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Charlie Adlard: Portrait of the Artist as a Walking Dead Man Part Two
And now, without further ado, the exciting conclusion of my rollicking chat with Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard…
Stefan: Did you wind up watching more zombie movies after you got involved in the book?
Charlie: I’ve seen all the obvious ones. The only others I’ve watched, since I was involved with them artistically to a degree, were the last two George Romero movies. I did a play.com exclusive DVD cover for Diary of the Dead, and a proper film poster for Survival of the Dead.
Speaking of people involved with zombies a long time, how do you keep it fresh?
All I need is the characters. I know them so well, it’s the perfect way to work. My big frustration after The X-Files and before The Walking Dead was that I was never on anything long enough to get into it. I’d just get the hang of drawing a character and be on to something else. Now, I’m locked in arguably as long as I want. It’s just brilliant to be able to spend that kind of time on it.
And, obviously, Robert keeps writing great scripts. I sound like some sort of promotional machine, but it’s true, Robert writes great scripts. If he stopped writing great scripts, I’d think twice about doing it. All the money in the world isn’t worth getting up in the morning and thinking “Agh! Do I have to do more?” Thankfully, I still enjoy it.
That’s one thing I don’t understand about the current comics industry. Artists seem reluctant to stay on a monthly book for more than six issues. Doesn’t anyone want to do a big chunk of something anymore?
Maybe it’s the smaller audience, and fewer books that have that kind of longevity.
Yeah. The X-Files was selling what? 100k copies an issue? And we were number 20 in the charts. Sell that now, and you’re number one.
How long before all comics are online?
If you’d asked a year ago, I’d have said it’d never happen. No one’s going to read it on their phones or screen. Electric stuff still feels really transient, like you don’t actually own it. That’s why I still buy CDs.
Suddenly, they invent the iPad, and it all becomes incredibly clear to me. If my local comic shop didn’t exist, I think I’d be downloading them, especially the monthlies. They do need to bring the price down. Online comics are still really expensive.
I do still like collections. I like to display them. Even though we’ve all got our monthlies in boxes somewhere, you don’t put them out. So, while there’ll always be print books, I think the time of the monthly is nigh.
Back to the present. Seen any of the second season yet?
I’m waiting on the DVDs. I did have the first three episodes for season one quite a while before they aired.
Is season two where they’ll start to get more into your stories?
As soon as they leave the camp, they’re in my territory, so to speak. But, of course, the show deviates quite remarkably, so you don’t get to see what I was drawing. For instance in “Wildfire,” they leave the bitten Jim on the roadside after they’ve left the camp. In the comic, he’s left beforehand. So, they’re still dealing with stories from the first issues. But once we’re into season two, we’re going to see my characters appearing.
Has seeing any of it onscreen influenced the way you do the book?
No. It’s just… cool. Even when I was on the set, I didn’t think, “Oh, that’d be a good way to draw something.” We did a good thing at San Diego last year, a massive forty foot banner that had the TV characters on one side and the comic characters on the other. That was a good statement–this is one thing, this is another. Robert doesn’t want to start, for commercial reasons or whatever, putting elements from the show into the comics.
During season one, you were a zombie extra–have you had any other involvement in the show?
I thought you were going to ask if I’ve had any acting offers! But no. People often ask that, and I say I’m not involved in the show apart from taking money and seeing bits and parts way in advance of anyone else.
To be honest, I don’t want to be involved, so, I’ve never actively pursued anything. It’d take me away from the comic. That’s my field of expertise and where I want to be. I’m doing enough of it already. The time I do have to spare, I’d like to work on something that’s not a zombie book.
It’s easier for Robert to do the show and write the comic, because writers can have that kind of output. For an artist, doing a monthly, there isn’t time for anything else. It would just overkill it for me, and I would get seriously bored.
Are there particular things you think the show does well?
But the first season was so short, six episodes, it wasn’t enough to really establish it. I think we had a taste of what we can do. Now that we have a full-on thirteen episodes, that’ll really get into the meat and potatoes.
