With "The Walking Dead" about to celebrate its 10th anniversary and an "All Out War" about to take place in the pages of the fan-favorite comic, series creator Robert Kirkman took the stage at Comic-Con International 2013 to discuss the upcoming story arc, the development of the series since its inception and more in a special question-and-answer panel.
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Kirkman started off the panel by riffing with the audience about the technical problems of the slideshow. After the problems resolved, Kirkman said, "We always fake technical difficulties."
With everything all set, Kirkman reminded the audience that "The Walking Dead" is heading toward its 10th year of publication this October.
"We're going to be doing some stuff for the 10th anniversary because you have to do thing to celebrate anniversaries in comics because it's cool," said Kirkman, who went on to discuss "All Out War," which comes out in October. It will be a 12-part storyline that is "a huge storyline that's a culmination of everything that's happened in the book so far. As you know, Rick died in the last issue so -- has that issue not come out yet?" Kirkman said to laughs. "He's on the cover! It's clearly not true!"
"Negan and the saviors have been causing a lot of trouble," he continued. "We've seen the Hilltop and this new area the Kingdom aligning with Rick and his group of survivors. Now they're going to try to take Negan down, but that's going to be extremely difficult." The storyline is something that Kirkman has had planned since the beginning of the series and has a lot to do with the evolution of society as they rebuild following the zombie apocalypse.
The 12 issues will be done in 7 months, which will mean a new creator coming into the mix -- Stefano Gaudiano will be coming on to the series to ink Charlie Adlard's work. "He's a good inker, that's all that matters," said Kirkman, who showed some covers of the upcoming "All Out War" storyline. "It gives you a sense that the story ramps up fairly quickly. There's not a a lot of build-up to conflict." Colorist Dave Stewart has come on as colorist for the covers, and will color a special 10th anniversary edition of "The Walking Dead" #1.
Kirkman then began the Q&A session, saying that everyone should go to "The Walking Dead Escape," which is back at Petco Park this weekend.
Among answers praising Spaulding's Doughnuts in Lexington, KY, Kirkman stated readers will reveal more about Negan's backstory in the issues to come, "assuming he doesn't die."
The first question to compare the television show and the comic asked about the possibility of doing comic story lines with some of the main comic cast dead in the show. "All I can say is there are story lines like the 'Hunters' storyline that seem important to the overall story and it would be unfortunate to skip them," said Kirkman, "but the death of any characters in the show are not going to preclude us from doing any of those story lines. Just because those characters died in season three doesn't mean we won't do the 'Hunters' storyline -- [it also] doesn't mean we will."
In terms of exploration of backstory of secondary characters, a fan dressed as Dale asked about a possible one-shot or novel about Dale. "Nobody's going to read a novel about Dale," Kirkman said, saying that a lot of the background stories were done as special projects that he wanted people to have access to, which is why it's been reprinted in subsequent material.
One fan asked about how the fate of Glenn in "The Walking Dead" #100 will affect the survivors in "All Out War." "It's definitely something that's going to be on everyone's mind," said Kirkman. "There's a lot of stuff coming up with Maggie and how she's dealing with it. While he's no longer in the book, his presence will very much be felt and it's kind of where we're going right now."
The question came up about Kirkman's favorite character, something that Kirkman's had some experience fielding in the past. "I've had favorite characters in the past, and then I've killed them," he said. "I always worry if I get too open with my feelings for these character, people will think they're safe. My favorite characters have been Tyreese and Axel -- all the dead ones, so it doesn't really mean anything."
Kirkman also discussed briefly his experience working in the writer's room for "The Walking Dead" television show, and plotting it differently than the book. "If it was just the comic book over again, I'd be bored," he said. "The fact that there are characters like Daryl Dixon that don't exist in the comic, the fact that there are huge differences from the comic make it a lot of fun."
Carl has grown up in a world with the Walkers, and one fan questioned whether there would be more children like Carl that had grown up in this world. "If they survive the war, there will be a much larger cast. We've already seen other children playing with Sophia," said Kirkman. "There are definitely plans, assuming they survive 'All Out War.'"
The creator was also quick to say in response to a question that the television show hasn't changed his plans for the comic. "Even if I'm writing the same characters, the Rick Grimes in the comic is still very different than the Rick Grimes in the show. It's very easy to not be inspired or affected by the existence of the show," he said. "I don't want the existence of the show to change the story of the comic or how the comic is. I want it to be consistent throughout its run."
