Talking The Walk
Sean Mackiewicz still remembers his first trip to a comic bookstore as a kid: It was in 1991 to pick up an issue of Wolverine, and from there, he says, he “just kind of fell down a hole and got lost in comics.”
“I haven’t climbed out yet,” he says with a laugh.
Mackiewicz followed that hole all the way to a career in comics. After a stint editing romance novels at Harlequin, he landed a job at DC Comics working with titles that included The New 52, Aquaman and Suicide Squad. In 2012, he joined writer Robert Kirkman’s Skybound Entertainment, an imprint of Image Comics, as the editorial director, managing creative teams and editing manuscripts, as well as overseeing merchandising and other related products for all of the company’s titles. That, of course, includes Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, which follows a group of survivors led by former sheriff Rick Grimes as they attempt to forge a new life in the zombie apocalypse.
Since its 2003 comic debut, The Walking Dead has grown into a cross-media phenomenon. Its AMC series counterpart regularly draws in millions of viewers per episode and is consistently ranked among the most popular shows on television. It has also spawned a whole subset of related projects — video games, spin-off series Fear The Walking Dead and even Talking Dead, a talk show dedicated entirely to it.
Kirkman, Mackiewicz and more from the Skybound team join a slew of comic artists, actors and cosplayers at Amazing Hawaii Comic Con, which runs May 20-22 at Hawaii Convention Center (see sidebar for details). Kirkman will discuss “Comics and Beyond” at a panel moderated by Mackiewicz at 6 p.m. May 20. It’s followed by a screening of Outcast, Kirkman’s latest comic-turned-TV show that centers on a young man grappling with demonic possession. Skybound also has its own artists panel at 2 p.m. May 21, and will have a booth with merchandise and artist signings throughout the weekend.
Metro recently had the chance to chat with Mackiewicz about his work on The Walking Dead comic, what to expect at the convention and what he hopes the outcome of that season 6 finale cliff-hanger will be. (Note: There are minor spoilers from The Walking Dead comic.)
How did you make the transition from romance novels to comic books?
I knew that getting into a publishing house that published as frequently as (Harlequin) did matched up with the skillset that I’d need to be in comics. The way it parallels comics is pretty crazy, because romance readers are jut as intense as comic fans … and they have their own conventions and cosplay … I think I was always kind of holding out hope that I would get into comics, and I knocked on that door for a long time before I got in at DC.
Why did you want to join Skybound?
It just seemed like Sky-bound was a place that would allow me to do different projects that weren’t superhero books, because at DC, I was working on, say, six superhero books a month. Whereas here, there are all sorts of different genres — crime, horror, super-hero, fantasy.
(Robert Kirkman) is someone who broke in (to the industry) pretty young, and we have seen his craft get stronger over time and his writing get stronger.
Can you elaborate on that?
He’s always been great at planting emotional hooks within familiar genre stories — early Walking Dead and Invincible stories speak to that — but a comic like Outcast by Kirkman and (Paul) Azaceta takes that to a richer, more nuanced level … There’s a confidence in Robert’s storytelling that he’s earned over the years, and it shows in how strong his two longest-running series are (The Walking Dead and Invincible), as well as the risks he continues to take in them.
What can people expect at the panel?
A pretty honest and free-flowing conversation. We’ll allow fans to really interface with Robert and myself.
There is no question that we won’t answer — we may be a little dishonest at times on purpose. In the comic, we have a big storyline we will be announcing soon, so I think some of that will be up for discussion.
What do you think it is about The Walking Dead that appeals to so many people?
I think foremost, it is that question of survival — everyone wants to put themselves in the shoes of what would happen if I were in the apocalypse, would I be able to survive? And I think that there is a character that really can be a stand-in for any one of the readers.
I have this cousin who … had never read comics and she is not a fan of horror, but when The Walking Dead show came out, she was hooked. I think she just found something really appealing in humanity banding together and the question of what would happen in these situations.
What has been your favorite Walking Dead story-line to work with?
I feel like it’s always the current one — it’s a book that always feels like it’s getting better. The world has expanded, the number of characters has expanded, so I am really excited. We recently (had) a huge turning point in which The Whisperers (a new antagonist faction in the comic) really made a statement and killed about a dozen community members, and since then, it has really been about Rick’s control of his group slipping and then him doing what he needs to to regain it.
For fans of the show, the cliffhanger is on their minds right now. Who do you think Negan killed?
I don’t even know, honestly! I am kind of hoping it’s Daryl, but I seem to be in the minority there. I think from a dramatic standpoint, that would be really interesting. In the comics, Glenn (who Negan killed in the comic) was a huge fan favorite, and I think Daryl has surpassed that.
Robert Kirkman stated that he already wrote an end scene to the comic. Is there an end in sight?
He always kind of thought of it as running about 300 issues — so that means that we just passed the midway point. With all Image books, the creators are allowed to do what they want, so if he is nearing 300 and wants to keep going, that is well within his right. (The end) definitely won’t be any time soon. I think he and (artist) Charlie (Adlard) are really enjoying the work that they’re doing together.
Is there any other Walking Dead news you can share?
We are also doing a Negan origin special … Within each issue (of Image+ Magazine), we are serializing Negan’s origin over the next year. It delves into what this guy is all about. The first installment came out last month and the next one will follow soon.
For fans of the TV show, they’ve only just been introduced to Negan. What else can you tell us about this character?
I love Negan. He’s a unique figure within The Walking Dead, both in his ability to talk a big, foul-mouthed game, as well as backing it up. Though his first appearance in the comic and TV show is very dramatic, he’s not a complete psychopath. And finding out where his limits are is always a revelation.
What else is next at Skybound?
We have a couple titles debuting later this year … (One) is a huge passion project for me called Horizon … and it’s our take on an alien invasion story.
Our line is continuing to expand into more exciting and diverse projects to come … (The company) has grown so much — and beyond comics, looping in interactive (media) and film and television. I can only see that growth continuing into really cool, exciting places.
After running Amazing Comic Cons in a series of cities — Houston, Phoenix and Las Vegas among them — founder Jimmy Jay noted that Hawaii might be a good locale to add to the list.
“As it turned out, Amazing Hawaii was our most successful show last year,” Jay says.
So now they’re back for their second run at Hawaii Convention Center from 3 to 8 p.m. May 20, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 21 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 22.
All three days have a packed lineup. In addition to The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, other artists at the convention include DC co-publisher Jim Lee, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles creator Kevin Eastman (you can read Metro’s profile on Eastman from last year’s Con at metrohnl.com) and X-Men writer Chris Claremont.
“Outside of places like San Diego Comic Con and New York, it’s rare to see an assembly of talent that influences our pop culture in the way that our guests have,” Jay says.
The headliners are also joined by dozens of others, as well as local comic artists including Sam Campos, Jon Murakami, Napua Ahina and more.
In addition to Kirkman’s panel, other highlights include a Harley Quinn and Gotham City Sirens creators’ talk, Q&A sessions with Dragon Ball Z voice actors, drawing demos, a costume contest and more.
Tickets start at $30 and three-day passes cost $65. Kids age 10 and under are free. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit amazinghawaiicomiccon.com.