On April 15, 2004, the comic book world was forever changed when The Walking Dead switched artists and showed its audience the realistic, dramatic, and always enthralling artwork of Charlie Adlard that propelled the series into what it is today.
With his captivating bright blue eyes joined by a wall of interesting artifacts in the background including a yellow submarine made out of legos; Charlie Adlard of Shrewsbury, England discussed his life and the time he has spent working as the main artist of the comic series The Walking Dead.
Celebrating its fifteen year anniversary this October, The Walking Dead is a popular series from Image Comics and Adlard has been on the team drawing since issue number seven. He and Robert Kirkman work closely together every month to develop the comics for their growing fan base.
As a child, Adlard grew up reading Asterix and many Marvel comics, which he says were more accessible in England at the time he was growing up there. His first break in the field was a comic book called 2000 A.D. Which came to pass because he went to many comic book conventions in his youth; when he ultimately decided to pursue his interest as a comic book artist, he spoke to multiple editors until he found the editor of Judge Dredd, who liked his work and signed him on to do a ten-page Judge Dredd strip. He’s been in the industry since, and in 2004, Adlard was asked by Robert Kirkman to join the Walking Dead.
People tend to have incorrect assumptions about Adlard and about the types of comics he enjoys drawing, as well as the studio he works in.
“I’m sort of the opposite to what you’d perceive an artist to be, I’m borderline OCD on my tidiness. It’s the opposite of what you’d expect an artist’s studio to look like.”
Adlard did not start out as a horror artist and enjoys drawing things that have nothing to do with the subject, another misconception he often hears.
“Because I’ve been working on the Walking Dead for nearly fifteen years, people just assume you’re just interested in horror and want to do horror comics.” He said, “I’d like to state now that whenever the Walking Dead finishes, and I’m not saying it’s finishing soon but whenever it does, I mean, it’s inevitable, the last thing I want to do after the Walking Dead is more horror.”
In regards to getting creatively blocked, Adlard says that has never really been an issue of his, he says it is more the challenge of the writer to come up with the ideas, he just makes their ideas come to life. A self-proclaimed technophobe, Adlard explained his initial hesitance to switch to a digital medium. Though he is ultimately comfortable with it now, drawing quite a few comics digitally, The Walking Dead remains to be hand drawn.
“I started out doing it physically, so it just seemed sensible to keep going…I’ll never go completely digital and I’ll certainly never go back to being total physical either. I just see digital as yet another tool like a pen or a piece of paper. I see advantages and disadvantages in both, you know? I love the physicality of drawing yet I love the digital in a lot of ways.” Adlard said.
Until the bi-monthly releases of All Out War, Adlard used to pencil as well as ink his own work. He said it was initially a bit of a challenge to have someone else ink his work, as he was trained to do both, he now appreciates all the extra time it gives him to do other things and not be constantly producing work.
During the course of almost 15 years, The Walking Dead has ended up publishing several unforgettable and disturbing images. From the famous Glenn and Negan issue 100 scene to Tyreese and the Governor to Carl’s eye, there have been many of them. Adlard says there was only one Kirkman ever had to convince him on.
“The one I really had trouble with was way, way back it was Michonne’s torture scene. That’s the only time I wrote to Robert in an email and told him you’ve got to convince me to draw this. And he did, obviously because it’s there on the page,” said Adlard.
Though again, he reiterates the challenge is more for the writer than him. He says Kirkman will send descriptive story ideas if it is a big scene like that, and he is the one who has to imagine what it would look like, Adlard translates it. Now, he says his reactions are generally more “technical” like Carl’s eye getting shot. When Kirkman sent him the idea, Adlard’s initial reaction was, “Can someone even survive from that?” Rather than one of shock or horror.
Adlard does not have any big plans for the fifteenth anniversary of The Walking Dead, though he says Image Comics might. After so many of them (issue 100, 10 years of The Walking Dead, et cetera), Adlard says they’re almost more of a hassle at this point.
On a more personal note, Adlard has been outspoken about the challenges of dyslexia, his older son has it so it is an important issue for him to advocate for. His son does enjoy reading comics, however, and Adlard considers some of the biggest compliments he gets from fans those who say their child who is also dyslexic enjoys reading because of The Walking Dead.
“That actually has more of an impact quite often because it’s more of a personal thing for me. Rather than someone just saying, ‘oh I’m a big fan of your work,’ it’s lovely and it’s great but you know you do hear it quite a bit and it wears off after a while. But don’t everyone stop doing it,” Adlard laughs, “But you know you do hear it lots and it becomes a desensitizing thing.”
Adlard also plays the drums in a rock band called Cosmic Rays. He says it is purely for fun and a good release. The band has been together since 2009, two of their songs are “Shoes” and “Seeing Green.” He is also a massive fan of legos, proud to discuss his lego Millennium Falcons (the larger of which he and his younger son dropped down the stairs and filmed in slow motion for his son’s YouTube channel).
Adlard is a talented artist with an impressive eye for detail in his work. His drawings inspired the foundation and framework for the popular Walking Dead AMC television show and inspired a number of people to pursue their dream and become an artist.
“A lot of people think that because I draw zombies and because I draw horror comics and everything, that I probably work at night and I’m very mean and moody and very pale, you know?” Adlard said, “That I don’t go out much or that I stay up late and do typical things that people might associate with a guy who’s been working on a horror comic. I’m probably the opposite to what you would associate with somebody associated with horror.”