Skybound brought its yearly “The Walking Dead” panel to Comic-Con International 2014 with series creator Robert Kirkman and longtime artist Charlie Adlard leading the charge. Moderated by “The Walking Dead” editor Sean Mackiewicz, the panel promises to bring some new insight and revelations for the long-running and fan-favorite Image Comics series.
Mackiewicz opened up the panel by introducing Kirkman and Adlard, to applause fro the audience. As always, the panel was somewhat informal — giving time back to the readers of “The Walking Dead” to ask questions of the creative team.
Kicking things off was a question about the word “zombie” popping up in the comics, and Kirkman said he was “toying with the idea” of using it or not using it. “Every time they encounter a new community, I want them to have a different name for zombies. I think that’s a cool way to differentiate what region they’re from,” Kirkman said. “I’m running out of cool-sounding names. … I was running out of good zombie names and it was like, ‘Zombie works…'”
A fan of the series asked about Rick’s current violent streak — especially when it came to Negan — and Kirkman stated that Rick’s new outlook is about him “accepting his place.” “He’s understanding that he as a leader is required,” he said. “After the events of ‘All-Out War’ and the time that’s passed in between, he’s [doing] what he has to to keep people alive.” According to the writer, the reason the beatings were so savage is that society is based on a very tenuous fulcrum. “If one person doesn’t do their job right, it could all collapse,” he said.
The subject of Negan’s backstory came up, and while Kirkman doesn’t have plans for a novel series a la The Governor, he thinks it would be cool to do his backstory in the comic. “We’ll find out eventually. He’s not dead yet.” As previously stated, Negan will also eventually show up in the television series but, “it might be a while” until he does.
Specifically, the subject centered around the decision of cutting off Rick’s hand. “I don’t regret Rick’s hand [getting cut off], but I think it was a stupid decision, if that makes sense,” Kirkman said, noting that it was a great action to help show the brutality of the new world and the Governor as a villain.
“I think some of the ideas you think are good at the time and you find you’ve gotten creative freedom back by the end of it, because obviously Rick without a hand, you have to constantly think about how he’ll hold stuff. You’ve always got that problem,” said Adlard. “Even some of the covers for the collections, so when you’re on the tenth cover of the collections and you’re trying to make things work, you think, ‘Oh, why did we even go down this road?'”
In terms of creative process for the art side of the equation, Adlard said that there was a long Skype conversation about “The Walking Dead” #127 — especially as relates to Negan and Jesus’ look. “When we talked about Rick, I was thinking that was how I’d like Rick to look and you described how you liked Rick to look,” Adlard said to Kirkman. “It was a combination of both of us across the course of the conversation. The first time I drew Negan with a beard, I thought, ‘He looks just like a slightly more chunky Jesus.'”
The subject came up about where the drugs and alcohol in the world of “The Walking Dead” came up, and Kirkman said he “doesn’t do the drugs and alcohol thing at all,” but it never occurred to him to have drug and alcohol addiction in the book. “That’s why it never rains in the book,” he said. “Sometimes things slip. I’m going to blame Mackiewicz.”
“There was a pretty established formula by the time I came on,” Mackiewicz said. “You had snow in Virginia for [a lot] of issues.”
Discussing long-term plotting plans — and what the source of the plague is — Kirkman said the source of the plague is actually “completely unimportant to the story.” “We’ll probably never reveal the actual cause because it’s boring,” he said. “Saying that, I’ll take it back in 5 years. … The road map goes pretty far, but it’s all benchmarks. ‘They live in a prison for a while.’ ‘They meet a guy called ‘The Governor.”” He further stated that there are 150 or 200 issues already planned out.
In response to a fan saying he really liked Maggie, Kirkman replied, “Has the issue where she died come out yet?” Joking aside, he said that Maggie is really coming into her own as a leader, and future issues will “put her through her paces and show what kind of a leader she actually is.”
A fan asked about whether Kirkman would ever kill Rick, and the writer said, “I think the book would survive,” and Adlard agreed, noting that the strength of “The Walking Dead” went beyond just Rick.
Someone from northern Virginia asked where exactly Hilltop is. “It’s somewhere near Alexandria,” said Kirkman. “The Hilltop is built around the Barrington House, so I always wanted to see if I could find a historical home in Virginia and say, ‘Oh, maybe it’s that one.'”
A question came up about “The Cutting Room Floor,” a book that would publish Kirkman’s handwritten plots for all the issues. It’s been in the works for quite some time, and while it’s “going to be a really cool book,” “I didn’t anticipate how much work it was going to be. So I solicited it.”
