“The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman is being feted by Lucca Comics & Games, a gathering dedicated to fandom, cosplay and the world of comics, including movies and TV, in the medieval Tuscan town of Lucca.
Speaking to Variety in a conference room overlooking terracotta rooftops, steeples and towers, Kirkman described his new comic book series “Oblivion Song,” which is likely to end up on television. He also gave his take on the future of “The Walking Dead,” which has come into question, and what prompted him to sign an overall deal with Amazon in August.
Your Italian publishers were just telling me how excited they are about “Oblivion Song.” I know it’s a sci-fi story about 300,000 inhabitants of present-day Philadelphia who disappeared 10 years ago into a horrifying alien world. Can you tell me more?
Basically a chunk of Philadelphia becomes transposed into a chunk of another dimension. The 300,000 people on that landmass are now in this dimension called Oblivion. The monsters and creatures from Oblivion are now in the middle of Philadelphia, and there is massive chaos that takes place because of that. But eventually a scientist named Nathan Cole invents a technology that allows him to bounce back and forth between dimensions. They form a strike team that goes into Oblivion and tries to rescue people, but over the course of the years they end up rescuing fewer and fewer people.
So there is a point where the government says, “Look, you are finding one person a year. This is not economically feasible.” So they shut the program down. But Nathan is very driven. When the story picks up in the first issue he’s got no government funding, no assistance whatsoever. He’s using his own resources to keep the program alive. He’s going into Oblivion on his own trying to find people. And he starts to find more and more people, and there is more intrigue involved, and the story kind of runs from there.
I’ve read that “Oblivion Song” references 9/11. How so?
The idea behind it is just kind of exploring how we as a people and a nation can get used to any kind of event – really, the complacency that that breeds. In the story there are people who remember a neighbor who one day was just gone…but it’s not something that’s really discussed. We explore how bad that is for the people that are involved and how traumatic it is for people to exist in a world where something that pretty much defined their lives going forward is largely ignored by other people.
You’ve already said it’s likely that “Oblivion” will be developed into a series. Can you say anything more?
The first installment in the comic book series will be published on March 7. How much material is ready? Is “Oblivion” going to be a long-running series?
It’s probably not going to be 170 issues, like “The Walking Dead” is so far, but we have a big long plan. We’ve been working on it for two years now in secret, so we’ve got a good headway into the series. We are very far into it. We should have a year’s worth of the series done by the time the first issue launches.
Speaking of “Walking Dead,” Season 8 recently launched with the show’s 100th episode. The ratings on AMC just dropped to a five-year low. At 100 it’s still a hit, but for much longer?
I think it’s got a lot of life left in it. I’ve already written 70 or so issues of the comic [book] past where we’re [now] at in the show. It’s eight seasons. A lot of shows plateau at Season 3; we’ve plateaued at Season 7 or 8. So I think that’s a good place to be, because we are the No. 1 show in whatever demographic we get the most notice. But everyone involved is very happy with how the show is doing and is very optimistic about its future. Also, television viewership is different now. The ratings drop you are referring to is basically a diminished live-television viewing number. If you look at viewing over time on different platforms and delayed viewing, those numbers are all still strong.
Meanwhile, in August, you and other “Walking Dead” producers sued AMC for allegedly shortchanging you on the profits.
I’m not going to comment on that.
Also in August, you signed a first-look deal with Amazon. I believe former Fox Networks producer Sharon Tal Yguado, who in January became head of event series at Amazon Studios, was instrumental to your making this move.
Yes. Sharon and I started working together when she was at Fox International and Fox International got the rights to “The Walking Dead” before the first season aired….Then over the course of doing promotion for “Walking Dead” Season 1, I just casually pitched her “Outcast”….To have someone get excited about a project just on a casual pitch and then hound me for almost two years to try and get me to write the pilot script, that is obviously a very flattering thing for a creator. Someone who is as driven as her is very remarkable, and we’ve had a great relationship working on “Outcast” at Fox International. She’s just someone that we really like working with and want to work with more, so when she went over to Amazon it was a very easy decision to make.
What can you tell me about shows you might be developing with Amazon?
There is a lot in the mix. I think that we will probably be announcing some things very soon.