If Robert Kirkman’s zombies haven’t given people enough nightmares, his demons sure will.
The writer and creator of The Walking Dead comic book – and executive producer of the hit AMC TV show – switches horror tropes in his new Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment series Outcast, the first issue of which came out last Wednesday.
The comic, illustrated by Paul Azaceta, is the story of Kyle Barnes, a guy who’s been plagued with demonic possession his entire life and is finally ready to do something about it.
And like Kirkman’s zombie epic, Outcast is coming to the small screen, too; it’s being developed as a series by Showtime, with news forthcoming on whether a pilot is being green-lit.
For Kirkman, The Walking Dead has always been more of a survival drama, with zombies as a backdrop.
Exploring exorcism, though, has a lot more potential for true horror, and he’s even scaring himself a little bit.
“Outcast is very much dealing with some terrifying prospects and certainly situations that I think people will find very eerie and unsettling,” Kirkman says.
“It’s ending up being a lot creepier than I thought was possible in a static image in silence on a comic-book page.”
Fans will definitely want to categorise Outcast as a horror comic, says Image publisher Eric Stephenson, “but under Robert’s guidance, it’s really so much more than that, so different from what people tend to associate with that type of book.
“Like The Walking Dead, people are going to be fascinated by how he gets under their skin with the characters and situations he’s come up with.”
Born and raised in Kentucky, Kirkman grew up with religion all around him, so heaven, hell, angels and demons were a part of his upbringing. He feels there is potential for demonic possession to be a real phenomenon, and even though many aspects of it are debatable, it’s much closer to reality than, say, a zombie apocalypse.
“That makes demonic possession that much more terrifying of a situation,” says the writer, who’s put a similar emotional journey in Outcast to the ones that have made millions fall in love with The Walking Dead.
“This affliction – being possessed, having someone near you be possessed – is going to be so much more heightened if you care about the characters.”
Kirkman is veering from the well-worn mould of The Exorcist in a couple of different ways, beginning with making it a long-form story that treats possession as something that can be solved. It’s plagued people around Kyle for years, and he wants to find a way to put a stop to it for good.
Usually in this type of story, Kirkman says: “it’s always just, ‘Hey, I saved this one person. Let’s move on.’ We’re looking at things in a far-reaching kind of way.”
Also, Outcast is set in rural West Virginia so it takes more of a Baptist angle on possession than a Catholic one.
Instead of priests, strict rules and shouting Latin at a pesky demon that won’t leave its human host, Kirkman adds, “it’s a much more individualised approach”.
Working in TV has been successful so far for Kirkman, and The Walking Dead has been part of a large resurgence of horror in various media. But he’s also always glad to have a new project in comics, his first love.
“Going back home and doing something I’m comfortable with is just a really exciting prospect,” Kirkman says.
“Having the Walking Dead comic and show at the same time, it’s been a great balance for me, but doing more stuff in comics is exciting.
“We’re quickly approaching a time when the notion of horror being a ‘B’ genre that can’t be taken seriously is fading away. I feel like I’ve benefited from this movement.” – USA Today/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services