Robert Kirkman talks demonic possession and ‘Outcast’

(CBR) It’s hard to believe that such a friendly jokester like Image Comics partner Robert Kirkman would have so many demons to exorcise, but in June of this year, he, along with artist Paul Azaceta, will do just that with their new horror series, “Outcast.”

The upcoming title — which has already been optioned for television by Cinemax — follows Kyle Barnes, a man that has spent his entire life exposed people possessed by demons, including his own mother. Having reached a low point with his life spinning out of control, Barnes decides to find out more about the terrifying world of possessio

n. Kirkman spoke with CBR News at last week’s Image Expo, where he shared a bit more about the upcoming series, his thoughts on a comics horror revival and why seeing Kelly Sue DeConnick’s “Bitch Planet” announcement made him emotional.

CBR News: So, how is this year’s Image Expo different for you from last year’s? Robert

Kirkman: Well, it’s definitely bigger this year. It’s all a large blur for me, though. When “The Walking Dead” is no longer popular and everything slows down, I’ll go, “Okay, now I’m ten, twenty years older and I have a chunk of my life I don’t recall.”

The convention blur —

Yeah, that’s a good name for that. I have things I’ve done at various conventions, and I just remember them as one block of memory. I’ll be talking to my friends and I’ll be like, “Remember last year when we did this thing at Comic Con?” and they’ll say, “That was seven years ago. Seven. Not last year.”

There’s just so much great stuff going on that it’s hard for me to keep track of it.

You spoke a little more about “Outcast” today — what excites you the most about telling a true horror story?

I really like stories with consequences. I really like stories where the characters are put through their paces and have a tremendous amount of pain to deal with. It makes things more interesting, and horror really lends itself to that kind of stuff. This is the second time I’ve done a true horror thing, and this is much more horror than “The Walking Dead” ever really has been — I’ve always considered it to be more of a survival story. I like dark and brooding stories.

What scares you? Everything. Ghosts, whatever. All kinds of things. I’m certainly not very masculine in the traditional sense, so I’m terrified by all things. I found that this is a book I can’t really write at night because it’s creepy and I’m dealing with some pretty dark things. It creeps me out to be in a dark room at night with the windows and blackness on the other side. It gets a little eerie.

What compelled you to write about demonic possession? To me, that’s the scariest topic, because part of me believes it could actually happen.

Being in a country that has such a significant religious population, the thing that’s really cool about this as compared to “The Walking Dead,” which is about zombies, is that as scary as zombies are, no one actually believes that they’re real. But, yeah, I agree with you — there’s a very clear case to be made that exorcisms and demonic possessions are things that are actually happening. I think that’s terrifying. Being able to tap into that and explore it in a new way is very cool and will be a lot of fun.

Did you look into any alleged cases of actual possession or research exorcisms?

Yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of that. Seeing what’s out there and what’s going on. I’ve been very familiar with that stuff for a while; it’s interesting. I’ve done a tremendous amount of looking into what’s out there and it’s scary.

Are you exploring the divide between the misdiagnoses of mental illnesses that have been attributed to possession versus ‘actual’ demonic possession?

Well, in “Outcast” we are definitely dealing with the supernatural. There is going to be some elements of mistaking demonic possession when it isn’t actually supernatural. We’ll be touching the fringes of that for sure.

Kyle Barnes, the lead character, has been around possession his entire life, but has he ever been possessed? Or is he just surrounded by people experiencing possession that are somehow drawn to him?

There’s a very specific story reason why that will be revealed in the book, so you’ll have to read it to find out why that’s the case. But it is very interesting that this is the case, and it’s something you should be wondering about while you’re reading the book. It’s very astute of you to key in on that.

One of the things Eric Stephenson said in his keynote address this morning was regarding the importance of bringing diversity into the comics industry. You guys announced several horror titles today — do you feel like this is a genre that has been under-represented?

It’s important to note that a significant portion of this industry was crime and horror comics in the ’50s before Fredric Wertham and his witch hunts killed that entire side of the industry. That’s what allowed superhero comics to become so popular. It’s all about EC and “True Crime,” that’s what comics were for a very long period of history.

I think that now, with the complete removal of the Comics Code Authority, it’s like our industry is maturing again into an art form that can actually tell a broad range of stories. Horror is a very popular genre, crime is a very popular genre, I love that we’re seeing more science fiction books — just a very wide range of non-superhero titles. I think it’s a turning point in our industry and it’s course correcting a great wrong that was done to comics as a whole. I’m very excited that Image can be at the forefront of that.

Out of all the titles announced at the Expo, what are you looking forward to the most?

I’m really excited about “Nameless.” I think Grant [Morrison] and Chris [Burnham] are a great team. I’m very excited about all of them, to be completely honest, but “Bitch Planet” is probably the standout for me. I know Kelly Sue [DeConnick] is going to do things that are very off the wall. I had a very emotional moment when the slide came up, because I was just like “There’s a book called ‘Bitch Planet’ and it’s a handcuffed hand with a middle finger right on the cover, and that’s Image Comics!” You can’t get that comic book anywhere else. Any other publisher would say, “That’s a great idea, we’re not gonna do that, you should do something else.” But Image says if that’s what you’re passionate about, that’s what you want to do, then you get to do that. I think that’s something that should be celebrated. I’m very proud of the fact that Image is allowing books like that, something that really appeals to me, to thrive in this industry. It’s redefining what you can expect from a comic book experience

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