THE WALKING DEAD Creator ROBERT KIRKMAN on the Comic, the Show, & Why Character Rules
Robert Kirkman is a busy man. He has one hit TV series, The Walking Dead, already on the air, with a spin-off in development and other series in the works. He runs his own imprint at Image Comics, Skybound, where he helps curate other creators’ ideas and promote the creator-owned ethics he loves.
But his first love is still his own comic book work, and with the year-long celebration of the tenth anniversary of The Walking Dead in comic form, that has been apparent.
Recently at New York Comic Con we chatted with Kirkman about what was coming in the comic and the TV show, how his passion for the series has driven him forward, and tried to get a hint or two about who might make it out of “All Out War,” the new twice-monthly shipping storyline, alive. A special guest even dropped by for his own take on “All Out War.”
Newsarama: Robert, it’s clear that from the beginning you’ve had a real passion for The Walking Dead, what has driven that for you?
Robert Kirkman: You know, the comic book medium is a story-telling medium where you can tell a long-form story for many, many years. If you look at something like the Spider-Man comic, you know, it reached its seven-hundredth issue. And that’s been done by different people, but there have been runs in the past where people have been able to do one story over a really long time.
To me, being able to do a long-form story, an exploration of the world, and watching people survive in a post-apocalyptic situation is just something I really wanted to do. It’s something that excites me to this day.
Nrama: Are you conscious of the constantly escalating violence and gruesomeness of the things that happen in The Walking Dead, especially in the comic? You’re running with “All Out War” here which is going to have gruesomeness, but is it something you think about?
Kirkman: (laughs) Well, it is escalating to a certain extent, but I feel like that’s because as we get further and further from civilization, we’re going to start encountering more and more dangerous people. So that to me, it’s not by accident, it’s by design, that things do get a little bit harsher.
It is a violent world. I think the television show and the comic have to realistically portray this world, or else you can’t really “buy” the story. And in order to do that, people gots to die as I like to say. And they’re going to die in really horrific ways.
It’s always about characters at its core, and it’s always about humanity. As long as we’re thinking about that, it won’t really lose its way when it comes to the heavy gore or big action.
Nrama: Does [artist] Charlie Adlard ever fight back on anything you send him over in the scripts?
Kirkman: No, not really. I mean, there have been a couple of things where he’ll say “do you really want to do this?” Then I have to explain why I want to portray things a certain way or why there’s a specific death scene. And he always gets behind it then, he knows what we’re going for.
Nrama: Shifting to the TV show, what light hints can you give about Season 4?
Kirkman: What I can say is that Scott Gimple, our new showrunner, is a character guy. He loves tearing these characters apart and finding out what makes them tick, just really getting to the heart of things. I think by the end of Season 4, you’ll really know so much more about all of these characters that we’ve known for three seasons. The first three seasons have been a lot about world building. But now that that’s out of the way, you’re going to learn, for example, so much more about Daryl Dixon in Season 4 than you did in all of Seasons 1, 2, and 3. And the same for all these characters. There’s a lot of personal stuff. It’s actually the biggest season we’ve done. It has the best of both worlds.
Nrama: Will we lose anyone we love?
Kirkman: (smiles) Oh yeah, definitely.
Nrama: I have to ask you about Beth, because in the first two episodes of Season 4, she has some very powerful moments, and some very grim moments. Are you guys specifically trying to give characters like Beth their spotlight?
Kirkman: Yeah, definitely. We really want to justify the existence of these characters. When you have a character like Beth, who has a really rich past and a lot going on with her, we just haven’t really had the room to focus on her as much as we’d like to, but now we’re getting to do that with Season 4. There’s a lot of potential in that character, and we’re finally getting around to finding it. I think you can expect a lot more for her this season.
Nrama: Moving back to the comic, now that the first issue of “All Out War” is in peoples’ hands, what has the response been so far?
Kirkman: Yeah, people seem to dig it. I mean, it was definitely a building issue. The shit hits the fan pretty soon, but it hasn’t really done so in the first issue. But yeah, there’s some really cool stuff coming, and it is going to be the biggest story in The Walking Dead yet, I can’t stress enough that people are going to be really shocked by what’s going to happen.
Nrama: What are your fellow writers and producers thinking about what you’re doing in the comic now?
Kirkman: (turns to executive producer David Alpert) I don’t know, what are you thinking of it right now, David?
David Alpert: (shrugs nonchalantly) It’s all right!
Nrama: (laughs) Is there anything you’re champing at the bit to get to from the comic in the show?
Alpert: I just really want to get to issue #100 (laughs).
Kirkman: Issue 100?
Alpert: Yeah, in the show! I just wanna brain somebody. Is that wrong?
Kirkman: We’ll get there. We’ll get there.
Alpert: Oh, it’s going to be so good. Who do you want to play Negan?
Kirkman: Who do I want to be Negan? I can’t say!
Alpert: Ed O'Neill, right? (laughs)
Kirkman: (incredulous) Yes. Ed O'Neill is going to be Negan. (shakes head)
Nrama: Oh, man. Well Robert, when you’re balancing the show, the comic, and launching a new horror comic, how does that affect your life, living in these horrific worlds so often?
Kirkman: It’s all fictional, so I’m able to balance it very well. I spend a lot of my day thinking pretty horrible thoughts, but I’m a pretty happy-go-lucky guy, so it doesn’t affect me too much.
Alpert: I don’t know if I’d describe you as happy-go-lucky.
Kirkman: Close enough. (laughs)