Issue 115 of 'The Walking Dead' hit comic shops on Wednesday, marking 10 years of the hit comic.
With Negan, the leader of the Saviors, Robert Kirkman has created a villain for "The Walking Dead" even more dangerous than the infamous Governor.
(USA Today) -- Over the past decade, first in comic books and then on TV, the humans of The Walking Dead have had to adapt to a post-apocalyptic life experience, mainly revolving around avoiding being a zombie's lunch.
Creator Robert Kirkman's own existence has changed a bunch, too, though perhaps not as dramatically.
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"I started The Walking Dead as a newlywed husband who had no kids, was impoverished and lived in possibly the worst part of town in Lexington, Ky.," he says. "Now I have two kids and I live in Los Angeles with my wife and everything's going really well."
His hero Rick Grimes is dealing with the worst situations ever on screen and on the page, but Kirkman is living the high life. He's the executive producer of AMC's The Walking Dead TV show, a ratings smash that begins its fourth season Sunday night (9 ET/PT), and he and British artist Charlie Adlard release Walking Dead No. 115 in comic shops Wednesday.
According to publisher Image Comics, the new issue has sold more than 350,000 copies through retailer orders, making it the best-selling comic so far in 2013. If it holds to form for the rest of the year, it will be the second year in a row Kirkman has the top comic - in the summer of 2012, Walking Dead No. 100 sold more than 380,000 copies.
Having that kind of success in the comic industry is "startling and shocking," says Kirkman, 34. "To an extent, it's really not that important to me. Having the No. 1 book of the year gets you nothing - I don't even get a bowl of Cheerios for that."
However, "it's gratifying in that it means I beat every book released by Marvel and DC, and those are two titanic companies with the backing of Disney and Warner Bros. now. That part is pretty neat.''
Adlard, who took over as series artist from Tony Moore with issue No. 7, lives in the small rural town of Shrewsbury, England, so he's relatively divorced from the fevered popularity of The Walking Dead.
"Unless I fly over to the States or visit other major European cities," he says. "Then it hits me. It's incredible to think that this little comic we started on has blown up into this amazing beast."
And it's about to get even more explosive. The 12-issue "All Out War" story arc kicking off in Walking Dead No. 115 is the biggest to date as it pits factions of men and women against each other rather than against the undead, with Rick once again being looked as a leader of men in the worst of times.
"To get the book to a point where we've gone from a band of survivors living in the woods fighting zombies to pockets of civilization actually using strategy to go to war with each other is a really fun evolution," Kirkman says.
While the Governor will return as a villain in the new season of the Walking Dead TV series, the character of Negan takes that role in the comic as the erratic and unpredictable leader of the Saviors.
"I've tried to portray him as one minute you're like, 'Wait a minute, I get this guy. I can trust this guy. I can work with this guy,' " Kirkman says. "And then the next minute, you're like, 'No, he's beating me up with a baseball bat and I don't really know why.' I think he's far more dangerous than the Governor ever was."
Kirkman says that as the comic has progressed, he has put more of his own life experience in the story to make it richer, but also to avoid outside influences - for example, the hit TV show.
"It's very easy to go, 'I don't know if we're going to be able to produce this in the TV show six years from now so I shouldn't take the story in this direction,' " the writer says. "That's something I make sure I never do, to the point that I've introduced a tiger into the comic. Good luck putting that on TV."
An upcoming Walking Dead spinoff series is being developed by AMC, and Kirkman plans for it to enhance the overall brand rather than leech off its success.
Is a spinoff comic next? Well, maybe around the time of the real zombie apocalypse.
"I couldn't really see myself handing off another series to another writer," Kirkman says. "I would drive them crazy with how much oversight I'd want to have and it would probably end up being more work than writing it myself. That would definitely be a disaster."
He'd rather spend his time using his comic-book celebrity to release the works of up-and-coming writers and artists with his Image imprint Skybound; create new comics (up next: the horror book Outcast with artist Paul Azaceta); and work on the next decade of The Walking Dead.
Kirkman already knows where he wants to be with issue 200, yet at the same time the fact that he has so much Walking Dead under his belt still doesn't feel real to him.
"I remember as a comics fan reading books and seeing them at the 10-year mark and being like, 'Wow, that's something crazy and substantial.' And it doesn't really feel like I've done anything crazy or substantial, so it's kind of strange.
"It's like having kids - my kids are 7 and 4 and it feels like they were born yesterday. It's the same thing with this comic."