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

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The Walking Dead: Invasion by Jay Bonansinga (St. Martin’s Press)


JD:  With these Governor books, the idea originally started out as a trilogy, which later evolved into a set of four books. The Governor’s story concludes at the end of the fourth book, but you’ve continued on with the series. When did you know this was going to be more than just the Governor’s story and that you would go on with a new set of novels?

JB: We were almost adapting the comic books into a Governor trilogy, which later became a quartet. By the time we got to Fall of the Governor, we told all the backstory, and we were sort of now telling the events of the war in the comic book between the prison and Woodbury from the Governor’s point of view. So that was really fascinating adapting panels in the comic book.

Kirkman kept feeding me stuff when I was working on Fall of the Governor book one. He’d call and ask for more little plot strands to throw in there, and he would keep doing this stuff. Finally, I said to the publisher that there was no way I could have it done by the deadline, and asked if there was a way to break it up into two books. And, really, I was just trying to make everyone happy.

A fan at a convention walks up to me and says, ‘Is the reason you broke up Fall of the Governor into two books to make more money?’ [laughs] And I said, ‘Yeah, next question.’ Really, it wasn’t for any other reason than I was just trying to make it work for their schedule.

JD: Well, it was a lot of story to tell, and it would’ve been hard to contain it to just one book.

JB: Yeah, thank you, I thought so too. And also I thought that many of the fans were comic book readers, and comic book readers are used to cliffhangers. That’s sort of their coin of the realm, almost like a cool shout out to the comic.

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But then, at the end of that last Governor book, Governor’s gone, Lilly is now in Woodbury, and it looks like she’s going to be the leader of Woodbury. Kirkman ordered four more books. They become now sort of told in quartet. Kirkman said, ‘You’ve got it down by now, you don’t need me to give you the outlines. All I am asking you to do with these next four books is you come up with the stories.’ Fans are gonna want to know what happened with Woodbury after the Governor was vanquished. What’s happening in Woodbury?

JD: Yeah, I’ve always wondered. It’s really intriguing as a fan of the comics to dive deeper into that world and see what happens there.

JB: I thought it was a great idea. As I’ve said, when Lilly sort of disappears off the pages in the comics, that’s it. You never really go back to Woodbury. And Woodbury became something for me, it became like a symbol of small town America and family. And can you have an enclave like that in the middle of the rural South and survive? So I was really delighted, and it became sort of the next epic arc, what happened to Lilly and the people in Woodbury.

The new one I just finished is called Search and Destroy. I hope that fans will recognize that it’s a Walking Dead arc, it’s a Walking Dead trajectory, it gets really really dark. I probably say that about every Walking Dead book I finish, but this one is super dark and super violent and very action packed, but it’s like we just have to go there.


JD: I’m looking forward to it. With the Governor story essentially concluded, you’re already talking about filling in the blanks for comic book characters like Lilly and Bob. I would assume you have a lot more freedom now with your storylines, basically now that you and the comics are not in the same timeline anymore. Is it a lot more fun to write these now that you can basically take the story wherever you want to?

JB: It’s really hard to decide which way is more fun. I’m a novelist, that’s my number one sort of day job. I’ve written 24 books, and I’ve done it all my life. But I’m also involved with film. I went to film school, I’m a screenwriter, I’m in the guild, I’ve had stuff produced. I enjoy collaborating as much as I enjoy having the freedom to go my own way. It’s equally enjoyable for me, maybe because I’m a film guy as well.

“And then give me my own book series!” (Photo from Skybound/Image)

Rise of the Governor is one of the best books, and it was probably the most meticulously outlined by Kirkman. But the way he outlines is the same way he writes his comic book scripts. And if you’ve seen one of those he’s written, it’s very loose and conversational. It’s the same way Quentin Tarantino writes his screenplays. He would say stuff like, ‘In this part of the story, Jay, Philip finds himself alone with April, and one things leads to another and he takes advantage of her.’ And it would be that loose, and I take things from there.

JD: So it seems like you still had a lot of creative freedom even when you were writing the Governor books.

JB: He totally gave me creative freedom. When that, I guess you’d call it a rape [scene that happens in the book], it was sort of an embryonic version of a rapist sort of discovering he has this evil in him, this drive. He almost went outside of himself, looking at himself assaulting this girl he really loved. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever written, this rape. It was a rape, but not in the darkest night by strangers— stranger violence.

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It was this guy who loved this girl. So I really pulled out all the stops in my imagination, I set it in this apocalyptic downtown inner city on a pedestrian walkway that was encased in glass during a lightning storm. And it became like a nickelodeon for the dead wandering beneath them. Kirkman gave me the freedom to set it anywhere, basically.

That’s what was so fun about those books. That’s how Kirkman collaborates with other artists. I said to him, ‘Robert, a lot of people say that you can be kind of difficult.’ He says, ‘So you mean, like a dick?’ ‘Yeah, I’ve heard you can be hard to work with.’ I didn’t find that to be the case at all, he’s like a pussycat to work with. So he goes, ‘Well, if I didn’t like what you were doing, I’d be the biggest dick you ever worked with.’

JD: That’s a huge compliment there.

JB: Right, that says it all. I take that as a compliment.

Next: Part 4 of 4