by Edie Nugent
From L to R: Dalton Ross, Robert Kirkman and Sean Mackiewicz at Skybound’s The Walking Dead panel at NYCC
“The Walking Dead is a very unreal way to explore some very real topics: there’s loss, triumph and accomplishment against all odds,” creator Robert Kirkman explained Thursday to a packed audience of fans at the 2014 NYCC panel for his Eisner award-winning comic series. “Also there’s the zombie killing, that part’s pretty cool,” he added. Kirkman was joined by Walking Dead Editorial Director Sean Mackiewicz, and the panel was moderated by Entertainment Weekly’s Dalton Ross. Ross had his hands full with quick-witted Kirkman who at one point jokingly informed Ross that he would be canceling his EW subscription based on Ross’ weak selection of twitter-submitted fan questions.
Kirkman proved an engaging and thoughtful speaker, and gave many hints to the future of The Walking Dead comic series as well as the hit AMC television show. Ross began his series of questions by asking about the recent time jump in issue #127 which both Kirkman and Mackiewicz affirmed is roughly two years after the events of the “All Out War” story arc. Kirkman confirmed he intentionally left the length of the time jump vague so he could craft the narrative without specific time restrictions. He cited that aging Carl helped move that character forward, and noted that Carl’s recent adoption of his one-sided sunglasses was an indicator of the character’s insecurity: “He wants to kinda hide that aspect of himself, and we’ll be exploring that a lot moving forward. You can expect Carl’s look to possibly evolve over time.” He also told the crowd to “be on the lookout for issue 134” [due to be released November 12] to see big changes in Carl’s character. In terms of Carl’s eye loss eventually becoming a part of the AMC television series, Kirkman said: “I’m not saying it’s definitely happening-but it’s definitely an option. We don’t adapt the comic book directly, as everyone can see from watching the show, but we certainly wouldn’t shy away from a thing like that.” Kirkman then jokingly added: “so you know-season 7!”
Ross inquired when comic fans would finally get a good look at the ‘Kingdom’ and the ‘Sanctuary.’ “There’s a lot yet left to reveal,” Kirkman said, “there’s a lot of characters out there that haven’t been seen in a while.” This led Ross to reply: “Yes, Michonne!” Kirkman agreed, and said fans should anticipate the return of Michonne around issue #150.
When asked about the future of Rick’s character, Kirkman explained: “This current plan for Rick and the outcome of ‘All Out War’ is something that I’ve been working towards for a few years now…everything up to this point [in the comics series] was planned before the show existed-you know I never really go: ‘oh, I could make them go live on an island’ or ‘grow a vegetable garden.’ It always seems to just come to me and I go: ‘yeah, we’re doing that!'” Kirkman further explained that although he’d always had a road map for that particular story arc, he did adjust it along the way because he loves having the ability to “turn on a dime.” He went on to say that there were “certain deaths that I’ve just decided to do that issue because in life I feel like tragic events can happen without any kind of preparation, and I like to try and infuse that in the book.” He also said his decision to kill Shiva, Ezekiel’s pet tiger was one of these of-the-moment decisions. Kirkman then added: “Neegan was at no point going to die.”
In terms of character design, Kirkman indicated that artist Charlie Adlard often has the final say. He elaborated on how collaborative the process was between himself and Adlard in terms of creating Rick’s evolving appearance. Often, Kirkman said, Adlard will shoot down looks he imagines for the character. He also noted that he gave Adlard “no guidance” on how the Governor should look: the design was entirely Adlard’s creation.
Kirkman did not hesitate in his answer to the twitter-submitted question: “Will we ever see Lucielle again?” “Yeah, definitely,” Kirkman replied. After a few cheers went up from the audience he continued: “these are questions you should be asking: ‘Where’s that bat? Who has it?’ Everything will be revealed eventually. There’s a lot of stuff people may not be thinking about that has been pulled out of the book that will be put back in when the time is right.”
Another twitter question asked-regarding the television series’ recently released season 5 teaser trailer: “Is the cop from the trailer female-Negan?” Kirkman answered: “What? No, that is definitely not female-Negan in the trailer,” then teased the audience by adding: “Close, though!”
