Looking Back At The Walking Dead With Kirkman & Adlard [Interview]
January 13, 2016
IMAGE COMICS: One hundred and fifty issues of THE WALKING DEAD. How does it feel when you look back on the twenty-four paperbacks, twelve hardcovers, six omnibuses, and three compendiums? What are you most proud of at this point?
CHARLIE ADLARD: That's a LOT when you put it like that...!
I think I'm personally most proud of just getting to this point. It's been one hell of a 12+ years so far, and when I hear myself say that, it's just incredible. No one in the industry at this present time has achieved the sheer amount of product (hopefully of quality too...well, at least some of it...) and I think that's something to be very proud of.
ROBERT KIRKMAN: Y'know...I hate to just say "what Charlie says" but y'know. The thing about doing a series for this long is that a tremendous amount of work goes into keeping it fresh for us and fresh for the readers. The fact that after TWELVE YEARS people are still excited about the book is a big deal and is an accomplishment in and of itself. We could be getting to an issue 150 that is not selling what the book once did and the popularity has died, but we're still going...that's not the case here. That can't all just be because of the TV show. I'm very proud of the fact that Charlie and I are still doing work people enjoy...on a monthly (or better) schedule. Also, that the book is still $2.99. The Walking Dead is Image's top book, and most companies charge way more for their top books, because they can. Not Image, not us...because we're awesome.
IC: This one's a gimme, but the answer's always interesting. What do you two like the most about the other's work? Has it changed much over the years?
CA: The best thing about Robert's work is his ability to constantly throw me off the trail. When I think we're storytelling ourselves into a dead end or that things might get stale, he constantly pulls something out of the bag and re-energises the series. I certainly wouldn't be around now if that didn't happen... Actually, I don't think the series would, either.
Has it changed much? Well—aside from the actual script getting lighter because, after 12 years, we know each other's way of working, so a lot of stuff is intuitive—no, not really!
RK: The scripts have gotten lighter because I've gotten lazier too. I'm older! What can I say. But yes, it is nice to have over a decade of collaboration under our belts so I feel comfortable writing "Rick's in that room we're both familiar with" without needing to dictate everything you need to draw.
Throughout the years there have been MANY striking, POWERFUL images that Charlie has pulled off in this book. The "We are The Walking Dead" spread to the Lori and Judith death scene to the scenes in issue 100 we won't speak of and the recent ending to 144. These BOLD graphic images that are rendered so well that they imprint on your memory in such a huge way. I think that more than anything is the thing I love the most about Charlie's work. And looking all the way back to page 2 of issue 7... I can say after 12 years the only thing that's changed is that he's gotten way better.
IC: Charlie, you've been drawing THE WALKING DEAD for over ten years now. I figure you learn a lot drawing comics, whether refining your established approaches or adopting new ones. Has your approach to drawing TWD changed at all over the years? If you find a new technique that might break the artistic consistency of the series but benefit the storytelling, do you go for it and pray the readers keep up?
CA: Obviously my style has changed over the course of the series and I'm comfortable with that. I think it's great to see the development of my style over all those years. I'd feel uncomfortable with that change if it was over a mini-series or one shot—there I think you should have consistency—but with an on-going, change happens. It's a good thing and, if it didn't develop, then I'd be worried.
My actual approach hasn't really changed at all though. I try and absorb influences—and there are many—as I go along but never consciously try and apply them...almost let them come out by some sort of reverse artistic osmosis! I think if you say to yourself, "yes, I want to draw like that," then you're on a hiding to nothing. Just let it permeate you and if it comes out later—great—if not—oh well, perhaps it was never meant to be. But your art should be stronger for it, one way or the other.
IC: Can you tell me a little bit about working with Stefano Gaudiano and Cliff Rathburn? Cliff has been with the team quite a while, but Stefano is a more recent addition to the crew.
CA: Both guys have been great—obviously! Cliff, I've worked with from the beginning and his tones add just so much to the art.
Stefano—it's no secret that I've always said that I'm my own best inker and I decided to only relinquish inking duties because of going bi-monthly and then afterwards to give me the time to do other projects (Vampire State Building for Soleil—my latest French book—being one of them!) but, if there was one guy who could get to as near as how I'd do it, he's the one! So, it might sound like I'm damning him with faint praise, but that would be so far from the truth... Every issue that comes in, the inking gets better and better, and he's wonderful to work with. I couldn't be happier.
IC: What do you two do for fun, when you can carve out a little bit of free time? Naps? Video games?
CA: Not a gamer—never even played any of the TWD games! Definitely staring glassy-eyed in front of the TV after a prolonged session in front of the drawing board...
I play the drums, and I'm in a band called Cosmic Rays—we even have a self titled album out of ORIGINAL material now [plug, plug]—so that's my main "hobby." I also started up life drawing again after not doing it for nearly 30 years. I find the difference in technique wonderfully relaxing and a break from the day job. I also love Lego...
But, of course, my other hobby is also my job, so I get to play all day.
RK: Let's be honest: I'm a comic book writer, I have tons more free time than Charlie. I play a little of the video games. But mostly just Destiny, Uncharted, and anything Mario-related. I'm currently going through Mario 3D Land on my Nintendo DS for a second time...or I was over the holiday break, I'm sure I'll have less time for that now. I've also played ALL The Walking Dead games. Other than that...TV with the wife, a movie here and there, and then tons of time spent with my kids. I have a pretty simple life outside of work.
IC: There's one technique you use in TWD I rarely see discussed, the way the issues often end in the middle of a scene and then pick up immediately after. What led you to this style of writing? How do you balance it so that the single issue is as rewarding as the paperback?
RK: At this point it may seem odd, but this is a trick I picked up from Erik Larsen on SAVAGE DRAGON. His collected editions are seamless, to the point that issue 30 ends with half of a two page spread and issue 31 opens with the other half of that two page spread. That very gag we ripped off for the end of issue 22 and the beginning of issue 23. It always seemed to me like Erik was trying to come up with new ways of making the collected editions their own separate reading experience to the single issues. I'm really just trying to follow his lead.
As far as making the single issues as rewarding as the collections...that's almost impossible because the collections have more material...but I do try to make sure something memorable or important or all of the above happens in each issue. I think a good rule of thumb is that you need to be able to have every issue be "the one where _____ happened." If you don't have that single thing for every issue...you probably need to go back and add it in.
IC: THE WALKING DEAD has shipped bi-weekly quite a bit over the past while. What do you get out of that from a storytelling perspective?
RK: Telling a story more rapidly always makes it a little easier to follow. That's why binge watching is so popular. Knowing that we're doing something bi-weekly does give me a chance to do things that are a little more complicated. In the case of ALL-OUT WAR I knew that was a 12 issue story...and I just couldn't see readers being okay with a story that lasted a whole year. So putting those issues out rapidly allowed us the scope we wanted without fear of people getting sick of it, or us overstaying our welcome.
IC: Spoilers are probably off-limits, but I want to ask about Negan. I get the feeling he's changed a lot since he's been locked up. He hasn't necessarily lost his edge, but he does seem more subdued, almost. How do you see him these days? What kind of person is he?
RK: I don't want to go into too much detail here because I do risk spoiling some events from the very near future...so I'll just say Negan has had a LOT of time to think. Remember...he's been in that cell for nearly three years...and I think it's pretty clear that it hasn't broken him...so maybe...just maybe...it's made him stronger.