Just when fans thought the comic-book world of The Walking Dead had been laid to rest, new life has been defibrillated into the heart of the print universe. From the midst of the 2020 pandemic, Negan has risen from the ashes in a new one-shot titled Negan Lives, published on July 1, from writer Robert Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard. Its existence has fans wondering if we could see more Walking Dead stories from Kirkman in the future.
“It’s nice that I have that option open,” Kirkman told Hey Fandom! “I can bring Walking Dead back tomorrow if I wanted to. And I’m really happy that I have the freedom to do that. But, that said, it was something that was a sixteen-year chunk of my life, and Charlie Adlard’s life, and we’re very much enjoying our time off right now. I’m really excited to be working on other projects … so I can’t say for sure that we’ll never do another Negan thing or another Walking Dead universe thing but there’s no plans to right now.”
Despite trying to convince us of no immediate plans, Kirkman has done a surprising amount of thinking about how he might continue the story of The Walking Dead. If he were to push past the point of the comic book ending, how might he go about doing that?
“I will say that there’s a lot of implied story in the final issue with the railroad meeting, and the colony to the west reuniting, or uniting, with the colony to the east,” he revealed. “And there’s some general thoughts and notions that I have for that, and if the television show ever gets to that point in the comic-book series, and we decide to continue past that point, I’m kind of excited about the idea of telling a little bit more with older Eugene and Judge Michonne, and the different things that were in the comic-book series that could have gone on and we could have done more with. So that could be kind of neat.”
The Invincible Series
For now, Kirkman has his plate full with other projects. One of those includes animated series, Invincible, an adaptation of his comic-book property about the teenage son of an extraterrestrial superhero who inherits his father’s powers. The series is set to premiere on Amazon Prime Video.
“We are very close to getting a lot of updates on the Invincible series,” said Kirkman. “We’re very hard at work at it. Unfortunately, animated series take a fair amount of time to work on but I’ve watched some episodes. It’s all turning out really great.”
Kirkman urged fans to keep an eye on the Skybound Xpo (Kirkman is co-founder of Skybound Entertainment) this July 18 and 19 for more details. “We’re going to have a panel where we’re going to talk about the Invincible series and reveal a little bit more about the cast and things like that. And then we’re going to be showing some things very quickly.”
The cast includes The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun as the titular superhero, as well as JK Simmons as his father, Omni-Man, plus Sandra Oh, Mark Hamill, Seth Rogen and Zazie Beetz. Kirkman teased that we should have already had our first glimpse by now.
“The pandemic kept Free Comic Book Day from happening, but there was an Invincible Free Comic Book Day Issue One reprint that was going to come out that’s actually printed and in storage waiting for Free Comic Book Day to happen. And that has an eight-page still image preview of the animated series in the back. So you get to see some character designs, some still shots from the show. And so if the pandemic hadn’t happened, you would have seen some of the show by now.”
Frustrating much? But he advises fans to hold tight for just a few more days. It’s a project that’s close to Kirkman’s heart and he’s excited to share.
“It’s been really great,” he said. “I mean, our cast is spectacular. You know, working with [showrunner, and writer on The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance] Simon Racioppa is really awesome. We’ve just got a really great team working on the show, and getting to spend time with these characters that I haven’t really worked with since the comic book ended is really cool. And like The Walking Dead show, it’s neat to come back and take stories that are from the comics and put a new spin on them, expand them, change them, do things like that. It’s great to be working in this world again.”
The World Beyond
Talking of the world of television, there’s the small matter of another Walking Dead spin-off show waiting in the wings to premiere. The Walking Dead: World Beyond is the second television series to branch off from the main show, after Fear the Walking Dead, and tells the story of a group of survivors in Nebraska, ten years after the apocalypse. Kirkman had this to say about the series:
“[Writer] Matt [Negrete] has been on The Walking Dead for a very long time and is moving over to World Beyond. He developed that show with Scott [Gimple, Chief Content Officer for the Walking Dead universe]. And I’m really excited about World Beyond because it’s going to deal with a different type of character and, to a certain extent, a different type of world within the world of The Walking Dead. This is a group of teenagers that have lived within a safe haven and are now venturing out. So we’re going to experience the world that we’re very familiar with through new eyes. It’s going to be a really unique show that I’m very excited about. And it’s going to premiere on a date later to be determined at this point, because the [real] world sucks.”
As for the main story of The Walking Dead — you know, the series for which we’re still awaiting a Season 10 finale (another lockdown delay) — Kirkman cleared up a much-discussed issue from the series once and for all. Exactly who is the father of Judith?
