Today marks a historic occasion for fans of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. For it sees the release of the first comic book story set within Kirkman’s universe, since its creation in October 2003, that’s not penned by Kirkman himself. Instead, Kirkman’s friend and colleague Brian K. Vaughan is scripting The Walking Dead: The Alien, a tale illustrated by his frequent collaborator Marcos Martin. The issue is available only on the duo’s digital comics website PanelSyndicate.com.
As it turns out, the two creators convinced Kirkman to let them play in his universe by granting him the rights to publish their acclaimed digital futuristic mystery comic The Private Eye (also available on Panel Syndicate). The site was the brainchild of Martin, and conceived as a place for them to distribute comics to people for any price they thought fair.
“Robert Kirkman,” as Vaughan explains to Nerdist, “had forever been harassing us, and said, ‘Look, I love digital comics. This is great. But there’s whole audience out there that doesn’t read stuff on screen, that loves print comics. Won’t you please come do The Private Eye in print at Image?’ About the hundredth time he asked us, we jokingly responded, ‘Image can have The Private Eye if we’re allowed to have The Walking Dead.'”
“We thought that Kirkman would never agree to that,” adds Martin, “because he’s not crazy. But to our surprise, he is crazy and he did agree to it.”
“It started out as a joke,” laughs Vaughan, “and here we are with the reality we created for ourselves.”
Vaughan, a self-described Walking Dead fanboy since the title debuted, recalls his initial doubt that a black-and-white mainstream comic book about zombies would survive.
“I thought, ‘This book isn’t gonna be around long. But I think we’re gonna be hearing more from this Robert Kirkman kid.’ Well, I was half-right.”
The Walking Dead: The Alien marks another first for Kirkman’s series in that it’s the only comic tale thus far to show how the zombie plague has affected life outside the United States. Vaughan decided to set the story in Martin’s home town of Barcelona.
“I thought it would be easy for Marcos to gather reference—he just has to look out his window. And creatively, I thought this would be a great opportunity to show what’s been going on in the rest of the world.”
“It was also a business decision,” he continues. “In part, because Panel Syndicate is a global site. Usually, with new comics like Saga, if you’re a reader in China or Japan or Italy or some of the places where Saga comes out, you have to wait six months or a year for the translation to come out. But Panel Syndicate puts that stuff all over the world the same day. We have a global audience, so why limit ourselves to stories told in the United States?”
While Vaughan and Martin aren’t divulging any details about the actual plot or characters of The Alien, the writer tells us that the story was born in part out of some unsolved mysteries and unanswered questions that Kirkman has “hinted at” over the course of the series.
“There was always a big one for me, and I thought it would be great to tackle it in this story. If you don’t read the story you won’t necessarily miss out. If you love The Walking Dead, and even if you’ve never read a Walking Dead story, you’ll still be able to enjoy it. But if you read both then there will be something really special for fans.”
Martin describes the zombies he’s drawn for The Alien as “cute,” as opposed to the gruesome creatures Charles Adlard regularly depicts in The Walking Dead. “I think readers are lucky to have Charlie drawing the real zombies in the series. Although my kids find my zombies scary.”
Fans who read The Alien may wonder if Kirkman will incorporate any of its characters or ideas in future The Walking Dead stories. The answer, however, is as uncertain as anything in the zombie apocalypse.
“It might or might not affect the universe,” says Martin. “That’s completely up to Robert. What’s for sure is that it does have to do with the series and it’s set within the Walking Dead continuity.”
It’s been eight years since Vaughan has agreed to do work-for-hire, preferring to create his own characters than play with those of other creators. But he admits his experience with The Alien may lead to a follow-up tale sooner rather than later.
“This was fun to do,” he tells us. “So I’d say we left the door open. If Robert would have us and readers respond to it we might return. But for both Marcos and me creating new stuff has always been our passion, as it has been for Robert Kirkman. That’s a roundabout way of saying… ‘Maybe?'”
For more on The Walking Dead: The Alien, be sure to watch the video below, which features Vaughan and Kirkman discussing the project. And read the story for yourself by downloading it on panelsyndicate.com!
Featured Image: Image/Skybound/Panel Syndicate
Images: Image/Skybound/Panel Syndicate