Skybound Entertainment Founder Robert Kirkman Talks Comics, Video Games And The Walking Dead
Photograph by Megan Mack
You don’t have to be a comic book fan to know what The Walking Dead is all about. Thanks to a hit AMC TV series that continues to break audience records, a critically acclaimed episodic video game from Telltale Games, a hit Facebook game and a new prequel game from Activision, as well as new comics, The Walking Dead is the hottest transmedia franchise in Hollywood.
Writer Robert Kirkman is the man behind the zombie apocalypse. The undead are keeping the writer very busy these days. But he’s doing more than just writing. He’s a partner with Image Comics, the publisher that unleashed The Walking Dead into pop culture history. He also launched his own company, Skybound Entertainment, which is focusing on new comic book and entertainment franchises. The man behind what I believe is the best show on television talks about everything from zombies to vomit to video games in this exclusive interview.
Where did the idea for The Walking Dead come from?
It came from my love of zombie movies and my hatred for how they end. I think that all the best zombie movies just abruptly end when the time runs out, so people either all die or they ride off into the sunset never to be seen again. I thought it would be a really cool story to tell if we followed a group of characters for an indefinite period of time watching them learn to survive in this world and continue to live and coexist.
What are some of the challenges bringing some fresh and new to the zombie genre?
Honestly, I’d like to say there’s not really that much challenge to it just because I feel like the zombie genre is so untapped. It has infinite potential and over the years it’s been such a niche genre that there’s a core group of the audience that knows how awesome it can be and has seen all these fantastic gems that are out there that a lot of people haven’t seen. The Walking Dead is really the best of what it can be, or at least that’s what we’re trying to do, but also infusing just a little bit more character, a little bit more soap opera, as I like to say. By just ramping up the emotional content, I feel like we’re putting our own spin on the genre, but it really is just what the genre is at its core.
The Walking Dead TV show seems like it’s able to push the envelope further and further each season. How have you seen things evolve creatively with the show’s success?
Once I realized that it was successful and that I could tell the story almost indefinitely, my mind just start racing with possibilities like, “Oh, I can go here, I can go there.” I started plotting out many, many years in advance because it was what I wanted to do. With a TV show, it’s kind of the same thing. There’s been an effort towards some long-term planning here and there, and you get a sense of it because the show is successful, so we can set things up and pay them off in Season 4 and Season 5, hopefully. We are making more long-term plans as a goal as part of that. I think that makes the storytelling a little better.
Do you have a favorite memory of being on the set of The Walking Dead?
I have a lot of favorite memories from being on set. Probably the biggest moment for me was when I was there for the filming of the pilot and I got to see Andrew Lincoln and Steven Young meeting for the very first time. Andrew Lincoln was in costume and Steven Young wasn’t and was just visiting, but it was really like seeing the real Rick Grimes and the real Glenn meeting for the first time, which was a pretty magical moment for me if I want to get teary eyed, I think about it.
What impact do you think the AMC show’s success had on the record breaking sales of The Walking Dead Issue 100 at Comic Con?
No effect whatsoever. That comic would have sold that much on its own. I think The Walking Dead has become this huge pop culture event. It’s a successful TV show. It’s a successful video game series and the comic book has been popular for a good long time, but the audience is building. I think that each branch of The Walking Dead, whether it be the novels or the video game or the TV show, appeal to people that prefer that form of entertainment. It has people crossing the street, so to speak. It has novel fans trying comics for the first time. It has TV show fans trying video games for the first time. As that happens, it all builds. And I think that all culminated to a certain extent in the record breaking sales of The Walking Dead 100, which shocked me.
How has the success of The Walking Dead affected your life?
Not a lot, actually. I’m doing okay financially, I guess I can say. So that’s nice, but I still buy my clothes at Target. I still drive a Honda. I spend time with my kids. I’m a family man, I like to say. I try to ignore all the crazy things going on in my life and focus on what’s important. I spend most of my time, I like to say, cleaning up vomit, but my kids are a little older so they’re not vomiting too terribly often, but I do a lot of household mundane things. So my life hasn’t changed quite a bit.
How did you work with the Telltale Game developers on The Walking Dead episodic game?
It was really just a series of meetings. That’s the easiest way to put it. They sit down and tell me about the game structure and they show me some test footage and things like that. As far as the technical aspects of it, that’s all them. I don’t really know how video games work. It’s magic, for all I know. But just basically sitting down and having meetings where they tell me about Lee Everett and what they want to do with the game and me saying, “Okay, that’s really cool. Try and stay away from this. Try and focus on that.” Just really macro things. I’ve seen them say publically that the goal is to make people cry. It’s putting that emotion into the story. That’s really the most important aspect of The Walking Dead. So if you can make people care about the characters to the point where they are upset when they die, that’s really the key. That’s the goal, and just making sure that’s one of the most important aspects of telling the story is really it.