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Frederick Douglass and Black Histories

Detail from the cover of The Life of Friedrich Douglass
Image: Damon Smyth and Marissa Louise

David Walker is busy writing Naomi ), a new high-profile series by DC Comics, along with Brian Michael Bendis and artist Jamal Campbell, who also works on Image Comics with Enthusiasm Bitter Root along with co-author Chuck Brown and artist Sanford Greene, though The fact that the veteran writer has worked with one of the Big Two and the largest market for comics owned by creators has given Walker his boldest move: He started a self-publishing company.

A few weeks ago, I talked to Walker and Bendis about Naomi The Splashy New Title is part of the bendis initiative "Wonder Comics," which focuses on the youth. Shortly thereafter Walker announced the debut of Solid Comix, where he will release two new series in his heart. I called Walker again to talk about this latest path and t The following interview is drawn from both interviews.

io9: Her new graphic novel biography by Frederick Douglass has been in the making stage for years. I wanted to start by asking if you have learned anything about him that you did not know yet, because as we grow up we get an easily digested version of black historical figures.

Walker: Oh man. They hit the nail on the head. A lot of it is that American history is generally considered easy to digest, especially when it comes to blacks. With regard to Frederick Douglass, pretty much everything that I had learned during the research felt fresh. I knew the most basic things: OK, he was a slave … and he escaped slavery … and he was a speaker and a writer. That's it.

Full coverage for The Life of Frederick Douglass.
Image: Damon Smyth and Marissa Louise (Penguin Random House)

When I was younger, I had read his first autobiography, but I had forgotten a lot, because it was 20, 30 years ago. So everything was very open to me. You know, when I started to deal with the deeper things, like his relationship with Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, and other important historical figures. That really surprised me. I always tell people that my favorite form of kidnapping is research. As I researched his relationship with John Brown, I somehow went through the rabbit hole of John Brown and really began to understand John Brown's role in both abolitionism, but also in the Preludes to Civil War and the Missouri Compromise – all these things. And it was just so fascinating to me that I still read all these things. There are still a stack of books where I teach myself and try to learn more.

io9: What's Interesting about Bitter Root Frederick Douglass and The other work that you are now bringing out is that you are dealing with the black experience in America in a story, which is both real and fictional. Is there a push-and-pull, give and take? Does one feed the other?

Walker: Well, there are so many stories that have not yet been told, especially when it comes to black people and the black experience in America. Back to Frederick Douglass, when I did all this research, I found out about all those other abolitionists whose names came up that I'd never heard of. A more contemporary equivalent would be when we talk about the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s and mainly about Martin Luther King jr. Speak. Maybe we'll mention Rosa Parks …

io9: But nobody talks about Bayard Rustin.

Walker: Nobody ever talks about Bayard Rustin. Or A. Phillip Randolph or even Ralph Abernathy. The names are … it's endless. Fannie Lou Hamer It's something. All these stories have to be told. And I think if we do not know them, if we do not understand them in our story, we are really doing a bad service, not just for the past, but not helping us into the future. [19659014] A central speech in Douglass's early life.

Image: Damon Smyth and Marissa Louise ([Penguin Random House]

) We really need to understand our story because the less you know, the more incomplete you are. Frederick Douglass talked about it, he did not know who his father was, he did not know where he came from in Africa, he always talked about this emptiness in him, this incompleteness, and I think we all have that, even if we mess up I do not know that we have that. And it comes down to what I'm talking about in terms of representation and belonging. As a kid, all my favorite superheroes, all my favorite comic books, the vast majority of them were white guys.

And it does not mean that something is wrong with that, but then you have to look at what the other side of the equation is. What are you getting? And if you are a black, a color or a woman, what representations do you see? And are they all problematic if they even exist? And I just feel like I do not want other young people going through what I went through in my youth. Now I'm an old man, and I'd like to see things change a bit.

Douglass remembers his working life.
Image: Damon Smyth and Marissa Louise (Penguin Random House) [19659003 io9: How do you and Chuck Brown write something fictitious like Bitter Root and still have that truth in focus without that it feels like a cliche?


Sometimes I think it's all a cliché. How can you not let it act like a cliche? A lot of it will be determined by your audience, you know? Because it's all about: "Is it a cliché of the first degree? Or a cliché of the third degree? "You know?

But for me, a lot depends on the characters and they try to get your characters to convey an impression of truth and authenticity. With Bitter Root it was Chuck and I who sat down and talked about it and said, "Okay, we have this character, but there must be more to this character than to the surface." We have the character Blink and she is a fighter, but it has to be more than the fact that she is just a cool fighter. And I said, "Well, it's 1924. That would not be acceptable to her to be a fighter." That's the way society was, so let's let them be really good at it, but nobody wants them to do it. You know? She is the only one who wants to do it. And that's where your degradation of the truth begins.

