David F. Walker is working on the second Shaft miniseries for Dynamite, Imitation of Life. Here the writer talks to Byron Brewer about the series, the character and working with Dietrich Smith. Cover art by Matthew Clarke.
DAVID F. WALKER: The first series was meant to be an introduction to John Shaft, both to people that already know the character and to those that either didn't know him or only knew of him. He's a very iconic character that is best known for a handful of images and the theme song to a movie. I can't tell you how many people I've encountered that didn't know there were a series of novels. Most people just think Shaft came from the movies and the TV show, where he existed as a fully formed character, with no real back-story. My goal with the first series was to paint a portrait of the character we would all come to know. This second series is more of the John Shaft people got to know in the original books and movies. He's established as a detective, kind of famous, and a badass. At the same time, I'm showing aspects of him from the novels that never made it into the films. There aren't a lot of black characters in comics that have much by way of depth, and I wanted to do my best to rectify that with Shaft.
BB: In #3, the police bring our hero in for questioning. That move in comics, for some reason, always reminds me of the early days of Luke Cage's story. Can you compare and contrast these two characters, unbreakable skin and super-strength aside on Power Man's part?
DFW: Both are characters who came from the streets, got into trouble with the law, and found an opportunity to redeem themselves. Cage is a Shaft-like character, in that he was created shortly after Shaft came out, and is a reflection of the blaxploitation craze of the time, though I suspect that Cage is more of an offshoot of the work of Chester Himes than anyone else. If Himes had written a comic book, it would've been Luke Cage: Hero for Hire. One of the things I find interesting is that Shaft and Cage are both characters that can move through the world of law and order or the world of crime and corruption with equal ease. They are characters that know how to exist in multiple worlds, which in some ways is the story of the black existence in America.
BB: In a non-spoilery manner, can you give us any hints if the case Shaft is brought in on overlaps with his film consultant gig?
DFW: Of course they do; that's a classic trope of many detective stories. The key here is how Shaft solves the initial case—or if he solves it at all. This story was really meant to do two things, and neither of those was about Shaft solving a mystery. The first was to have him start to work through a character flaw that he has in the novels. I won't say what that flaw is, but hopefully readers will pick up on it, because it says a lot about the quality of his character. The other thing I was trying to do with this story is make fun of how black life and the black experience are represented in film.
BB: David, you have been praiseworthy of the work of artist Dietrich Smith. Would you like to share another Shaft saga or two with him behind the pencil?
DFW: Of course. I'd love to work with Dietrich again. I'd also love to work with Bilquis Evely again. And there is a long list of other artists I'd love to see drawing Shaft. There are also some other writers I'd love to see tackle him. Gary Phillips is an incredible crime novelist who's written comics, and he would write an amazing Shaft series. As much as I love the character, I think it would be great to see other creators contribute to his adventures.
For more information on Shaft: Imitation of Life #3, click here.