Not only was he absent from both panels for “The Walking Dead,” but his presence was also sorely missed at the panels for a new series he is writing and executive producing –“Outcast” — as well as the premiere for “Air,” a film starring Norman Reedus of “The Walking Dead” that Kirkman produced.
Luckily, before undergoing surgery, Kirkman did an interview with comedian Marc Maron for the popular “WTF” podcast, which was posted the Monday after Comic-Con. Below, we’ve summarized six major highlights from their conversation.
1. Kirkman grew up with limited access to comics. He told Maron that he first became interested in seventh grade: He would frequent the local Walmart, which was the only store in the vicinity to carry comic books. Since Walmart only carried Marvel comics, Kirkman’s early comic education was limited to the characters and storylines of the Marvel Universe — notably, “Spider-Man” and “The X-Men.” (Fun fact: Kirkman’s son is named after “Spider-Man” protagonist Peter Parker.) It wasn’t until he was old enough to drive that he gained access to the DC Universe of “Batman” and “Superman,” as well as the rich world of independent comics.
2. For Kirkman, reading a comic is a unique, sensory experience. It’s a neurological challenge to say the least — requiring one part of the brain to process images at the same time as another part processes the words. “It’s the only storytelling medium where your experience is really, really dictated by how you read it,” Kirkman observed. “As a reader, you’re really in control of pacing and the way the dialogue is read, etc.” When Maron referenced artist Robert Williams’ claim that comics are “the most popular art form and have been since ancient Egypt,” (a reference to hieroglyphics), Kirkman agreed and took the comparison even further back in history, citing cave paintings as a separate example.
3. Diamond Comic Distributors (DCD) is the only distribution entity in the comic book industry — but Kirkman made that work to his advantage. DCD has arrangements with almost every publisher, as well as independent writers. Kirkman sent them his first work, a wrestling comic called “Between the Ropes,” that he not only wrote, but also made all the artwork. DCD responded with a polite rejection letter, noting that the comic was not “of professional quality.” Eventually, Kirkman met and began to collaborate with illustrator Tony Moore, which eventually resulted in the publication of their first comic together, “Battle Pope.”
When Kirkman and Moore began working together, the former was juggling two jobs — one in a light bulb factory and the other in comic book shop (“I didn’t go to college. I’m an idiot.”) — while the latter was still attending university. Kirkman explained that they would receive $1200 on loan from DCD that they would put towards the cost of printing 2000 copies of the comic. Of the 2000 copies, Kirkman recalled, they would (maybe) sell 800, which amounts to $1300 — enough to pay off the initial loan and walk away with a profit of just $100. In those days, Kirkman would give Moore the whole $100, since his artistic input was most time-consuming and he had no other form of employment.
4. If Kirkman had to go through the financial struggle of trying to publish independent comics again, he wouldn’t do it. “There was a time when I was $36,000 in debt and I was making like $50 a year,” Kirkman told Maron. At one point, he found himself lying to his parents about his employment status in order to spare them concern. When his mother eventually found out that he no longer worked at the light bulb factory, instead of confessing to the truth, Kirkman just decided to cover up one lie with another — claiming he had gotten a new job with UPS. “I didn’t want them telling me what not to do.”
“I don’t talk about this a lot, but I would lay on the floor and shake,” said Kirkman, recalling the 17 credit card bills he faced every month. Looking back, he has told people, “I’m glad it worked out; if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t do it. I’d work at the bank.” Eventually, he found employment with Marvel, which allowed him to pay things off. “It was a good day in Kirkman Town.” “Did you celebrate?” Maron asked. “I just worked more, I guess,” he replied nonchalantly.
5. Kirkman might have been a comic book nerd from an early age, but that doesn’t mean he thinks like the rest — especially when it comes to the big screen adaptations. It took quite a bit of persuasion from Maron before Kirkman opened up about how he takes issue with certain comic book screen adaptations that have been widely embraced by the comic book community. “You don’t need to put the X-Men in leather suits,” Kirkman told Maron. “A little bit of color in there, you don’t need everyone looking like a ninja, but, uh, that’s just me. ‘Hey, we’re the X-Men, we all look the same!'”
Furthermore, in spite of the fact that most comic book fans consider the first “Superman” film to be the “best superhero movie of all time,” Kirkman called it garbage. “There’s a part where he’s flying with Lois and there’s this horrible poem going on in her head, but they’re not talking and it’s like are they speaking telepathically?”
6. Since the beginning, Kirkman has always aspired to move against the conventions of the zombie horror subgenre. Growing up, Kirkman’s parents did not permit him to watch horror films. The only exception was once a year on Halloween, when he was allowed to watch a single horror film of his choice. Having always had an affinity for the forbidden genre, Kirkman dove into horror as soon as he grew old enough to stop listening to his parents (around 18-19, by Kirkman’s standards). Beginning with the classic Romero films, Kirkman found himself frustrated at the formulaic endings that seem to accompany every zombie film: either everyone dies or a few survivors ride off into the sunset. Kirkman, however, was deeply interested in how a group of survivors could “continue to live for years and years and years after the fall of civilization and how that would affect them.”
In creating “The Walking Dead,” he wanted to explore how survivors of a zombie apocalypse would, in the long term, learn to live (almost) side-by-side with the source of societal destruction. Similarly with his new series “Outcast,” which centers on a man trying to understand why he has been tormented by supernatural possession for the majority of his life, Kirkman said he aims to break away from the classic exorcism film formula and, as he puts it, “[treat] demonic possession as a solvable problem.”
When asked if he was implying that there might be a solution to the zombie problem in the not so distant future of the comic and/or the television series, Kirkman replied rather mysteriously.”Maybe, you never know,” said Kirkman. “I do hope that ‘The Walking Dead’ will go on for long enough that when it ends they’re like, ‘Good thing we took care of those zombies!'”
In contrast with how most readers’ and viewers’ perceive “The Walking Dead” universe as bleak, Kirkman made the argument that he considers it to be a “hopeful story about humanity overcoming this insurmountable apocalyptic situation” — although he admitted that it will probably take them a while.
The sixth season of “The Walking Dead” will premiere in October, while the Los Angeles-set spinoff prequel “Fear the Walking Dead” is set to debut this August.