David F. Walker is an award-winning comic book writer known for his mainstream work on Marvel's Power Man and Iron Fist with Sanford Greene, Luke Cage with Nelson Blake, and Nighthawk, Occupy Avengers and DC's Cyborg with Ivan Reis and Joe Prado.
Walker also has done a lot of writing for indie comics, including his own work with artist Dietrich Smith on Shaft, and new work through Lion Forge and Boom! Studios. SYFY WIRE caught up with Walker and asked him about what he's been up to and what advice he has for young creators trying to pay the bills.
What have you been up to lately?
David F. Walker: I just finished up writing Luke Cage over at Marvel and now I'm working on a book called Superb for Lion Forge. I am also writing Planet of the Apes: Ursus over at Boom. I'm up to Issue 4 of that and 5 is getting ready to come out. That's a six-issue mini-series and hopefully, some more Planet of the Apes are coming. And then later this year, a book called Bitter Root for Image that I'm co-writing with Chuck Brown, drawn by Sanford Greene as the artist. Sanford was my main artist on Power Man and Iron Fist over at Marvel. I also just started a webcomic called Discombobulated.
A webcomic? Wow! Why did you decide to take the webcomic route?
I decided to do a webcomic for a variety of reasons. First, I wanted to do something relatively simple that could be produced quickly. I wanted something that I could work on at my own leisure, where I didn't have to answer to anyone. I had been doing these dialog writing exercises on Twitter — trying to tell an entire conversational joke within a single tweet, and that's how I got the idea for the strip — these little bits of dialogue.
Discombobulated is inspired by my life — real conversations and experiences. Some of the stuff is based on my dating life, other strips are inspired by conversations with my therapist, and some of it is just the nutty self-loathing that goes on in my mixed-up brain. More than anything, I think this is probably a form of therapy for me.
Who is the artist on the series?
The artist is DJ Parnell (aka The Darke Imp). I commissioned him to do a limited number of character illustrations, that I would then use basically as clip art. There will be a lot of repetition of the same images. DJ also colored the characters, though I've tweaked some of the colors. I showed some sample strips to various friends, and now I have several artists asking if they can do some characters. I'm not sure how it will work, but I'm open to it.
The plan is to post new strips twice a week. But since I have no patience, I may post several times a week, especially if it is a series of strips that tell a longer story — like the series of strips about the break-up between me and my imaginary girlfriend. Right now, it is all talking head stuff because that's how DJ designed the characters. But if other artists come onboard, I may expand the world of Discombobulated.
So let's talk about the writing process a little bit. When you're writing for artists, do you write panel-for-panel what you want to see or just keep it very general and see what they give you?
I tend to write pretty specifically unless I have a really good relationship with that artist and know that they can handle it. If you want me to give you a panel-by-panel breakdown of the action, I can, but I'm giving you the option of choreographing the fight or the explosions, that sort of thing.
I try to get to know the artists that are working on the book as best I can. So I can sometimes cater to their strengths or what they want to do. I also will write a note at the beginning of just about every script. "Hey, if you have a better idea, please let me know if you think you can do something differently."
I had a script recently where the page had six panels on it and the artist turned in a single splash page and I looked at it and was like, "well, this works." I had to rewrite the script a little bit, but they got the point across in a splash page and I was fine with it.
What is it like for you, writing solo versus collaborating?
Well, when you're writing solo, you know who you're writing with, you know what you're doing. If there's anything that goes right or wrong, it's all on you. When you're collaborating with another writer, it's like dating somebody, for lack of a better description and if you're co-writing two or three different projects, it's like you're dating two or three different people and everybody's got a different thing.
It's like, oh, well I'm dating someone who's lactose intolerant, another who's vegan, and then I'm dating this person over here who won't watch violent movies. So, you know, there are certain rules that come along with it. Some writers have more experience than you do. Some have less experience than you do. And every single one of those relationships is a dance.
I've seen you at a lot of conventions lately. Is that where you look out for new artists to collaborate with?
I do keep an eye open a lot. I'm also to the point now where as much as I'm looking for new talent, waiting to make it big, I'm also looking for people who are already there and know how to meet a deadline and know how to communicate and how to tell a story sequentially — because it's not enough to be a really dope artist.
If you've got four weeks to draw the book, you've got four weeks to draw the book and if it's going to take you five by week three, you need to let everybody on your team know. And a lot of young people are worried that if [they're] late, [they're] going to blow it. Well, yeah, you're going to, it's going to be a problem if you're late, but it's really going to be a problem if you're late and you maintain radio silence and don't say anything.
Are you looking for new artists for some of your own independent work?
I'm always looking at stuff. But, you know, I ain't got money out of my own pocket to pay anyone right now. So, with the creator-owned stuff, what a lot of young artists don't realize is, even a writer like myself, if I pay you money, ain't nobody paying me the money right now. I won't ask anybody to work for free. I might ask you to work real cheap in the beginning, but it's like, "what kind of deal can we work out? What sort of ownership deal can we work out?"
I think a lot of young artists and young writers aren't thinking about their futures. They're thinking about getting paid right now. And if you gotta get paid right now, take your ass over to Target, or pump gas or go get a job cleaning septic tanks. Do something else that's going to pay that bill.
It's hard work being an artist or creator.
Exactly. I did all that sort of stuff. I did that all throughout my twenties and into my thirties, where I had that day gig. I had that hustle, as I did my creative stuff. And even right now, I teach part-time at Portland State University and every time I drive by a Jiffy Lube that says "now accepting applications," I'm like, "oh, maybe I need to go get a part-time gig."
Stay humble, man.