The Walking Dead Originally Sequel To Iconic Zombie Universe

By Zack Zagranis | Published

the walking dead

For a whole generation of zombiephiles Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead is as synonymous with the concept of flesh-eating corpses as Night of the Living Dead was before it. How ironic then that Kirkman’s zombie opus was originally pitched as a sequel to George Romero’s 1968 gorefest. Believe it or not, had The Walking Dead been produced as it was originally conceived, it would have been set in the ’60s and told a much different story.

The Dead Planet Pitch

Robert Kirkman and artist Tony Moore initially approached Image Comics with a pitch for a futuristic zombie epic set in the 27th century called Dead Planet. Image turned down the duo’s sci-fi zombie pitch, causing them to go back to the drawing board. Still having zombies on the brain, Kirkman decided that maybe some name recognition could help his revised pitch.

The Walking Dead + Night Of The Living Dead

night of the living dead

In one of the most costly blunders in film history, the original Night of the Living Dead was sent to theaters with no copyright notice in the credits. As a result, the film has been in the public domain since its release in 1968, allowing Kirkman—or anybody else for that matter—to write new content set in George Romero’s zombie universe. Kirkman and Moore came up with a new idea, complete with some sample pages that they again pitched to Image Comics.

This new pitch was set in the Night of the Living Dead universe and one page drawn by Moore even depicted the same news reporter from the film giving a public broadcast about the burgeoning zombie epidemic. This version of The Walking Dead would still start out following Rick, Lori (then named Carol), and Carl but would be set in the late ’60s, its events running concurrent to those in the film. The comic would even portray the zombies as they looked in Night of the Living Dead—more fresh cadavers than rotting corpses—to better match the film’s aesthetic.

Image Warned Kirkman

While Image didn’t reject the pitch outright this time, the company did caution Kirkman about linking his new project to the classic horror film. Image co-founder Jim Valentino sat down with Kirkman and explained to the writer that, technically, he could use the name Night of the Living Dead for his new comic it would be more beneficial to him if he created his own original zombie story. That way, Kirkman would own the property outright.

Creator Rights

Image was founded on the radical idea that all of its creators would retain the rights to their characters and stories despite other publishers like Marvel and DC considering all of that content to be work for hire. Given the guiding principle behind the company’s very existence it only makes sense that Valentino would steer Kirkman towards an original concept vs one connected to a work in the public domain. Valentino’s other suggestion to Kirkman and Moore was to make their zombies look more decomposed than the relatively normal-looking ghouls in Night of the Living Dead.

Kirkman Made The Right Choice

The walking dead

Robert Kirkman took Valentino’s words to heart, and the result is history. The Walking Dead became one of the most popular comic books in Image history, leading to the even more popular television show and the many spin-offs, toys, and games based on it. Given how abysmally most projects looking to take advantage of Night of the Living Dead‘s public domain status turn out, it was definitely the right call.