MorrisonCon‘s “We Love the Dead” panel began with banter between “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman and “Chronicle” screenwriter Max Landis before moderator Ron Richards got the conversation back on track with a question about the public’s fascination with zombies.
“I think zombies are the physical embodiment of everyone’s fear of death,” Kirkman said, adding that “in times of unrest,” it’s comforting for people to sit on their couches and watch others get chased by the undead. People like to fantasize about what life would be like if they didn’t have to pay their bills or go to work (thanks to a zombie outbreak). “I have a lot of fans who are like, ‘I’m ready,'” he said, noting that no one is really ready for a zombie apocalypse.
Richards asked the two writers about the first zombie movie they ever watched, and Kirkman recounted seeing George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” on television late at night as a kid, followed by the parody short film “Night of the Living Bread.” “I thought it was something George Romero actually made, for some reason,” Kirkman said. Years later, after he began publishing “The Walking Dead,” Kirkman heard from “Bread” creator Kevin S. O’Brien, and when Kirkman told him about seeing the movie on television, O’Brien was incensed, because no one had ever licensed the broadcast rights. Landis described watching “Return of the Living Dead” at age 7, thanks to his father, filmmaker John Landis. Seeing zombies who could run, had super-strength and were nearly unkillable spoiled him on later zombie movies; when he finally saw “Night of the Living Dead,” he thought those zombies were “pussies.”
Asked about zombie rules and whether the undead should be slow or fast, Kirkman quickly answered, “I don’t care. You pick one and you go with it.” In “The Walking Dead,” he sticks to the rule that fresher corpses are able to move faster. “I love zombies so much I’ll take any kind of zombie,” he said, and then joked, “I don’t want to do anything stupid. I’m fighting the urge to have winged zombies and laser-shooting zombies.”
On the topic of bath salts and the potential rise of real-life zombies (related to the man arrested in Miami in May for allegedly eating another man’s face while high on drugs), Kirkman said, “I was terrified when that was going on. I went into the writers’ room [of ‘The Walking Dead’] and said, ‘We’re a week away from people burning all the DVDs and taking us off the air.'” Landis described a friend who had actually taken bath salts, saying the drug mimics the effects of schizophrenia.
Kirkman was dismissive when asked about how much research he conducts for his stories. “I do research,” he said. “I make sure certain things are realistic. I look up boring stuff and make sure it’s right.” However, he said sometimes research can be counter-productive. When looking up information on how to clean and dress a wound, he found only boring, practical advice, so when he wanted Eugene Porter to demonstrate knowledge about cleaning wounds in Issue 65 of the comic series, he instead made up a more interesting process, involving tea bags. Only one person wrote in to say it would actually end up infecting a wound. “Research is a tool you can use to craft interesting stories,” he said. “Making a story interesting and compelling is more important than making it accurate at all.”
Richards asked whether Kirkman sees “The Walking Dead” as a post-apocalyptic story. “It’s definitely an apocalypse tale,” he said. “Every now and then if I feel like it’s getting boring I have a zombie jump through a window. The zombies are a backdrop.” He said he looked to real-life disasters to see how people would react to such a serious catastrophe. “I paid attention to a lot of the stuff that was going on with [Hurricane] Katrina because it did apply.”
The final question from the moderator was about how much optimism Kirkman sees in “The Walking Dead.” “None of it,” he immediately replied, but then corrected himself. “I think that the ‘Walking Dead’ comic does lean toward being unrelentingly depressing.” Still, he acknowledged within that framework he tries to accentuate moments of hope. “It really is in its essence going to be a story of humanity surviving and rebuilding civilization.”
A fan asked how the TV show would be able to depict the intensity of the fan-favorite Governor storyline. “We’ll be pushing a lot of boundaries,” Kirkman said. “Have you ever seen ‘Breaking Bad’? We can do stuff like that.”
Asked what happened with former showrunner Frank Darabont’s exit from the show, Kirkman stated simply, “He was on the show, and then he was not on the show anymore. It’s one of those things that happened.” He said “it’s been pretty publicly talked about,” and that new showrunner Glen Mazzara has been doing an excellent job, while Darabont’s new TNT drama “L.A. Noir” will be great.
Kirkman offered an update on the AMC “Thief of Thieves” TV adaptation, which is in the script stage. Once the pilot script is finished, the network will read it and offer notes, and perhaps then they’ll have the chance to shoot a pilot. Kirkman said writer Charles “Chic” Eglee (“The Walking Dead,” “The Shield”) is doing “an amazing job” on the script.
Asked about the differences between writing comics and writing for TV, Kirkman said, “I enjoy writing the comics more, but really only because I’m more comfortable with it.” He’s still learning how to write for television. Landis offered that he found writing for comics much harder, as a comics script involves breaking the story down panel by panel, which is like directing and writing at the same time. Kirkman said he finds that structure helpful for creating a story.
After a fan praised Kirkman for sticking with his comics work even after finding success in Hollywood, unlike other creators, Kirkman called out one such writer. “Frank Miller’s a douchebag,” he laughed. “Nobody liked ‘The Spirit!’ Come back!” Kirkman joked next year’s event would be called MillerCon, and neither he nor Landis would be invited.
The next fan asked whether Kirkman would ever pass the torch on “The Walking Dead” to another writer, but Kirkman said that’s not something he’d consider. “It’s my story,” he said. “It has a beginning, middle and end. It’s just a very long story.” He does have an ending in mind, although its details change. “I’ll either write ‘The Walking Dead’ until I decide to end it, or I will die tragically and it will never end,” he said. On the other hand, he said he’d like to see other writers eventually take over “Invincible,” and see it continue without him. “My life’s goal is to be 70 years old and hear about the ‘Invincible’ comic written by some guy I’ve never met.”
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