Thursday, March 31, 2011
In the second of our 5 Questions series of interviews, Darius Logan: Super Justice Force writer and all around Bad Azz David Walker takes some time to drop a little bit of knowledge. Hope you enjoy!
1) For people who may not be familiar with you, could you please give us a quick introduction?
I'm just a regular guy. I grew up reading comics in the 1970s and had dreams of being a comic book artist. Unfortunately for me I was both lazy and not that good, which do not make for a successful career as an artist in the comic industry. Once I realized that I would never get to draw comics, I focused on writing. I developed many comic ideas, wrote screenplays and began writing critical film reviews that I published in my fanzine, BadAzz MoFo. The film reviews and BadAzz MoFo caught people's attention (much to my surprise), and that pretty much set the course of my life for almost fifteen years, leading to a job as an editor at a newspaper and regular freelance work as an entertainment writer. Although I've worked primarily as a journalist since the mid 1990s, I never gave up wanting to make movies or write comic books. Some people may know me from a short film that I wrote, produced and directed called Black Santa's Revenge, which was based on a short comic story I wrote. And recently I wrote another short film, this sort of blaxploitation version of Star Wars called Blackstar Warrior, which went viral last year. But through all of this I still held comics near and dear to my heart. I wrote and self-published some comic projects, did some stuff for these anthologies for Image Comics, and worked as the English-language writer for a series from Tokyopop called Tokyo Tribes. About three or four years ago I started to develop an idea that turned into the novel Darius Logan: Super Justice Force.
2) Without giving too much away, what are some things readers can expect with Darius Logan: Super Justice Force?
More than anything, this is the classic hero's journey of self-discovery. There is action, adventure, teen angst and a bit of romance (but not too much). My original concept for the book was a story about the people who do the behind-the-scenes work for superheroes. The Avengers had Jarvis and Batman had Alfred and the Fantastic Four had the guy who delivered the mail, but it always seemed to me like there should be more people working behind the scenes—someone doing laundry, someone cooking meals, someone making sure that the business of running a team of superheroes was taken care of. So, that was where the initial idea started, and from there I began creating that world. But then I needed a character to walk the reader through the world—a sort of tour guide—and that's where Darius came in. Anyone who has read comic or watched action-adventure movies will recognize Darius, because he's the guy just trying to get through life, who finds himself in an extraordinary situation. Darius is Frodo Baggins, Harry Potter, Peter Parker and Luke Skywalker, all rolled into one. And he just happens to be black.
3) On the book's website, you describe some of the difficulties you had in finding a publisher and how that inspired you to self-publish. What, if anything, would you say to other writers who might find themselves in the same situation at some point? Could you give some insight into your experiences entering the world of self-publishing?
The decision to self-publish is not one that should be gone into lightly. I lucked out and found a very reputable literary agent who understood the book and believed in it. He spent nearly a year trying to find a publisher with no luck. I was literally rejected by every major publisher in the United States. At the same time, there was some minor interest in the property from Hollywood, but only if there was a book and the fanbase that would come with it. I believe the term is “brand recognition.” Once the last of the rejections rolled in, I was faced with some tough choices. Some people wanted me to tone the book down and make it friendlier for a younger audience. Other people thought I should make Darius a girl, or perhaps white. I had no interest in any of that, which only left me with three choices. #1 – Shop the book to smaller publishers. #2 – Throw in the towel and move on to another project. #3 – Publish the book myself.
I decided to self-publish because it was the easiest thing for me to do (which is not to say it has been easy). I could not just give up on the project, nor could I set myself up for another year or two of rejections from smaller publishers. So, I decided to man up and put it out myself, which really is an incredibly difficult thing to do. I would encourage anyone with a creative vision to do whatever they need to do make it reality. At the same time, I would tell people not to half-step. I wrote twelve drafts of Darius Logan: Super Justice Force, and had to act as my own editor. I can’t tell you how difficult that was. I really wanted to work with an editor who could help me craft this thing into the best book possible, but that person never came along. And as a result, I had to take off my writer’s hat, as best I could, and put on an editor’s hat. During the final draft, I cut one of my favorite scenes. It was literally one of the first scenes I initially conceived of, and even though it read really well, it slowed down the pace. It was a great scene that had no place in the book. It killed me to cut it, but it had to go. And these are the kind of things you have to be willing to do when you put out a book yourself (unless you’ve got thousands of dollars to hire an editor).
