The Walking Dead comic book creator Robert Kirkman sheds light on zombie TV series

Creator of The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead Robert Kirkman. -- PHOTO: AMC
Creator of The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead Robert Kirkman. -- PHOTO: AMC

When the title of the upcoming Walking Dead companion series was revealed by the original series' creator Robert Kirkman over Twitter in March, some were unimpressed, calling it "lazy" and "lame".

The new show is called Fear The Walking Dead.

In an exclusive e-mail interview with Life!, Kirkman defends the name.

"The title The Walking Dead has always referred to the living much more than the dead themselves, so it's entirely possible that the group of characters we're following in this series should be feared in their own right."

The series' first season, consisting of six one-hour episodes, will premiere on AMC later this year. In Singapore, AMC is available on Singtel TV Channel 322.

Kirkman, 36, adds that the producers were also moving back to the beginning of the apocalypse, when "the rules weren't yet clearly defined, so the zombie threat was much more mysterious, dangerous and terrifying".

Fear The Walking Dead is set in an earlier time period in Los Angeles and features a new cast including Maori actor Cliff Curtis (Whale Rider, 2002), Kim Dickens (Deadwood, 2004-2006), Frank Dillane (Tom Riddle in Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, 2009) and Alycia Debnam-Carey (The 100, 2014).

While Fear's co-creator and co-executive producer Dave Erickson is tightlipped on key storylines, he is confident that it will appeal even to those who are not fans of The Walking Dead.

"Fear is very much a family drama first and then there are zombies. We explore the horror genre tropes - they are an important part of the show - but every problem, every personal conflict we establish for our family in the pilot will be played out over the course of season one and beyond."

The show received a two-season order and season two is slated for 2016.

The choice of Los Angeles as a setting was also carefully thought through. Thematically, the show is very much about reinvention and identity.

Erickson points out: "Los Angeles is often the destination for those starting over, escaping past crimes and sins - histories they'd like to leave buried - this is true for many of our characters. The apocalypse will force them to grapple with the people they once were - and their darker instincts will serve them in this dangerous new world."

Kirkman created the comic book The Walking Dead (2003-present) which the popular horror drama TV series of the same name (2010-present) is based on. He serves as creator, executive producer and writer for Fear.

The Walking Dead series focuses on a group of survivors led by deputy sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and their search for a safe haven. Viewership for its season five premiere last Oct hit 17.3 million, making it the most-watched series episode in cable history.

Since The Walking Dead became popular, the undead have been featured on American Horror Story: Coven (2013-2014), animated web series Raised By Zombies (2012-present), The Strain (2014-present) and there has even been another comic book TV adaptation, iZombie, which just made its debut in March (2015).

Fear's creators hope that the show's family angle and new locale will help it stand out from the pack of zombie-inspired content.

Erickson says: "We feel the interpersonal dynamics between our blended, blue collar family - our lens into the apocalypse - is unique and relatable." Also, they are presenting a less glamorous, away-from-Hollywood side of Los Angeles. "It's a relatable, grounded, sprawling metropolis that we will watch crumble."

While the gore and splatter in The Walking Dead is a key reason why some viewers tune in, the zombie genre is brainier than it might seem.

To Kirkman, zombies are "a physical manifestation of everyone's natural fear of death". He adds: "And so while they look cool and it's fun to tell stories with them, I think as a movie monster they really get down to the heart of what makes us human. (Zombies) lend themselves to all kinds of stories that deal with loss, human connections and civilisation, and in ways that might be a little bit harder to explore in a normal story."

He has explored zombie stories in both comic books and on TV and jokes that the biggest challenge in adapting them for the small screen is "making everything move". He also recognises that the graphic novel and the TV drama are two very different media with different strengths to play to.

Kirkman does not see the point of a slavish adaptation of the comic. "We try to hit all the high notes, do all the important stories and get in all the great moments. But the fact that the writing team on The Walking Dead has the freedom to come up with their own things and update the stories in interesting ways - that is one of the things that makes the show so good."

Even as Fear The Walking Dead is slated to air on AMC in summer 2015, The Walking Dead continues apace, giving rise to the possibility of crossovers between the two shows.

Asked about that tantalising prospect, Erickson would only tease: "Never say never."