Robert Kirkman: Growing Up with Jawas and Zombies

Bonnie Burton | October 14, 2011

(Photo by Megan Mack)

Interview by Bonnie Burton

You can’t be a fan of zombies and not know the name Robert Kirkman. As the creator of the award-winning comic book series The Walking Dead for Image Comics and the hit TV show The Walking Dead airing on AMC with a new season starting Oct 16, Kirkman is making us all a little more nervous when we hear something go bump in the middle of the night. Kirkman’s talents have also extended to other comics such as Invincible, Haunt, Guarding the Globe, Ultimate X-Men and Marvel Zombies, just to name a few. chats with Kirkman about why The Walking Dead needed to give zombies and the people fighting them a story worthy of both comics and television. Kirkman also geeks out about Jawas, George Lucas and why Boba Fett would be great at fighting off hordes of zombies.


What was the genesis for your wildly popular comic book series, The Walking Dead?

The main idea that resulted in The Walking Dead is the fact that I do not like the way most zombie movies end. I’m a fan of zombie movies; they’re always entertaining; but they only have only one of two endings — everybody dies or the people who survive run off into the sunset and you never see them again. It always occurred to me that the most interesting stories could be told after that point. How do they continue to survive? Where do they go? How do they find food? How do they build shelter? How do people interact in a world like this one or two years later? Is society rebuilt or is civilization lost for good? These are the kinds of questions that I would always think about.

At the time I was trying to come up with a new comic book series and I just thought, “Wow, that’s a story that I could really kind of dig into and tell for decades. My main goal in life is to create a comic book series that I’ll be able to write for years and years for as long as I wanted and be able to control it and tell the stories I wanted. And that became The Walking Dead.

How has the experience differed for you working on The Walking Dead TV series on AMC of your own comic?

It’s been easy because the comic book still exists; I’m still writing every month — that’s what I do and I do whatever I want with those stories; and nothing has changed at all in any way in as far as how the comic is made. When it comes to the television show… I don’t know how to make a television show. I don’t act, I don’t operate a camera, and I don’t know any of the things that go into making a TV show. So it hasn’t been difficult at all to go, “Okay, this is a completely different medium that I know nothing about, let’s work with 5,000 very talented people to try to come up with how this works.”

A lot your comic book fans have been debating why certain characters and story lines have gone in a different direction on the TV show. Has it been strange seeing The Walking Dead morph into something else on TV? Is the writers’ room like a zombie battlefield where you are fighting to keep certain elements from your comic in the show, or are you more flexible with the adaptation?

Being in the writers room is actually really fun because we’re delving into stories that I told years ago. The material that we’re adapting into the show now is stuff that I wrote 8 or 9 years ago. Being the guy who wrote that stuff, I look back on it and think about how I might do something different or better. I don’t look at that stuff and demand that things don’t change. I’m actively excited about changing things and adapting it and making it better by doing different things with it. If anything, I’m the guy i the room saying, “We don’t have to do that! What are you talking about?”

Other people are actually trying to convince me to keep things in the show from the comic. It’s a fun process and it hasn’t really been that hard for me to let go on the TV show just because I’m surrounded by such talented people.


You’ve been quoted in your most recent bio, that you wore out your VHS copies of Return of the Jedi, what were some of your childhood memories of Star Wars?

I actually saw Return of the Jedi first. I watched that VHS copy so much that I didn’t even know it was the third movie in a trilogy. I didn’t see Star Wars until I was in ninth grade. I lot of people debate whether or not to see the prequel trilogy first because if spoils the reveal that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. I don’t think I ever didn’t know that Vader was Luke’s father. I guess I came across Star Wars in a weird way, but I guess that’s just how it happened.

As child of pop culture, you were a fan of G.I. Joe and Transformers as well as Star Wars. When you started drawing at a young age, did you ever merge your fandoms into one comic?

I don’t still have the drawings, but I know I drew Spider-Man and Batman with lightsabers and stuff like that.

What was it about Star Wars that drew you to it at such a young age?

What makes Star Wars a memorable, time-tested story that will live on for centuries is that you can’t pinpoint one single thing that makes it great. Han Solo and Chewbacca are awesome. Darth Vader is one of the best villains ever created. The lightsaber is one of the coolest weapons ever. The story, the monsters, the spaceships — everything is great! So it’s hard to pinpoint one thing that drew me to Star Wars — but if I had to choose I’d say it was mostly Jawas.

Why were you so interested in Jawas? Is it because they are pro-recycling?

Ha! I don’t think I was that mindful as a child. But I do remember thinking they were funny. While I did only watch Return of the Jedi I had Star Wars toys as early as 1982. So even though I hadn’t seen all the movies, the Jawa toy was my favorite for some reason; maybe because he was little. The Jawa might have been my favorite just because I owned the action figure of it! When I was a kid there would be a bunch of Star Wars toys at the store and I was only allowed to get one at a time.

Were you ever into the Star Wars comics from Marvel?

I had a few. I remember a really weird one where they were fighting fish people underwater. And I’d think, “Hey, this isn’t in the movie!?” The comics were somewhat darker and scarier than the movies too.

