Charlie Adlard: The man behind The Walking Dead

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As you’re all no doubt aware, Metal Hammer are big fans of comics and The Walking Dead – so it’s a pretty big deal for us that we got to meet the man who has been an artist on the comics since issue number seven in 2004. We find out where his ideas come from and what his thoughts are on the TV adaptation.

What brought you into the world of comic books? What got you started?

“Well, to cut a very long story short, when I was about seven, way, way back in 1972 my dad bought me a copy of The Mighty World Of Marvel, which was a British re-print of obviously the old Marvel comics, but it was formatted in an anthology style format, which obviously the UK did better than if it was single stories. And it was in black and white, but it was available for the first time on the news stand and God knows why my dad bought it me? Perhaps he saw it advertised on the telly and he saw me react to it, I don’t know. Yes, comics were advertised on the telly way back then. So, yeah, he bought me that and I think I was drawing before that, but it wasn’t really focused or anything like that. Literally as soon as I read The Mighty World Of Marvel number one, I was focused, I was drawing superheroes from then on and reading comic books. It was as simple as that.”

So that was just something of a lightning rod for you, creatively speaking?

“It’s one of my first memories really. Him walking in our living room and he had something behind his back, and I was very excited, what was it, what was it, you know, and it was this comic.”

I’ve got to say, my moment was very different. It actually wasn’t a comic book itself, it was actually I Am The Law by Anthrax, a band responsible for bringing so many people into that world obviously based on the life and times of Judge Dredd. Now you worked on that comic as well, was that your first big break? Your first gig?

“Yes it was, it was a baptism of fire, I mean, literally my first professional break was a ten page story for the Dredd magazine written by Alan Grant, and it was a fully painted strip. I wasn’t comfortable with fully painting, but it was of a time in the early ’90s where everybody was fully painting stuff, you know, it was off the back off the Simon Bisley thing, where everything literally had to be in acrylics or oils or whatever. You’d work for days on a page, so it was something that I had just started to experiment with and all of a sudden I found myself getting paid to do it, which was a bit weird. Also it was Judge Dredd haha! The first ever thing you do Judge Dredd, it’s like, God, no pressure then.”

Obviously a very different world from what keeps you very busy these days. The world of Walking Dead isn’t one populated by genuinely by heroic types is it? It’s a genuinely apocalyptic and just lightless kind of world. Where do you go for inspiration? To draw a book like that, I mean, you must have some nightmares from time to time?

“No, honestly, I’m sat there whistling a happy tune as I’m drawing The Walking Dead.”

Do you go to medical journals? How do you give zombies that much personality?

“Just out of my imagination, it is literally. I don’t think I’ve ever consulted a journal. I don’t know, perhaps I’d feel a bit of a cheat. It’s just purely from my imagination ha ha ha.”

You know, that’s actually scarier than if you were surrounded by journals and that kind of thing.

“Zombies for instance are obviously a staple of a comic book anyway, so I’ve probably taken that years and years of just reading various comic books, watching movies etc. It’s all been absorbed and because of that it’s quite easy for me to pick out in my head what zombies look like. It’s not a struggle if you see what I mean, particularly on the zombies anyway.”

I read you attended film school before you really immersed yourself in the world of comic books professionally. Is that what influences the kind of cinematic vistas you create in The Walking Dead comic book?

“I mean, unconsciously it must have been. I spent three years learning how to make movies, so the art of storytelling and everything must have rubbed off on me , and people do tell me that I am a really good storyteller and for me that is the magic of comic books – the art of storytelling. If your storytelling is wrong you shouldn’t be in comics. It’s not something I’m conscious of, I always find that my art, like I said before, is very intuitive. I just sit there and do it, and I don’t really think about the influences or how I’ve come to draw like this, or draw like that, it almost goes in brain and comes out of hand. People ask me, how do you draw a comic book? Where do you start from? How do you do it? How do you do a page? I just go, ‘Well I start from the top left hand corner and work down to the bottom right, and go onto page two,’ and it’s like that. It is as simple as that in my head.”

Do you watch the series? What do you reckon of the adaptation? Does it look like what you conceptualise when you’re drawing these beings? This horrible apocalyptic kind of a setting.

“Well, the show is its own beast, first and foremost, and because of that it has to go its own way. I’m not naive, I don’t think it’s going to copy the comic 100%, and it shouldn’t because it would be boring if it did. So, the show goes off in its own little tangents, but always comes back to the comic. It is quite amazing to think that from my little studio in Shrewsbury, I wouldn’t say control the universe, but you know, the TV show still has to abide by what the comic book does story wise, and visually. So, it’s great to see it come back to certain points in the comic and there have been episodes in the show which are exactly like the comic book, and Robert Kirkman, the writer of The Walking Dead, quite often sends me pictures of cars or bits of the prison that are literally torn from the pages of the comic. It’s amazing to think that, instead of just going out and sourcing their own stuff, they’ve gone back to the comic and seen all this. The visuals from what I draw are just put into the show, so that’s a nice compliment I’ve always thought.”

Listen to the full interview with Charlie on demand on the Metal Hammer Radio Show.