The Haunting circa 1963, The Shining, The Thing. These films offer a subtle but incredibly chilling kind of horror that creeps under your skin. For The Walking Dead’s Charlie Adlard, these films are his inspiration. The artist was one of the special guests at the Barcelona Comicon this year and he fit right in among the undead.
The convention featured ‘Zombies. Not dead not buried’, an exhibition dedicated to the incredible success that zombies have had in popular culture. With make-up workshops, classes on how to draw zombies, and themed musical guests, it was quite an entertaining event. In addition, the Barcelona International Comicon Awards honored Adlard with ‘Best Foreign work published in Spain in 2010’.
I spoke with Adlard about The Walking Dead, his favorite scary movies, and why he scoffs at zombie apocalypse plans. Be warned, there are some spoilers concerning early events of the series.
MTV Geek: I’m terrified of zombies and I still managed to fall in love with The Walking Dead. I’ve spoken to a few others who say the same; they can’t stomach horror but love your book. Why do you feel that the series is so accessible to readers?
Charlie Adlard: You’re not going to get anywhere without really good characters, and arguably, there’s a lot of horror movies that don’t do this because all they want to do is scare you. What people forget is that the only way to make horror really effective is to care about those that are being killed. If you don’t care about the people who are being scared, killed, shot, whatever, what’s the point of the horror movie? It just becomes a ridiculous gore feast, and that’s the last thing I want to see.
I think any sane (laughs) person would agree with me. I’ve got no time for people who just want to see gore. On a purely physical basis, zombies are very hard to be scary in that sort of situation because they’re just shambling, mindless idiots, (laughs) you know! They haven’t got the intelligence to jump out at you! It’s kind of hard to do a cliché scare moment with zombies because they just sort of shamble at you, you do a quick jog, and you’re away!
Geek: I’ve surmised that the lack of color eases the shock a bit. Instead of intense scenes with blood all over the place you get a more subdued image.
Adlard: Yeah, like what Quentin Tarantino did with the black and white fight scene in Kill Bill. He knew that he could get it past the sensor with all of that extreme violence. It is a factor, definitely.
from The Walking Dead #7
Geek: Why do you think that Robert Kirkman chose to write The Walking Dead as a black and white series?
Adlard: Robert was heavily influenced by Night of the Living Dead and he wanted to conjure up that feeling. If we do it in black and white you can get away with more. For instance, when we did the torture scene with Michonne and the governor – could we have gotten away with that if it was in color? I don’t know. It’s one of those bizarre things, especially in America, that we can get away with buckets of gore and blood and I can’t actually draw a breast. There is something strangely f***** up with that system, especially when you consider European comics. They are completely at ease with nudity, sex, whatever, and I think that’s a lot healthier. (laughs) I’m not just being a perv!
It’s the double standard of America. Nudity is censored, but you can have somebody shoving a spoon up someone’s a**, you know, ala The Walking Dead! I would argue that the violence is much worse than the nudity and sex.
Geek: Agreed! I am much more affected by an incredibly gory panel than a set of breasts.
Adlard: I would argue that the violence is much worse than the nudity and sex.
Geek: Some of your readers have worked out a way to survive in case zombies attack. Do you have a zombie apocalypse plan?
Adlard: That’s quite sad, isn’t it! That someone actually has a zombie apocalypse plan in place like it’s really going to happen. The dead coming back to life – you’d probably see vampires or something first!
Funnily enough, in The Walking Dead TV show it was kind of explained why they come back to life. I later read an article that the explanation from the last episode of Season One was actually impossible. I mean of course it’s impossible (laughs), but it’s interesting, as the brain stem simply cannot make a dead person move, etc etc. So, no (laughs), I haven’t got a plan!
Geek: As we had previously mentioned, The Walking Dead is an overwhelmingly human story. The zombie threat is always present, but character interactions and their fierce will to survive seems to be the focus. Do you like drawing the quiet moments as much as vicious zombie attacks?
Adlard: I prefer drawing the quiet moments! This is why I’ve never really been comfortable with drawing superhero comics; by their very nature they are action based. It’s absurd to see superheroes sitting around talking, as it just looks stupid! It’s harder to draw people talking for pages and just sitting in a room. If a new artist asks for advice and show me their portfolio I tell them to show me two people talking. Make that interesting. If you’re going to show me pages and pages of people beating the s*** out of each other – a) it won't interest me anyway, and b) it’s sort of the easiest thing to do. If you can draw a really good face and put emotion into it and things like that, that’s when you’ve conquered the way to draw comic books.
I love drawing the emotion and the facial expressions while trying to work out how to make these pages interesting. Robert constantly apologizes for these scripts, and I’m like ‘no, bring it on’! I love to make this stuff look interesting. Those are some of my favorite pages.
Geek: What is one of your favorite quiet panels?
Adlard: They actually brought it over for the exhibition! I’m my own worst editor, if people ask for 10 pages to bring over I say ‘no, you do that’! I know I’d just sit down reviewing all this stuff and it would take me an hour. Plus, they would be quiet pages anyway! They are better off doing it because they know what the audience likes.
My favorite is the double page splash of the church in Issue #74. I was really happy with the composition, the atmosphere of it, and the unnerving quiet of the thing. And I was just really pleased with how I drew a church (laughs)! That’s another reason I’m a big fan of the European comics. They’ve got a fantastic sense of place, and the way they draw backgrounds is infinitely more interesting and better than their US/UK counterparts who are more interested in the dynamism and the figure work. I love all of that along with the quiet and beautifully composed panels that they do. The composition and things like that seem to be slightly lacking in American comics.
Geek: Is there a character or set of characters that you enjoy drawing the most?
Adlard: Well, there’s an obvious one! I really enjoy drawing Michonne, who is such a fan favorite. That would be the only character that I’d be seriously pissed off if Robert killed off. (laughs) I’d be like ‘no! Kill Rick first, I don’t care’! I do enjoy drawing her because she’s a strong character. I enjoy Andrea as well; she’s really interesting and has had one of the biggest arcs.
In terms of actually drawing characters, I like drawing older faces because they’re just more interesting. My fine art training comes out in those sorts of faces with interesting marks and things like that. The children I find the hardest to draw. It’s really hard to draw convincing kids because literally one mark could age them by 5-10 years. Too few marks and they look too young; too many marks and they look too old. They are bugger to draw! Carl is the hardest for me, and I don’t think I’ve been wholly successful in ever capturing Carl. Or any of the other kids for that matter!
Geek: I would disagree! I love the way that you capture Carl’s sinister inner darkness. The hat definitely helps!
Adlard: The hat is a great dramatic thing for him to wear because you can cover his eyes and have just his pupils poking through. If you put a hat on anybody you can play with the shading and all of that. Carl is arguably one of the darker characters!
Geek: Much of your experience has been with the topic of horror. What other genres do you enjoy?
Adlard: People assume that I’ve done a lot of horror because I use a lot of black. In fact, I use black because it’s a lovely design element! I love a good page design and an open page doesn’t have as much attractiveness as page with heavy black on it. It just stands out more! It has nothing to do with me being a dark person or loving horror. I do love horror, but not obsessively. I love horror as much as I love sci-fi or drama! It’s kind of interesting because most of my favorite horror movies are where the horror takes place off screen. Things like Halloween, The Shining, and I love Robert Wise’s The Haunting from the 60s. It’s just a beautiful study in off-screen terror. I’ll follow the work of certain directors and it doesn’t necessarily have to be science fiction or fantasy people. I like movies and there is no particular genre that I’m sort of drawn to!