Too often blacks are represented as human beings when represented in pop culture. We are a kind of ambassador of the race. And in this respect something clichéd. For me it was only important to try to give all these characters an air of humanity.

Early design concepts of characters from Bitter Root.
Image: Sanford Greene (1966)

io9: What did you enjoy about the work you perceive as a representative of black characters?

Walker: One of the last Things that really got me excited was Ezra Clayton Daniel's book Upgrade Soul It's been a while now and I was really lucky to read this book a few years ago when it first came out I look at this and think there are some There are great black characters and they are flawed and some of them are kinda evil and some of them are good, but I love this book so much and that's about it I believe in a spiritual level – and I love this book with your humanity – and I absolutely loved this book.

io9: The mo The surprise of your career is currently the announcement of Solid Comix, a new imprint, in d You will publish your own work yourself. You are a man who has already published a lot of comics at the time, and you could have set up these projects elsewhere, including Image, where creators have full editorial control. You yourself Bad-Azz Mofo Magazine for many years, but why make these new comics projects from soup to nut itself?

Walker: Well, that's a really good question. I think the image model is great and obviously I do Bitter Root with Image, and I hope to do more projects on Image. But not every single project makes sense. And if it does not make sense to do it with image, it makes almost no sense to do it with another publisher.

When I say it does not make much sense to do it with image, then, because it's almost as if there were two comic markets. Law? The direct market, the retailers where the fans go, they order their stuff from Diamond … we all know this market. But there is this other market where you visit conventions where you have a fan base and can sell goods online. You can earn some money with it, but the thresholds are not that high when you go to a publisher like Image. You do not have to worry about pre-orders from Diamond.

The fight for shelf space at retailers is very important. Because there just is not much of it. Even if you remove Marvel and DC from the equation, you are still competing with a ton of publishers and a lot of titles. Image or Boom or Dynamite or Dark Horse, Action Lab, Vault, Lion Forge, so many of them! They all fight for the same property. If for some reason you do not have good sales – more than a thousand units – most publishers will consider the book as a bomb. In fact, there are publishers who can not even move a thousand units a title.

I made conventions for years and sold my own books there. Why do not you just sell the books where they are sold? It's not so much about eliminating the middleman. You acknowledge that you are financially aware of any publisher you work with. If a book is not sold, it is not necessarily your fault or fault. For some key projects, it makes more sense to just publish them yourself.

io9: I looked at the videos you made related to the announcement, and one of the things that I found interesting is your Solid Comix work as an intimate, handmade product. It is not really a collector's item, but something that is the most personal way to deliver stories to the readers. Do I have the right?

Walker: Yes, that's right. indeed. It's kind of interesting because it's like, "Wow, I think I said so."

You've put your heart and soul into a comic. It does not matter if it's something you own or if it's a job, but you put all that energy in it. It's hard to see that it does not sell well – for a number of reasons that are not necessarily related to quality.

Again, it has to do with the valuable real estate space that is on the shelves of every retailer in the country. And it has to take care of how much it costs to advertise in Diamond. It has to do with how many people prefer to go to stores on Wednesday and buy X-Men or Batman against their little indie title. And it's kind of heartbreaking. They put all that time and energy into a book, and it's not necessarily sold. And it's not a reflection of you or a total reflection of the industry. It's just a reflection of all those weird factors that merge together.

But you can take the same book and go to a convention, whether it's a major convention like Emerald City or Wonder Con, or a small event like Black Comics Fest. You can meet people, talk to them, deal with them and you can sell your goods, you know? And there's a part of me that really likes that. I miss that from old times. Maybe I'll deal with it again and say, "I'm too old for it" …

One of the factions of One Fall .
Image: Brett Weldele ((Solid Comix)

None of these projects that I do about Solid have been rejected by any publisher, in fact, two of the four books currently in development have gone unchecked However, I have looked at some peculiarities of the publishing agreements and the peculiarities of intellectual property rights and the threshold of units that would have to be sold before the revenue of myself and my team scores and it was similar to me … "Yeah, that does not make sense." I do not see that certain publishers can move this kind of unit.

That's another industry reality, even if it's one Creator acts, right, you have to move a certain number of units to lower the cost of production, and then a certain assembly of units before you go into any Some kind of profit royalties go from something like that. And if you want to sell your product at a convention or even through your website, you need to buy it from the publisher. And sometimes that's just not the cheapest way to do things.

