The Walking Dead is hitting ten years old.
While fans continue to pour into the franchise thanks to the insanely successful TV show on AMC, Game of the Year winning tie-in video game from Telltale Games, and other merchandise, creator Robert Kirkman takes us back to the roots: the comic book series, to celebrate ten years of zombie action and give some teases as to what's coming up next. Join us at Comic-Con International: San Diego 2013 as we cover the panel that kicks off a weekend-long celebration live! Don't forget to refresh for all the latest news.
The line for The Walking Dead 10th Anniversary panel was capped nearly an hour before Robert Kirkman was scheduled to take the stage, showint that plenty of fans are as dedicated to the comic as to the TV show.
Kirkman joked to the crowd that no one moved over as the Comic-Con rep asked them to, standing at the dais and entertaining the crowd while waiting to get started (and waiting for more people to file in).
Due to some technical difficulties with the slideshow going full screen, Kirkman said "The Walking Dead isn't a big thing, it's okay to have a crappy panel. I hope this goes like this the whole way so that people just leave and go directly home from here."
Luckily, the slideshow started working and Robert Kirkman, with Skybound Editorial Director Sean Mackiewicz at his side. "We have some stuff to celebrate our 10th Anniversary, because that's what you do in comic books."
The 12-part storyline, shipping in just seven months called "All Out War" will "culminate a lot of storylines. As you know, Rick died last issue. Oh, is that not out yet?" joked the writer.
It's the Hilltop and Rick's group versus Negan and his. "They want to take him down, but it will be difficult, so difficult it takes 12 issues. It's something I wanted since the beginning of the book, to have civilization rebuilt enough that we'd start seeing the kinds of conflicts that we have in real life."
Stefano Gaudiano is going to help on art to make sure they can ship 12 issues in 7 months. "It's our first new addition to the Walking Dead team in almost ten years, so we're excited to have him."
The cover for #116 shows that "the story will ramp up very quickly. They start shooting at each other immediately." The cover to #117 was shown as well, with Kirkman getting very literal in his descriptions.
Those covers are colored by Dave Stewart, who also colored a special edition of The Walking Dead #1, a full-color version coming out in October, just in time for the 10th Anniversary.
And with that brief presentation, it's fan question and answer time!
The first fan asked if he'd come to Lexington Comic-Con, (he's from Kentucky), and he told her "I've always maintained that at a panel is the wrong time to ask someone to go to another con," joking, and said it's just a matter of scheduling.
We'll be getting snippets of Negan's history in the coming issues, but no plans for any special or novel about him just yet.
The show's divergence from the comic book doesn't mean there are storylines that will be completely skipped. "The death of any characters in the show won't preclude us from doing any one storyline; just because a character died in Season 3 doesn't mean we won't do the Hunters storyline, for example."
Any more color issues? "Yeah, on the 20th Anniversary we'll do #2," Kirkman deadpanned.
Any Dale one-shots or novels? "No one is going to read a Dale novel. I try to do that stuff selectively, specifically when it ties to a media appearance or something special going on."
How do the actions of Negan so far come to play in this all out war? "Well, Negan's first big kill (trying not to spoil for anyone that's behind) was the catalyst for this whole situation. Maggie will have a unique moment, the presence is still felt and in the center of all of this."
A fan, prefacing that her question is unoriginal, asked what his favorite character is. "I've had favorite characters before, then I've killed them. I really don't want to say, I try not to play favorites. I loved Tyrese, and Axel, all the dead ones." He explained that it waxes and wanes, it "rotates."
How has the creative process been moving from comics to TV and how involved are you? "I'm in the writer's room full time. I'm very involved, but I am open to the fact that the people in the writer's room are way better writers than me. It's been really fun to look at stuff I wrote when I was 24, 25, 26, and go "Yup, that is a way better way, should've done it like that."
"The process for me is really exciting because everything is different; if we just did everything exactly the same, it wouldn't be any fun!"
Any plans for other children to be Carl's peers or a nemesis? "If they survive the war, there will be a much larger class. We've already seen Sophia playing with some other kids in the Hilltop and there will be more with her if she survives the war."
Will the Walkers ever evolve at all? "They are not evolving, that is a Romero trope I think I should stay away from, I've done enough of his tropes already."
Kirkman said that he doesn't feel affected by the show when writing the comic, because the characters are "so different" from where they are in the show, which he's very happy about.
A fan asked if there have been times that Kirkman has wanted to radically alter the story and stopped himself. "Far too often. I can't tell you what changes I've stopped myself from, because I might still do it!
"I think the best example was the Abraham death. That was something that wasn't planned. I wrote the end of that issue, where he and Eugene are walking along, and Eugene says "I've got you to keep me safe!" Originally, Dwight was going to attack, they were going to have a tussle, and Abraham was going to survive, they'd go back and continue.
"I was plotting the issue and I just realized it was bullshit, there was no way they'd survive. So I killed him. But I had a lot of plans for Abraham, and now I can't do them, but that was great to me. It changed the story around, and it works because in real life, people don't often die when it's a very convenient time."
