Wednesday, September 17, 2014




As a black kid, as much as I loved James Bond, or The Six Million Dollar Man, or Batman, none of them looked like me or my family. Shaft looked like he could be one of my uncles, and as a kid, who fell in love with storytelling in its various iterations, that gave me both inspiration and a certain type of freedom.

With Shaft, the biggest difference between the films and the books is that the character in the books is simply more badass. He's also more complex. It is that complexity that drew me in, and it is what is driving my interpretation of the character. In the books, there are these very brief passages about his youth and his time in the Vietnam War. If you took all of this stuff, from all seven of the books, you'd have only a few pages of material, but it is all gold. Tidyman created this character, and gave him just enough backstory that it really sparks the imagination.

With Shaft in particular, he's especially viable and relevant today, because despite what some people would have us believe, the world hasn't changed that much. There are still kids living in poverty, caught up in the criminal justice system, who are moments away from becoming another statistic. Likewise, we've got these men and women coming home from more than a decade of war, and facing tremendous adversity. I've got friends who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and veterans of those wars are facing challenges no one should ever face. 

So while I think the time period has its unique trappings, the times haven't changed that much. Shaft doesn't exist in a world with cell phones or the Internet, but he does live in a world where young men are trained to kill, and then come home and aren't prepared to get back to the normalcy of their former lives. We have a black president, but racism exists. Poverty, injustice and crime are as real now as they were then. Time period is seasoning to the main course, which is character and story.

For black creators -- as well as other creators of color and women -- we often are denied the luxury of just being creators. We have these identifying labels that marginalize us, placing us in a category as some type of "other." 

And there are a lot of creators out there that deserve some coverage and exposure, especially if diversity and representation are going to really move forward, not just in comics, but in other forms of mass media.

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