I remember the first time I watched filmmaker George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.” For the few people who haven’t seen the film, the story is about a handful of people who barricade themselves inside a shopping mall to hide from a horde of zombies. At the time, I was frightened by the movie, but I recall thinking, “The zombies don’t move that fast, why don’t the humans just outrun them?”
This film, however, came to define the zombie genre and its “rules,” the foremost among them being that zombies walk at a slow – yet menacing – pace. And this rule was unchallenged for many years until 2002, when the zombie flick “28 Days Later” came out. Its zombies ran, and ran fast.
This made sense to me. While watching that film, I could truly feel my heart racing as the characters tried to outrun zombies. (Faster must have seemed scarier to others as well, because the 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead” followed suit and had the undead running, too.)
Therefore, when I read the Image Comics solicitation for Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” in 2003 and heard that it had walking zombies (as implied in the title), I didn’t think the book would work. I mean, an ongoing comic that had people running away from corpses that moved like toddlers? How scary could it be? And how long could the book maintain a feeling of suspense?
I was wrong. The book not only thrilled and freaked the heck outta me on a monthly basis, but also thousands and thousands of readers on a regular basis. Kirkman has found real traction with the series, crafting a critically acclaimed series in a well-trod genre. Issue 31 of the series has just come out, and the story’s momentum shows no signs of slowing down.
CBR News contacted Kirkman to find out what’s coming down the road for the book’s weary band of survivors. He was kind enough to give us some hints on this topic, in addition to sharing some insight on the creation of “The Walking Dead.”
Robert, while all the characters in your book are terrific, let’s begin with the zombies. When George Lucas wrote “Star Wars,” he’s said that he knew Darth Vader’s origins when making the first trilogy, even though he didn’t want to show it to the audience. You’ve always said and maintained that readers won’t discover the origin of the zombies. I was just curious though, do you have an idea in your head where the zombies came from? And did you have this idea when you began the series?
I have a few possible ideas, but nothing I’m nailing down as I don’t plan on ever showing it. It’s obviously some kind of airborne pathogen, because we’ve revealed that even the living are affected and will turn into zombies upon death without a bite. So whatever it is, it has affected everyone (we’ve seen). We still don’t know how widespread this thing is. We’ve only shown Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia in the book. Who knows? There could be a big wall closing off those three states for all we know (but there isn’t).
How far ahead have you planned this series? Do you have an uber-roadmap for the book? Where have you veered from the roadmap since you started the series?
Well, I’ve expanded scenes every now and then. When I saw the book was selling well, I took what was going to be issue 7 and expanded it to 7-12. They were originally supposed to find the prison at the end of issue 7. But I decided to have some fun with them on the road for awhile and also took the time to introduce some new characters.
Another time when the book just took over was at the end of issue 18. I was actually going to have that issue end with Lori saying she wanted to separate from Rick and throw her wedding ring at him. That was in the plot I’d done up until I was writing page 5 of that issue. But I found a lot of things had to be said to get to that point, and they were things that the characters wouldn’t be saying. I saw that I was forcing the characters into this thing that wasn’t natural for them, so I just stopped and started typing what they would be saying – and the whole issue changed.
A couple characters were supposed to steal guns and leave so Rick and Lori could have their moment, and I was thinking, “These characters wouldn’t just leave – they’d try to take over the prison.” And so, all of a sudden, issue 18 ended on a cliffhanger – and so did the volume 3 TPB (which ended on that issue). My plots exist at the mercy of the characters. I have a solid roadmap for the next few years of the book – I have a ton of things I want to get to. But it’s constantly changing and moving around to accommodate whatever the characters are feeling, which sounds stupid, I guess, but that’s how it works.
At first, our band of survivors were just traveling around in a camper trying to survive and now they’re trying to make the most of a prison. Can you give us a sense of how long they’ll be at that prison? Will they still be there at issue #50?
That would be telling. I have a lot of cool things planned for the prison. People complain about it being zombies on the other side of the fence and people on the inside – that the danger is all of a sudden contained. And that’s true to a certain extent (or rather has been true in the past). The prison will be around as long as it needs to be. I’m not going to say how long they’ll be there – but I will say they won’t always be there.
Will the survivors ever get a sense of how widespread the situation is? Will they discover if all of the U.S. has “zombie problems?” Will they be checking in on other countries?
Well, the thing about that is that you have to take into account where these characters are and what their resources are. Take yourself, for example: if this really happened – if, all of a sudden, the dead were at your door and everything was broken – the last thing on your mind would be going to France. You probably couldn’t fly, and taking a boat would be hard.