“Oh, it’s Shane. It’s Shane,” he confirmed. “Did I never reveal that? It’s pretty obvious that it’s him: time period-wise, it tracks and I thought it was something that I had Rick talk about at least a couple of times.”
While this might be old news to some, Kirkman enlightened Hey Fandom! viewers when he explained exactly what he was trying to do with this element of the story.
“I like the idea of [Rick] raising a child that he knows is not his own,” he said. “And that that relationship with Lori… I was trying my damnedest as a writer to capture the nuance of that situation. I had a lot of people that were like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe Lori cheated on Rick, what a tramp,’ or whatever. And that wasn’t really the point for me. The point was it’s such a traumatic event, and she really thought he was dead. There’s a beauty to finding Shane and holding on to something that reminded her of the world before, and they created a baby in that situation. And for Rick to be understanding when he comes back and realizing … all bets are off, and deciding to raise that child? That’s what I was trying to explore there. Just how the extremes of this world makes you accept things that you may not otherwise want to accept.”
Another of the projects keeping Kirkman busy is Oblivion Song, his supernatural sci-fi comic book about a man named Nathan Cole who rescues citizens from the “apocalyptic hellscape” of Oblivion, once part of Philadelphia. Last year, it was announced that there was a film in the works but in the meantime, Kirkman is celebrating its 25th issue with a set of variant covers.
“I wanted to make sure for Oblivion Song, and for books moving forward, that I acknowledged that 25 should be a cool issue, and should be an important issue,” he said. “It’s an expanded story. It’s also the kickoff of our third large story arc … The series started with Nathan Cole venturing into Oblivion to try and rescue his brother; issue 24 ended with him being stranded in Oblivion. And so now issue 25 picks up and he’s been in Oblivion for some time, and is now living the life that his brother was living before he rescued him. So we’ve kind of flipped the script a little, to a certain extent. It’s also setting up the big conflict with the Faceless Men who … are possibly going to be invading Earth at some point soon. So it’s ramping up to a huge storyline.”
Bringing the Fire Power
And as if Kirkman didn’t have enough to occupy him, there’s also the small matter of martial arts adventure, Fire Power, his most recent comic-book launch. The story focuses on Owen Johnson and his discovery of ‘Fire Power’, the wielder of which is destined to save the world.
“Martial arts is a genre [in which] there’s a lot of room to play and do different things,” Kirkman said. “I mean, you can do supernatural martial arts. You can do very grounded martial arts. I think Fire Power is something that’s kind of in between. It’s got some really cool supernatural elements — you’ve got fireballs, which are fairly unrealistic. It’s a genre that I’ve really wanted to venture into and tell some stories with. The main inspiration for the series though is artist Chris Samnee [Daredevil]. I’ve been a fan of his work over a decade at this point, and he’s just absolutely amazing. The way that he does action storytelling in comics is second to none. Comic books, as you know, is telling stories with still pictures and the progression from still image to still image, and so it’s a very difficult medium to portray very kinetic action, and it’s something that Chris has absolutely mastered. So being able to cut loose with him and do some really nutty action sequences is quite awesome. And I think because of that, the book is absolutely spectacular, not because of my writing but [because of] Chris Samnee.”
Tackling martial arts fare can arguably be considered a challenge, since it’s very familiar to fans of pop culture. Kirkman spoke a little about how he tries to separate Fire Power from the pack.
“I’m just trying to zig where people are hopefully expecting me to zag,” he explained. “I think that [Master] Wei Lun is a character that has an archetype in almost every martial arts story and, to a certain extent, they’re all kind of the same. So, you know, I wanted to try and change that up as much as possible and make Wei Lun fairly unique.”
One of the ways in which he’s done that is to give the character a footwear obsession: “I just thought it’d be really unique to have an elderly Chinese sifu at a kung fu dojo place that just loves Air Jordans.”
While Kirkman turns to high kicks and Eastern mysticism in his latest venture, there’s still a familiar apocalyptic vibe to the story that characterizes his work, though it’s arguably more hopeful than material he’s tackled before. With the threat of the end of the world upon them, Fire Power is about avoiding the end of days. Kirkman admits that the shared experience of 2020 will inevitably shift the focus in any upcoming stories he writes.
“I think you can tell from my work that the end of the world and the stability of our future is something that’s always on my mind, and it seeps into my creative work,” he said. “Now that I’m experiencing an end-of-the-world type scenario [in real life], I’m probably gonna stop doing that in the future. I think I’m going to try and focus more on escapism, and I’ll probably be doing fewer apocalyptic stories moving forward.”
Check out our full Hey, Fandom! chat with Robert Kirkman below!