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.

Book Review – SHAFT’S REVENGE by David F. Walker (2016)

SHAFT’S REVENGE by DAVID F WALKER (Dynamite Entertainment, 2016, 288pp) ∗∗∗∗
     Blurb: Like an unstoppable force of nature, private detective John Shaft is back with a vengeance. Ernest Tidyman’s iconic detective returns in the first original Shaft novel in more than forty years, and he’s as bad as ever. When the Godfather of crime in Harlem reaches out to Shaft for a favor, the hardboiled detective finds himself caught in a web of violence and murder. No one is safe as the bullets start to fly and the bodies start to drop, leaving Shaft with only two options: kill or be killed. From the writer of the award-winning graphic novel Shaft: A Complicated Man, comes the critically acclaimed return of the black private dick that’s a sex machine with all the chicks. It’s a two-fisted tale of revenge as Shaft cuts a bloody path through city, settling old scores and faces the demons of his past.

Unbeknownst to each other David Walker and I both set about the goal of bringing John Shaft back into public consciousness as we felt the character was as relevant today as in his heyday and there were more stories to tell. Whilst I took the route of researching and writing a history of Shaft both in print and on screen in order to test interest and establish my credentials (The World of Shaft being published by McFarland at the tail end of last year for which David kindly wrote the Foreword), David took the more direct route of obtaining the literary rights from Shaft creator and novelist Ernest Tidyman’s estate. A resultant deal was made with Dynamite Entertainment and Shaft was reborn in comic book form in December 2014. As part of the deal Dynamite also committed to re-publish the original Tidyman novels (yet to appear) and begin a new series of prose novels with Shaft’s Revenge being the first.

Shaft’s Revenge was originally serialised as a Smart Phone download as part of the initial comic book series’ 6-issue run. It has now finally been released in paperback form with a cover by Francesco Francavilla (who also contributed covers to the initial Dynamite comic book series) styled in similar fashion to the original UK Corgi books. In the story, Shaft is urgently summoned by Harlem crime lord Knocks Persons, but on arrival at Persons’ home Shaft and Bamma Brooks, the gangster’s right-hand man, find gunmen have stormed the house and Persons has been killed whilst corrupt cops look on. Escaping the gun battle with the help of an honest cop, Harry Townes, Shaft finds he has been bequeathed some papers including a letter from Persons prophesising his own death and hiring Shaft to find his killer. Also in the papers are notes concerning Shaft’s father, who was a numbers runner and had been killed when Shaft was an infant. Along the way Shaft comes across crooked cops and street kids who have no qualms about killing and an old friend with a score to settle. Shaft rescues Brooks, who was hospitalised following the shootout at Persons’ home, from an attempted hit and Townes from another. With the help of Lt. Vic Anderozzi, Shaft gets Townes away then returns to Harlem with the injured Brooks for a showdown with Persons’ assassin.

Walker’s story is full of hard-hitting action and dialogue. He has a strong knowledge of the character and has stuck by his promise to be true to the John Shaft of Tidyman’s novels. Walker has also wisely followed Tidyman’s approach in writing the book in the third person. The Shaft books are action fuelled crime thrillers rather than mysteries and this approach helps flesh out the supporting cast of characters and their motivations. Walker expands through reflective prose on Shaft’s foster parent upbringing and his father as well as his years as a Harlem gang war lord and his service in Vietnam. Walker is much more explicit about the impact of these events on Shaft’s life than Tidyman was in the original novels lending the book more depth as a result. He also references his own superb comic book series Shaft: A Complicated Man (2014/15), re-using characters and making references to events from that story. In doing so Walker has put his own personal stamp and interpretation on the character whilst remaining faithful to Tidyman’s vision. He also brings in supporting characters established in Tidyman’s novels – notably Anderozzi, who plays a more direct part in the action here. There is also Mildred, Shaft’s answering service, and Rollie Nickerson, Shaft’s friend and barman from the No Name Bar.

The book is a fast-paced read set out in short chapters and populated with interesting characters and is an excellent re-introduction to Shaft in prose form. The climax may feel a little anti-climactic in that it leaves the story open for a follow-up, which I hope David Walker will provide us with sometime soon, but this remains an impressive return. In the meantime, we have his ongoing second comic book series, Shaft: Imitation of Life.

Shaft comic book and novel release date confirmed

Dynamite have updated the release dates for Issue #1 of the new comic book Shaft: Imitation of Life and the novel Shaft’s Revenge as 10 February. Whilst Amazon on both sides of the Atlantic quote later dates, the latest being 23 February (US) and 25 February (UK) for Shaft’s Revenge, this is likely driven by when the stock is available at Amazon.

Shaft: Imitation of Life issue #1 cover unveiled

Shaft-Imitation-01-Cov-A-ClarkeA preview of the Matthew Clark’s prime cover for Shaft: Imitation of Life #1 (of 4), sub-titled Part One: Before and After has been released by Dynamite Entertainment along with the following blurb:

After a high profile case that put him in the headlines, private detective John Shaft is looking for something low profile and easy that will keep him out of the spotlight and 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 second Shaft comic book series is again written by David F. Walker with art work this time in the hands of Dietrich Smith. Issue #1 is due for publication in February 2016 alongside Walker’s novel, Shaft’s Revenge.

More Shaft on the way in 2016

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.

Shaft designs by Dietrich Smith

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.

Shaft’s Revenge due for paperback release

ShaftsRevenge-COver-100gsmWoodFreeReports on Bleeding Cool say David F. Walker’s novel, Shaft’s Revenge, is due for paperback publication this December – although Amazon displays an 18 February 2016 release date.

Walker had written the recent comic book series Shaft, which itself is due for a trade paperback release next month as Shaft: A Complicated Man. Walker says: “Writing the first Shaft book in forty years has been not only an honor and a privilege, it has been a dream come true.” “Ernest Tidyman created one of the most iconic and enduring pop culture characters in John Shaft, a legacy that has reached across multiple mediums, and sparked the imagination of millions of people, myself included.” “My goal in writing Shaft’s Revenge was to craft a hard-boiled work of pulp fiction that would honour the character created by Ernest Tidyman, as well as introduce him to new fans.” “For those that are already familiar with the exploits of John Shaft, I hope this new book is like a reunion with an old friend.”

Shaft’s Revenge is the first prose work to feature Ernest Tidyman’s John Shaft since the author’s The Last Shaft forty years ago. The blurb states: When the Godfather of crime in Harlem reaches out to Shaft for a favour, the hardboiled detective finds himself caught in a web of violence and murder. No one is safe as the bullets start to fly and the bodies start to drop, leaving Shaft with only two options: kill or be killed.

Cover design for the book is by Francesco Francavilla.

Update on New Line’s Shaft reboot… a comedy !!!???

According to a report today states that New Line intend to have a “much more comedic tone” to their Shaft reboot, bringing on board writers Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow. This is a huge disappointment to fans of the character who had hoped for a treatment sympathetic to Ernest Tidyman’s creation.

David F Walker, who made Shaft’s return to the printed page in the recent comic book series and the novel Shaft’s Revenge (the first since The Last Shaft in 1975) has written an open letter to New Line protesting at their proposed approach. I would urge any fans of Shaft and of cinema in general to support his letter and Twitter campaign.

A creatively bankrupt Hollywood strikes again.