For Outcast writer Robert Kirkman, adapting a comic book is something he is familiar with. His first television success, The Walking Dead, was seventy-five issues in when the series debut on AMC. And going into the development of Outcast, he knew there would be some changes. "There are certain things that have to be adapted to make it Outcast. There characters are the characters and certain stories have to be told," Kirkman told Bleeding Cool and other reporters yesterday.
And while the series maintains the central story — Kyle Barnes' search for a normal life beyond the demonic chaos surrounding him — showrunner Chris Black and the assembled team of writers worked to create new material and deepen the story of the people living in and around the show's setting of Rome, West Virginia. "If we weren't pumping in new ideas," Kirkman explained, "we would burn through comic material way too fast."
"If you've been given a piece of source material from Robert Kirkman, you'd be a fool not to tell that story," Black said. "Kyle's journey is what we want to tell and hopefully, through multiple seasons, that will be our road map."
But unlike The Walking Dead, Outcast became a television reality much quicker, leading to the first season developing in parallel at times with the comic book. Black referred to it as a "cross-pollination" of ideas. "Robert is a wonderful collaborator because unless there's something very specific [for the book], he's open to new ideas and playing with the material," he said.
"Sometimes they'll call me and say, 'we've been thinking about doing this with this character,' and I say 'these issues aren't out yet, but I'm planning to do this,'" Kirkman said of the process. And while he nixed ideas from the writers' room on a handful of occasions, they usually find an agreeable way to present ideas with both the book and TV show in mind. "There will be times where I'm feeding Chris scripts and we're adapting material that hasn't been published yet," Kirkman continued. "It's organic."
"There's a sense of discovery; that we're finding it together," added Black.
And while the television format eats story much quicker than a comic book, Kirkman said the comic will typically outpace the show. "We do ten-to-twelve issues a year and the season is ten episodes," he explained. "There will already be twenty issues when the series launches."
In the instance of the show's pilot, directed by Adam Wingard, the story roughly keeps pace with the first issue with a handful of additional scenes. It also adapts some of the visual feel of the comic book as drawn by Paul Azaceta with colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser. Black said Wingard and directory of photography David Tattersall "used the comic as source material" to give the show its palette and a visual tone.
"As we move through the season some [directors] use panels almost as story boards and work in key shots," added Kirkman. "Some go their own way, but the comic has been invaluable to almost every department."
"You can look at the pilot and see that it was setting the template for the visual look going forward and being faithful to what the comics are in terms of framing," Black continued. "As with Robert's storytelling, you would be foolish not to utilize that."
And it was the storytelling — in the form of Kirkman's pilot script for the series — that interested Black in the project. To him, the grounded characters created a compelling drama beyond the supernatural hook of demonic possession.
The fantastical element also creates an immediate visceral response. Black recalled Kirkman saying that while most people do not believe the Zombie Apocalypse is coming, many people do regard demonic possession as something more credible. "This is something that people look at and find more legitimately terrifying," Black said. "And it's much more intimate and personal."
"People have odd behavior and that's very relatable," Kirkman added. "It's doing something that is a horror story and is supernatural, but keeping it in the real world with real stakes and real people. To do a story with that fantastic element, but down to earth is really cool."
Outcast debuts on Cinemax this Friday.