Adlard spoke about the fact that the show hasn’t affected how he draws any of the characters. “In my head, I created the look of these guys. I’m not stupid. When the TV show started and I saw who the actors were, I knew they were hired for their acting, not how close they looked [to the designs].” Adlard said one of the best experiences he’s had was chatting with Danai Gurira, all made up and costumed as Michonne. “I was thinking, ‘I drew you! I created you!'”
Adlard spoke about the fact that the show hasn’t affected how he draws any of the characters. “In my head, I created the look of these guys. I’m not stupid. When the TV show started and I saw who the actors were, I knew they were hired for their acting, not how close they looked [to the designs].” Adlard said one of the best experiences he’s had was chatting with Danai Gurira, all made up and costumed as Michonne. “I was thinking, ‘I drew you! I created you!'” Adlard said the show casting actors that look like his designs isn’t something the TV series has to do, but he feels excited about it whenever they do.
In terms of “The Walking Dead’s” setting and the information that it gives, Kirkman stated that the series will only ever focus on the characters, and won’t really check in with other parts of the world unless the characters go there.
The subject of Telltale’s critically acclaimed “The Walking Dead” video game came up, and Kirkman said that when the studio approached him, he thought it was a unique way to do a video game. “There’s certainly cool things you can do with ‘The Walking Dead’ in video games, but the story has to be first and foremost,” he said. “That really appealed to me [about Telltale].”
As for a third season of the game, he said, “I can’t say anything, but I hear the second season is doing well.”
Negan is based on a real-life human being, according to Kirkman, but since the show exists, it’s “not good for us to be like, ‘it’s based on that guy.'” Thus, the creative team feels uncomfortable talking about characters that are based on other people — partially because if it’s an actor, they don’t want to be on record referencing a specific actor.
Returning to the subject of the Telltale game, Kirkman said he likes to keep the projects separate, so Clementine won’t be showing up in the comic — similar to Daryl Dixon, who will also not be showing up in the comics. Kirkman also stated that the second season of the game doesn’t have a timeline that lines up concurrently with the comic. “Nailing down exactly what was going on in the comic during the season two stuff would be boring to me, so I haven’t done it,” said Kirkman.
Carl has evolved since the beginning of the series, shifting from Kirkman writing a bit of himself in Carl to writing more of himself in Rick as a father — but it’s not based on any specific person. “It’s not safe in this world for these characters,” said Kirkman. “We’ll see if he loses another eye.”
One fan asked whether the existence of “The Walking Dead” in other media affected how Kirkman and Adlard though about their comic. “I think it’s important to note the way the comic is produced and everything about the comic hasn’t changed at all,” Kirkman said. “We made a great effort to make sure that’s the case. We don’t change the comic because of all this other stuff. Having there be a video game, a TV show, lunch boxes, pretzels — it’s cool! It’s a neat thing. As long as it doesn’t detract in any way, [it’s fine.]”
“Since the show happened, we’ve been on schedule more than before the show happened,” said Kirkman. “We stay true to our roots and don’t do the Hollywood thing. The comic is more important to me than any other aspect of ‘The Walking Dead,’ and I know that’s true of Charlie as well. So, we’re going to do 12 issues a month.”
“You heard it here first!” Adlard said, laughing at the joke.
Kirkman also said not to expect any news about “The Walking Dead” spinoff series at Comic-Con 2014, but there will be something to announce “very soon.”
Adlard said some of his favorite parts of drawing “The Walking Dead” was drawing characters. “I wouldn’t have lasted this long on any comic book if I didn’t like the characters,” he said. “The characters are the most important. For me, drawing the direction of those people is the be-all and end-al of the book. Everything else is icing on the cake. I get more pleasure drawing interactions between Carl and Rick as I do about any big zombie fight. And horses. I like horses, I prefer them to cars.”
The most memorable death Adlard has ever had to draw — “only purely because it was the most shocking” — was when Abraham got an arrow through the eye, because he didn’t know Kirkman was going to do that. “I just went, ‘Oh, oh right.’ … That was the most shocking. You told me later that why you didn’t tell me about it, was because you thought about it as you were writing that page.”
“It’s usually something we’ve known for a long time, or been building to in a long time,” said Kirkman. “It takes a while sometimes. But Abraham was — yeah. That’s really one of the most fun aspects of comics for me. You can’t really do things in the spur of the moment like that [in television]. It’s like jazz. You can do whatever you want and I like that.”
Following up on Adlard’s comments about loving horses, a young fan asked, “Why don’t you do a zombie ‘My Little Pony?'”
“Well, I love drawing horses!” Adlard said, putting a lighthearted cap on a fun panel.