Posted May 11, 2014 by Mikael Angelo Francisco in Comics

LET’S TALK COMICS: Walking through “The Walking Dead” with Charlie Adlard

Though he gained popularity (and perhaps notoriety) for penciling the gruesome, zombie-infested world of The Walking Dead, “lifeless” would be the last word anyone could use to describe Charlie Adlard.

If the 48-year-old artist was bothered by the scorching heat of the Philippine summer or tired after flying in from the UK, it certainly wasn’t obvious. Adlard seemed to have quite a bit of fun answering questions (and playfully dodging spoiler requests) during the Q&A/signing event held on May 10 at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street.

Going ahead with drawing the dead

“By pure, pure slog, I think, is the answer,” said Adlard, when asked about how he got started in the comics industry. The artist recalled the day his father came home with the first issue of The Mighty World of Marvel, a UK-published anthology series reprinting the American exploits of the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and Spider-Man. Adlard noted that anthologies were the only way that American comics could find success in his country – a fact that did not deter him from pursuing his dreams of eventually becoming a professional comics illustrator.

After taking up a film/video course, he devoted time to working on his portfolio. Adlard started his professional career by working on the UK titles White Death and 2000 AD. Adlard believes that luck and timing may have been big factors as well; he began his career when Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns were making waves across the readership (and causing people to look at comic books in a more mature light).

Interestingly, the British artist calls the genesis of his TWD collaboration with Robert Kirkman “a rather dull story.” According to Adlard, Kirkman simply emailed him, asking him if he wanted to illustrate TWD after the original artist, Tony Moore, departed from the title. When Adlard started working on TWD with issue #7, he was what he called a “jobbing” cartoonist – an illustrator juggling multiple jobs on the side. “Unless the project’s really, really bad,” admitted the artist, he wasn’t likely to refuse any offers at the time.

Adlard has since been Kirkman’s partner in bringing life – or unlife – to the pages of the international zombie smash hit, which has spawned a mega-popular television series  and an amazingly ginormous fan following.

Artistic guts

Adlard cited comic book illustrators Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Alexander Toth, Tommy Lee Edwards and Sean Murphy as some of his artistic inspirations. The artist is also a big fan of Michael Golden and his work on Micronauts; Adlard even said that Golden left enough of an impact on him to persuade him to follow the title primarily for the art and not the story.

Adlard described his typical TWD work schedule as a rather straightforward process: wake up in the morning, send the kids to school, go to desk, draw things “from top to bottom, and repeat process.” Kirkman and Adlard have also come to develop a mutual respect for each other’s skill sets, with arguments due to creative differences occurring only occasionally. “I very rarely send him thumbnails,” said the artist.

Regarding artist’s block, Adlard said that he has never really experienced it – in fact, he believes that Kirkman has it harder. After all, unlike the writer, “I don’t start with a blank page – I have a script [to follow]!” Time management isn’t a problem for the artist, either, who successfully balances his regular art duties with regular convention appearances and signing events.

As for having to redraw pages or issues, Adlard recalled one particularly special boo-boo when, after sending in a cover for a TWD trade paperback collection, they all realized that he had drawn Rick with two hands. Aside from that, Adlard has never experienced any major errors that required re-drawing an entire issue. “That would just be ridiculous,” quipped the artist.

Thankfully, Adlard did not receive any hate mail from fans after Moore’s departure, especially since his more gritty and realistic art style differed greatly from Moore’s somewhat cartoony approach. Of course, some readers left the title after the artistic shift – a fact that did not surprise Adlard, a self-professed realist who has accepted that readers (and people in general) do tend to be resistant to change.

Despite TWD’s meteoric success, Adlard feels no pressure about churning out book after book, mainly because he’s geographically far from the center of its popularity. “I’m desensitized to the whole phenomenon,” said Adlard. “Personally, I still live in the same house, [and as far as life changes go,] I’ve had kids since The Walking Dead [started].”

However, the writer did admit that, after 20 years in the industry and a decade of TWD, he felt he had gone “from a guy 10 down the list for creators to call to – I’d like to think – the top [of the list.]”

