It’s cliché to say it, but with The Walking Dead comic and the television series, Robert Kirkman changed our collective idea of what a zombie story has to be. Now he’s trying to do the same thing — first in comics and now on television — with Outcast and the exorcism story. But while the aim may be similar, Kirkman clearly set out to make sure that the shows were not.
We had a chance to speak with Robert Kirkman recently about what he learned from the process of bringing The Walking Dead to the screen, building toward a bigger story with Outcast, scary kids, his exorcism research, the fan response to the Walking Dead season finale, and more.
What are some lessons you learned from The Walking Dead that you applied to Outcast?
I think one thing that’s really great that I’ve learned on The Walking Dead is that scenes that are adapted from comics tend to get a lot of… when you take them to television, you get a lot of a room to breathe. I had to learn a lot of stuff moving from writing comics to writing television, because in comics, there’s not a lot you can do if people aren’t speaking. There are things where you can get something across with a certain look or a certain movement or some kind of gesture that just doesn’t work in comics because there is no movement. I think that’s something that I’ve honed a little bit over the course of working on Walking Dead, that I feel like I’ve gotten a little better at, that works a little better on Outcast.
Working on the comic really shines a light on exactly how different things have to be. I know you can read the comic and then watch the pilot of Outcast and go, “Oh, you know, these things are pretty similar.” But to me, there’s so much more dialogue and a little bit more back and forth between the characters and a lot more that’s plugged into the scenes that the timing will allow you to do that. I love both mediums, but it is a lot of fun seeing the strengths and weakness of both on display in the way I’ve been able to with Outcast.
There’s a really jarring moment with a child in the pilot, and in the pilot for The Walking Dead, there’s the same kind of thing — a jarring moment with a child. Can you talk a little bit about using that device to try to kickstart people’s interest in the show?
Well, I promise that the next show I do is not going to start with a jarring moment involving a child because I don’t want to prove that I’m in a rut. I’m probably in a rut, but it is what it is.
It’s effective. It gets you right into the story.
[Laughs.] One of the things about Outcast is that the threat can come from anywhere. We’ll see all kinds of different people dealing with this demonic possession situation over the course of the show, and we’re always trying to keep it as unexpected as possible. A lot of exorcism stories deal with possessed children, and we kind of wanted to get that out of the way with the first episode, before we moved into different territory. I don’t know. I’d like to say it’s a little bit of playing to the genre.
One of those things that we’re trying to do with Outcast is that there’s such a narrative language with demonic possession stories that people kind of know what they’re going to get. They kind of know how these things go. They know how scenes are staged. They know what the outcome usually is, and being able to do a long-form exploration of these kind of stories, we’re going to get to subvert that so much and change things as we go, so that we can play with those expectations and steer people into thinking, “Oh, I know how this goes. I’ve seen this story a thousand times,” and then completely veer off to the left and do something completely different, and hopefully really jar the audience and show them that is something that we’re going to be doing something a little bit different with, and keep them excited and invested as we move on.