Robert Kirkman is the creator of The Walking Dead comic series, which launched in 2003 on Image Comics and continues to this day. The recipient of two Eisner Awards for Best Continuing Series (in 2003 and 2010), Kirkman is currently working on Volume 27 of the comic. The series has also been expanded into a bestselling collection of novels, multiple video games and even a virtual reality experience.
But most people know the writer today thanks to his involvement in the successful translation of The Walking Dead into the most popular dramatic TV series in the world. With the latest series set to premiere October 23, we caught up with Kirkman to talk about what keeps the undead alive and kicking.
THE RED BULLETIN: What was the original inspiration for you in creating The Walking Dead comic?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: I was a huge fan of zombie movies, George Romero’s zombie movies chief among them because they’re the best of the bunch. But having watched those and other movies, it was a genre that I was really interested in. But I also hated the way that they all ended, which was abrupt. It seemed like a world that, unlike vampires or werewolves, it was a story that was much more about people.
The Walking Dead is really all about the people, not the walkers.
Yes. I thought there was a real opportunity to show how people live for decades because it’s not like civilization is just going to go back to normal. You have dead people walking around eating people. So what was interesting was to think about how they are building fences, how they continue to find food, where agriculture goes, are they even able to establish some semblance of the civilization lost, how long would that take, and what would have to happen along the way? How would surviving day in and day out in this kind of world change you over time? All these ideas lead to The Walking Dead, which is the zombie movie that never ends. I thought that would be a fun thing that no one had ever done before. It’s a story that continues on this narrative for a long time.
You just mentioned zombies multiple times, why did you decide to call these creatures walkers and not zombies?
The term “zombie” harkens to zombie movies and zombie culture, which is something that is very present in our world. And within the context of The Walking Dead, we didn’t want the audience to be saying, “Why doesn’t Rick talk about how he watched Dawn of the Dead when he was a kid and that he knows that these are zombies and that he can just shoot them in the head.” You don’t often see people in vampire movies talking about how when they met Dracula, they learned all about vampires. So you have to imagine these things take place in a world where this particular supernatural phenomenon has never happened. We thought a cool narrative way to show that this is a world that doesn’t have zombie fiction is by excising that word out of it to a certain extent.
What do you attribute this endless fascination with the undead across pop culture?
When you look at the way vampire stories are told or other horror tropes, it’s always a story about some kind of unreal monster that we can’t really relate to. I’m never going to turn into a vampire, I’m never going to get bitten by a werewolf. Those things aren’t real. But when it comes to zombie stories, I do worry about the safety of my family. It’s not zombies, but there are other things in the world that do make this a dangerous place at times. I do worry about keeping my family happy, and how you mend fences or figure out how to work together with other people. So there are a lot of things in a zombie story that are infinitely relatable to almost everyone. That makes these stories resonate a little bit more.
How has your work with The Walking Dead helped your second show, Outcast, which has Season 2 debuting in 2017?
I think I’m a much better writer. I kind of lucked into working in television through The Walking Dead, and the first couple of seasons of the show were definitely a learning experience. I’ve been able to discover the strengths and weaknesses that both the comic book medium and the television medium have because they are two very different ways of telling stories.