Thanks to Fully Booked, I was lucky enough to sit down with Charlie Adlard, artist of The Walking Dead, for 15 full minutes. The link below will take you to the podcast, hosted on Soundcloud, but I'm working on a transcript right now so you guys can read it. This post will be updated when the transcript is up.
The best anecdote though came after the recorder had stopped rolling. I asked him what his advice was for the creator-owned people who look at him thinking, "Oh man, I can get rich by doing creator-owned comics!" And he said "Keep at it." Then he told me a story about the time he stayed at Michael Avon Oeming's house, back when Oeming and Powers were at its height, and Oeming told him that creator-owned comics were the way to go. Adlard gave him a speech that went something to the effect of "That's easy for you to say up in your ivory tower, but I have a wife and kids, and I can't just do three issues of something for potentially no money." Then he said, really jocularly, "But that's okay, because now I can talk to him from my ivory tower." I asked him, "Yeah, I was gonna say, if he had an ivory tower, what do you have?" His answer? "An ivory... castle."
The Comics Cube: Can you take me through a typical day in the life of Charlie Adlard?
Charlie Adlard: My dull life! Okay, I get up around about quarter to seven in the morning, 'cause that's about the time we have to get my children ready to go to school. My children go to school on a bus, and it's very far away, so I drop them off at the bus at 7:40. So by the time I get back home, I'm in the studio quite early, around 8 to half past 8 in the morning. I procrastinate for a bit, check my emails, hack around, and around 9 or 9:30, I get to work, and pretty much work through until six o'clock until it's time to pick the children up from the bus. And I do five days a week, try not to work weekends because that's family time, try not to work evenings 'cause I prefer daylight rather than nighttime.
That's kind of ironic.
It is quite ironic! I lead a very normal, happy-go-lucky life for the artist of The Walking Dead.
When you get a script from Robert Kirkman, how do you visualize it in your head, and what's that process like?
It's a very simple process. It's very rare that I get more than four or five pages from Robert at a time anyway, because obviously we're both busy, and Robert is more busy with the TV show and more than one comic book, so he's gotta kinda stagger everything. So when I get those pages, obviously I'll read them first, just read them once through, kinda starting to visualize it already. Unfortunately, because of the time constraint, we have to get 22 pages a month, I don't really have the time to do thumbnails or anything like that, so I tend to just go straight to pencils. The storytelling is very — this is not a thing of speed, but I favor nice, simple storytelling. Nice, square, rectangular panels — whatever, tall, horizontal, doesn't really matter — but set in a nice, clear pattern, so things are really clear, because in the end, story is everything. That's what comics are for. If you're not telling a clear story, you've failed in your attempt to be a comic artist. You might be a great artist, but not a comic artist. And then I just go from the top lefthand corner and work my way down to the bottom right! It's as simple as that.
If I'm inking my work, which I was until All-Out War, when we went biweekly — even I'm not fast enough to pencil and ink two issues a month — I would lay it out first in pencil, which would take about between half an hour and an hour, depending on how complicated the stuff going on in the panel is and go straight to inks after that. It would take about another hour and a half to two hours to ink.
You like straightforward storytelling. Spoken like a true disciple of Alex Toth. I heard he's one of your main influences. Where did that love come from?
Yes, he is one of my main influences. Alex Toth wasn't my first love, I have to admit. I came to him later on in life, probably with a greater eye of appreciation for him. I think I'd seen a few of his designs here and there, because obviously back in the 70s, that's what he was doing. You know, mainly all the cartoon stuff. But I appreciated his linework then and his design sense, then obviously looked back and learned more about his comic strip work, and that yeah, this guy also used black as a design tool to design atmosphere. And used it in a way that still looks modern today. He's one of the few artists in the 60s and 70s that don't really look dated. It's very rare to say that about an artist of that period, and I think it's because he had such a modern idea of how to do comics, but with a very classic eye to storytelling and what makes a page, and everything like that. The guy's a genius.
Do you ever look at when other people ink your own work and think, "No, that's not how I would've done it"?
Put it this way: the only time someone has inked my work was the first ever thing I did for Marvel UK, which was way, way back in my career, and it was just one issue of something. As soon as I finished that issue, the editor said, "Do you want to ink the rest?" And I said, "Yes, please!" So he gave me the rest to ink anyway.
I did one issue of Batman just before I did The Walking Dead which was inked by somebody else, purely because I was a fill-in artist for the penciller, and they felt they couldn't not give work to the inker for a month just because I wanted to ink it myself. So they said "Do you mind if the guy who's inking the book inks your work?" And I said, that's fine, I was just thankful for the work at the time.
