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Robert Kirkman On “The Walking Dead” at 10, All Out War, and “Thief of Thieves”

Considering that it has grown into one of the most popular franchises in the world across multiple mediums, it’s hard to believe that this year marks the tenth anniversary of Robert Kirkman’s never-ending zombie movie in comic book form, The Walking Dead. Yesterday at Image Expo, Kirkman was on hand to announce plans for the series’ tenth anniversary celebration. Most people would announce a big party or something like that, but this is The Walking Dead we’re talking about, so naturally Kirkman is giving us “All Out War,” a 12 issue arc that will find the many factions he’s introduced over the last 111 issues coming to a bloody, violent head. Even in the wake of a zombie apocalypse, humans still find ways to kill each other… funny how that works.

Starting in October, “All Out War” will roll out bi-monthly with art from Charlie Adlard, inks by Stefano Gaudiano, and covers from Dave Stewart, which is excellent news for impatient comic fans like myself. Before he disappeared back into his secret lair in the wilds of Kentucky, I caught up with Kirkman backstage at Image Expo for a wide-ranging conversation on The Walking Dead, Thief of Thieves, the success of the television show, and his nefarious role in Course of the Force.

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Nerdist: You’re coming up on ten years of The Walking Dead, which is really incredible. Did you have any inkling it was going to grow to this size when you were starting out?

Robert Kirkman: No, I mean, the whole idea behind the book was that it was a zombie movie that never ends, and was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, because all my other books have been canceled. “Oh, I’ll do this one thing that will only be cool if it lasts a long time.” So, no, I never thought that it would actually work out, and I really never thought that it would make it ten years. I never thought it would be the most popular it’s ever been at its ten year mark. So, it’s really incredible.

N: How did it grow and evolve from where it began to where it stands today?

RK: It’s fun, because I had plans when we started the book and I knew where I wanted to go. I had these really pie-in-the-sky, like, “It would be really cool if the book lasted long enough for me to eventually do this. To do these kinds of storylines,” and that’s the “All Out War” storyline starting now. Get to the point where there are different pockets of civilization and they are having battles and wars. I never dreamed that I’d actually be able to tell those stories, but it was something I had set out to do from the very beginning. So it’s really kind of strange.

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N: What initially gets people interested is that they’re zombie stories, but what keeps people coming back, and what kept me coming back, was the humanity of these characters. You get drawn into them. So, now that we’re reaching this point where you see humanity sort of rebuild itself only to implode again. What can we expect from “All Out War”?

RK: Well, I don’t mean to be coy, but now it’s going to be all out war. We’ve seen that the kingdom and the hilltop and the survivors have all kind of aligned against the saviors, and that’s going to be a major push, but alliances don’t always last and different things happen in war that you’re not really going to expect, so there’s going to be a lot of twists and turns along the way and things are going to get really ugly. I think that coming out of this storyline, twelve issues later, things are going to be vastly different which is always really exciting because I really like trying to surprise people. Even though we’ve been doing the book for ten years, you still try to find those things that people don’t think we’ll do, that they aren’t going to expect will add to the story, and make it richer and more engaging, and I think I’ve got a lot of that stuff planned.

N: One thing that I’ve found with The Walking Dead, as is the case with many of my favorite series, is that it’s not afraid to pull punches. It’s not afraid to kill characters that you care about, and that is something I don’t think everyone is willing to do. Apart from it being a zombie movie where you know there’s going to be a higher body count, why is that something you’re comfortable doing, when other writers might be more timid about it?

RK: In the show and the comic, it’s always just felt like an essential part of it. Like, you can’t do it otherwise. If you’re trying to do a realistic portrayal of what this world would be like, to not have people dropping like flies in certain situations would be completely unrealistic. So, in an effort to maintain as much realism as possible in the story, people die all the time. To me, it wasn’t even a matter of, like, “Aw, am I going to be able to kill these characters? I really like them.” I start writing them knowing they are going to die, so it’s not even like, “Oh, I’m going to miss this person,” it’s more, “WHEN am I going to miss this person?”

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N: Everyone’s got their ticking clock.

RK: Yeah, and some people’s clocks run a little longer than others, and some are very short.

N: This also extends to the TV show. It’s an incredible success, congratulations. Obviously, we’re happy because Chris gets to talk about it as well.

RK: That seems to work out for everyone involved.

