ROBERT KIRKMAN on the Success of THE WALKING DEAD, Unique TV/Comics Challenges

Robert Kirkman & a Walker
Credit: Lucas Siegel

Ten years ago, a young unknown writer named Robert Kirkman came to Image Comics with an idea for a whole new take on the zombie apocalypse – what happens after the apocalypse, he asked? What about those that survived the initial push? What about the scene after the helicopter comes and flies them away?

With that basic line of thinking, The Walking Dead was born. Now, over 110 issues later, and with three seasons of a television show that has set multiple cable TV records, the series is going strong in two incarnations.

At Comic-Con International: San Diego, The Walking Dead celebrated its tenth anniversary with a glitzy Hollywood Party… with Zombies, of course. We chatted with creator Robert Kirkman about what it’s like having this kind of life be born of his little comic book that could, and what’s to come for both the book and the show.

Newsarama: Robert, when we met nine years ago, drinking cheap beer out of a cooler in the hotel lobby at Wizard World Chicago, did you ever have the slightest idea that something like this was in your future?

Robert Kirkman: No! (laughs)

Nrama: Was this even an aspiration? When you started writing The Walking Dead was there even a passing thought of, “oh, this would also be a cool TV show?

Kirkman: No, absolutely not. I mean, it wasn’t even the kind of thing you could ever bank on. That would’ve been like hoping that lightning would strike. “Oh I think I could adapt it…”

There was a history of that not really going well. So it wasn’t something you’d sit around hoping would happen. I always just hoped that the comic book would be successful enough for me to pay my bills and continue to do what I’m doing. That was all I ever strived for. So for it to go beyond that and become the show and grow into all this, uh, is a little weird!

Nrama: What has the transition been like, and is it getting easier to think of yourself as a TV writer in addition to being a comic writer?

Kirkman: I mean, I’m definitely a comic book writer. But I am also a TV writer, because I am writing TV! It’s not hard for me to think of myself as a TV writer. But comics are my first love. I’m never going to be giving up comics to focus on television or anything like that. I absolutely love comics. If anybody asks me what I do as a profession, I tell them I’m a comic book writer.

That stuff is in my blood. It’s not going away anytime soon. But I do write for television, I can’t lie about that (laughs). But I would like to sometimes!

Nrama: What is it about the timing and the particular creature of the zombie that you feel resonated with people so much to make this a big deal?

Kirkman: I don’t know. I think zombies are really cool. I think that zombies make us tell stories about human beings. You can’t really tell a story where the zombie is the central character – it’s all about how the zombie affects the humans. The way they affect the humans make us tell very intense, very personal, dramatic stories.

I think that’s what resonates with the audience and what makes zombies so popular. It makes us think about ourselves and our lives, while we’re watching these fictional characters deal with these intense situations.

Nrama: Comic book readers may have watched the season 4 trailer, seen all those walkers massing against the fence of the prison, may have made them think about herds…

Kirkman: (smiles) Yeah!

Nrama: That and many other things for comic readers in that trailer, anything you can really comment on there?

Kirkman: All I’ll really say is that there are very prominent pieces of the comic book being adapted into Season 4. There are snippets in that trailer that if you’re very familiar with the comics, you can go “Oh yeah, that’s from that, that’s from this moment,” and you’ll be close. So if you’re a big comics fan, you can go through that trailer and try to pick out what’s coming up.

Nrama: Killing Andrea last season was pretty ballsy!

Kirkman: sure!

Nrama: She has a lot of important roles in the comic book beyond that point – what are the challenges going to be like to write other people into those moments or write around those events?

Credit: Image Comics

Kirkman: I think it’s a new path. You know, the television show is different from the comic. But it’s not like we’re not going to be able to do a “Fear the Hunters” storyline or anything else that involved Andrea just because she’s not around.

It’ll make those stories fundamentally different, and I think that’s a good thing. Moving into storylines where the absence of Andrea changes things as much as the presence of Shane did earlier on in the show is something that really makes the show interesting for me, and interesting for the hardcore comic book fans. I really think it will just make the show stronger.

Nrama: Of course, “All Out War” is coming up in the comics. You’re pumping out a bunch of issues in a very short amount of time for that event. Why did you need to increase the pace of the story for this?

Kirkman: “All Out War” is such a huge story, it’s not something that I want people to have to wait an entire year to see the outcome of this war! So I thought it would be really cool for [artist] Charlie [Adlard] and I to pick up the pace and put the issues out more frequently, make the storyline seem a little bit more special.

Also, the story is going to have an intense pace in the single issues. So I want people to not have to wait really long for the next installment, because it would be maddening in some cases.

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