As an adult who writes comics for a living, what were some of the comics you read when you were younger that influenced you?

I started reading comics in 1989. I was mostly into Todd McFarlane and Eric Larsen’s Amazing Spider-Man and Jim Lee’s X-Men. In 1992 when Image Comics formed, I kinda left Marvel and started reading Image more. Image Comics were the best of what was out there.

Besides Return of the Jedi, what were some of the movies you couldn’t get enough of as a kid?

Goonies — but watching it now as an adult I think that movie was done in “kid speak!” They’re all talking at the same time and it’s painful to watch. There was Disney movie I loved called Not Quite Human with Alan Thicke and this kid who was a robot. I remember constantly asking to rent that movie whenever we were at the video store. So I guess I liked watching a lot of crap movies.

It’s not crap when you’re a kid! I remember loving Labyrinth when I was a little girl, and then watching it as an adult I realized that there are quite a few squirm-inducing moments in that film, thanks to David Bowie’s costuming.

I just watched Labyrinth last week! Maybe I’m in the minority, but the only thing I like more than David Bowie, is David Bowie’s crotch. (laughs)

Once you started writing comics for a living, what were there movies that influenced you as an adult?

I still watch the Star Wars films regularly. I enjoy having a job and it’s nice having a television show, but it’s frustrating being in crunch time trying to finish this season of Walking Dead, and I haven’t have time to pour through the new Star Wars Blu-ray box set. I also love Tarantino movies quite a bit. The Wachowski brothers’ Speed Racer film is one of the best movies ever made, and if anyone feels differently I will fight them!

Why do you think it’s important for films, comics and TV shows to inspire kids to think of their own stories to tell?

There’s nothing more important for these types of movies to be accessible for kids — they are the future of everything. The future of keeping comic books alive is making sure a good portion of it does entertain children and make them fall in love with the medium so when they grow up they’ll keep comic books alive. That’s something that George Lucas is very good at. He’s very mindful in making sure that Star Wars is always something that can be entertaining to a new generation whether he’s doing special toys just for kids or The Clone Wars animated series on Cartoon Network to appeal to a young audience, and various different things like that. It’s something very smart and I admire Lucas for that.

Plus the escapism and entertainment value for children is important. I remember being a kid, and growing up in Kentucky being bored out of mind and being able to watch Return of the Jedi and being excited by that movie. Being exposed to all the new and cool stuff in that movie sparked my imagination and gave me stories to make up in my backyard when I played with my little brother. I’d ride my bike down the street and act like it was a speeder bike! That kind of stuff is important for the value of your childhood.

Since you’re a dad, do you have a plan regarding how you want to introduce your kids to Star Wars?

My five-year-old son has already seen bits and pieces here and there. I just let him watch whatever. He’s already seen Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace> He doesn’t really sit through the movies unless it has a talking car in it. So when you decide to do another Blu-ray release of Star Wars, if you could add a talking car to the story that would be great. While we’re on the subject of tinkering with the films, can you add tails to the Ewoks? I don’t like that they have teddy bear butts. It’s a pet peeve of mine.

But yeah, I will definitely be taking my son to see The Phantom Menace in 3-D!

What kind of stories would you like to see us tackle with the live-action Star Wars TV series?

I liked the rumor that the plot of the TV show was going to be the story in between Episodes III and IV where Darth Vader was killing more Jedi and building up the Empire. I would watch a TV show with Darth Vader in it every week!

Do you and your kids watch The Clone Wars?

Oh yes! My son and I watch all the seasons on Blu-ray, and when it’s on TV. Whenever we watch it together my son always asks where the Stormtroopers are. He doesn’t call them clone troopers.


Did you get a chance to see our zombie episodes of The Clone Wars with the uber-creepy brain worms?

No, I didn’t! It sounds pretty awesome!

But you did read our expanded universe book Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber, right?

Yes! It was great to see zombies in the Star Wars world! I was asked to do a quote for the back of the book, and I got a reader copy, but I didn’t finish reading the novel in time. I think my quote was along the lines of “Stormtroopers and zombies are like the peanut butter and chocolate of fiction — two great things that taste great together.”

Who in the Star Wars universe would make the creepiest zombie?

Bossk! Bib Fortuna would make a pretty cool zombie too. Maybe IG-88?

Droids don’t have flesh but some do display emotions of fear like C-3PO. Which makes you kinda wonder how Golden Rod would react during a zombie invasion?

I imagine C-3PO would be pretty useless.

Who in the Star Wars universe would be the most successful in fighting off zombies?

The Rancor monster! Watto could probably trick people into protecting him, so he’d last pretty long. Of course, the obvious answer is Boba Fett; he’s going to do fine.

Then again, Boba Fett did die in a rather pathetic way…

Didn’t he escape from the Sarlacc pit when no one was looking? I think that Sarlacc burp was him escaping.

Do you have any avid Star Wars debates with your friends about Star Wars?

No, I am very cool. (laughs)

Be sure to watch the new season of The Walking Dead on AMC, starting on Oct 16, 2011! Don’t forget to read the award-winning The Walking Dead comic book series from Image Comics.

Follow Robert Kirkman on Twitter, and find out about his latest projects on his official Web site.

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