“We All Are Frustrated Artists”: An Interview With David F. Walker

David F. Walker made a name for himself in comics by bringing Ernest Tidyman’s famous character John Shaft to comics and writing two miniseries and one novel with the character. He went on to write a number of superhero comics ranging from Luke Cage to Power Man and Iron First to Cyborg to Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes. Through his own Solid Comix, Walker has written and published comics like The Hated, One Fall and the upcoming collection of short comics Imposter Syndrome. An adjunct professor at Portland State University, Walker is also the man behind the zine BadAzz Mofo, which was collected into a recent 25th Anniversary book. Walker has written and directed a number of feature films and short films and is the man behind Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered, & Shafted, one of the definitive documentaries about blaxploitation.

In recent years Walker has focused on a few very different projects. He co-created and co-wrote Naomi, a DC comic he made with Brian Michael Bendis and Jamal Campbell, which has now been turned into a CW TV show with a second series being serialized in stores now. Bitter Root, which Walker makes with Chuck Brown and Sanford Greene, is an Image series about the Harlem-based Sangerye family, who hunt monsters in the 1920s; a few weeks ago, it tied for the 2022 Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series. In addition to that, Walker has made a career as a writer of nonfiction comics with the books The Life of Frederick Douglass and The Black Panther Party from Ten Speed Press, both of which achieved acclaim within and without comics; the latter, drawn by Marcus Kwame Anderson, won the 2022 Eisner for Best Reality-Based Work. We’ve spoken a few times over the years and recently had a long conversation about his current projects, storytelling, and thinking about the future of the industry and his own career.

-Alex Dueben

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ALEX DUEBEN: The first thing where I knew your name was when you wrote Shaft, but you’d been doing a lot of work before that point.

DAVID F. WALKER: I started out writing about film a lot. I had a zine in the nineties and a website. I did some self-publishing. I wrote for Giant Robot and a lot of publications. The comics stuff I’d done before Shaft was a couple Dark Horse projects and stories in anthologies. I’ve existed in so many different worlds and had so many different lives that inevitably I run into people who know me from another thing, and don’t know I’m the same person.

You made a few films. You were doing a lot of things.

I’ve been a jack of many trades and a master of none for a very long time. Its funny because I did an interview recently and they didn’t realize that I was the same guy who had done all this other stuff. There’s another David Walker who writes a lot about film and he wrote a lot about what I wrote about so we would get mistaken for each other. My attitude is, as long as I don’t owe you money, we’re fine. [laughs]

I remember when Shaft came out because it stood out because you hadn’t just been hired to write it, you set up this whole deal to write comics and a novel and you seemed to have a plan and ownership of your career in a way a lot of people didn’t. Especially early on.

That’s the closest I have come to a moment of ownership. It was very well thought out. In part because I was older than a lot of other people breaking into comics. I look at guys like Matt Rosenberg and Donny Cates who came in around the same time as I did and I have 15 years or more on them. I knew from following the careers of friends like Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick a general timeline - and I didn’t want to go through that timeline. I thought, I know enough about story and writing, I don’t want to wait for a publisher to take the usual amount of time to figure out what I’m doing. What’s a way I can knock maybe two years off that process? I knew it had to be a property that was somewhat recognizable and had name recognition, that I was uniquely qualified to write, and that even if sales weren’t great, there would be some notice. I had a list of different characters. I have in me an amazing Lone Ranger story, but I knew that the Lone Ranger wouldn’t put me on the map. I realized Shaft was it. And it paid off. It took longer to get it up and off the ground than I hoped, but in that time I was able to make other things happen. You struggle in comics because you can languish for a very long time if you don’t play it right. I’ve seen people lose patience and they think they’re ready to go to Marvel or DC sooner than they are and they lose patience because they don’t get to go there when they want to. Or they get there and burn out. For me, it was an itch I wanted to scratch, but it was a childhood dream, not an adult dream. And I have not been able to take control of my career since. [laughs] You can have multiple five year plans but you’ll be lucky if one of them even comes close to happening. 

After Shaft came out, you did a lot of projects all over the place.

This comes down to some advice that Matt Fraction-- not even advice, he was pounding me over the head with it: never be afraid to say no to something. He said the only thing worse than saying no is saying yes to something that isn’t the right project. It will burn you out. I was fortunate in that the vast majority of what came my way was something that I’d wanted to do. Like I did an Avengers book that only lasted nine issues and I had a lot of fun writing it, but I never wanted to write a team book. Team books scare me. Too many characters and too many moving parts. So I said yes simply because that was a challenge. It was funny because Hawkeye was in it and this was not long after Matt finished Hawkeye and I didn’t want him. [laughs] There were a couple things put in front of me, especially at Marvel, where I said, I’m not going to get into a baking contest to try and write a character I don’t feel that strongly about. You have to look at things as a fan, but also practically. When I was a kid I loved reading the X-Men, but I know what X-Men fans are like! I’ve had friends who have written X-Men books, and I don’t have an X-Men story in me that I have to tell so bad that I want to jump through those hoops. I think the question that everyone who writes for Marvel gets asked is, what do you want to do with the X-Men? I got that all the time - and it was nothing. I’ve been super fortunate in that I had all these friend who were in the industry who I could turn to for advice and guidance, and helped me avoid some of the pitfalls that happened especially to younger people. When you get into something in your 40s where everyone else is half your age, you have to think more calculating.

Cover art by Sanford Greene & Lee Loughridge.

A few projects stand out and one is Power Man and Iron Fist.

Honestly, that and Occupy Avengers were the two best experiences I had at Marvel. For two completely different reasons. Power Man and Iron Fist was the opportunity to do a book that I’d wanted to do since I was a kid and had thought about for a very long time and I had a good team. With Occupy Avengers, it was something that I was worried I couldn’t do, so I took it as a challenge. It was the lowest stakes I’ve ever had on any comics project. I didn't have anything to prove to anyone but myself. And the fact that I got to work with Gabriel [Hernández] Walta and Carlos Pacheco, it does’t get any better than that. Tom Brevoort was my editor and it was my first time working directly with him. I learned so much from him and the rest of the editorial team. Even though that book didn’t sell well and nobody read it, nobody should have this much fun failing. [laughs] I consider Occupy Avengers to be my most rewarding failure of my career. Whatever that means.

Why was Power Man and Iron Fist the book you wanted to write since you were a kid? Because you also wrote a Luke Cage book.

