Oh yeah. Blood. Guts. Limbs hanging by threads. Good stuff.
So who would’ve thought that the same mind that created and nurtured the epic zombie apocalypse comic series The Walking Dead would come up with the sweet, heroic, Pixarian zaniness of Super Dinosaur? The all-ages, “boy and his anthropomorphized, gadget-enhanced T-Rex buddy save the world” series launches Wednesday, April 20.
DOOM! spoke with Kirkman at the Amazing Arizona Comic Con.
DOOM: Thanks for taking some time for us!
Kirkman: You’re welcome!
DOOM: I’m a comic girl, I have been reading The Walking Dead since issue one.
Kirkman: That’s awesome. I’ll take it!
DOOM: So, if you woke up tomorrow, and it was the zombie apocalypse, what would you do?
Kirkman: Jump off a bridge.
Kirkman: Yeah. I mean, I’ve been writing The Walking Dead for a long time now, I have a pretty good idea of how bad things would get, and how bleak it would be, and how depressing it would be. And, you know, I don’t wanna be around for that. I don’t sit here and be like, oh, I’m the writer of The Walking Dead, I’d do just fine! I don’t think so.
DOOM: What drew you to write about zombies? You worked on Marvel Zombies, as well.
Kirkman: Yeah, well that was after I’d already started Walking Dead, so yeah. I like zombies. I was always a big fan of zombie movies. I like zombie fiction. I think they’re cool.
DOOM: You’re a Romero fan, yes?
Kirkman: Yeah, I sure am. I loved that stuff when I was a kid, and now.
DOOM: So now you’ve got 80 issues of the comic behind you, and a smash hit TV show based on that comic. Does the success of the show influence the way you approach the story in the comic?
Kirkman: Luckily, the show doesn’t really interfere with what I’m doing in the comic very much, because the show is based on the first few issues of the comic. But I’m so far ahead of the television show right now that the comic book is… it features almost an entirely different cast, and the characters that are still in the comic book are vastly different than they were twenty, thirty, forty, fifty issues ago. And so the “Rick Grimes” that I’m writing in the comic now… it’s not the “Rick Grimes” that Andrew Lincoln is playing, he’s playing the one from the early issues. So the television show doesn’t really inspire the comic, or affect the comic in any way, ‘cause it’s so far beyond it.
DOOM: Now does AMC… do they talk to you about story progression? You know, we’d like to see… or could you write in such-and-so character?
Kirkman: No… if AMC gave me any kind of suggestions on the comic book at all, I would ignore them.
DOOM: Good. Thank you. Let’s move on to writing in general; You have two very long series, both going into the 80s in the issues, Invincible and The Walking Dead. At the Big Two (Marvel and DC), they keep long running titles fresh by changing out the writing and art teams. You have been working, with pretty much the same artists, on these two titles for a long time! How do you keep them from getting stale?
Kirkman: Well, it takes a lot of planning. I think that, to a certain extent, books like Savage Dragon and, to a certain extent, Spawn – because the creative team has certainly changed a lot on Spawn. Savage Dragon in particular, [like] Invincible and Walking Dead, benefit greatly from having the same creative team. Just because… when you’re reading an issue of Walking Dead or Invincible, you know that when something important happens in issue 80, that there’s a pretty good chance that I had that planned during issue 20, and I’ve been working towards this. Like the Viltrumite War in Invincible: That’s a storyline that’s been building up since the first issue in the series. And so there’s a… a richness to the story, and there’s just a lot of planning that goes into keeping it exciting.
DOOM: It looks like most long-form fiction… more drawn out and traditional.
Kirkman: Exactly. And when you read like a Marvel or DC book, if something happens in issue 400, it’s just some guy who read the book as a kid coming in and going, oh yeah! Maybe this will be neat if this guy was actually this guy, and they didn’t ever actually say that this thing actually means this, so I can do this…
DOOM: So they draw up an elaborate, weird story map.
Kirkman: Yeah, and sometimes it works and it’s awesome, and sometimes it’s not and it’s kind of hit or miss.
DOOM: And tone changes, and especially when you change artists as well, you know. When Todd McFarlane went off Spidey, and the uproar was huge, because fans found it to be a huge visual change. And same with the writing, the tone can change. So I think as fans, we all appreciate the continuity of having one voice.
But you’ve got so many irons in the fire: Haunt, Invincible, Walking Dead, and you’re doing Super Dinosaur for the younger audience. You’re writing so many different stories for a wide range of audiences. Your Haunt audience is not necessarily your Walking Dead audience, is not necessarily your Invincible audience. And certainly not your Super Dinosaur audience. So you have to take that change of tone when you’re writing each book on a daily basis. Do you schedule these out so that you can keep them discreet?
