Robert Kirkman is about to do for exorcisms what he did for zombies. That is, he has written a new horror comic book series that’s becoming a buzzed about cable TV show. Outcast premiered on Cinemax last night, with Kirkman supervising the adaptation and Chris Black running the show.
Outcast centers on a family in which Kyle (Patrick Fugit) has been ostracized for a tragedy that befell his family. Only his sister (Wrenn Schmidt) still tries to include him. A preacher (Philip Glenister) takes Kyle under his wing as the pair perform exorcisms on violent offenders. Kirkman and Black gave a roundtable interview with reporters and we were there to ask questions about Outcast. Outcast airs Fridays at 10PM on Cinemax.
After The Walking Dead series became a hit, did you have to become really protective of your other comics from an industry that might all want to get in the Robert Kirkman business?
Robert Kirkman: Not really, I guess. I don’t know. No. I like adapting things. I think The Walking Dead’s success has allowed me to have a certain level of control so I’m very involved in adaptations. So it’s not just a matter of me farming out books here and there to different people who I don’t know or don’t like who are just going to do whatever they want with them.
Chris Black: Depending on how much money they give you, right?
RK: Yeah, exactly.
CB: I enjoy being in the Robert Kirkman business.
RK: But no, it’s actually a lot of fun and I really enjoy the process. Yeah, I’ve been very happy with the fact that more people seem to be interested in doing this again after The Walking Dead.
CB: I came in later in the process. Robert had already created the pilot. He’d written the pilot episode but he was very involved. He was very committed to this being done the way he wanted it done. From the casting to the locations to the look of the show, there wasn’t a sense of, “Here’s another piece of the Robert Kirkman empire.” It needs to be done right or he’s not going to do it.
What do you think Walking Dead fans will appreciate about Outcast?
RK: All the zombies that are in it. There are no zombies in Outcast.
RK: One of the things that I feel makes Walking Dead as popular as it is, is the fact that it’s so unlike anything else on television and it offers this atmosphere of anything can happen at any time. There’s not really a way to telegraph what’s going to happen and there’s not really a way to guess where the story’s going. I think Outcast offers that exact same thing but it provides that experience in much different ways. There isn’t this ever present zombie threat. It’s a much creepier, much more foreboding sense of dread that’s in this town that centers around this phenomenon that’s happening around them. But this is very much an unexpected show that goes into some places you’re not going to be able to anticipate.
CB: I would break it down to an even more elemental answer. I think what people appreciate about The Walking Dead is what they appreciate about any good story well told. I was a fan and have been a passionate fan of The Walking Dead since the beginning, and I was a fan of the zombie genre. I loved all the George Romero movies. I was excited when there was going to be a zombie television show that I would watch, but the reason I kept watching it was because I invested in those people. I invested in those characters and started following those stories.
Are you believers? Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
CB: I think you could write The X-Files without necessarily believing that aliens were coming to Earth. I think what’s important is that the characters that you create and the voices you give them, that you give them their own personal integrity. In the way Fox Mulder was passionate about his beliefs, in our show Reverend Anderson is equally passionate and committed to his own beliefs and we never look down our noses at that. We never judge him. We treat that character with complete respect. Less so, the actor.
RK: Yeah, the actor, whatever.
You’ve been picked up for a second season before the show even premieres.
CB: So no pressure or anything.
Did you pitch two seasons from the beginning?
RK: I know roughly where the story is going all the way to the end. I know how many issues roughly the comic series is going to run and I have pretty big series benchmarks laid out and I know what the end of the story is. That was very much part of the pitch.
CB: They don’t buy a pilot. They buy a series and if they’re going to commit to it, it is a leap of faith for them and it is a business and they give you a lot of money to go do your thing. They’ve had a lot of confidence in us, in Robert’s vision, in Robert’s comics and Robert’s abilities as a storyteller to say we know we’re going someplace cool.
Do you feel the freedom of Cinemax creatively and visually when you’re writing and shooting, or is it more things like not writing to commercial breaks or splitting the season?
RK: All those things, I think, are freeing. Knowing that there aren’t boundaries to work within content-wise or structure-wise.
RK: Timing-wise, yeah, we have a less regimented episode length that is very freeing and just allows us to relax and focus on other details in the story. It doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. It just means that different projects work different ways. It’s definitely something I could get used to. It’s more fun.
CB: All those things that Robert just said and also content, language, violence and sex, we’re allowed to be much more explicit in. But to me, the most liberating, exciting thing is the storytelling. I feel we’re allowed to tell more provocative, daring stories than you might normally see on a broadcast network.
Now that you have several shows on the air, when you’re writing comic books are you thinking at the same time how they might play in live action?
RK: Not really. If something is close to being adapted I’ll start giving those kind of considerations but writing comics isn’t the most easy thing in the world. So you’ve got to stay focused on what you’re doing.
I think if my head was drifting off in, “Well, how is this going to work in live-action?” I would probably hit a lot more stumbling blocks than I already do. So I try to just look at each project individually and focus on whatever medium that I’m writing at that time. It’s always in the back of my head that it’s certainly possible that something could get adapted into something else, but at the time, I’m just trying to write a comic.
Once you see it on TV, do you ever think, “I should’ve done this in the comic?”
RK: Yeah, that happens frequently. That’s just when I write comics, I write by myself. I’m working with artists, Paul Azaceta, Elizabeth Breitweiser. There’s an editorial team that read scripts and don’t give me notes.
There’s a thing about being alone in a room and writing a script where it goes in front of a writers room and then people are like, “Oh, were you working towards this when you did this?” And it’s like, “Uh, yeah, no, sure, yeah, definitely.” No, but I wish I was. Different things that come up in the room where you’re constantly going, “God, I never even looked at it that way. I didn’t think about that at all.” That’s the benefit of the writers room. It’s an amazing group of, in all instances, of people that have different life experiences who have worked on different kinds of material who are coming together in a room with individual brains that have different ways of functioning that don’t work the way yours do. So just by design, there’s going to be so many different things that happen where you go, “Oh crap, should’ve done that.”
CB: You’re being challenged and you have to up your game. It’s why I love working on television rather than being a novelist or a playwright or something like that. And when you get stuck, you can go to the room. It’s like guys, this isn’t working, help. And you have people whose job it is and whose passion it is to pitch in. It makes it fun. It really is a fun process, working with Robert and having great source material and having a really fun, talented group of people who are passionate about the genre and passionate about the show.
Some of the directors you’ve chosen, Adam Wingard and Howard Deutch, are feature directors. Were you specifically looking for people from the feature world?
CB: Not specifically. I think there’s definitely a sense that we want the show to look cinematic. That we want it to be shot and photographed in a way that feels filmic and not like a conventional television show. We want people to spark to the material and look at it and go, “I love this. I want to do this.” I guess the answer is sort of yes or no. It wasn’t really a conscious decision but we’re happy to have those people with their eyes and their vision be part of the process.
RK: Bring your eyes. Direct an episode of Outcast.