Exhuming "The Walking Dead" With Charlie Adlard

When you think of the Image Comics/Skybound title "The Walking Dead", you most likely imagine the art of Charlie Adlard, the man who has been drawing the comic since 2004.

Since then, Adlard and series writer/creator Robert Kirkman have done some pretty dastardly things to the characters they've worked on. Though, as Adlard says in reference to one moment in particular, the horrible acts committed upon the series' characters are important to the story and serve as a way to rmaind the audience that no one is really safe in a zombie-infested world.

In July, the horror title and Image mainstay hits #100, and joining Adlard in providing covers for the centennial issue are Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, Sean Phillips, Frank Quitely, Bryan Hitch and Ryan Ottley. The 40-page issue's contents are being kept tightly under wraps, but Kirkman did tell CBR that it "is going to easily be the most gruesome, most violent, disturbing issue of 'The Walking Dead' yet."

CBR News spoke with Adlard about the oversized anniversary spectacular, what it's like working with the ridiculously busy Kirkman and what he thought when Kirkman first pitched him the idea for the wraparound cover to #100, which features all of the title's dead characters piled up below series hero Rick Grimes.

CBR News: What was the process like, figuratively digging up all the dead characters for the series for the 100th issue cover?

Charlie Adlard: When Robert said that it might be a good idea, my initial reaction was, "I have to draw all these people again?" Because, let's face it -- every artist who says he likes to draw a crowd scene, he's a liar. [Laughs] So, initially it was sort of, "Oof," but again, it's people lying down on the ground. As an artist, it's quite hard to draw lots of various people lying down on the ground dead. It's a bit of a problem. That was the initial sort of suggestion by Robert, and then it was up to me to elaborate on it, it was up to me to make things interesting for myself. The Robert template was Rick in the distance above this stack of dead characters, all of which we wanted to show [along with] the methods of the way they had been killed. I think I angled it in the way it's angled -- Robert suggested a more horizontal look.

The thing that got me interested in drawing it was the decision -- I think the variant is in black and white -- it was my decision to do the gray wash rather than the stark black and white which I obviously normally do. All of a sudden, that opened it up for me. I'm sure all writers will laugh at this, but it's so easy to write, "The army comes over the hill," but it's not so easy to draw it.

Is that one of the enjoyable aspects of the book, that it brings in new characters and you get to deal with them as things progress?

Oh, God, yeah. That's one of the magic [things] about the book. It's not that I get to kill those people, but it is that there's a constantly rotating cast of characters. It's great to keep being inspired. If we're getting bored with a place -- and let's face it, the characters have spent many, many issues in the same place. We had 20-plus issues in the prison, and obviously we're at about 20 issues in Washington, D.C. To keep things fresh, it's nice to introduce new characters.

Is it kind of mindblowing that you guys have done all these issues together without interruption? There are a lot of people with long-running arcs, but there's almost always a fill-in artist here and there.

I've just kind of done it. All of a sudden, you wake up one morning and you're up to issue #100. [Laughs] For me, it's actually, believe it or not, quite easy to do a book a month. It's never felt -- or 95% of the time it's never felt -- like a chore actually getting the issues out. One of my gripes before I started "The Walking Dead," when I was doing various DC and Marvel projects, was the fact that, because I'm so fast, I'd be doing a miniseries of four, five, six issues and I'd just be getting into the meat of the characters and the thing was over. This way, I can really get into the characters and understand them, the ones that last a bit longer, the ones we don't kill. It's great to have that freedom. So long as I've got something else to do in addition to issues of "The Walking Dead," I'm more than happy to carry it on. I'd say about 80% of my time during the year is spent drawing "The Walking Dead," and with that other 20%, I like to do other stuff. I think it might seriously become a chore if I was 100% doing zombies and that was it.

When I talked to Robert, he said any time he gets a little down writing "The Walking Dead" he will move over to something like "Super Dinosaur" to switch things up.

It's more stylistic for me, because when I am drawing, it's just marks on paper. My emotions go into the reading of it and thinking about how to draw it beforehand, but by the time I'm actually drawing it, it's just putting it down on paper. In terms of style, it's nice to make a break and go away and do something different.

You guys have worked together so long, how has your relationship evolved since you started on the book?

It's not really changed that much. When we started working together, I'd already been in the industry for 10, 12 years, so I was already what they refer to as a veteran because apparently the definition of a veteran is somebody who's been in the door for more than 10 years. Robert knew I could do the work. The first few scripts might have been a little more intensive and we were treading around each other a bit more delicately, perhaps. It really didn't take that long to get into the flow as soon as Robert knew that there was going to be no problem with the regularity of the book and things like that. We just hit the ground running. In six issues, we sorted out the process and that's how it's been ever since.

Robert talked with me about some of the more gruesome moments in the book, and his stand-out moment was Lori's death in "The Walking Dead" #48. Is that one up there for you? Are there other moments that really stand out?