There is a time when it says, "Okay, well, wait a second. Does it make sense to make this book through one of them if I can do it alone? "Go to Kickstarter, borrow money from some important friends and do a print run that meets the requirements when I project them … and maybe I find out that this is not nearly as much fun as before 25 years. But I had to try it.

io9: I have friends who own independent bookstores, and they have always talked about the importance of hand selling certain books. You must have the person who knows the books and the person who knows the customer. There is a tragedy when a book can not find its reader. There might be someone for whom One Fall is just the thing, but if you go to the direct market and find no one, that would be a damn shame. [19659006Walker: There is a part of me that looks like this: "Man, you have lost your mind." I thought today because we were preparing the first Kickstarter and I got two friends to help me with it. But it's like, "That's all about you, man." And there was a moment that afternoon when I thought, "What am I doing?" And I got over it. Let's just go forward and do that.

io9: You mentioned Kickstarter. How do you approach crowdfunding? There are people like Spike Troutman, who runs Iron Circus, and she has done amazing work with crowdfunding. Are you learning from what she did? What happens if you do not achieve the funding goals?

Walker: These are all good questions. So I like to tell people that I discovered Spike. I've told Spike that he pushed forward 20 years. Great talent. I met them either at APE or in San Diego, probably in the late '90s, early' 2000s, and I tried hiring them. Did not have a very big budget. And I was like, "I want to hire you," and she says, "Okay, here's my guess." And I was like, "Oh, I can not afford you." And she says, "Well, I'm not lowering my price." I knew at that moment that I was likely to come to her one day, she has an incredible Yeah, it's funny because I have not talked to her for about a year, but every time I see her at a convention, I chose her brain through Kickstarter. "Cal McDonald was another person with whom Tameeka Stotts Greg Rucka Greg Pak So I had a look at what other people are doing and none of that is preparing you, you know, I realize there's a lot of flying at the seat of my pants.

And I also recognize that if it fails, if we do not reach our goal, we just do it again, and I change the strategy, I have a budget for a smaller circulation, and here's the thing – that's really important – I have money and I put G I do not put any money in the Kickstarter because you can not do that. I have just sent [artist] Sean [Damien Hill] today money to report on the art he makes on The Hated . There is a kind of backup plan, but I will not do anything or nothing. I will not use my money just because it is not feasible. And if it does not work, I'm actually doing something. Because I am like that. That did not work Okay. I'll sit here in the corner and cry for a few days. And then I go on. But it's not like I could not find a publisher to handle one of those projects I'm doing – because I could. I ask the mainstream market as it exists and the place it leaves for indie people. I work for DC and I worked for Marvel and the mainstream – but that's not my only goal.

io9: It just struck me how it remembers Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss song . Melvin Van Peebles left the studios and built something that no studio would sooner or later bring to the green light or finances. And with that, a whole new niche of cinema emerged. That probably speaks in several ways to your inclinations.

Walker: Yes. And even in comics, you see Brother Man . I've known Dawud and Guy since when Brother Man originally came out and made them comics in Rap Pages Magazine . I'm a big fan of their work and really inspired by them. And they still do that.

I went to the comic shop yesterday. It was Wednesday. And there are great things I bought, but also a lot of things that I knew were not on the shelves. Again, not the fault of a publisher per se – a retailer or sales representative. That just does not work. And if a title does not sell well on the first or second issue, retailers will order less. I'm surprised how many fans still do not understand the concept of pre-order. But I can not say it derogatory, because there are times when I'm to blame. I go to a store and I'm like, "Oh, that's out, I wanted to pre-order that." But I did not, luckily it's here.

io9: The same thing happens with video games through push-to-pre If comics are different, we would not have to flog all people to pre-order a book, we could allow them to make their own choices in the release window, but that's not how things work anymore What's interesting about Solid is that it's an experiment with eng-casting and right-sized, trying to figure out "how many of them I can print to reach people who have it read, be profitable, and be self-sustaining. "What Does a David Walker Fan Want to Read Think of these concepts:" I can sell a cowboy comic with a black female lead to a particular audience because they do not and I can give it to them. "

Walker: I would like to say that I thought that clearly! [laughs] There is a certain amount of it. I was at Keystone Comic-Con in Philly last year and there was a strong presence in pro wrestling. And I realized that there are some wrestling podcasts I hear and the people I follow on social media, and I thought, "There are many professional wrestling fans who are comic fans." Boom does her WWE comic and that's a solid book. There's an indie book out there called Headlock .

