The success of The Walking Dead has turned Robert Kirkman into a household name these days, and plenty of people in Hollywood have noticed. Which is probably part of the reason Cinemax scooped up the television adaptation of Outcast, another of Kirkman’s comic books. Lucky for you (and me), we got the chance to catch up with the book’s artist, Paul Azaceta, at New York Comic Con to chat about the comic and its transition to the small screen.
Nerdist: Paul, first I’d like to congratulate you on having your book made into a show before it was even a book.
Paul Azaceta: Oh yeah, thanks so much. [Laughs]
N: Did you know the book had already been optioned before you even started working on it?
PA: Outcast was being developed as a possible television show for Cinemax because, you know, Robert Kirkman. He’s Mr. Walking Dead. So a bunch of different TV channels were coming to him and being like, “Hey, remember all that money you made for AMC with Walking Dead? Can you do that for us?” [Laughs] So, when Robert came to me about Outcast, he told me that it might get made into a TV show—but whether it did or didn’t he wanted to make it into a comic first. He loves comics, that’s his medium. So he wanted to do that and wanted to make it good no matter what.
N: Did knowing the possibility of that TV show loom over you when doing the art for the book? Was there any kind of pressure to perform in order for it translate to screen?
PA: I ignored everything. I sit in my cave and just stew in my ideas. [Laughs] No, it didn’t occur to me, and didn’t influence me at all. I have my own stubborn ideas for what art is in comics books and how things should look. So, even knowing it was going to be part of a TV show all I could say was “that has nothing to do with what I am doing.”
“I tend to refer to my art in the book as ‘naturalistic’ because it is based on realism but takes a lot of liberties with it as well.”
N: Well, those stubborn ideas were good enough to pull in work at Marvel and Robert.
PA: Oh I won’t pretend at all we work together for any other reason than because I’ve known Robert for years. [Laughs] As I always say, “I’ve known him since before he was Mr. Walking Dead.”
N: Would you say you are BWD? Before Walking Dead?
PA: Of course! [Laughs] I’ll have to get t-shirts made now. I’ve known him for years, though, and we’d always talked about wanting to make something together, but it never really worked out at the time. I was working for Marvel and DC, and I loved the work I was doing, but it was almost like dating women, you know? At the big publishers I was doing one-shots or a miniseries and they were fun and exciting because they were all different kinds of stories, but after a while I wanted to settle down with my own monthly book. So luckily by that point Robert came along with Outcast, and I love horror, so it all just worked out. All these things I wanted to do just met up at once really.
N: What did you learn from your time doing art for Marvel and DC that you wanted to bring over to Outcast, and what did you want to avoid?
PA: I think that working as an artist in the comic book industry is about constantly evolving my work and pushing myself and figuring out how to best service the story I am drawing or inking for. I can only really talk for myself, though. I always want my style to be what is best for that story so whether I need to work in heavy shadow or light shadow, or if it needs to be more cartoon or realistic or whatever. I have an endless amount of fun by just sitting down and dissecting the project and figuring out what does and doesn’t work. I also get the chance to look at other media and see what might be cool to try and put in the book from that. I remember hearing someone say that comic books are a hybrid medium because you can pull influences from all over. Movies, TV, marketing, paintings. All of it can influence the work of a comic artist. So, while I was at Marvel and DC I was evolving and learning how to do better for the comic book and refining my abilities. Not to try and make myself sound like an assassin. So, I wanted to do a monthly book because it was a new kind of challenge. It is basically just a never-ending wall of work falling on top of you, but in a good way. The good kind of being crushed by a wall. It forces you to be economical and refine your craft by putting you in a corner in that way. So I wanted to do that and see what it could make of me as an artist. Having a deadline can be a drive to do better work and to do consistent work instead of just having an idea sit around for forever. There is nothing like disproving the stereotype that artists are lazy by just getting the work done.
“I got to visit the set … and it looks exactly how I drew it. I knew where everything was supposed to be and it was like walking into my own work. It was surreal, but pretty awesome.”
N: Were you involved at all with Cinemax and making the show?
PA: No, that’s all Kirkman. Any involvement I had in that show being made is already in the book. They want to know what I think something should look like or how a character show behave, it’s already on the page for them. There is nothing else I could tell them outside of that, really, and I know that they have used my work to that end. The pilot episode has shots that are set up to be exact recreations of the panels, so that is pretty cool. I know they won’t be able to always do that, because some of my stuff doesn’t lend well to realistic styles. I tend to refer to my art in the book as “naturalistic” because it is based on realism but takes a lot of liberties with it as well. It is definitely cool to see all of that stuff come to life, though. I know at one point Patrick [Fugit] told me that he had taken a lot of his ideas on how to portray the main character, Kyle, by just looking at how I drew the character’s demeanor and stance. There was also a point where I got to visit the set and there is a whole scene in a bedroom from the first issue. I got to see that set and it looks exactly how I drew it. I knew where everything was supposed to be and it was like walking into my own work. It was surreal, but pretty awesome. It also let me see things they did, like little details, that I wish I had added to the book.
N: Do you think seeing that kind of stuff will now influence how you want to draw the comic, now that you know they are pulling from your material?
PA: No, I don’t want to approach the book like that. I want to keep with what I’m doing for our work because, like I said, the show is Robert’s thing so I let it be his worry. If anything I just don’t want to have the show catch up or surpass us. We have a bit of a lead on it, but nothing like The Walking Dead has.
N: You just don’t want it to end up like Game of Thrones on you either.
PA: Exactly, but I think we should be able to stay ahead of them.
Looking for more details on the show? Check out our own Dan Casey’s NYCC interview with Kirkman et al:
Outcast is currently available wherever comics are sold, and the Cinemax television series is slated to premiere sometime in 2016. Be sure to check back for more content from New York Comic Con.
Image Credits: Skybound Entertainment; Cinemax