'Walking Dead' Creator on How "Disturbing Violence" Fuels New Comic

Robert Kirkman speaks with THR about the violent themes and title of his new series, co-created by former 'Walking Dead' showrunner Scott M. Gimple.
Skybound Comics

Within the opening scene of the aptly titled comic book DIE! DIE! DIE! from Walking Dead collaborators Robert Kirkman and Scott M. Gimple, the heartthrob secret agent at the heart of the action suffers an unexpected loss: his very own nose, sliced clean off his face in all the gory detail comics fans have come to expect from veteran artist Chris Burnham. It's a shocking moment, inventive and unflinching in its level of violence — though perhaps not too shocking, as it comes from the mind of a writer who has created legions of flesh-hungry zombies and lethal comic book heroes for well more than a decade.

"I don't want to reveal too much about myself," Kirkman tells The Hollywood Reporter, "but it's entirely possible that a good portion of my day is spent thinking of unique ways to do disturbing violence to human beings."

Consider Kirkman's dark secret revealed, though it's nothing new for fans of the stories he's told across the pages of Walking Dead, Invincible, or the recently released Oblivion Song. In the case of DIE! DIE! DIE!, and the violent act that incites the action, Kirkman challenged himself to dream up "a horrific thing that I would never want to happen to me; something I wouldn't necessarily want to see, but will get a visceral reaction from an audience." 

Mission accomplished for Kirkman, if not quite for Paul, the noseless spy who lives up to the comic book's title shortly after the opening bloody act. 

With DIE! DIE! DIE!, Kirkman embarks on his latest collaboration with Gimple, the former Walking Dead showrunner who now oversees the TV franchise as chief content officer. In moving their partnership beyond television based on comics and into the realm of comics proper, Kirkman and Gimple's creative relationship comes full circle.

"Scott and I have been working very closely since season two, before he was ever showrunner," Kirkman says. "He's somebody that I made fast friends with on season two, because he was not only a fan of The Walking Dead comic, but is also a true blue comics fan in general. We'd go to comic shops from time to time together, and talk about comics that came out that week, and his favorite run of this, and my favorite run of that. He's always been a comic book fan."

While Gimple steps into DIE! DIE! DIE! with some comic book writing credits under his belt, "he's never actually gotten to dip his toe in long term, doing something with an evolving story," Kirkman says, adding, "I've always been pressuring him over the years." The pressure finally gave way when Gimple stepped away from his showrunner duties (a role that now belongs to longtime Walking Dead writer-producer Angela Kang), freeing him up to envision the world of DIE! DIE! DIE! alongside Kirkman. 

"We both like violence," says Kirkman, "we both like the spy genre, and we thought that there was something cool that we could do that would set it apart from things that are out there, but also have a very unique and familiar flavor to the kind of things that we have done together in the past, like Walking Dead."

Kirkman and Gimple's creative approach to DIE! DIE! DIE! draws from their approach to the Walking Dead television series, set to debut its ninth season on October 7. Kirkman breaks down their process as follows: "We plot the stories together. We sit down. We have lunch. We recently got together in a writers room situation to plot out some future issues, and we sit in front of a white board, and we map out how this scene is going to lead to this scene, which is gonna lead to this scene. We break the story almost like we're in a television writers room." 

From there, Kirkman scripts the comics (though he notes Gimple is "champing at the bit to participate in that side of things"), with the aforementioned Chris Burnham (known for Image Comics' Officer Downe and his run on Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated, among other projects) bringing the stories to gory life. "Chris is an absolute mad genius," Kirkman says. "He does amazing kinetic action, insane violence, but the way he sells emotion and character moments is very powerful and very distinct."

The way Kirkman describes Burnham's skillset is a fair way to describe how DIE! DIE! DIE! first entered the public: without any advanced buzz or fanfare; a comic book Beyoncé of sorts. The Skybound creator says he's long wanted to drop a surprise comic series with little to no notice, in an ongoing effort to shake up industry standards.

"The comic industry as a whole can be very complacent," he says. "The systems are in place. Everybody uses those same systems. Comics either live or die based on the generic press releases and interview structures and it's all the same websites that cover comic book news. There's a very rudimentary system of going into a comic shop and finding a comic, and hearing about a comic online. I'm always trying to think of ways to shake that up, where you energize the industry to a certain extent and do things that make people take notice in a way that's not normal."

Kirkman hopes DIE! DIE! DIE! will continue to subvert expectations, whether in the context of the story ala the infamous nose removal, or on the publishing end of the spectrum. For instance, as the series arrives at its third issue, most fans would expect the opening arc to last another three issues — which is very much not the case, according to Kirkman: "One of the exciting things about the way we've launched this book in a way where we're not doing a traditional solicitation process is that there are arcs, but you don't know where an arc ends. An arc could be five issues. It could be seven issues. It could be the traditional six issues. … Keeping those things close to the vest is something that's really exciting for me, because in modern comics you kind of get familiar with the cadence of a story arc, especially with solicitations in advance."

Does that mean one day, DIE! DIE! DIE! will die as it lived: ending suddenly, without a whiff of a hint, for the readers whose noses are still intact?

"Absolutely," Kirkman says. "It's certainly not going to [end] anytime soon, but yeah, we're trying to do everything we can to be as surprising as possible."

The third issue of DIE! DIE! DIE! arrives arrives arrives on September 26.