Robert Kirkman: Of Wolfmen and Walking Dead

As a writer, Robert Kirkman takes the time to scare his readers.

While his ongoing zombie drama "The Walking Dead" and his more recent horror-fueled superhero series "The Astounding Wolfman" both hold a rep for their jaw-dropping twists and buckets of blood, the Image Comics scribe explained to CBR News that making a big scare work involves meticulous planning - for better or for worse.

"I guess it could be seen as a bad thing that I do, but I like to build things up so that when I change things, it matters," he said. "When I start a series, there is a slow burn process for the first few issues, where you get to know the characters and get to know the status quo so I can start wrecking things. I think if you just hit the ground running and start out changing characters before people know the characters, the changes have little to no impact. It just didn't get read the way it should be."

In the case of Kirkman and Jason Howard's "Wolfman," the series underwent a series of massive changes in recent issues, from the death of lead character Gary Hampton's wife to the revelation that his former mentor in the supernatural - a vampire named Zechariah - has turned superhero team the Actioneers into his own vamp army in an attempt to track Gary down.

"It's taken me this long, but I think 'The Astounding Wolfman' has finally hit its stride and is at the place for me where I had always hoped it would reach. It's a fun time to be working on the book," Kirkman said.

With Hampton's rather unhappy life now spiraling forward at full throttle, the writer took the time to draw attention back to the series last month by way of a crossover with his popular superhero series "Invincible" (in "Wolfman" #11 and "Invincible" #57, respectively). "I was concerned at the beginning because I didn't want 'Wolfman' to look like an 'Invincible' spinoff," Kirkman explained. "The book needs to stand on its own feet, and that's why I kept him away to begin with. Now that he's firmly established, I do want to play with that shared Invincible universe that 'Wolfman' and 'Capes' and 'Tech Jacket' and all those series inhabit, because superhero stuff seems to be a bit more fun when you can have a universe and characters popping up as Easter Eggs from time to time. That's what I enjoy."

Readers whose interest was piqued by the appearance need not worry about re-reading the first year's worth of "Astounding Wolfman" issues in order to try the series on for size, as upcoming issues will open the new status quo up for longtime readers and new ones equally. "Issue #13 will have the secret origin of Gary Hampton, which will let you get to know the main character a little better than you have because he's been kind of busy dealing with what's been going on in the series," Kirkman said. "That will be a pretty good jumping-on point. I try to build in as many jumping-on points or 'Hey, try this book' instances as possible. You've got to do that just to cycle in new readers."

And with Gary convinced of Zechariah's intentional murder of his wife and continuing prep to bring Gary back to the fold, the future of the book aims to explore its horror roots in full gory fashion. "It's the best of both worlds is that I like to say," said Kirkman. "There are issues that are dark, creepy horror stuff, and there are issues that are just fighting supervillains and living in a secret hideout and that stuff. Now there will be a lot of mixing going on with horrific supervillains and what have you, but it will be kind of fun to play with the two different genres and see what come of it."

Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard's immensley popular "The Walking Dead" continues to mine the zombie genre exclusively. However, thanks to the unpredictable nature of the ongoing plot of the series, details remain scarce. The solicitation for February's "Walking Dead" #58 simply reads "The unthinkable," featuring a cover with series lead Rick Grimes being held back away from the hands of a child. Could this mean that Rick's son Carl has been turned into a zombie?

"I don't know," laughed Kirkman, offering no more theories on the plot's development. When pressed to delve into the history of Rick's new companions -- like rough military type Abraham and Dr. Eugene Porter, who claims to know the cause of the zombie outbreak - the writer only said, "He could know exactly what's going on or he may not."

Robert Kirkman would speak in general terms about some long term "Walking Dead" developments, saying, "I don't want the book to boring, but at the same time I don't want the book to be insanely depressing. There's stuff happening, and there's always going to be people dying. I don't think that the majority of the cast is going to die again any time soon. So to that degree it's going to be a little bit more calm and quiet from here on out. But there's a lot of dark stuff happening and some drama ahead - some dangerous death and mayhem. All that good stuff people seem to enjoy."

When asked whether or not his readers are rooting for the survivors or for their demise, Kirkman mused, "I don't know. From the mail I get, I think that they're rooting for the survivors. I think it keeps the book going - the drama and the death and the shocking twists. But for the most part, people don't really complain, but they complain about not having a character around or about missing so and so. I think they're rooting for the people, and thank God, because if they were reading the book just to watch people die, that would be pretty unfortunate. I write the book just to watch people die, but that's just me."

The writer has taken recent "Walking Dead" issues to delve further into the more disheartening aspects of his zombie world, particularly Rick's phone calls to a phantom version of his dead wife Lori - calls he knows are all in his head. "That's part of the theme of one of the upcoming issues - how much you have to change in order to survive in this world," Kirkman revealed. "And I think the answer is 'quite a bit.' Any of us, were we faced with the situations the characters in 'The Walking Dead' were faced with would probably crack under the pressure. But some of these guys seem to be thriving, and that has to be in some small part due to some level of insanity just to be able to cope with what they're seeing around them. That's definitely what the series is dealing with coming up."

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