Favorite scene from the show so far?
The episode that really stuck out for me was Robert’s “Vatos.” That’s not me blowing smoke, Robert doesn’t need it anyway. Some parts were from the comic, but the main thrust was meeting the other survivors, and discovering that they’re looking after these old people. I really liked that twist. It gave the show a seal of approval to do different things.
Is there anything from the comic you’re looking forward to seeing them do?
I don’t know if she’ll be in this season or not, but I am very much looking forward to seeing Michonne. I’m also really intrigued to see how they do the whole Hershel’s Farm thing. Now that we’re out of Atlanta, it’s going to give the series a nice breath of fresh air, like it did with the comic.
Anything you think comic does well, that because of the media, the show would be hard pressed to do?
It’s weird, but I think we can get away with being a bit more languid than the show. The show needs to keep moving. It’s not like the old days, where a TV audience would be happy with the same time, same place, nothing changing. Now they’re used to things constantly evolving. So, the show has to move–which is another reason it has to deviate more from the original. Otherwise it would catch up with the comic. If we remained successful, in four or five seasons, they’d be chasing our tails, so to speak.
The comic works really well, perhaps better, when it can afford to slow down a bit more. Which is interesting, because you’d think it would be the other way around. The comic readers, apart from the new ones we’re getting because of the show, are mostly our bloody age, so they’re used to things being a bit slower… (laughs).
You mentioned that one of your dreams had been to do a European style book, a dream fulfilled with Breath of the Wendigo. Any more dreams, or are you done now?
Robert announced in San Diego that we’re doing our own European-styled comic book called The Passenger. People are already asking when it’s coming out. Well, when I’m finished drawing it. It’s taking somewhat longer to do, per page, than The Walking Dead. With that I can ink three pages a day, but with The Passenger, I struggle to make a page a day, more often a day and a half, because it’s so intricate, so detailed. It’s in the classic European style. It’s very satisfying, a nice break. It’s also science fiction, so it’s a completely different genre..
What’s the plot?
I don’t know how much Robert revealed, but suffice it to say, it’s got a giant robot and a spaceship, as well as Robert’s usual knack and spark.
Off the back of that I’m still talking to Delcourt, the people who publish the French edition of The Walking Dead. Outside of the US, the comic is its most successful in France, which I love because I’m such a big fan of French comic books. It’s just amazing to look at the charts and see us at number one. Delcourt has become the biggest independent comic publisher in France. They bought up Soleil, ironically, the publishers of Breath of the Wendigo, though the imprints remain separate. So, I’m talking to Delcourt about doing one thing, and talking to Soleil about doing another.
I seriously love the guys at Delcourt. They are the nicest and most professional publishers I’ve ever worked with. They obviously have my taste, because without my saying a word, they always pick my favorite cover for the books. Thierry Mornet, the editor, has become a good friend, not just a colleague. His English is so impeccable it’s embarrassing.
And the French, well… I’m doing this big Walking Dead appearance, along with some other zombie-folk, in Les Mans, which I assume is where they do the racing, and they hired out an Abbey for the event. At the same time, I’ve got an exhibit of my work going on in Paris.
You don’t get this sort of stuff in Britain or the United States. The French regard comics as so much more of an art form. Here, even though I get loads of invited to conventions and everyone’s really nice, you don’t get the same level of attention.
But enough about you, let’s talk about me!
Well, I read your book! Dead Mann Walking was the perfect length for a seven-hour flight, and I really enjoyed it. The chak society was great–the zombies aren’t just a bunch of slobbering mindless creatures, unless they go feral. That was a neat twist. And your detective isn’t this great physical specimen; he has a lot more failings than he has things going for him. You got yourself quite an interesting universe there. Welcome to the zombie club!
Thank you, sir, a fine club that. Fifteen years and we’re both still involved in horror.
I don’t know what it is about horror…well, I do know why I ended up doing horror, because I use a lot of black…