Feb 1 2015
David F. Walker is an award-winning journalist, filmmaker, and author of the YA series The Adventures of Darius Logan. His publication BadAzz MoFo became internationally known as the indispensable resource guide to black films of the 1970s. His work in comics includes the series Shaft (Dynamite Entertainment), Doc Savage (Dynamite Entertainment), Number 13 (Dark Horse Comics), The Army of Dr. Moreau (IDW/Monkeybrain Comics), and The Supernals Experiment (Canon Comics).
VixenVarsity: Let me start this interview off by stating that I’ve often pictured you, stock still, screwmugged, firmly planted in an I-Told-You-So stance regarding emergent cultural trends. I remember you mouthing off about the black rock movement very early on, well before Afro-Punk.
You were a blaxploitation connoisseur, writer and supportive critic well before Black Dynamite. You were writing challenging, provocative thoughtbombs well before The Boondocks were on TV. So I’m forced to wonder: are you sincerely excited about what’s coming up in the foreseeable future, annoyed that there isn’t enough, or stressed out that it took so long to even get where we are?
David Walker: I’m always excited by possibility, so, yeah, I’m exited by what’s coming up in the future, or at least the possibility of what is coming up. At the same time, I do have my concerns about the direction things or headed, or more specifically, where things are right now. You talk about me being somewhat ahead of the curve when it came to what I was doing in BadAzz MoFo—if that’s true or not, I don’t know. That’s not for me to say. What I do know is that a fan and as critic, I was looking to talk about things that no one else seemed to be talking about.
I wanted to know more about blaxploitation, and wasn’t finding what I wanted, so I created BadAzz MoFo and shared it with the world. Now, I see this growing movement of black nerds/geeks, and to me that is an incredibly beautiful thing. I wish there had been more folks willing to wave their freak flag twenty years ago, but then I realize a lot of people doing their thing now were under ten years old back then.
My concern, however, with this emergent culture of black nerdom, is that I see too many folks talking about Agent Carter or Gotham, and not nearly enough talking about a comic like Concrete Park, or the death of cosplayer Darrien Hunt. Maybe I’m wrong, but I see a bit too much of people simply recycling the same information that serves massive corporations, and doing very little to support that which is marginalized.
I see this black nerd movement as an attempt to declare our visibility, but to me it’s a waste of time if a disproportionate amount of energy is spent calling attention to that which is visible, while not propping up what needs to be seen.
VV: Do you feel that comics are recognizably more diversely populated now, both on the creator-side and in the content? If so, what do you think has changed to provide this shift, and what’s stayed the same?
DW: If I’m going to be honest, I don’t really know for sure. This is the thing—I know that there was a level of diversity in comics twenty years ago, because I was out there in the trenches. And I know that there are creators and characters in the game right now. Last month we had two amazing events—one in Harlem and the other San Francisco—that showcased both creators and characters.
The problem is that both the creators and characters that account for diversity in comics are mostly languishing in the world of independents, and therefore don’t register on the radar of most people. I can tell you this: I see more black people, people of color, and women, at shows like San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con than I see white males. At the same time, those numbers are not reflected in what is being produced by the mainstream. Likewise, I don’t see that many of these people of color really getting behind or supporting the projects that represent the true diversity in the industry.
VV: What do you feel are some perceived challenges in being a black creator in the comics medium?
DW: That list is too long. I’ll start by saying that the comic industry is basically still a “good old boys” system. Most of the companies are run predominantly by white men, most of the retail outlets are owned and operated by white men, the sole distributor is an operation of predominantly white men, and an unhealthy amount of the journalists covering the medium are white men, whose interest lies largely in covering the product made by the two biggest publishers, which is produced by a disproportionate number of white men. I think from there you can begin to see the challenges faced by black creators.
At the same time, I don’t thing these are the biggest challenges we face. No, the biggest challenge faced by black creators is the lack of support from black fans. Last year, I was at the New York Comic Con. I can’t tell you how many black people I saw, but I’m guessing that is was well into the five figures—and that’s just one show, in one major metropolitan area. That’s to say those were the black folks at NYCC, and not the fans in Atlanta, or Southern California, or Atlanta, or wherever.
But I know that if just half the fans at the show in New York had bought Concrete Park, the book would not have been cancelled. If just ten percent of black folks I see at conventions all over the country supporting creators like myself, or Alex Simmons, or Brandon Easton, or whoever I could list here, we’d all be doing better. Likewise, if more black nerds were speaking out about the murder of Darrien Hunt—one of our own—we would be taking a stand for something that really mattered. But the problem is that more of us are concerned with what’s going to happen on the next episode of Arrow, or whether or not it is okay to cast a black actor as Human Torch or Jimmy Olsen, than they are with the murder of one of our community.
VV: Do you feel like black comic creators do not receive the same opportunities and offers to turn their creations into movies or TV shows? Is it simply a matter of lack of visibility, or is there more to it than that?
DW: It is a combination of factors. But at the end of the day, part of it has to do with this…why would Hollywood back a black project that didn’t have strong sales as a comic, and got almost no attention from the press? The other thing to keep in mind is that Hollywood doesn’t give a shit about black creators, they just give a shit about making money.
The studios know that they can make more money off of Star Wars than they can Black Star Wars, because white and black people will go see Star Wars, but a lot of people—both black and white—won’t bother with Black Star Wars. At the same time, a company like Disney is smart enough to know that if they have a black guy in the new Star Wars, they will be getting an audience that might not come, while not losing their primary audience. They know that there is millions of dollars to be made by throwing us scraps.
VV: The new Shaft is f**king fantastic. Do you feel like writing this comic represents an act of sacred ownership? Are you concerned or intimidated by the cultural weight of him as an icon?
DW: Thank you. I do feel a tremendous amount of responsibility, and in the beginning, there was some concern and intimidation. But if I’m going to be honest, I know that I’m a decent writer. Hell, I might even be a good writer. And whatever sense of responsibility that may or may not come with that character is offset by the skills I know I bring to the battle. I can’t pick a mic and flow fantastic, or step into the ring and float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, but I wield the power of life and death with my pen.
VV: How many issues are planned, and how far along are you? Do you think this could be a substantially long title with no discernible end, or do you know exactly where Shaft is headed?
DW: The first story arc is six issues, plus there’s a one-shot, and I’m writing the novel Shaft’s Revenge. I would love for this to be a long-running title, and I have about two years worth of stories ready to go. But when all is said and done, that is the decision of Dynamite, and it will be determined by the amount of money the book makes. I have my own concerns over sales, though I might just be paranoid. If the numbers aren’t there, and dollars aren’t there, I worry this may just be a footnote in the history of comics. And if that’s the case, it will be a shame.
VV: Paraphrasing ODB, do you think Shaft is for the children?
DW: If I say “yes,” I don’t want some irate parents coming after me because their kid starts calling them motherf***er.
Stay tuned later this week for the conclusion of our interview with David Walker where he discusses black comic conventions, what’s next on his plate, his thoughts on Milestone Media making a comeback, and much more!