Launched as a periodical comic book series in 2003 by writer Robert Kirkman and Image Comics, the Walking Dead zombie series has grown into both an indie publishing sensation and a hit AMC TV show. The series has sold millions of copies of the 13-volume paperback series and even the massive 1,088-page Walking Dead Compendium (2009) has sold extraordinarily well, spurred by the popularity of the TV show.
The Walking Dead is the story of a zombie apocalypse: seemingly without warning corpses rise from the dead to relentlessly attack and feed on the living. After a high-speed car chase and a gunfight leaves a police officer wounded and in a coma, he awakes in a deserted hospital to discover the world has been taken over by flesh-eating zombies. After fighting his way out of the building he begins a seemingly hopeless search for his wife and child. The initial Walking Dead comic book series was created and written by Kirkman and artist Tony Moore (who illustrated the first 6 issues); the series is now illustrated by artist Charlie Adlard. The series was a publishing hit from its earliest issues and the 13 trade paperback collections have been showing up on bestseller lists since they were first released in 2004.
“We’ve seen a significant uptick in sales of all the print works since the TV show was launched,” Kirkman said in a phone interview with PW Comics Week. “But sales have always been good,” he said, reminding us that while the TV show has spurred even more interest in the print comics, the Walking Dead became a selling sensation sometime around periodical issue #3.
“We sold about 7,000 copies of the first two issues of Walking Dead, Kirkman said, explaining that comics shops retailers are often forced to order the first two issues of a comics series without seeing them. Generally by issue # 3 sales fall off, but not for the Walking Dead. “We saw a sizable jump in sales for issue #3 and that generally does not happen,” Kirkman said. “Then came second and third printings and a never ending series of good news.”
“We knew something was up when we started getting hundreds of fan letters,” Kirkman said. Kirkman said he created Walking Dead because he’s a big fan of zombie movies. “I was a big fan of zombies and I love horror and I wanted to do something that wasn’t a superhero,” Kirkman explained. “I wanted to do something different and I thought, 'wouldn’t it be cool to do a zombie movie on paper—the zombie movie that never ends.' I thought it would interesting to see what happens to the characters.”
There are 13 trade paperback collections, collecting the entire periodical series. Kirkman said the initial printing of the first volume was about 10,000 copies and volume two released about 20,000 copies initially. “We’ve been working our way up. Now we sell 50,000 to 60,000 copies of a trade paperbacks in the first month.” Currently, Image said that initial print runs for trade paperback volumes are 100,000 copies.
Image told PWCW that they have sold more than 2 million copies of the trade paperback volumes across the 13-volume series and along with the periodical comics, the series has more than 3 million copies in print. The Walking Dead Compendium Vol. 1 ($59.99) collects 48 periodical issues and all the trade paperback volumes, weighing in at 1088 pages. Although Image declined to provide exact sales numbers for the Compendium edition, the massive book was first released in 2009 has sold tens of thousands of copies in the wake of the popularity of the TV show.
From the beginning the publisher, Image Comics, has been aggressive in marketing and promoting the series, Kirkman said. “There’s a sense that because we’re an indie house, that we just let the creators do all their own marketing, but there was tons of stuff done to get Walking Dead in front of retailers.” There were special photocopied galleys of each issue were sent out to retailers; online promotional initiatives and partnerships to promote the series. The first trade paperback volume (collecting issues 1-6) shipped the same day as issue #7 and Image has launched The Walking Dead Weekly, a reprint program that will release a reprint of every single issue periodical in the Walking Dead series; one each week. “If you just like traditional comic books you can go back and buy them,” said Kirkman.
Kirkman, who is the executive producer of the Walking Dead TV Show, is now at work on the second season of the show and discussed a bit of what happens when a hit comic books series is adapted. He said that for the TV show, he “...expanded the relationships of the all the characters. When the comic book started, it was early in my writing career and I didn’t really know if it would last. So I would take all my plot ideas and run succinctly through them all in the story very quickly.” However, now, Kirkman explained, “On TV we’ve slowed everything down and expanded on the characters.”
And while he told us to expect some surprises in Walking Dead plot as it is adapted to the screen, he emphasized that “I’m very committed to the comics medium. But for the sake of my own career and for my family, this TV show is just something I couldn’t pass up.”