The Walking Dead Creator Robert Kirkman Says He Was "Treated Like Crap" at Marvel

Comics creator Robert Kirkman says he was "treated like crap" while writing for Marvel Comics and that his time at the company was "not a good fit" and "very restrictive." Best known as the creator of zombie saga The Walking Dead and superhero series Invincible for publisher Image Comics, Kirkman penned multiple books for Marvel between 2004 and 2010, co-creating Marvel Zombies and The Irredeemable Ant-Man. Recalling an incident during his tenure on Ultimate X-Men for the company's Ultimate Marvel imprint between 2006 and 2008, before Marvel Entertainment was acquired by Disney, Kirkman says he clashed with then Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada:

"It was very restrictive. I mean, I have a great relationship with [Marvel's Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of Publishing] Tom Brevoort. I think he was a fantastic editor, I loved working with him. Joe Quesada and I do not get along," Kirkman said on ComicTropes. "There were a lot of things that I got blamed for that didn't really happen, and I would explain, 'That's not what I meant by that, what are you talking about?' And then they'd get more mad at me."

According to Kirkman, word balloons that appeared on the cover of issues of Irredeemable Ant-Man were added without his knowledge or approval.

"I'd be like, 'Why would you put a word balloon on the cover of my book without telling me or running it by me or letting me write the dialogue? Or I don't know, God forbid, letting me do the word balloon?'" Kirkman said. "Like, 'This is a bad looking word balloon, I don't like this dialogue, I would have taken my time to do this right. I don't know why you guys just wouldn't let me do this.'"

"It got to the point where they wouldn't promote some of my books. Because some of my books were lower tier books, and there's a marketing budget," he added. "It only makes sense to market the books that are going to make revenue as opposed to the books that are not going to make a lot of revenue. And that's the other thing: I was completely realistic about my stature — or lack thereof — at Marvel while I was there."

Irredeemable Ant-Man 12
(Photo: Marvel Comics)

When Kirkman offered to arrange his own media interviews to promote his books, it "just drove them nuts." Kirkman was told he needed Marvel's permission before participating in interviews.

"You want me to just do these books and not try to sell them? I don't understand," Kirkman said. "Look, the fact of the matter is, I was a self-publisher who had gone to work at Image, and Image is a very free environment. If you've done self-publishing, Image is the very best place to be because you're capable of doing everything. So then I go to Marvel, I'm like, 'I can do all this stuff, I'm willing to handle all this stuff, I'm willing to help out.' And it just was not a good fit."

"They read that as arrogance," he added. "Like, 'I'm better than them and I can do this.' No, it's just I care about the books, more than a lot of writers care about the books, I care about all aspects of the books."

During the planning stages of an Ultimate crossover, Kirkman got into a "big fight" with Quesada when he sought clarification about whether the event would be collected in a Spider-Man or X-Men hardcover after other Ultimate Marvel limited series — including Ultimate Six, a Spider-Man crossover, and Ultimate War, pitting superhero team the Ultimates against the X-Men — were collected in hardcover volumes of Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men, respectively.

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(Photo: Marvel Comics)

"As a writer, if you're writing Ultimate War, you're not going to write a very important Spider-Man scene that is continuity-heavy that is going to be a missing piece when you read through the Spider-Man hardcovers. And when you're writing Ultimate Six, you're not willing to do a big X-Men scene that’s going to be missing when you do the X-Men hardcovers," Kirkman said. "So we're planning this Ultimate event, and I say, 'Is this going to be an X-Men leaning event, is this going to be a Spider-Man leaning event, what is the way that this leans?' So that I know I've got this big story I’m doing with [X-Man] Nightcrawler, I'm not going to touch on it in this event, because this event is going to be collected in Spider-Man hardcovers. It's a very, I thought, basic question."

Kirkman continued: "And Joe Quesada writes me this email back that's like, 'Why don't you worry about the story before you worry about your X-Men royalties? Who cares about where a book is collected and who's getting the royalties from that story? Why don’t you just focus on the writing, what's wrong with you?'"

"And my response, I don't think I said this, but my response was like, 'I'm making nickel and dime from you a—holes,'" Kirkman said. "I'm making crazy money, at the time, from Invincible and Walking Dead, my collections are doing great. I'm working for nickels over here at Marvel and I get treated like crap and I get yelled at all the time for just trying to put an extra level of care in the books. So that's really what it got down to: I think they resented the fact that I didn't need them, and it was a constant problem."

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Kirkman ended The Walking Dead after 193 issues in July 2019. He recently reunited with artist Charlie Adlard on one-shot comic Negan Lives #1, released July 1 in support of comic book retailers impacted by COVID-19.

Photo: Marvel Comics / Ron Jaffe for AMC