The Walking Dead Comics and the need for female writers

* Please note that the following article contains spoilers through Volume 18 (Issue 108) of The Walking Dead comic books. *

With the upcoming release of Volume 19 of The Walking Dead comics (Issues 109-114), as well as season 4 of the television show, I finally decided that it was time to get caught up on my TWD reading. I’d put it aside after finishing the two compendiums, because, to be completely honest, I wanted a breather from the harsh world that Robert Kirkman had created.

Still, waiting to read Volumes 17 and 18 was a difficult feat to accomplish. Because if there is anything that I can say about this comic series, it is this: despite its flaws, it sucks you in.

The problem is that, even as someone who prefers stories that don’t have happy endings, I’m beginning to wonder about The Walking Dead – especially after some of the events that transpired in Volumes 17 and 18. How far is too far? Is Kirkman actually creating meaningful plot, or is he just going for shock value? And really, how long will he be able to drag this story out?

To be completely honest, in answer to that last question I feel as if I have to say ‘for as long as Walking Dead continues to be popular’, and at this rate that could be a very long time. Especially considering that the fandom seems to be generally split in terms of their opinions regarding the comics as a standalone form of entertainment as well as in regards to the comics as they compare to the show.

Perhaps most importantly, though, is Kirkman’s questionable portrayal of his female characters. After speaking with several female friends of mine who have also read the comics, the one repeating theme seems to be that Robert Kirkman does not know how to write women, and that bringing on a female writer would vastly improve the comic and the story lines of its female characters.

As I see it, the main problem is that while The Walking Dead comic’s story as a whole is engrossing, all of the characters – male and female – tend to slip into very basic and boring tropes, and most of them don’t have time to dig themselves out of these tropes before they are killed off. Melissa, an artist herself and owner of Feral Works, believes that “this is a little due to the medium. It’s hard to create the nuance that an actor can provide in a panel format. By the very nature of the comic format, action is forced to become choppy.” I agree with her that “this got better as the comic progressed and the writers had a chance to really delve into their characters and get a feel for them,” but outside of Andrea becoming a master sharpshooter and protector of the group in her own right, that improvement seemed to be generally relegated to the male characters. (And in more recent issues, the developments in Andrea’s relationship with Rick sadly seem almost destined to cause backsliding for Andrea’s character.)

The most obvious example of Kirkman’s poor writing for his female characters is, of course, Carol. She is the stereotypical hysterical female who eventually commits suicide when she is rejected as a partner by every man (and woman) at whom she throws herself. Unlike Carol in the show, Carol in the comics is never allowed to develop and is literally nothing more than a sex object in the TWD storyline.

Although Lori is, in my opinion, more likeable in the comic than she ever was on the show, in the beginning she is still just a woman for Rick and Shane to fight over. And when that story wraps up, she is portrayed as merely a harping wife and a terrible mother. Additionally, as my friend Lindsay of The Dilettantista pointed out, when Lori gives birth to Judith we are given what could have turned into an interesting and possibly even redeeming plot line for her – that being raising a baby during this zombie apocalypse – yet in one fell swoop Kirkman kills off mother and baby, once again relegating a female character to a plot point for the men (and in this case, boy) in the comics.

Even quintessential bad ass, katana-wielding Michonne is not free from Kirkman’s seeming lack of awareness (or, let’s be honest, downright misogyny) in terms of the roles into which he forces his female characters. We read as she talks through all of her decisions with her long-dead boyfriend, who she apparently needs to protect her, and then see her consistently attempt to seduce only those men who are unavailable, putting her into a solid “homewrecker” role.

Fortunately, Michonne and Andrea are – as of issue 108 – still alive, and therefore offer at least some hope for more character development on their parts. Maggie, now in the position to become a single mother, also has the potential for promise. I can only hope that these potential developments are realized, either by Kirkman giving more attention to the nuances of female character in general or by his bringing on a female writer to guide him – and therefore, the characters he has created – in the right direction.

Author: Tara Lynne

Tara Lynne is an author, fandom and geek culture expert, and public speaker. She founded Ice & Fire Con, the first ever Game of Thrones convention in the US, and now runs its parent company Saga Event Planning.

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