There seems to be considerable mystery and misinformation regarding the creation of The Walking Dead comic series, as well as The Walking Dead TV series. I will attempt to outline the facts in this article and the next, and reserve my opinion until the end. First, let’s trace the very early beginnings of The Walking Dead– when it was just a twinkle in Robert Kirkman’s eye. (NOTE: Click all images below to enlarge).
DEAD PLANET PROPOSAL
In the early part of this millennium, Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore pitched a comic concept to Image Comics called Dead Planet (Kirkman wrote and Moore illustrated). It was set in the 27th century: An inhabitable planet is discovered, and a mysterious mineral is found– one that kick-starts a part of the brain that allows motor functions to continue after death. Naturally, the government decides it could be used as a weapon. A bomb could be developed that kills everyone in a city, “and then make[s] the victims rise up and wipe out the remaining enemy force.” Oh, and it included the Michone (named Michelle in the pitch) character.
Part of the pitch included a lament by Kirkman, that is ultimately used to great effect in The Walking Dead itself. Kirkman explains that his least favorite part of zombie movies are the endings.
Zombie movies should never end, he felt. “Their reflection on society and revelations of the hard truth about how humans really behave in dire crisis situation is all too brief… it’s the zombie movie that never ends.”
The pitch was rejected.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD PROPOSAL
In the pitch that would eventually be retrofitted to become the one that was green-lit by Image Comics, Kirkman brought the story back to earth; following the Grimes family (Rick, Carl and Carol– yes, it was Carol in the initial pitch. I’m guessing an editorial decision was made, that the names Carl and Carol were too similar, and Carol was changed to Lori.) The story involved Rick and family in the 60′s, looking for safety during a zombie apocalypse– and ultimately attempting to lead a team to take back the world– or try.
Kirkman was originally going to call the comic Night of the Living Dead, believe it or not– after the 1968 George Romero classic film– as it had “somehow fallen into public domain,” he wrote somewhat callously in The Walking Dead 10 Anniversary Edition. “[This] means nobody owns it.” Kirkman felt he could get some name recognition by using NOTLD as the title. Jim Valentino (the publisher) overruled that idea, and Kirkman eventually came up with the name The Walking Dead.
Also, the first page of the NOTLD proposal used dialogue pulled directly from the movie. As you can see in the image above, the reporter’s dialogue is lifted almost verbatim from the movie. You might also notice that the original zombie artwork used in the pitch, shown below, looks remarkably like Bill Hinzman (the first zombie in the ’68 Romero film). Kirkman’s plan was to have the zombies look pretty normal initially (as they generally do in the ’68 film)– and then have them rot over time. Valentino felt they should be rotten from the get go, and that change was made.
This may go a long way in explaining George Romero’s animosity toward The Walking Dead. When I asked about The Walking Dead AMC TV Series in my interview with Romero last year, he commented: “The Walking Dead, first of all, just pisses me off. I mean, we did it. We did it, and we should have been involved if anyone was going to do it.” Night of the Living Dead, as Kirkman stated, was public domain– but that single fact is an extremely sore point with Romero (and team). It was a disastrous copyright error made by their distributor in the early years that placed the movie into the public domain. Romero and his film company never received royalties for much of the ticket sales, and their lawsuit against the distributor ended when the distributor declared bankruptcy.
The fact is Kirkman did as so many others, and utilized Romero’s material to sell The Walking Dead. Taking advantage of an unfortunate copyright mistake puts Kirkman in the not-the-best company… namely blatant rip-offs, bad remakes, and awful “sequels” to be exact. Kirkman was not just following Romero zombie canon– he was actually using Romero material to sell his idea. Just because The Walking Dead is a runaway success doesn’t mean its DNA is unique. To be fair, that can be said of pretty much every creative endeavor (ala “nothing new under the sun”) but Kirkman makes no bones about using this “public domain” material for his own purposes. We’ll leave it there (and discuss it in a bit more details tomorrow in the lawsuits section).
THE WALKING DEAD PROPOSAL
Image Comics was still a bit lukewarm on the idea of a zombie comic, as no zombie comic had ever been successful in the past. So in 2003, Kirkman suggested, that “oh– he had forgot to mention– the apocalypse was caused by aliens… kind of combining their Dead Planet idea and the NOTLD proposal– but with aliens.” Kirkman stated that he would be putting “easter eggs” throughout the stories, that hinted at an impending alien invasion. Essentially it was the plot of the 1959 B-Movie Plan 9 from Outer Space, starring Bela Lugosi.
Image Comics bit, and The Walking Dead got the green light. Eric Stephenson at Image recalls reading the first three issues and commenting to Kirkman that he couldn’t find any of the “easter eggs” he had been promised. It was then that Kirkman apparently came clean, and indicated that he had never planned on there being any alien connection in the story. The deal was already sealed.
But one has to wonder if aliens were always in the cards.
The Dead Planet proposal has an extraterrestrial connection. The ghouls in NOTLD (the movie), from which Kirkman “drew inspiration,” were created by a Venus probe returning to Earth.
And there’s so much more…
Tomorrow, we will unveil Robert Kirkman’s fulfillment of his promise of aliens in The Walking Dead; his admittance that The Walking Dead really is just a soap opera as Romero has maintained all along; and details on all of the subsequent law suits filed against Kirkman, AMC and company.