In 2012, Dr. Travis Langley took us inside the minds of Gotham's protectors and tormentors in Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight. Now, along with a team of expert contributors, Dr. Langley examines the mental effects of the zombie apocalypse in The Walking Dead Psychology: Psych of the Living Dead. At Comic-Con, Daily Dead caught up with Dr. Langley, who discussed further exploring the survivors of Robert Kirkman's living dead world, his upcoming book Star Wars Psychology: Dark Side of the Mind, and much more.
Dr. Langley on his longtime love of The Walking Dead:
Dr. Travis Langley: I've always been a fan of The Walking Dead from the very first issue. You can go back and find issues—I think it's #11, #13 and #17—and go to the letter column, you'll find letters by me where I was analyzing the stuff back then. I've always been analyzing it. I was thinking about this stuff before there was any book potential. This is what I think about. My sons and I were developing zombie survival plans before it was the trendy thing to do. I love [George A.] Romero's work.
Dr. Langley on Night of the Living Dead co-writer John Russo penning the forward for The Walking Dead Psychology: Psych of the Living Dead:
Dr. Travis Langley: I'm always looking for another zombie movie, and there's a lot of crap, but you find these things that have something different, something unusual and interesting to say. Romero was making a statement about people initially. He wasn't even concerned with what his ghouls were. John Russo, his co-writer, was the one who said they should be the recently deceased. John essentially invented the living dead and wrote the forward for The Walking Dead Psychology: Psych of the Living Dead.
He was watching The Walking Dead specifically so he could have some things to talk about with us. I'm very honored to include the man who invented the living dead in this project.
Dr. Langley on the wide range of knowledgable contributors to The Walking Dead Psychology and Star Wars Psychology: Dark Side of the Mind:
Dr. Travis Langley: I'm not writing them all by myself this time. You can't do two or four books a year of this type and depth, even with things you've been thinking about for years. Obviously, I've been thinking about The Walking Dead and Star Wars and Star Trek for a really long time, and along the way I've gotten to know really great fellow psych geeks through these conventions. People I've been doing convention panels with, bringing people together to talk about these things, some of my fellow psychology bloggers. Between the panels and the blogs, these are people who know their psychology. They genuinely know the popular culture topic, it's not something they'll just look at to rattle about.
Dr. Langley on the themes in The Walking Dead Psychology and Star Wars Psychology:
Dr. Travis Langley: In the first book [Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight], I was focusing on villains and in The Walking Dead books they're also focusing on villains. I'm mixing up the themes along the way. With Star Wars [Psychology: Dark Side of the Mind], I'm focusing on the big five personality factors. These five sets of characteristics that tend to go together and you find them in any culture. For example, introversion and extroversion. That's one of those features and I use some characters from Star Wars to talk about those.
Dr. Langley on how fiction allows us to further explore real life issues:
Dr. Travis Langley: I can say in some ways more things about the real psychology with the fictional character that I can with a real person. I don't know what goes on inside Jeffrey Dahmer's head. Why was Dahmer eating people? We don't know. The folks at Terminus on The Walking Dead, we know more about why they were eating people. We can talk about them. We can talk about things we know, what the writers have said about what was going on with the character.
I can talk to other experts who look to Dahmer, there are plenty of things worth looking at for the real people, absolutely, but that's not what I'm doing. Talking about people who have been living—even if they're not alive anymore—there are other people in their lives. Jeffrey Dahmer has relatives, who it can hurt them every time they see something with somebody talking about him. You're talking about folks at Terminus, there's nobody who could be hurt by me bringing up, "What was wrong with those people?"
*Spoiler Warning for those not caught up on The Walking Dead TV series* Dr. Langley on how Carol and Maggie have dealt with grief on The Walking Dead TV series:
Dr. Travis Langley: Carol is becoming Ripley [from the Alien films]. Carol, for all those changes from the abuse survivor who becomes this strong heroine—why doesn't she talk about her daughter? Sometimes she feels like she's barely holding it together. She can't, she feels that she can't. If she does, then she might break down and lose it. There are people who go through horrible things in life.
There's a spell when Maggie doesn't know where Beth is. A lot of viewers were wondering, "Why doesn't Maggie talk about Beth? She's never saying anything about Beth. That seems unrealistic." No, a lot of people will go into—maybe not even denial—but just not letting yourself think. Not repression, but suppression. Not letting yourself think about something because thinking about it could make you face other things.
In Maggie's case, if Beth was gone, that would force her to feel the crushing reality that everybody she knew before the apocalypse was gone. She was the only surviving member of her family from the life she'd known before, so if Beth was gone, that was her position. By not thinking about that, she did not have to have that fall in and crush her. That is something that people do.
*Spoiler Warning for those not caught up on The Walking Dead TV series* Dr. Langley discusses the different ways Rick's group has reacted to living behind the walls of Alexandria:
Dr. Travis Langley: They're showing a variety of reactions. It's not technically post-traumatic stress disorder right away, because that has to go on at least 30 days past their trauma and they've been in relentless ongoing trauma. Hard to say what's post-traumatic at all in their world, but when they first get there [Alexandria], it's definitely not been 30 days, but still, other than that criteria, you've got characters otherwise showing a wide range. Sasha is the one people most obviously talk about suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. Carol is too—she's just showing a different set of symptoms.
By talking about that kind of thing, with them or with Batman, where they fit post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and where they don't, lets some of the people I'm talking to see the characters a little differently and it lets them realize PTSD wasn't quite what they thought it was.
Dr. Langley on how The Walking Dead Psychology will examine characters from both the TV show and the comic book series:
Dr. Travis Langley: We're going to look at people from the comic books, too. The people contributing chapters, some of them don't know the comic book, and that's fine. You've got the perspective of the TV viewer. Some of us know the comic book first. We've got that perspective. I like having the different mix of points of view while still trying to maintain a common thread.
Synopsis: "The characters of The Walking Dead live in a desolate postapocalyptic world, filled with relentless violence and death. In reality, how would such never-ending trauma affect the psyche? By understanding the psychological forces that drive the series' action, fans can better grasp this compelling fictional universe. Is the Governor a psychopath, a sociopath, or neither? Which characters suffer PTSD and is there hope for them? What does Terror Management Theory tell us about what it means to constantly fight for survival--as Rick must? What is the emotional cost of killing a walker or even another living person? What is groupthink and how does it affect the decisions made by the people of Woodbury, Terminus, Alexandria, and Rick's gang?
In 19 essays from a range of esteemed contributors, plus "Case Files" sidebars by editor Travis Langley with a foreword by Night of the Living Dead co-creator John Russo, The Walking Dead Psychology answers these and many other questions in a way sure to fascinate the show's millions of passionate readers and viewers.
John Blanchar * Megan Blink * Colt J. Blunt * Josue Cardona * Adam Davis * William Blake Erickson * Frank Gaskill * Jennifer Golbeck * Jonathan Hetterly * Katrina Hill * Alan Kistler * Dana Klisanin * Stephen Kuniak * Martin Lloyd * Stephanie Norman * Patrick O'Connor * Katherine Ramsland * Clay Routledge * John Russo * Billy San Juan * Janina Scarlet * Steven Schlozman * Lara Taylor * Dave Vergaagen * Mara Wood * E. Paul Zehr *"