Inside INVINCIBLE, the Amazon Animated Series, With Writer Robert Kirkman
In a gathering with journalists to promote Amazon's animated version of INVINCIBLE, writer/creator Robert Kirkman details the evolution of the character from the comic page to the streaming service.
Invincible is an hour-long, adult animated superhero show that revolves around seventeen-year-old Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun), who’s just like every other guy his age — except that his father is the most powerful superhero on the planet, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons). But as Mark develops powers of his own, he discovers that his father’s legacy may not be as heroic as it seems. Invincible will also star Sandra Oh (Killing Eve), Seth Rogen (This is the End), Gillian Jacobs (Community), Andrew Rannells (Black Monday, Girls), Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2), Mark Hamill (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), Walton Goggins (Justified), Jason Mantzoukas (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Zachary Quinto (Star Trek), Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Melise (The Flash), Kevin Michael Richardson (The Simpsons), Grey Griffin (Avengers Assemble), Khary Payton (The Walking Dead) and more.
TOONADO: You have Invincible in comic form. We have it in animated series now and then I even hear that you're going to have live action coming up eventually. And how is your process making sure that, you know, this story still stays fresh for the new and the old fans?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: So there will be events from the comic book series that happened way sooner than you expect, way later than you expect. You'll be expecting a certain thing to happen so that we can get to another thing later and that thing that's coming later just happens. And so there will still be a sense of surprise along the way. For the most part, we're trying to stay true to the comics, but that sense of anything can happen is central to Invincible. We're very much keeping that intact.
TOONADO: What do you like best about playing in the superhero sandbox?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: Well, as a writer it’s really great to be writing in a world where interesting things can happen at any point at any time. And what I mean by that is you can have a dialogue sequence where two people are talking and you can have a monster break through the wall in the middle of that conversation — and it is completely believable in that world and totally fits. It empowers you as a writer to just do anything and and keep things moving at any point. The thing that I strive the most for is to make my stories as interesting as possible and as exciting as possible.
TOONADO: For fans that aren't familiar with the comics, it's clear that there's a ton of characters that riff on classic Marvel and DC heroes. When you were writing the original story, how did you make sure that Invincible and Mark Grayson essentially stand out from sort of typical costumed crusaders that we've seen before?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: Cory Walker and I wanted to make them as visually different as possible. Having him on board for the show, his lead character design was able to kind of keep that present in the animated series. But Invincible celebrates everything that’s great about superheroes and also kind of subverts what you expect from superhero stories. So you have a character that may feel like a Superman so that you can make your audience expect a Superman-like story, and then do something completely different. It’s well-worn tropes and superhero storytelling that we've been able to play with, but there’s a lot of new elements that we bring into the superhero genre and a lot of different kinds of superheroes that we're able to introduce on Invincible that aren't really very similar at all. So we're trying to have a nice mix.
TOONADO: You have such an amazing cast of actors in this. What was the audition process like?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: I will say that no one auditioned. We worked very closely with Linda LaMontagne, our casting director, and she was able to just say, “You know, I think we can get this person. I think we can get this person.” These lists that she would bring in were just amazing and, you know, we'd be like, “What is that? Is this really possible?” And so we would have a conversation with people sometimes just to try to entice them. All the actors were more auditioning us than we were auditioning them. I wouldn't presume to have Sandra Oh prove to me that she can play Debbie. That’s not really going to happen. I had a very long conversation with her trying to convince her that this crazy superhero world was worth her time. By approaching things in that way, maybe it was a little bit more enticing for the actors to being invited to join us as opposed to trying to audition for us. It was a great process and I really can't believe that we ended up with the cast that we ended up with. I feel like I'm going to wake up and it was all a dream at some point. Like, it just seems too unbelievable.
TOONADO: The action and violence in the show are very visceral. For your storytelling, how important is it to you to have that violence feels so real.?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: It’s absolutely essential to making Invincible what it is. I think that most superhero stories don't really portray that violence as realistic. It can be exciting and it can be energetic and it can be entertaining, but it's not that level of brutality that exists in real world violence. In Invincible, we're trying to show the weight of this world and the drama that comes from two super powered beings, doing whatever they can to try and hurt each other. And there's a lot of collateral damage that comes from that. And there's a lot of drama that comes from that collateral damage. Invincible is a world where, when a building collapses in a city, that building is full of people and all of those people die and people mourn those people. And the city is distraught over the fact that this happened, and that's something that we don't shy away from. It's something that I think makes us unique and will help us stand apart from our counterparts in film and television. It's really something that's important to us to show there is violence that is very present, but we're really trying to show the consequences of it in a very real way.
TOONADO: The first notable alteration I've seen was the decision to change Amber. What was the thought process behind changing that character and can we expect any other significant changes going forward without being too spoiler-y is of course?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: We changed Amber’s race and I think we also expanded that character greatly. Invincible was a comic book series that was started in 2003. It was created by two white guys from … I was from Kentucky, Corey was from New Mexico. Diversity was not something that was at the forefront of our minds back then. And I think that Invincible was a very diverse comic that has a wide range of different kinds of people represented. But it's something that we recognize we could do better and when it came time to do the animated series, we solidified Mark's race as Korean and had these other characters that … Shrinking Ray is a character that was changed from male to female, because we recognized that we didn't have enough female characters. Debbie’s role significantly expanded, Ambrose’ role is significantly expanded and I think that our story is much richer for it. It’s a more well-rounded experience. Representation matters and we're all just trying to do our part to make sure that when you consume a piece of entertainment, you are seeing a representation of the world that exists around us. And sadly, that's something that wasn't really done, in comics for the better part of the last century. It’s great to be a part of doing things a little bit differently, and I think Amber’s character is a really big part of that and having Zazie Beetz play her is like injecting life into this character. Doing all the different things that we did with her has been a really great experience and we're really happy to have done it.
Invincible is currently streaming on Amazon.