*Interview* Head of AMC Networks Publishing, Mike Zagari

Welcome to Action Reloaded, Mike! To kick start off, how did you initially become involved with the AMC network? And The Walking Dead universe?

Mike Zagari: Hello and thanks for the invite! One of my previous Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm supervisors joined AMC Networks back in 2017. We stayed connected and he wound up offering me a position with AMC. As one of AMC’s biggest franchises, The Walking Dead Universe quickly became one of my main focuses.

Before you came involved with AMC, you were also apart of Marvel, DC, Disney & Star Wars…Let’s start with Marvel, what was your duties while working for the company?

Mike Zagari: In 2011, I began working with Marvel Publishing and Marvel Studios as a freelance producer and designer for the brand-new “Art of Marvel Studios” collections. After we completed Art of Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America books, I came on board to be a full-time producer for Disney, Marvel and all their other amazing brands and franchises. Flash-forward to 2016, I led creative and production of the Marvel Mashers multimedia products on one of my last major projects as an Executive Producer for the company. We produced a brand-new mobile game based on the Marvel Mashers toys, a joint venture between Marvel Consumer Products and Hasbro. Leveraging the 3D game assets, we also produced new animated digital shorts, comics and even expanded the roster of Marvel characters beyond the physical action figure selection. In parallel, I was spearheading several all-ages Star Wars interactive apps and games. For both Marvel and Lucasfilm, I was responsible for ensuring collaboration across teams to make the best products and experiences possible!

Did you get the opportunity to work alongside the Romero of comics, Mr. Stan Lee?

Mike Zagari: I was incredibly fortunate to start voice-directing Stan Lee on our first Marvel all-ages digital app, Spider-Man: An Origin Story. We then went on to work together on many more Marvel apps over the course of several years. To this day, Stan was one of the most professional, friendly, and down-to-earth people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. He was in his mid-eighties at the time, and to my surprise, initially came solo, driving to the sessions all by himself! He’s one of the few talents I’ve ever worked with that would get the recording of a line in the very first take. Occasionally, there was downtime while the audio engineers set up and Stan and I would chit chat. Like Stan, I was also born on Long Island, New York, and we would chat about why he made Los Angeles his home for the past 30 years. I remember him sharing that he was always fascinated with the Hollywood side of the entertainment industry. He told me he eventually “tricked” them to give him a position in LA, where he was put in charge of developing the 1981 Spider-Man animated series. He loved living there and never wanted to leave from that moment forward. He shared several more humorous anecdotes in various sessions. One was about his time during the filming of Kevin Smith’s Mallrats…but I’ll save that for another time! 

Switching across to DC, you got to work with the Batman, character. Batman is my all-time favourite hero, it must have been quite surreal working with such an iconic character? 

Mike Zagari: Working on Batman was an unbelievable experience, and it was even more exciting to have it be so early in my career. I started as a designer on DC’s Creative Services team for both print and digital books and experiences, and ultimately became the Digital Art Director. I designed and helped produce all of DC’s websites, apps, podcasts, and digital shorts. Looking back, one of the highlights was designing the official Batman.com at that time.

You worked on the comic adaption of Batman Begins, right? Did you work alongside Christopher Nolan during this project? 

Mike Zagari: The Batman Begins comic adaptation, and connected stories we produced, was another great experience. Since I was in the art/design space at the time, my connection with Christopher (and Jonathan) Nolan was basically receiving their notes and then making sure we followed their vision as best we could.

Moving back to the present, you’re involved with The Art Of The Walking Dead, what inspired you guys to put this book together? 

Mike Zagari: In 2019, we started meeting with Scott Gimple, Angela Kang, Greg Nicotero, and Brian Bockrath about what we can produce to celebrate the Walking Dead Universe. We thought about what we could make for fans (both long-time fans and newer fans) of all the shows: The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead and World Beyond. After those discussions, I began working closely with talented crew members like Roberto Fuertes to gather assets. The book features a multitude of top-tier material: never-before-seen original sketches, concept art, storyboards, pre-vis art, set concept and engineering art, promotional concept to completion key art, special product illustrations, in-world product art and much more.

