Frank Barbiere, writer of The Precinct #3, talks with writer David Walker about Shaft: Imitation of Life #1, both on sale now from Dynamite. Cover is by Matthew Clark. Interiors by Dietrich Smith.
FRANK BARBIERE: David, this is your second Shaft series. I've heard you speak about how much you enjoy the character, so I'm curious: going into this new series, do you have anything specific you're trying to say?
DAVID WALKER: I definitely wanted to get a little deeper into the character himself, and show him developing and growing as a person. But I have to be honest, when it was announced last year that there was going to be a new Shaft movie, and that it was going to be "comedic," I kind of went ballistic. For me, Shaft is not supposed to be a comedy, and I remain confident that if the film gets made, it will suck. But because I'm a writer, and driven by ego, I wanted to show how to add comedy to a Shaft story. We won't see the comedic element until starting with the second issue, but it is there, and at no time is Shaft himself the joke. So, I can't lie, this was me proving I could do a Shaft story with a touch of comedy, and that I could do it better than anyone in Hollywood. Now my secret is out … I'm a bit of a prick.
FB: You do a great job of bringing readers up to speed with the character and giving him personality and context. What do you think the most important part of Shaft is to communicate to new fans and readers who may be discovering the character for the first time?
DW: So many people have this idea of Shaft as some kind of comedic throwback to another era. I'm sorry, but that's Black Dynamite. That's Austin Powers. Shaft was always meant to be a serious character, with a complex personality. Ernest Tidyman originally wrote him as a veteran of the Vietnam war with a knack for killing people, and that's what I ran with. Shaft is a dangerous man, who is as intelligent as he is deadly, and that's a great combination.
FB: I know you've worked on Shaft novels as well. Is there anything specific in the comics that you feel works better? Does having the visual medium open up new doors to storytelling, or make the material more accessible? Anything you just like better (or at least remark as being very different) about Shaft's comic incarnations?
DW: From the very beginning, I knew that for the comics I would deviate from the original Ernest Tidyman books by having Shaft narrate the series. The first-person narrative is a classic trope in detective stories, but for whatever reason, Tidyman didn't use it. This provided me with an opportunity to distinguish my interpretation of the character for the original iteration. But when it came time to write the prose novel, I stuck with the third-person narrative of Tidyman. The difference in the two styles is pretty profound. In the comics, you get a sense of how intelligent Shaft is, and how he's more than just a killer. You get that from the novel as well, but because he isn't telling the story, it is possible to get into how really damaged he is. In writing, we talk about the "reliable" narrator—someone whose telling of the story can be believed. Shaft is a reliable narrator for his comic adventures, which can rely on visual cues to tell the story. But when the story is told solely with words, he can't tell the story.
FB: The book looks great with excellent art and coloring. Do you have a favorite page or sequence from this issue? I particularly enjoyed the page with Shaft coming up from the subway and the montage of color behind him.
DW: Yeah, I love that montage where he's coming out of the subway. I also love the scene where he meets the character Tito. Tito is going to play a big part in the story, in more ways than one. Tidyman's original novels tended to be a bit homophobic. I had no desire to change or erase what he did, but I did want the opportunity to allow the character to grow a bit in terms of how he carries himself, and how he thinks about people who are different from him.
FB: I also noted you lettered the book yourself (something I like to do when I have the time). Do you feel like this adds anything to your creative process or brings you closer to the work?
DW: Lettering is kind of therapeutic for me, but it also gives me a chance to play with the story a bit more. I can tighten up dialog, move some things around, and just get a chance to feel like I've given it my all.
FB: Any closing thoughts on this new series you'd like to share?
DW: I'm thankful that Dynamite asked me back. My schedule was nuts, and I was worried there wouldn't be enough time to do a second Shaft story, but I love the character so much, and wanted the opportunity to help develop him a bit more.
For more information on Shaft: Imitation Life #1, click here.