It’s interesting because I’m old enough to remember when both of those characters had their own titles and then they merged together. I really enjoyed those stories as a kid. Especially when Jo Duffy was writing them and Kerry Gammill was drawing them. I just loved that unlikely relationship that they had. There was a time after the book was cancelled where those two characters languished for a long time. I remember my first proposal–when I was 19 or 20, in the late '80s–was for a Luke Cage series. It was terrible. Thank god it never happened. I’d always wanted to do something with the two of them. What happened really when [Brian Michael] Bendis did his interpretation of Luke in Alias and New Avengers, he added a lot of dimension to the character that made him appeal to me even more. He allowed the character to grow up and mature in a way that most comic book characters don’t do. Characters might get married. Maybe they’ll have a kid. But it’s rare you have someone get married, stay married, have a kid, and go from being something of a joke to leading the Avengers. Luke became so much more interesting to me. There were two Lukes, the Luke Cage I loved as a kid, and the Luke Cage that now existed as I’m an adult. Before they made the offer to me, l remember reading some old Power Man and Iron Fist and realized in the moment that Danny Rand was only supposed to be 19 and Luke was 5-10 years older than him in the comics. Luke would refer to him as “kid” in the comics but nobody had ever written them with that sort of dynamic in mind. That Luke was an older brother, if not a father figure to Iron Fist. That became this idea kicking in my head long before the offer to write that book. I decided to scale it back and never come out and say it, but Luke is the older brother or father figure Danny always wanted. And Luke doesn’t realize it, but Danny is the kid brother he never wanted. That was how I put it together in my head before I started writing. 

When the opportunity came up, I thought I could make it work. There was some pushback at Marvel. They thought there was too much humor in it. Humor is such an interesting thing. If some people don’t think it’s funny, is it funny? Like when you got to a Thai restaurant and they ask how spicy you want it. I wanted it to be really funny, but I didn’t want it to be obvious humor. It was a ton of fun. And again there’s a lot to be said if you ever have the opportunity to do something that you wanted to do as a child, that you grew up thinking you wanted to do, but you approach it from the standpoint of, "I’m not a kid anymore." If I were to write a comic that was totally reflective of what I read when I was 10, that comic would be pretty bad. [laughs] What are the projects that either I really wanted to do as a kid or what are the projects I would have gone nuts over if they existed? Last year there was that graphic novel adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five that came out and who would have thought that’s what I needed in my life? I called my agent after reading it and said, I don’t know what book it is, but I want to do something like this. Slaughterhouse-Five wasn’t the book when I was in high school I would have thought of, but I was that kid who thought, wouldn’t it be cool? Because I loved Classics Illustrated but I thought it would be cool if they were longer. I know this is off-topic but getting to know guys like Bendis and [Greg] Rucka and we’re all roughly the same age. There were all these things we were thinking and when you start studying the history of comics and looking at guys like Gil Kane and Wally Wood and Will Eisner, and how do we expand the medium? How do we tell stories? That’s where we see the birth of the modern graphic novel. Then you have the generation I come from of kids reading things like Classics Illustrated going, "I wish this adaptation of Moby Dick was 12 issues instead of 1!" I bet there’s more nuance to be found there. There’s nothing like when you meet one of those nerds. To meet them at any point in your life and realize, you thought that, too? You studied Frank Miller’s Daredevil? You noticed how many drops of blood were coming off the sai that went through Elektra’s back? I’ve been one of the luckiest people in the world, professionally anyway.

Luke Cage is unusual because the character has changed. 

That’s the problem. There are some characters that haven’t changed. Which is why I really don’t have much interest in writing them, as much as I love them. There are enough characters I have a soft spot for. The two characters I have yet to write that I loved as a kid are the Thing and the Hulk. There are other characters that I love but they’re the only two where if Marvel called and asked if I wanted to write them, it would be yes. I’d love to do a Thing-Hulk buddy cop team-up adventure, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. 

Another superhero book that stands out is Naomi, who was a new character and a teenage character that you co-created and co-wrote.

Brian Bendis and I have been friends for maybe 20 years now. We [taught] a writing course at Portland State University together for five-six years, and we were in the same room and bouncing ideas off each other. Back when he was first creating Miles Morales we had a lot of conversations, and he said, one day we should work on something together. We were working towards that when he was still at Marvel and it just never happened. So we were teaching together and getting at our individual philosophies about character and story and we were sharing them with groups of students. This was going on for years and through it all we were thinking, we should do this at some point. Then he got really sick back in 2017-2018. Really, really sick. It was a scary time. I was sitting with him in the hospital and he said, we have to do something together. I was like, okay. I mean I wasn’t sure that my sick friend would ever make it out of the hospital. A month or two later when he was home he said, I talked to Dan DiDio and we’re good to go on your series. I was like, what series? He said, the thing we talked about the hospital. Once we knew it was going to happen, we sat down and went over what we wanted it to be. We wanted a story that has a teenager at the heart of it. That’s what makes comic books special. Peter Parker. Johnny Storm. Rick Jones. There was something that pulled us in and we’ve moved beyond the point where there has to be a teenage sidekick. The young person can be the focus of the story. We knew that we didn’t want to do a story about a brooding moody white teenage boy because there are enough of those out there. I don’t recall having a conversation where we said, let's write a young woman who’s African-American. We did say she was going to be adopted. That’s one of the classic archetypes of the hero. An orphan raised by parents other than their own. It was the two of us attempting to work out things that we always wanted to try, but never did. 

For myself I’ve been obsessed with the idea of telling a truly engaging story about a hero with no villain. Where the villain is the inner conflict. No antagonist at all. I was convinced we could do it and Brian said, I don’t think it can be done. We were halfway through the first issue when I realized we can’t. Although I’m getting to the point now where I’m starting to see how I could do it. That’s what I love about working with Brian. The two of us will throw out crazy ideas. I’ll throw a crazy idea to him, he’ll throw a crazy idea to me. We’re so much alike in our approach and our tastes that sometimes it’s like a match made in heaven and other times it’s like, oh my god, what are you doing? Co-writing comics for me is really difficult, but with him, it’s pretty easy. And it’s fun. He’s never hurt my feelings or insulted me by asking for changes and I’m pretty sure I’ve never hurt his feelings either. Our philosophy is that we just want to make the best comics we can. We want to entertain young people. For him, it’s because he’s got kids, but for me, I don’t have much interest in appealing to 40something-year old fans. Isn’t the whole point of this medium to bring in new readers? That 12-year old who loves what I’m writing now, when they’re 40, and they’ve got kids, they can introduce their kids to what I wrote. I don’t expect anybody to be writing for me right now - especially if its someone writing Daredevil or Teen Titans. These books aren’t for me. That’s not to say that I don’t read them and enjoy them, but I’m not the target demographic. And I’m cool with that, but I know a lot of fans aren’t.

