When writer Robert Kirkman first brought his idea for an ongoing zombie apocalypse series to Image Comics, they turned it down. After all, no zombie book had ever done that well in the past, plus with four or five unsuccessful books already, Kirkman was already a risky creator. In order to get the book published, he convinced Image that The Walking Dead was actually an alien invasion series that just happened to have zombies as window dressing.
The rest is comic book history. The Walking Dead quickly became a success with more than 75 issues in print already and no end in sight. And Kirkman has now teamed up with producers Frank Darabont (The Mist) and Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator) to bring the series to life as a television project, which begins airing on AMC Halloween night. The writer recently sat down to talk about the challenges of adapting his own comic book series, as well as his much-anticipated new Skybound imprint…
You’ve been heavily involved with The Walking Dead series from the start. You realize it doesn’t always work that way in television, don’t you?
I do, but I don’t have firsthand experience with it. I’ve joked with Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd on the set about how they’ve kind of ruined me for Hollywood, because I now have completely unrealistic expectations of how things are supposed to go. And also, everyone in the writer’s room has been so welcoming.
I was very intimidated going into it, because I was writing an episode and I had never written TV before, but those guys really took me under their wing and showed me the ropes and everyone involved in the entire process has been really accommodating and anxious to hear my opinion on things.
If anybody out there has a comic book that they’re trying to get adapted, I can’t recommend these guys enough, so contact somebody that worked on The Walking Dead and they’ll get you right!
What was it like to write an episode based on the comic book series? It seems logical that you want to come up with something different this time.
Yeah, that would be like watching paint dry, to go back and write the exact same scenes again. I wrote the fourth episode
Are you able to incorporate any of the new ideas and characters from the series into the comic book now?
I can see myself being tempted to do that if there was something I really liked from the show, but I would never do that, just because people are going to see it in the show and then see it in the comic and say, ‘Oh yeah, that thing; it’s great!’ I don’t want people to start thinking that I’m pulling things from the show because I like them.
The comic book is very much a separate entity and has its own identity right now, so I think it’s better to keep them separate. Once you start letting one thing seep in, the next thing I’m writing my comics in script form when it’s actually a whole other thing.
You’ve already stated that you have at least 250 issues planned. That suggest you have a good idea where it’s going to go.
The further along I get, the more vague things become but I do have very broad strokes of where the book is going to come blocked out for years and years to come.
Is there a certain satisfaction to know you were somewhat ahead of the current zombie craze?
It was all dumb luck. I certainly don’t claim to have had any kind of a divine vision or anything like that. I really enjoy zombie movies and felt that it would make a good comic book and it seems like I was right, but as far as catching a trend early or seeing something on the horizon, absolutely not. I’m just lucky enough to have struck at the right time and be able to benefit from all this zombie mania.
How difficult was it as a writer to make the transition from comics to television?
I’m willing to put in the hours and I’m kind of like tempered steel when it comes to staying up late to get things done and doing press and working on TV stuff. In that respect, I worked a lot for free in comics, so I’m willing to get in and do something and not really have any kind of other motivations other than getting something done.
Other than that, the mediums translate pretty well. It’s not that much different. I really enjoy all the TV stuff I’ve done so far and hopefully I’ll get to do more. You can’t write the whole second season yourself, Frank!
Is television the next stage of your career, or do you still enjoy working in comics?
I am extremely happy with the way things are going at the moment. I never thought in a million years that things would go this well for me so things are pretty great. I love comics and I’ve always wanted to do comics and I’m happy doing comics. There’s a certain level of comfort that comes from doing something that you’ve been doing for nearly ten years that I don’t really get from working on the television show.
With my new Skybound imprint, I’m hopefully going to be able to get some more new ideas out there and possibly change the landscape of comics. Or maybe we’ll just do some cool books and have some fun with them so we’ll see. But yes, I’m still very much invested in comics but I’ve really enjoyed my TV experience despite it being work, so I’d like to do some more there too. I would just love to do more everything.
So presumably The Walking Dead will make a great calling card for Hollywood?
I hope to have some very exciting announcements very soon, so yes, things are going all right!