When it comes to zombies, your work is never done. For The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, that’s especially true. Good thing he loves zombies.
For the past eight years, Kirkman has been telling the ongoing story of survival inside a zombie-plagued American heartland with the monthly comic series The Walking Dead. And last year, television viewers got infected with the zombie plague as AMC’s television series became one of the highest rated cable dramas ever. Flush with the success of the series, 2011 has been a busy year for Kirkman as he balances writing both the comic and episodes of the television show as well as several other comic series like Invincible and Super Dinosaur.
With the second season of The Walking Dead set to debut next week and a new issue of the comic on shelves later this month, Newsarama caught up with the writer to talk about how he keeps ahead of the zombies and the deadlines.Newsarama: Let’s start with an easy one, Robert. What are you working on this week in regards to The Walking Dead?
Robert Kirkman: Well, for the show I’m going to be going into the editing room later today to look over some special effects, which I’m pretty excited about. I’ll also be discussing scripts and doing some tweaks later on this week for what I believe will be our tenth episode. Next week I’ll be flying to Atlanta to review the season premiere with the cast and crew. There’s a press screening on Thursday I’ll be attending, and then a little Q&A action there.
On the comic book front, I just wrapped up the script for The Walking Dead #89 a little while ago and now Charlie’s finishing that up. I’ll be working on the script for #90 soon.
Nrama: What would the teenage Robert Kirkman from years ago be thinking of this jet-setting life?
Kirkman: It’d be a little ridiculous. The teenage Robert Kirkman probably would not be able to handle how cool my life is currently. It’d be pretty shocking to for the younger me to find out things would go this way; never in a million years would I think I would be doing what I’m doing now, even in my early 20s. It’s a really awesome thing, and I’m continually shocked.
When I really sit down and think about it, it scares me. It’s kind of weird to sit back and think that I have a successful television show, two comics nearing 100 issues that are also more successful than they’ve ever been. Things are doing well, and I’m going to be able to do the book for a good long time. I consider myself lucky.
Nrama: With season two of The Walking Dead underway, have you found a rhythm to balancing all the different aspects of being the creator of The Walking Dead?Kirkman: Yeah, and that’s how Skybound comes in. I have people working at Skybound to handle the licensing stuff. If they say “Oh, we’re going to do a lunch box!” all I have to do is look at a few files and provide some input; that’s pretty much all I’m doing. I make sure it’s not a cheap lunchbox but something neat I’d want to have, and then move on from there.
I’ve definitely hit a rhythm working on the show while also keeping up with writing comics. I’m not going to lie to you: it’s difficult at times, but it helps that it’s something I love doing. There’s rarely a time in the day that I think I’d rather be doing something different.
Nrama: How would you compare the second season to the first, in terms of story and style?
Kirkman: Well it’s bigger; there’s more episodes, so that’s a big thing right there. That sounds nonsensical, but it continually shocks me how much more story you can pack into 13 episodes rather than six. It feels like we’re doing two episodes’ worth of material in every episode.
We’re doing a lot of cool stuff in the second season. Story-wise, we’re in a different locale. We’re out in the woods, dealing with a much more rural environment than Atlanta in the first season. It’s a big change, and it’s been really cool. We’re introducing new characters and all kinds of different environments, but it has everything you liked about the first season. There are tons of zombies, action scenes and drama involving our cast.
Nrama: I also hear word we’ll be introduced to Hershel Greene’s farm this season.
Kirkman: Yeah, we’re going to see Hershel and his family, and see Maggie and Glenn. As far as other locations from the comic, there are definitely a couple things slipped in there that comic readers will recognize, but I don’t want to give it away just yet. There’s going to be a few surprises in there.
Nrama: Speaking of surprises, there was a lot of concern going around regarding Frank Darabont’s departure from the series this summer. How has it been for you working with new showrunner Glen Mazzara?
Kirkman: The transition has been extremely smooth. Glen’s been a part of the team since season one, and worked side-by-side with Frank the whole time. Glenn’s stepped in and filled Frank’s role nicely.
It’s been great working with Glenn. He’s a real TV veteran, and Frank Darabont and I were both newbies to the TV landscape so there were several moments where we had to figure out how it works. Glenn knows everything about television show production. He’s taught me a lot about TV writing and editing. It’s been a fantastic experience.
Nrama: Glenn wrote an episode last season, as did you on “Vatos.” Are you doing any hands-on writing this season?Kirkman: Well, I actually wrote the season premiere and I’ll also be co-writing the finale; that’s pretty exciting. I recently moved out to Los Angeles to become more involved with the show. Moving forward, I will be writing more episodes of the show and I’ve been in the writer’s room full-time.