So it was only twice until Stefano (Gaudiano) came aboard for The Walking Dead. It's weird. It is weird, because I like finishing my own stuff. But Stefano's doing a fantastic job. He's the best we could possibly have on my artwork. His style of inking suits my style, which is great. It's no secret I'll ever be fully happy with an inker, no matter how genius they are, unless they were aping me completely. But that would be me, then!
So there's always elements where I think "I wouldn't do it like that," but I can't think in those terms, if you know what I mean.
Otherwise you'll never get product out.
Yeah, exactly. I appreciate it from an artistic standpoint as well. I don't want to criticize an artist for making an artistic decision that's not necessarily bad, it's just different from what I'd do. So I can't criticize him for doing something I wouldn't do, 'cause I know how that would feel if someone did that to me. So I'm not gonna say, "Stefano, don't do that because that's not how I would do it." I leave him to it. And most of the time, he does make a decision which looks like how I would do it. The decisions he makes where it looks like that's not how I would do it, it doesn't make it bad. It just makes it different, not necessarily, like I keep saying, how I would do it. But looking back on what Stefano's done, every issue to my eyes has looked better and better. He's getting better used to how I work and he seems to be getting more on my wavelength, which is fantastic to me. And for an inker with a penciller, and especially for somebody like myself who doesn't normally have an inker, I couldn't be happier.
Do you have any intentions of branching out into different genres, like less horror-type stuff?
Yeah, definitely, one thing I'm very conscious of is being typecast.
That was gonna be my next question.
I'll answer both at the same time! You work on a book for this long, there is that danger. Okay, it's no secret I could stop working on The Walking Dead and not work again, and I'd be perfectly fine and happy financially. But that's not the point, I'd rather continue working, obviously. But what I look for outside The Walking Dead is stuff that's different to The Walking Dead. No matter how good it would be, I'd always refuse to do another zombie story, for instance.
Do you have anything in mind?
Well, there's a few projects that are coming up. I mean, it would have to be a really good horror story, that would be the next proviso. I'm reluctant to do horror, because obviously The Walking Dead is horror, but I'm not closed off to horror. I'm closed off to zombies, because I just don't want to repeat myself, but I'm not so closed off to horror, because there's plenty of variety in that medium that you can work with it. Obviously is someone comes up to me with a drama or a science-fiction thing or a fantasy thing, I'm obviously a lot more open to that. The more I get away from what I do, with other things, the more appealing it could potentially be. Having said that, I've got a couple of things coming up.
Robert and I are doing another book together called The Passenger. I have a big love of European, specifically French, comic book albums, so I persuaded Robert to do one in that style. The Passenger will be a one-off science-fiction thriller, basically. Hopefully that'll be out next year. I've done 43 pages out of a potential 56-page book, I think it is.
Close to being done.
Close to being done, I'm basically waiting for Robert to finish writing it now. So the ball's in his court at the moment. So I'm doing that, that's quite exciting. And it's European sized, so it's a lot more intense storytelling, there's a lot more detail. It's nice to work differently.
And after that, I signed a deal with the French publisher Soleil to do a book called Vampire State Building. To be honest, they gave me the title and I instantly saw it. Unless the script is seriously crap — I haven't seen the script yet, I saw the synopsis — unless the script is seriously bad, how could I refuse that one? If I'm instantly seeing stuff visually when somebody proposes something, I think that's half the battle. I'm gonna do it.
In your spare time, you play the drums. Do you ever find that the creative process for drumming plays into the way you think about laying out a page, maybe like you're controlling the tempo or the pacing?
I never thought of it in that way, I gotta admit! Obviously, they're both a creative thing, but I think what's interesting is as a comic artist, you're on your own. You're 100% you. When you're drumming in a band, generally — because drumming on your own is, it's the worst instrument to have if you want to do it on your own, just because at least with a guitar and other instruments, you can tune and all that, whereas drumming is just (bangs on table). It gets boring quite quickly, just sitting there on your own, unless you have music to drum to. But anyway, it's a group dynamic. However many of you are in the band, whether it's three, four, it's a different way of working, all of a sudden, because you have to work with a bunch of people. And it's quite hard, doing what I do, which is solitary and everything is on you and you control everything you do, to going to something where you have to communicate with other people, to be creative. It's interesting. But again, it's good, 'cause it's different. I think if I was going to do music solitary, if I could play another instrument — which I can't — I wonder if I would prefer to do it on my own or with a gang people, but obviously as a drummer, you have to go play with other people anyway.
Thanks to the crew of Fully Booked (Jaime, Vicky, and company) and Comic Odyssey for the opportunity.