N: It’s definitely diverged a bit from the comic; was that a concern for you? Was that something you accepted as a reality when you were going into the show?

RK: Yeah, I mean, I accepted it as a reality just because other people are involved and everyone involved was very intelligent and very creative so they’re going to have their own ideas. So, while the show is based on the comic and it always goes back to the comic for inspiration and for key moments and things like that, there’s a big group of people who are actively working on this, so of course they’re going to have ideas. So, I always knew there were going to be changes, but at the same time, there’s the comic book audience and they’ve been reading the comic book for awhile and are trying the TV show; there’s a TV show audience that’s now been watching the show for awhile and they’re going to try the comic and I really like the idea of both groups being able to try the other thing without spoiling what’s coming.

So, if you’ve already watched the first three seasons of The Walking Dead, you can sit down and read the comics and be like, “WHAT?!?! Shane died now!?!?! This is crazy!!” And if you’re watching the show, you’re like, “Wait, Shane’s still alive?!?! Why is this happening?” I feel like the coolest thing about The Walking Dead when you sit down to read it is (that) you don’t know what’s going to happen. I would hate for anyone to be able to watch this show and not have that feeling. I feel like it wouldn’t be The Walking Dead if you could go, “Okay, Shane’s going to die now, and here comes Lori’s death. Oh! They shot the baby. Oh, it looks just like how Charlie drew it.” I feel like the diehard comic book fans wouldn’t even enjoy that.

N: Sort of like the opposite model Game of Thrones has taken, so it’s really interesting to see how they both have gone on to be phenomenally successful in their own regard.

RK: And I feel bad because I love Game of Thrones but I haven’t read the novel series, so I feel like I’m saying, “They do it this way, but I would hate it that way. That way’s awful.” But, I don’t know if George R.R. Martin is in the writers’ room full-time with Game of Thrones; I don’t think he is. But, I’m in the room full-time, so another aspect of it is, I’m bored out of my mind talking about the comic, so I’m always the one who’s like, “No, let’s do this! This’ll be cooler, this’ll be different.” So, I’m kind of the one, to a certain extent, that’s driving the change more than anyone else, just because I want to be engaged and entertained and I want to surprise myself in the writing as well.

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N: Yeah, you’ve been doing this for ten years. Now you’re doing it in two different mediums; you’ve gotta keep it fresh. Another thing I want to talk about, Thief of Thieves, which has been one of my favorite ongoing series. Has there been any movement on the live-action adaptation of that?

RK: Yeah, it’s moving along, it’s just something that’s a very long process, you know? It’s one of those things where it’s like, “Yeah, maybe you should have waited six months to announce that.” I’m hoping that things’ll keep moving in a positive way and there’ll be some kind of an announcement soon, but for now, it’s a cool comic and people dig it and we’re getting into our third story arc, and hopefully there will be a television show eventually, but it’s still kind of unknown at this point.

N: Andy Diggle recently took over primary writing duties – I spoke to him about that – and I’m a big fan of his. Do you find it difficult to sort of hand over the reins to something that you were so intimately involved with?

RK: Well, still working in the writers’ room model for his arc, so there’s a lot of stuff that we collaborated on that’s in that. But, I’m very quick to be like, “Oh, that’s a better idea. You’re right. Oh, no, do this, that’s cool.” I’m not too precious with things that I’ve come up with and stuff and Andy really… the reason I don’t write Thief of Thieves is because that subject matter seems very difficult for me. I’m not a thief, I’m not very smart, I don’t know how to figure out heists. I have the idea for all the characters and the world and everything, but actually getting in with the nuts and bolts and everything you need to do to write that story is not second nature to me, and it IS second nature to someone like Andy Diggle, so he’s much more well-suited to telling those stories than I am.

N: Just one more question for you: Course of the Force is coming back around. We all need to know – do you have the lightsaber?

RK: [laughs] I can neither confirm nor deny where the current location of the lightsaber is, but there is a small chance that I may be involved in some way.

And now, check out one of the first promo pieces for “All Out War”, coming this October.

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The Walking Dead #112 shambles into stores on July 10th. AMC’s The Walking Dead returns in October, but in the meantime, why not watch The Walking Dead episode of All-Star Celebrity Bowling?

Are you excited for “All Out War”? What are your thoughts on the series now that it’s ten years old? Let us know in the comments below.

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