The dead are walking straight off the comic book page and onto your television screen with AMC’s planned adaptation of “The Walking Dead,” the long-running zombie comic book written by Robert Kirkman. Last month, the Emmy-winning network announced its intentions to produce a pilot episode based on the Image Comics series with “The Shawshank Redemption” filmmaker Frank Darabont at the helm.
Kirkman, who will serve as an Executive Producer on the show, spoke with CBR News about the “The Walking Dead’s” new life as a televised serial, how Darabont came on board, and the types of narrative departures that fans can expect the television series to make.
CBR: When asked in the past about a “Walking Dead” film, you’ve suggested that a television series would work better. What makes TV a better platform for the series?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: That’s the only thing that really makes sense to me. The thing that makes “The Walking Dead” unique and interesting is that it’s a zombie movie that never ends – that’s the log line or whatever. To do a zombie movie that’s based on that? Kinda dumb. The whole idea behind the book is that it’s a long-term exploration on the characters and their situation and how they’re dealing with these problems over a long period of time, the different things that happen to the characters and how it affects and changes the characters. You can do that in a series of movies, but it’s not ideal. It’s not really common for people to go, “Oh, I’ll buy this thing and commit to making 10 movies based on it!” So, the TV show makes way more sense to me for all of those reasons.
I’m really happy that “Walking Dead” has ended up at AMC. I think it’s a superb network that has a lot of good stuff going on right now, but more importantly has a lot of really big things planned for the future. I’m super excited that “Walking Dead” is now a part of that future.
Do you think that AMC can get away with some of the grittiness that “Walking Dead” boasts in the comics, as opposed to a network like HBO or Showtime?
I think so. Profanity is not a hundred percent integral to the book, so if we can’t say the F-word, I don’t think I’ll miss it as long as they’re not saying “frak” or anything ridiculous like that. But there was a recent episode of “Breaking Bad” where a guy’s severed head was placed on the back of a turtle. You could totally see it and it was kind of horrifying. As far as content goes, I really have no concerns whatsoever.
How did Frank Darabont get involved in the show?
He got involved a long time ago when the show almost happened at NBC. I didn’t really talk about it at the time because everything was very up in the air and I don’t really like to announce things that may or may not ever happen. “Oh, there’s an option on this thing and it’s coming to whatever,” then nothing comes up. So we didn’t make any public announcements about that, but Frank came on board and was going to write and direct the pilot then, and that didn’t end up happening. But he kind of stayed on the sidelines and said, “Hey, if this ever happens, let me know. Let’s do this.” He’s been working to put it together for a good, long time.
I’ve known Frank for a while at this point and he likes the book and has read every single issue. I quiz him from time to time just to make sure he’s staying current! He digs the comic for what it is – he doesn’t think it’s an action thing, he doesn’t think it’s a gory horror thing. When working with different Hollywood people who have tried to develop “Walking Dead” in the past, I’ve been kind of shocked at how easy it is to not get “The Walking Dead.” Frank has really got it. I think it’s in good hands.
Is there anything you would point out in his film work that makes him an obvious fit for “The Walking Dead?”
Aside from “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” and everything else he’s ever done, I think a really good indication that he’s going to handle the series really well is his recent movie, “The Mist.” A lot of people don’t realize that Frank is a genre guy – he wrote “The Blob,” he wrote “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3.” He got his start doing horror stuff and he’s a huge horror and sci-fi fan. He’s been going to Comic-Con every year just for fun, whether he’s putting a movie out or not. He kind of lives this stuff. If you watch “The Mist,” you’ll see that he can do the character development – he’s an excellent writer – but “The Mist” is a big indication that he knows how to handle the subject matter.
How involved is Frank Darabont going to be with the series beyond the pilot?
I would be surprised if he doesn’t end up playing Rick! That’s how involved he wants to be! [laughs] I don’t know what his actual title is going to be, but the idea is that once he’s written and directed the pilot, he doesn’t really want to walk away and let someone else handle it because he likes the material so much. It’s very early on in the process right now, but as I understand it, he’ll be playing Rick and I’ll be playing Shane and it’s really going to be little more than a two-man play.
That sucks for you! That’s a cameo role!
Oh, we’re changing it.
On that note, how closely is the show going to stick to the comic?
It’ll be 110% faithful in tone, but I don’t know that every single character will be exactly the same and I don’t know if every single character will actually make it into the show, just because there are about 45 characters in the comic so far. But like I said, it’s very early on in the process. We very well could end up with every character in there, I don’t really know. It’s going to be extremely faithful, but personally, I don’t want it to be a shot-for-shot, panel-to-panel translation of the comic book. I think that would be incredibly boring for me and incredibly boring for everyone that reads the book. If it was a cool “Walking Dead” story that featured the characters and all of the cool stuff was in there, but more, different cool stuff gets added in there, I think that’s the best way to do it.
In terms of the story beats, “Walking Dead” is pretty brutal on an emotional level – you lose a lot of the characters that readers have grown to love, almost unfairly at times. Do you think that’s something you can translate to TV?
I don’t know. I don’t work in TV. It seems like it’s doable, but at the same time, if you get a big actor to agree to do a part, you may not be inclined to kill that guy quickly. So, I don’t know. I’m sure that people will die in this, I’m not sure if it’ll be as frequently as in the comic book, because it is kind of brutal.
At the same point, I know that there are a lot of people in Hollywood that are fans of the comic, so it’d be nice if we could get guys that wouldn’t normally do a television series to kind of do something like “The Walking Dead” for a six or seven episode stretch knowing that they’re going to be killed! [laughs] That’s not really a long commitment for these guys, so that is my hope. But like I’ve said, it’s really early on in the process so I don’t know how that will work.
How involved in the show do you plan or hope to be?
If it goes past the pilot, I’ll be writing episodes and looking over the storylines for the series and I’ll be pretty hands on. I will be as hands on as working in comics will allow me to be. If it gets to a point where the work in comics is slowing up, I’ll step back and leave [the series] in the very capable hands of whoever’s working on the show. But I’m an executive producer on the show, so I can be as involved as I want to be. Right now, I want to be very involved, just to make sure it’s as awesome as I think it’s going to be.
My main commitment is to the comics. I want to be the first guy in history that’s gotten a movie or TV deal and continued to put out his comic series uninterrupted. As a fan, I hate it when it’s like, “Oh, that’s awesome, there’s gonna be a TV show… and now the comic is gone. What the F!” I’ve already talked to Charlie Adlard [the artist of “The Walking Dead”] about it and we definitely want to keep the series without interruptions. So, that comes first.
Now that it’s been officially announced, what excites you the most about “The Walking Dead” becoming a television series?
Seeing Frank Darabont play Rick. [laughs] I’m excited about the casting and I’m excited about being able to watch the show. I’m excited about everything, but it’s kind of odd… my dad sent me an e-mail and he goes, “Congratulations about the TV show.” I never thought I’d get that e-mail from my dad – it’s kind of bizarre. It’s kind of a whole surreal thing.