The first thing you notice about Charlie Adlard, the man who has drawn hordes of rotting walkers ravenously devouring human flesh and the grizzly deaths of dozens of human characters, is just how nice he is. When “The Walking Dead” first hit shelves a decade ago, no one predicted the rabid response the Image Comics series would receive from the comic book community and beyond. With the series’ issue #108 coming out in March — Adlard’s 102nd issue — and AMC’s hit series wrapping up its third season, it’s clear that pop culture’s love affair with the undead isn’t ending anytime soon.
The acclaimed artist sat down with CBR News at Emerald City Comic Con, discussing his upcoming non-zombie collaboration with “Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman, his favorite type of horror movie moments and which zombie-laden scenes he’s illustrated in the last ten years were almost too much to draw.
CBR News: I do want to talk about “The Walking Dead,” but first I’d like to find out what else are you’re working on.
Charlie Adlard: Apart from the monthly grind of “The Walking Dead,” Robert [Kirkman] and I have another project planned. Robert announced it a long time ago — two years at least — at San Diego Comic Con called “The Passenger.” I remember thinking, “Why are you announcing this now? It’s too early!” I’m hoping to finish it this year, which would be fantastic. It’s a European-style comic book. I’ve introduced Robert to the wonderful world of French comics, not that he’s probably read any, and it’s that style of layout. It’s going to be co-published by Delcourt in France, which is the company that also produces “The Walking Dead” in France.
What can you tell us about it?
It’s not horror; it’s a thriller in space. The European market loves their sci-fi. It’s not the American and UK industry, which is ruled by the superhero. If there’s one prevailing genre in the European market, its science fiction.
Do you think it will be as popular for your American readers?
Probably not. I hope I’m proven wrong, but I think because of the format, people aren’t going to be used to it. It’s going to be classic, large-format, hardback style. It will be fully in color, although we don’t have a [colorist] attached yet. We’ll cross that bridge when the artwork is finished. I’d love to color it myself, but I just don’t have the time and would like to move on to something else.
Well, I’ve just signed a two-book deal with Soleil in France, which was a long time coming. I did a French album about five years ago with them called “Breath of the Wendigo,” which just came out in an English reprint last year. I’ve been talking to them about another project ever since, and they’ve been trying to get me to do this particular one for the past three years. I can’t talk about details just yet, but the minute they told me the concept — it was one of those instant things that grabbed me. I wanted to do it straight away. It’s the perfect Hollywood high-concept book. I’m sure it will be reprinted for American audiences.
Getting to “The Walking Dead,” do you feel like your artwork has translated into the aesthetics of the show? Not just the zombies, but the living characters as well?
They tell me they take a lot of input from the artwork! I’ve had Greg Nicotero tell me to my face that they take a lot from my work. I was on-set last year, and seeing characters like Michonne sent shivers up my spine. Danai Gurira is just fantastic. I thought “It’s just like I drew her.”
There are two characters that really should look like the comic book characters: The Governor and Michonne. I’m not concerned about the characters looking like their counterparts; it’s stupid to assume that Andrew Lincoln should look exactly like his comic counterpart. I can even accept Andrea as a slightly older character, as long as there’s a truth to her that’s the same as the comic. The Governor was a bit of a surprise. That’s not to take anything away from David Morrissey’s performance; it’s amazing, really nuanced and subtle. He’s as good of a character as he is in the book, and what’s so good about him is that you don’t have him pegged right away. Still, a tiny voice in the back of my head thinks that he should have the long hair and the beard. We created what I thought was a fairly unique looking character, and in the universe of “The Walking Dead,” we strive for realism. We don’t want a bunch of Mad Max types running about.
Some of the content of the comic really hits below the belt. Does Kirkman just enjoy shocking readers?
I just think what he does is really brave. He really loves these characters as well, and it makes it unique that we’re able to do this. We could literally kill Rick at some point. I’m not going to say we are, but why not kill him? There’s no reason. “The Walking Dead” could easily survive without Rick, and I personally think it would be incredibly interesting. We could do it in some random issue where the reader isn’t expecting it, not like issue #150 or some anniversary issue. I think it would be very cool.
Are there any arcs that have happened in the show that you’d like to have drawn?
No, what’s gone is gone. A lot of people ask if I’m involved in the show, and I say no, they’ve never ask me. But I’ve never asked them, either. They have an artist [John Watkiss] working on the show doing storyboards. It would take me away from working on the book, and I want to make sure that it still comes out monthly. I’d probably have to move closer for a bit, and I want to be able to do something new in my spare time, like “The Passenger.” I don’t want to draw the same images I drew five or six years ago.
Have there been any pages of script where you had to call Kirkman and try to change his mind about the content?
The torture scene with Michonne. That’s the only time I’ve phoned Robert straight away and said, “Please convince me to draw this. Do I really have to draw fifteen pages of people shoving spoons up arses and gouging eye balls out?” Robert explained the reasons why and I agreed with them eventually, but ironically, I’m a guy who prefers his horror off-screen. I firmly believe that the mind comes up with worse images. One of the things that’s always stuck with me is the end of “Rosemary’s Baby.” All she has to say is the comment about the eyes, and we don’t need to see anything apart from the black coffin. It’s so powerful. We don’t do stuff like that very often in “The Walking Dead,” but I appreciate why we have to do the gore. It’s a brutal universe and the idea of your best-loved characters being massacred in a certain way takes you out of what you expect. If we did it off-screen, it wouldn’t have the same impact.
In a way, the universe becomes the main character, and as a reader, you get to know it the way you would a person. You understand the rules, which are few and far between, and it allows you to fully immerse yourself in this terrifying world.
It is, yes. We’re lucky that it’s a TV show where we can do that, and do it long form. You could get away with it in a two-hour movie, but it’s like the classic horror trope, isn’t it? You kill off all of the people until there’s one remaining. It becomes fodder, just another character getting chopped up in an interesting way. For a TV show, we’re treading new ground.