BRANDON JERWA: I wanted to interview you about this series because I'm a big fan of the source material; I have all the movies, and Tidyman's books as well. I think you're doing a swell job with the comic, so thanks for that, from a true fan.
DAVID WALKER: Thank you. It’s truly appreciated. When I went into this project, I felt that if I could win over the fans of Tidyman’s novels, I’d be okay. Those are the people that have the deepest connection with the character. I know this, because I’m a diehard fan.
BJ: Let's start with your introduction to John Shaft: how did you find your way to the character, and what's your connectivity to this world as a writer?
DW: I’m a child of the 1970s, and I grew up with the character. I also grew up around a lot of guys that wanted to be just like Shaft. I saw the movies when I was a kid, and then discovered the books when I was in my late teens. It was through the books that I really connected with Shaft. He’s more cynical in the books, much angrier. That’s a huge part of what drew me to the character. The first time I read the original Ernest Tidyman novel, I was just going through my angry, cynical phase of late adolescence.
BJ: How does your series tie in to the movies and books?
DW: The series is tied to the original books by Ernest Tidyman. This particular story arc takes place before the original novel. In that first novel, as well as the first film, Shaft shows up as something of a fully formed character. The book gets into who he was before we are introduced to him, but they never go near any of that stuff in the movies. That was the stuff that fascinated me—his early life of crime, his time in Vietnam. I wanted to know more about how he became the character we all know and love.
BJ: Is it hard to balance the voice of a contemporary writer with the very distinctive tone of the setting and genre that Shaft is so inescapably tied to? I can see the risk of things coming across as cartoonish, or worse...let's say "culturally insensitive"...
DW: Most definitely. For me, the big thing was to avoid going for the comedic approach that leads to being cartoonish. Shaft is tied to a genre that has lent itself to parody, as evidenced by things like Black Dynamite. At the same time, we’re talking about work firmly rooted in both crime and pulp fiction.
BJ: Do you think Shaft could ever live again onscreen? I'm going to remind everyone of the Sam Jackson "reboot/continuation", and back away slowly.
DW: There’s a new film in development, but I’m not holding my breath for it to be anything of merit. I think Shaft would work much better as a television series—say something made for cable. The big problem with bringing Shaft to life on the screen is that most people are drawing from the movies, instead from the books. Right there you’re dealing with a watered-down incarnation of the character. If anyone involved with the Sam Jackson version knew the character started in the world of print—let alone read any of the books—it wasn’t apparent on the screen. I would love to see a new version of Shaft on the screen, but I don’t have much confidence that Hollywood can get it right.
BJ: What can we expect from John Shaft, and David Walker, in 2015?
DW: Well, Shaft and I are wrapping up his newest adventure in the prose novella, Shaft’s Revenge. After that, I’m not sure exactly what’s happening. Things seem to be up in the air, until the novels can be released. I’m currently writing Cyborg for DC, which will be out later this summer. And I’ve got a new graphic novel coming out from IDW, The Army of Dr. Moreau.
Make sure to check out SHAFT #4 from Dynamite Comics. On sale now! In addition, check out the rest of the preview of this past week's issue!