Fans flocked to the Hammerstein Ballroom to attend Skybound’s The Walking Dead panel at New York Comic Con Thursday afternoon, featuring Robert Kirkman and moderator Jason Mantzoukas.
Referring to the "Whisperer War," Kirkman said he imagined the Whisperers would likely make the jump to television someday. “I imagine it’ll happen — if we don’t get cancelled, it’ll happen.”
Discussing the Whisperers’ rotting skin suits, Kirkman said the idea came approximately a year or two before he was able to incorporate them to the comic book title.
“I’ve planned for The Walking Dead to go a long time, and you don’t get to go a long time if things get boring,” Kirkman said. “How do you up the ante? How do I do something cool?”
“Nobody wants the glory - it’s just this faceless mass of terror,” Mantzoukas said. “You can’t just knock one out and watch the whole thing unfold… It’s really guerilla-style warfare.”
“It’s Rick and the group encountering an apocalyptic civilization that has been so knocked around that they’ve just given up their humanity,” Kirkman said. “They don’t operate as human beings anymore - they see themselves as animals, and they try to embrace that.”
Mantzoukas joking asked Kirkman who tailored the Whisperer’s skin suits. “For all my life, I’ve wanted to work with the medium of skin, and I was never able to do it,” Kirkman said. “You probably start with a starter suit, and if you’re a good enough Whisperer, you get a better suit. You earn it.”
Mantzoukas then discussed the breaking of Negan’s trademark weapon, Lucille the Bat.
“It’s already damaged, there’s a shot through it, so it’s the integrity of the wood,” Kirkman said. “Once I had the plan to bring Negan back in the book, and planning the origin story we’re doing in Image Plus, I thought it’d be a cool thing to do.”
Discussing The Walking Dead spinoff issue “The Alien” by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin. “People are very excited by Walking Dead not done by me,” Kirkman said. “But there are no plans beyond that… I’ve had a lot of creators approach me, though. Lots of very talented people.”
A fan asked about how much leeway Kirkman had about profanity on the show airing on the network versus home video.
“It’s between having Negan said ‘what the huck’ on screen, and save it for the Blu-Ray,” Kirkman said. “Negan’s profanity is cool, but watching it on the screen, there’s a personality and charm to it, so I think it’s still Negan. The profanity is just the cherry on top. We’ll be doing that for various different scenes, so you’ll get a few extra F-bombs on the Blu-Ray.”
Another fan asked Kirkman how he chooses which parts of the comic he adapts to the screen. Kirkman said it wasn’t totally his call anymore, but that he works in collaboration with the writers room and showrunner Scott Gimple to incorporate bits from the comic book.
“It’s a case-by-case basis based on how the team feels… it’s a little bit nerve-wracking,” he explained, adding that the writers would often one-up what he wrote initially.
A fan asked Kirkman if he would continue with 16-panel grids following "The Whisperer War." “Probably not.”
One fan asked Kirkman which creators he’d love to see on Walking Dead, if he wasn’t working on it himself. “Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips? They’re a good team. I know Sean draws zombies well.”
Kirkman worked with Phillips on Marvel's Marvel Zombies title.
Discussing how he uses real-life geographical locations in his writing, Kirkman said, “My advice is take the environment you’re writing that’s real, and just make up fake shit to make it work - oh, the alleyways are too small to run through? Poof, make them bigger!”
Another fan asked Kirkman how he juggles so many projects, and if the various characters begin to blur together. “Every now then I have to remind myself what these characters’ names are - it’s a little tiring sometimes,” Kirkman said. “It’s all different stuff to me - the Walking Dead show and the Walking Dead comic are very different for me. I’m much more involved in the comic because I’m the only person writing it.”
A fan asked if Kirkman would ever reveal the source of the zombie outbreak in the comic bookss.
“Nope,” Kirkman said. “I know what caused it… Rick Grimes and them are in buildings, and are we really going to have a scientist walk up and say, ’The President was working with NASA’? Having them be aware of the story puts it in the realm of sci-fi.”
He said that he wouldn’t write a short story explaining the outbreak unless he was “flat broke.”
One fan asked about the similarities between Rick and the Governor, and whether they’d ever be friends if the Governor was less vicious and insane.
“My thinking was the Governor and Rick Grimes were much more similar than you’d think. You can see a lot of the things the Governor did that was so bad, Rick went to the same place later,” Kirkman said.
Is Nick going to be a Whisperer, another fan asked. “No comment,” Kirkman responded.
Did Kirkman plan on having Negan kill Glenn? “Glenn was supposed to die earlier in the comic book, but I changed my mind… but it was always going to be him.”
A fan asked Kirkman how he ups the ante for characters like Negan. “When I run out of ideas for Negan, I’ll just kill him,” he said. “Negan was supposed to die in the ‘Something to Fear’ arc, and when I wrote Issue #100, I thought, I love this guy too much.”
Another fan asked Kirkman how he got his foot in the door to become a paid comics creator.
“It was tough. I mean, honestly, you have to write comics for free for a very long time, because the only way to get a job to write comics is to write comics,” Kirkman said. “I worked in a comic shop, so I figured out how to get comics to comic shops. So I asked some local people in Kentucky how they made ‘zines, and I found out how comics were made, production-wise. So I asked some friends from high school, and we made some comics. Most of which looked like dogshit. And then I just started self-publishing comics.”