At my Thought Bubble weekend, I was lucky enough to meet the charming Charlie Adlard, Eisner award nominated artist most popular for his work on The Walking Dead series. We talked about his inspiration and past, the future of The Walking Dead and the European comic book industry. Here is that talk!
You started work on 2000AD, a lot of British writes and artists have. Do you think it’s a good platform?
Well, you know, it does act as a good training ground for artists. When I started working, I actually started on the Judge Dredd magazine first, on Armitage and when I first started it was amazing – looking back at my artwork, I’m amazed I actually got employed and if I was an editor I don’t think I would have employed me! So I was really lucky and obviously somebody saw a spark somewhere in what I was doing. I don’t think I’ve been particularly good until a couple of years ago, so it’s taken a while to get to being okay. But it sounds like you’re always dissing 2000AD, saying it’s a gateway through to other “bigger” publishers, but I’ve got to admit I kind of saw it as that and as much as I loved 2000AD I think it’s pretty positive that I came back to it. I was kind of proving to myself that I didn’t just see it as using it to go work for Marvel or DC.
You have a lot of freedom with the Walking Dead – how much artistic freedom do you get with it, are you told what to draw with the script?
We pretty much get total artistic freedom. I mean, I respect Robert for what he does, which is the writing; I very rarely comment on the writing and likewise with the artwork, it’s very rare that he’ll comment on the artwork. Any time he does comment on it is if I’ve made an obvious mistake, like giving Rick two hands or something like that [laughs]. The only time we might have a difference of opinion is in covers, just because I suppose it’s more important in a lot of ways as the front image and we’ve occasionally had, shall we say, differences of opinions on things like that. But generally it’s a very smooth run.
Since Walking Dead has gotten so famous, and with the TV series coming out, have you had to change anything in the creation of it?
No, not at all. They’re totally different beasts anyway, so I’ve never ever looked at the TV show and thought I should perhaps draw such-and-such a character a bit more like that. All the characters remain as I originally conceived them and that’s how it’ll always be. You’ve always got to remember that the TV show grew out of the comic, it’s not the other way around; we are the originators, where the TV show gets its inspiration.
Did you have any direct input on the series or did they just draw inspiration from your work? Did they talk to you?
No, they never asked me but I never asked to be involved, so it’s kind of a two-way thing. I never said to Robert or any of the production staff, can I do some design work? Primarily because…it would have taken me off the comic, and it’s hard enough getting a monthly issue out let alone having a TV show to design for and, for me, it would feel like I was going over old ground. And if I had spare time, to be honest, as much as I love drawing The Walking Dead the last thing I want to be doing in my spare time is more zombies and more Walking Dead, I’d actually rather do something completely different.
How would you describe your style? Is it different on The Walking Dead to your other work?
The Walking Dead I suppose it’s my default style but with other projects I’ll tend to change around the equipment more than the style, and of course the equipment will dictate how the style is. The Walking Dead is very pen-orientated, primarily because I draw it quite small; it’s almost the same size as the comic, just a tiny bit bigger. So pens work better when you’re drawing that kind of size, whereas the normal comic size is that A3, so if I change up and I’m doing another project – which nowadays is a rarity – I’ll tend to use brushes and things which changes the style somewhat. The meat and potatoes of what I do is still the heavy blacks, there’s still that look of a lot of line work that I use in those sort of things, but the underlying style stays the same.
Do you have any favourite artists, any that inspired you?
There’s plenty. The first artist I ever got into when I was young was Michael Golden – he was the first guy I remember noticing and thinking to pick up more stuff by and that was when he was drawing the Micronauts and he was just appearing as a back-up strip in one of the Marvel UK titles at the time, cause that’s what I used to buy when I was ten, eleven, twelve; black and white reprints and that sort of stuff. So I’ve always been a big fan of his. Nowadays I tend to buy a lot of artists that, for arguments sake, are more illustrative than kind of comic-booky (it’s awkward phrasing). So I really like Sean Phillip’s work for instance, I love people like Tommy Lee Edwards and John Paul Leon and I adore Sean Murphy’s work, he’s one of the best artists to emerge in the last five or six years, I think he’s an absolute genius. But I like a lot of classic American illustrators from the sixties and seventies, I really get off on the design of it – and a lot of European stuff as well, which I’m big on. I’ve been lucky to go to Angoulême quite a few times, and with the French publisher that publishes The Walking Dead, they’re probably my favourite publisher of all time in terms of working with them. They drag me out to Paris and various other festivals often, so a lot of opportunities to get a lot of French books. The industry over there is eye-wateringly good – it puts our industry to shame. Their average artwork is like the best artwork in the UK or American industry, it’s on another level.
Is there anything you’re working on now, or would like to work on?
People ask who I’d like to draw, but you know I just want to draw my own stuff now. Like I said in the panel, all I want to do now is my own stuff, I’m not interested in somebody else’s character. Everyone expects an answer like, ‘I’d really like to draw Daredevil’ or something, and yeah it’d kinda be fun, and certain other peoples’ characters, but you know if I never draw another superhero again it isn’t going to upset me. There’s a couple of things I am talking to publishers about – Robert and I are actually working on a European-styled book at the moment called “The Passenger”. He announced it last San Diego but this year has been so crazy with the Walking Dead, especially with issue one hundred and then my own hundredth issue and things like that that I’ve just done one page of it and that’s it. And it is the sort of book that I need to set aside a week or so to work on to get into the feel of it, cause it’s a lot more detailed it takes a lot longer to do the pages. There’s that, and I’m talking to a couple of European publishers about books after that, but we are literally talking years away it’s so hard to get this stuff done outside of The Walking Dead, which obviously has to take priority.
Do you see an end point for the Walking Dead?
We’re keeping it going as long as it feels natural. There is an ending that we could implement twenty issues in or in two hundred issues; we can take the characters on to this point and then do the ending. There’s no plan obviously but it’s handy to have, shall we say, a get-out clause, just in case. The last thing any of us would like for The Walking Dead is for it to just peter out, for people to lose interest in it and then we do issue 156 or something and the characters are just doing stuff and then we never do issue 157, and no one notices. That would be the worst ending to it possible. But I think if we ever got a sniff of that, or we got disillusioned and just wanted to finish it, or the readers got disinterested in it, that’s when you implement the ending and still go out with a bit of a bang rather than a whimper.
You talked in the Independence in the UK panel about not having to worry about killing off characters – could you ever see The Walking Dead without Rick?
You know, I actually could see The Walking Dead without Rick – and that’s no plot spoiler saying that we’re gonna kill him, but I think the strength of The Walking Dead as a book is that we actually could kill off the main character and it could still keep going. I think there are plenty of as-strong characters in The Walking Dead that it could quite easily survive without Rick to be honest, as much as he’s a great character and he certainly is the heart and soul of the book…but they did it in Blake Seven, why can’t we do it in The Walking Dead? It’s not even called Rick’s Twelve or something [laughs].
You could even have the kid growing up to replace his father.
Yeah, well a lot of people think that’s what we might do, but we actually have no plans yet because The Walking Dead is set in real time. So the idea of Carl being twenty or something like that is not very realistic, it would mean I’d be something like eighty years old when I’ll be drawing Carl at twenty. So, who knows? The plan is to keep it as this real-time book, we’ve done it so far for a hundred plus issues so there’s no need to do something so drastic – at the moment anyway.