AMC’s The Walking Dead has taken pop culture by storm, a subject of water-cooler buzz in the vein of Lost or The X-Files. Hell, they’re even doing another TV spinoff. If you’d told me just a few years back that the channel that gave us Mad Men was going to air a critically acclaimed, highly successful series about the zombie apocalypse, I would have laughed in your face, and then probably asked what the hell you were doing in my house. But it turns out, none of that might have happened without one bold, bald-faced lie.
The Hollywood Reporter has posted an exclusive clip from the upcoming documentary Comics in Focus: The Image Revolution, in which Kirkman talks about how difficult it was to get a publisher behind his idea for The Walking Dead. In the interview, he says, “When I pitched [it] originally, it was turned down, simply because there had never been a successful zombie book in the history of comics.” Image publishers Eric Stephenson and Jim Valentino were skeptical. Why should they gamble on something that had never worked before on the comics page? They wanted a hook, something to make The Walking Dead stand out in an overcrowded genre.
So Kirkman sold them aliens.
The creator of the series recalls, “I said, ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you that this is actually a big setup for an alien invasion.” See, the whole zombie plague was a virus engineered by an alien race as a prelude to invasion and colonization. After all, if you want to wipe out a world’s dominant species, there’s nothing like zillions of man-eating, hard-to-kill reanimated corpses to thin out the human herd. Kirkman claimed that he would be laying hints about the alien element throughout the seemingly straightforward zombie narrative — I can’t believe I just typed that — so that the twist, like all good twists, would make you look back on everything that came before in an entirely different light.
And it was all, every last bit of it, a crock of horse shit. Once the series has been given the greenlight and published a few issues, Stephenson called Kirkman to praise his work, but also to ask why there hadn’t been any Easter eggs hinting at the alien reveal yet. Kirkman laughed and admitted that he’d made all of that up and never had any intention of involving aliens. They wanted a hook, so he gave them a hook. Thankfully, the early issues of the series had already proven that Kirkman had a great story to tell, aliens notwithstanding, so it became just an amusing bit of comic history, rather than an excuse to fire the dude.
Recalling Kirkman’s narrative sleight-of-hand, Valentino said, “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.”
Comics in Focus: The Image Revolution is due out on DVD and digital formats sometime in January 2014. You can pre-order it right here.