Dead Men Walking: Robert Kirkman talks "The Walking Dead"

Tue, June 1st, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

"The Walking Dead" #8
So after you make a name for yourself on an original super hero series, what do you do?

Start a new zombie series that sells out of comic book stores in minutes of course!

That's the path taken by acclaimed writer Robert Kirkman, who spoke previously about "Invincible" and "Captain America," and today's focus is his Image Comics horror series: "The Walking Dead."

"'The Walking Dead' is about a small town cop, Rick Grimes, and his epic story of protecting his family and staying alive in a world ruled by hordes of undead zombies," explains Kirkman. "I like to call it the zombie movie that never ends. I think what sets it apart from other horror books is the fact that I don't really try to scare people. I've gotten tons of fan mail from people saying the book creeped them out and that there is horrific stuff in the book, but really... I'm just trying to tell a survival story. I think the fact that I don't force the horror and it's just a product of the situation sets it apart... but then... what the hell do I know [laughs]."

So who are these crazy characters trying to survive seemingly unbeatable odds? "The main character is Rick Grimes, small town cop. Rick never fired his gun until the dead started walking. In the book we get to see him go from a nervous man who's doing what needs to be done to a stone cold zombie killer. Rick is an everyman... he's good to the core, his good nature is one of my favorite aspects of the book. Lori, Rick's husband, is one tough cookie in some ways... and is incredibly weak in other ways. She's flawed in a lot of ways... a good contrast to Rick. Carl, Rick's son, is just eight years old. So we get to watch a child grow up in this environment and see how that shapes the man he becomes... if he survives that long. The rest of the characters are cannon fodder for the most part. I'd say only 50% of them are going to last more than ten issues... and I don't want to give any hints as to who's going to live and who's not."

"The Walking Dead" #9
There has been a strong focus on character in this series and Kirkman says it is part of making a book that he'd like to read. "Well, I want people to like this book, and more importantly... I have to like this book. I want 'The Walking Dead' to have a long life on the comic racks and I don't think it could have that if it was just blood and guts month after month. This thing is a soap opera... with zombies."

The zombies also have a lot more depth than one might expect, with a simple look in their eyes that says much more or the fact they truly do seem menacing. Chalk it all up to Kirkman's love for the genre. "I don't think there's ever been anyone working in comics that loves the zombie genre more than me. It's my love of the subject matter that fuels this book. I think most people only see the gore and the bad acting of zombie movies... I gotta say... they really move me. The whole apocalyptic-running-around-with-guns-surviving stuff really butters my bread. So I think just about all zombie movies carry some kind of message, whether it's intended or not."

If you're a zombie fan like Kirkman, don't think he's trying to change things too much from your normal fictional zombie. The nuances aren't that different, as Kirkman says, "Well... [Kirkman's zombies and classic film zombies] don't really differ much. I'm going to be explaining the 'zombie rules' in the book as we go along but for the most part, I'm trying to cannonize zombie lore using the best zombies (Romero's) as a model. Vampires, Werewolves... their rules are all set in stone for the most part... zombies are all over the map. I'm doing my part to try and reign things in."

The map that Kirkman is following doesn't have any end in sight- just lots and lots of ideas that came out of a genuine excitement. "I'd like to go until I'm forced to stop. I'd like to do a minimum of 75 issues, but I could easily go longer than that. I'm not going to run out of stories here. Issue 6 came out and these characters haven't done much more than sit in the woods and complain. There's plenty left for them to do."

Bucking the trend, Kirkman has eschewed splash pages and worked on fitting more panels on each page, allowing for more interaction in each issue. While it may seem that this would be contradictory to the current "widescreen" comics trend, Kirkman notes, "Apparently not... the book is doing really well, selling better than a lot of color books. It's funny... I'm not really writing this in any different way than I write 'Invincible' or most anything else... these characters just have a lot more to say. Sometimes I letter the pages and go: 'damn... people are going to hit this page and just give up.' but so far... nobody's complained. I think people like it when they're so busy reading a book on the can they don't notice their legs have fallen asleep. The more people stumbling out of the bathroom after reading an issue of 'The Walking Dead,' the happier I'll be."

"The Walking Dead" #10
And it seems a lot of readers are moving towards "The Walking Dead," as evidenced by the uncanny increase in sales each month. "Word of mouth?" says Kirkman when asked why sales are increasing. "I mean... number 1 issues are always a gamble. In this day and age who knows if a book is going to last more than three issues. Nobody wants to support, and get attached to a book that's going to disappear. Once they see a book is stable, though... they come in droves."

The recently released collection of the first six issues has been flying off the shelves and proven itself popular with many new readers- but don't buy it for the "extras" so common in compilations these days. "No extras... nothing. It's more expensive to collect it monthly, those guys should get the extras. Most people that want the trade for the most part just want the story. Also, with extras you kind of force people that really like the book to buy both, and I'm not really wanting to force people to have to buy the same thing twice. I'm trying to be a good guy here. So if you waited for the trade, six issues for ten bucks... it's a steal, but you don't get the color covers... and you don't get the rambling letters columns. Also, we shipped the TPB the same day as issue 7 so any new readers can buy them both and be all caught up in one day. I'm trying to help people get into this book."

What's next for the series? CBR News is willing to guess we'll see more zombies and Kirkman adds, "All kinds of stuff. Issues 7-12 is our hunt for shelter storyline. Winter has come and our crew is looking for a safe place to stay. Oh, and people start dropping like flies from issue 6-on... so start placing bets. And really... nobody is safe in this book. Nobody. I thought about killing Rick in issue six just to fuck with people... I'm not even kidding."

"The Walking Dead" #8
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