By Clark Collis
July 01, 2020 at 04:29 PM EDT
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This a (blood) red-letter day for fans of The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman. The first issue of the comic writer's martial arts tale Fire Power can be picked up for free at comic stores, where readers will also be able to buy the series' original graphic novel prologue Fire Power, Vol. 1: Prelude and a one-off comic called Negan Lives #1 in which Kirkman returns to the zombie saga he unexpectedly drew to a close last summer.

"The first issue of Fire Power was supposed to be part of the Free Comic Book Day event that Diamond Comics does in May where every retailer in the country gets a number of free comic books," says Kirkman. "The coronavirus blew that up but Diamond is allowing us to distribute our free Comic Book Day book. So, for ten dollars, you get the original graphic novel, which is nearly eight comic books-worth of material and then the free issue 1 which kicks us off our series. I highly recommend getting that Free Comic Book Day book because it was printed before quarantine and the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s a nice letter in the back from me celebrating Free Comic Book Day and talking about the world as if none of this had happened. It will be kind of cathartic to pretend that none of this occurred."

Below, Kirkman talks more about Fire Power and why he decided to reanimate The Walking Dead.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Fire Power, Vol. 1: Prelude is an epic adventure. At what point did you realize it was going to be such a sizeable story?

It was originally supposed to be 70 pages, but I was writing it in a format that I hadn’t really written in very much. I’m usually writing a 22-page comic and I know that I have that restriction. But I was trying to write this in a way that I allowed the scenes to breathe. I handled the pacing in each scene as I would as if I had unlimited space because I was like, I got seventy pages! I could go on forever! By the time I got to page 70, I was like, oh, I’m not halfway through with this — this is going to be huge. But it’s important to be launching with this massive OGN, because it’s very difficult to get people hooked on a new book, and I think by giving them this large chunk of story, you get very invested in these characters. At least that’s the hope.

Would you sit around watching old kung fu movies as “research”? I mean, that's what I would have done.

[Laughs] I wish I had more time to do that kind of stuff. A lot of times I just rely on, I watched this 17 times when I was a kid. I do try to bone up on things from time to time but sadly I did not get enough time to do research days where I just watch movies, although I may start to incorporate that during the quarantine.

You incorporate a lot of martial arts movie tropes into the prologue but you also keep on nicely wrong-footing the reader. I haven’t come across a wise old sensei character who is also a fan of Radiohead before.

Yeah, this is one of the first books that I’ve allowed myself to make pop culture references in. I usually try to avoid that, because I feel like it’s going to date things. But for this one I was like, I want this character to be really personable. Most of the mentor-teacher characters in kung fu films are extremely stand-offish and intimidating. I wanted somebody that still had a small level of intimidation but was someone who is just super cool and funny. You kind of want to be his best friend. I thought the constant pop culture references and him being "in" to things that you would never expect a guy that age to be into would be a funny gag.

Could you tease the actual series?

Fire Power is the story of this guy named Owen Johnson and Owen Johnson is an Asian-American that was adopted as a baby. He grew up in Saint Louis, but he was always told his parents were in China, and he had a little photo of them that was given to him when he was very young, and is really all he has of them. He uses that photo to go off to China and find out what his origins are, who his birth parents were, where he came from, and in the process of doing that he gets drawn into this martial arts world. He gets drawn into a larger, Kung fu-centric, very elaborate world that he wants nothing to do with.

How long do you plan the series to last?

I don’t know if I’ll ever do a book that lasts 193 issues, like The Walking Dead, but it is planned to be a sprawling epic for a good long while. Chris Samnee (Fire Power artist) and I are wrapping up work on the twelfth issue right now, so we’re very far ahead and planning to do this book for the long haul.

Talking of The Walking Dead, you wrote this one-off Negan Lives #1, which is benefitting comic book stores. How did that come about?

When this pandemic hit, there was a lot of talk behind-the-scenes about how we could help comic shops by driving people back into stores. Independently-owned retail stores are getting hit pretty hard these days. During these talks, there was a lot of “Well, maybe you could bring back The Walking Dead." I was very reluctant because Charlie (Adlard, Walking Dead artist) and I are very happy with how we capped off that series and it has only been a year. But they put a bug in my ear, and Negan is still there in my head, he’s still waiting for an opportunity to come out and shine. Once the thought was put into my head, then Negan kind of took over. I was able to talk Charlie into doing a brief Negan story that we’re pretty happy with and hope people will enjoy and we’re sending that out to stores for free. The stores will charge for it but all the revenue generated by the book will go to the stores.

Image Comics

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