Nancy A. Collins, writer of Vampirella # 8, talks with David F. Walker about Shaft #2, both on sale now.
NANCY A. COLLINS: This issue reveals how John Shaft got into the private investigation business—and reveals a significant romance in his past. How much of this was taken from the original series by Ernest Tidyman, and how much is of your own creation?
DAVID F. WALKER: In the original Tidyman books, it is revealed how Shaft got started as a private investigator, but there is never anything mentioned about his first major case. I decided to kill two birds with one stone, by showing him going into this sort of low-rent world of private investigation that involves things like doing security at department stores. As for the romance part of the story, that is all me. I wanted to take the character, who is a total womanizer in the books and movies, and sort of examine why he is that way. For me, I wasn't interested in writing a about a guy who's a sex machine with all the chicks, without looking at why he operates in this manner.
NAC: What time period is your story arc set in? It's obviously before the events with in the 1971 film, starring Richard Roundtree, but exactly when is all this supposed to be taking place?
DFW: This story is set in 1969, two years before the movie takes place, and about a year before the original novel takes place. The first issue took place in December 1968. The second issue is around March or April of 1969. From this point forward, the remainder of the story spans about seventy-two hours.
NAC: How much research have you done re NYC, and Harlem in particular, during this particular time period? I noticed specific storefronts and signage in Bilquis Evely's artwork—were those actual businesses?
DFW: Research is my best form of procrastination. I will spend a ridiculous amount of time doing research, even if it isn't reflected in the final story. There's a scene where Shaft and this other guy walk into a place called Ike & Ron's Cocktail Lounge, which was a real place in Harlem. I'd have to check my research notes to tell you the exact location, but it was a real place. I talked to friends and family that grew up in New York, to get bits and pieces of information to add an air of authenticity. I knew I wanted a scene set in a go-go bar in Harlem, so I called my friend Jerry Craft, a cartoonist who grew up in Harlem, and he put me in touch with a childhood friend, whose dad owned several spots in Harlem, including Ike and Ron's.
NAC: How hard is it to recreate a believable sense of time and place for an audience that, in all likelihood, has only experienced the 1960s and 1970s through old TV series and movies?
DFW: That's a good question. I think for many people past eras exist as these either sweeping generalizations or very broad jokes. Show someone wearing bellbottoms and with an afro, and suddenly you've got this image of the 1970s. I think when you're doing a period piece, the best thing to do is try and avoid the more comical trappings. Once you remove the comedy, or least scale it way back, you're dealing in something more believable. It helps to understand certain details of an era, which is where research comes in, which in turn creates authenticity. If you've got a story set in 1970, and a character is using a pay phone, you need to keep in mind that most pay phones were still in booths, and that they were rotary dials. Little details like this help remove a story from a contemporary setting, but that isn't the story itself. Character, plot and theme are the magic ingredients of a good story, while a sense of time and place can be established with a visual cue or two.
NAC: What else do you have planned for John Shaft in the immediate future? And do you have any upcoming events readers should keep an eye out for in 2015?
DFW: We're really just getting started on this story-arc, which will run a total of six issues. There is a one-shot, but I don't know if I'm supposed to talk about that. And of course, there is the serialized prose novella, Shaft's Revenge, which I'm in the process of finishing up. I'll be down in San Francisco on January 19 and 20 for the Black Comix Arts Festival, which is going to be an amazing event. I'll be at some shows in the early part of the year—definitely Emerald City Comic Con, Wondercon and some in-store appearances.
For more on Shaft #2, click here.