Dynamite Entertainment recently announced a new comic series based on the chararacter of John Shaft made famous in film by Richard Roundtree. David Walker is the writer who gets to bring Shaft to the comic book pages and Westfield Comics' Roger Ash talked to him about the upcoming series.
DAVID WALKER: John Shaft is the baddest man walking the planet. He's a private detective in New York City in the late 1960s and 70s. He grew up in Harlem, where he was a petty criminal, got shipped off to Vietnam, and then returned to New York, where he becomes one of the most dangerous men in the city. He was the creation of writer Ernest Tidyman, and the star of several films.
RA: What attracted you to the project?
DW: This is a project I've wanted to do for longer than I can remember—at least twenty years. Shaft is one of my favorite characters in pop culture—I grew up watching the movies and reading the books. The first novel had a huge impact on me.
RA: What can you tell us about the story in the Shaft comic?
DW: This first story-arc is something of an origin story. I jokingly call it Shaft: Year One. It takes place before the original novel and film came out, 1970 and 71, respectively. It deals with Shaft trying to find his place in the world after coming home from the war, how he becomes a detective, and a really big case that defines him both as a detective and as a badass. And he's wrestling with a lot of personal demons.
RA: Why are comics a good medium for Shaft's return?
DW: Are you kidding? Did you see that last movie, with Sam Jackson? It was terrible. And even though I love the films from the 1970s, they don't capture the character the way the books did. There are seven Shaft novels, which many people don't realize. But the real reason that medium is perfect for Shaft is because comics are a great medium for all storytelling. I love comics. The industry is dominated by superhero stuff, but the medium itself is filled with incredible work from all genres. With a character like Shaft, comics are perfect, because they offer this great juxtaposition of text and image. You can show one thing, but talk about something else. And I love the participatory nature of comics. I love how as a reader, I have to use my imagination to fill in the spaces between the panels, study the art for the deeper subtext of meaning, and actually read the words.
RA: You're working with artist Bilquis Evely on the book. What can you say about HER contribution?
DW: Bilquis is killing it with the art. I really liked her work on Doc Savage, but this is some next level stuff. I've kept the scripts lean and mean, so there is room for her to bring her talent to the table, and like I said, she's killing it. I was just looking at some of her stuff from the first issue, and there's this one panel where she drew an expression on Shaft's face that really says what he is thinking. There is a lot of emotion in the story, and she puts it on the page.
RA: Any closing comments?
DW: First, I want people to know this book is serious. It is not a comedy, or a spoof, or anything like that. This is two-fisted and hard-boiled. I'm keeping everything firmly rooted in the original novels by Ernest Tidyman. Second, I want people to know how appreciative I am for both Dynamite and the Tidyman estate for trusting me with this project. Finally, I want people to know that they're gonna love this comic. If you loved the original Tidyman novels, this series will be perfect for you. If you loved the films, you'll be surprised at how much more complex the character is in the comics. And if the character is new to you, well, then you're in for an extra special treat, because the baddest man in film and literature is getting ready to take over comics.
For more on the Shaft announcement, click here.