At Image Expo on Tuesday, "The Walking Dead" creator Robert Kirkman announced that the factions that his survivors have been broken up into with clash into "All Out War" over the course of 12 issues that will ship bi-weekly beginning on October 9. I spoke with Kirkman about plans for "All Out War," the plight of living with "The Walking Dead" on his mind 24 hours a day, why his fans are obsessed with endings, and more.
Geek: "All Out War": what can you tells us about that?
Robert Kirkman: Well it’s something that’s been on the books for a while, it’s something that’s been in the plan for years and years. You know, I never thought "The Walking Dead" would last this long, but even in the earliest days of "The Walking Dead "I always thought “it would be amazing if I could get to a point where there were pockets of civilization that could each other for resources.” You know? Like telling the story and knowing where it was going to go, that you know, it would be like “oh these people are hunkered down in a prison, trying to find food…and they’re traveling a long distance and oh, they found this place that’s actually like a little pocket of civilization and oh there’s other pockets of civilization and now they have to face this.” I knew that arc, you know? But I didn’t know that I would ever get to tell it. And so now that we’re at this point, I think that there’s some really cool stuff coming and I couldn’t be more excited about it.
Geek: And you said that you didn’t know it was going to last this long. It’s the 10 year anniversary now. Do you think about it differently now than when you first started?
Kirkman: Yeah, I mean it changed around issue 30 or so. I know that, like, the story arc for issues 7-12 was originally supposed to be issue 7. And when the first 6 issues were so successful…they were never supposed to go to Herschel’s farm. They were supposed to meet up with Tyreese and arrive at the prison by the end of issue 7. And I ended up pushing the arrival of the prison back to issue 12 because I wanted to put more characters in it. And I think I started doing stuff like that and I started thinking more long term. I had all these plans, but if you look at the first twelve issues, like, Shane would have never died in issue 6 if I had known for sure there would be an issue 12, you know? And so things got a little more complex and opened up a little bit very early on. But yeah, I started thinking a little bit broader and a little bit bigger and that’s changed a little bit of the way I tell the stories. From early on. But it happened around issue 30 or 40, when I was like “You know what? This seems like it’s going to be around for a while. I’ll start planning like really nailing down where I’m gonna be at 150.” Like just to make sure I have things nailed down when I get there.
Geek: And now that you are where you are and it’s as successful as it is, do you feel like you’re pretty much safe to do whatever you want?
Kirkman: No, I feel like if I ever got to that point, it would be terrible. And I know that I’m 12 issues away from the book not being a viable thing to do. And it costing me money to keep the book going and then having to end it. Like at any point, something could happen, and 12 issues later the book could be ending. And so, you know, I’m always like, gotta deliver, you really gotta push things. Working with Charlie and being able to figure out, you know, what we’re gonna do and how it’s gonna be awesome, and how we’re going to misdirect people and then shock them and do cool things and keep the thing going… it’s a tough job. And it’s something that I really put a lot of time into just because I wanna make sure that, you know, issue 113 is as cool as issue 5 was, you know? I think it’s important never to feel like “oh I’ve got this, I’m just gonna coast.”
Geek: So much of your life is "The Walking Dead." I can’t even imagine how many times you’ve said “The Walking Dead” or had “The Walking Dead” said to you, or around you…I don’t really know what my question is...but how does it feel to have that rattle inside your head? You have the comic book series that you’re thinking about, you must be thinking about all the time, and then you have this gigantic TV show that you must be thinking about all the time. What does it feel like?
Kirkman: It’s amazing. I mean, it’s really cool. I dunno. It’s surreal, and strange, and bizarre, and I saw comic book pages nine years ago and eight years ago that I can now like walk inside of when I go to the set in Georgia. And that’s bizarre. It’s hard to explain because not very many people experience it. So there isn’t really a frame of reference; “oh, it feels like this” and “oh, you know when this happens? It’s like that.” It’s pretty strange. But I enjoy it. I think it can get to a point if you’re not careful where it’s just like “ I’M SICK OF THIS THING! I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT THIS ANYMORE!” But I feel so fortunate to be able to tell my story, and I’ve told people before, like, my life’s goal, like what I wanted to do before I died, was be able to have a comic book series where I could do whatever I wanted and tell cool stories for a very long amount of time. For a very long number of issues. I want to have like a long run, you know? Just something that would last, that I can build characters in and have fun with. And I have two series. I have Invincible and Walking Dead that have now lasted over a hundred issues. That was it for me, you know? Like that’s all I ever wanted. The fact that that happened has made me so happy and so thrilled…like, I couldn’t be happier. And then this TV show happens, and all this other stupid stuff, and it’s like, “oh this is happening too? This is ridiculous.” So, you know, I don’t get sick of it. Like it’s kind of an amazing position to be in. It’s really cool. And it’s gonna end soon, and I’m gonna be depressed. But you know, I’m having a while it lasts and, you know, [unclear]
Geek: Well end soon? You said on your panel you see it going 300 issues.