A fan asked what "The Walking Dead" directly refers to. Kirkman said that it is kind of about the survivors, but he leaves it open on purpose to let people draw their own conclusions.
Why did you bring in Ezekiel, a guy who has a tiger as a pet? "Because it's awesome! I think it's good to have him in there. It's guys like Negan, it's guys like Ezekiel that would have survived to this point. I think that Rick Grimes if you met him today would be a really odd person who would not be fun to be around.
"I think it's just trying to be accurate to the world, and trying to introduce as weird of people as possible. All the nice people are dead."
Is there ever a point you see the book continuing without Rick? "Sure. I don't know. We'll see. I've said from the beginning that no one is safe. I think we have enough strong characters that the book could survive Rick."
Any chance of the Vatos coming back? "Maybe."
Any characters based off anyone you know, friends or family members? "Some little aspects of me go into characters, like I used to work in a pizza place, that's why Glen did. I keep dead heads in a fish tank... I don't think it'd be good to do that, because then I'd kill them and they'd be worried."
Kirkman says he "always anticipates flack" for everything he does in the book. "I just try to do what I do. It's hard to anticipate what people will be upset about. I thought everyone would love the tiger, but there's like 5% of people that just hate the tiger. And they can kiss my butt."
Is there anything you find works better on screen than comics or vice versa? "Yeah, you can do more with less on the show because you have the actors to give facial expressions, and not talk as much. It was hard for me to realize that. I love having motion and sound for things on the show. But there are things we can only do in the comic that would never work on the show. It's so fun doing both things. I enjoy it."
Spoiler-y Carl question: he's jaded but not a lot of evolution. Is there ever a point where he might leave Rick? "Yeah, he's gonna kill him next issue. What do you want me to say? I think there's still room for Carl to grow, still things for him to do. Rick will be treating him very differently going into this war, he'll have more to do and be trusted a lot more. And that might go terribly."
Answering a question about what he thinks Negan might sound like, Kirkman said he doesn't really hear what they actually sound like in his head.
Kirkman "likes when they do little easter eggs" in things like the Telltale games, and says that other characters from the comics might show up in future chapters.
Webisodes for Season 4? "I believe there will be, I'm like 90% sure, I might be announcing something I'm not supposed to be..."
Is AMC trying to sabotage the show by firing the Executive Producers every season? "Yes, it's in their vested interest to do that," Kirkman said, trying to blow it off.
Have you thought about introducing Daryl Dixon into the comics? "You know I have thought about it, but I really like that there are characters that only exist in certain mediums. Lee in the video games, Daryl on the show, I think it's cool. You never know, but it's probably never going to happen. You never know! ... but it's never going to happen."
Any plans to show more of the world, other continents and such? "I know in the show we mentioned France and confirmed that it's a worldwide phenomenon. I've had fun being coy with it in the comics though, that there might be people in Australia being like "Well I can't talk to people on the phone from other countries, but we're fine!""
A fan here with a friend who hasn't watched or read yet asked if she should watch or read first. The whole crowd shouted "Reading!" and Kirkman said "Watching, definitely," deadpanning it.
How are you so nice when your writing is so brutal? "I think I get it all out on the page. It's just stories I'm making up, it's not part of my life that I have issues I'm getting through. Well, I have issues I'm getting through."
A fan asked about this new "Dead" teaser and if it has anything to do with The Walking Dead, Kirkman said to check back on Saturday at the Skybound panel.
A fan asking questions for a friend who couldn't come asked if the group is more inclined to settle down or go wandering again. "I think that settling down is always the ideal. It's when they survive the most. They want to stay in a central location as long as they can."
Who wears the pants in the Glen and Maggie relationship on the show? "Oh Maggie, clearly!"
If you have one, what is your favorite story? "The Giving Tree. It's so sad! I read it to my son and he goes 'why are you crying right now? He got all he wanted!'" Kirkman deadpanned.
Why do a Zombie Apocalypse story? "I really like seeing the whole structure of society and why it might have gone wrong, been a mistake. The Zombie Apocalypse story gives a really good template to tell those stories from."
The Dixon brothers came into the show mostly at the behest of Frank Darabont, but Norman Reedus actually tested for Merle, they liked him so much that they created Daryl just for him to be on the show.
What inspires this kind of story? "I love zombie movies, but always hated how they ended. There is never any longterm "people are going to survive for years in the story and we're going to watch that." And I thought that would be fun."
Is the show destined to follow the comic as closely as it can? "No, I think we've seen that the show will kill characters that are still alive in the comic and vice versa. I love that you can sit down with an issue of The Walking Dead and truly never know what is going to happen. The show will always borrow from the comic and adapt the comic, it'll just always be in cool and interesting ways you won't expect."
What are your favorite comic series and TV shows right now? "Savage Dragon has been my favorite for a long time. Manhattan Project is one that is recent that is just awesome. Saga is pretty rocking, too. As for shows, I love Breaking Bad, and I love Sons of Anarchy, that's probably my favorite show on TV."
After chastising fans for having a couple of dead spots with no questions, Kirkman wrapped up and thanked everyone for coming.