Kirkman: I don’t plan my scheduling out as well as I probably should, I’ll do three pages here, four pages there, I’ll write two-three different books in the same day. So I just kind of bounce around. I mean, it keeps things fresh for me. It just keeps things-it keeps things exciting, you know. I’m writing something really depressing and exciting in Walking Dead, and then I’m doing something funny in Super Dinosaur, or some crazy action stuff, and then some really quiet drama stuff, I dunno, it’s a lot of fun to be able to bounce around and do a lot of different things. I would be extremely bored if I was doing five books that were exactly the same. And it would be hard to keep it all straight. When I come up with an idea for Super Dinosaur, there’s no way that I’m gonna be able to use that idea in Walking Dead.
DOOM: Do you sleep?
Kirkman: Yeah, I sleep occasionally.
DOOM: Now, you’ve had bleed through from Invincible…
Kirkman: Invincible has a number of superhero titles that I’ve done that are kind of tied in to the universe I did in Tech Jacket. We’re doing a spin-off now called Guarding the Globe, and that stars the “Guardians of the Globe” team from Invincible and ties in really tightly.
DOOM: You wanted to be a comic artist when you were starting out.
Kirkman: That’s true.
DOOM: What prompted you to take your desire to be a visual artist to the written word?
Kirkman: The fact that I wasn’t very good is mainly the thing. I couldn’t really make it as an artist. I did a book that I wrote and drew. I was self-publishing it, but the distributor refused to distribute it because it was awful. And so I just I started doing layouts for people and stopped doing finished pages. And I’m really glad that I did, because if I was trying to draw comics now, one, I’d be struggling because I was never very good, and two, I’d be doing less work. And I like that I’m able to do so much work because I’m writing comics, I like being able to bounce from project to project and do different things. And I think I have a much better career because of that. If I was writing and drawing one comic book, I may never have gotten into The Walking Dead. As a writer, I did like seven or eight books before I got around to The Walking Dead, and I don’t think that I would have blazed through that cycle as fast if I had been trying to draw some of them.
DOOM: Either way, you really wanted to work in comics. You took personal risks — quitting your day job, self-publishing, doing whatever it took to fund your venture, eventually ending up overwhelmed. Where does that drive come from? Not “where do you get your ideas?” but the need to draw, the need to write — to work in comics — you had this drive to do this since you were very young. Where does that come from?
Kirkman: Well I… from a very young age, I guess I’ve always had an uncontrollable fear of failure. I think that my father was very successful, he owned his own business, I was always well-aware of that when I was young. He had, like, a sheet metal company, that did sheet metal fabrication and made duct work for factories. And, you know, it was a blue-collar job and he had like thirty employees and I’d always go to his office after school and see him… I just… and I didn’t want to do that. It was always there that maybe I could work at that place when I got older and I just never wanted to that, but I just always wanted to be as successful as my father, and I guess I was told at a young age that every generation is supposed to be better than the generation before. And that was just something late in the 80s–they would just tell you that’s just how things are. And it’s not really how things are now, it’s just that I really took that to heart and so I always felt just, like, a strong pressure to try and out-do my father.
When I decided that I was going to do comics, I kind of dove in feet-first and just started working, like, twenty hours a day and just decided that I was going to do whatever it took to make it happen. The formation of Image Comics happened when I was starting to read comics, and I was very into comics, so I grew up reading comics at a time where everybody was acutely aware of what the conditions were at Marvel and DC and what their game actually was, where it was, you know, try and get people to create cool things that we can profit off of for decades and decades, and so I knew that working at Marvel and CD was a means to an end, it wasn’t the be-all, end-all of a comic book career, and so I got into comics not wanting to do Spiderman, not wanting to do Batman, I got into comics wanting to create new things, and trying to create the next Batman or the next Spiderman. And so that’s always been my goal, is to bring new ideas into comics and hopefully be successful.
DOOM: As a writer, when you start a story–when you come up with a concept for a story–does it kind of come to you full-blown, or do you get an image or a line in your head?
Kirkman: Yeah, that’s really how it works.
DOOM: Some people–authors I’ve interviewed both comic writers and long-term fiction writer have said they–all of a sudden, a story is there! Or it plays out like a movie in their mind. And they…
Kirkman: I think they’re lying.
DOOM: Yeah? I don’t know. I think it’s different for everybody.
Kirkman: I don’t think so. I think people are just trying to sound cool. I don’t know.
[sarcastic, sing-song voice] “Oh, it’s like a movie playing out in my head!”
No, it’s not. I have had dreams before where I’ve woken up and been like, that’s a movie I could do, like, what the hell. But, I mean, anything–something like Invincible was kind of fun because I found out that Image was doing a superhero line and I sat down to create the coolest superhero, you know, that I could, and sat down with Cory Walker–who co-created with me–and just discussed what makes superheroes cool and that was fun because it was an active attempt–you know, it wasn’t an idea that came to us, it wasn’t…
DOOM: It’s like, let’s make the coolest superhero we can!
