The designer, who worked for sixteen years on the successful comics, was at the Angoulême festival last January. He deciphers how he staged the most shocking moments of The Walking Dead. ATTENTION SPOILERS.
For sixteen years, Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard sent shivers down the spine of millions of readers around the world with The Walking Dead. Like a Game of Thronesthis comic book that helped re-popularize the figure of the zombie in the 2000s made an impression with its shocking twists.
Less out of sadism than out of a desire to upset the expectations of the public, the duo had fun for sixteen years getting rid of their heroes, most often in terrible suffering. Four years after the series ended, Charlie Adlard has agreed to give a behind-the-scenes look at the most shocking moments of The Walking Dead.
The severed arm
The first of these moments occurs in chapter 28 (volume 5, Monstrous), when Rick has his arm cut off. “Reading the script for this chapter for the first time, I thought it was crazy,” recalls Charlie Adlard. “As soon as one decides to cut off the hero’s hand, anything can happen at any time.”
“I understood that Robert was going to constantly surprise the fans. I knew then that I was going to stay on board for a long time, because it is very exciting to manage to maintain interest in this way.” However, Kirkman himself “did not foresee how the scenario would unfold precisely,” says Charlie Adlard.
“Robert sold me the project, telling me that we would be mainly interested in the characters, that the zombies were part of the story, but that they were not at the center of the plot. which seduced me. But he hadn’t told me some of his twisted ideas…”
The murdered baby
Among the things Kirkman hadn’t clarified to him: the death of an infant in chapter 48 (volume 8, A life of suffering). “It’s one of the few moments in comics where I had to be really careful about what I could show. You couldn’t be completely gory and explicit. It’s one of the biggest taboos.”
In the comics, the baby is wrapped in a shroud. It’s all in the suggestion. “You just see his arm coming out of the shroud at the end. It’s excruciating…” And to add: “I draw a lot instinctively. I don’t really think about what to draw until I’m in front of my board.”
This scene may be shocking, but it is no less logical with The Walking Dead. “Aren’t we gonna leave him alive just because he’s a baby?! That shows how violent this universe is! If we hadn’t killed him, it would have looked like we did compromises – and the story might have gotten worse.”
The duo applied this logic in chapter 61 (volume 11, The hunters) where Ben, a 5-year-old serial killer, makes his appearance. “Again, in the context of the plot, it makes sense. It shows how the end of the world can affect people’s psychology.”
Charlie Adlard reassures his fans: these horrible visions do not prevent him from sleeping. “I have never had nightmares because of The Walking Dead! These are just lines on paper!” This bon vivant spends a good part of the interview laughing out loud, remembering certain scenes from his comics.
“With Robert, we don’t look like classic horror fans, who are often dark and sad. We worked together for 16 years on the zombie apocalypse. And yet, we are rather happy people. We love to laugh! “
Laugh, you have to, before talking about chapter 100 (volume 17, Creepy), which depicts one of the most shocking moments in comics: the death of Glenn, his skull crushed by Negan’s baseball bat. “Oh, poor Glenn,” sighs, sympathetically, Charlie Adlard. His death, however, did not shock him.
“At this point, we had already gotten rid of so many characters … But the way he was killed was quite difficult to manage,” admits the designer. “The way he screams Maggie’s name as her skull is crushed is heartbreaking…”
But he sees it above all as a “technical exercise”: “Drawing gore is above all a technical exercise: how to stage it well, how to draw it realistically, how to make this moment dramatic, how to also make it pleasant aesthetically.”
Charlie Adlard is proud of the full page showing Glenn’s battered head, with the eye popping out of its socket. “I was very happy with the way I managed to draw the hand in the foreground. It’s much more difficult to draw than the gore, which is just a collection of squiggles. The hand helps harmonize the whole board.”
But this page is ultimately less shocking than that of chapter 137 (volume 23, Whispers), where Lydia licks the eye socket of Carl, the hero’s son. “It’s one of the most disturbing things I’ve had to draw in my career,” he says. “It’s really Robert’s fault! He’s the one with these twisted ideas and I have to draw them.”
Sometimes he refuses. This happened to him when creating Chapter 33 (Volume 6, Vengeance), where Michone engages in a torture session. “That’s the only time I asked Robert if we had to do this.” He let himself be convinced by the screenwriter: “I trust him as a screenwriter.”
“We worked together for so long because he trusted me as an illustrator and I trusted him as a writer. I rarely questioned what he was proposing. And he did the same. It allowed the comics to be done in a serene atmosphere.”
The hero’s death
The death of Rick, in chapter 192 (volume 32, The end of the trip), took place in this same serene atmosphere. “The beauty of this moment is that he gets shot in the most mundane way in the world,” says Charlie Adlard. “He’s survived so much and in the end he gets killed by a moody teenager. It’s very ironic.”
The decision to kill Rick did not surprise him: “Robert had warned me for a long time that Rick would not survive the story. But I was surprised that he survived until the very end! I thought that he was going to die sooner. But kudos to Robert. It was a perfect idea. Not everyone can die a hero.”
For him, the end of The Walking Dead is “very successful”, with its “note of hope.” Now Charlie Adlard has moved on: “The greatest gift I’ve ever had The Walking Dead is that I can choose what I work on. I don’t need to draw things just for money anymore. I can create my own universes.”