I guessed it was intentional to have Naomi star a teenager. There’s an old line about how the golden science fiction age is 12.

Comic books to me are a place you go to escape and find comfort and solace and friendship and camaraderie that you’re not finding in the real world. I think it’s really a medium for misfits. And the thing is that as I get older I meet people who I never would have thought were misfits, but they thought they were. You want to write to those people. I think inside all of us there’s that kid who doesn’t feel like they’re good enough or doesn’t feel like they belonged. And you find your path. There’s a reason why the model of the hero’s journey has worked so successfully in pop entertainment. When you start to pick apart what it is that works, you really unlock this universal tale that most of us are drawn to in one capacity or another. For me as a writer, I want to unlock the next level. I don’t know if there is a next level, but how does the protagonist overcome if there isn’t a really good antagonist? Can a good antagonist be themselves? That becomes a sort of existential question that I think as the human species we should be addressing. I mean, usually our worst enemy is ourselves. So how do I do that? Fight Club came closest, I guess. I want to make the kid-friendly version of Fight Club. [laughs]

You have one foot in monthly comics and the other foot in graphic novel book publishers, and they have very different schedule and work flow process.

Completely different work flow process. That in and of itself is throwing me off a bit. Naomi is scheduled [for a second series] for 2022 but then I have all these projects which will be done by May or June, but are scheduled for 2024 or 2025. I’m in this weird zone because for most of 2022 and 2023 it’s going be like, what happened to David Walker? He’s a has-been. And then all of a sudden all of this stuff will drop in 2024-2025 and then they’ll see. When you’re in both of those worlds–the monthly floppy comic book world and then graphic novels or traditional book world–those timing schedules are so different and people don’t get it. If you’re not out every month, the fans think something is wrong with you. And we as creators think that way, too. I think that’s one of the things that stopping people from transitioning away from monthly comics and going to [the] traditional book world, which I think might be better for us all in the long run.

Cover art by Jamal Campbell.

They’re very different approaches. But as far as Naomi returning, I’m not sure if there’s anything you can say is actually happening, but it’s you and Brian and Jamal Campbell back together again.

The first consideration was always it has to be the original team. Brian and I had talked about it and we were in agreement that if Jamal couldn’t come back or didn’t want to come back, we didn’t want to do the project. There were times Brian said, you may have to do this without me and I said nope, not doing it without you. There were times I said, you may have to do this without me and Brian said, nope. Everything lined up as Jamal was finishing Far Sector. Believe it or not, there was a time where DC was very unclear if they wanted it. Ever since that bloodletting at DC editorial, the lines of communication between DC and creators, and Warner Bros. and DC and the creators - I’m not speaking out of turn when I say it’s the worst I’ve ever experienced in my life. And that’s saying a lot. So there were moments where we weren’t sure if they even wanted this. Jamal was probably two months out from wrapping up Far Sector and the three of us had a conversation and it was clear he wanted to do it and he had some ideas for story and Brian and I had ideas for story and it sounded good.

Cynics among us will say, of course there’s another miniseries and it will come out around when the Naomi TV show is airing.

That’s how we knew the show was moving forward, even though no one was telling us. They’d been on the fence for so long about another comic–and this sounds cynical when you say it–because they didn’t know if the show was going to happen. And if the show doesn’t happen, they don’t want to invest the money in this miniseries. Brian and Jamal could speak differently. I am 100% NOT talking for them. But I feel like this was an afterthought for the higher ups. [laughs] Oh, we’ve got a new show debuting, we should have more stuff out there. I’ve been pretty vocal about the fact that our first collection came out in hardcover and there hasn’t been a softcover edition yet. It’s been nearly a year and a half or more since then. That’s very rare that there’s that long of a gap. Now it’s like, yeah, you didn’t want to invest in a softcover edition that didn’t have Kaci [Walfall, who plays the character on the TV show] on the cover. So again, I’m the grumpy one out of the bunch. [laughs]

Being a co-creator, I hope you get something out of the show.

[laughs] That’s one of those things that we’ll either talk about later or it’ll be in a memoir. Let me say this. In the past when I’ve heard other creators complain about the not-great deals that they’ve gotten, you wonder what happened. And even if they tell you, you’re still like, oh man, I hope that never happens to me. Then you start to find yourself in this uncomfortable position of, am I going to be a cautionary tale? Am I going to be the one that doesn’t have the best things to say? I’ve always been a proponent for creator-owned comics for the sake of comics. Now that comics have expanded into this much larger world of other forms of media and other mediums, I’m even more of a strong proponent. The corporate gatekeepers are every bad thing you’ve ever heard. [laughs] I believe that these people will do whatever they can to control property. I’ve said this out loud plenty of times in the past, but I tend to think of Naomi as a person. She’s not. She’s an intellectual property. And so it gets really frustrating when you realize that you’re arguing with somebody over property as opposed to a person.

You start to realize how poorly comics creators are treated. If you work in comics and you’re getting paid, then you’re a fortunate person. You’ve put in the hard work and you’ve made the sacrifices, and so when you start complaining about money, you sound petty. The average person who will read something about Ed Brubaker talking about Falcon and the Winter Soldier. There’s always this assumption that Ed must have gotten paid. Then when you find out he really didn’t get paid, then it’s like, well, he must have gotten rich off of the comics. The days of people getting rich off comics are long gone. Maybe it’s just the nature of fandom, but you don’t hear about TV writers getting screwed the way comics creators tend to get screwed. 

They do get screwed out of millions, but TV writer checks have many more zeros than comic writer checks.

[laughs] I got a royalty check from Marvel the other day for digital sales. I almost took a picture of it just to show people. There’s a moment where it almost becomes insulting. I know how much they’re selling these digital comics for and there isn’t any paper involved.

You were talking about trying to make a comic without a villain and playing with the hero's journey and finding new ways to approach the genre and these stories.

