does enjoy the series quite a bit so far and I’m really excited about that. But the best thing about kids is that they’re completely honest. So I’ll say “Hey, do you like Super Dinosaur?” and he’ll say “Yeah!” And I’ll say “Who’s better? Iron Man or Super Dinosaur?” and he’ll say “Iron Man.”
Wired.com: But does he make you tell new stories at bed time?
Kirkman: I did that for a while, but it ended up being tough. It really is a lot more difficult coming up with cool things on the fly than it is to write a comic book series. They just ended up being nonsense stories. He enjoyed it, but I was like, “Wow. Another story where they end up talking and a big guy busts through the wall and he fights that guy and that’s the end of the story? What the heck?” I try not to tell a lot of stories, but he asks a lot and sometimes I do it.
Wired.com: Is Super Dinosaur planned as a limited run or can we expect to see Derek & SD fighting bad guys (and dinos) for years to come?
Kirkman: I expect it to go on for years to come. It’s definitely something like Invincible or The Walking Dead that I want to do for a good long while. I don’t know that it will make it to issue 80, maybe it will, maybe it will make it to issue 200. I don’t know. I want to get as many volumes out there as possible, I think, while a lot of people read comics, and it’s great that it’s out there in single issue form. There do seem to be a lot of kids that are getting their hands on it, but my son’s copy of Super Dinosaur #1 is basically a pile of shredded paper at this point. So, I’m really looking at getting it into bound, collected form and seeing how the book does because I think we’ll be able to reach a lot more kids that way. And I plan to do as many volumes of that as I can. It’s going to be pretty exciting. Hopefully we’ll be doing this book for years to come.
Wired.com: You’ve got a new title, The Infinite, ready to debut, the second season of The Walking Dead is shooting now and not just one, but two board games on the way, Skybound humming along — any other new projects on the horizon?
Kirkman: The Infinite is really the last new project I’ll be doing for a while. I have one more one-shot, special, finite thing that I’ll be announcing at Comic-Con. Other than that, I’m really trying to focus on what I have on my plate right now, which is The Walking Dead comic, The Walking Dead TV show, Invincible, The Infinite, Super Dinosaur and then the various books that Skybound is doing, which I think is enough to keep me pulling my hair out and miserable and overworked … which is how I like it.
Super Dinosaur#3 can be found at your local comic book store on Wednesday, June 29th.