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Robert Kirkman

Robert Kirkman's Four-Panel Terror Shambles Onto TV

Oct 06, 2010 The Walking Dead Bookmark and Share

“This is not good.” Those are the foreboding first words you read in the debut issue of Image Comics’ The Walking Dead. There is no over-the-top internal monologue from a main character, or omnipresent narrator clueing you in to the overall through-line. It’s just a bleak, monochromatic landscape, punctuated by telephone poles and a pivotal police shootout.

The dialogue stays gritty between police officers Rick Grimes and Shane Walsh and an incensed escaped convict, while plenty of gore awaits survival horror fans. The story centers on a band of survivors fending off zombie hordes, and Rick and Shane are longtime friends caught in the midst of the tumult. A central theme of scribe Robert Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard’s slow-burning apocalypse series is that the humans are often the enemies. Whether our fearless heroes are sealing themselves in an abandoned prison or scavenging for food in the harsh Atlanta winter, their struggle to protect their families is compounded by moral complications. In that sense, The Walking Dead has resembled a kind of multifaceted, ensemble drama since its launch in 2003. In 2009, cable network AMC announced that it was adapting the series for television.

Kirkman’s stature in the comics industry was further validated this year when The Walking Dead won the Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series, but it’s been a tough climb for the Richmond, Kentucky native. Before Kirkman created The Walking Dead, there was a time when he was saddled with $40,000 dollars of debt from botched attempts to self-publish his first seven books. He barely scraped by with freelance writing and lettering jobs. “It was an apocalyptic time in my life,” he deadpans. Kirkman got back on his feet by successfully pitching Image The Walking Dead and his cerebral superhero series, Invincible.

Now his zombies have attracted the interest of renowned creative talent in Hollywood, including writer/director/executive producer Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), executive producer Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator series), and various writers from top-shelf shows such as 24, Breaking Bad, Dexter, and Sons of Anarchy. Despite many offers, Kirkman waited for the right people to develop his material. “I knew it was my first comic to be adapted, so I didn’t want to disappoint my readers,” he notes. After ridiculous pitches about super-zombies, aliens, and one for an anime show, Kirkman chose Darabont to spearhead the adaptation after the acclaimed film director—and fan of the series—sought him out.

“Frank and I would have dinner discussions where he would say, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be really faithful to the material,’” Kirkman recounts. “And I would always say to him, ‘I’m really excited that you are going to do it because one of the things you’re known for is to be able to do really respectful adaptations and at the same time add your own nuance to elevate the material.’ I think he’s done that with all the Stephen King stuff he’s adapted.”

Television has a history of watering down horror stories, but The Walking Dead universe will retain its gore and hardcore horror roots. Fans went crazy earlier this year when it was announced that horror and action specialist Greg Nicotero would be working on special effects and makeup (no CGI zombies) and Battlestar Galactica composer Bear McCreary would handle the score. Firefly cinematographer David Boyd also said he would drain some of the color out of the images to get closer to the black-and-white panels of the books.

“It was never intended to be a bright and colorful show,” says Kirkman. “Darabont, from the very beginning, wanted it to be kind of dull. I know, for the zombies, the art team is very mindful of what kind of clothes they’re wearing and making sure there aren’t any bright reds or blues.”

Despite the show’s buzz, Kirkman’s not a guy swooned by Hollywood. “I want to still produce the comic series on a monthly basis and not trail off once the TV show starts,” he promises. He’s content living in Richmond, a place where he knows “who to call to get his car fixed.” He wants his son Peter Parker and daughter Kristine (both under five) to be “raised in a quiet town.”

Still, the comic creator is delighted with AMC’s legacy so far and is proud to be a small part of it. “I like that they’re a small network and don’t overextend themselves,” Kirkman says. “Mad Men and Breaking Bad, aside from being great, are both shows that are outside of the norm. They’re not heavy on action, there’s not an emphasis on likeable characters to the detriment of the show.”

The first season will cover roughly the first six issues of the comic, but Kirkman, who penned the fourth episode of the TV series, is leaving some frights up his sleeve. “Don’t expect just a moving version of the comic book,” he says. Some of Darabont’s new ideas include more back-story and screen time with supporting characters.This way we won’t run out when we start killing them off,” Kirkman jokes.


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