If the characters in this book were in Florida, I could see them trying to get to a small island or something, but they’re in Georgia right now and they’re busy. I could just cut to different characters all of a sudden – show you what’s going on in Moscow or something – but I really don’t want to cut to any other characters. The characters are the book. Without them, what’s the point?
Fair enough. Now, your zombie story has gone on longer than most attempts. What do you feel the trick is to maintaining a story for this long in the zombie genre?
Not stopping after two hours? By design, the zombie story is geared toward longer stories that follow things to its logical conclusion, but it’s just never been done. I mean, think about how different the world would be after ten years. That’s what I’m working toward – reveal how we get there and show all the changes in people and society and civilization. It should be a lot of fun. I hope this thing ends up longer than “Cerebus,” but that’s a pretty lofty goal.
While your book very much has an ensemble cast, the story seems to be told from Rick’s point-of-view. What do you feel it is about this character that makes him a dynamic lead?
We’ve seen every moment he’s existed in this savage new world. We were there when he woke up, and we were with him while he learned everything that was going on. He’s the center of this story. If he dies…? We’ll have to focus on someone else, but until then, he’s core of the book. And I think he’s a very conflicted character. A law man in a world with no laws, and he’s had a lot of pressure on him. I like watching Rick fall apart as the series goes on. He’s not always likeable, but I hope he’s always interesting.
How soon can we expect Rick’s baby (if, indeed, it’s even his)?
Soon. Only about seven months have passed in the book so far, but we should be speeding up the time line a bit soon.
Michonne hasn’t been looking too “healthy” lately. How soon will we get to learn her origin? While she’s said that she was a lawyer, I feel there’s much more to her am I wrong?
No, there’s plenty more to learn about all the characters and Michonne is one of my favorites, so I’m sure we’ll learn more about her – if she survives the next few issues.
Artist Charlie Adlard continues to do a great job on the series. As you’ve worked together a long time, what do you think the key is to a good writer-artist relationship? How often do you two chat/email with one another?
Charlie reads the scripts when he gets them, and for the most part, that’s when he finds out where things are going. We talk often, but it’s not always about story content. I like to keep him in the dark for the most part so that he can read the story as it unfolds, just like a reader could.
This is helpful for two reasons: one, so that he can tell me if things work or not without knowing where I’m going to cloud his opinion. And two, so that he can be excited about things as they’re happening instead of being excited about what’s happening five or ten issues from now but still having to plug through the current stuff…like I am.
While I think the book works best in black and white, have you ever been tempted to add color? Why or why not?
No, definitely not. Color was never a part of this book and I like they way it looks in black and white. I think black and white comics are just as cool as color comics, and I hate that there seems to be fewer and fewer black and white books these days. I will never color “The Walking Dead.” It’s fine just the way it is.
I know people are always asking you about movie and/or cable TV interest in the series. Do you ever daydream about what the ideal format would be and who would star in it?
Actually, no. If something like that happens, that’s great, and I definitely would like it to happen, but I have no control over that aspect of things and really don’t think about it much. When it happens, I’ll be involved, but if it never happens, I’m cool with that. As long as I get to do the comics, I’ll be happy.
And on a side note, do you have anything to report on the development of the “Invincible” movie at the moment?
I’ve turned in the first draft of the screenplay and people seem to like it. Other than that, nothing to report.
You have one of the longest (and best!) fan mail pages of any comic book on the stands. How long does it take you to put it together? And how long does it take you just to read all your email? Do you still get fan mail via the postal service? And why do you still feel it’s important for books to have fan mail pages?
I think it’s a good place to converse with the readers and keep them up to speed. Not everyone is on internet message boards all day, and I think some people lose sight of that. More people read the letters column than hit my message board, and I like that I have a place where I can interact with the fans.
That said, they’re a huge pain in the ass and it takes hours to read through all the mail, respond to the ones that need to be responded to, and filter out the ones I need to print and the ones that I don’t need to print (I don’t print letters that are just blind praise – nobody wants to read that except me). I often times want to quit doing the letters column – or at least shorten it a bunch – but then I go to a show or get stopped at a local comic shop, and I’m told how much people enjoy it. I do it for the readers.
Are there any other news/upcoming projects you want to let fans know about?
My wife and I just had our first son enter the world, so right now I’m keeping my head down working on “Invincible,” “The Walking Dead,” “Ultimate X-Men” and “The Irredeemable Ant-Man.” There will be some announcements starting in 2007 for sure, but for now, I’m just trying to get ahead of schedule so I can take my son to the park every now and then.
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