Robert Kirkman has always been open about horror legend George Romero's influence on his The Walking Dead saga.
In the most recent issue of The Walking Dead, #171, Kirkman took advantage of his Letter Hacks section to pay tribute to the iconic filmmaker and the influence he has had on his writing. The letter was attached to an issue which introduced a brand new character (and is already flying off shelves at jacked up prices) and paid tribute to a Romero moment on its pages.
With Romero having passed away this summer, Kirkman wanted to honor his inspiration.
"I wrote the opening sequence to this issue a few months ago," Kirkman wrote. "When I had them leaving deserted Pittsburgh, the hometown of George A. Romero and the setting of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead... I just couldn’t resist the idea of having Michonne turn around and reenact the memorable scene from the beginning of Day of the Dead. I thought introducing Princess in this way would really showcase just how important this new character will be. I even bought Day of the Dead on iTunes (about my ninth purchase of it) and watched it for the first time in a few years. To say these movies were an inspiration for what you’re now reading the 171st issue of is an understatement. They’re the true north of what I’ve done in this series. The Walking Dead simply doesn’t exist without George A. Romero doing his movies first."
The letter not only cited Kirkman's inspiration for the new issue but went on to recall his initial experience with Romero's work.
"I first encountered Night of the Living Dead on late-night network television," Kirkman continued. "The Fox affiliate of the brand new fourth network channel in Lexington, Kentucky had airtime to fill, so they would run movies at night. One of those nights they ran Night of the Living Dead (followed by an ILLEGAL, I would later learn, airing of the Night of the Living Bread spoof). Watching Duane Jones get shot at the end of that movie blew my mind. The level of social commentary tucked effortlessly into that flawless horror film was awe-inducing, and is sadly still extremely relevant today. It took seeing Night of the Living Bread to allow my teenage mind to finally go to sleep."
Side not: Duane Jones also happens to be the name of Morgan's son in The Walking Dead. Coincidence?
"I didn’t see Dawn of the Dead or Day of the Dead until after I’d moved out of my house... they were some of the final VHS tapes I ever bought in my late teens," Kirkman writes. "When most people my age were going to college, I was attending Romero night school. I watched those movies over and over and over. I was obsessed with them. At the same time I was doing Battle Pope followed by Superpatriot, and eventually I found myself pitching a new book to Image Comics almost every month... I desperately wanted to get away from doing superheroes, as that was mostly what I’d done up to that point. By then I’d done a deep dive into the many other movies that played around in Romero’s sandbox, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie being my favorite among them... so it occurred to me that no one had ever done a story that followed a group of survivors, like the group in the house in Night, or the people in the mall in Dawn, or those sad soldiers and scientists who found themselves locked in that bunker in Day... and followed them for YEARS in a continuing story. I’ve said in countless interviews that I wanted to do 'a zombie movie that never ends.'
"I probably should have said 'a Romero zombie movie that never ends.' I planned on writing about George this issue, talking about his influence on me and his effect on my career, and urging anyone reading this who hasn’t devoured his work (he did SIX zombie movies ultimately and a ton of other great non-zombie movies like Martin, Monkey Shines, The Crazies and Bruiser) to run out immediately and do so. I wanted to thank him... as it’s my love of his work that keeps me energized enough to write this book year after year. Unfortunately, on July 16th George passed away.
"Unfortunately, I never got to meet him."
Though Kirkman and Romero never met, they came close once.
"He walked by me once at Comic-Con and I almost stopped him... but in the end I couldn’t build up the nerve to do so," Kirkman said.
The conversation between Kirkman and Romero would have been an interesting one. The latter has openly voiced an negative opinion of The Walking Dead's impact on the zombie and horror genre, in general, despite having complimented its story in the past.
"George has had a complicated relationship publicly with The Walking Dead," Kirkman wrote. "It would be easy to assume he hated it and hated me, but the truth is he said once in an interview that he enjoyed the books. That was a big deal for me when it happened. It’s just another one of those surreal moments of my life, hearing the inspiration for your work read and enjoyed it.
"He’s called the show a soap opera and said it wasn’t for him (I’m paraphrasing here). I only bring that up because when I commented on his passing publicly, a few people responded negatively about him because of how he felt about a show they loved. I just want to try and dispel any of those feelings right now. The Walking Dead is kind of a soap opera... his statement is largely accurate. But even if he’d said every form of The Walking Dead was a steaming pile of s---... I would have still loved him and loved his work. He’s more than earned the right to pass judgment on any form of zombie fiction. He’s George A. Romero, the father of the modern zombie and horror master. There will never be another person who influences zombie horror as much as he did."
Kirkman left the letter with a touching sign off.
"If you are a fan of The Walking Dead, you are a fan of George A. Romero," he wrote. "He will be missed."
The Walking Dead issue #171 is available now at your local comic book store.
The Walking Dead's sibling series Fear the Walking Dead returns September 10th. The Walking Dead will return for its eighth season on October 22, 2017. The Season Eight premiere will mark 100 episodes overall for the popular AMC series. For complete coverage and insider info all season long, follow @BrandonDavisBD on Twitter.