On Wednesday, Skybound and Image Comics released a "Walking Dead" one-off called "Negan Lives!" exclusively in comic stores.
It debuts about a year after the "Walking Dead" comic ended its 16-year run and follows what happened to Negan after issue No. 174.
In a letter to fans, the creator Robert Kirkman confirmed Negan was almost killed by Maggie in that issue. It's something he teased before.
Kirkman shared an email from the artist Charlie Adlard that he said made him change his mind about killing the character. Adlard said he was "a bit unconvinced" by Negan's death.
It's one reason Negan doesn't appear in the final 19 issues of the comic. Kirkman already had his ending laid out for four years.
All proceeds from "Negan Lives!" are going directly to comic book stores. You can find a store selling the issue here.
In "Negan Lives!" the new one-shot issue of "The Walking Dead," Kirkman describes how he almost offed the character during one of his final comic appearances.
"Negan was supposed to die in issue #174," Kirkman wrote in the Letter Hacks section at the end of "Negan Lives!" "I even wrote the full issue script, ending with Negan's death."
In the letter, Kirkman says Negan would have been shot by Maggie in the 2017 issue. Negan brutally killed her husband, the fan favorite Glenn, years earlier in issue No. 100.
Kirkman previously teased Negan's alternative fate in the Letter Hacks of issue No. 176, writing: "Is this where I admit that in the original script Maggie shot him and Charlie asked me to change it? Is that true? Who knows?!"
At the time, it wasn't clear whether he was joking. In July's new comic, Kirkman shared the email that he said persuaded him to keep Negan alive.
Why didn't Kirkman kill Negan? Artist and longtime collaborator Charlie Adlard 'saved' him.
After sending the proposed script to Adlard, Kirkman received an email back. Adlard said he was "a bit unconvinced" by Negan's death and thought a redemption story would have worked for him. He suggested Negan's fate was a cliche and expressed his wish to "break the mold."
Here's the letter from Adlard to Kirkman:
There we go — he's gone.
I know Negan wasn't going to last, so this issue came as no surprise, unlike the Andrea saga, but it's still sad to see him go. Nicely done
... except... I'm a bit unconvinced by the way Maggie shoots him. Are you trying to say that this is some sort of "id" thing where deep down inside, that's what she wants to do, even though she's being convinced she doesn't have to shoot him. It just feels a bit forced.
As I said, the more I got to know Negan — especially over these last few years — the more I wished he'd stayed around till the end. I wish redemption would've worked for him. This is absolutely no criticism of you at all, but more a criticism of western [at least] literature/entertainment, where, because the majority of us find the death penalty — therefore an eye for an eye adage — abhorrent, we carry it out in fantasy. Hardly any western villain gets away with not dying at the end. We, as an audience, always demand the ultimate punishment for our fantasy bad guys. It's a shame we didn't break the mould with Negan... the baddest of bad guys, but very far down the road to redemption and forgiveness, who pays the usual ultimate price — death. Imagine, if he lived, what we could say about our society?
Sorry for my diatribe, it's something I've always felt about our entertainment industry for a while, and here seemed a good place to air it.
Anyway, as you were. Normal service has been resumed!
Kirkman said Adlard's email made him change his mind about killing Negan, something he didn't really want to do anyway. (During the "Walking Dead" New York Comic Con panel Insider attended in 2019, Kirkman acknowledged Negan was his favorite character.)
"Charlie's impassioned and very thoughtful email about the state of villainy in Western culture really moved me," Kirkman wrote. "Taking Negan from the vilest villain to actually being reformed was a powerful message."
"Charlie made that story way better," Kirkman continued. "You know what that is right there... a great collaborator. So I immediately knuckled down and rewrote the last six pages of the issue... and we ended up with a much more poignant and thoughtful ending that I'm far more proud of than what I'd originally done."
In issue No. 174, Maggie confronts Negan, prepared to kill him, but relents after he begs her to take his life. His attitude changes her mind. She leaves Negan with his thoughts refusing to give him what he wants so easily.
And then readers don't see Negan again until the comic's final issue.
"I knew the end of the series was coming nearly 20 issues later, and I didn't want to alter my plans by adding more Negan stories," Kirkman wrote of why the character didn't show up again until the final issue.
In issue No. 193, readers learn Negan has been living out his days in isolation on a farmhouse. He's seen putting flowers on his wife's grave near the comic's end.
"I thought #174 was a great ending for the character, with the scenes in #193 acting as a nice, vague bookend... and that was it," Kirkman said.
Kirkman was inspired to write 'Negan Lives!' to help comic shops
At the end of "Negan Lives!" Kirkman said he was inspired to put together the comic after a conversation with a cofounder of Pacific Comics, Bill Schanes, on the state of the comic industry amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"Bill was calling up publishers and urging them to come up with 'big, loud projects' that would drive people back into comic stores, giving store owners a firm footing as they got their businesses up and running again," Kirkman wrote.
The conversation prompted Kirkman to revisit Negan while taking on the costs of publishing himself.
"I sent a brief email to Charlie, laying out the goal of driving people to stores; how we'd do the book for free, even paying for production and printing ourselves, and donate all the money to stores," Kirkman wrote.
"Charlie is a great man and jumped at the chance to do something for the store owners who got us where we are today," he added.
All proceeds from "Negan Lives!" go directly to comic shops. In addition to the regular covers with the title in a red font, some comic stores received one gold and two silver foil variant covers. Some are already going for upward of $300 on eBay.
Is this it for 'Negan Lives!'? Kirkman: 'I'll never say never.'
Kirkman said Negan's story arc from issues No. 174 to No. 193 was his side quest to recover his wife's remains and bury them.
"I always liked the idea of Negan going on this mission to retrieve those remains and put them to rest properly," Kirkman wrote.
"I can honestly say I don't know if we'll ever actually see 'what happens next,'" he added. "To me, you see the headstone in #193, that story is pretty much told... but I'll never say never. But probably never. Probably..."
Could we see Negan get one of these alternative comic deaths on the show? Maybe, but it seems unlikely.
Jackson Lee Davis/AMC
While it didn't play out in the comics, there's always a chance to see the alternative play out on AMC's "The Walking Dead."
The show has been known to deviate greatly, especially in recent years, from the comic. Lauren Cohan is set to reprise her role as Maggie on the yet-to-be-aired season 10 finale before returning as a series regular on season 11.
The idea of Maggie fatally shooting Negan is an enticing one for viewers who may still hold a grudge against Negan for brutally killing Glenn. A version of the scene from issue No. 174, however, was already adapted onto "The Walking Dead" before Cohan originally left the series in 2018. On season nine, episode five, Maggie also intended to kill Negan during a jail-cell visit but leaves because she doesn't want to give him the satisfaction.
"I came to kill Negan, and you're already worse than dead," Maggie tells Negan. "That settles it."
Jackson Lee Davis/AMC
Since taking over the show on season nine, the showrunner Angela Kang and the writer's room have worked on, essentially, a redemption story arc for the character. Now that he has killed Alpha, the leader of the Whisperers, it's tough to imagine the show would consider killing him off anytime soon.
The season 10 finale is set to debut sometime later this year on AMC. The network will host a virtual "TWD" panel during San Diego Comic-Con's at home session. Separately, Kirkman is hosting his own SDCC panel.
You can follow along with our "Walking Dead" coverage here.
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