That’s huge. I’m still in that experimental phase of not just playing with story and structure, but playing with the execution. Bendis and I co-teach together at Portland State University and just two weeks ago we had our Hero's Journey lecture. About six months ago I rewatched Francis Ford Coppola’s movie The Conversation, and I’m thoroughly convinced there’s no antagonist in that movie. I believe that Gene Hackman’s character is both the hero and the villain. If you really study the movie, there are minions, I guess, but the true villain is himself. I’ve been studying that movie and that’s what I want to do. How often in our real lives do we get in the way of ourselves? How often do we disrupt and we try to blame it on other people? That comes down to how much we’ve been indoctrinated into this Joseph Campbell-like philosophy of story, of heroes and villains. I’ve been really messing around with that. I haven’t published anything that does that yet because I haven’t written anything that effectively does what I want to do. I’m also looking at the form of comics and graphic novels and to me the most exciting stuff is stuff that I’m not even a big fan of reading, to be honest. [laughs] There’s an emerging trend within middle grade readers that’s not the traditional graphic novels that Jerry Craft or Raina Telgemeier are doing, it’s more of a hybrid between prose and sequential art. You see it in The Last Kids on Earth series. I’m endlessly fascinated with it, but I’m not connected with what I’m reading. I’m too old. But at some point, someone’s got to take it up to the next age level. There’s going to be a YA book. There might even be a more straight ahead mix of prose and panel-to-panel artwork and I’m experimenting there. I’m going to self-publish some short stories and one of them will be 75% prose and 25% art and we’ll see how it works. I won’t say [I'm] bored or weary of comics, but could we please try something? Something more than what I’m seeing?

That’s especially true with superheroes.

I still love superhero stories, but I want to see something I haven’t seen yet, I want to read something I haven’t read yet. I want an experience. Superheroes and that genre have become so ubiquitous. I mean Disney+ is an entire streaming service that’s built heavily on superhero storytelling. It doesn’t matter how entertaining a movie can be, they use a formula. I watch a show like The Boys or Invincible and yeah youre stretching the boundaries, but youre not breaking the boundaries. Give me something different. And I don’t see it. As a creator that makes me restless because if I’m not seeing anything that’s different or inspiring to me, it makes me go, what am I doing? What am I bringing to this? I don’t want to do the same. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what I’m looking for. I’ll know it when I see it. Or I’ll know it when I create it? 

Cover art by Steve Willhite.

So you’re closely following comics, everything from Scholastic to Megascope [an Abrams imprint "dedicated to showcasing speculative and non-fiction works by and about people of color"] and elsewhere.

John [Jennings, the imprint's curator] and I are on the phone, if not once a week, then every other week. Even before the name Megascope was applied to that imprint, we were talking about it. I want to do something for Megascope, but more than anything, I just want to work with John. He’s been working with us on Bitter Root from the very beginning and he’s just a good close personal friend. The stuff in Megascope is great. I am thoroughly enjoying it. The Octavia Butler adaptations that John and Damien Duffy have done are great. I just read Eric Powell and Harold Schechter’s true crime graphic novel about Ed Gein. I read that and I wanted more like this. Not to say that I want stuff about serial killers, but here you’ve taken something that if it was just prose, it would be dry. I have been obsessed with Ed Gein since I was in high school so I’ve read just about everything about him and this Powell book was the most compelling. There’s just something about the way he put it together. There were three or four graphic novels that have come out in the past two years or so that have just blown my mind. Slaughterhouse-Five was one. Derf’s book about Kent State was one. Big Black: Stand at Attica was one. I see stuff like that and I want more of this, please! Just stuff that helps the medium grow and helps this art form grow. Or Alison Bechdel’s new book, The Secret to Superhuman Strength. I love that book! Alison is just an amazing creator. That’s what I strive to be. I want to be Alison Bechdel - except I don’t draw. [laughs]

Talking about story, the old legends and myths are complicated. Gilgamesh has these adventures with his friend, and then his friend gets killed, and he has to figure out what to do with his life. So he goes home and gets married and builds a city and dies. How often do comics take it that next step and think about real change or an ending?

I’m actually working on that story now! So we’ll see! [laughs] I know this sounds arrogant, but I feel like this medium needs to figure out some ways it can expand and grow if it’s going to survive. That’s not to say that I’m the one who’s going to be able to do it, but I’d like to try. When I was in high school, Maus and Dark Knight and Watchmen came out. All the usual suspects. For decades, that was all anyone talked about. Now there’s other stuff to add to that list that have built upon the possibility of the medium, and I love Saga and a lot of indie stuff, but there’s still something I’m looking for. I got to the comic shop every week, I’m on Webtoon and Tapas, and I’m looking. I don’t know what I’m looking for, but I haven’t found it. As a creator, that tells me that I’m not pushing myself hard enough either by looking for something or I’m looking at my bookshelf at The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew. That’s the pinnacle book to me. It’s a book I’m never going to be able to make because I can’t draw. Its like wanting to play in the Super Bowl but you don’t play football. [laughs] Sonny’s book is so amazing and there’s a reason why I keep it right in line of view. And right next to it is Mage, Darwyn Cooke’s Parker adaptations, Kyle Baker, Watchmen, Bone. All those are on the same shelf and those are all the books I find both aspirational and inspirational. I swear I never noticed it until now, but every single one of them is written and drawn by the same person. I guess this is my auteur shelf. Wow. This is a therapeutic breakthrough. I think that’s the ultimate goal for writers in comics. There’s that itch you can never scratch. We all are frustrated artists. I’ve only met one or two comic book writers who didn’t at one point have aspirations of drawing as well. I still practice, but I’ll never get to where Sonny Liew or Matt Wagner or Jeff Smith are. But I’ll find some young kid and pay them less than they're worth, cause that’s what comics are about. [laughs]

I always get into this argument especially with hardcore comics fans. Of which I don’t consider myself to be anymore. When I was younger, I was. I remember some key runs of X-Men and Daredevil and New Teen Titans and I can tell you who wrote them and drew them, who inked them and who lettered them. But there are seven or eight hundred issues of Spider-Man and for the most part, they’re just Spider-Man stories. There are very few where you can go, okay, what I love is Gerry Conway’s run and when John Romita Sr. drew these particular issues. Part of the medium, and that particular genre, does not lend itself well to that. When I look at Saga or some of the other stuff Brian K. Vaughan has done, that’s how you make a name for yourself as a writer. You write your ass off and team up with an artist who really knows what they’re doing and boom. To a certain extent, Chuck [Brown], Sanford [Greene] and myself are doing that with Bitter Root. Of course, being the egomaniac that I am, I won’t be happy until it’s just me. Within our lifetime there’s going to be software that really allows people who can’t draw to draw better. Once I get that, then all bets are off! This is a great therapy session cause we’re really getting at what I want to be. [laughs]

Let’s talk about Bitter Root.

