At WonderCon last weekend, Adam Chitwood and I sat down and interviewed 'The Walking Dead' creator Robert Kirkman. We asked him about how his life had changed since the success of the TV show, how they’re planning to up the zombie kills in season two, the upcoming video game, as well as his other comics projects like The Infinite and supporting new comics like Witch Doctor.
How has your life changed after the huge success of the first season of The Walking Dead?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: Not very much. I guess in all of the obvious ways. I can afford more diapers for my children. If I want to buy a complete set of Garbage Pail Kids on Ebay I don’t have to ask my wife so hard. For the most part, it’s mostly the same. I keep my head down and I just work on comics for most of the time. I’ve relocated to Los Angeles to work on the second season. So I’m living there for year. I’m like on a trial basis. I’m going to the writer’s room everyday and that is very different. Otherwise, I’m just working on comics, and that is pretty much the same.
What is your relationship to the writer’s room? Do you function as a kind of show runner or are you in there with the other writers spit balling ideas to each other?
KIRKMAN: Yeah, Frank [Darabont] is definitely the show runner and he is in the room everyday too. I’m an executive producer on the show, but I just consider myself to be one of the writers. I sit there with everybody else and I throw out ideas with them. I haven’t had to shoot anything down thankfully, but everybody in the room shoots things down. So it’s not like I’m sitting there going, “We can’t do that!” and everyone else is going, “Oh, what the hell. It’s Robert! Okay!” That just doesn’t happen. Everyone in the writer’s room is really well versed in the comics. They know what the show is and they know what the show needs to be. So it’s really like 8 people sitting in a room talking about the show and coming up with cool ideas for it. It’s really a lot of fun.
Is the story for every episode broken down in that room?
KIRKMAN: We start with the season and then we work our way down. So we go, “This is what we want the season to be. This is where we want to start and this is where we want to end. This is where we want each character to start and end.” We then start breaking that down by episode. Where did all of these events take place and in what episode do they fall in? Then, we sit down and once we have done that we are like, “Okay. This episode is a little light. We need more for this and more for that.” We start beefing up each individual episode. Then, we go off and make the episodes. That is how the process is.
We talked to a source who said that the writers and you had gone to KNB to see what effects Greg Nicotero has coming up.
KIRKMAN: Yeah, it’s actually been a lot of fun. We went to KNB and did a tour of their facilities. We talked to Greg Nicotero and saw some of the cool stuff that he has planned for the second season and just different zombie stuff. We discussed with him all of the key zombie moments that we have thought of for the second season so far just to give him a head’s up on what kind of stuff he is going to have to do. I do have to say that maybe because it’s just 13 episodes instead of 6, but it seems like there is twice as much zombie stuff going on in every episode even though we do have a lot more character development and stuff too. I think the second season is going to be really cool. Aside from taking field trips to the KNB effects studio, we also have had the actors coming into the room. We have had Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies, Jon Bernthal, Steven Yeun, Laurie Holden, and Norman Reedus. Every time an actor is in L.A., we have them pop by. We just sit down and discuss their character with them. We get their thoughts and insights on what they think about the character because apparently actors make up all kinds of stuff to help them act. They think about who their character is and it really is kind of remarkable. I mean, Andrew Lincoln came in and he had this entire back story for Rick with like who his parents were, what happened in his daily life, and just stuff that he came up with to inform his decisions on how he portrays Rick. It’s all actor’s stuff. It was really cool and I was blown away. I was like, “I’ve never even thought about who his parents were. I don’t even care.” But that is really cool, you know? So I’ll probably use that in the comic. It’s a fun process and I really enjoyed being in the room.
You came up with some great zombie kills in season one. Have you planned out how you are going to raise the bar in season two?
KIRKMAN: I can say, sitting here knowing what I know about the second season, that you can’t even see the bar because it’s been raised so much. There is all kinds of crazy stuff that is coming up. I’m really excited. I mean, you get 8 guys that like zombies that know they are doing a T.V. show like The Walking Dead, and they know that you can get away with the kind of things that we got away with on the first season. It really becomes just an effort to just find that thing that AMC is going to make us change. So we all sitting there going, “Oh, they are going to make us change that!” So there is a lot of cool stuff coming up.
Have you been surprised by the amount of leeway that AMC has given you in regards to the violence and gore?
