Though The Walking Dead’s flagship series wrapped up in late 2022, the franchise still lives strong through a variety of projects, with fan-favorite characters taking the live-action universe in new directions. Currently Norman Reedus is heading up the spinoff The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon, with the leather-clad redneck currently out of his element alongside some nuns and a possible messiah in France. The fact that he landed his own follow-up (which was originally meant to co-star Melissa McBride), and that it’s already been renewed for a second season, is proof that the character remains beloved with the fanbase. So why didn’t Daryl ever become an official comic book character?
It’s a question many fans have wondered over time, and even if it arguably happened more whenever the comic series’ initial run was actually still being published, the curiosity will likely always remain. So let’s dig into exactly why Robert Kirkman & Skybound never made the move to adapt Reedus’ crossbow enthusiast for the source material.
Robert Kirkman Didn't Wholly Create Daryl Himself
One reason why The Walking Dead’s comic series hasn’t ever really lost its relevance is that the entire run is being republished in expanded editions, and is currently around a third of the way through. Expectedly, Robert Kirkman has continued his fan letter pages within the newer editions, and The Walking Dead Deluxe #67 was where he most recently addressed the question of Daryl appearing only as a live-action TV character without ever getting a two-dimensional version on the page. He first addressed the fact that he wasn’t the person who solely created either Daryl or Merle Dixon. In his words:
While I had a hand in creating Daryl and Merle, it was very much a team effort involving other season one writers Jack LoGiudice and Charles H. Eglee, as well as Frank Darabont (who originated and named them). A cool thing in TV is that the actors also have a huge hand in who their characters become just in the way they interpret lines. Surprising line reads inspire the writers to write the characters completely differently as the series progresses. So, I'd also credit Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus with a lot of what makes those characters work.
As Kirkman points out, the characters who were crafted specifically for the AMC series did not come from his own brain whole-cloth, but spawned from the combined efforts of the TV series' developer Frank Darabont and members of the Season 1 writing staff. And for all their insights, neither Daryl nor Merle would have become as popular as they did without memorable and eye-catching actors in the roles, so Reedus and former co-star Michael Rooker also deserve some form of co-creator credit in Kirkman's mind.
The Invincible creator followed that up by saying he didn't want to take responsibility for others' creations, while also saying he didn't want the the carriage to come before the cart, so to speak, by having the adaptation start to influence the source material. Here's how he put it:
I would never have done it because it would feel wrong to bring the work of so many other people into the comic. I never wanted the show to change the comic, since the comic is what made the show possible, and I worried it could turn into a snake eating its own tail.
Indeed, Robert Kirkman has spoken quite a bit over the years about TV plot points that he was jealous that he hadn't thought of when fleshing out certain plots for the comic series. But he's also maintained that those instances never made me want to start cribbing storylines from the TV series, especially since the AMC show was already so far behind the issues in the timeline.
Likeness Rights Were Apparently Also A Factor
Even if Robert Kirkman had been 100% invested in bringing Daryl into the Walking Dead’s comic run, and got the thumbs-up from Frank Darabont and everyone else involved with creating the Dixon bros, the Outcast mastermind has also addressed the idea that there were complicated legal issues that barred him and TWD comic artist Charlie Adlard from porting a Norman Reedus lookalike. Back at San Diego Comic-Con 2018 (via ComicBook.com), Kirkman offered the following explanation for Daryl’s comic absence:
Norman Reedus likeness rights and stuff. I love the fact that there is something, if you read the comics, there would be an absence of Daryl and I feel like that adds to the mystery of the comic and makes it more appealing.
Unfortunately, he didn't speak further on the likeness rights matter, and that was one of few (if any other) times where that particular issue was addressed directly by a higher-up Walking Dead creative. It's possible the companies involved had strict stipulations, or it's possible Reedus himself balked at the idea of having an official likeness of himself out there in the wild.
Robert Kirkman Says He Wishes He Could Have Added Daryl
Over the years, Robert Kirkman has been asked roughly a quazillion times about changes he might have made to the comic book or TV series in a different universe, and what he wished he could take back, from regretting killing off Tyreese to wishing the series hadn't introduced its CDC reveal so early. He's shared various answers to that end, with one of them being that he'd loved for Daryl to have been the one TV character he wished was in the comic books from the get-go. Here's how he put it in an interview with AMC:
Daryl Dixon is definitely the big one, but that said, I think it’s great that there is something in the television show that you can only get from the television show. He’s a tremendously important character in that when we go to adapt stories from the comic, there’s always this X-factor that automatically makes us change stories in some way. The best part of doing the show is looking at my comic like a rough draft and sitting down with the writers to make it better.
The closest fans have come to seeing Daryl Dixon in the Walking Dead comic books was the outstanding April Fool's Day gag Skybound pulled in 2014, in which the company unveiled a fake Daryl-centric comic cover, as seen below.
Beyond that, the acclaimed comic artist David Finch offered up his take on how Comic Book Daryl would look for the variant hardcover release of The Art of the Walking Dead, which is half of what's pictured at the top of this article. The image is partially in reference to the Daryl-esque character Dwight, whose face was partially burned by Negan during his time in the Saviors.
Other Important Walking Dead TV Characters Who Never Appeared In The Comics
Deanna and Reg
All 11 seasons of The Walking Dead are available to stream in full with a Netflix subscription, while TWD: Daryl Dixon airs Sunday nights on AMC at 9:00 p.m. And stay up to date with Image Comics and Skybound to see when the upcoming Deluxe comic editions are hitting comic shops.