Kirkman: Yeah, it was like, what makes them cool, and what’s good and what do we like, and what–you know, we need to have this kind of element, we need to have that kind of element, I always loved it when stories do this, we need to pull this in. So that was actual, like, hard work, and trying to do that. And something like The Walking Dead, it’s just–it comes from watching zombie movies and going–really, that’s all we get?–and the credits are rolling and these people are still alive and we don’t get to see what they do next. And, you know, there’s just little things like that were you get inspiration, wherever and then that kind of spirals down…
DOOM: Are you a fan of the 28 Days After films?
Kirkman: Yeah, definitely.
DOOM: Now, you’ve said that Walking Dead’s open-ended. You’re just going to keep going, and going, the little Energizer bunny of comics.
Kirkman: I have an ending of some kind in mind but it’s not really something that I wanna do any time soon. So I kind of have something that I’m working toward, but it’s not really something that I have like–oh, issue 298, that’s where it’s gonna end.
DOOM: John Layman has said Chew, sixty issues, that’s it. That’s how it works for him.
Kirkman: I think that’s lame. So… as long as I’m having a good time, I’ll keep going. And the whole idea is that it continues forever, and so, realistically, it can’t continue forever, unless my son grows up and wants to–or my daughter–wants to grow up and be a comic book writer and I can give it to them and then people will hate it and it’ll get canceled. But I definitely have an end in mind, and I have a lot of plans that I’m working toward, but I do want it to go on for as long as it possibly can.
DOOM: And do you want to make more forays into the–television, movies, that kind of thing?
Kirkman: When It’s available. I mean, when it’s possible. But comics are my main focus, comics are my comfort zone. I say that because I’m lazy and not because I’m an auteur or something. I know how to do comics, I’m comfortable with comics, it’s fun doing comics, it’s almost effortless at this point to create a comic, it’s not effortless to create a good comic, but if I just wanted to… kind of turn an idea into a comic book, I can do that. Fairly easily.
DOOM: Have you worked in other forms of writing other than scripting?
Kirkman: I mean, I wrote a short story, and we’re working on a novel right now for The Walking Dead, so…
DOOM: Oh… so, a novelization of the show or of the comic?
Kirkman: No, it’s a completely original story I’m doing with a co-writer.
DOOM: Really? May I ask you who the cowriter is, or is it a secret?
Kirkman: It’s Jay Bonansinga [The Sinking Of The Eastland: America’s Forgotten Tragedy; Shattered; The Perfect Victim].
DOOM: I’m going to ask you a question and it’s really amorphous and touchy-feely. Writing is your job. If you didn’t get paid for it, if you were never going to get another penny for your work, would you keep writing?
Kirkman: Yeah. I kind of have the luxury of doing what I want and so… I mean, to a certain extent, my income is my income, and I live off of my income, but I don’t exactly sit down and go, well Walking Dead makes me more money than Invincible, so I’ll spend more money on Walking Dead. As long as my bills are paid, and my kids have clothes, and my wife’s not yelling at me… I’m fine.
And so I’m kind of at the point now where I kind of don’t pay attention to what book is making money or how things are going–everything all just goes into one pot, and then I just do what I want. So when I sit down to do Super Dinosaur, or if I do a “Guardians” mini-series–I’m just doing what I kind of decide I want to do and I don’t do it going, well, it’s really more important to focus on this book because it makes more money and–if that was the case, then I’d do seven Walking Dead spin-offs. I’d would be like Marvel doing thirteen Avengers books. I don’t do that. I only wanna do one Walking Dead.
DOOM: Do you only do the ones you love? Do you stick with the ones you love?
Kirkman: Yeah, yeah, definitely. If I didn’t make any money on any of these books, I wouldn’t continue doing them, because I have to earn a living, and I don’t wanna be homeless, but I’d certainly want to continue doing them.
DOOM: This leads into my next question–if you know, lightning struck the world in some weird way, and it became impossible for you to write, whether for profit or for pleasure–do you take pleasure from writing?
Kirkman: Yeah, absolutely.
DOOM: If you could never write another story again–how do you think that would impact you? Let’s say that you’re financially set, your family’s taken care of…
Kirkman: I’d definitely be upset–I mean, it’d be somewhat devastating. It’s kind of a hard to fathom, what it would be like. But, I wouldn’t be into that. I think I would survive. I have a lot of fun doing the producing that I’m doing on the Walking Deadshow, and have my imprint, Skybound, where we’re seeing other people do comics. I like doing other things like that, where I kind of oversee book and don’t actually…
DOOM: So you’re still in the comics world?
Kirkman: So I’d probably just focus more on that.
DOOM: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.
Kirkman: My pleasure. Thank you.