The artist behind The Walking Dead comics says he is done with zombies after the series came to a sudden end.
Charlie Adlard spent 15 years illustrating the black-and-white monthly, which sold millions of copies and spawned a hit TV show.
Despite being inundated with offers of work - including a "zombie-related" project from industry giant Marvel - he plans to turn his back on the undead.
"I want to do other stuff, I want to prove my versatility," he said.
"People just think because you've drawn zombies for 15 years, you want to carry on drawing zombies."
Fans were left stunned when the cult series, which followed the survivors of a zombie outbreak, reached its unannounced conclusion last month.
Adlard said it had been "four years in the planning" after he and writer Robert Kirkman decided they "really needed an end point".
"A lot of people think that we just thought about this a couple of months before, but no, this was something that was planned for a very, very long time," the Shrewsbury-based artist said.
Adlard said it was "brilliant" to no longer have a monthly deadline looming over him and he was highly unlikely to return to the format.
"I know 'never say never again', but I don't think I'll ever do a regular series again.
"I'd rather now, for the rest of my career, work on smaller projects."
Offers of work have since flooded in. Marvel and DC have made approaches, but Adlard said drawing established superheroes wasn't his thing.
He turned Marvel down.
"It was, shall we say, zombie-related and the one thing I don't want to do, for obvious reasons, is anything zombie-related," he said.
While he is considering DC's offer to produce covers, Adlard admits: "Once you've worked on your own characters it seems like a retrograde step to be working on somebody else's characters."
The Walking Dead
- First published in 2004, the Walking Dead's main series ran for 193 issues
- Adlard joined the comic from issue seven
- The series rapidly grew in popularity and drew wide acclaim, winning an Eisner Award - the comics equivalent of an Oscar - in 2010
- It was adapted for television by US network AMC in 2010, with its tenth season due to be aired this October
- The TV show's popularity spawned a range of merchandise and spin-offs, including video games and a sister series, Fear the Walking Dead
- Adlard has appeared twice in the series as a zombie extra
Now free of the Walking Dead, the financial security from his work on Rick Grimes and Co has allowed Adlard to pick and choose future projects, something he finds "creatively very, very exciting".
And the French comics industry - "the most vibrant" in the world, in Adlard's view - appeals to him the most.
"I love their approach, I love what they do. They call comics the ninth art over in France, so it's actually appreciated over there."
He says artists get more respect in France, where they receive a greater billing than writers.
"In the US and the UK at the moment and in the last 10 or 15 years, the writer has been the dominant force in comic books," he said.
But that is unfair, because "it just implies that the writer is the main creative force in the comic book, which is totally untrue, because it should be both", he adds.
Adlard's Gallic invasion has started with a contribution to a book marking the 60th anniversary of his "favourite all-time character", legendary French hero Asterix.
He credits René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo - who created the Gaulish warrior and beefy sidekick Obelix - with fuelling his love for French comic books.
His next creation, also written in French, is "fun horror/thriller" Vampire State Building, with digitally inked art marking a departure from the Walking Dead's traditional pen and ink style.
"More short-sighted people would probably see it as me not being particularly imaginative and going from a bunch of zombies to a bunch of vampires."
But he said the contemporary setting and emphasis on action over horror appealed.
Vampire State Building is planned as a two-book story, with the second part due out in France in the autumn.
Adlard has also been taken "out of his comfort zone" on his upcoming collaboration with Shrewsbury-based 2000AD writer Robbie Morrison.
Provisionally titled Heretic, it will feature Cornelius Agrippa, a real-life character from the Spanish Inquisition era in a fictional, supernatural setting.
Adlard said the story, a "sort of thriller in the vein of something like In the Name of the Rose", centred around the German mystic and his protégé.
"It's something I've never done before.
"It excites me because I've never done historical drama."
Adlard is also considering working on a biographical story and mulling a number of other offers.
While he won't be changing his art style, he plans to experiment more with his materials.
He said Heretic would probably be drawn digitally, like Vampire State, but would make more use of pencil-tools "to try and roughen it up, make it more textural".
But he may return to pen and paper, relying less on his ruler to make his "lines sort of shaky".
And although he confessed a love for drawing characters such as Negan, he vowed that the Walking Dead comics, unlike their namesake, would not come back to life.
"We don't want to short-change the fans" he said.
"It just feels really disingenuous to do something like that.
"We said it's the end. It is the end."
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