The New York Comic Con panel for The Walking Dead comic kicked off with a catch-all spoiler warning, a minutes-long riff about all of the characters who author Robert Kirkman is planning to kill off (or bring back to life, per his jokes about the long-deceased Shane), and, perhaps most appropriately, Jason Mantzoukas yelling at a three-year-old in the audience. Quickly enough, moderator Mantzoukas bridled his proclivity for comedy to hit Kirkman with hard-hitting questions about the subject matter: the inherent verbal challenge in saying “Whisperer War” out loud.
“I was going to call it ‘the Whisper War,’” Kirkman said, “but that sounded like a war over whispers.”
In fact, the Whisperer War served as a focal point throughout much of the conversation. After spelling out the inevitable disaster in Andrew Lincoln’s eventual attempts to pronounce “Whisperer” on air, Mantzoukas probed Kirkman about how long before committing it to the page he had the concept in mind.
Kirkman said that “it was at least a year or two” after coming up with the idea before he brought it to the comics in earnest, which he added falls in step with his general practice to plan the comics out far in advance. “I do plan The Walking Dead to go a very, very long time, and it doesn’t get to go a very long time if it gets boring,” he said, “so I’m always thinking, ‘How do I up the ante?’”
So now that we’ve seen the likes of the Governor, people hunting people, and live tigers, what’s next? “Sharks. Live sharks on the hoods of cars.”
Tapping into the psychology behind the Whisperers, Kirkman said, “I always want to show how much this world has evolved and how different people can behave differently in order to survive. [The Whisperers] are so beaten down by the zombie apocalypse, they’ve decided to try and abandon all humanity.”
“They don’t even really operate as human beings,” he added. “They see themselves as animals and try to embrace that.” In contrast to even the likes of self-serving narcissists like Negan, “the Whisperers you can’t really understand at all.”
The Whisperer War provoked a series of gags onstage, first about the tailors working on flesh suits—Mantzoukas asked, “Are they people that were tailors before the apocalypse happened, and now they’re like, ‘I’ve got this’?”—then about the hierarchy within the community—Kirkman said, “You probably work with a starter suit. After a while, if you’re a good enough Whisperer, you’d get a better suit.”—and finally, whether or not we’ll eventually see any Whisperers wearing the skin of celebrities, such as “stretched our Jennifer Lawrence skin” or “Ryan Gosling skin.”
Mention of Negan naturally led to the bat-wielding psychopath earning a good deal of the panel’s focus. After speaking on the premeditation behind offing Lucille—“Once I had the plan to bring Negan back into the book, and planning the origin story in Image Plus, I thought it’d be a cool thing to do.”—Kirkman actually admitted that Negan wasn’t originally intended to be a longstanding character.
“Negan was supposed to die at the end of the [‘Something to Fear’] arc,” Kirkman said. “He was only supposed to be in the book for four or five issues [but I thought,] ‘I loved this guy too much.’” Elaborating on the character’s originally intended conclusion, Kirkman said, “[His story] was supposed to end when Maggie takes over the Hilltop. Rick was going to deliver Negan’s head in a box to Maggie.” Kirkman mentioned that Glenn, too, was at one point intended to die at an earlier moment, though he couldn’t quite remember when or how.
Now, Negan is so popular that Kirkman earned cheers by promising a more profane variant of the character on the forthcoming The Walking Dead Blu-ray.
Second only to Kirkman’s ostensible vow to write 190,000 more issues of The Walking Dead, and to pass the trade off to his children and grandchildren in the vein of the royal crown, the moment that most wowed the audience actually came as a result of a fan question. “Is Nick [from Fear the Walking Dead] going to become a Whisperer?”
In some ways, Kirkman’s insistent “no comment” spoke volumes.
Images: Skybound Entertainment
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist. Find him on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.
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