Photo by: Scott Garfield
Despite the Jersey Shore cast outranking all others in costume popularity this Halloween, the real mottled, brain-dead horde that should interest you is writer Robert Kirkman's zombies in his new AMC series, The Walking Dead, which premiers this Sunday at 10 p.m. Based on the award-winning comic series of the same name, the show follows a crew of shell-shocked survivors of the zombie apocalypse. And despite eye-rolling haters citing preemptive fatigue for the show given the undead's surge in popularity over the last couple of years, this is definitely not a hackneyed rehash of George A. Romero or a way-too-self-aware-meta-meta-meta iteration of Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead. Not even close. Kirkman's graphic novels are stark, bleak and heartfelt. In fact, the series is lauded for deep and insightful character studies that are simultaneously engrossing, painful, and so relatable that watching the increasingly dysfunctional group abscond from relentlessly encroaching death feels sorta like having your guts slowly unspooled. It's awesome, and yet another win for the network that wisely brought you Mad Men and Breaking Bad. We spoke with executive producer, writer, creator, and all around genius dude Robert Kirkman on all that eviscerating glory, meddling suits, and who wins the battle of zombies vs. vampires...
By Mary H.K. Choi
Complex: Congratulations on winning the Eisner! [Kirkman's The Walking Dead won the 2010 award for "Best Continuing Series" at the comic industry awards.]
Robert Kirkman: Thanks. I'm very excited about that. It fits nicely on the bookshelf.
Complex: So you didn't build a curio cabinet especially to house it then?
Robert Kirkman: No, well, it's actually just on a table. It sits next to a wooden manatee.
Complex: Of course it does.
Robert Kirkman: Of course!
Complex: Word on the street is that you've got a series of book-books on St. Marten's press coming out based on the comic as well.
Robert Kirkman: Yeah, that just happened. It's going to be cool and we're going to go exploring. It will definitely be about the characters from the comic book, but it won't be anything from the current storyline. We're going through the past of the comic book and picking out characters that are no longer in the series and exploring them in-depth.
Complex: God, that sounds like a lot of work. How was the process of writing for a narrative that didn't contain a visual element? Did you have any muscle memory for it?
Robert Kirkman: The process is completely and utterly different. When you write comic books and when you are writing for television, you're not writing the end product, you are writing notes for someone else to make the end product essentially. My scripts are just directions for the artist to draw pages and the pages are what is seen. I kind of feel like it's a safety net, you're able to hide behind the art to a certain extent, and in television you're able to hide behind the actors and the production, but with novels, your words are it, so there's a lot of pressure there.
Complex: Speaking of visual elements, man, AMC is quite possibly the best place for this show to end up, no?
Robert Kirkman: Oh, it's a perfect home for The Walking Dead. A lot of people are like, "Well, how does it fit with Mad Men and Breaking Bad?" But anyone who is familiar with the comic knows that it is a character study and it's all about all the horrible things that happen to these people and how they deal with them. There just happen to be zombies roaming around too.
Complex: Right. That's one of the things I love about the series, how the zombies are just this one moving part of a much more complex narrative.
Robert Kirkman: Yeah, this is just not really a splatter fest or a straight-up horror flick. But for the types of shows they've done, I couldn't be happier to be on AMC—and after working with them it's only gotten better.
Complex: Well that never happens.
Robert Kirkman: It's completely bizarre. I think that's why Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Rubicon are so good. They know exactly when to get out of the way and they know when to step in and say, "Well, maybe you should explore this, maybe you should do that." But they also know when to say, "Great job, sounds good." It's a big problem with a lot of these networks where people have to justify their jobs by giving notes. They kind of force themselves to be overtly meddling just so they can justify their jobs. At AMC, they are very much committed to making good television. Yeah, I am kind of kissing their ass now, so I'll stop.
Complex: Yeah, it was getting weird! Not really. So, say you were making a shrink-wrapped basket of zombie goodies for a housewarming—what would you include?
Robert Kirkman: World War Z by Max Brooks. Definitely some movies. I would just say Night of The Living Dead, Dawn of The Dead, and Shaun of The Dead. I don't want to fill it all up with movies, but I guess there is one book so that's pretty good. Oh, and Bob Fingerman's book Pariah. It's really good.
Complex: Who would win in a fight, vampires or zombies?
Robert Kirkman: As much as I love zombies, obviously a vampire would win.
Complex: Oh, totally.
Robert Kirkman: Vampires have intelligence and super powers and they are quicker. They can turn into bats, they can summon lightening, they can move things with their mind... how many powers do vampires have? I lose track.
Complex: Bastards. No spoilers as to what your zombies do that makes them special but are you interested in exploring any evolution of the zombies like one super fast unkillable zombie or...
Robert Kirkman: No, that's Romero's thing, the evolving of the zombies, and it's a very cool aspect to his movies. That's what he's embraced, but with The Walking Dead we try our best to differentiate as best as we can. We don't wear our Romero inspirations on our sleeve.
Complex: What's in your zombie go bag?
Robert Kirkman: A noose.
Robert Kirkman: It sounds very morbid, and I apologize for that. If I had a family, I would try to protect them the best that I could. So I would have a couple of nooses.
Complex: [Laughs.] Whoa, gallows.
Robert Kirkman: [Laughs.] I just would not want to be around for much longer. It's a horrifying thing to think about. I am definitely not the guy, like, "Oh, I would have a chainsaw and a can of gasoline and I would get my motorcycle... " I'm like "No, this sucks, this whole idea is too awful."
AMC'S THE WALKING DEAD TRAILER: