Nine months before he was sued by his former ilustrator for payments over their "Walking Dead" comic book and the TV show it spawned, Robert Kirkman made a joke he probably regrets now.
Asked during a podcast how a comic book writer should find an artist to draw his or her stories, Kirkman dryly replied, "Trickery and deceit."
On Thursday, Kirkman's original "Walking Dead" artist, Tony Moore, accused him of exactly that. Moore alleges in a lawsuit that Kirkman, a childhood friend with whom he collaborated on several comics, tricked him into surrendering his rights to them in 2005 in exchange for payments that never came. Kirkman calls the allegations "ridiculous."
Also read: Robert Kirkman Happy to Lose Arguments About His Characters
But his "trickery and deceit" joke, lighthearted and ironic as it may have been, is almost certain to come under scrutiny if the case goes to trial. Moore's attorney said Friday he was unaware of the podcast comments until TheWrap asked about them.
"As the saying goes, in all humor there's truth," said the attorney, Devin McRae. "And also, I think from my client's perspective, Mr. Kirkman is clearly speaking from experience."
A representative for Kirkman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the podcast remarks. But Kirkman said in a statement Friday that Moore regularly receives payment for his illustrations and royalties for the show.
"We each had legal representation seven years ago and now he is violating the same contract he initiated and approved and he wants to misrepresent the fees he was paid and continues to be paid for the work he was hired to do," Kirkman said.
Kirkman made the "trickery and deceit" joke during a Q&A for the Nerdist podcast. Its host, comedian Chris Hardwick, was later named the host of AMC's "Talking Dead" talk show, which follows new episodes of "The Walking Dead."
The critically acclaimed zombie epic, the highest-rated drama on basic cable, returns Sunday night for the second half of its second season.
The appreciative Nerdist audience laughed at the obvious, intentional irony of Kirkman's joke: Of course, his tone suggested, he wasn't really advocating trickery and deceit.
But the lawsuit adds a layer of irony that Kirkman never intended. Especially because he followed it with a long answer about the potential hazards for comics artists of working with new, unproven writers who may or may not be legit.
Starting in 2003, Moore illustrated the first six issues of "The Walking Dead" and drew covers for 18 more. He had also worked with Kirkman on other comics, including "Battle Pope," which they self-published together in 2000.
Clashes between comic book writers and illustrators go back almost as far as comic books: "Batman" creator Bob Kane and illustrator Jerry Robinson disagreed until Kane's death in 1998 about who deserved credit for creating The Joker — Kane and writer Bill Finger, or Robinson.
Kirkman's remarks during the podcast suggested that he would never cheat an artist. He suggested a jocular familiarity with Moore by joking that when he met him in seventh grade, Moore was "hot" — and remains so today.
He also explained how they came to work together.
"I lucked out in that I met Tony Moore in the seventh grade, and so after we graduated… I basically went to him and was like, hey, let's do this comic book called 'Battle Pope,' like what up?"
He said self-publishing "Battle Pope" with Moore helped him find other artists' online and win their trust.
"Because I had gotten 'Battle Pope' published, when I went to people online and I was like, 'Hey I've got this thing'… I seemed somewhat legit, despite not being legit at all," he said, with a large dose of self-deprecation. "So they trusted me and I was able to do that and people would agree to do books with me."
He added: "But it's very hard if you haven't done that, because there's hundreds of people that are contacting artists that are on… different websites all the time going, 'Hey, you want to do a book with me?' And you don't know who that guy is, and a lot of times artists get screwed where peole are like, 'Oh, let's do a book together and I'll pay you or I won't pay you… people are a little squirelly."
He ended by repeating his proven laugh line: "So I would advise trickery and deceit."
Moore said he agreed to sign over his rights to his collaborations in exchange for a cut of their earnings. But he said he has not received the earnings, or been allowed to look over Kirkman's books, as they had agreed in a 2005 contract.
In an interview with TheWrap this week, before the lawsuit was filed, Kirkman suggested he welcomes collaboration. He said he was happy to lose fights with the show's writers about what should become of the characters he created.
"I would be the most arrogant person in the world if I thought that something I wrote 10 years ago was absolutely better than anything a room of eight people on top of their game could come up with. That's just absurd," he told TheWrap.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this story.