I was going to say that it’s a combination of Bitter Root and The Black Panther Party that have put me in this position right now. They are two things very near to my heart. With Bitter Root, we’re a team, and I think we work well as a team. The end result of our work looks good, reads well, and speaks for itself. But there’s a lot of back and forth, and a certain amount of friction behind the scenes with us. I often liken it to certain bands from the '70s and '80s who put out some good albums, but they didn’t get along. We’re not that bad, but all three of us have goals that we want to explore outside of Bitter Root. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Issue #15 ends the third arc and with that conclusion of the third arc [is] a larger conclusion of the story weve been telling. Then we’re a taking a little break and the three of us are figuring out what we want to do individually. Chuck and I just had a conversation the other day about rethinking what Bitter Root will look like moving forward. One is, what it will look like if and when the movie gets made. I’m still optimistic that will happen. But what will the comic look like as the market itself changes? The market just isn’t going to support as many monthly periodicals as it [did] even a year or two or three years ago. It’s not even for better or for worse, it will have changed. COVID has affected everything. The economy has affected everything. I said to Brian, if I had my choice, Season 2 of Naomi would be three issues, but each issue would be 48+ pages. There’s a challenge in crafting a story that has that many beats per issue. You can put it out and there’s something special about it. Some of the Black Label stuff from DC feels like people taking the medium seriously. When you’re reading a physical book, the binding, the paper quality. 

I said to Chuck and Sanford recently that we should be thinking about that. Brubaker and [Sean] Phillips have been doing that with Pulp. Matt and Elsa [Charretier] are doing that with November. This is what we need to be doing. I am super stoked about that sort of stuff. I know Sanford isn’t because it means more pages for him to draw at a time. [laughs] I do think that if you’re serious about working outside of the mainstream–and by that I mean Marvel/DC/Archie–you need to be thinking about it like that. How do we survive when conventions come back? Because they’re not going to be the same. Aside from the fact that no one is going to have any money, you couldn’t pay me enough to go to San Diego Comic-Con the way it was before with all those people pressed together. What’s that going to look like? For me, San Diego wasn’t a money-making show, I went there for other reasons. Emerald City was always a lucrative show, New York was always a lucrative show, WonderCon wasn’t bad. I’ve had a year of revenue lost, but also revenue saved from not having to pay for hotels and airfare and all that. I don’t know what people are going to be buying when they go back to conventions. It will be interesting to see what Artists' Alleys are going to look like moving forward. We as creators need to be prepared to adapt because the industry doesn’t seem prepared to adapt. If we’re not prepared, then what’s going to happen? That’s the harsh reality of it. It’s why I spend a ton of time on Kickstarter and I’m always eyeballing what people are doing and tracking numbers. A campaign will have maybe a thousand backers and they’ve made way more money with those thousand backers than it they did a book for BOOM! or Dark Horse. I’ve seen campaigns where I know 100% that they exceeded what their sales would be if they went through Diamond. These are all things I think about. This is why I don’t sleep much at night. [laughs]

Bitter Root is one of the best series out there right now. It’s been said often enough, it’s not just me. For so many reasons. Plus the backmatter that John curates.

I think the backmatter is the best.

I interviewed Chuck last year and he said, the three of us are like brothers, which means we love each other like brothers and we fight like brothers.

That is 100% true!

Chuck and Sanford live like a mile from each other in South Carolina, but Sanford will ask me a question that I know he could ask Chuck. And Chuck will ask me a question that I know he could ask Sanford - because they aren’t talking to each other that week. It’ll be over football or a barbecue someone didn’t go to. It has nothing to do with the comic. But thank you for what you’re saying because we put a lot into it. I don’t like to think stuff like that because if you think that, then you become an arrogant jackass. Right now they’re both mad at me, I think. I said, we’ve won some awards and we’re well-reviewed, our fans are diehard, but our sales aren’t great, so let’s take some risks. Let’s shake it up enough that we remain true to what’s come before, but we see how far we can push things narratively and stylistically. As long as we’re true to the story and the characters, no matter how weird we get or how much we deviate from the path, if we remain true to what we started, the fans will forgive us. And in the process we might win over some new fans. So the question becomes, what’s taking things too far? Sanford came up with some ideas that were really solid but it was one of those things where we were starting to come to blows. Fortunately we’re working with [editor] Shelly Bond, who is a godsend because she’s absorbing some of that tension that normally we would throw at each other. I just feel like we have this great opportunity to grow as creators and everything is about growing. You grow as a creator and try to grow the medium try to grow the industry and that helps the fans grow. If you’re not doing all of that, then for me there’s no point in being here. There’s no point in doing any of this. If complacency is your status quo, then for me that’s when I sit down and just read the stuff. I stop looking for new and exciting things. Bitter Root has been a challenge. Given the climate in this country right now, there’s a relevancy to the book that I wish wasn’t there.

I would have said before that you guys were all thinking not in terms of a massive run, but had an ending in mind. And sounds like you’re thinking about how and in what form it continues after this arc is finished.

All three of us have some ideas, and they’re solid ideas. The most important thing right now is to wrap up what we’ve started in a good solid way and for each of us to take some time to, for lack of a better term, do our solo albums. Then we can come back for a reunion tour. I compare comics to music a lot. I talked to Chuck yesterday about that DC Black Label book that John Ridley is writing [The Other History of the DC Universe] and I said, Chuck, what if we do a Bitter Root version of this? It would be easier to Sanford to draw because it would be spot illustrations. Chuck sent me some ideas and said, what if we did a short story collection without any pictures? I said, I don’t read anything without pictures. [laughs] But he and I are thinking along the same line in that regard. I haven’t given up Bitter Root and I know they haven’t either. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting the book to be this well-received. [laughs] I was like, maybe we’ll get seven or eight issues and our numbers will be bad enough - or we’ll have killed each other and it will end. We’ve been fortunate.

We spoke after the Frederick Douglass biography came out and you were excited by it in a way that a lot of comics just haven’t excited you, and you clearly wanted to make more nonfiction comics.

The Black Panther Party was really the culmination of a lot of ideas, even before I’d done Frederick Douglass, in terms of what nonfiction could do. I had a conversation with John Jennings a couple days ago and I said, I wish there was a publisher who was more dedicated to nonfiction the way Ten Speed is, but maybe the books are shorter so we can get more of them? I am not thinking about it so much of in terms of what can I do, but what can be done. I got an email from someone yesterday saying, you should do the American Indian Movement next. I should? Who’s going to pay to publish it, who’s going to draw it - and who’s going to play for my therapy? As brutal as the history of the Black Panther Party is, AIM is just horrific. I was thinking about that, but I really don’t think I’m the correct writer for it. I know I could do a good job, but there’s an Indigenous person who knows comics and writes comics and is up for the challenge. If I could read your script and throw some advice your way, I’d love to do that. I don’t want to be the guy who tells all the stories. That’s bullshit. It’s arrogant, it’s impossible, and it would crush you from an emotional standpoint.

