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"That's What He Said": Charlie Adlard

There have been 100 issues, so far, of "The Walking Dead" comic book.

Charlie Adlard has been the artist on 94 of them, and counting. I had the chance to speak with Adlard during Comic-Con 2012. At first he said he had somewhere to be and only had a few minutes. He ended up giving me almost 15 minutes of his time.

Here's the transcript of that interview.

WARNING: This interview contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the 100th issue of "The Walking Dead." You've been warned!

And now... here's my chat with Adlard as part of our ongoing "That's What He Said" interview series.

A buddy of mine, before I came out here, said the number one issue in mint condition is going for, like, 800 dollars right now.

ADLARD: Jesus. (Laughs)

You just had issue 100. You’ve got lines a mile long for both the comic and the TV panels. I know people don’t ever do the whole retrospective thing while it’s happening, but would you have ever guessed as a comic-book artist you’d be involved in something that has become not only a comic-book phenomenon but also a cultural phenomenon?

ADLARD: Well, you know, I know it’s a hoary old cliché butnever. Never in a million years would you believe this little comic we started off eight years ago was gonna be this—like you say—phenomenon. Yeah. It’s just incredible. I can’t believe it. And the funny thing is, many years before I was working on the X-Files comic. That did pretty well. Sold lots and lots of issues. Made no secret, I made quite a bit of money out of it.


ADLARD: Thank you. But when it all fell apart, I thought, well,that was it. Didn’t regret it, but I just thought, well, you know—

Had a good run…

ADLARD: Yeah. Had a good run. That was my bite of the cherry, my 15 minutes of fame and I’ll just carry on being a jobbing artist afterwards.So, to have this happen, which is success times 10 of the X-Files, I feel so thankful. I’ve been given a second opportunity.

The zombie genre, even before you guys came along, it had already been mined and strip-mined, even. What is it you think about the comic that allowed it to resonate with people?

ADLARD: Oh, because it’s not about zombies, mainly. It’s about the characters. The zombies, they pretty much are the biggest maguffin in thewhole book. You know, they’re only truly there to get the characters from A to B and things like that. Perhaps I’m being slightly disingenuous about the walking dead themselves, but in the end, it’s what brings people back to the book is the characters. We wouldn’t be at issue 100 if it was just a basically, every month, it was the attack du jour.

And you’ve done all one hundred, right?

ADLARD: No, I didn’t do the first six. That was Tony Moore.

Only the last 94, then. Slacker.

ADLARD: Yeah, I know. It’s nothing now, is it? Sorry to disappoint.

Have you gone through the zombie obstacle course over at the baseball stadium?

ADLARD: Yeah, I did the VIP run yesterday.

What’d you think?

ADLARD: It was amazing. Apparently, they treated us kindly.

Was it dark?

ADLARD: No, no. We did it about half past five.

Don’t you think it would have been just fucking terrifying in the dark?

ADLARD: People have said they’d done it in the dark and they said it was just incredible. But the thing was, they went easy on us. Because it was press, it was people from the show, it was me and Robert doing it. Ithink the guys acting as the zombies were just treating us kindly. They didn’t really make an effort to attack us or anything.

That’s nice of them.

ADLARD: Yeah, I know. But apparently, like the people who genuinely do it are running shit-scared through that thing. And the zombie guysare literally launching themselves at them. That sounds cool.

At the end of it, we did get a copy of the (100th) comic. I haveread it. The scene, the death scene in the comic—and I’m trying not to spoil stuff—that’s got to be one of the most disturbing things you’ve ever drawn. Right?

ADLARD: Well, Robert was going to send me reference for that. Hesaid, I’m going to look up head trauma, whatever he was trying to find. God knows how he was going to find it, because I remember looking up some other unfortunate event previous to that. I can’t remember what sequence it was.Trying to go online, Google image search, looking for certain traumas. And funny, really, hard to find. God knows what web sites Robert was going on to,to find all this. He said it was so sick and horrible and messed up that he couldn’t bring himself to send it to me, anyway. So, it all ended up from my imagination.

Is it the most disturbing thing you’ve ever put to paper? That’s been published?

ADLARD: Oh, well, yeah.

I was wondering where that ranks, and then the issue where the Governor is just getting mutilated. Although there’s some satisfaction there,because he’s such a son of a bitch.

ADLARD: Yeah, yeah, exactly. In terms of sick, sickness, I think the rape—not the rape—the torture thing is probably still the highest thing because there is some pretty severe stuff.

This was pretty disturbing because it happens to such a liked character.

ADLARD: Yeah. That’s what I was going to say. In terms of psychology, it probably is the most disturbing stuff, because it is. He’s a lovely, he’s the nicest guy in the book almost. And the bit where he gets bludgeoned on the head and he tries to sputter out, “Maggie!” is just, just incredibly sad. And I said that to Robert. I was really, really in two minds whether to draw this stuff. Because, you know, have we stepped over the line with it? We don’t want it to become a kind of comic where, when we’re going to kill a character, we have to top ourselves again—

Gotta top the beheading. That’s not good enough.

ADLARD: Yeah, yeah, exactly. But when Robert sort of did the dialogue for that bit, I just thought, ‘Aww.’ That literally gives you the poignancy.

Did it stick with you, when you draw something like that? Do you ever draw a scene—that scene, any other scene—and have trouble sleeping? Or it sticks in your head? Because you have to picture it to put it on paper. So it’s burned in your mind, right?

ADLARD: That’s the thing, though. It’s already burned into my mind. When it comes to drawing it, it’s a fairly desensitizing process. I’ve got kind of a weird separation between myself and, it’s just marks on paper. Whereas, when Robert was telling me about it, that was more disturbing. Reading it is more disturbing.