Nrama: In addition to writing the comic and writing episodes of the television show, you also co-wrote a prose novel for The Walking Dead. What was that experience like for you?
Kirkman: To be completely honest with you Chris, I prefer working in comics. I like the visual aspect of the medium and the ability to work with artists. Seeing stories come to life in drawings is energizing, so readers won’t have to worry about me becoming a full-time novelist anytime soon. I always wanted to dabble in prose, and I had done a short story a few years back for the Living Dead 2 anthology. When the opportunity came along to do The Walking Dead prose novel, I knew I couldn’t handle writing an entire novel all on my own so I brought in Jay Bonansinga to co-write it, and he really helped out in getting the prose all together. Writing novels is very difficult, and honestly I don’t really enjoy anything difficult so having Jay on-board was pretty invaluable.
The story inside The Walking Dead: The Rise of the Governor is a cool story, however. The Governor is a popular character in the Walking Dead universe, but we never revealed what happened to a man that could turn him into this. I thought that was an important story that I always wanted to do, but I don’t like doing flashbacks in comics; I prefer to move ahead and tell more stories rather than look back. So when the idea for the prose novel came along, I thought it’d be a perfect fit. People will be a little shocked to see how the Governor started out and what transpires to turn him into the person he was in the comics.Nrama: SPOILER ALERT! If you read in trades, this question may reveal a plot point you haven’t hit yet! Coming full circle to the comics, the series is going strong here. In the last issue, Rick’s son Carl finally woke up from his coma after injuries suffered in issue #83. That re-awakening made me go back and look at the entire Walking Dead series and imagine it from Carl’s perspective. Can you tell us your thoughts on Carl and how he’s developed over time?
Kirkman: In a sense, Carl is the heart and soul of the comic series. He started out as a true innocent, and it’s been a fun exploration to watch the world change around him and for him to see the things he has had to go through. Carl’s had to do a lot to survive. In general, to watch characters deal with hardship and overcoming obstacles shows how it can change them.
Carl is interesting because he’s so young; it’s kind of heartbreaking to see him lose his childhood and mature at an abnormal rate. He’s kind of an adult but still very young, and there’s no hop or optimism left inside him at all. All those childlike qualities you’d expect from a boy his age have been stripped away.
Carl’s story-arc is one of the saddest, most gut-wrenching aspects of the book. Portraying how a child would live in this world, and to watch him go through this transformation is dramatic. It’s fun to go back and re-read the series from the perspective of Carl to see him go through all his ordeals. Carl’s always been a very important character, and will continue to be as we go forward over the next couple years.
Nrama: Meanwhile, Rick’s also trying to pull together the community and keep the peace. Seeing an issue of relative peace in a zombie comic is still pretty foreboding, like the quiet moments in Jaws; can you talk about giving the readers, and these characters, these moments of peace when violence is the norm?
Kirkman: Yeah, it’s definitely a ‘give and take’ for the series. If it were completely depressing and violent all the time, readers would have to be total masochists not to get burnt out. You have to balance that out with different scenes and different moments in the book to show that there’s still living to be done, and a life worth living for. To provide some shred of hope that civilization can be reestablished is giving the characters a goal to move towards instead of just surviving. Otherwise, when things get crazy and dark I wouldn’t have anything to balance that with to give those dark moments such an impact. I constantly have to kind of pull back and give both the characters and readers a breather.
The series is a cycle of ups and down, which is kind of cool. The real game for it is what are the lengths of these breaks; is it a long respite or a quick one? The readers and the characters shouldn’t know when the other shoe is going to drop. Readers know of course that things will eventually get ugly again, but it adds to the tension to not know when or how.Nrama: Before we end this chat I wanted to talk about The Walking Dead’s beginning; In a recent issue of TV Guide, they have a quote from you talking about a possible prequel to The Walking Dead series as a graphic novel showing what happened before Rick woke up. For a long time you said you would never go there, but can you tell us about your mindset now?
Kirkman: Well, I hadn’t been thinking about it too much, but early on in the comic series I was surprised that readers didn’t understand why Lori had the affair with Shane and what drove her to that. I was upset that I never had the chance to make that clear. It’s always been clear in my mind, but since I didn’t convey that enough it made readers turn against her at times.
For the comic series, it’d be cool to do The Walking Dead, Vol. 0 to explain what she went through in those early stages. It’s still something I’m on the fence about, so fans shouldn’t expect it anytime soon. I was surprised actually over the hubbub garnered from that mention in TV Guide.