Robert Kirkman is at New York Comic Con for the 11th anniversary of The Walking Dead the comic - still what he considers the definitive version of the zombie world.
Dalton Ross from Entertainment Weekly moderated the panel, with editor Sean Mackeiwicz and creator Robert Kirkman coming out on stage.
Spoiler warning ON for recent issues.
The story jumped in time and introduced some brand new characters after the "All Out War" storyline. "There was a big question about what we were doing next," Kirkman said. "I wanted people to pick that issue up and not know who those people are. As the story unfolds and you get deeper in, you see characters you know, and that it's been a long time since the last issue."
Talking about Rick's new look, Kirkman said that Douglas Monroe comparison he gets is not true. Aging Carl was a bigger moment. "That's something Charlie Adlard and I discussed at length, what his look would be, how we'd deal with his missing eye.
"There's always been a limitation with Carl because he was so young. He's definitely not an adult now, but he's a few years older, he's 13 or so, I'm not going to nail that down. But now we can do a lot more with that character, and we will - be on the lookout for issue 134."
"People lost their shit," Sean said about the changes in the walkers a couple issues back. "We want to disappoint people in an entertaining fashion," he said with a laugh. "It's always fun to be reassured about how little credit we've built up with over a hundred issues," Kirkman said.
"There is a lot left to reveal, a lot of characters that haven't been seen" since the time jump, Kirkman said. We will see Michonne again, for example, but not for a few issues.
The panel then turned to some questions solicited on twitter. "Is it annoying to draw Carl's eye? Is that why you gave him glasses?" a fan asked. Kirkman said that he "doesn't care how annoying something is to draw for Charlie," and that "it's about an insecurity for Carl and him wanting to hide that aspect."
Anything that happens in the comics, including things like Carl losing his eye, are options for the TV show. "We don't adapt directly, but there's no content restriction or anything that holds us back from doing that."
Rick's new status is something that Kirkman "has been planning for years now. We're just now getting into stuff that I originally plotted since the show existed," he revealed. The writer talks a lot with Charlie Adlard about design ideas - they changed Rick's look for story reasons.
A question from the Netherlands prompted Kirkman to make fun of the country - and two girls in the front row right in front of his face happened to be from there.
Asked about his plans, he said, "I always have a roadmap for the book, but have the ability to turn on a dime. There are certain deaths that have happened the day that I was writing it, because I think that life does that sometimes.
"The ending was pretty much how I planned - Negan was never going to die during All Out War, I love him too much. But I'll kill him eventually, don't get too comfortable."
Kirkman revealed that Charlie Adlard was "completely behind the look of The Governor."
We will "definitely" see Lucille again. "That's another big - where did that thing go? Who has that bat and what are they doing with it? These are questions you should be asking - there's a lot of stuff people probably haven't thought about that have been pulled out of the book."
How much time passed between #126 and #127? "I'm not saying - because if I get to a point 30 years from now that 18 months is the good time or 3 years would be the good time, that's what it'll be. It's roughly two years, but I'm not nailing it down."
Live fan Q&A started next.
Which character do you dislike the most out of all those you created?
"Probably that tiger," Kirkman joked. "There aren't any characters that I've really disliked. I love putting some into terrible situations and I kill them all, but I love them all."
Who's your favorite charcter to mess with?
"All of them? Okay, specifics. That tiger! (laughs) Certainly Spencer. But looking at the story, Rick, because it seems the worst things happen to him or Carl. I don't do anything specifically to mess with any characters, I'm just trying to put out an entertaining book."
Morgan coming back to the TV show?
"It's possible - the story has to be right and the actor has to be available, but yeah, Morgan will be back on the TV show eventually."
How did you create Rick?
"Really the reason Rick's a small town police officer - and he's a crappy one, he had never fired his gun, and such. A lot of the times you deal with these guys that are like the "best of the best," they're bulletproof, they're like Bruce Willis. I wanted to do this story about the normal people trying to survive, and seeing how they rise to the occasion. I guess he's a little bulletproof, if I'm honest," Kirkman answered.
Which character in the comic is the most how you'd react in a zombie apocalypse?
"Eugene, probably? The guy who lied to get people to protect him! 'No guys, I know where some gold is buried. Just protect me and I'll give it to you.'"
Dale was killed by zombies on the show because "they weren't as big a threat as we wanted them to be. Plus Dale was offering some comfort to the characters in the show, so he died."
The best death scene in the comics?
Sean said, "Probably Glen. It just really affects me so much."
Kirkman said, "Andrea's! Just kidding, she's not dead yet. Glen's affected me too, and I liked Abraham's for being weird with him still talking, not really knowing he's dying. And Tyrese, that one hit me." Abraham's death was done right at the end of him writing that story, because he didn't think it was realistic for them to all live through the ambush.
Sean said he has fun going through letters, but it's "intimidating" because they get 100 to 200 letters per issue, and "everyone's a f*ckin wackjob out there."
Which character would you want to survive with?
"I mean, Negan would be entertaining. I dunno. Carol from the show - she's pretty tough, she'd probably open cans for me and stuff, I can't do that. She'd probably keep me safe for the longest."
Are you going to do any more world-building and, "why didn't your Atlanta have more black people?"
Kirkman laughed. "I think we've diversified our cast a lot as we went along. Everyone knows that white people are terrible." He also said that "in the television state we're doing a companion show and that's going to be somewhere else."
Kirkman said he "really doesn't play favorites" or feel a particular connection any one character. It's more about "whoever I'm writing in that moment. If I'm writing a Maggie scene, she'll be my favorite then, and it changes when I go to someone else. Sometimes I talk like Negan, so I really like writing that guy."
Kirkman wrote the Carl "soliloquy" when Rick is down in both the comic and the show; the rest of the writers didn't want to do it because they didn't want to rip him off. Kirkman actually wants to change things on the show more than anyone else in the writers room. "I'm the one pitching the craziest stuff, usually."
Could we see a Rick and Negan team-up against the new threat?
"Anything is possible, but not likely. There is certainly a threat on the horizon that might require their unique skillsets, but I don't think so on that one."
Re: Rick's hand being cut off in the comic but not in the show. "I regret it, but I don't regret it. It works in the comic to have him be that way, but in the show... there's a scene where Rick climbs onto a bus. That would take a long time to show on the show. We can cheat in the comic, on the show it'd be much more difficult to do, so that's why!"
Any female villains coming up?
"There's a very good chance of that. Keep reading. It's possible that character's already been introduced. There's a spoiler!"
A young fan asked, "will there ever be an end to the zombie apocalypse?"
Kirkman said, "You're about the age of my daughter, so not until you're in college!" with a laugh. He then explained that, "Yeah, the zombies are clearly walking around longer than the human body should last, but logically the population should be decreasing. So yeah, it could end, but it's whether that happens before all the humans in the world die."
Kirkman does know "exactly where I'm going and how to get there," as far as an end to the series goes. "In all seriousness, I don't think that Walking Dead as a story - the length of it, telling the story over many years is what excites me the most. I'm going to be doing this for a long time."
Lots of biblical names for major characters like Abraham, Ezekiel, and Jesus - was that planned?
"Yeaaaah it's not really planned. I didn't think about pulling cool names out of the Bible - I wanted the names to have gravitas, and all the best names come from the Bible, I guess!" He did say that Ezekiel's name is his real name "in my mind. But that hasn't been established in the comics so I reserve the right to change my mind there."
A little girl named Sofia asked Robert what his favorite episode and issue that he's written have been.
"Episode that I wrote, probably episode 409 with Carl last year. As far as the comic book series goes, it's always the next issue. 134 is my favorite issue yet."