Charlie Adlard isn’t just one of my favorite artists in comics, he’s one of my favorite people in comics. The guy is a blast to talk to, and both his honesty and good hearted nature rival his gift with art for best attribute. Today, as you likely know, is a big day for him and the rest of the crew from Image’s “The Walking Dead.” To celebrate 100 issues (but 94 for Charlie), we chat with him about how the book has affected his life, the meteoric rise of the book, and how exactly he gets issues done so fast, amongst other things. Thanks to Charlie for chatting with me, and make sure to pick up #100 today. It’s sure to be a doozy.
It seems like you’ve been burning through issues like crazy lately.
Charlie: I know. It’s been a bit insane. It’s trying to get #100 out for San Diego basically, so I have been burning through them pretty quickly. Hopefully I’ll have a bit of spare time, which actually hasn’t materialized…yet (laughs).
The problem is now I have San Diego, then I’m flying back from San Diego, then I have less than two weeks at home, and then I’m going back out to Atlanta to visit the set because I haven’t been out since the pilot. Robert really wanted me to come out for this one, because there are certain, shall we say, elements…well, it’s no secret. Michonne, The Governor, etc. etc., and it might be my only time to see some of them this season, so it’s going to be…I was not keen to go out, I have to admit, just because of time.
But he persuaded me because I think it was an opportunity, in the end, too good to miss. So of course back out to the states after two weeks, because any spare time I may be having is taken up by traveling (laughs).
Well, I have to ask. Obviously the earlier episodes, a lot of it was associated with Tony Moore’s work. Now it’s really your Walking Dead. How weird is it to see some of this stuff coming to life in TV form?
Charlie: It was great being on set two years ago when they were doing the pilot, but you’re right. It was Tony’s stuff. Then of course it started to sort of encroach on my work a tiny bit by the end of season one. Season two came along, and I’ve got to admit, being so close to it and not being particularly objective about it, as much as I like it, I was also half the time wanting it to get going. To move on, move on from Herschel’s farm. Which is no criticism, because it has its own pacing, and you have to remember the majority of the people who watch the TV show do not read the comics.
It’s hard for me to judge how the show it is outside of how I perceive it.
It still didn’t feel totally owned by myself. Whereas season three I think will suddenly feel like a real part of me. That’s one of the reasons I really want to get out there. Like you said, it certainly does feel a lot more myself and Robert, rather than myself, Tony Moore and Robert.
Well, you know, I’ve been reading since…not the very beginning, but since it started coming out in trades. I was buying in trades, now I’m buying in issue form. I think the weirdest thing for me is I used to say, “oh you should read this, this is a great comic.” Now I mention it, or I can say I am mentioning one of the co-creators of The Walking Dead and they are just blown away.
That must be even stranger for you. Is it a little odd with the meteoric rise of the TV show?
Charlie: Oh yeah. It kind of makes life easier when you’re trying to explain what you do. If someone comes up to me…my eldest son just started a new school so there are plenty of parents you get to talk to and meet…plenty of new people, shall we say, on the block. Eventually the conversation will come around to, “oh, what do you do?” (laughs)Continued below
Five years ago, I’d say I was a cartoonist. “Oh, that’s interesting, what do you do?” Then you sort of have to explain what little known series you draw. Now, half the time I don’t even say I’m a cartoonist. Sometimes, I’ll just say I draw The Walking Dead. Or, “have you heard of The Walking Dead?” That would be my initial sort of statement (laughs).
I’d say 70% of the people normally go, “oh, yeah, yeah.” Then you say, “oh, I co-created and draw the comic of which the TV show is based.” It’s a much easier avenue into what I do, I suppose.
I think it…for the general public, it’s easier for them to latch onto something like that, then to try and come to the concept that I sit down every day and draw comic books of something general they’ve never heard of. It’s kind of easy if you draw Batman or Superman or whatever to say, “oh, I draw character x” and they go “oh! Yes, we know.” and they instantly see what you’re talking about.
Whereas if you’re more involved, especially creator-owned stuff, you’re sort of hanging onto nothing.
Totally. Well, it’s been fun to watch. When you look at the sales numbers and how it’s went from an indie hit and a little more and a little more, and now, I think the recent issue was in the top 30 for sales. All of the trades are killing it.
Charlie: Issue #100 is the #1 book.
Charlie: Issue #100 is the #1 book. (laughs)
Oh my god. Is it really?
Charlie: Yeah. (laughs)
Does that blow you away a little bit?
Charlie: It does. It’s such a horrendous clichÃ© to say, but it is an utter, utter surprise. I never believed my career would take this path. That I’d be working on the #1 book in the comic industry. Okay, it won’t be the #1 book with issue #101 (laughs), but at least I can say I worked on A #1 book in the U.S. comic industry at least.
It is quite an incredible rise. Every time I hear figures, it does seem to literally get better and better. Obviously there will be an end, but at the moment, the ride is just unbelievably incredible.
