This is the first in a series of articles where I examine the past, present and future of big names, small names and no name creators who came up from the trenches to become indie comics legends…

Before Kirkman became “Kirkman” he was FUNK-O-TRON.

Many people are not aware that before Robert Kirkman became big wig Image Comics partner and almost single handedly took over the Zombie genre (without ever saying the word “zombie” mind you) that he was… an INDIE COMICS HUSTLER!

While he’s gone on to great success in comics and other media, it’s important to know it wasn’t magical and surely didn’t happen overnight. I recall the old Funk-O-Tron tables at east coast comic conventions. First time I ever met Kirkman, I was getting back to my table when an original Battle Pope t-shirt caught my eye. It was so outrageous and awesome I had to buy it. Robert was there to kindly greet me with a smile and up sell me on the current books he had. It was quite frankly one of the most pleasant sales experiences at a comic convention that I can remember. Not pushy, just very matter of fact. He knew who’s cup of tea his comics were for and he didn’t want to waste your time and didn’t seem desperate like a lot of other indie comic companies at the time with booth babes and gimmicks.

What most people don’t know or understand is the behind the scenes shop talk of indie publishers who share resources and their pain points with each other.  Kirkman, like so many other indie creators out there, put it ALL on the line, went into serious debt for the love of comics. There was very little money to be made, but you had to pay to be out there, especially in the late 90’s and early 2000’s when the internet was lame. I’m not saying it’s “comics” fault, but so many families and friendships over the years have been busted up thanks in part to financial stresses of pursuing these passions and dreams. From previous interviews with Kirkman, it sounds like he encountered a lot of those challenges as well in his early indie comics career.

“There was a time I was about $40,000 in debt and I was making only about $300 a year and I would just lay in my living room floor and shake…” Robert says in a candid video interview with Speakeasy. He goes on to discuss his day job schedule at the time and how he quit it to pursue comics full time and how he almost gave up to work at an Amazon warehouse. Worth a watch for you other struggling creators out there.

Whether it’s crazy to abandon all caution, or blind faith (possibly a mix of all those), creators like Robert Kirkman don’t give up. They double down.

In 2001, Funk-O-Tron launched a “flip” book called Double Take which featured some really cool original and creator owned concepts like my personal favorite Rex Mantooth Kung-Fu Guerilla by Matt Fraction with art by Andy Kuhn. On the flip-side you had Codeflesh written by Joe Casey with art by Charlie Adlard. A quick glance through all the names associated with those Funk-O-Tron days is a showcase of some of the best indie comics creators around. Pretty freakin’ cool.

Before he was shouting the “Create Your Own!” message from the rooftops to creators everywhere, Robert Kirkman was also willing to share resources and talk shop with just about anyone who’d ask. A short personal story, back in 2002 when writer Brian Lynch and I were publishing the Monkeyman Unleashed mini-series, Diamond Comics had turned us down, it was pretty depressing. The Diamond Comics rep back then said he’d only put a black and white comic in his section if we got a forward from Kevin Smith, whom had absolutely nothing to do with our comic besides the fact Brian was affiliated with View Askew and we were all contributors of at the time. It was a real bummer to be turned down and rejected when we had a fanbase wanting to buy the comic in shops.

Upon hearing this tale from me at Pittsburgh Comicon, Robert thought that was stupid and immediately offered up “his guy” at Diamond who immediately accepted it. I’ve heard similar tales of other indie comic guys he gave helping hand or tip to. And it was with that positive “we got this” attitude that Robert Kirkman networked in the right way, and others took notice of that contagious creative energy and sense of humor.

Nowadays, whether Kirkman poops on a golden toilet or has “hair and makeup” people to make him look prettier his heart surely still beats indie comics. Instead of flying off in private jets to his private island to bathe in a vault of money, Kirkman uses his platform and success to keep “comics” in the spotlight and remind Hollywood that it’s the creative engine that’s fueling media everywhere.

This is why Robert Kirkman is a true Indie Comics Legend.

And like a true indie comics legend, Kirkman is never resting on his laurels. He’s launching a new comic series Oblivion Song which sounds pretty damn cool in March of 2018. Be sure to yell at your local comic shop to have them carry it.

We here at Comic News Authority are also excited to watch and support the upcoming “Secret History of Comics” show that Kirkman is bringing to AMC. It debuts November 12th, 2017 on said network.

Is there another indie comics creator you’d like to nominate for “Indie Comics Legend” status? Drop me a line directly. Thanks for reading!

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D.J. Coffman

An indie comics hustler. He posts new art, adventures and photos of his bird feeder on his instagram @djcoffman.

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