KIRKMAN Reveals The Early Days of THE WALKING DEAD

Update 5/17: In response to our interview, originally conducted several months ago, Image Comics has informed Newsarama The Walking Dead: Cutting Room Floor will not be shipping in June, as originally solicited, and does not yet have a new shipping date. The publisher provided us the following statement:

"The amount of content in Cutting Room Floor has made putting the book together far more production-intensive than anyone had anticipated. We're trying not to get ahead of ourselves by announcing a revised release date too soon. There's a lot of interest in the book, and any announcement of a date is going produce a lot of inquiries, so we want to be ready -- and sure that the date is absolutely final."

Original story: They may be slow and they may be plodding, but they're dangerous and they never stop. That's an accurate description of zombies and of the comic book sensation they inspired, The Walking Dead. At 97 issues and counting, The Walking Dead has grown to become one of Image's flagship titles, a trade paperback phenomena the likes of which the comic book industry has never seen, and spawned a hit television series on AMC. But it all started in the mind of a Central Kentucky teenager named Robert Kirkman.

In June's The Walking Dead: Cutting Room Floor collection, Kirkman reveals for the first time the origins of the zombie survival series in a sprawling collection of hand-written scripts, plotlines and ideas that would become his signature creation. For all its Hollywood success, each story still starts the way it always did — with Kirkman alone with his thoughts, a pen and some paper.

"For every issue of The Walking Dead I have a handwritten plot outline… basically a beat sheet," Kirkman tells Newsarama. "It outlines every single page, sometimes with dialogue notes and sometimes with sketches for covers."

While Kirkman uses his Mac to write the scripts, Kirkman uses pen-and-paper to jot down his initial ideas for each issue of the series as it develops in his mind. According to Sina Grace, the Editorial Director at Kirkman's Skybound Entertainment, the writer has a unique set-up.

"I've seen the magic!" says Grace, who himself draws the Image series Lil' Depressed Boy. "There is a lot of sitting, pondering, and Fleet Foxes involved. At the end of the day, Robert's writing these comics alone, so he's not really spit-balling ideas with me or Charlie Adlard. He has an old binder that he's used for years (I actually think it's his wife's old binder from high school) with all of the plot line pages. When he gets to writing, he keeps that by him while writing the scripts on his Mac."

The idea for collecting all this material under one roof — or in this case, one spine — came to Kirkman while he and his team were putting the finishing touches on The Walking Dead: The Covers which came out in 2010.

"When that hardcover did so well, we thought people would be receptive to a 'behind the scenes' book," says the writer. "Most people don't know how comics are actually put together, and it's an interesting process to watch and the notes, I think, are fun."

The general format of the book sees a hand-written plot for an issue on a left-facing page with comments from Kirkman on the right-facing page. Drilling down for a specific comparison between an issue of The Walking Dead and the notes we see in The Walking Dead: Cutting Room Floor, Kirkman cites the inaugural first issue.

"One of the first things in the book is the outline for The Walking Dead, and almost every single page appeared as I had planned in those first notes. Very little was added in the scripting process," Kirkman explains. "However, in some issues here and there I have completely different storylines in those notes than what ends up in the comic. I change my mind sometimes when scripting, and those unused story points become neat tidbits."

According to Kirkman, The Walking Dead: Cutting Room Floor will reveal how several characters were originally intended to die much sooner in the course of the series while some were originally planned to have a longer life than their eventual fate in the comics.

With 2013 being the 10-year anniversary of the series' first issue and the comic living as an idea in the head of him and original artist Tony Moore for months and years prior, revisiting some of this material now a decade later is an eye-opening experience for Kirkman.

"It's the first time I've looked at some of these notes in a long time," he admits. "I have a master document that has plots moving forward that I review from time to time, but the individually hand-written plots for each issue I don't review regularly. Pouring back over them for this new collection reminded me of various things I had planned but then moved away from. In some cases I can't remember why I had planned it that way, while in others I kick myself for not sticking to my original notes."

When asked if there are any spoilers for future events in these cast-off notes from the first 50 issues, the prolific writer says that re-reading these old notes did spark some new ideas.

"There could be some nuggets hidden in these notes that might inform things coming up in the comic series," Kirkman reveals. "There are definitely some never-before-seen ideas for the series here that could provide insight on what's coming up next."

While this isn't the first time we've seen a "behind the scenes" book chronicling the early days of a successful comic, seeing this material in one place does force the question of why Kirkman keeps it all, and if it's a habit of his for all he's done. For his part, he admits that he probably keeps more than he should.

"As I was going through my files and handwritten notes for this book, I realized how much of a packrat I am," says the writer. "I have a bit of everything; every handwritten plot for everything I've done from The Walking Dead and Invincible all the way to my work-for-hire books at Marvel and elsewhere. I have every sketch I've ever done for things, as well as different doodles by artists who've worked in the studio with me in the past. With The Walking Dead; Cutting Room Floor I'm putting it to good use, which is my argument when I talk with my wife about everything I have in storage."

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