A fan asked about whether Kirkman ever had to stop himself from killing Rick or "nuking the whole thing."
"Probably far too often," he said. "I think the best example of that … is the Abraham death. It wasn't planned and I wrote the end of that issue where he and Eugene are walking along and Eugene's like, 'I've got you to keep me safe.' What was going to happen was Dwight was going to attack and Abraham was going to survive and they were going to run back to Alexandria. I started plotting that issue and I was like, 'This is bullshit.' I had a lot of plans for Abraham and now I can't do them. I like that because it forces me to come up with ideas. I like that it mirrors life in that people don't often die at times that are convenient."
Involving the idea of Ezekiel having a tiger as a pet, Kirkman said, "Because it's awesome!" and said that "as the book progresses, it's only the weirdest of the weird or the dastardliest of the daystardy [will survive] -- it's guys like Negan and Ezekiel who are likely to survive," he said. "I feel like I'm trying to be accurate to the world in introducing as weird people as possible because all the nice people are dead."
A fan asked whether Kirkman saw the book continuing without Rick Grimes. "I'll say that no one is safe in the book," he said. "I think the book could survive Rick. I think there are enough strong characters in the book that we could follow any one of them as a focus. It could happen. It might happen soon."
Does Kirkman base the books characters on people he knows from real life? "Not really. There are certain aspects of me that are in some of the characters. I used to work at a pizza place, which is why Glenn worked in a pizza place," he said. "I have dead heads in a fish tank, the Governor has dead heads in the fish tank. … I feel like it would be bad to base characters on people that I know because they'd get killed and they'd be like, 'Why would you do that?'"
A lull in questions took place momentarily, but the queue quickly came back with a question about Carl's eye and the audience reaction to it. "There's some shadows there and I think people misread the art from the shot. It looks like a lot more of his head is missing than there actually was," he said. "I always anticipate flak at this point. … It's hard to anticipate what people are going to be upset about. I thought the tiger was going to be awesome, but about five percent of the audience hates it. Those people can kiss my butt."
Another Carl question dealt with the character's evolution over time. "I think there's still places for him to go," said Kirkman. "He's getting older, terrible things have happened to him. I think Rick is going to be treating him a little differently, especially moving into this war. He's going to be a lot more capable, he's going to be trusted more during this war. That might not be a good thing."
Kirkman also mentioned there may be new webisodes planned for the upcoming season of "The Walking Dead." "I believe there are. Don't quote me on that. I'm 90% sure there will be," he said. "I'm pretty sure I'm announcing something I shouldn't be announcing."
A fan of Daryl Dixon asked about whether the character might show up in the comic. "I thought about it, but in the end I like that there are only certain things you can do in different mediums," he said. "There are characters in the comic that won't make it into the show. I think it's great that when you go across these different mediums, [you get different things]."
As for what's going on in other countries in "The Walking Dead," the writer stated it likely wasn't something that would get explored anytime soon. "I like the mystery of it," said Kirkman. "I'm sure at some point there will be a bigger picture, but I love the fact that the story is laser focused on these characters and their experiences and you don't know what's going on in other countries."
As for the "Dead" teaser at the top of this piece, Kirkman said, "It's a teaser! You're supposed to be like, 'What is this?'" There will be another one tomorrow and another one the next day. It will be announced at the Skybound panel. "We'll be announcing that at the panel. The announcement will be online."
Kirkman said the survivors will likely have a better chance at surviving if they stay in one place. "I think settling down is definitely the answer," he said. "That's where they seem to survive the longest. I think the idea is that they would try to stay in a central location whenever they can."
He was also asked a question about who wears the pants in Glenn and Maggie's relationship in the television show, to which he responded, "Oh Maggie, clearly."
For inspiration, Kirkman said it had a lot to do with his love of the zombie film genre. "The main thing is I loved zombie movies, I hated how they ended," he said. "They went off in a helicopter, where did they go? I want to know where they went and who they met and if they had pizza. There was no long-term, people are going to survive for years in this story and we're going to watch that."
Winding down, Kirkman was asked what his favorite non-"The Walking Dead" comic and show were. His favorite comic is "Savage Dragon" and his favorite modern comic is "Manhattan Projects." "As far as TV shows go, 'Breaking Bad' I'm super excited about. I actually really enjoy 'Sons of Anarchy.' It's my favorite show on TV."