I know when we talked last, you said as long as Robert is in, you’re in.
Charlie: And that still stands. It’s very hard to predict…you have to understand it took us 8 years to get to issue #100. You think, to get to issue #200…it’s very easy to talk about issue #200 or #300, but when you hear it in years, 8 years to get to issue #200.
If we can get to it, absolutely brilliant. If we don’t, we don’t, we’ll have gone out in a blaze of glory if we don’t get to another landmark issue.
But that’s no spoiler! (laughs) There’s certainly no reason not to get to issue #200. We’re still firing on all cylinders, you know, and I think I can safely say in the whole of the industry, we are probably the only creative team that is putting out a book this regularly with this level of success, at least in the American industry.
That’s one thing I’ve been very interested by. You said you wanted issue #100 out by San Diego. Was that the plan all along? You wanted to get everything through to get to San Diego with that issue.
Charlie: Believe me, San Diego is not as appealing as it used to be (laughs). In my point of view, the reason to go…you should see my schedule for those four days. It’s insane. I’m certainly not going there to sit by the pool and to drink sangria (laughs).
It’s just the obvious…we could see from the beginning of the year that it was feasible. It’s just the obvious place to launch something like that. If I was on issue #86 or something like that, it was an impossible task. Set it for another significant time. But because it was working for San Diego…I know it was a ridiculous amount of work, but I managed to do it.Continued below
I think I had eight issues to do from the beginning of the year by San Diego. From my point of view, that was conceivable. That’s what I said to the guys, and consequently, a few months after that it was all set in stone that that’s what we were going to aim for. And Robert sort of went in to bat and did it, and so did I, and yeah, here we are. (laughs)
I think when we were last talking via email, you were on issue #97 in May. So how long was it taking you to put together an issue?
Charlie: Believe it or not, I can actually do an issue comfortably in 3 weeks. So that’s why I reasoned 8 issues for the middle of June, which is the deadline for having issue #100 finished by San Diego. It was doable, but I forget to factor in things like trips and holidays, things like that (laughs). I instantly have to backpedal and say, “I’ve got that then, and I’ve got that there.” Somehow I have to rush, and it ends up being a rush.
But if I have a clear three weeks, it’s dead easy to do, unless it is literally a zombie army coming over a hill every panel (laughs). Or something like that. The general issues are easy to do. I had the London Con called Kapow! to go to in May, and two weeks before that, I though, “wouldn’t it be good to get issue #99 finished before Kapow!?” I had two weeks to do it, and I did that as well. Issue #99 was the two week issue.
Looking at it, it doesn’t look like it was done in a week less than other issues. I was pleased with how it came out.
People say, “how do you manage to do it?” It’s just discipline. I don’t take any long hours to do what I do. The kids go to school, I start working at half past eight. I procrastinate a bit in the beginning and eventually get into it. Take a break at lunchtime, generally go to the gym to kind wake me up a bit. Do an afternoon shift, it’s dinner time, finish for dinner. Have dinner with the kids and spend the evening with them.
The only sort of vague change in the last year or so is I tend to get up quite early on the weekends when it is really nice and quiet. I do a couple of hours, perhaps on a Saturday or Sunday. It’s not a great deal of work and I am sort of finished before the children are up for breakfast.
Secretly, that’s one of the nicest times to work, and I really enjoy that. Getting up early. I’ve always been quite the early bird anyway, even at university and things like that, I was never a great one for lying in. I have one of those annoying body clocks…because we get up at 6:45 for school during the week…I’m awake at that time anyway in the weekends, so I’d either lie there awake, which is pointless, or get up and get doing something.
You’ve led up to here very well. It’s almost at 100 issues. No one has seen it yet. How do you feel about your work and experience so far, almost 100 issues in?
(laughs) Come on, it’s an easy question.
Charlie: (laughs) It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, actually. Work on something incredibly long form. Basically because I am capable of doing it. I love the idea of knowing the characters so well you can almost draw them in your sleep.
It’s something I always wanted to do. I came close with The X-Files but The X-Files became such a pain in the ass by the end of it, it wasn’t fun to draw. I ended up leaving regardless. I didn’t get my chance with that at the end. Even though I did a significant number of issues, it wasn’t this vast epic I really wanted to do.
With The Walking Dead, at the beginning, unbeknownst to me I would still be doing it eight years later. But of course, the idea was there in Robert’s head and my head that this was an ongoing series and if we were okay, we could keep doing it. So yeah, it’s always been that sort of ambition in my head.Continued below
It’s just weird. What can I say? (laughs) I’m almost speechless on the impact it has had in my life, really. More than any other project I’ve done. It’s quite incredible.
But of course issue #106 will be my milestone, that’s for sure. That will be my 100th, so we better celebrate that one, I tell you. (laughs)
Oh we will. That will be the next #1.
Charlie: Exactly. (laughs)