KIRKMAN: Definitely. I worry that we are getting a little too like, “Oh, yeah. They will let us do anything” just because they have been so accommodating and seemingly breaking their own rules by allowing us to put this kind of stuff on T.V. It’s really kind of shocking, but I think it’s a testament to how successful the show has been that they have been willing go to that extra mile. They are allowing a zombie show to be a zombie show. They are not pulling punches at all, and I think that is a big part of its success. People who like zombie movies can sit down and watch this, and not feel like they are getting a light version of a zombie movie. We plan to stretch those boundaries to the test on the second season.
Could you talk about your upcoming comic book series The Infinite? What do you have planned with that and where did the idea come from?
KIRKMAN: The idea came from Rob [Liefeld] and I chatting about how much we wanted to work together. Eventually, I was like, “Let’s do something with time travel. Let’s do a science fiction thing.” I think that too often people set out to do a time travel story and they basically do the same kind of stuff that has been established as if time travel is a real thing. I was like, “Nah. If you think about how time travel works there is all kinds of different things you could do that you really haven’t seen.” So we are trying to push the boundaries of what you can do in a time travel/science fiction story and kind of mess with people’s heads. There are going to be a lot of things where you are going to be like, “Wait a minute. That guy planned that and did that thing, and we haven’t seen him do that yet, but it’s already done because there is time travel?” It’s going to be a lot of fun. Working with Rob is an absolute blast. I’ve been a fan of his since I was quite young. You know, I was in my early teens. Getting to actually write pages and then getting them back from him and just seeing all of the cool gear and energy he brings to the page – it’s just a whole lot of cool stuff. I’m a huge fan of all of that. So it’s a treat to be able to work him.
Is it difficult to plan out a time travel story when comics come out monthly? How is it structured to help readers understand the story?
KIRKMAN: We are telling a finite story with The Infinite, but it’s a regular monthly series. It will go for a duration and then the story will complete much in the same way of a Vertigo series or the Luna Brothers’ series at Image would. We are still mapping out exactly how many issues it’s going to run, but it’s going to run for awhile. The point is when you get to the end of the story I’m imagining people will go back and will want to read the entire story again knowing where it goes because there are all kinds of different things that lead to the end of the story that you aren’t going to know that you saw. It takes an extreme amount of planning. I don’t think I’ve ever had a series this thought out before this early on. I know how the last issue is going to go and I know what I need to do to set up what happens in the last issue. It’s extremely complicated, but it’s fun. I like doing the work.
Is this series being planned to come out in digital form too?
KIRKMAN: Yeah. All of my comics at this point will be launched in print and in digital at the same time. I’ve been doing The Walking Dead day and date for almost a year now and the sales for the digital and comic just keep going up. Invincible has been digital for a briefer amount of time, it’s about 5 or 6 months now, and I’m seeing the same thing happen. I know that retailers sometimes get worried about that stuff, but I think that right now the digital and print audiences are different. I like to think that the digital audience will eventually be the half a million people that were buying comics in the 90s that went away when there was a bust. I think some of those people are coming back because of the convenience of digital comics. I have high hopes that we will eventually get to a point where print comics are selling basically what they are now, if not a little more, because digital comics are driving people to it, but the digital comics will be selling equal to the print comics. I think that will possibly be a kind of boom for the industry. So I’m excited for that.
Given the success of The Walking Dead, I assume you are being flooded with offers and you have all of these new opportunities that have opened up. How does it feel like to be flooded by all of these utilities that you now have at your disposal?
KIRKMAN: It’s good. I feel kind of…I’m doing things like Skybound. I feel like I have a responsibility to use my power with great responsibility or some shit. So I don’t know. I’m taking some of the resources that I am getting from The Walking Dead and I’m using it to help promote books like Witch Doctor and things that I think deserve an extra set of eyes. I take press opportunities and I will be like, “Oh, yeah. I will do an interview, but you have to talk to these guys.” I get more people to talk about their book and hopefully that will get that book to sell better and be a bigger success for Brandon [Seifert] and Lukas [Ketner]. I think those guys are really talented and that book deserves to be a hit. Other than that, I’m doing other stuff that nobody knows about. I can’t really talk about that stuff. But I’m trying to take my resources and shift it into different areas because The Walking Dead doesn’t really need to be built up by all of the different things that I am getting to do. So I am trying to shift that over to other projects. I am trying to use that rising tide to raise all of the ship, and I’m not even making sense at this point. I’m trying to take advantage of all of the things that are coming to me for the benefit of comics. We will see how that works out in a couple of years. It will probably be a massive failure.
What is your level of involvement with The Walking Dead video game that is being developed?