And I'm like this: "These are all great books, but not what Brett and I do on One Fall . , "We have something we want to do. With The Hated this is the ultimate work of love, more than any other project I do. Sean was the right artist at the right time; It took me a long time to find someone I thought would do the book justice. And so I was like, "Well, if that fails? Let it fail because I did everything wrong. "In contrast to finding someone who wants to publish it, but does not find the groove there and all the books are in a warehouse.

io9: Can you talk in big trains? what you tried with Solid and what you did with BAMF ? What has changed in the self-publishing business, making it easier or more difficult for you?

Walker: I would like to try to print inland, and if I can, I want to make it as close as possible at home humanly possible. Because part of a small business is trying to help other companies in your area if you can. That does not always make sense, but sometimes it does.

If you wanted to print something, you had to use an offset printer in the old years – from the 90s to the early 2000s – and had to do a minimal run of thousand. Minimum. And then you had to pay for shipping. You may not know exactly if you would move a thousand. But you had to have a thousand. The good thing was when I was Bad-Azz Mofo . This was a magazine with some comics and comic things. They had Tower Records, Tower Books and Borders. Virgin Megastores was still nearby and there were plenty of newsagents and newsstands. So there was a whole market that is unfortunately gone. At the same time, however, you do not have to execute the minimum print run of a thousand.

Many places have really good laser printers, and thanks to print-on-demand it is possible to create shorter print jobs running. In some cases, you now get a color magazine or a comic for maybe two dollars per unit – maybe more – what a deal is less than what a color offset would have cost 15, 20 years ago. That's all changed.

I've been following Kickstarter for years and part of me was like, "Oh, do I really want that?" I do not know, it seems to be such a hard work. "But the more time I spent on comics – because I was never seriously involved in self-publishing – I thought about taking Bad-Azz Mofo [19459209] from 19459019 in a sense. But the more time I spent on comics, the more time I spent on conventions and did not look so good on certain titles that I wrote … and just "Okay" – I love this medium and I want to do some stuff, but I have to play according to these secondary rules. "If you want to become a musician or play basketball, you can play basketball. Guests can visit the local park, playground or gym and pick them up anytime. You want to be a musician, you can get and play an instrument and go to an open microphone. You do not have to be in a big band touring all over the world or creating a pro ball team to do the things you love. And that is … at the end of the day I realized something like that. I love comics, but which part of comics do I love? You know, it's great to work for Marvel, DC – it's not the alpha and omega for me.

io9: Let's talk about the books themselves, One Fall and The Hated .

Walker: One Fall is a book I am doing with Brett Weldele, an old friend of mine. We said we should do a book together over 15 years. Brett said last time, "I want to do a wrestling comic, but I do not want him to be like other wrestling comics. I want to lean on the true, exaggerated nature of the background story of wrestling.

Wrestling is the world's most popular sport in the debut series of Solid Comix
Image: Brett Weldele ((Solid Comix)

I was like "Ooh!" Suddenly I was fascinated by that, and then I said, " When you talk about the background story, are you talking – how ridiculous or over the top or absurd do you want to get? "As an example, I said that the Undertaker allegedly returned from the dead, but we all know he really does not." No. That's what I want to get involved with. "Okay, well, right there, I said," How about if our main character is a guy who, in a sense, has not figured out yet and keeps coming back from the dead? " And Brett said, "Okay, let's do it." [19659017WewereverybigfansofKungFufilmsSamuraifilmsandGrindhousefilmssowetalkedabout Master of the Flying Guillotine and then we talked about Italian he exploitation films such as 1990: The Bronx Warriors and Warlords of the Wasteland . Enzo Castellari and directors like that. And we say, "Yeah, let's just lump all these items together and see what happens." And the key was that we did not throw it into a very big pot. So if it does not taste good, then we do not taste all our ingredients. So, we started to put together a story, and the story of One Fall is essentially in a world where professional wrestling is the most popular pastime in the world. It's the most popular sport in the world and it's not what we call professional wrestling. The way wrestling sees itself as real is how real it is in this world.

io9: It's 100% Kayfabe 24/7.

Walker: Exactly. To the extent that the President of the United States is a former wrestler. And all soft drinks are wrestling topics. These are some of the more obscure things in our world – you know, we actually elected elected officials who were wrestlers. And then throw the supernatural into the mix. Our main character is Jimmy King, a guy named Resurrector. He is a third-generation wrestler, the youngest in his family to inherit the family's curse: every time he dies, he re-emerges. It was his father's gimmick, it was his grandfather's gimmick. And at some point he knows that he will die and it will be true. It will take time and he will not come back from the grave.

