Today sees the release of Tim Story’s version of Shaft. The director noted for his Ride Along films has controversially adopted a similar action-comedy-buddy movie tone which is completely out of kilter with Ernest Tidyman’s creation. Reviews of the movie have been mixed and the aggregator sites suggest an average rating of around 5 out of 10. I will have to wait until 28 June, when Netflix distributes the movie on its streaming service in the UK before I am able to make my own judgement.
In the meantime, I continue to feel this has been a wasted opportunity to re-introduce the character to cinema audiences and to formally introduce Shaft to a new generation. I have suggested before that David F. Walker’s comic book prequel Shaft: A Complicated Man would have made for a perfect adaptation. David really got under the skin of Tidyman’s creation in that book and it would have been a great starting point for the movie franchise relaunch. If the producers had chosen to go back to the start, set the movie in period – with all its social attitudes highlighted in a serious manner and Shaft’s character traits properly explained – this could have been a successful and authentic adaptation.
SHAFT: IMITATION OF LIFE by DAVID F. WALKER/DIETRICH SMITH (2017, Dynamite, 104pp) ∗∗∗∗
Blurb: After a high-profile case puts him in the headlines, private detective John Shaft is looking for something low profile and easy that will keep him out of the spotlight, out of danger. Shaft takes a missing person case that proves to be more difficult than he initially thought. At the same time, he is hired to be a consultant on a low budget film that may or may not be based on his life, and proves to be as dangerous as any job he’s ever had. But when there’s danger all about, John Shaft is the cat that won’t cop out – even if it means squaring off against sadistic gangsters that want him dead.
The trade paperback publication of this four-part comic book arrives a year after similar treatement for Shaft: A Complicated Man. David F. Walker returns as writer and is partnered with Dietrich Smith as artist. The book demonstrates the confidence Walker took from his critically acclaimed debut as the literary heir to Ernest Tidyman’s creation. The story stretches itself around social issues of a decaying New York and the expoitation of young gays through pornography. Walker also finds time to seemingly take a satirical swipe at some of the excesses of Blaxploitation cinema, by having Shaft work as a consultant on a film based on his own exploits, only here exaggerated to comical effect. In reality, however, this is a dig at the makers of the proposed new Shaft movie, which is reported to have a comedic slant. Smith’s artwork is more bold and colourful than the more sensitive tones applied by Bilquis Evely. His work is very effective and at times sublime – notably in the use of light and shade at the start of Part 3, where Shaft is interviewed by detectives in his office. Ultimately, whilst the story lacks the dramatic and emotional bite of Walker’s debut, it is an entertaining read lifting the lid on the sleazier aspects of early 1970s New York. Unlike the TP publication of Shaft: A Complicated Man, this book comes without any extras, such as an introduction, script extracts and character profiles, which is a shame. It is also a shame that Dynamite seem to have stalled on any new Shaft output – with as yet no commissioned third comic book or follow-up novel to Walker’s excellent Shaft’s Revenge. There is also no news of the continuation of the reprints of Tidyman’s originals. I hope the publisher has not lost interest in the series and that we see more Shaft output very soon.
It was announced today that Shaft: Imitation of Life has been nominated for the 2017 Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity. Written by David F. Walker with art work by Dietrich Smith and featuring the eponymous black hero, the comic also tackled issues of the exploitation of homosexual males in early 1970s New York. The comic followed Walker’s Shaft: A Complicated Man, which was nominated for the same award in 2015.
In May 2014 Dynamite Entertainment announced it had purchased the literary rights to Ernest Tidyman’s creation John Shaft. The purchase was prompted by comic book writer and author David F Walker, who was given responsibility of writing new Shaft adventures in both comic book and prose forms. The result was the brilliant comic Shaft: A Complicated Man and the less effective, but nevertheless entertaining Shaft: Imitation of Life. Walker’s commendable novel Shaft’s Revenge completed the relaunch.
Last month Dynamite followed through on its promise to republish the original Ernest Tidyman novels by releasing 1970s Shaft on 20 July. This is the first time the novel has been available in a new print version in the US since the 1970s. Recently Shaft was also reissued in Italy via publisher SUR. Whilst the 7-book series has been available in a German translation as well as audio books, Shaft excepting, it has not been published in the UK since 1977.
Dynamite’s Shaft is presented in a similar format to Shaft’s Revenge and has a stylish retro cover by Robert Hack resembling the UK Corgi paperback covers for the series in the 1970s. Whilst I am delighted that Dynamite are seeking to re-introduce Tidyman’s work to a modern audience, I am slightly disappointed by the standard of presentation of the text inside. Paragraph indents are far too deep and the method of scanning the original text has resulted in some typos. The same issues were apparent in Walker’s Shaft’s Revenge. More care should have been taken in the editorial stage. I hope these problems are resolved ahead of publication of the promised second Tidyman Shaft novel Shaft Among the Jews, for which there is a preview in this reprint. That said it is great to see the first book on the bookshelves again, hopefully introducing a new generation to one of crime fiction’s most enduring characters.