One of the first things I did when I made the decision to self-publish was to make sure I had my own definition of success. There are a lot of writers out there who would define success as being the next Harry Potter or the next Twilight. Well, I can't do that—at least not yet. And so for me to say “I'm going to be the next Harry Potter” is pretty ridiculous, because I don't have the kind of money a publisher like Scholastic has. And the New York Times is never going to review my book. So again, I needed to make sure I had a realistic definition of success, which is what I would tell anyone. In my mind I have a set number of books that I want to sell, and if I get to that number, I'll feel like I accomplished something. And even if I don't reach that number, I've written and published a book, which is still pretty significant.
Aside from defining success on your own terms, the other advice I would give any aspiring self-publishers, whether it is books or comics, is to do your research. By that I mean figure out the business side of things. Know about ISBN numbers and barcodes and Library of Congress Control Numbers, and all the other stuff that is boring, frustrating and all-around not fun. Do you think I wanted to deal with ISBN numbers, let alone pay $250 for them? But had I not done my research, I wouldn't have known that the printed version of your book must have a different ISBN from the electronic version. A single ISBN costs something like $125, whereas a block of ten only costs $250. If you self-publish a book, you'll need at least one number for the print version and one for the electronic version. And oh yeah, the hardcover edition can't have the same ISBN number as the paperback version, so there's a third number you need. Right there, that's reason to buy a block of ten. This is all stuff I learned before I even found a printer.
4) You describe Darius Logan: Super Justice Force as a book you would have wanted to read when you were a teenager and this reasoning was obviously something that was very important to you. Going back to the previous question, you point out that all of your rejections were grounded primarily on your book being targeted towards young male readers. What are your thoughts on this issue of the American publishing industry essentially writing off young male readers?
It's all about numbers. Right now teen girls represent one of the biggest shares of the book market, and the industry is set up to cater to them. The editorial departments and the marketing departments and the people who design the covers to books know how to get the attention of teen girls. But they don't really know how to get to boys—at least not boys over the age of 13 or 14—and so they seldom really try. At the same time, video games and to a certain extent comic books don't really know how to reach girls. And no one wants to take a chance or risk potentially low sales.
Instead of picking on book publishing for not knowing how to reach boys, let's look at comics and its failure to reach girls. A few years ago DC launched Minx, a line of graphic novels aimed primarily at girls. There was a book called Plain Janes that I loved—really well written and incredibly drawn. Not only was it the best book Minx put out, it was one of the better comics of that year. And yet Minx as a line was a failure. The marketing didn't work that well, and DC never moved the numbers that they hoped for, and the line was killed. Now, rather than trying to figure out what went wrong, or what could be done different in terms of marketing, DC pretty much decides to not do books for girls. And we end up with the same old same old that we always get from them as a company. They invest millions of dollars into Blackest Night, because it is what they sell best, even though Plain Janes was better than probably seventy-five percent of the superhero stuff DC published that year. Meanwhile, Oni has Scott Pilgrim, which is sitting on the New York Times Best-Seller list and is read by girls and boys, women and men—because Oni wasn't afraid to go with something other than what the market dictates.
Yes, I believe the American publishing has failed teenage boys. But I also believe that the video game industry and much of the American comic book industry has failed girls. And the film industry has failed anyone who appreciates intelligent movies. And entertainment as a whole has really failed black people (as well as Hispanics, Asians and just about everyone other than white males). But the thing we all need to keep in mind is that all of these industries continue to make money, even if they exclude major sectors of the population. It is the responsibility of the fans (who are actually consumers) to demand more. If we want to see more books for teenage boys, we must demand them. We must support and buy books like Ship Breaker or The Enemy or The Knife of Never Letting Go. We need to post reviews on Amazon and other retail sites, and tell our friends to do the same.
