Four years ago, on assignment for The Comics Journal, I asked Robert Kirkman a tough question about his Walking Dead comic series, a question that now, after the TV adaptation’s third season finale, is still resonant: Why are all the strong female characters either crazy or dead?
His response, from issue No. 289 of The Comics Journal: “I don’t mean to sound sexist, but as far as women have come over the last 40 years, you don’t really see a lot of women hunters. They’re still in the minority in the military, and there’s not a lot of female construction workers. I hope that’s not taken the wrong way. I think women are as smart, resourceful, and capable in most things as any man could be … but they are generally physically weaker. That’s science.”
Naturally, the recently reprinted quote caused the appropriate amount of internet furore. Jezebel tore Kirkman a new one regarding the ability of women to hunt as well as men. But there was more, to do with the question Kirkman was asked.
On one side there’s the “what has that got to do with whether they are crazy or dead? Does he mean that if women are physically weaker, it means they will be crazy or dead? What the hell?”
The other side took the “Abrams has taken that quote out of context and paraphrased the question which means that Kirkman may have been answering another question” stance.
Neither arguing party seem to have read the original interview itself. But Brad Brooks had a copy and, after I contacted him, he transcribed the lead up to it by Abrams.
“None of the female characters are given more than a supporting role from Lori (Rick’s wife who is indisposed after announcing her pregnancy) to Andrea (the only woman who is good with guns…in the group but winds up becoming the back-up defines after Tyreese and Rick). They are the providers of the group and therefore the most trusted, so it should be no surprise that the 3 fathers get to decide what comes next and everyone willingly follows them.
Women are mostly peripheral, largely seen in “Miles Behind Us” as the source of convoluted relationships that serve both as escape and a normalising factor to the group’s current difficulties. Even little Carl, Rick’s son, gets his first kiss from Sophia, the daughter of Claire, Tyreese’s new ‘special friend’. Arguably, the group is regressing to gender-specific roles that may not be particularly PC, but are insidiously comfortable for the group. Rick’s tutorial in sniping initially won over the group in “Days Gone Bye”, but his wife is the one who’s there to kiss his booboos and help him to imagine that their surroundings can melt away with a caress.
Kirkman explained that he never meant to slight the fairer sex, even if they are just plain weaker.
Which then led into Kirkman’s quote that appeared in The Village Voice. The piece doesn’t state the question “Why are all the strong female characters either crazy or dead?” before that, so if it was asked, it wasn’t run in the Comics Journal article. Instead it seems to be answering the question why the women in The Walking Dead comic were peripheral, rather than crazy or dead.
Which Jezebel has a legitimate beef with. But the “crazy or dead” question has gone unanswered… and we don’t even know if it was asked.