During the fan Q&A portion of the panel Kirkman and Mackiewicz didn’t shy away from hinting at spoilers. When Kirkman was asked “Will you ever bring the character of Morgan Jones back in the television series?” he replied: “It’s just a matter of when it’s right for the story and when Lennie James, the fantastic actor that plays Morgan, will be available.” He went on to confirm: “that’s something we’re working toward, he will appear in the Walking Dead show again.”
Another fan asked how Kirkman came up with the character of Rick. The series creator went into great detail, explaining:”really the reason that Rick is this small town police officer-I mean, he’s a crappy police officer-he never really fired his gun, he’s not super-cop-often times in apocalyptic stories or action stories like ‘The Walking Dead’ you kind of deal with the best of the best: this guy who is uniquely capable of dealing with the situation, he’s Bruce Willis and he’s bulletproof.” By contrast, Kirkman continued, “I wanted to do a story about the normal people, the people that aren’t necessarily capable of handling this or accomplishing anything or really surviving-and see how long they survive and how they rise to the challenge,” at which point he added, “though I guess he [Rick] is a little bulletproof if I’m honest.”
When a nervous, star-struck fan timidly asked: “Which character in the comic book so you think is most like how you think you’d react in the zombie apocalypse?” Kirkman’s reply of: “Eugene maybe? The guy who lies so people will protect him” drew a wave of laughter from the audience, prompting him to quip: “just being honest!” More brutal honesty was displayed when both Mackiewicz and Kirkman answered which of the many deaths in ‘The Walking Dead’ comic was their favorite. “Probably Glenn’s,” Mackiewicz began-and continued over the sounds of anguish from the crowd-“it just affects me-in that I wonder what a miserable human being Robert is sometimes-every beat is just that much worse and is’ twist the knife,’ he can’t even get [Maggie’s] name out and his eyeball is just on his cheek: like he can see himself dying!”
At that moment an audience member shouted “Masochist!” at Kirkman who conceded, “a little bit.” Kirkman went on to say that while Glenn’s death was important, his favorite death scene was probably Abraham’s “because it was so sudden” and that he thought Abraham’s ability to finish talking to Eugene as he was dying was weird, but cool. Mackiewicz added that Abraham’s death was a “last minute decision” and Kirkman agreed, saying that he originally planned to have both Eugene and Abraham survive issue #98, but ultimately decided it would be unrealistic. He jokingly noted that Eugene must have survived “so he could build a windmill.”
When asked why his Atlanta didn’t have more black people, Kirkman answered: “I feel like our cast diversified a bit as we moved on, but there’s always more we can do towards that.” He then joked: “we try to keep the cast as not-white as possible because white people are terrible.” The same fan asked if we would get to see the response to the zombie threat from places other than the Atlanta/greater Washington D.C. area we’ve seen so far. Kirkman explained that the companion/spin-off series to AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ announced last fall would find it’s characters battling the zombie threat in new locations.
Further questioning led Kirkman to hint that Rick or Negan may not survive the coming events, and that if Rick did die Kirkman believed Andrea would be the most likely character to fill his shoes. But what if Kirkman was forced to choose a Walking Dead character to survive the zombie apocalypse with? Kirkman chose either Negan: “if I was on his good side” or “Carol-from the TV show-she’s pretty tough. She’d probably keep me safe the longest.” When asked: “Could there be a female villain and could she be a Latina?” Kirkman replied, “Absolutely-there’s a very good chance of that, so keep reading! It’s possible that character’s already been introduced. There’s a spoiler for you!” A few murmurs from the crowd indicated that Rosita was the character they believed Kirkman may have been referring to.
Towards the end of the Q&A a young girl approached the microphone and asked: “Is there ever going to be an end to the zombie apocalypse?” Kirkman replied: “You look about my daughter’s age so, not ’till you’re in college! I mean, logically… the zombies aren’t going to last forever, and it’s true that there’s new zombies being created all the time, when people die,” he paused, then mused: “I’m talking about this to a child, which is awkward,” before continuing: “but you know, logically as the population’s getting smaller fewer zombies are being made, so it really is just a game to outlast them. It could end at some point if all the human beings don’t die before that point-which is an upbeat thing to think about-sweet dreams, kiddo!”
Kirkman went on to affirm that he does know how he plans to end the comic series, but that it’s “a very long way away-you know, my daughter getting through college and all.” He added that telling the story over a number of years is what “excites him” the most, and that he wants to fulfill that dream-a dream he’s had since he began the series over ten years ago.