This is the first in a series of interviews with comic book creators, focusing on the cultural and personal experiences that shape the industry today. The first creator I talked with was David F. Walker, who currently writes Luke Cage for Marvel and Superb for Lion Forge. Walker is also an educator, specializing in film criticism. One of Walker’s greatest interests in film is the Blaxploitation era of the 1970s, the topic of his documentary “Macked, Hammered, and Shafted”.
We discussed the tensions between the comedic and serious elements of the genre. While Walker has a fondness for the sillier side of Blaxploitation, it is his greatest fear that the comedic elements come to solely define the genre, when it was so empowering to a generation of African-Americans. Walker spoke about his work on the John Shaft character created by Ernest Tidyman. Tidyman was a vocal critic of Blaxploitation films, despite his most notable creation starring in a series of them. Walker finds it insulting that New Line Cinema is planning to reboot the Shaft character as a comedic film, ignoring the essential elements of the character Walker’s work focused on, like his PTSD from Vietnam and his representation of the African-American struggle.
Walker went to art school in New York City for a couple years after high school, before dropping out to work in film criticism; he would not return to school until he was forty-two. Walker describes himself as a self-driven learner and as the world changes around him, he views it as his responsibility to keep up with evolving world views and vocabulary. As an educator, Walker desires to fill in the voids of education he experienced while growing up in an educational system that wanted to tackle Black history as simply as possible.
The issues today are not solely race based, but gender and class based as well. Walker views the dismissal of other people’s struggles as toxic, when it can be used to unite people. Walker uses an example from Malcolm X’s life to illustrate this. After returning from a visit to Mecca, Malcolm announced to the world that his understanding of the Muslim faith had been wrong and apologized to those he saw as valuable allies in the struggle against oppression. Walker also argues against the danger of nostalgia, especially in the Trump era of America when memory distorts reality in dangerous ways.
Walker spent several years in film criticism, but recalls the start of his career as a writer. It began in stand-up comedy, where Walker could shape his talents as a writer to immediate reaction. During his long career in journalism, Walker was asked to interview his idol, cartoonist Will Eisner. Eisner resparked Walker’s love of comics, but this time he tried his hand at writing rather than drawing. Walker would go on to become close friends with Brian Michael Bendis (Marvel’s Golden boy and creator of both Jessica Jones & Miles Morales), bonding over a shared love of film. When Walker decided to leave a struggling journalism industry in May 2007, Bendis pushed him towards the comics industry. Walker started getting jobs that ultimately went nowhere, but his luck changed when editors at Marvel, DC, and IDW started reading a project he did with comics superstar, Jeremy Love. DC was the first to offer him work, but Walker felt like Marvel had a better understanding of his strengths as a writer so he jumped ship.
“Walker views the dismissal of other people’s struggles as toxic, when it can be used to unite people.”
One of Walker’s greatest strengths as a writer is the use of subtle political agendas that boil under the surface rather than in your face. Walker described the comics industry as a ship on fire and the passengers who are loudest have the best chance of getting their way, which they often abused. Comics publishers have a tendency to listen to the more vocal older white majority rather than the political demanding minorities. Walker went on to explain that it is the duty of creators, publishers, retailers, and distributors to grow the comics market as much as possible, but so few do. The publishers, in response, oversaturate the market, killing any chance for smaller political books to thrive. The comics industry is survival driven, rather than growth.
We discussed Walker’s influence on major black superheroes, starting with Cyborg from DC. Walker described Vic Stone as an incredibly important intersectional hero for both the black and disabled communities. Walker felt like Cyborg was a character who struggled to find his humanity amidst his technologically advanced form, but in doing so, became the beating heart of the DC Universe.
We shifted from DC’s most prominent black hero to one of Marvel’s; Luke Cage. Walker had been writing a Luke Cage and Iron Fist comic at the time of the recording, but is now writing Luke’s solo comic. Walker hopes to explore complicated ideas of family and identity in this series. That how we view members of our family (and how they view us) can be limited since they live most of their life away from us. Even our parents lived a large portion of their lives before conceiving us. He also hopes to explore black culture in a very different way than the Luke Cage show. Walker has a fascination with how we can often find our greatest opposition within our own cultural groups, from those who could be our greatest allies.
“Walker has a fascination with how we can often find our greatest opposition within our own cultural groups, from those who could be our greatest allies.”
We wrapped things up by discussing one of the most controversial figures of the past year; Daniel Rand, the Immortal Iron Fist. After admitting a desire to see the Iron Fist reimagined as an Asian figure, Walker explained that the reality was he was going to have to write Danny Rand, who was a controversial character he wanted to make likable. He did this by focusing on Danny’s complicated upbringing as the minority in a culture that was both mystical and Asian. Danny’s status as an outsider drove Walker’s story, as Danny struggled to make peace with not just his past but also the privilege he had of walking away from his minority status when he left Kun’Lun. Walker made Danny a force of positivity, while under the surface something scarred and dark brewed. By placing Danny in situations where his ability to take a stand was seen more as a privilege and hindrance, rather than aid, Walker attempted to grow the character. Walker hoped to have left Danny in an interesting, more mature place for whomever writes him next.