Profiles

Fear The Walking Dead: A Robert Kirkman Profile

The third season of AMC’s zombie-drama Fear the Walking Dead shuffled back to our mortal coil this month after a mid-season break, but still there is little sign that it will crossover with its far more established main series, The Walking Dead. And neither series has gone so far as to bring in aliens. Yet.

Robert Kirkman is the co-creator of the original Image Comics series with artist, childhood friend and frequent collaborator Tony Moore, and latterly British comicbook artist Charlie Adlard, upon which the hit horror show is based. For a lot of people who only know Rick Grimes’s troubles from TV, Kirkman is something of an enigma. Still only 38 years old, the hit undead series propelled the Kentucky born-and-bred writer far beyond his early work suggested. Fans of his work prior to The Walking Dead may recall his short-lived superhero parody Battle Pope from 2000, which did not indicate the career trajectory he has since been on. The synopsis on the back of the first volume of the trade paperback collection reads:

“When Earth’s Guardian, Saint Michael, is taken captive by Lucifer, God enlists the help of the only man that can do the job; the hard drinkin’, womanizing Pope He had condemned for his evils. With the help of Jesus H. Christ, Pope sets out on a rescue mission that could either be his only chance of getting to Heaven, or a one-way ticket to Hell!”

Replete with a nose-picking Jesus in a Hawaiian shirt and a cigar-chomping Pope with a torso like a 90’s wrestling action figure on the back cover, it looks more like something Simon Pegg’s character would dream up in his Channel 4 sitcom Spaced than an actual printed publication. Suffice to say that Kirkman’s route to international TV sensation was not easily predictable from reading the exploits of an armed holy man.

It was with the conception of the 2003 Image Comics series about a bunch of misfits trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic North America that the then 23-year-old Kirkman began to gain real critical acclaim, picking up Eisner Award’s in 2007 and 2010 for his ongoing dark tale. Whilst The Walking Dead is certainly more mature than Battle Pope, dealing with themes of loss, human connection, and societal responsibilities as it repeatedly kills off characters willy-nilly, it is also incredibly graphic; and it isn’t just the plot which is not for the feint of heart. Kirkman’s ability to know when to use dialogue and when to trust either Moore in the first six issues or Adlard thereafter to tell the story visually has created some of the most iconic (and disturbing) images in zombie-lore history.

Robert Kirkman. Source: Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
His comics have reportedly sold over 50 million copies worldwide; and all without delivering on his original promise to involve an alien conspiracy – except for a bonus ending to issue #75 – which was the only way he could flog his concept to publishers before Image picked it up. But if it’s aliens you’re after, then his other well-loved series, Invincible, about a teenage son of an extraterrestrial who struggles to cope with his inherited superpowers and responsibilities, might be the best place to look. Comic book adaptations for the screen were en vogue in the mid-2000’s, but it took almost seven years for ABC to pick up The Walking Dead for a pilot after the first issue went to print. The same cannot be said for Invincible, which has had to sit quietly in the corner biding its time whilst its big brother took the accolades until April this year when Kirkman revealed that a movie adaptation is in the pipeline.

Surprisingly Kirkman waited until he had moved out of his parent’s home before watching the highly influential George A. Romero’s Living Dead trilogy, as the homemaker and sheet-metal fabricator couple forbade him from watching horror movies growing up. This might go some way to explaining why the soap-opera style of his most well-known property transitioned to TV so well when director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Mist) came calling. The show hasn’t been without its costs for its creator, whose relationship with childhood friend and series co-creator Tony Moore was fractured over a legal dispute with regards to profits from the series.

Kirkman now serves as an executive producer on the worldwide phenomenon that The Walking Dead has become, as well as being one of the five partners at Image Comics. It looks as though horror will continue to shape his destiny as his multi-platform media company Skybound Entertainment, co-founded with David Alpert, is set to remake An American Werewolf in London, whilst his supernatural cult series Outcast recently completed its second season.

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