No one could blame “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman if he decided to drop everything and just focused his efforts on continuing to build his zombie empire. He has a number one television show, a chart topping comic book series, and a merchandising monster that shows no signs of slowing down. Despite all his success, Kirkman has been dragged back into the shadows of the horror world with the launch of a brand new Image/Skybound series, “Outcast” which debuts in comic shops across the country tomorrow.
“Outcast” is a different kind of horror for Kirkman. This time around he’s diving head first into the world of possession and exorcism. The series follows Kyle Barnes, a man who has been plagued by possession his entire life, and he’s finally forced to seek out some answers. What Kyle ends up discovering in the process could mean the end of life on Earth as we know it.
On the eve of “Outcast” landing in stores, Kirkman sat down with Bloody-Disgusting to talk about the series, his fascination with exorcism and demonic possession, and developing the series for both comics and television. Also with the season 5 premiere of “The Walking Dead” talks about what fans can expect, and the bold new direction for the comic series.
Robert Kirkman: I’ll try my best not to disappoint.
BD: So be honest with us, how pissed were Andre 3000 and Big Boi when they heard the name of this new horror series?
RK: (Laughs) I haven’t talked to them yet, but I think as long as I don’t start a rap group, I’ll be alright.
BD: Tell us a little bit about the point that you started toying with the idea of another horror series and what inspired you to dive into the world of possession?
RK: Well exorcism and demonic possession is something that I’ve always been interested in, because of my religious upbringing as a child. Looking at the “Walking Dead” and seeing it as the zombie movie that never ends, I was looking for another part of the horror genre that I felt had the same sort of potential for long form storytelling. With “Walking Dead” I looked at zombies and thought to myself, “Why doesn’t anyone ever keep going?” There had never been a movie that kept going and told stories using the same cast, or a novel series that carried it forward in a long term exploration of it. I kind of feel like there is the same sort of opportunity there with exorcism stories. There is no deficiency of fantastic exorcism movies out there, as there are a lot of them that do great things and break new ground, but I don’t think any of them really explore this phenomenon as a situation that can be solved or a conflict that can be resolved. There really isn’t anyone exploring the idea of why this is happening, how we fix this issue, or if there is a way to prevent it. I think “Outcast” is a long form story where our characters look at demonic possession as a problem that can be fixed, which I think is a new angle, and we get to watch them succeed or fail over the series. I’m hoping that this will be an exciting endeavor for all involved and I’ve got high hopes.
BD: You mentioned your religious upbringing, and I’m interested to know if religion or the way people view the supernatural come into play in the series?
RK: Well one of the things we’re trying to do is downplay that as much as possible, as we’re not dealing with Catholicism in any way. In the series, there is a reverend type of character who is a Baptist/preacher, so we’ll be doing things from his angle, but our main character Kyle Barnes is going to be coming at things from a very secular angle. He’ll be working to pull the religion out of situations, which could either help or hurt things. We’ll be looking at this from all different sides, so I wouldn’t say that this is a religious book in any way, but there will be a lot of different perspectives involved.
RK: Well when we meet Kyle, he’s definitely at the lowest point in his life. He’s living alone as an outcast, and he’s pushing away anyone that has ever been close to him. He’s trying to exile himself from civilization and there is a very real reason why he’s doing that. We’ll get into that over the course of the series, but from the first issue on we’re going to see him start to come out of his shell a little bit and try to reintegrate back into civilization. That could be very dangerous for him and we get to see him making some very bad decisions right off the bat.
BD: You’re taking a very real world approach and one of the things that good horror typically does is showcase human emotions to very frightening situations. Is that true with Outcast?
RK: That is definitely something that we are trying to achieve, as things are always scarier when you know the characters, understand them, and worry about their safety. This is going to be a story about real people that experience some very real danger. I think there is evidence out there to support the possibility that this is a very real phenomenon, so unlike the “Walking Dead” where it’s a situation that would not be possible, “Outcast” is different. This is a situation that could potentially happen, which makes it much more terrifying.
BD: Is it difficult for you to talk about the series and promote it without giving away some of the major surprises from the first few issues?
RK: That’s always a dance, and I don’t mind it when I read the comments to my interviews and people are saying, “That guy didn’t tell us anything”. It’s much more important to me that people have a chance to read the stories and can still be shocked or read something unexpected. I want people to be able to get out of the stories, exactly what we’re trying to give them rather than knowing exactly what to expect going in.
BD: One of the things that I’ve always loved about your titles has been the strong supporting cast. What can you tell us about the supporting characters in Outcast?
RK: It will be no different and there will be a large supporting and expanding cast as the series progresses. The character of Redwood Anderson, the local preacher, is a very important player to the life of the series. He’s brought in very early on in the very first issue, and he’s this small town preacher who is a community leader. He’s certainly doing a lot of good for the people and he accepts a lot of the responsibility for what is going on in the town. That will be a big part of his character and how he deals with things. Kyle has a pretty big family structure that we’ll see as the series moves forward. Despite the fact that the series takes place in a very rural part of West Virginia, there will be a very large cast of characters to get to know in this book, and unfortunately not all of them are going to make it.
BD: In the preview for issue #1, we got introduced to Kyle’s sister Meghan, what can you tell us about her character and is she that one that sort of pulls Kyle out of his depression?
