Robert Kirkman's "The Walking Dead" franchise is known for its action shambling in various unexpected directions across strange landscapes. And that's a lot like this year's crowds at New York Comic Con. For the first time ever, the 2016 edition of the show placed major programming off the core Javitz Center site. And so on Thursday afternoon, fans of the Image Comics franchise made their way to concert venue The Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan to hear the "Walking Dead" mastermind talk about his plans for the future of the comic and its TV franchise.
"The League" and "Brooklyn 99" actor Jason Mantzoukas took the stage to MC the event, which also featured Skybound's Sean Mankiewicz. The trio started out by recounting how long they've been coming to NYCC. "This is one of those moments where you realize how old you are, because I feel like I've been to five, but I've probably been to ten at this point," Kirkman said.
The panel delved into spoiler territory occasionally, and the group joked that this week's new issue #159 featured multiple major deaths. "Andrea died, Carl died...Rick's other arm? Gone," Mantzoukas said. while Kirkman added, "Shane came back and died again."
But in actuality, the current "Whisperer War" going on in the comics was covered in deapth...but will it come to the show? "Probably eventually if we don't get cancelled this year," Kirkman said, joking that the actors would have the hardest time saying the name of the group over and over.
"When they showed up in the comic, it was so chilling and so unsettling...and I'm happy that that tone has made it into the comics," Mantzoukas said, asking about how Kirkman came up with the idea for the group's "dead suits" of zombified corpses. "I feel like it's something that evolved over time," the writer explained. "I go to some dark places." He then revealed that with that idea and others, he plans such ideas out well in advance. "I'm always thinking 'How do I up the ante? How do I do something new?'" he said joking the next big idea would be "live sharks on the hoods of cars...But I think it was at least a year or two [between thinking of the Whisperers and putting them in the comic.] I'm cooking all that stuff up in the background while I'm writing issues."
Mantzoukas noted that one of the scary things about the Whisperers is that they have no figurehead to lead the way like Negan or the Governor. "Looking at the heard, you don't know who the enemy is. You just see the dead," he explained, asking how he conceives of villains in general. "These people, the Whisperers, [are there because] I always want to show how the apocalypse has evolved...these are people so beaten down by the zombie apocalypse that they've abandoned all humanity...it's one thing to encounter Negan who has a motive, and there are certain ways to understand him, but the Whisperers you can't understand at all," said Kirkman.
The current team-up of Rick Grimes and his former foe Negan got some play as an unexpected twist in the current war. "The idea there is that Rick has had him in this cell for so long that there's an understanding there...there's definitely been a softening of their relationship. Negan has gone out of his way to prove 'I'm not against you anymore.' He had a chance to escape and didn't. Then he did escape and proved that he was doing it for a worthy cause...cutting off somebody's head," Kirkman laughed.
Meanwhile, Eugene is talking via radio to another settlement in the zombie apocalypse, and Mantzoukas joked, "Is this subtle product placement for the show 'Frequency'?" before offering up a real theory that Eugene has lost his mind and is talking to a radio that's not plugged in. But Kirkman said, "I can't do the 'Rick's phone' thing twice. I'm a hack, but I'm not that much of a hack."
In very big spoiler territory, recent deaths in the cast were brought up including the significant death of Negan's baseball bat Lucile. "That was planned for a while," Kirkman said. "Once I knew how Negan was coming back into the book, it seemed like a cool thing to do."
Mantzoukas then wondered if any more "alternate" stories set in the world were coming a la the Brian K Vaughan/Marcos Marin issue of the comic released on Panel Syndicate. "There are no plans for any of that, but I have been contacted by a number of creators who were like, 'Me next,'" the writer said, but he still hasn't
Fan questions were solicited, and one dressed as Negan wondered how the TV show would represent the character without being able to use harsh swearing. "I still feel like that's Negan," Kirkman said of the show version. "There's a personality and a charm to him, and I feel that's what makes Negan Negan. The swearing is really just the cherry on the ice cream." Like year's past, however, a more "blue" version of the episodes will appear on the BluRay release for the incoming season with several scenes being show more than once in order to put in more f-bombs.
The comic's storytelling method of breaking the pages into 16 panels will likely not continue after "Whisperers War" ends. "It took us 12 issues to do 'All-Out War,' and I didn't want to do that much again," he said.
Kirkman was asked if he was in an alternate universe where he never existed but "The Walking Dead" comic did, what creative team would he want to see on the title? The writer said that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips would do a good take on the book, particularly because "I know that Sean can draw great zombies."
Stay tuned for more from NYCC 2016 all weekend on CBR.