Two of Central Kentucky’s contributors to pop culture return home this weekend, as Cynthiana celebrates the astonishing success of the zombie series “The Walking Dead.”
Robert Kirkman, who created the comic series that became a huge cable television hit, will be honored at The Walking Dead Day along with Tony Moore, the artist for the first six issues of the comic book that launched the cultural phenomenon. Both return to Cynthiana, where they grew up, for the day-long festival that includes costume and trivia contests, a zombie jail experience and the dedication of a roadside sign. The pair will sign comics and pose for photos, and there will be a question-and-answer session with Kirkman, who continues to write the comics and is an executive producer of the TV series on AMC. A run of 10,000 copies of the comic’s first issue, complete with a new cover showing downtown Cynthiana, will be given away.
The city was the site of the opening scenes of the series, which centers on Cynthiana police officer Rick Grimes. Shot on the job, Grimes wakes up in a hospital, only to find the world inhabited by zombies. Determined to find his wife and son, he sets off for Atlanta, where survivors were told on emergency broadcasts that there would be help. The Kentucky connection in the comic was cut from the television adaptation, but the characters in the comics have revisited Cynthiana.
Overrun by (fans of) zombies
Both Kirkman, who lives in California, and Moore, who lives outside Cincinnati, visit Cynthiana regularly to see family. This latest trip came together quickly after city officials contacted the pair about the roadside sign, as well as a mural of four characters from the series that was recently painted on the side of the historic Rohs Opera House.
“That was at the beginning of June, so it’s been a very hectic but very fun ride,” said Tomi Jean Clifford, executive director of the Cynthiana-Harrison County Chamber of Commerce. “People are coming from all over to see the mural. We’re putting Cynthiana on the map.”
We’re turning our downtown area into an apocalypse. We have a wrecked airplane, and we’re going to turn over a couple of cars. All the businesses are getting into it and decorating.
Tomi Jean Clifford, executive director of the Cynthiana-Harrison County Chamber of Commerce
Clifford said organizers don’t know how many fans to expect, but they predict that there might be 25,000 people in attendance. The whole town is getting in on the fun.
“We’re turning our downtown area into an apocalypse,” Clifford said. “We have a wrecked airplane, and we’re going to turn over a couple of cars. All the businesses are getting into it and decorating.”
A group of residents who put on a haunted house annually are transforming the city’s old jail into the zombie jail experience, which at $5 is the only activity that carries a fee.
Starting The Walking Dead
It was in Cynthiana that Kirkman and Moore cultivated their love of all things art and comics. During a seventh-grade social studies class, Kirkman noticed that Moore “was drawing something from a comic book, and I said, ‘I read that comic.’”
“We got to be pretty good friends right away,” said Kirkman, who lived outside of Cynthiana in Leesburg. “From seventh grade on, we were in every art class together, because there was only one art class.”
After high school, Kirkman passed on college and moved to Lexington to try his hand at comics full-time. Moore studied for an art degree at the University of Louisville. He later joined Kirkman in Lexington to work on multiple series.
“It was a very trying time,” Kirkman said. “I was losing money every single day I was working. That was not fun.
“Looking back on it, I don’t understand how it worked out. I had this weird determination against all odds, which I think is just insanity.”
Moore was the artist for the first six issues of “The Walking Dead.” At that point, “we had some differences of opinion, and we decided to pursue some other opportunities,” said Moore, who continued to draw the covers through issue No. 24. Moore continues to work in comics, most recently as an artist on Marvel properties including “Ghost Rider,” “Punisher” and “Deadpool.”
Working together again
The Walking Dead Day represents a renewed collaboration between Kirkman and Moore after years apart. That gap included lawsuits filed against each other in 2012 over “The Walking Dead.” They settled the lawsuits later that year. Since then, Moore has drawn a cover for issue No. 150 of the comics and the Cynthiana-themed cover for the festival’s free reissue of the first comic.
The cover shows “the old downtown storefronts and has the Rohs Opera House that’s a big place for Robert and myself,” Moore said. “When we were kids, every weekend all the parents in town dumped their kids out at the place, and we would go inside and watch movies until they shut down.
“That building means so much to me, because that’s where so much of the popular culture was for me as a kid.”
Last month, Moore visited the theater, which is functioning again. There he met with Sergio Odeith, a Portuguese artist who painted a Louis Armstrong mural in Lexington’s East End and returned for “The Walking Dead” mural organized and financed by groups including Kentucky for Kentucky, the Cynthiana Arts Council and Harrison County Community Fund.
“I’m just astounded by the craftsmanship of what he can do with spray paint on a massive scale,” Moore said of Odeith. “I’m really honored and moved to have a kind of standing memorial to the work we have done on the back of the Opera House.”
Whether The Walking Dead Day becomes an annual event remains to be seen. Kirkman said it’s a one-time deal, “but who knows what the future holds?”
What’s certain, he said, is that the series has an exciting future.
“There’s a lot of life left in this show and definitely a lot of life in the comics,” Kirkman said. “There’s a long road ahead of us.”
If you go
The Walking Dead Day
When: Events run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: Downtown Cynthiana along East Pike Street and South Walnut Street. Parking is $5 at 358 Oddville Pike and free at Harrison County High School, 320 Webster Ave. Free shuttles will pick up attendees at both sites.
9 a.m.: Roadside sign dedication on North U.S. 27 near Ware Funeral Home, 846 N. U.S. 27.
10 a.m.: Shuttle tours begin at the end of Pike Street. Stops include Harrison Memorial Hospital, where protagonist Rick Grimes wakes up.
▪ Silent auction opens next to Rohs Opera House, 133 E. Pike St.
▪ 10,000 copies of the first comic book with a new cover showing downtown Cynthiana will be distributed at the Cynthiana-Harrison County Chamber of Commerce, 201 S. Main St. Limit one per person.
Noon: Costume contest, next to the mural along S. Walnut St. at E. Pike St.
Noon to 8 p.m.: Zombie jail experience, Pike St. at S. Poplar St.
1-3 p.m.: Comic signings and photos with Robert Kirkman, 120 S. Walnut St.
3-5 p.m.: Comic signings and photos with Tony Moore, 123 E. Pike St.
4-5 p.m.: Q&A with Kirkman, Rohs Opera House, 133 E. Pike St.
5 p.m.: Trivia contest, Trindy's, 216 S. Walnut St.
▪ Silent auction ends, 133 E. Pike St.
5:30 p.m.: Shuttle tours end.
Tickets: All events are free, except the $5 zombie jail experience.