BLACK HISTORY MONTH SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW – DAVID F. WALKER

How long have you been writing comic books professionally and do you work for an outside comic book company/studio, freelance or own your own company/studio?

I’ve been making my own comics ever since I was a kid, but the first time someone actually paid me for my writing was 2005. I had a good career in journalism, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I started earning real income as a comic book writer in 2014, as I began to freelance for various publishers like Marvel and DC. I currently freelance for DC and several other publishers, including Ten Speed Press, which published my graphic novel The Life of Frederick Douglass.. I also have my own publishing imprint, where I do my own stuff.

Do you create full time, or do you have another full-time job? What is your educational background?

In theory, I’m a full time creator, but not so much in practice. That’s all on me, as I’ve had trouble the last year or two in maintaining a consistent schedule. Some days, I spent more time on conference calls or answering emails, or taking care of things like accounting than I do with the creative side of things. I’ve also branched out into non-fiction graphic novels, and that takes up a tremendous amount of time with research. I’m also an adjunct college professor, which can get very time consuming.

What style(s) does your comic book writing take and how much has black culture and history influenced your style?

Since black culture and influence has had a significant influence in my everyday life, that influence carries over to my creativity. Whether or not that is at the core of my creative energy, I can’t say for sure – some people might see it that way, while others might not even notice. I’m always thinking of ideas and stories dealing with the black experience, and how to turn those into compelling stories.

As a black comic book writer, do you feel a personal responsibility to the black community to create content which not only entertains, but also uplifts and educates?

My priority as a writer is to craft the most compelling story possible. If that story uplifts or educates, that’s great, and I work to make sure there is some merit to everything I write that extends beyond disposable pop entertainment. But it is up each reader, black or otherwise, to engage with my work and take from it as they see fit. I’m co-writing a series called Bitter Root, which takes place in the 1920s, against the backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance. But the series itself is not meant to be an educational tool about the Harlem Renaissance itself, it is more of an introduction than anything else. For me, the best pop entertainment engages you, and motivates you to explore and learn outside of that particular work. If someone reads Bitter Root, and is entertained by it, my job is done. If they read it, are entertained by it, and they decide to learn more about the Harlem Renaissance then not only is my job done, I’ve earned a bonus and extra vacation time. But unless I’m working on something very specific like The Life of Frederick Douglass, educating and uplifting are the spices I add to the recipe, but not the recipe itself.

What have you found to be the most challenging thing about breaking into the comic book industry, especially as a black creator?

The comic industry is incredibly difficult to break into as a writer, in part because comics are drawn, and if you’re a writer, you’re only half of what it takes to make a comic. You’re an important half, but it is difficult to prove yourself as a comic book writer if you don’t have anyone to draw your work, and that can be difficult. That said, there’s a big difference between making comics and earning a financial living in comics. All you have to do to break into the industry is make a comic and put it out there, either digitally or as printed object. Sure, it can be difficult writing it, or finding someone to draw it, but getting into the comic industry is as simple as making a comic book, period. But like I said, making a living from comics is something else. It’s like playing basketball. You want to play basketball? Get a ball, go to a court, and find other folks tossing balls. That’s what it takes to play basketball. But to make it on a professional ball team, and play at the highest level, that’s something else completely. As for being a black creator in comics, it has many of the same challenges that being black in America has. 

How does your work resonate with the black community and what do you want your legacy within the black community to achieve?

Personally, I don’t feel like its may place to answer those questions. I know how I’d like my work to resonate, and I’ve seen signs that it hits the mark at times, but my focus is the work itself. I attend an event in Harlem at the Schomburg, and I meet hundreds of people, most of them black, and they let me know that they are entertained or inspired by my work, and that feels great. But its not for me to answer for the readers or the community. And as for my legacy, I’m busy just trying to do the work. If I do have a legacy, it will be determined by others. There are so many incredible creators in various different medium – I’m talking folks of every stripe and background – and some of the best have been forgotten by time. Oscar Michaeaux is arguably the most important black filmmaker of all time – every fan of cinema in general and black film in particular should know his name. But most people don’t know his name or his work. I could say, “I want to be the Oscar Michaeux of comics,” but what does that really mean? Does it mean I want to be a pioneer and an innovator that created tremendous opportunities, only to be largely forgotten? We have very little control of the legacy we leave behind, we only have some semblance of control over the quality of the work we create during on time on this planet. The legacy of our work is for the living to determine. 

How and why is it important that black people are represented in this medium and how important is it that black creators work together to encourage, empower and educate the black community through their work?

Representation is very important to me, as is a sense of community with other black creators. When it comes to representation, I know what it was like as a kid to not see characters that looked like me and my family, and my work is always in response to what I felt as a kid. At the same time, I want to be careful that representation is true and authentic to the story I’m telling. If I chose to tell a story about 15th century French aristocracy, I’m not going to throw a black character in to the story just because. That’s pandering and insincere. But it is important that all people see themselves in a way that feels inclusive and empowering, which is why I can’t see myself doing a story that doesn’t do that. I tend to think of stories that provide the opportunity for a level of inclusion and empowerment, because that’s what I want to see and contribute to the world. But I only speak for myself, as I only speak for myself when it comes to encouraging and educating the black community. I believe it is important, but how I do it and how other creators do it can differ, which is perfectly fine. It is for each of us as individual creators to decide how we want to serve and interact with the community. I know some black creators that only want to make comics, and don’t care much about engagement. I know others that use the medium as a soapbox to spread their particular gospel. I believe that either end of that scale is fine, though I prefer more of a balance.

What are the names of some of the titles you’ve written?

I’ve written for a quite a few publishers. For Marvel I wrote Luke Cage, Nighthawk, and Occupy Avengers, among others. Over at DC, I’m currently co-writing Young Justice and a series called Naomi. I wrote a biography of Frederick Douglass, and in 2021 my graphic novel on the history of the Black Panther Party will be released. I’m co-writing a series called Bitter Root, and getting ready to self-publish a western called The Hated. I also write a weekly web comic, Discombobulated.

What upcoming project(s) are you working on, which you can share with the readers?

I’m focusing more on my own company, and publishing my own titles through my Solid Comix imprint, which is still in its infancy. This year I will publish at least two titles through Solid, my western The Hated, and a series about professional wrestlers called One Fall. Next year will see the release of my graphic novel about the Black Panther Party. And I’m currently developing a television serried based on my web comic, Discombobulated.

Where can the readers continue to follow your career? Do you have a website or blog?

I have a two websites, www.davidfwalker.com and www.solidcomix.com. I don’t update them enough, but that’s the best way to find me – I post my web comic on both sites, and there are links to all of social media handles. I’m on social media, but my goal is to spend less time on the web, and more time working and creating. Interacting on Facebook and Twitter and all of those can be a huge time suck, and often fills me with stress and negativity, neither of which I need in my life

David F. Walker is an award-winning comic book writer, filmmaker, journalist, and educator. His writing career started in the 1990s with the self-published ‘zine, BadAzz MoFo. In 1997 he produced and directed Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered, and Shafted, a feature length documentary on the history of blaxploitation films. Walker is best known for his work in graphic novels and comics, which includes The Life of Frederick Douglass (Ten Speed Press), the Eisner Award-nominated series Bitter Root (Image Comics), and the critically acclaimed series Naomi (DC Comics). He has written for Marvel Comics (Luke Cage, Occupy Avengers, Power Man and Iron Fist, Nighthawk, Fury, Deadpool), DC Comics (Cyborg, Young Justice), Dynamite Entertainment (Shaft), and Dark Horse (Number 13). He also teaches part time at Portland State University.

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