'Blaxploitation Is Definitely My Thing' – David F. Walker Talks Shaft

This week we see the return of Shaft, but this time to the comic book shops from Dynamite written by David F. Walker. Vampirella writer Nancy A. Collins spoke with Walker about taking up such an iconic character.

Shaft01CovACowanNANCY A. COLLINS: Is this comic based on the movies starring Richard Roundtree, or the original fiction series by Ernest Tidyman?

DAVID F. WALKER: The comic is based on Ernest Tidyman's books. The literary incarnation of the character is richer and more complex, with a deeper backstory, and more personal demons. It wasn't until I'd read Tidyman's original book that I really began to see the character coming to life within the medium of comics.

NAC: The first issue appears to be set in the late 1960s and shows John Shaft as a professional boxer. Is this his origin story? Is Shaft's background as a boxer your own creation, or has this been referenced before in the original source material?

Shaft0101DFW: In Tidyman's books there are several crucial references to Shaft's past, including a brief stint as a boxer. I wanted to set this first story arc at a crucial time in Shaft's life, after he's come back from the Vietnam War, and is trying to figure out what to do with his life. He is in his early 20s, and thinks that boxing can be his career. By the time we meet John Shaft in the first book, he is already established as a private detective, and comfortable in his skin. I wanted to explore who he was before that.

NAC: Are you familiar with the other classic 'blaxploitation' films, such as Cotton Come To Harlem, Across 110th Street, Black Caesar, Superfly and The Mack. Where do you see Shaft fitting into that particular genre?

DFW: Blaxploitation is definitely my thing. I produced a documentary on the genre, wrote a book, and published a 'zine for years. Shaft is an important film, because it helped establish what people consider the genre, though it exists outside the genre. If anything Shaft helped give birth to what we think of as blaxploitation, but as a film and as a novel, it is really just a detective story. As a character, John Shaft represents a crucial shift in the evolution of black characters in popular media. He exists in this very specific world that straddles the line between law and order, and the criminal underworld. He exists in both these worlds, but doesn't belong to either, which makes him very unique amongst blaxploitation heroes. Films like Black Caesar and Superfly are rooted in the anti-hero as hero tradition—gangsters and criminals are the protagonists.

Shaft0102NAC: Can you give us a quick rundown of the main characters in the upcoming series?

DFW: In addition to Shaft himself, there will be a mix of characters from Tidyman's books, and some new characters. Knocks Persons, the crime kingpin of Harlem, and Vic Anderozzi, the incorruptible NYPD detective, are both from Tidyman's world, and will appear in the comics as well as the new prose. I've introduced some new characters, including a gangster named Bamma Brooks, who represents all the things Shaft doesn't want to be, but could be. There are also several supporting character that come into play, who are very instrumental in John Shaft becoming the character we all know and love, but I don't want to give away those secrets. I will say that for the first time, Shaft is going to have a real adversary—a recurring character that will serve as his arch nemesis. This character will appear in both the comics (hopefully the second story arc), and will be introduced in the novella, Shaft's Revenge.

Shaft0104NAC: Are you in close collaboration with your artist, Bilquis Evely? And what is your opinion of the artwork so far?

DFW: Bilquis and I are friends on Facebook, and we've exchanged about three emails, but that is it. She is an amazing talent. I can't imagine a better collaborative partner, and I'm constantly in awe of what she brings to the storytelling process. She is putting stuff on the page that is only hinted at in the script. I would work with her again in a heartbeat, and actually have a creator-owned project I'd like to try and develop with her. When you're doing work-for-hire, even on something you love as much as I love this project, there's always this concern of who the artist will be. Working with Bilquis is like every great birthday present I've ever been given.

NAC: Do you have any other projects your fans should be aware of in the coming year?

Shaft0108DFW: I'm writing the novella Shaft's Revenge, the first new Shaft prose since 1975. Initially, the book will be serialized digitally, and then released as a complete volume. I've already written a Shaft one-shot, which I'm assuming will be out in the spring, and that one has a very different tone from this first story arc. I have a creator owned series, The Army of Dr. Moreau, that's being published digitally by Monkeybrain Comics. There will be a trade paperback collection of that from IDW in March 2015. There's a rumor that the mini-series Number 13, which I co-wrote for Dark Horse, is being turned into a live-action film (fingers crossed). There is a digital series called The Supernals Experiment that I wrote for NFL player Phillip Buchanon, which is available on Comixology. And finally, I'm hoping to finally finish and release the second book in my YA series, The Adventures of Darius Logan.

For more information on Shaft #1, click here.

About Dan Wickline

Has quietly been working at Bleeding Cool for over three years. He has written comics for Image, Top Cow, Shadowline, Avatar, IDW, Dynamite, Moonstone, Humanoids and Zenescope. He is the author of the Lucius Fogg series of novels and a published photographer.