It’s awesome! I think it’s a must for every fan, is supply limited? Or can fans purchase any of the three variant covers at any given time? 

Mike Zagari: There are three editions: Standard Edition, AMC Networks Publishing Exclusive Edition and Skybound Exclusive Edition. All three books are on-sale November 16, 2021, but are available for pre-order now. The AMC Networks Publishing Exclusive Edition features a brand-new cover utilizing the three-circle symbol as a key element by Yanick Paquette & Nathan Fairbairn and is only available in limited quantities through AMC’s TWDU Shop. The Skybound Store Exclusive features Daryl Dixon cover art by David Finch & Dave McCaig and is only available in limited quantities through the Skybound Store. The Standard Edition has a brand-new painted cover featuring over 50 TWDU characters painted by Brian Rood and is available to pre-order everywhere books are sold, including both of those shops.

Being involved with the series, what is your favourite, the main series, Fear or World Beyond? 

Mike Zagari: Good question! Season 1 of the flagship series is my favorite to date. But that said, main series season 6, season 9, Fear season 1 and World Beyond Season 2 are all at the top. 

We also have the Carol and Daryl spin-off, an anthology series and the Rick Grimes movies! Will the three focus seasons atm essentially lead us to the epic Rick movies? 

Mike Zagari: This is an excellent question for the showrunners, but I know from firsthand experience that their lips are sealed

Back to the book, sorry I got derailed, how long did it take to put The Art Of The Walking Dead book together? Was it always a plan to make a collection book? 

Mike Zagari: It took over two years to put together this magnificent, massive collection! Roberto Fuertes went above and beyond to gather assets and connect the dots between the amazing talent and creative behind each series. Scott Gimple’s incredible introduction was one of the first pieces of the puzzle, that set off the tone of the book we were producing. After we began gathering the assets, I brought on John J. Hill, a former colleague from DC and AfterShock Comics, to be the creative director and designer. After some of the key structure and layouts were in place, I brought in Matthew K Manning, who not only wrote all the copy, but also (along with Roberto) interviewed dozens of the talented creative and crew which make the shows so top notch. We then started conversations with Skybound and were excited to partner with them on the key publishing aspects and have Robert Kirkman more directly involved.

The Art Of The Walking Dead, promises concept designs, storyboards, blueprints of the show’s various settings, behind-the-scenes trivia, and more…can fans expect to see unused story arcs and much more that didn’t make the show

Mike Zagari: There is a sprinkling of art (both show and promotional material) that didn’t quite make the final cut, but the book is predominantly a celebration for fans to see behind-the-scenes the shows they know and love. One of the fun surprises along the way was getting some behind-the-scenes trivia on Daryl Dixon from the one-and-only Norman Reedus.

Would you say, The Art Of The Walking Dead, is the perfect goodbye present for the longtime fans of the mother series which is in its final season

Mike Zagari: Absolutely! It’s perfect for TWDU fans from all walks of life…sorry, that’s some Stan Lee-like puns making their way into my answers.

Is this book a one-off or can we expect a couple of more Volumes down the line? 

Mike Zagari: We ended up with so much material, the book truly is a top tier taste of each one category of content. Therefore, we do have the material for future collections, but we’ll have to wait and see if the stars align for future collections.

Going to ask three questions that will divide you amongst fans (haha), what’s your favourite series and why? Whose your favourite character and why? By the end of the run of each season, who do you want left standing?

Mike Zagari: It appears you saved the hardest question for the end! The flagship series is my favorite because of Jeffery Dean Morgan. He’s so entertaining to watch: Antagonist? Protagonist? Somewhere in-between? He can do it all! (Hey, looks like I answered the first two questions with that one.) For your last one, I’m not sure if this answers the question, but as a fan, I can say I was hoping Carl was going to make it to the end, like he does in the comics. That said, Chandler Riggs and the writers, directors, and entire crew are all so talented, my hope for him to survive was mainly because of the amazing work on Carl’s journey! 

Mike, it has been a blast! Thank you for your time.

Mike Zagari: Thanks for having me, this was fun!