Friday 13 February 2009

E14 Interviews: Robert Kirkman

Earlier on this week we talked about awesome The Walking Dead is, and why you should be reading it. Back then we promised you that later in the week we'd be having an interview with its creator, Robert Kirkman. We've never let you down before, so here it is, the first ever E14 interview, with Mr Robert Kirkman:

Was the idea of an on-going zombie comic something that you had wanted to do for some time, or was it more of a spur-of-the-moment thing?

I had seen Night of the Living Dead when I was younger but I never actually got around to watching Dawn of the Dead or Day of the Dead until after I'd started my first comic, Battle Pope. I was really into zombie flicks at that time. I branched out into some Italian gems and some not-so-gems and somewhere along the way, it occured to me that a long-form, continuing zombie epic would be a fun comic to do. It was more or less a spur of the moment kind of thing.

Were you in any way surprised by the reception "The Walking Dead" received?

Absolutely. I never expected it to be the success it's become. It was really the first book I did that caught on and did well. Everything else I'd done to that point was a failure. I figured it'd just be another one of those--but really, it's the book that turned my career in comics around. It was all very shocking.

One of the things that I like the most about the comic is the monochrome colour scheme. Was that always how the comic was going to be presented, or was that a decision you made once you began creating it?

It was always supposed to be black and white, for a number of reasons. Originally, the book was going to be called Night of the Living Dead... which looking back, makes no sense, but the movie is in public domain and I thought we could use the title and create something new with it. The movie is black and white... so I thought it'd be cool if the book was black and white, too. Original artist Tony Moore does an outstanding job gray-toning his work... it added a level of realism to the art and I thought it would make for a stunning book (and it did).

Jim Valentino, then publisher at Image said "If you're creating somthing 100% original that has nothing to do with Night of the Living Dead... why not just come up with a new title and own it all?" Probably the best advice I ever got. Another reason for black and white was that it makes the gore and violence a little easier to stomach, you'd never see all that red in a black and white comic. Also... it's cheaper to print in black and white, but that was more a bonus than the reason we did it.

How much of the story did you have mapped out at the outset, and how far in advance have you generally planned ahead when writing the story?

When I started I knew they'd eventually live in a prison, I knew about Michonne and her intro that would appear in issue 19, I knew a couple more things that haven't happened yet in the book... and I knew roughly how the first arc, the first six issues or the volume one trade-paperback, were going to go.

By the time I finished that first arc... I knew roughly everything that was going happen up through issue 25... and by the time I finished the second arc... I think I had a rough plan all the way up through 50. Now, some of that included Rick and Lori getting a divorce... and Hershel was supposed to lose a leg and not Allen... and I had planned to keep Allen alive until the end... but y'know... things change. I try to keep as much track laid ahead of this train as possible, but I never hesitate to veer off course if a cool idea comes up.

Do you (or did you) have a favourite character to write?

Absolutely. Jim was a favorite early on... but his arc was set from the beginning... he was destined to die. Tyreese, Allen, Axel and Carol were all my favorites right up until their deaths. I don't think pointing out how much I like the living characters will make them seem safe... so right now I'm enjoying Abraham and Andrea... as well as Rick and Carl (of course)... but I totally play favorites... although that never keeps me from killing them. Still wish I had Axel kicking around.

A very strong note resounding throughout The Walking Dead is this feeling that "No-One Is Safe". I honestly believe that even Rick Grimes could die, and at any moment, too! Do you feel that mainstream comics (and other media too) have lost that feeling?

In most places, yes. But a lot of times it's not neccessary. You don't expect anyone to die in ER, so when it doesn't happen... you don't say "well of course they lived!" there aren't a lot of "red shirts" on TV these days... and honestly the characters in Lost could go at any time, just like the faceless masses that die left and right along with the main guys. I'd dare to say there's almost too much death in mainstream comics. Captain America... awesome death, really resonating, leads to Bucky becoming a viable character for the future, sales are up on the book... good show, great job. It doesn't matter that we know he'll come back. The Wasp dying? Who cares? And Batman dying? Well... that just seems like a waste. Too much comic book death makes it seem lame.

The Walking Dead obviously wears its zombie movie influences on its sleeve; are there influences from other genres that you think show through?

I've watched a lot of holocaust/WWII movies to get a sense of human dispair on a massive scale... and Europe during World War II is about as close as we've ever gotten (so far) to modern civilization just collapsing. So those movies are a good example of how people deal with horrendous things being done to them. The visuals really help me picture a world in ruins when I'm writing. The Pianist especially has some good scenes where you see empty streets and industrial ruin on a grand scale. It's very haunting, so I've tried to use that where I can.
What, in your opinion, is the secret to writing a good zombie story?

Largely ignoring the zombies. I'm mean, they're going to be there when you need them... you have to make sure everything else around them is interesting first.

Is The Walking Dead the work you are the most proud of?

Maybe so far, although I think Invincible is on par and sometimes they flip flop in my head depending on my mood. I do hope it won't always be the thing I'm most known for, though. I've got a lot of life left in me (I hope) and so I pray my crowning achievment wasn't created when I was 23.

Can you tell us about any projects of yours that we'll be seeing in the near future?

I've got a new series starting up this summer that I've co-created with Todd McFarlane that is an action-adventure spy drama wrapped in a ghostly horror type shell, called Haunt. I'm very excited to roll this book out. It's going to be very cool, I'm having a blast working on it. High on drama and character interaction... and high on action. It'll be a super-hero book for people who read The Walking Dead and hate superhero books. Look for it.

Check out more of Robert Kirkman's work via his website

Buy The Walking Dead in the E14 Amazon Store

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