So drawing it, it’s kind of like, it’s out of your head.

ADLARD: Yeah. It’s done. It’s almost like, processed it all anyway. So the actual act of drawing it is fine. Now, thankfully, I don’t have nightmares. And my life at home, I live in a small town 45 minutes north of Birmingham. It’s incredibly rural. Very sort of peaceful sort of place to live in. Got the wife, two children, bringing them up in that sort of environment. I’m so far removed from the mania of it all.

And you come here. You come here!

ADLARD: Yeah, I come here for my bit of ego massaging. (Laughs)

So no one knows who you are.

ADLARD: Well, no. No. Robert, unfortunately, because he’s done all the Talking Dead stuff and things like that, he gets recognized. I can walk around. It’s kind of interesting, the nearer I get to the Skybound booth, the more people recognize me. This con is almost kind of weirdly sectioned off. It stands to reason there’s more people milling around the comic booths as there are there’s more people into the movies standing around the movie booths. If I ever want to get recognized I just get a bit closer to Image.

Obviously he’s the writer and you’re the artist but do you ever say, ‘Hey what if we do this? I’ve got an idea’. Is there any of that? I’m notsaying he’s your boss, but is there a division of labor?

ADLARD: It is a complete division of labor. It’s completely 50/50. Robert does the writing, I do the artwork and kind of never the twain shall meet sort of thing. I don’t generally criticize him for anything that he’s written. I respect him as the expert on that field, and he respects me as the expert on my field. It’s very rare he’ll bring up some sort of artwork issue. Probably all that stuff helps in the speed of getting the book out. It’snot like we’re working separately. We’re working together—

But removed.

ADLARD: Yeah, but removed. And we respect each other’s skill sets.

We were just talking in there, about like it must be very stressful to be here as a creator. Because you’re one voice, in this din, trying to get people’s attention. And unless you have a big booth with cave trolls or something, it’s going to be hard to get people to listen to that voice. So for you to be on a comic, you had the X Files of course and this one, you’ve been able to have something that’s risen above the din … That’s what every artist wants, isn’t it?

ADLARD: Well yeah. Like I say, it is quite incredible. I feel very lucky. Very lucky indeed. That’s all I can say, really. It’s just amazing to sort of be in this position. People I respect now are coming up to me and saying, ‘I love the book and I love the artwork.’

Like who? Who was the one who made you mark out the most?

ADLARD: Actually, Klaus Johnson came over to the booth yesterday—to talk to Robert, primarily. But, I was there as well. And he sort of went, ‘Oh,I really like your work’ and I was like, ‘Oh, you’re Klaus fucking Johnson!’ Things like that, little magical moments. Like, wow, he spoke to me first! Ididn’t have to fawn and fanboy all over him.

You know one guy eats another guy’s face in Florida and now there’s all this stuff about, could a zombie apocalypse actually happen. If one happened, how would you fare? How do you like your chances? Are you going to be one of the first kills? Are you going to hang out a little while? Are you going to be one of the long-term (survivors)?

ADLARD: I’ll be one of the first kills, because I’m a comic-book artist, for crying out loud. What sort of skill sets have I got, to survive the  zombie apocalypse? So yeah, I’d be the first to go, definitely.

When’s the first time you and Robert were in the same place?Because you guys work on different continents.

ADLARD: Well we met a couple of years before we ever started working together.

Because sometimes I hear that, where they (writer and artist)don’t meet for years.

ADLARD: Right, right. We’ve known each other for years because we had a mutual friend in Joe Casey. Joe’s known Robert for a long time and I’ve known Joe for a long time and we’ve worked together on bits and bobs here and there. And, that’s how I met Robert. For a while, I was a regular at San Diego. I’d come virtually every year. Don’t so much anymore. But, because of that, I’d meet up and obviously way back when I’d have much more spare time and could wander around booths a bit more.

So how many of these have you been to?

ADLARD: I’ve lost count but it’s probably about nine or 10 now.

How much has it grown?

ADLARD: Oh, incredibly. It’s doubled in size.

It can’t get much bigger without them moving it. That’s what they’re talking about.

ADLARD: I hope not. Because, it’s a nice place to have it, isn’t it?

You don’t have to fight the L.A. traffic either.

ADLARD: Having said that, they always say San Diego is great because of the weather and that’s why people love it here. But, I’ve got to admit, it might as well be raining outside. It might as well be cold. Because we all spend four days inside, don’t we?

You’re English.

ADLARD: Yeah, I’m used to that weather. Exactly.

Your favorite comics growing up?

ADLARD: I started reading them from the age of six, but living in the UK, my dad brought me the first issue of “The Mighty World of Marvel”,which were the British black and white reprints of Marvel comic books. And because us Brits like our anthologies, it was Fantastic 4, Spiderman and the Incredible Hulk all in these black-and-white reprints.

So you were more Marvel than DC?

ADLARD: Only because Marvel was more prolific in the UK at that time and they had a publisher who would get that stuff out regularly. DC sporadically came in as just the American import comic books, which were hard to find then—as they are now. There weren’t the specialty comic book shops back then. We had spinner racks, but not very many.

What is your Kryptonite?

ADLARD: Oh, that’s quite easy. I’m the world’s most uncoordinated person. You throw a ball at me and…

So you and me would form the world’s shittiest basketball team ever.

ADLARD: Oh, god. Infinitely. My 10-year-old son is better at football than I am. Infinitely better at football than I am.

The website is Our motto is that everyone’s a geek about something. What do you geek out about?

ADLARD: Actually, I geek out about my fellow artists. It’s an obvious one, I know, but I can equally geek out about Mr. X down there and justhave a freak. Show me a page of fantastic artwork and I’m a dribbling fool

Posted in: Lifestyle