SXSWORLD November 2014


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1 2 S X S W o r l d | N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 4 | S X S W. C O M obert Kirkman never stops being surprised with the job he has. The writer and co-creator of Image Comics' The Walking Dead went from self-publishing niche-audience, personally fulfilling comics with titles like Battle Pope (about exactly what you'd think it's about) to—well, to pub- lishing niche-audience, personally fulfilling comics like The Walking Dead. It's just that, much to his surprise, Kirkman's long-running zombie saga has managed to capture the attention of much of the world. The Walking Dead was first published by Image as a monthly, creator-owned series in 2003, and while Kirkman was enthusi- astic about its prospects, he was also realistic about the fact that launching a new, independent comic series is never a sure thing. Making it to issue seven is an impressive enough feat—so finding yourself entering your fifth season with the most-watched show on cable television is a dream so impossible, it wouldn't even have occurred to him to have it. Kirkman recalls all of this when he talks about the central plot of the first two seasons of the television show, a love triangle between the characters of Rick, Shane, and Lori—a situation that was resolved much more quickly in the comic book. "It was only six issues in the comic, because I didn't know for sure that the comic would last past six issues," he explains. "So I needed to tell this complete story, so that if the book was canceled after issue six, it would make sense as one complete story. I hoped for success and planned for failure at all times. "This ..." Kirkman says, referring to the fact that the most suc- cessful show on cable sprang forth from his imagination—"It shouldn't have happened. When they were making The Walking Dead TV show, I was like, 'Okay, you're making a show with zombies, where they're going to eat people. That's a stretch.' This show has no business being as suc- cessful as it is." That would have been a reasonable point in other times, but Kirkman now lives in a different world than the one in which he grew up. Today, geek culture is mainstream culture, and a guy who sits in his basement writing stories about people who are trying to avoid being devoured by the ravenous undead is a veritable celebrity. The fact that geek culture has evolved to the point that The Walking Dead can be one of America's most popular entertainment options certainly hasn't eluded Kirkman, but it also hasn't stopped confusing him, either. "It is completely insane to me," he laughs. "There's CNN coverage on DragonCon. That's a thing! It's definitely a strange world that we're living in." For the most part, all of this excites Kirkman. As a self-described "geek/nerd/blah blah" from Kentucky, the idea that the culture that he has long been a part of, and long celebrated, has finally shed the stigma that has been attached to it for so long just means more fun for everybody. "It's just really awesome to see the proliferation of things that were deemed silly, or something for young people," he says. "It's a great thing. The more people who embrace it, the more people recognize just how cool this stuff is." Kirkman has heard the arguments that the "cool" of being a geek wears off when everybody flies the same nerd flag, but he doesn't buy it. "A lot of people in my circles tend to say things like, 'Oh, Comicon isn't about the comics anymore!' And I just think that, just because there's a huge media apparatus that's now surrounding this world of comics that we still have and love and adore, that doesn't make it less special. It just means that more people are enjoying it, and I think that's a great thing." Of course, Kirkman would think that's a great thing, as one of the key components of the "geek/nerd/blah blah" world that people are embracing is a show that he created and writes for, based on a comic book that he created and still writes. He is happy to acknowledge that fact ("at the end of the day, maybe I'm a little bit of a sellout, but what can I say? I'm all for it!"), but he is also confident in the integrity of what he is doing. "I think that it'd be very easy for someone in my position to say 'Walking Dead is a TV show now, fuck this comic book!' " Kirkman laughs. "If I had done that, then people would be 100 percent correct in saying this comic book is not cool anymore—if I had farmed it out to other people to write, or if I had put it out three times a year now because I'm really busy doing a TV show, then the fandom would be right to turn against me. "But I haven't changed course ... I put a tiger in the book. Good luck putting that tiger on the TV show, you suckers. And I'm going to get to have to work out that problem someday, but I don't care— because the comic was the original thing that got popular and made everything else happen, and as long as you're being true to that, people shouldn't turn against it." Robert Kirkman Geek Culture Rules by dan Solomon "at the end of the day, maybe I'm a little bit of a sellout, but what can I say? I'm all for it!" Ro b e r t K irk m a n i s a F e a tu re d S p e a ke r fo r SX S W G a m i n g . Stay tu n e d to s x s m fo r d e ta il s . R

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