KIRKMAN: I just had a meeting with them yesterday. I’m not writing the video game myself just because I don’t have time. I can say that I picked Frank Darabont for the show and I picked Telltale Games because they are very familiar with the comic book and they know what makes the comic book good and what makes the comic book “The Walking Dead” as opposed to just as, you know, zombies running around and cutting people’s heads off and stuff. If you want to buy a game where you run around and kill zombies with an uzi – that game exists and there are more of those games coming out. They are fun games and everybody likes them, but we are not going to try and compete with those games. We are going to try to do something a little different that is a little more true to The Walking Dead. Knowing that they are that invested in changing what you might expect from a zombie game and really brining the emotion and drama of The Walking Dead to video games makes me trust them. But I’m overseeing everything.
What kind of genre is the game going to be?
KIRKMAN: I don’t know what the technical name is. I know what the game is, but I don’t know if I can talk about it yet. I don’t know what the technical name for it is and I don’t know if I can say if it is. I do know that the game will have shooting. It just won’t be the focus of the game.
Will they be releasing it episodically like how they did with their Back to the Future games?
KIRKMAN: I do know, but I don’t know if I can answer that. They do that with all of their games, though, right?
I think that is their plan, but I don’t know if they wanted to do a standalone game.
KIRKMAN: I’ll let them announce it.
Do you know how many episodes you will be writing for the upcoming season of The Walking Dead?
KIRKMAN: We are still working that out. It will probably be more than one.
Is there anything you wanted to do in the first season that you weren’t able to do because of time or budget restraints?
KIRKMAN: Not really. I mean, there are different ideas that Frank Darabont had for different episodes from the beginning of the first season. He has ideas for the third season. We talk about the third and fourth season a lot in the writer’s room, which haven’t been picked up by AMC, but we have high hopes. So there is a lot of long term planning. Anything that we couldn’t quite fit into the first season will just kind of happen in the third season. There was actually a scene shot for the 5th episode that I don’t know will ever be released in some way. It was a target practice scene where Andrea is shooting her gun. That actually got cut from the 5th episode just for time and it didn’t fit with the episode. That is just something that we will probably touch on in season two. It will be like that. We will just move stuff back.
Georgia recently had its film credits renewed. There was a question about whether the tax credit would be renewed or not. Is the show going to continue shooting in Georgia?
KIRKMAN: Yep. We already have the locations set out for the second season. It’s all in Georgia and we know our areas. It all looks pretty cool.
Do you guys have anything planned for Comic Con? Last year, the response was so huge with just getting a sneak peak of the show.
KIRKMAN: I am hoping that we will be in a bigger ballroom for our panel. We were in the second biggest last year, and I hope that we are in Hall H this year.
I think Comic Con would be wise to move you guys.
KIRKMAN: I’m a Comic Con geek so I’m like, “Oh, man, if I had a panel in Hall H. That is kind of cool” I don’t think most people in the world give a crap about what hall their panels are in, but I would love to have a Hall H panel. It will be all empty and I will go, “This was a mistake. Why did we do this? Noooo! We couldn’t fill Hall H! It was too soon!”
There will just be one guy in a t-shirt with a little flag going “Yay!”
KIRKMAN: Or just a bunch of people in Twilight shirts waiting for the next panel. I think everything that they did with the big booth with the dead guy set up, the big banners, and everything else that you saw – they did that when they didn’t know the show was going to be a hit. So I’m not aware of everything that AMC has planned at this point, but I think that this Comic Con will be even bigger. They will probably have a seven story tall zombie walking the street in front of the convention center. You know, spaceships with “The Walking Dead” flying over. I mean, who knows?
Studios are starting to see that genres seem to rise and fall. I think we are, fingers crossed, heading towards the decline of the vampire genre for now. More zombie films seem to be going into development with such films as World War Z, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Zombie vs Robots. What do you think makes The Walking Dead stand apart and appeal to audiences in a different way from other zombie franchises?
KIRKMAN: All zombie movies, books, and comics to a certain extent focus on the characters because you can’t really make a zombie a main character. I think what The Walking Dead does differently is that it takes that focus on the character and magnifies it by tenfold. There are issues of The Walking Dead that don’t even feature zombies and there are going to be episodes of The Walking Dead that will barely have any zombies, if any in them, eventually as we get through the seasons of the show. It’s really just about the characters. The zombies are much more of a backdrop than they seem to be in other things. I think it’s that intense focus on the characters, their struggles, and how they deal with the zombies. It’s not really about how often they hack a zombie’s head off. It’s about how they sad they are after they have to hack a zombie’s head off. That is really the key to it that I think we are doing.
October is too far away, dammit.