By Olly MacNamee
With the return to our televisions of The Walking Dead, we thought it would be a good time to catch up and chat in general to The Walking Dead comic book artist, Charlie Adlard, about his work on the comic, his thoughts on The Walking Dead's continuing success and his secret life as drummer for rock band, Cosmic Rays, who released their first full length album last year.
Olly MacNamee: What's your take on the success of The Walking Dead?
Charlie Adlard: No matter how massive The Walking Dead is, it's still our little thing and we can do whatever the Hell we like with our story. There's no-one at AMC asking us to change the comic book to suit the TV show. It's a great feeling, obviously, to be able to be in control of your own destiny, so to speak. I feel very lucky and very privileged to be in that position.
OM: Well, what is your input into the comic beyond the art?
CA: Well, primarily it is the art that I concentrate on. I pretty much leave Rob (Kirkman) to do what he does best, which is to create the characters – I mean he can't visualise them, that's where the artist comes in – but we tend to still keep each others skill sets separate. I don't interfere with anything beyond the artwork. Rob is free to create without me pestering him, and vice versa on the artwork. It's very fluid. Whether that's because we have tight deadlines or the way we work, I don't know still. Once the artworks finished, we let the child run free.
OM: You're run is one of the longest in comic book history, isn't it? Up there with Kirby and Bagley surely. What keeps you on the book?
CA: Rob is such a good writer, it's as simple as that. If Rob wasn't such a good writer I wouldn't still be working on the book. It's no secret that we've made a lot of money off of it, but it's not the money that keeps me on the book now. The money isn't a factor any more. If I wasn't enjoying it, I wouldn't be doing it. It's still fun, so I keep drawing it.
OM: I recently read the theory that Watchmen has suddenly dropped in sales because there is a fairly faithful film adaptation that people can go to before they pick up the trade. The Walking Dead, the comic, is a different animal to the show. Is this maybe a reason for the trade paperbacks still selling extremely well?
CA: That's a really good question, and I hadn't really considered that. I didn't know that about sales of Watchmen considerably dropping. You would have thought that with the show running, and being seen on so many different type of platforms these days, we would suffer too. I wouldn't say the TV show is that radically different. The TV plot points will always reflect the comic book plot points at some point [Glenn, anyone – Olly]. Watchmen told the story as the book was. AMC aren't doing that. I don't think it was a conscious thing by Robert or AMC to do things differently; run concurrently but not affect each other, but most fans I meet tend to watch and read both and derive equal pleasure from both without one spoiling the other.
OM: Pacing in comics and TV can be very different. What works in the comic might not work in the TV show, especially when the show can seem more dialogue heavy and zombie-light, when borrowing from the comic.
CA: Ha, yes. It's almost as though they feel obliged to put in a zombie incident every episode. I can imagine that was more the case in the show earlier on, but I'm not that well involved in the show. I don't know what the writers' briefs are. In a comic book, you get 22 pages a month. That's an awful lot of room to tell a story in that so it can sometimes be a lot more dialogue heavy. In Europe you might get one 48 page album a year from a creator. That's just over two months worth of what we do. Okay, it's 48 pages of beautifully illustrated pages…
OM: Like an Asterix album.
CA: Yes, exactly. But, the 22 page monthly format does afford a slightly slower unveiling of a story. Whether thats a good thing or not, I'm not sure. It can lead to lazy storytelling, I suppose. Maybe a writer will give you 5 pages of dialogue because they know they've got another 17 pages or so to do something more 'fun'. Even if you do a whole issue where it's just characters sitting around a table and talking, it's okay because they know the next issue something else will be happening.
OM: Moving onto your alternative identity as drummer in the band Cosmic Rays. How did you get involved in the band?
CA: Shane (organiser of ICE and Comics Uncovered) asked Phil (Winslade) if he could get a cover band together for the first Birmingham International Comic Show (BICS) and Phil knew I could play drums. I've known him for ages. When he ran me up, I thought, 'Yeah, cool, why not?" I've been in some sort of band or the other since I was 16, I even moved to London and tried to do it professionally long before I decided to become a comic book artist. We never got anywhere. Then, I moved back home, left it for a bit and sort of stopped playing again. Until Phil phoned. We originally had Liam Sharpe on lead vocals until Shane came along. We wanted to do original stuff. so the last thing I wanted to be was a 'dad rocker', a cheesy pub-rock covers band. So, we were keen to pursue original music. When Liam moved to the States that put a stop to Liam singing. I asked Shane if he was interested and he joined, as did a friend who played bass. Over the years, Cosmic Rays did more and more gigs, so we wrote and recorded am album. Even if we never do another one, it's nice to know we did it the once and we've got this thing to show people. If nothing else, it is a permanent, professional record of our songs. We're playing The Lakes Festival [which they did recently] and have recorded some original music for some of their videos. After Christmas, it would be nice to start thinking of recording again. It's my hobby.
My main hobby – drawing – has become my job, but it still feels like a hobby. The music side, it's just icing on the cake. How many people can get up and love what they do every day? I don't regard it as work, it's playing everyday.
Olly MacNamee teaches English and Media, for his sins, in a school somewhere in Birmingham. Some days, even he doesn't know where it is. Follow him on twitter @ollymacnamee or read about his exploits at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or don't. You can also read his articles fairly frequently at www.bleedingcool.com too.