If the worst should happen and a zombie apocalypse occurs this weekend, there's no safer place in America to be than Northern California: "Walking Dead" creator Robert Kirkman will be in Oakland as part of the inaugural Image Expo, greatly increasing your survival odds if a pack of flesh-hungry walkers swarms the scene.
"The Image Expo is an Image-centric comic book convention, so all of the guests have something to do with Image Comics," Kirkman told MTV News during a recent phone interview. "All of the Image founders will be there, as well as new creators who are doing comics with Image this year: Ed Brubaker, Brian K. Vaughan, we have Jonathan Hickman coming here ... all kinds of cool guests."
Running from February 24-26, the first-ever Image Expo makes its debut during the 20th anniversary of Image Comics. Kirkman, a longtime Image reader and current partner at the company, considers the anniversary a milestone achievement for a publisher that originally launched with a very uncertain future.
"There were a lot of naysayers back in 1992 when the company was formed, saying they'd be gone within six months," Kirkman said. "For Image to still be around, still generating new ideas and content and bringing in new creators into the industry, taking a lot of chances on people who've never been published before, that's one of the things that Image does the best. It's really cool that this vision of a company created by creators for creators, that offers the greatest creator-owned deal in the industry and gives everyone the kind of freedom every creator wants to have, is still standing."
Indeed, Image has plenty of new creators to brag about going into 2012. Kirkman identified "Captain America" writer Ed Brubaker's new thriller "Fatale" as one of the books he's most excited for this year. "Y: The Last Man" scribe Brian K. Vaughan's upcoming sci-fi epic "Saga" is another of Kirkman's must-read books in 2012. But Kirkman is equally excited about the arrival of some new creative voices at Image this year, including the company's onetime PR and marketing coordinator Joe Keatinge, who launches a new series titled "Hell Yeah" in early March.
"There are a lot of things he's involved in that I'm very excited about, but the fact that he's launching a creator-owned book, 'Hell Yeah,' is really great," Kirkman said about Keatinge's upcoming projects. "Image is the place that brings in new talent and shepherds them into the comics industry, and I see big things from this Keatinge kid."
Of course, Kirkman has plenty of his own books he's bringing to the table as well. During Image Expo, Kirkman will champion some of his fan-favorite titles including "Walking Dead" and "Invincible," as well as his new comic "Thief of Thieves" that debuted from his Skybound imprint earlier this year.
"It's about a guy named Conrad Paulson who lives a double life as an international thief named Redmond, who is rumored to be the greatest thief who ever lived," Kirkman said of the book's premise. "But he has a problem: he chose his thief life over his personal life, and he has an estranged ex-wife and a son he's never talked to. He has a ton of regrets. The book is about him trying to get his life in order and turned around, turning his back on his career as a thief... but finding that he is completely and utterly unable to do that. He's completely addicted to the thrill of stealing objects. He tries to work around that by working out a way to steal for the greater good."
Taking a page from his "Walking Dead" television experience, Kirkman is implementing a writer's-room approach to "Thief of Thieves." Rather than writing the book all on his own, he's working alongside an unknown number of other writers — including "Morning Glories" scribe Nick Spencer — to add even more voices to his latest creative endeavor.
"It's been a lot of fun working on 'The Walking Dead' in the writer's room. I've grown to respect that method of crafting stories, so I figured I'd give it a shot on a comic book," Kirkman said. "It's cool to sit down with other writers — currently unnamed, but we'll be making announcements soon — and plotting out the story in the same way we'd be doing it on a television show. Having those different brains in the mix, people with different backgrounds generating different ideas and adding to the stew of the story we're putting together is very cool. When you sit down and read the first 25 issues of 'Thief of Thieves,' you're going to see all these different ideas at work. It'll be cool to see how it all comes together."
Kirkman fans traveling to Image Expo to take a bite out of the writer's biggest hit to date, "Walking Dead," won't walk away disappointed either. The convention will host variant editions of "Walking Dead" #94, as well as a select number of limited-edition "Walking Dead" watches. And, of course, there's that little AMC series to consider as well.
"We've got a panel called 'Walking Dead' Live where ['Talking Dead' host] Chris Hardwick will be interviewing myself and [actors Norman Reedus and Steven Yeun] together on a panel," Kirkman said. "We'll get to do that live before a panel audience, which should be pretty exciting. We'll also have autographs, signings, all that cool stuff. We might even play ping pong with people. I cannot confirm that, but we'll see. We're going to be having all kinds of fun!"
Are you heading to Image Expo this weekend? Sound off in the comments section or hit me up on Twitter @roundhoward!