Whilst Dynamite continues to fly the flag for John Shaft there is, as yet, no further news on New Line’s development of a new Shaft movie. David Walker’s open letter to the producers was trailed heavily in the press last year and although New Line attempted to reassure fans that they would not turn Shaft into a comedy, the hiring of writers known for their comedic approach did little to allay such fears. Since then it has all gone quiet. Let’s hope the producers have taken time to reflect on recent events in the US and will proceed in producing a Shaft for a modern audience whilst maintaining the essence of Tidyman’s creation.
SHAFT: A COMPLICATED MAN (28 October 2015, Dynamite Entertainment, 176pp) ∗∗∗∗∗
Shaft Created by Ernest Tidyman
Written and Lettered by David F. Walker
Illustrated by Bilquis Evely
Coloured by Daniela Miwa
Cover by Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz
Collection Design by Geoff Harkins
Blurb: Who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine with all the chicks? Shaft! (You’re damn right!) Created by author Ernest Tidyman and made famous in a series of novels and films, iconic hero Shaft makes his graphic novel debut in an all-new adventure. He’s gone toe-to-toe with organized crime bosses, stood up to the cops, squared off against kidnappers, and foiled assassination attempts. But who was John Shaft before he became the hardboiled investigator with a reputation as big as New York City itself? Recently arriving home from his tour of duty in Vietnam, his first case – tracking down a missing person for his girlfriend – quickly turns into a matter of life and death, making him a target of gangsters and the police!
This trade paperback release of David F. Walker’s 6-part Shaft comic book is well presented. I have reviewed the comic book through each individual issue, so I will not repeat that here other than suffice to say this is a must for Shaft fans and comic book fans alike. Extras include Bilquis Evely’s Shaft profile designs; alternative covers as well as a potential cover drawn by Walker; script page extracts and accompanying final panel versions; and cover variant artwork for each of the original issues.
A second series of comic books, Shaft: Imitation of Life, has already been commissioned and Walker has his novel, Shaft’s Revenge, published in February next year.
The trade paperback version of David F Walker’s 6-part Shaft comic book series, with art by Bilquis Evely, was released today. Alongside the comic book there are an introduction by Shawn Taylor, character sketches, a look at the making of the series, a complete cover gallery featuring art by Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz, Francesco Francavilla, Sanford Greene, and more.
Early reviews are also in…
“Overall this is an excellent contribution to Shaft’s legacy. More than just a tie-in to what’s already been established, it actually enhances the character by giving him a well-developed origin story. What might be the most surprising thing about A Complicated Man is how good it actually is.” – BigComicPage.com (read full review).
“This is a straight-forward R-rated type of drama with excellent artwork from Bilquis Evely, and a book very much deserving of attention. It’s realistic but still very artistic, with some great city scenery making for the perfect backdrop and really nice depictions of the various characters that inhabit it. There’s a depth to the illustrations that suit the dark ‘R-rated’ storytelling style Walker employs and the coloring from Daniela Miwa gives things the right sort of seventies flavor that a good Shaft story needs.” – Todd Jordan and Ian Jane, RockShockPop.com (read full review)
“Most Shaft stories have him already pretty well established, but I definitely thought this fit as a strong origin story for the character. You can tell David Walker has a lot of respect for the character, and a strong desire to make him into a complex, heroic figure. He managed to pull it off brilliantly.” – Mike Maillaro, CriticalBlast.com (read full review)
A number of specialist comic book sites have reported on Dynamite’s announcement of a second comic book series of Shaft. David F. Walker will again be writing the series, titled Shaft: Imitation of Life with artwork passing from Bilquis Evely to Dietrich Smith. Smith’s character designs for Shaft are much closer in resemblance to Richard Roundtree.
Dynamite’s blurb for Shaft: Imitation of Life reads as follows: After a high-profile case puts him in the headlines, private detective John Shaft searches for something low-profile to keep him out of the spotlight and out of danger… and takes a missing person case that proves to be more difficult than he thought. At the same time, he is hired to be a consultant on a low budget film that may or may not be based on his life, and proves to be as dangerous as any job he’s ever had. But when there’s danger about, John Shaft won’t cop out – even if it means squaring off against sadistic gangsters that want him dead.
Quotes from Dynamites press release:
David F. Walker – “The idea for the new miniseries, Shaft: Imitation of Life, is one that’s been in my head for a long time, and is something that I’m really excited about. This has been a really fun story to develop.”
Dietrich Smith – “Of all the great action heroes I watched and imitated as a youngster, Shaft was at the top — a private eye with a chip on his shoulder, an attitude that dared anyone to try him. Having the opportunity to draw the smoothest man alive is something I’m very excited about.”
The new series is scheduled to begin in February 2016 to tie in with Black History Month and the release of Walker’s novel Shaft’s Revenge.