Still, Adlard doesn’t see himself drawing any of Marvel’s or DC’s characters. “The last thing I want to do [at this point] is somebody else’s character.” After which, of course, he quickly referenced his work on Batman/Scarface in 2001, drawing cheers and laughter from the audience.

Bite-sized opinions about TWD

Adlard’s favorite characters from TWD are Michonne and Andrea. He misses drawing Dale the most.

The artist enjoys drawing Michonne and Ezekiel the most… and likes drawing Carl the least. “Children are very hard to draw,” said Adlard. The artist specifically mentioned Carl’s hat, humorously illustrating the difficulties of drawing a regular-sized hat on a child’s head. He even discussed the inevitable tendency of the hat to fall over Carl’s face with Kirkman, who cheekily suggested that the child used copious amounts of tissue paper to keep it firmly on top of his head. “I love the character, but he’s a pain to draw.”

Adlard also isn’t fond of drawing animals, especially since including them in the series would lead to more questions that wouldn’t serve the story well in the long run. However, Adlard confirmed that the tiger Shiva’s death in the comic series wasn’t really his idea.

On the other hand, Adlard claimed that “zombies are the easiest thing to draw,” and that he doesn’t even need any references for them.

If Negan and the Governor were to fight, said Adlard, the wiser, sane Negan would triumph over the unhinged Governor, whom the artist described as “just a nutcase.”

Favorite storyline (and favorite death scene)? “Fear the Hunters.” Adlard felt that the story had a strong ending. “I’m a big fan of things happening off-screen.” Because they never showed what Rick and company did to the hunters, the true horror was only visible from the witnesses’ faces; as Adlard observed, the reader’s imagination is a powerful tool for storytelling.

Adlard described the end of the current storyline as “brilliant,” and confirmed that TWD will go back to being a one-issue-a-month deal after its twice-a-month schedule for “All-Out War.”

When asked about the most gruesome scene he has ever drawn – a sequence that made him step back and take another look at whatever carnage just came out of his pencil – Adlard stated that he came the closest to being disturbed by Michonne’s torture scene at the hands of the Governor. It even reached the point where he called up Kirkman just to ask him again if he was sure he wanted the artist to draw such a scene. As the artist jestingly noted, however, the thick wad of cash offered to him was way too hard to resist. “After all, it’s not like I sit at my drawing table with a bucket of blood next to me as reference – it’s just marks on paper,” the artist joked.

Walking the Dead through the present… and into the future

Appearing as a “VIP Zombie” in the pilot episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead was pretty much the full extent of Adlard’s involvement in the television series. He prefers to keep it that way, though, because he didn’t want his time to be taken up by the TV show, and also didn’t want to revisit the stories he had already worked on. As Adlard put it, “the comic book is still the most important thing.”

Adlard also acknowledged the differences between the TV show and the comics, and confirmed that, much to the chagrin of legions of fans, the crossbow-slinging Daryl will remain a show-exclusive character for as long as he’s illustrating the book.

The artist is also toying with the idea of creating a music video or soundtrack for TWD (in addition to being an illustrator, Adlard also plays the drums for an “alternative rock prog” band called “Cosmic Rays”).

When will TWD end? “When sales dictate it, or when [Rob and I] feel that it’s time.” Adlard affirmed, however, that they already do have an idea as to how they’ll end the series – an idea that can be applied 20 or even 200 issues from now.

In the meantime, Kirkman and Adlard will continue to flesh out TWD’s world of flesh-eating zombies, and enjoy their success as they go along. Adlard even shared his and Kirkman’s (thankfully sarcastic and made-up – or is it?) way of celebrating, after a fan dared to ask for details: Calling each other up and simultaneously rolling around in a large pile of money, laughing maniacally, in their underpants.

Here’s hoping that he gets the chance to try isaw and dinuguan.


Last year, Charlie Adlard donated 100,000 PHP for Typhoon Yolanda relief operations, and auctions for his art raised an additional PhP 150,000 this year. The funds were turned over to the GMA Foundation via Fully Booked. Keep your eyes peeled for The Passenger, Kirkman and Adlard’s next comics collaboration, poised for a 2015 release.

Mikael Angelo Francisco