In comics there’s often a list of “hot” creators and there’s maybe one person of color and one woman. For some people there is a “there can be only one” kind of attitude.

There can be only one! We joke about that, but it’s true. Maybe this is me being naïve but I feel like if the book is good–let’s say we’re talking nonfiction–if the book is written well and drawn well, I don’t think the creative team matters that much. I think it matters in the world of the direct market and some comics journalism, but the New York Times wrote about The Black Panther Party not because David Walker wrote it, but because there was a book out that they felt was worthy. Whereas I’ve talked with people from all over the country and their comic store doesn’t have The Black Panther Party. It also doesn’t have Bitter Root. Bitter Root has won the two biggest awards in the industry and they’re not carrying it. It’s being made [into a movie from] a big studio with one of the hottest filmmakers producing and we’ve signed a hot director. In terms of sales, it’s not a big hit. But I’ve had people reach out to me because they ask their store, do you have Bitter Root, and they hear, that would never sell here. How would you know?!

It’s not like there are many books similar to Bitter Root.

I was so influenced by Bitch Planet in many ways. Including the backmatter which Laurenn McCubbin was curating. From tracking Bitch Planet and their sales and how they were being received, it gave me an idea of what we could expect. To the extent that anytime I walked into a comic book shop–no matter where it was in the country–the first thing I did was look for Bitch Planet. If they had Bitch Planet on the shelves, I knew the kind of store I was dealing with. Versus if they didn’t have it. It was too easy to look for The Walking Dead or Saga. I went into one store that didn’t have Bitch Planet and they didn’t have Saga - and they didn’t even have The Walking Dead! I was like, what is wrong with you?! It's always funny-- this is such a dickhead story to tell, but I walk into some stores in some cities and somebody in the store recognizes me. Those stores always have Bitch Planet on the shelves. If I’m in a store that doesn’t carry Bitch Planet, I don’t even have to wear sunglasses and pretend to be somebody else. 

I think that part of the problem with the industry is what the retail side and what some of the fans choose to support. We should open our minds. At the end of the day, Raina Telgemeier is the most successful graphic novel creator - and how many comic shops carry her work? How many retailers in East Chuckafuck know her books? Not that many. I was on a panel with Raina a year or two ago and the only way I could have been more in awe of anyone is if it was someone who was dead. I love her work. I know some people dismiss it, but I love her work. Jerry Craft and I have been friends for like 25 years and I can’t be happier for his success. Keith Knight is another friend of mine. I’m so happy for these guys. It's fascinating to watch their careers and see their success come and some people not even be able to acknowledge it because it doesn’t fall in this narrow spectrum of what the medium is all about. Jerry had two books on The New York Times bestseller list - at the same time! How many of us have that? And the thing is that Jerry and Raina and Keith and these other creators, their careers will last. If something goes wrong with Marvel or DC, I know a lot of people are going to be in trouble. I don’t want to be one of those people left swinging in the wind, as they say.

Making a book about the Black Panther Party was an interesting choice. The obvious choice after Douglass was to write another biography, and this is a much more complicated story. In every way.

I admit it. In the back of my head I was thinking about maybe doing a biography of Ida B. Wells. I’m fascinated by her story. But I wanted to get out of that era. I also really specifically wanted to tell the Fred Hampton story. The conversation I was having with Ten Speed about Fred Hampton was that they felt the Black Panther story needed to be contextualized and told more for that story to really have heft and weight. I couldn’t disagree with that. Especially after having watched Judas and the Black Messiah. I love that movie, but there are a lot of questions people have coming away from that movie - including what the hell was the Black Panther Party really all about? So it was really easy to come to the decision to do the whole Party, even though I knew it was going to be epic in scope. The mistake that I made was thinking, well, Frederick Douglass lived in the 1800s and there was no video footage, we don’t know what his voice sounded like, but with the Panthers there’s so much stuff and the research was going to be easy. But it was all disjointed. It fell into two categories. There was a lot of anti-Panther rhetoric. And then there was pro-Panther rhetoric. Then there were things where nobody can seem to agree on what happened in this particular moment. There were factions within the party that 55 years later still exist. That became overwhelming. But in some ways the more challenging it got, the more I realized that this book is needed. I didn’t want to dumb it down. I knew I wasn’t going to write it for a fourth grade demographic, but I felt like if I could write it for a high school age crowd, then it would be good enough for college students and for advanced readers in middle school. I knew there was going to be heady stuff I could tackle, but there was so much stuff. I had to figure out how to condense it, figure what was important, what has to stay, what can’t stay. Then there were things where I felt like, if I’m asking this question, my readers are going to be asking this question, and so I need to figure it out. 

Some things didn’t make the cut. I was obsessed with-- how did Eldridge Cleaver get his book published? Because he was in prison. For the most part, you don’t get a book publishing deal while you’re in prison. It doesn’t work that way. I knew there had to be a conduit and a chain of people and events. That took me three weeks to uncover. It’s only mentioned in passing in the book, but it’s there. Once I figured out that it was this particular lawyer, then I was able to go back through every single book I had and find the ones she was mentioned in. Because how he got his message out to the world is key to how he became who he was. The same thing with Angela Davis, who wasn’t in the Panthers as long or as actively as others. If a book didn’t mention Angela Davis, it’s like if you’re reading a book about the history of science fiction films and it doesn’t mention Star Wars or A Trip to the Moon - that book just isn’t good. So there were certain things I was looking for. So there were questions that I had been asking that you think would be easy to figure out, but it’s not. I was calling people who were in the Panthers. I know people, not anybody high up, though I did have a couple numbers. I wasn’t going to call Bobby Seale. It was crazy. And here’s the thing, I’m thinking about doing it again. What kind of moron does this to himself? But I think it’s important. I’ve come out of this with a greater understanding. As much as I understood the complexity of history as I was working on Frederick Douglass, it’s even more complex with the Black Panther Party. In part because since the book has come out, we’re here all over again. We’re watching this country go through the same things it was going through 55 years ago.

You and Marcus Kwame Anderson really seemed to gel in The Black Panther Party.