Kirkman: No, no, no the book’s not going to end soon.
Geek: Oh, the TV show...
Kirkman: The popularity will end soon. There’s no way this television show is going to be as popular as it is today by, like, season 9 or whatever. It may last a long time and it may be profitable a long time and it may be worthwhile to go to season 12 or season 15 or season 8. I don’t know. But it’s not going to be as popular. I mean, it can’t be right? I have no idea. So I know there’s going to be a day where like, people don’t want to talk to me and they don’t want to come to my panel and I’ll just be doing this little book called "The Walking Dead" that’s still going, that on the Internet you’ll be able to go to message boards and people will be like “THAT BOOK STILL COMES OUT?! That’s so sad. Why is that guy still doing that?” And I’ll just be happy, like, “Oh I’m just doing these issues, this is really cool.”
Geek: This is kind of a vague question; and I’m sorry because that’s the worst way to preface an interview question, but it is. Everybody always wants to know: do you have an end planned? You’re up to 111, 112 is coming out. The first thing that people – or not the first thing, I’m sure, but – a question that everybody always asks is: what’s the end plan? Do you have an end planned? How’s it going to end? Somebody just asked you on the panel. Why do you think that is? Why are people are obsessed with the ending of things?
Kirkman: Well I think people have invested a lot of time in "The Walking Dead." And a lot of emotional stuff. So people are invested in "The Walking Dead" and they wanna know that the guy that’s doing it isn’t just spinning his wheels. They want to know that it’s going somewhere. And so I think they don’t want it to end, or I hope they don’t want it to end, but they do want to know like “listen, when I’ve been reading this book for 30 years, and it finally ends, am I gonna feel like it was worth my time, or do you have no f**king clue what you’re doing? Tell me now so that I can get out.” And it’s like a tough thing. I do plan for it to go a long time, and I do have an idea of what I think will be a very significant ending and a really cool way to tie it all in and make it, you know, a huge body of work. I think that’s really the cool thing about this. Is like 700 issues of Spider-Man don’t make sense. And I know Dave Sim has talked about this with "Cerebus," like that’s not the story of Peter Parker’s life because it’s nonsense. It’s cyclical and you don’t really know what’s going on. But I am doing what I can to try and arc the entire series. And so I do know where I’m going, I know how the next 12 people who die die, and why they die, and what happens after that. I know who lives to the end and I know why they live to the end and how they live to the end and what happens in the end. And you know, that may be 200 issues, it may be 50 issues. But it’s probably going to be a lot. I’m hoping. But I think when it’s all said and done it will make sense and it will be a satisfying ending, but the longer a series runs, the less the chance that it’s going to be a satisfying ending, so I dunno. It may be a disappointment to some people, but hopefully it’ll at least make sense and be a cool way wrap all that up, so we’ll see.
Geek: So, speaking of killing characters, that’s another thing – for obvious reasons people don’t want characters to die –
Kirkman: What is that? What’s wrong with people?
Geek: Seriously. Kill ‘em all. Start fresh. But somebody asked you about a conversation that took place with Negan killing Glenn and they asked if it was actually you having a conversation with yourself, and you said other people have asked you about that, which I think is really interesting. People are assuming that you’re in this book, that you’re part of these people. I mean, that’s clearly why this guy asked this question. He thinks that you put yourself in there. How much of you is in there?
Kirkman: There are aspects of me in every character I think. I think that, like, the nonsensical comments that Negan makes are the kinds of things that I’ll do in conversation. So there are bits of me in Negan. A lot of people have talked about like the way I talk…I’m not like sadistic, and I don’t cuss quite as much as him, but I will sometimes be like “wanna get pizza? Why do people eat pizza? I don’t know what’s wrong with pizza. You wanna get pizza?” So there’s a little bit of me there. But there’s a little bit of me in Rick Grimes and like, Glenn’s history, like I was a pizza delivery guy. I wasn’t a pizza delivery guy, I worked at a pizza place for a while. So there are little bits and pieces here and there thrown in there. But I mean that’s true of any writer. Most of the characters in "The Walking Dead" it’s like, you know, this is what I would do, this is what I wouldn’t do. Like, I would react this way, so I’m going to do it this way, you know, it’s all based on my experience. So I think it’s inevitable that there’s going to be bits and pieces of you that seep in there. But I don’t think anyone who reads "The Walking Dead" gets an accurate picture of who I am because constantly at conventions, people are like “Robert! You’re…you’re cracking jokes and stuff? I read this book and it seems like you’d be this brooding crazy person. You seem like a nice guy and you’re kind of funny and I dunno, I did not expect this.” And it’s like, well, I put it all on the page, you know? There’s a darkness inside of me and I put it all there so it’s not here.
"All Out War" kicks off in "Walking Dead" #115 on October 9.