Robert Kirkman discusses rape in 'Walking Dead' with fan

Kirkman with Lauren Cohan (Maggie) at SDCC 2012
Courtesy AMC.
If you watched The Walking Dead last night, you know the scene that has been causing quite a bit of dialogue today on the Internets.

Well, if you are also a fan of Robert Kirkman's comic book series (and I am in a big way), then you were squeamishly expecting this to happen on some level. But when something similar did happen in the comics a couple years back, it caused a lot of conversation then.

In fact, rape was the basis of a fan email from Andrea Fordham to Kirkman in June 2006. She outlined her issues with The Governor and his rape of a major character. To his credit, Kirkman replied and discussed his choices as a creator (as well as giving Fordham kudos for a plot idea he says he wished he'd thought of). After seeing last night's episode where rape is threatened (implied?), Fordham wanted to revisit her conversation with Kirkman, and allowed me the opportunity to post the exchange in full.

But first a little background (which involves comic book spoilers)...

Although it was Maggie who was the focus of The Governor's violence last night, it was Michonne in the comics. Fordham - who was really tired and "riled up" when she wrote Kirkman - said she was alienated from TWD comics because Kirkman hadn't created strong female characters and the one he did create, Michonne, was then the victim of the "horror rape card." 

And the reason she told me she wanted to revisit the conversation now? Because of the seeming mutually inclusive relationship between horror and rape.

"I feel more serious about this rape 'entertainment' event than others because I had a personal conversation with Robert about this," she adds in an email. "I expressed myself clearly and I felt at the time (2006) that I had actually helped someone see what I’m talking about. But he had a second chance, and still …whatever."

Fordham also says that, "I am in approval of Playboy, Hustler and porn, but I know that everyone is going to see me as some nut job feminist."

"But there is a HUGE f***ing difference between constantly showing rape in our entertainment but then completely shying away from showing women choosing sex and loving it. Society thinks women being sexual is very bad and always makes movies depicting this as NC17. But rape? Aww, that’s just rated R."

She finally adds that she is still riled up about parts of Kirkman's response - specifically the part where she says he wrote that "he felt showing her not be affected by the rape, would show she is strong."

Anyhow, this is a snapshot of a conversation on a serious topic between two people - one a fan, and the other a major comic book creator who was not yet an executive producer on a hit TV show.

Personally, I relate to both sides of this email. I don't think Kirkman is anti-female nor do I think Fordham is a "nut job feminist," but I do believe this is a topic that is worth talking about. Fordham has an impassioned argument and speaks to a trope within pop culture. Kirkman replies thoughtfully - albeit at times awkwardly - in much the same way I might (since we're being honest and all) as someone who can't completely comprehend the horrors of such a vile act.

After reading the emails, let us know what you think. Weigh in and converse. But keep in mind that the letters refer to the comic, and to characters who were alive/active in 2006. A lot has changed in Kirkman's zombie-ridden world since then.

-Aaron Sagers

Here are the two emails submitted to me by Fordham in their entirety. The first is from Fordham:
From: Andrea Fordham
Sent: Friday, June 16, 2006 8:04 AM
Subject: What a poor choice. 
You took the low road and I am so disappointed that I can no longer go on with TWD.
I kept getting little red flags about you but told myself that I did not know you and I just needed to continue with TWD that I loved. 
Before the last straw with #28 I kept going when the zombies shifted to the back burner, I figured you had a plan and they would be back. I chuckled it off when you made a couple of comments in your letters column that you hated girls. 
I mean you had to be kidding, why would you alienate your female fans, it might still be a small group, but TWD has to have more than any other series. And I thought you might have mentioned you were married. 
I kept going when you created your world full of whiny, annoying and weak women. I know, I know, your Andrea is a sharp shooter, how ground breaking, I am sure you think that is a big bone to throw to women you think so little of. And then of course your undertone of women just want to be protected, I plodded through. 
Then you brought in a strong female, Michonne (even though you made her a little unstable) you still had her surviving on her own with leashed zombies. 
Then in # 27 I was so excited to find out about the fighting ring and could not wait for # 28. But that is where the low road came in. Instead of taking us to the exciting story line you set up for us, you took the strong female lead and played the rape card. 
A few weeks back I came across the comic Escape of the Living Dead. I picked it up to see if it was worth reading and found them to just play the cheap horror rape card and was so glad to say that TWD had not fallen to that but now you have. 
I have collected comics for most of my life and have defended the stereotype of the male comic collector of being creepy guys who never get the girls so that they become these distorted perverts who resent women. In just a few issues you have, through reading your own words, convinced me otherwise, at least about you. 
I mean if you are trying to be shocking or edgy, why not have a Deliverance scene? Most of your readers are men and would that not make them squirm more and be a more daring run? 
But no the cliché was the way for you. I am sure that you are having juvenile thoughts of what a feminist I must be or what dark secrets I must be sitting on to get this riled up. None of these things need to be true for a woman to be tired of seeing so many story lines turn to this. 
Even though you allowed Michonne to give a steely look at the end. Even if you do not
allow the attack to happen in # 29, you still went there man. 
Any of the women in your life should feel ashamed for you. And not that I think it will hurt your sales, but you have pushed a fan from getting new readers to TWD, to trying to sway them away. 
Thank God for freedom of speech so you could become a disappointing male.
And Kirkman's reply the same day:
From: Robert Kirkman
Subject: RE: What a poor choice.
Date: Fri, 16 Jun 2006 13:49:41 -0400 
I'm sorry you feel the way you do. 
I don't hate women at all. Anything I've said of that nature in the letters column has been a joke, even if it didn't sound like one. I may go a little too oddball in the letters column, I'll keep an eye on that in the future. 
The truth is, were "I" living in the world of the Walking Dead... I would just want to be protected so I don't feel bad having women say that. Lori and Carol are so concerned with their kids, they wouldn't be fighting and risking their lives. I shouldn't have killed DONNA. Had she lived, she would be on the voting committee, kicking ass with the men. She was the man of the relationship between her and Allen. 
But I killed her. 
Andrea... is a good shot, yeah... but she's young, too... and not very head strong. 
I think Maggie is a strong female character... but I haven't gotten to do much with her yet.
Patricia is a nut, a weak pathetic nut... but there are people like that who exist. I think I've portrayed weak MEN too. 
The rape thing: 
Damn, I wish I HAD thought of making it Glenn... that would have been totally cool. That would really freak people out. But in writing these things... I'm really just following the events and actions of the characters. Gov chopped off Rick's hand. Michonne is strong enough to retaliate... that's what her character would do. She bit off Gov's ear. Glenn wouldn't do that. 
Then I'm thinking... what would Gov do to retaliate against her... what would he do to make her regret her actions. Then I'm also thinking about what makes him seem the most despicable. 
So he rapes her. 
And he DOES rape her next issue, and he beats her up pretty badly. Sorry about that. But help me out here, as a woman... I'm thinking it'd be more offensive to have her be upset and torn up by the event... so I'm basically having her act like it doesn't happen. She bottles it up and ignores the event. 
Is that MORE offensive? Would it be worse to make it appear like the rape had no affect on her? 
I mean, she's going to come after the guy, get revenge, but other than that... no crying, no trauma, none of that. 
I do value my female readers and I apologize if this has been just too much for you. I'm attaching the cover for issue 33 just for kicks. It's the issue Michonne comes after Gov. 
P.S. I am married, and I have a sister, mother, grandmother, mother in-law and plenty of female friends. I love the ladies! Honest!
OK, dear readers, what do you think?