There was a time when Robert Kirkman was just another comic book writer. Gifted and talented, to be sure, but he was working for Marvel doing things he wasn’t in love with, while tooling around with his creator-owned comics on the side. And zombies weren’t, you know, ZOMBIES. And he launched a black-and-white comic called The Walking Dead (at a time when no one wanted to publish a black-and-white comic), which was about the people who survived an undead apocalypse — and became monsters of a different kind.
The Walking Dead became a hit. Then it became a TV show on AMC. And then it became a phenomenon. The most popular cable television show in the history of cable television. All because Kirkman ignored conventional wisdom and went his own way like a true Renegade.
In addition to working with AMC on the most popular TV series in the world, he’s developing a spin-off series (code-named Cobalt) set in the same universe but in a new location (rumored to be Los Angeles), and he’s launching a new supernatural exorcism Cinemax TV series, Outcast starring Patrick Fugit, based on another comic he created. Kirkman also produced his first feature film, Air, which stars Walking Dead favorite Norman Reedus and will hit the big screen in 2015.
As the head of Skybound Entertainment, Kirkman is opening up new opportunities for fellow comic book scribes across all media. Having written multiple Walking Dead games, he’s also further exploring video game opportunities across mobile, PC and console platforms. As The Walking Dead returns for its mid-season premiere, Kirkman took a break from his hectic schedule to answer Playboy’s Lucky 7 Questions in this exclusive interview.
What’s the secret to being able to juggle so many projects across media as a writer?
I think time-wise I don’t really have any hobbies, so I enjoy what I’m doing. Any time I have free time the thing I would want to be doing is writing, so that’s how I’m able to do that. Also, people who say they have writers block just aren’t doing enough work. Any time I feel stuck on a project, I’m able to quickly put that on the shelf and go work on something else. Being able to transition through many different projects throughout the day really keeps me thinking. It keeps me energized. It keeps me excited and allows me to work on many different things. If I was only working on one project and was trying to plug away on that and work on that before I moved onto something else, that would fill all the time. But I’m able to think about one project when I’m working on another and then move onto that. And by making everything overlap in a way, it keeps my mind moving and so I never really slow down and get bored about things.
What was your first exposure to Playboy Magazine?
I found some pages of Playboy magazine on the shore of a creek in Kentucky that were all water damaged and left – I don’t know if it blew out of a car when someone was driving by or whatever… A friend of mine found them and it was like, “Oh my gosh, actual pictures of naked women. I can’t believe I’ve stumbled across this.” In this day and age it’s pretty funny because no kid today would have that reaction. They would say, “Oh, look at that trash.” That kind of stuff was hard to come by back in those days. We laid them on the road and tried to dry them out, but I ended up throwing them away because they were too damaged. We certainly didn’t save the article – I’ll say that.
What movie scared you the most as a kid?
At a very young age, my parents had rented the VHS tape of House, and they had some friends over and they were watching it and I snuck out of bed and came downstairs and sat behind the couch watching the movie without them knowing it. I was probably nine or 10 years old, and to this day if I think of scenes from that movie I’m terrified. But I know if I were to watch that movie it’s not scary at all, but in my mind, it’s a pretty terrifying movie.
If you ever, heaven forbid, ended up on death row what would your last meal be?
I’m sure they wouldn’t let me do this, but I would try to have them bring me the biggest meal ever so that I could try to prolong things as much as possible. But I guess it would probably be a pretty depressing time, so I don’t know that I would want to prolong it necessarily. So just like the biggest plate of Indian food ever made. And they probably wouldn’t even need to execute me because I would just eat that until I burst.
What’s your pop culture blind spot?
I would say those movies like Twilight and Divergent, the young adult novels that get turned into huge blockbuster movies. I don’t know anything about those at all. I’m sure they’re great. I don’t have any kind of disdain for them or anything, but they’re just not in my wheelhouse.
What was your first car?
My first car was a 1987 Oldsmobile Calais, which looked like a Pontiac Grand Am but wasn’t as nice. It was a pretty terrible car. I drove that car for two years and the driver’s side window would not roll down. But after driving it for two years I ended up getting another car. You can’t really trade in an old Oldsmobile — you’d get like 50 bucks. So I ended up giving that car to my cousin, and my cousin got a screwdriver out and fixed the window in five minutes before he drove the car out of my driveway. For two years I’d been going inside of fast food restaurants and not being able to use the driver’s side window. And also my air conditioning went out in the car, too, so I would lean over and roll down the passenger’s side window in the summertime. It was two years of torment and I could have called this guy and asked him if he had a screwdriver.
What’s the first song you knew the words to?
Probably a Hall and Oates song, “Maneater.” That was the one that for whatever reason I used to picture Pac-Man when I would hear that song because Pac-Man ate. When they sang “ooh here she comes,” I’d picture Ms. Pac-Man. As a kid I used to think that song was about Pac-Man.
What was your favorite mistake?
Not calling my cousin to fix my window. [Laughs.] My children were planned, so I can’t say that. That’s probably a go-to answer. You know, I don’t regret my mistakes, but I don’t know that I liked them. I certainly don’t want to publicize them. I did draw my very first comic book, and that was a mistake. I am not a good artist. I spent three months and I was going to write and draw a comic book and I worked on this thing and it was terrible. I sent it to the distributor and they were like, “This is not of professional quality, we will not distribute this.” That was a mistake, but I learned from it and it led to me realizing that drawing comics is a fool’s game. I think it led to good things.
John Gaudiosi has been covering video games for 25 years for outlets like Playboy, Wired, Fortune, The Hollywood Reporter and Reuters. He’s also a co-owner of gaming site www.shacknews.com. He tweets at @JohnGaudiosi.