With The Black Panther Party and Marcus–and I know other people might take issue with this–that was the best collaboration I’ve ever had. I’ve never been happier with the art, with what an artist brings to the table, and just the way we communicated. That was our first time working together, but it also showed me that as a writer I can have a clear cut vision, have something in my head, put it on paper, hand it to the artist, and the artist can take it and make it better. That’s what comics should be. The artist is always making it better. There would be times working on The Black Panther Party when I didn’t know what to do visually and I would say, literally, "Marcus, let’s talk about this page or these panels." We would get on the phone and just hash it out. The entire book was done and we were maybe two weeks away from going to press but there was one page that wasn’t done yet. I honestly think editorial must have missed it so we spent 15 minutes on the phone. I found a bunch of material online and mocked up what it should look like, and the next day he had the page done.

I felt like when I look at that final product, I want to do more of this. More work that resonates with people. In this case it was just me, Marcus and editorial. But when you look at something and go, the harder it is to distinguish who did what in a comic-- and most people think they know because they look at the art and assume the artists did the drawing and the writer did the writing, but what they don’t get is that the writer is telling the story a certain way and the artist is reinterpreting it and sometimes the change is subtle and sometime sits drastic. I’ll never forget reading a review of a comic I had written that had an action sequence with almost no dialogue. The critic was saying the artist is the greatest storyteller of all time and this is one of the bets action sequences I’ve ever seen. I literally mapped out the entire thing with stick figures. I wrote it. It didn’t bother me but I’ve talked with other writers saying I’m so tried of the artist getting credit for what I did. If people liked the book, you shouldn’t give a shit about anything, man. Writing a nonfiction book has incredible challenges to it but in some ways they’re easier to deal with than the challenges of writing fiction, in which you’re worldbuilding. Whereas if you’re studying the life of Frederick Douglass, you’re going, how do I condense this five years of his life into two pages? That’s the challenge. They come with different challenges. But for me, with The Black Panther Party, it's been-- the reward has been just the response and reception. Every day I get emails from teachers and parents and sometimes students. Someone sent me an email saying his son did a report on the Black Panthers for school using our book. I can’t ask for anything more than that. That’s up there with the Naomi cosplayers. I’ve only met a few of them, but it’s amazing. We haven’t had any Bitter Root cosplayers yet. I think that might be one thing that creators secretly think about. Who’s going to cosplay as this? Maybe it’s not that weird because when I was a kid, it was "who do you want to dress up as for Halloween?" It was the characters that made the biggest impact on me. 

You mentioned before that you and Marcus are working on another book that hasn’t been announced yet, but you seem much more excited about writing more nonfiction than launching another comics series.

Most definitely more. I mean, I am interested launching a couple new original projects, but I’ve been bitten by the nonfiction bug. There are so many things that I’m interested in that if I could do even one book a year, I could keep busy for the next 10-15 years. I’d like to do a book about the history of roller derby. It’s a unique piece of entertainment that hasn’t been addressed from a working class blue collar standpoint. You never know what opportunities may come up. I’m also writing this semi-autobiographical thing. Yesterday it was a graphic novel, but tomorrow it might be a straight memoir. I can’t figure out what it’s supposed to be, but the reality is that it will probably be a little bit of both. It’s heavily influenced by the comics that I read as a kid and that influenced me. Parts of the story come across as being from a comic book but because I can’t actually use Luke Cage or Spider-Man in this story, I’ve had to create these analogue characters and stand-ins. It’s fascinating because I was talking to Bendis about it and said, I had to create a whole universe of characters as stand-ins for my childhood characters and I don’t have any interest in writing a traditional superhero story with them, but as I’m writing about my childhood and what essentially Batman meant to me or the X-Men meant to me, I’m having to write these bits and pieces of bizarre superhero stories. Trying to figure out what to do with all of it has been super challenging. Fortunately, I’ve got really good creative friends who are never at a loss to give me advice - good and bad. 

You really do seem to enjoy your collaborators and the people you work with. 

Comics are all about collaboration. When you partner up with someone and it works really well, there’s nothing better. In comics there’s nothing more important than that collaborative relationship. I would say even if you are someone who writes and draws, a person who does it all, you’re still collaborating with yourself. There’s enough of a difference between the art and the writing that as a writer you need to know how hard to push yourself as an artist and what you can expect from yourself and to not be lazy in either department. I see that sometimes. I see the creators who, yeah, their art is amazing but their writing could be stronger, or their writing is amazing but they’re taking it easy artistically. I feel like we should all strive to the point we’re feeling broken. [laughs] Like Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, where he’s in the desert and practically dead from dehydration - that’s what we should all be striving for. [laughs] 

Are you going to write another novel? Make more films?

All of it. I am looking at doing another novel. That’s daunting to me. It’s been so long since I did that. I don’t necessarily want to make films again, although I am working on a screenplay. The problem is that I only have so much energy. I haven’t been able to be as strategic as I was when I did Shaft. When I did Shaft there was a clear-cut goal in mind. Now, there’s opportunities. If I wanted to go into prose, I could go there. If I wanted to go into film or TV, I could go there. If I wanted to stay in comics, I could do that. But I know I’m not able to do all three. And I know I’m not going to be able to do all three simultaneously. I know the people who do that. Greg Rucka is one of them and we talk about this all the time - you can own three cars, but you can’t drive all three at the same time. One of the problems I’m facing is making that decision. Which car do I want to drive today? And drive for the next six months or so! I think being primarily trapped inside because of the pandemic has made making some of those decisions even more difficult. Because it’s like, okay, I write a screenplay but when are people going to be going to the movies again? Is there a realistic chance of this getting made? A lot of overthinking on my part. But that’s part of my charm.

Do you have plans to make more with Solid Comix?

I am. But I think what I’ve proved to myself and the world is that I’m not cut out to do too much with it. [laughs] I’ve got to go to the post office to mail stuff off. I love writing and being creative, and out of necessity I’ll self-publish and self-distribute, but I prefer not to do those things. One of the decisions I have to make going forward is how much time am I going to put into Solid Comix. I launched two series–One Fall and The Hated–and I’ve got to wrap them up. Both of the artists are pissed off at me and I can’t blame them. Again, you can have 100 cars, but you can only drive one car at a time. With this autobiographical thing I’m working on, I don’t have a publisher in mind, I haven’t shown it to anybody yet, and in the back of my head I know I can always publish it through Solid. Or Solid can co-publish it with somebody. I’m always going to keep Solid Comix as an option. I know a lot of creators whose attitude is, I’ll do this if I have a publishing deal. My attitude is, I’m going to do it even if I don’t have a publishing deal because I’ll just publish it myself. It is that ace in the hole, for lack of a better term. If at some point it made more sense for me to dedicate more time and energy to it, if it was generating enough revenue that I could hire an employee or two to run certain aspects of it, then I would. Like if I had enough money to hire Shelly Bond to be my editor, even on a freelance basis, I’d hire her. If I could hire someone to check all the invoices and e-mails and make sure that all the orders are going out, I would do that. But right now it’s just about making enough to pay the artists, pay the colorists, pay the printing costs, to make sure shipping is covered. And on top of that, I’ve got to pay my regular bills. John Jennings and I were talking about how there’s a reason why people take positions at other publishers or imprints rather than running their own thing. Because running your own thing is a whole other beast. There are some people who love that. There are some people who love knowing the tax codes or every postal zone in the country. But I ain’t that guy. [laughs]

Cover art by David Mack.

