By the time AMC aired the "Tell It to the Frogs" episode of The Walking Dead TV show in 2010, Image Comics had published 78 issues of Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead comic book — and not a single issue featured brothers Merle and Daryl Dixon. Played by Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus, the Dixon brothers were created by series developer and then-showrunner Frank Darabont for AMC's adaptation of the comic books. Daryl would go on to become one of the television show's most popular characters — and will lead his already-renewed solo spin-off, The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon, premiering this fall — so why wasn't Daryl in the comics?
"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)," Kirkman wrote of the Dixon duo in the letters page in The Walking Dead Deluxe #67. "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."
Reedus initially auditioned for the Merle role. (While casting directors "loved" the Boondock Saints actor, he "wasn't a perfect fit" for the racist, redneck drug dealer — so Darabont created Daryl for Reedus.)
Kirkman added that there were "logistical issues" that barred bringing TV show characters into the comics, but did not specify what those might be. "I would never have done it because it would feel wrong to bring the work of so many other people into the comic," Kirkman explained. "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."
The Walking Dead issue #98, published in 2012, introduced Dwight, a disfigured member of the Saviors who wielded TV Daryl's weapon of choice: a crossbow. "All that said," Kirkman wrote, "doing fun things like making comic readers think Dwight might be Daryl when introducing him? That kind of stuff is fun."
During a 2018 panel at San Diego Comic-Con, Kirkman remarked that there were "Norman Reedus likeness rights" that barred Daryl Dixon from the comic book. "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," Kirkman said at the time.
The Walking Dead Deluxe #68 is on stands August 2nd from Skybound and Image Comics.