RK: She is definitely the catalyst that brings Kyle out into the open and she is a character that cares about him so much that she won’t allow him to stay away from the world for too long. She’s always sort of bringing him back into things against his will, as we see in the first issue. She sort of is the catalyst that sets everything into motion, but there definitely is a lot more going on as well.
BD: What does Paul Azaceta bring to the series and how fleshed out were the characters before he come on board? His work on the preview pages reminded me a lot of David Lapham… What did he bring to the table that made him the perfect collaborator for this series?
RK: That guy is ok… I think the thing that Paul has brought to the page more than anything else is a sense of dread and terror that he has achieved through his ink. Just like in most good storytelling, the things that you don’t see are always the most effective. Paul has a heavily shadowed style that shows that there is a lot more going on, and things are a lot more terrifying. His style lends itself to what we’re trying to do with this book. I’ve said this before, but there are panels inside this book that I’ve had a hard time looking at just because they are so creepy and eerie. That is an aspect of comic book storytelling that I’ve shied away from just because I find it hard to illicit that kind of emotional response without sound emotion. That is something that he has really been able to pull off, and it has opened up the possibilities for what we can do with this book. He has been able to creep things up more than I ever thought would be possible. Paul has been doing an amazing job so far, despite what I tell him on the phone.
RK: It’s been very exciting and it’s also been a challenge. It has been very strange to work in both mediums simultaneously, and it has really opened my eyes to the benefits and limitations of working in comics and vice versa for television. When I’m working on something for the “Walking Dead” show, I’ve already forgotten how I did them in the comics, which is kind of neat. But when you do things simultaneously you kind of find out what works best in comics might not work in television or vice versa. It’s been really cool because the “Outcast” pilot for the television show is somewhat similar to what you will read in the comic, but there is still some very noticeable differences. There are also some things that I was able to do in the pilot episode of the television show that I couldn’t have done in the comic. That is where some of the big differences come from, and seeing that is really exciting. It also makes me a better writer in both mediums because I am able to have that sort of perspective on them.
BD: So how far in advance do you have a series like “Outcast” fleshed out in advance in terms of the series and the characters before the first issue comes out?
RK: Well I’ve been working on “Outcast” in some form for almost three years now, so there is a lot of legwork that has already been done in terms of what the overarching story is or what the major broad strokes of the series are. There has been more done on this book than any other series I’ve worked on up until this point. I certainly didn’t have things worked out this far in advance for the “Walking Dead” when I was just starting out. It’s kind of strange and exciting at the same time, because this is a very long series that will hopefully run for many years to come. I already know exactly how the story ends and how we get to that point. Putting together all those pieces and constructing a story in a way that is entertaining to me is a fun process, but it’s also nice to know that I have a solid road map in front of me. That all comes from me taking my time in the development process, and really putting the work in early on.
BD: Feel free to tell us how everything ends…
RK: (Laughs) That wouldn’t be any fun now, would it?
BD: I’m always interested to know how you balance so many projects at the same time. You have the television show that you are a staff writer for, you have “Thief of Thieves” and “Clone” in development, the prose novels, a movie you’re working on, as well as writing the monthly titles “Invincible”, “Walking Dead”, and now “Outcast”. When do you find the time to sleep?
RK: (Chuckles) I don’t know; I really just enjoy what I’m doing, so any time that most people would spend having a hobby or do stuff for fun, I work during those times. If my wife and kids have to go off for a day to visit Grandparents for a day and I’m left with a day all to myself, I think to myself, “Cool; an extra day to work.” I genuinely enjoy everything that I do, which makes it easier for me to do all these different projects. I sleep at night and spend the evening and weekends with my kids, so I’m able to plug it all in and make it work. Sometimes it does get a little bit daunting, but it helps to enjoy what you do.
RK: Well we’re definitely breaking new ground and moving in a new direction, and so far people are responding well to the change with issue #127. There is a lot of groundwork to be laid in the upcoming issues, and there is still a lot of status quo in the book that people are unaware of. There is certainly a lot that readers just don’t know about yet, and pulling the curtain back to show people how the world works is going to be an exciting process. That’s what we’re going to be doing over the next few issues, and people have noticed that we haven’t seen Michonne and we don’t know where she is or what she’s been doing. That is something that will be revealed eventually, and then as we move into this next batch of issues we’re also going to see some new threats on the horizon which will keep things interesting. There are a lot of cool things coming and it’s exciting for Charlie and I, because it almost feels like a brand new series starting out. We have a tremendous foundation that everyone is aware of and that we can build off of, but we’re going to take it into some new directions that people just aren’t going to expect.
BD: What can you tell us about the upcoming Season 5 of the television series and what you have planned for Rick and company at Terminus?
RK: A lot of stuff is coming, as we have a big season planned. They are not going to be stuck in that train car for the entire season I promise. We’re definitely going to hit the ground running and tell some very cool stories. As much as season 4 was different from season 3, season 5 is going to be just as different and I couldn’t be more excited about that. We’re going to be telling some new stories, introducing some new characters, and killing some old ones off, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.
BD: Well I’m sure you’ll get comments from our readers that you didn’t tell us anything. (Chuckles).
RK: You’re welcome.