To be honest, they're all the points you'd expect: the Michonne torture scene, Tyreese's beheading, the death of Lori. I think the death of Lori was the most significant point, not so much on the violence, but on the level that, we can get rid of anybody. Before that time, people might have assumed there were certain set characters that were safe, especially the characters that were there from the beginning -- even Tyreese, because he came in around issue 7 or 8. We killed Lori, and there was a child, and it opened the floodgates that we could do everything. I think people suddenly woke up to that and thought, "Even Rick isn't safe." I don't know about Robert, but I certainly thought, "Well, this is it man, this is us just making a statement. This is it. No one is safe." I know it's a cliche, but I think from that issue 48, it showed exactly what was going to happen to some characters. I don't know what Robert said, but that was probably one of the most difficult moments in the book. Having said that, the Michonne torture scenes -- I rung up Robert and said he'd have to convince me to draw this, and he did, obviously.

Do you ever try and amp up the violence or gore in a page or panel?

Actually, it's the other way around. I'm the one that's trying to scale it back. Robert's always writing, "Make this the goriest thing you've ever shown." I appreciate the fact that we do a zombie book, I appreciate the fact that because of that very nature, it has to be gory and you have to show stuff. We have never done anything gratuitously. That sounds so ridiculous to say, but every time we've shown some level of violence to another human being, it's always been to serve the story, even when we show a torture scene. It wasn't just 15 pages of violence for no reason, there was a reason for it.

I think if you started doing everything just to please the fans, because there are people out there who buy "The Walking Dead" just because they want to see some blood and gore, from my point of view, I'm not going to give them that. That's not what the book's about. The irony is, I always come from the other opinion where I think the mind conjures up images much worse than anything you could ever show. It's not me being a prude or anything, I just believe that. Some of my favorite horror movies are things where you hardly see anything happen. For instance, one of the most intense, horrendous films I've ever seen is probably "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." You don't see a thing, no blood or gore or things like that. I don't think anyone's come out of that film and not been affected in some form or other.

On that same note, Robert said that the 100th issue actually has a moment that will top every other violent, bloody moment in the whole series. I know you can't say anything specifically, but do you agree with his assessment?

Yes, I can say that. I know what he's got planned, but he hasn't sent me that part of the story. He did say he was going to send me some reference, which he told me to get ready for. I'm looking/not looking forward to receiving that. [Laughs] Let's put it this way; I know what happens, but I don't know exactly how it's going to be described. Also, I know Robert changes his mind. He did something in issue #98 he never told me about and that almost made my eyeballs stick out on stilts, so he's very good at that.

It sounds like an interesting partnership because he's surprising you, you're stretching your artistic muscles. It sounds very satisfying.

It is. It's no secret that we're both incredibly busy, so we don't talk as much as we probably would like to. We probably talk physically, perhaps two or three times a year. We'll both be in San Diego together, so we'll probably do, golly, a year's worth of talking. We do Skype as well, but it's probably twice a year. It's hard for us to actually find the time to sit down and chat. That's when I find out about what's going to happen in the future, and the reason is that I do quite like to read the scripts as a fan, so I'm not asking him what's going to happen because it's nice to be surprised myself and then transmit that into the artwork. We email each other many times a week, but it is that minimal. We trust each other to do the best we both can. I trust him in his writing, he trusts me in my artwork and the twain shall kind of meet.

When you and Robert discuss a new character, do you talk about them in terms of famous people, in terms of looks?

Actually, we do. I don't think a lot of writers do, but I think it's a very useful sort of thing for an artist to have. A lot of writers will just send out massive paragraphs trying to describe a character they see in their head. I think if you're writing a character, you're generally seeing somebody you know whether you see them on television or films or something like that. So, the easiest thing to do is tell the artist that. Robert will say here's person X and then a person from TV, film, music or whatever and then we go from there, but it gives me the perfect idea of how they are, instantly.

Moving from the comic to the TV show, how has it been seeing some of the characters you created and drawn for years brought to life on screen?

It was weird. [Laughs] I went on set for the pilot. That was curiously strange because that was not part of the book I'd worked on. To be so associated with the title and to have literally done most of it but six issues and being on set for the bit that's not even my stuff was curiously strange. I haven't had time to go back on set, especially with season two where they were coming into my stuff, so there's Maggie, Hershel -- people like that that were being introduced.

I'm more excited about season three because you're going to see Michonne, Governor, some of the more iconic characters coming in. Especially when -- you can take a character like Hershel and do the look of him completely different from how he is in the comic book. It doesn't really matter. As long as he's an old guy, it doesn't matter. I'm not going to sit here and say they all have to look like the comic book, because this is meant to be a realistic show, it's not some sort of cartoon. I was fine with how Maggie looks, I was fine with how Hershel looks. It doesn't matter as long as they act the characters. I will admit that Michonne and the Governor do have to look right because they are so unique in their appearance. I can't say any more, but I'm really trying to get on set and see the prison, see Michonne, see the Governor, etc. I think for me, that will be a bit more strange, a bit magical, perhaps, seeing these people that were really completely from my head translated onto the screen.

"The Walking Dead" #99 hits stands on June 20, with the highly-anticipated #100 landing on July 11.

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