When "The Walking Dead" comic book started in 2003, franchise creator Robert Kirkman was in a very different place in life than he is now, years after the AMC TV adaptation turned the series into a global phenomenon -- something he reflected on during his Q&A panel Saturday at Emerald City Comicon in Seattle.
"I'm almost a completely different person at this point," Kirkman told the main stage audience at the Washington State Convention Center. "I think about where I was, and what I was doing -- I lived in the red light district of Lexington, Kentucky, in a shanty house."
It's not just Kirkman himself that's changed -- the writer also opined in the ways he's seen the long-running comic book series shift since the TV show started in 2010.
"A lot of the things that are adapted into the show now are things that happened to come in after the existence of the show, and I can't help but notice that there is some kind of difference," Kirkman said. "Now you've got Ezekiel walking around, acting like a lunatic. Negan's walking around -- in the comic, he's dropping the f-word every two seconds, and that's something you can't do on the show. We've got a freakin' tiger that's in the show now."
"That was clearly me going, 'They're never going to get to this stuff, and if they do get to this stuff, they're never going to be able to adapt it, so I'm just going hog wild,'" he continued. "I had to prove to myself internally that I was not changing what I was planning to do with a mind towards how we were going to adapt it when we got there on the show. I went so overboard that I think it did change in the comic in some way -- but I feel like it made it more awesome."
Kirkman also pointed out than when the comic book started, he and his wife didn't yet have kids. Now he has a son and a daughter, and he said that's had a meaningful impact on how he approaches one of the most famous "Walking Dead" character relationships.
"When I first started writing the book, I would write the Carl and Rick dynamic using my experiences with my father, where I'm writing from the son's perspective, or imagining how Rick would feel based on how my father, I assume, would have felt about me as a child," Kirkman told the crowd. "As the series progresses, I have my son, I have my daughter, and then I start to write from the perspective of, "I have children, and I know what it's like to have children, and I know what it's like to worry about them."
Of course, there are also the typical rewards that come with creating a property as lucrative as "The Walking Dead," and Kirkman's profile has definitely risen over the years, making him one of the most visible comics creators among mainstream audiences. But as he told the ECCC crowd, he's never wanted to stray too far from the comic's humble beginnings at his old home in Lexington, Kentucky.
"The fame of it all and the success of it all is something I worried, when it started, would be really, really, extremely distracting," Kirkman said. "This started out as me writing scripts in this little room of my house, and sending them off to Charlie Adlard. That's what the focus was."
"It was really important to me to keep that purity, because I felt like everything I had done in the beginning when I was a nobody -- the book was successful before the show happened, but whatever -- that's what made the book cool," he continued. "If I couldn't maintain that, I'd be losing the thing that propelled it into becoming all of this other stuff. I tried to make sure that I ignored it as much as possible. I feel like I'm fairly grounded. I still shop at Target. My wife is not impressed by anything at all."
Catch up with the latest from Emerald City Comicon 2017.