While creating a comic book empire, Robert Kirkman mastered the art of writing long.
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 debuted Friday, with many more cliffhangers yet to come after Amazon announced “Invincible” has been renewed for a second and third season.
Both of his big comic series were published by Image Comics, which, unlike other major publishers, allows creators to retain ownership of their stories and the heroes and villains created within them.
Kirkman spoke to The Washington Post about the comic book origins of “Invincible”; how he turned the show into another gritty and mature animated series for Amazon alongside “The Boys”; and the importance of a superhero who’s voiced by an Asian actor.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
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 one 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 mold by how intense this show is visually?
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 flavor.
Q: The look of this “Invincible” series in animation is very similar to the art style of the artists you collaborated with from the comics. Was a seamless visual transition from comic book to animation important to you when it came to how this series looks?
A: Ryan Ottley, the artist who did the bulk of the issues of “Invincible,” was a consultant on the show. The co-creator of the series, Cory Walker, who defined the look of the comic book, also is our lead character designer on the show. Having them involved was absolutely essential.
Q: While J.K. Simmons was voicing Omni-Man (Invincible’s father) for you in this series, was it difficult not to imagine him as J. Jonah Jameson because of his involvement in that role in one of the most important superhero movies ever (2002’s “Spider-Man”)?
A: I have to be completely honest, J.K. Simmons is one of the greatest actors who ever lived, and at no point did I ever think of J. Jonah Jameson. I think that his Omni-Man character is such a warm and loving and devoted father who is the dad that everybody would want.
And then when we have that turn, because J.K. is playing basically two different characters, he’s absolutely explosive and he is still very much Nolan Grayson/Omni-Man, but he is playing it in such a different way. It’s just an amazing performance that I couldn’t be more happy with.
Q: The voice cast you’ve assembled for “Invincible” is a who’s who of Hollywood talent. 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 color 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 superhero tale to be a hero of color?
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 kind of thing 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.
So we’re very proud of the fact that “Invincible” ended up being a very diverse comic book with a very diverse cast. But when it came time to adapt it into a series, that’s when we decided that we really wanted to solidify the representation and expand upon it.
Q: In addition to Yeun, Sandra Oh is the voice of Invincible’s mother. That’s two very prominent Asian actors with key roles in a superhero series at a time in America where Asian Americans are continually the victim of racist attacks. Do you see the significance of that and has there been any talk about the potential impact, especially for “Invincible’s” younger Asian fans?
A: It’s hard for me to speak on that because of my background. It’s not an experience that I have. I think that it’s an example of why all representation matters. Because while we’re in this period of increased Asian hate, it’s good to have people out in the public representing Asians in a positive light. Hate is born of ignorance, and anything that we can do to combat that ignorance and bring people to a place where they are more accepting of other people and other ways of life, is the main way in which to combat that.