‘The Walking Dead’ Author Jay Bonansinga Interview (Exclusive)

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Jay Bonansinga (Photo by jill brazel photography)

Jay Bonansinga has been writing The Walking Dead companion novels to the popular Robert Kirkman comic series since 2011, and today he chats about them with 1428 Elm.

I still maintain that every fan of The Walking Dead needs to read Rise of the Governor.

Originally released in 2011, the novel gives readers the complete backstory of the franchise’s most iconic villain leading up to the events of the comics. It’s full of heartbreaking moments and shocking twists— you know, the stuff and things the series is best known for.

Since then, five follow-up novels have been published, with Bonansinga continuing the story of the town of Woodbury and what became of it after the Governor fell. The seventh novel in the series, Search and Destroy, is set to be released next month.

Oh god, now there are fire zombies…

As a fan of the series, I’m spending some time today chatting with Bonansinga about writing the official The Walking Dead novels. Read on to find out why you should consider checking the book series out— or, if you already have, maybe just learn a thing or two about the author.


JEREMY DICK: First of all, thanks a lot for speaking with me. As a huge fan of the franchise and particularly your book series, it’s truly an honor. I want to get right down to it, so how about we start with you telling me the story of how you came to be the official novelist of the Walking Dead novels?

JAY BONANSINGA: It’s mind boggling to me. I’ve written seven novels in six years for the company and it’s like the greatest gig I’ve ever had. And I always want to come up with some charming witty story on how I got the gig, but the truth is, it’s just one of those typical Hollywood stories where my manager was a buddy of Kirkman’s manager.

They were having lunch one day, and Kirkman’s manager said, ‘You know, we’re looking for a horror novelist.’ And we’re kind of a dying breed, actually. Horror has been up and down, it’s been dead alive over the years, and it’s hard to make a living in it. But there were something like five authors vying for it, and the more I learned about the project the more I wanted it. So, finally, I played my George Romero card.

JD: Which was?

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JB: I called up my manager and said, ‘Look, I know they haven’t made a decision yet, but you know I worked with George Romero. He’s a friend of mine, he’s a mentor, he’s my hero. I spent one summer co-writing a script with him. And, you know, I have zombies in my blood. Just tell them that.’ And that one got me the job. That might’ve been the thing that pushed them over— at least I’d like to think it is.

JD: Wow, that’s certainly really cool to have worked with both George Romero and Robert Kirman.

JB: Yeah, it’s sort of like I have the Alpha and Omega of zombie forefathers. Kirkman is a young version of Romero— he reminds me of Romero a little bit. They both have ‘troll’ senses of humor, they’re both very down to earth, and they’re both big bear-like guys with beards. It’s kind of strange how close they are.


JD: Let’s talk a little bit about your Walking Dead novels. Lilly has essentially become the main character in the series, dating back to the second book really, The Road to Woodbury. As far as Lilly taking over as the protagonist, was that always the plan? And was that Robert’s idea, or were you wanting to pursue that character more yourself?

JB: That was Robert’s idea. To this day, I don’t like to give too many spoilers, in the event that the viewer has not read the books. But when Robert and I first talked about it, he said, ‘There’s this girl, Lilly, and she just sort of appeared out of nowhere in the comics as one of the Governor’s soldiers in Woodbury.’ 

(Editor’s note: MAJOR comic spoilers ahead!)

Lilly and The Governor (From Skybound/Image)

And she ends up doing major stuff. She comes out of nowhere, and the Governor is making this assault on the prison, and he says to his people to take them out. And so, they start shooting, and this woman, Lilly, steps out of nowhere. You’ve never seen her before, you don’t know what her name is, and she fires a Winchester 700 rifle at a moving target that she thinks is somebody with a bomb. And it turns out to be Lori Grimes and her baby. She kills both Lori and the baby, and then things go from bad to worse.

JD: Oh yeah, anyone who’s read the comics will know.

JB: She’s only in about ten panels, if that. She does all this crazy stuff, and as the place is being overrun, she says ‘Come with me,’ to these survivors. And that’s the last you ever see of her in the comic book. And that was fascinating to me. It was like taking a rough draft of a Picasso sculpture, and just sculpting it with words over the course of literally what will be eight books. She becomes an epic hero.

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