So The Hated will wrap up soon.

Chapter 2 of The Hated will be a little bit longer than Chapter 1 and will wrap up this particular story. I’m working with a digital publisher and I’m hoping that the first part of Chapter 2 will be broken up into smaller digital releases initially. The first chapter is being colored right now. I’m trying to build the world out more. When issue #2 comes out, not only do we wrap up this particular adventure, but a lot of seeds are planted for other adventures. It’s a lot of me doing research on what really happened in 1872 and how do I tweak it? Sean Hill has turned in some art that’s just amazing.

So what is this collection of short comics you were talking about?

I’m sitting on five short stories that are completely done. I went through an experimental phase last year and into this year of just writing specific types of stories and then finding artists to draw them. With no home for these stories in mind. I was fortunate enough to do a few shorts that got published in recent years which were instances where I got to work with artists I really wanted to work with. One was drawn by Gustavo Duarte and published by DC. With Humanoids it was Michael Lark. I got to work with Mark Bright. Those opportunities really got me to thinking about not just the types of stories I wanted to tell, but some of the artists I specifically wanted to work with. If I have to struggle to either come up with the money to pay someone out of my own pocket or try to find a publisher to pay someone, I might as well just do some shorts. So I have a list of artists. Some of them don’t even know they’re on the list. Howard Chaykin doesn’t know he’s on the list. I’m trying to develop stories that allow me to work with artists who I’ve always wanted to work with, that look at what they’ve done, and [take] into consideration Howard Chaykin has a specific way of telling stories visually. It’s only money. But it’s a lot cheaper to get him to draw a 10-page story than 100 pages. As I get more and more of that stuff together, I’ll either self-publish it or maybe try to co-publish it with someone. 

Right now we’re dealing with a global paper shortage. Who would have thought we’d say that? That has me thinking a lot about what self-publishing is going to look like over the next two or three years. I don’t think most people understand how bad it really is. I did a Kickstarter this year for the 25th anniversary of my zine. The Kickstarter was a success and I raised double the amount that I needed, but the print costs have almost doubled. You study what goes wrong with other Kickstarters and go, that won’t happen to me. [laughs] Then there’s a global paper shortage. The U.S. Post Office has been decimated. UPS and FedEx are like, go with us, but they’re double or triple what the post office is charging. I could send it through the post office, have it get lost once and then send a second time and I’d still save money! [laughs]

With the changes at Kickstarter, a lot of people have said this bodes ill for self-publishing and are looking at a re-entrenchment of big publishers over the next 2-3 years, a quick reverse of the past 10-15 years.

It’s definitely a daunting and intimidating time. Part of me would prefer not to have to think about this stuff. I’m not going to say that the publishers don’t care, but I will say that their corporate parents don’t care. I have friends who are editors at just about every publisher and in some cases the publishers aren’t that bad, but in other cases, they’re late '60s/early '70s James Bond villains. [laughs] To me, what we do as a creators is pretty important. We provide an escape and a release and an inspiration to people, but it’s getting harder and harder to put some of that stuff out there. I keep telling people the future is digital comics, but we still haven’t figured it out yet. comiXology should not be our only option and right now. It feels like the best option - and it’s not that great. What’s the difference between comiXology and Diamond? If someone could truly explain that to me. And how do we reach fans and consumers and let them know. Because you walk into your average comics store and not only do they not have Eric Powell’s Ed Gein book, this awesome true crime graphic novel, but they don’t have Raina’s books. To me there’s a huge gap in between those two things, and they’re just filling it with a very small whatever.

We’ve talked about this before, if comiXology is a digital version of Diamond, that's not a solution to comics distribution problems.

It’s frustrating and I’m just wired in such a way that I do worry about that and I concern myself with it. Some of the best comics I’ve supported in the last several years have been Kickstarter projects, and for me Kickstarter has become the new going-to-a-convention. I’ve been to one convention this year and I walked away with some interesting stuff. I forgot what it was like, walking up and down the aisles and if something catches my eye, I can take a look at it and talk to the creator. Now I go on the Kickstarter page and watch the video and sometimes before I commit to backing something I’ll check that person out on other social media platforms just to see what they’re all about. There’s so much good stuff out there right now, and for whatever reason it’s still very hard to access. It’s not just the distributors' fault and it’s not just the retailers' fault. There’s this collective machine that even includes the fans that isn’t working at its optimum.

You’re thinking about ambitions outside of comics, but also thinking about different possibilities for comics. How much were you always thinking in those terms?

Ultimately I think of myself as a storyteller. As much as I love this medium of comics, there’s limitations that will not allow me to tell some of the stories I’d like to tell. Or tell them the ways I’d like to tell them. I’ve studied film and worked in film a little bit and these opportunities are potentially presenting themselves. Or the opportunity for an opportunity is presenting itself. Why would I not chase after it? If nothing else, it’s getting increasingly difficult to make a living doing comics. I can’t tell you how many comics creators I know who have a secondary hustle. Or theyre in a domestic partnership or relationship with someone who makes better money than them. For me it’s been teaching. If the opportunity comes to work on a TV show or to work on a film, why wouldn’t I take it? This isn’t ego talking, but I know I can do it. So why not give it a shot? I just watched both Reservation Dogs and Only Murders in the Building and with both I thought, what’s stopping me from making a show like that? Keith Knights show Woke really got me. I’ve known Keith for over 20 years and he’s a dear friend. I’m inspired by the people around me. Look at Greg Rucka with The Old Guard. Seeing that movie on Netflix and talking to Greg about his role on it really inspired me. 

Knowing that the Naomi TV show was happening and that I’m not as actively involved as I’d like to be is fine, but it’s letting me know that I have to make something for myself. Rather than allowing me to get me upset or make me bitter, my lack of participation in the Naomi show is making me say, okay, I’ll create my own thing that I’m the boss of. Where there’s no Warner Bros. or AT&T or DC going, "oh no, you can’t do that."