|Robert Kirkman; photo
by Megan Mack
Robert Kirkman is a busy man, not that he minds one bit.
Along with several other series he's done over the years, Kirkman is the creator and writer of the hit series The Walking Dead, published by Image Comics. Focusing on the struggles of a group of survivors in a world destroyed by a zombie apocalypse, the series has been a consistent bestseller and spawned the hit television series of the same name for the AMC network, of which Kirkman is the executive producer.
The Walking Dead has passed a milestone, having recently released the 100th issue of the series, a remarkable feat for an independently-published creator-owned book. As collected in the upcoming Walking Dead Vol. 17 (978-1-60706-615-6, $14.99, released Dec. 4), the storyline surrounding the issue involves some major changes to the cast and world of the series, and sets up and entirely new order of things.
Along with writing the Walking Dead comic book and overseeing the television show, Kirkman also writes two other monthly comics: the superhero book Invincible and the kid-friendly sci-fi comic Super Dinosaur. He also has a new series, Thief of Thieves, in which he collaborates with a rotating cast of co-writers (this series has also been picked up for the TV treatment by AMC).
The Walking Dead has been collected in a number of volumes, in hard- and softcover graphic novels, as well as extensive compendium and omnibus editions. Diamond Book Distributors has put together a sell sheet of Walking Dead collected editions for shops and libraries looking to complete their collections.
BookShelf spoke with Kirkman about the landmark issue, how his writing has changed since he started, his experience growing up with libraries and comics, and the process of balancing all of his projects.
You've recently surpassed 100 issues of The Walking Dead. This far in, when you’re making the book, is it still the same as when you started? How is making it different now, or is it?
Robert Kirkman: It's funny, I try to make the book the same way, but sometimes I think about how different I am, you know, I've been working on this for 100 issues. When I started the book, I was living in a very bad part of the town in Kentucky I lived in, I had just gotten married to my wife, we had no children, I was very very very young, and now that I'm writing issue 100, we're definitely in a different place in our lives, there is a TV show and all this other nonsense going on, and I have a six year old son and a three year old daughter, which is really blowing me away. The process is still the same; I'm still at my laptop, by myself, banging out script, making sure that Charlie [Adlard, The Walking Dead artist] has pages, and I’m committed to the book. I love it almost more than I did in the early days, just because of the uncertainty of being able to tell my story for as long as I want has to a certain extent faded, so I actually can be, "Oh, I can do this now, and in 20 issues I can do this," and I can actually build to things with much more certainty. But it is kind of ridiculous to think about just how early in the story I still feel like I am, like I'm at issue 100 and I really feel like I just started, which sounds ridiculous but it's really exciting for me.
How are you able to keep it fresh, writing it for yourself, and not just like, "Oh, another issue of Walking Dead"?
Story-wise, I'm really excited about issue 100, because it is definitely a new beginning, an evolution of the story, it's moving into a much different survival story, it's much more about pockets of civilization interacting and how they survive together against these new threats that are introduced in issue 100, and it's much less about what seems to be the only group of survivors out there traveling from place to place and being under threat of zombies. We're really moving to a place where zombies are present, and they're always going to be a threat, but they're such a manageable threat that there's not really that much time devoted to them. Issue 100 is an oversized issue, and I believe a zombie appears in maybe one or two panels in the entire issue. It's definitely an evolution of the world, and so I guess I'm keeping things fresh by continuing the story and watching these characters progress through time, and just kind of paying attention to how their lives are going to change as they continue to live in this world. I really do feel like we have a lot of new things to do and the stories are going to be different and we're not going to be re-treading anything that's been done in the 100 issues prior moving forward, which is something that's going to be really cool.
Had you planned this out, or as you're writing you decide it's time to expand the world and see what's out there?
This is definitely one of four or five huge benchmarks that I was always working toward. I knew there was going to be the big prison storyline, and I knew they would eventually get to this community, and they would be surviving in that area, and I knew that I would get to this point where they would be interacting with humans on a much more regular basis, and humans that weren't necessarily part of their group. I just didn't know exactly when it would fall. I always have very broad stories, like they'll go to a housing community, they'll go to a prison, they'll be on the road; I know that there’s different things I'm leading to, but how many issues are going to take up and what issues they're going to fall on is always malleable as I'm telling the story.
When you were growing up, what role did comics play for you? A lot of people learn to read on comics, was that your experience?
I didn't get into comics until I was in the sixth grade, and I was able to read by then, thankfully. But it really did become an all-encompassing obsession in my life. I pretty much just read and drew based on all the comics that I read all hours of the day when I wasn't doing homework or having to do stuff for my family or going to school or whatever. I guess I did pretty good early on, once I found out that people got paid to do comics that was what I wanted to do for a living, although I did want to be an artist before I realized that I wasn't good enough to do that and fell back on the whole writer thing, which has worked out for me. But yeah, I got comics every week, lost my mind when I found out about the existence of a comic book shop, because I had been buying comics at the local Wal-Mart for a year and a half, the first few comics I was reading, and I started expanding out into more and more comics. I was definitely a comic addict at the wealth of different kinds of stories that were being told in comics throughout the '90s was really great.
Along with The Walking Dead, you’ve got the other comics as well as the TV shows. How hard is it to balance all of that?
It's kind of like having an awesome hobby, and that's all you do. It takes up a lot of time and it is sometimes a struggle to juggle them, but it's like, "Oh, I'm going mountain climbing and I'm waterskiing and I'm building a birdhouse and I'm birdwatching and this is awesome," and I'm having a good time with everything I'm doing. I may work 12 hours on a day or 16 hours or whatever, but I'm having fun writing Super Dinosaur, then I get to watch dailies from the TV show or have a meeting about special effects, where I’ll say, "No no no, cut that guy's head off very high, that'll look cooler if it's not over the neck, because then the head will come apart in the middle and that'll look great," and bouncing back and forth from different stories, writing a superhero comic, writing a horror comic, writing a comic for all ages, and meeting with the writers for Thief of Thieves, it really keeps me energized to bounce back and forth between different projects, and I really enjoy it.
You're best known for The Walking Dead, but do you wish the other books would get more attention as well?
Yeah, I have to say the Walking Dead is an unattainable, ridiculous, unexplainable success, and to compare almost anything to it is difficult, so I'm completely happy with the level of success my other books have reached. Invincible sells enough to keep going and to pay everybody that works on it a wage that they can live off of, which is totally awesome. Do I wish everything was as successful as Walking Dead? Of course, but I know that that's impossible, and I'm just happy that people are supporting the other books as much as they are because that allows us to keep doing them.