Graphic Novel Review – SHAFT: IMITATION OF LIFE (2017) by David F. Walker/Dietrich Smith

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.

Shaft: Imitation of Life nominated for Diversity Award

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.

Shaft: Imitation of Life set for trade paperback release in February 2017

Amazon has a listing for the 96-page trade paperback publication of the 4-part comic book Shaft: Imitation of Life. The book, written by David F. Walker with artwork by Dietrich Smith is set for publication on 21 February 2017.

The blurb reads: 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 following editorial review extracts are also included in the listing:

“The creative team of Walker and Smith channel Ernest Tidyman’s iconic detective with an accuracy his character has not seen in years.” – Comicsverse

“David F. Walker populates this sensational medium of ours with living, breathing human beings. It’s what he’s good at. It’s his gift.” – Doomrocket

“Worthy of our attention.” – Comic Bastards

“The faithful adaptation of the character. Shaft is back and he’s packing heat.” – Project Nerd

Dynamite reprint of Tidyman Shaft originals commences

ShaftCoverIn 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, BIGSUR10_Tidyman_Shaft_coverShaft 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.

Comic Book Review – SHAFT: IMITATION OF LIFE (2016)

SHAFT: IMITATION OF LIFE  (2016, Dynamite Entertainment, 4 issues, 4 x 32 pp) ∗∗∗∗
Shaft Created by Ernest Tidyman
Written and Lettered by David F. Walker
Illustrated by Dietrich Smith
Coloured by Alex Guimares
Cover by Matthew Clark
Cover Colours by Vinicius Andrade

Blurb: The only thing John Shaft wanted was a simple case, one where no one got hurt or killed. He figured working as a consultant on a low budget film would be easy money. He was wrong… dead wrong.

David Walker’s second Shaft comic book series, which follows last year’s excellent Shaft: A Complicated Man, has an altogether different tone to that hard-hitting debut. There is a dark satirical feel to a story that explores the underbelly of the sleazy porn industry in 1970s New York. Not only does Walker tackle this in graphic detail, but he also challenges Shaft’s own homophobic viewpoint by having his client/sidekick be a gay teenager. Finally with Shaft also hired as consultant to a Blaxploitation movie, which turns out to be a horrendous parody of the real Shaft film, Walker throws his own punches at the producers of the new Shaft film in development – which is reported to be taking a more comedic tone.

The opening sequence replays the end of Tidyman’s Shaft novel with the rescue of the kidnapped Beatrice Persons, daughter of Harlem crime lord Knocks Persons, from the Mafia. The remainder of the first issue deals with Shaft being hired to trace a missing teenage boy and in the process hooking up with Tito, a gay teenager. The plot diverges in issue 2 toward Shaft being hired as consultant on a Blaxploitation movie based on his life. Over the next two issues the two plot strands come together as the movie’s star is kidnapped by “Lollipop” Lou Peraino who runs the Mafia funded porn industry and, having funded the movie, is owed money. Shaft plans and leads a rescue attempt and in the process finds the missing teenager at Peraino’s porn film factory.

This series features the art work of Dietrich Smith (replacing the more textural Bilquis Everly) and the bold colouring of Alex Guimares. Together they create a colourful view of 1970s NYC and present memorable characters that complement perfectly Walker’s tough script. There is an excellent sequence at the start of issue 3 in Shaft’s office where he is in discussion with two NYPD vice cops that is beautifully illustrated. In turn, Walker continues to have fun with Tidyman’s creation and obviously enjoys exploring the more satirical aspects of his story.

Whilst Shaft: Imitation of Life doesn’t quite match the levels of brilliance of its predecessor, it is still an entertaining ride with aspects of social commentary added to a winning formula. Here’s looking forward to a third series from Walker and co. very soon.

 

First reviews of Shaft: Imitation of Life #4

The first reviews of the final issue of Shaft: Imitation of Life – Part Four: All the World’s a Stage are in:-

a tense issue that concludes the series in terrific fashion. David F. Walker’s script balances the action with thematic content, giving a layer of depth to the issue that could have easily spiraled into simply being a fiery conclusion. Artist Dietrich Smith and colorist Alex Guimaráes’ bring the world to life in theatrical fashion, heightening the drama of the story. In short, Shaft: Imitation of Life #4 is a fantastic ending to a superb series, worthy of John Shaft.” – Robert Reed, AdventuresinPoorTaste.com

“Writer David F. Walker oozes the aesthetic of this time period and the visuals from Dietrich Smith and Alex Guimaraes take the reader right back to the era of polyester and shag carpets. Wonderful work.” – Hannibal Tabu, ComicBookResources.com

“David Walker and Dietrich Smith’s sequel to last year’s superb “Shaft” six-parter does so, as well, wrapping things up with a bow and some clever-if-somewhat-obvious “metafictional” nods to John Shaft’s place in popular culture history. Can we get another series next year, please?” – Alex K Cossa, GraphicPolicy.com

Preview of Shaft: Imitation of Life #4

Google Books has uploaded a preview of issue 4 of Shaft: Imitation of Life subtitled All the World’s a Stage. This is the final part of the second Shaft comic book series written by David F. Walker with art work by Dietrich Smith and is scheduled for release on 18 May.

Issue 4 preview 1      Issue 4 preview 2

 

Reviews of Shaft: Imitation of Life #3

Shaft: Imitation of Life #3 was released today and the reviews are coming in.

“Walker’s ability to bounce between humour and tension keeps the story engaging and ensures that readers will want to come back for the finale.” – Robert Reed, AdventuresInPoorTaste.com

“David Walker has nailed the character in Shaft Imitation of life #3 and the feel to perfection and Dietrich Smith’s artwork is subtle yet raunchy. We could be back in 1975 but this is even better!” – Gary Orchard, MultiVerse

“Highly entertaining, intensely re-readable and — even looking at its unfortunate cultural trappings, given the mores of the era — super entertaining.” – ComicBookResource