The same is true of black superheroes. I'm pretty sure some editors rejected Darius Logan: Super Justice Force because the character was black (and of course, we all know that black people in general and black teens in particular don't read). Well, if we want more black superheroes, whether it is books, movies or comics—especially comics—we need to demand them. Send emails and letters to publishers and say, “I am a fan of comics, and I want to see more diversity.” I’m willing to bet that if a publisher got enough emails or letters like that, they would at least consider trying something more diverse. But we as black fans tend to be very vocal amongst ourselves, and to a certain extent online, but not in any sort of collective force. For years I've heard “black doesn't sell” and “blacks don't read comics,” and yet every year I'm at San Diego, and I see thousands of blacks. In fact, if you add up all the fans at San Diego Comic Con who are some sort of minority, they probably come close to out numbering the white fans. But we have no collective unity and we willingly consume the product that is fed to us, without demanding more. If every black or Hispanic comic book reader in this country said “We are not going to buy any comics until Marvel and DC diversify their books,” I guarantee you something would happen. Could you imagine what would happen if every single black person stopped buying Spider-Man or X-Men? It would register in the industry, because sales would drop way off.
But let me be clear about one thing, it doesn't matter if we're talking about more books for teen boys, comics for girls, or black characters in everything, it all becomes irrelevant if there is no quality to the product. I want diversity in my entertainment, but I also want quality. Diversity without quality is garbage like Homeboys in Outer Space, and we don't need that crap.
5) Your website BadAzz MoFo (http://badazzmofo.com) has long been a hub of pop culture commentary and you have established yourself as an acknowledged leading expert in black cinema of the 70s. What are your thoughts (if any) on the current state of black cinema and pop culture in general?
I am very disillusioned with the state of black cinema and pop culture. We are continually being fed a steady diet of mediocrity and ghettocentric propaganda that presents us at our worst and most dysfunctional. Sure, some quality slips through the cracks, but the quality stuff is not what is readily available. Quality depictions of black people in pop culture are the exception to a long-running rule of what I call jigabafoonery. My feelings on the films of the Wayans Brothers and Tyler Perry are a matter of public record. I could go the rest of my life and never see another movie like Precious or The Blind Side. At the same time, I love films like Killer of Sheep, Nothing But a Man, and Chameleon Street. But good luck finding that stuff. Instead, we get Martin Lawrence in a fat suit dressed as an old black woman for a third time. A third time!!! One time was one time too many. But we get a third Big Momma's House movie, because you know, we haven't humiliated ourselves as a culture in front of the entire world enough.
I love and appreciate the films of the 1970s. I can find the value in movies like The Mack and Foxy Brown. And even today, I can be entertained by a film like Blood & Bone starring Michael Jai White, but by and large, that stuff had it's time. I want to see black people and other people of color portrayed in more complex ways. Again, I never need to see another black man dressed as a fat black woman—and I do mean NEVER.
Thank you for your time David, it's been a pleasure. Do you have any final thoughts you would like to leave our readers?
First, let me do a a quick plug for an upcoming project that will be released through Dark Horse. I've collaborated with artist Robert Love on a multi-part story called Number 13, which will debut in the second issue of Dark Horse Presents in June. Robert and I also have a project called Kenji: Master of the Blind Monkey Style, which should be out later this year. And I'm writing an as yet untitled comic mini-series that I hope to find a publisher for or self-publish later this year.
In parting, I'd like to say that it is very easy to support the big corporate entertainment machines—they dominate every aspect of our lives. But it is important to support independent creators. And I'm not just saying this because I'm an independent creator. I'm saying this because I believe that quite often the best place to find truly innovative entertainment is outside the confines of corporate-controlled media. It seems like now more than ever, it is becoming harder and harder to find quality indie product, and that's because the big corporate stuff is chocking the life out of the indie market. You go to the movies, and the local multi-plex is over-run with big budget Hollywood product. You go the local comic book shop, and the shelves are dominated by the big two publishers. It is up to each of us to look for innovative and entertaining alternatives. And when we find these things—be they films, books, movies, or music—we must tell people. Tell the owner of your local comic store to check out Spike Trotman's Templar, Arizona. Even if you don't buy something from Amazon, go on and give it a high rating, maybe even write a brief review. Update your Facebook status to say “I just read this great book called Darius Logan: Super Justice Force, you should check it out.” Believe me when I say that all this stuff makes a difference.
William Satterwhite is the creator of the superhero webcomic Stealth and a freelance designer, internet consultant and illustrator living in Douglasville, Ga. His professional website can be found at www.williamsatterwhite.info. You can follow William on Facebook at http://facebook.com/williamsatterwhite or Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/w_satterwhite.