Then the curse is passed on to one of his children. So it's a lot about him dealing with his family curse – not intended with a pun – but he's also busy with it: "Can I be more in my life? Can I achieve more with my life? How can I improve something for my children? "Something like that. And then we have a ridiculous cast of characters around it.

io9: And The Hated seems to be on the other side of the spectrum, tonal.

Walker: Yes. The Hated is just a Western. No supernatural element. It's loosely based on a script I wrote about 25 years ago, maybe 30 years ago. It takes place after the Civil War and the main character is Araminta Free, a woman who was an out-of-control slave and an underground escort. She was also a spy for the Union Army, so she essentially meets Harriet Tubman on Foxy Brown. (That's actually Harriet Tubman's maiden name, Araminta.) The series takes place after the Civil War, when she became a bounty hunter. She specializes in two things: Firstly, Confederate war criminals are brought to justice; the other is to track down lost family members of former slaves and reunite these families. And so I hope this story is the first of several graphic novels. Sie geht davon aus, dass sie gegen ehemalige Kriegsverbrecher der Konföderation vorgeht, während sie nach ihren Kindern sucht, die verkauft wurden, als sie jünger war, bevor sie entkommen konnte. Und dann erwischt man sich in sehr traditionellen Guten gegen Bösewichte im westlichen Konflikt.

Gestaltungskonzepte für die Hauptfigur von The Hated
Bild: Sean Michael Hill ((Solid Comix)

I Ich betrachte es als eine Rekultivierung des Westens. Ich möchte es aus vielerlei Gründen nicht mit Django Unchained vergleichen, aber der Western war diese mythologische Folklore, von der wir alle entwöhnt wurden in gewisser Hinsicht, aber es ist viel übrig geblieben, es sind Frauen ausgefallen, schwarze Leute, und ich dachte: „In Ordnung.“ Und jeder wird es dir sagen, Western verkaufen nicht, weil sie immer das sind Same Old Western.

Ich war 21, als ich es ursprünglich schrieb, und ich wollte einen Western mit nichts als schwarzen Cowboys, Revolverhelden und Outlaws sehen. Jetzt, wo ich 50 bin, möchte ich wirklich eine Badass-Frau sehen ist eine Kopfgeldjägerin, die sich mit jedem Mann niederschlagen kann, und wieder ist sie eine Kreuzung zwischen Harriet Tubman und Stageco Ach Mary, die eine echte Person wa r. Und dann Foxy Brown.

Sheriff Everett Kane von The Hated
Bild: Sean Michael Hill ((Solid Comix)

) Sean und ich hatten es schon eine Weile entwickelt, sogar Konzepte Es gab einen bestimmten Verleger, der es wirklich wollte, und ich sagte einfach: „Weißt du, dieser Deal ist nicht so gut.“ Wenn ich mich bei dir unterschreibe und du dieses Buch veröffentlichst, geht es nicht gut All die Gründe, die wir zuvor besprochen haben – vom Verkauf bis zum Einzelhandel, die es nicht bekommen -, ich werde wirklich sauer. Ich weiß, ich kann dieses Buch verschieben, weil ich dieses Ding liebe und ich kenne Leute, die es lieben werden Sie werden es ihren Freunden erzählen, und sie werden es ihren Freunden erzählen, und es könnte eine langsame Verbrennung sein, wissen Sie? Das ist auch die andere Sache. Ich habe dieses Buch für Marvel mit dem Namen Nighthawk geschrieben.

io9: Ich bin mir dessen bewusst, David

Walker: Ich weiß, dass Sie es genau wissen, aber Nighthawk war eine Bombe s of sales.

io9: Sie bluten jedoch für dieses Buch.

Walker: Ich habe es getan. Und das Ding ist, jetzt hat es dieses eigene Leben, diese Kultfolge. Es hat jedoch auch eine begrenzte Lebensdauer, da die Chancen, dass Marvel das Druckergebnis behält, gering sind. Die einzige Möglichkeit, mit der Buch jemals gedruckt wird, wenn sie die erste Ausgabe, obwohl sie gedruckt wurde, durchlaufen hat, ist, wenn diese Figur eine Fernsehsendung oder einen Deal bekommen hat. Ich kann Marvel dafür nicht beschweren. Diese größeren Verlage sind nicht darauf eingestellt, dass irgendetwas langsam brennt und ein Eigenleben findet. Und das ist als Schöpfer herzzerreißend. It’s heartbreaking for a work-for-hire job you did, it feels ten thousand times worse when it’s a creator-owned book. When you’re spending 10 bucks a unit to buy these books from this publisher to then haul them across country and sell them at conventions, you might as well just do it yourself.

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