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COMIC LEGEND: Robert Kirkman lied to Image about what The Walking Dead was about to get the series approved.
Robert Kirkman was already pretty established at Image Comics before he started on The Walking Dead, as he had done a couple of projects before launching Invincible in early 2003. So Invincible was already nearly a year in before The Walking Dead launched, and Invincible was very well received at the time. But it wasn’t like it was some runaway hit, though, so Kirkman still had trouble getting The Walking Dead approved by Image.
So much so that he had to come up with a rather big lie to get the book through.
When I pitched the Walking Dead to Image, Jim Valentino and Eric Stephenson were running the company, and they both felt that the Walking Dead as a straight zombie book didn’t have enough of a hook to it. So they came back and said, “Look, nobody is going to want a straight zombie book, there’s not anything special about it, it’s just a bunch of guys living in a world infested by zombies, and we don’t think that’s interesting enough, and we want you to add something else to it to entice the readers and blah blah blah.” Which they often do. They’ll say “Well, we like this concept, but we don’t think it has enough.” And that’s perfectly fine. They’re a publisher and they can do that. But I disagreed with them a bit.
And so I had done a few books with them, so I felt comfortable doing this – I basically just lied to them and said, “Well look, this is how it’s going to be: The whole book is going to be as I pitched it, but as the issues progress, eventually I’m going to reveal that it was actually aliens who caused the zombie uprising. And it’s going to be leading to this big battle between the humans and the aliens, and the aliens did this to kind of weaken the humans’ military forces, and eventually it’s going to be this big alien invasion.” And so they said, “Oh yeah, that sounds sweet! Let’s do that.” And so they approved the book based on that.
And then when it came out, Eric Stephenson was reading the first issue, and he said, “So I read the issue, and it was really cool, but I didn’t see any hints to what the alien invasion stuff is. Did you hint anything about that? Was there something I didn’t notice? What’s going on?” And I said, “Oh well, I gotta be honest with you&#Array;that stuff’s not going to happen. I was kind of fibbing a little bit, and I really just want to do a straight zombie book.” And at this point, the book was being pretty well received and there was a lot of buzz about it. So Eric wrote back something like, “Well that’s good, because I was kind of reading the book thinking, hey he might ruin this by putting aliens in it.”
That’s pretty amazing.
What I really appreciate, though, is that Kirkman is very aware of how the story plays in the sense that it does a bit of a disservice to a great guy like Jim Valentino, and Kirkman addressed that with Phillips:
So it’s a funny story, and that’s pretty much how it happened, but it kind of doesn’t make Jim Valentino look too good. It’s a funny little anecdote that people like to hear and everything, but I think when it appeared in the Image book, Jim Valetino wasn’t too thrilled. It’s not like he was angry with me or anything, but it kind of does him a disservice, because Jim Valentino was a very strong force early on in my career. He had given me advice on other things that greatly helped my books. For instance, the Nolan reveal in Invincible. My original plan was for that to not happen until issue twenty-five, and when I was talking about the book, Jim Valentino was there, and he said, “You know you really need to move that up, or this book might not last until twenty-five. That’s the kind of thing this book might need. You need to shake things up and keep people interested in the book.” So I moved the tease up to issue seven and the reveal up to issue twelve. And I would say that at the same time when he was kind of hindering the birth of the Walking Dead, he was saving Invincible. I feel bad telling that story because, like I said, it does Jim a disservice.
Valentino, by the way, recalled later that he didn’t think that Kirkman explained the series well enough the first time:
If he would have told me what it was really about, I would have said, ‘Dude, that’s great, let’s [do it].’ But he didn’t, so at first I was really reluctant to do it.
Anyhow, Kirkman made fun of the alien concept in the Walking Dead #75, where he has an unconscious Rick hallucinate about the alien version of the story…
Thanks to Dan Phillips and Robert Kirkman for the information!
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