Robert Kirkman on pulling off that THE WALKING DEAD comic finale

Robert Kirkman on pulling off that THE WALKING DEAD comic finale

Earlier this week journalist/author Geoff Boucher interviewed prolific comic creator Robert Kirkman for his Heavy Metal podcast MindSpace. They discussed all things Skybound, in particular the Invincible animated series and the success of his mega hit zombie franchise The Walking Dead.

Some highlights from the conversation:

Kirkman and his artist collaborators Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley were inspired by their love of both Marvel and DC from various different eras in creating Invincible. He considers the series a “one stop shop” for superhero stories where you can read Invincible and get a Marvel or DC superhero-type story that is contained in one book and could meander into big crossover stories or smaller more personal dramas.

Comics and television work hand in hand because of their mutual serialized nature according to Kirkman.

Kirkman half jokingly said he would cast Ed O’Neill as Korvac because he’s a big fan of the actor.

Back in July 2019, Kirkman surprised everyone with the unexpected conclusion of The Walking Dead at issue #193, pulling the rug out from under fans and readers. Kirkman said he was able to accomplish this by soliciting future issues for books that never actually came to be. The issue came out a few weeks before SDCC and Kirkman said he was almost tempted to skip Comic-Con that year fearing fan revolt.

Aside from Kirkman the only others who knew that TWD #193 was the finale issue were artist Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn, letterer Rus Wooten, and editor Sean Mackiewicz. Kirkman said that was the only way to keep the finale secret, “If you didn’t have to know, I didn’t tell you.” Those he didn’t tell definitely felt somewhat slighted.

Rathburn wasn’t told until late in production when the issue was being put together. Kirkman actually paid Rathburn to work on TWD for another 12 issues to make up for the fact that his job on the series was ending. He also did the same for letterer Rus Wooten.

Adlard and Kirkman knew that TWD would end around issue #193 almost five years prior. At one point, issue #192 was going to be the final issue because that was where the the 4th Compendium would have naturally ended, and Kirkman worried that fans would have clued in that this was where the series was building towards.

TWD #193 was solicited to the distributor as a 22-page comic and so retailers were surprised when they opened the box of the issue to discover it was more than 70-pages and still had the $2.99 cover price like a normal issue.

Kirkman contrasted the TWD conclusion with high expectations fans have for shows like Game of Thrones and WandaVision, where fans will always find some reason to be disappointed for some reason. “I can’t judge this show fairly because I expected Wolverine to show up and he didn’t and now I’m mad. You imagined that! You’re mad that the thing you imagined didn’t take place! This is unrealistic expectations on your fiction here.”

The six months prior to the conclusion of The Walking Dead comic were quite stressful for Kirkman. There was actually some relief for Kirkman by the fact that there was no expectations for The Walking Dead and fans couldn’t construct their own ending. It’s a sharp contrast to the final season of Game of Thrones and the fact that showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss ended up infamously skipping SDCC that year, whereas Kirkman still made an appearance.

Between TWD and the surprise launch of the Die!Die!Die! comic a few years ago, Kirkman does enjoy the “air of mystery” aura that he has cultivated and it makes him “do dangerous things.” Boucher compared it to filmmaker JJ Abrams‘ devotion to secrecy to the point that it undermines promotion. Since the modern audience is more plugged in than ever before, Kirkman feels keeping things close to the vest is somewhat essential.  

Kirkman doesn’t consider himself to a “dialogue guy” in terms of writing and feels that writing for television has vastly improved his ability to write dialogue.

The death of Abraham Ford in The Walking Dead #98 wasn’t planned that far in advance, but something that Kirkman decided to do on the spur of the moment when writing the issue.

You can listen to the full episode of MindSpace featuring the discussion between Boucher and Kirkman now.

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