For almost a decade, David Walker was a regular and prolific contributor to the Willamette Week’s Movies Section. Well known for his exhaustive, thorough and overwhelmingly honest perspectives on cinema — which were often fodder for water cooler conversations — his reviews reflected an inherent storytelling ability of his own.
As a result, it may have seemed surprising to many when, in 2007, Walker quietly stepped away from writing movie reviews.
“Willamette Week was a really great opportunity — it was a really good place to be. I learned a lot while I was there, but that wasn’t where I wanted to be,” explains Walker, who is in the process of releasing a second run of his first young adult novel, Darius Logan: Super Justice Force.
“After the five-year mark, I’d realized that I’d been there too long.”
Walker’s novel is a coming-of-age story that challenges perceptions of what it means to be a hero. The arc of the story comes from his love of movies and comic books which predated his career at Willamette Week.
Being a movie critic was never a part of Walker’s “long-term plan.” Instead, he thought of it as an opportunity to work on his writing before moving on to what he really wanted to do.
“After the five-year mark, I’d realized I’d been there too long. When you’re a critic, you’re writing about what other people do and I never wanted to do that. I always wanted to be the person who created things that other people wrote and talked about,” he says.
“I always wanted to be a storyteller, I wanted to make movies, I wanted to do comic books, but it all came down to telling stories — that’s essentially who I wanted to be and that’s essentially who I’ve gone on to become.”
“… I always tried to put a historical context — a historical spin on things.”
A novel wasn’t part of the plan for Walker, either. His initial goal was to make it big in Hollywood, telling stories on the big screen. He even has a few short film credits under his belt, but he realized that filmmaking wasn’t the place for his stories. At least, not yet.
“It wasn’t quite what I thought it would be,” Walker says of his experience making movies. In his late 20s and early 30s, Walker spent a good amount of time in Los Angeles, seeking to gain a foothold in the industry. After making a few films, he found that the perspectives and attitudes that surrounded him weren’t conducive to his creativity.”Everything that we can imagine doing is different when we actually do it.”
But that doesn’t take away from the reality of what it means to make your way in Hollywood.
“If you are really serious about making movies … like the kind of movies that you either go to the theater to see, or watch on Netflix, or something like that, if you really, truly want to make a living doing that, you gotta leave Portland.”
“But being in Portland has been really good for me, and I actually think it’s important to have that connection to local history. In all the things that I wrote for that column, I always tried to put a historical context — a historical spin on things. I think that’s what a lot of people liked about the column.”
Walker doesn’t plan on leaving Portland anytime soon. He enjoys writing books and is investing all of his energy into getting the word out about Super Justice Force. Walker worked hard on the novel for years, authoring a quasi-futuristic, Orwellian, sci-fi tinged narrative centered on a well-meaning teen orphan named Darius Logan. The story begins when Darius encounters a superhero with his own fatal flaws.
“There’s a big difference between ‘bad people’ and ‘people who do bad things.’ “
“I was trying to come up with an idea for a comic book series that I wanted to do and I had to think to myself, ‘How can you tell a story about superheroes in a way that hasn’t been told before?’”
And that’s where the main character Darius Logan comes in: the adolescent, African-American hero whose unique perspective drives this wondrous and gritty young adult narrative.
“Even in the context of comics, you don’t see a whole lot of black characters, whether male or female,” says Walker. “I don’t think that the character arc would have been as interesting without Darius being who he is.”
Walker believes his personal connection to the main character’s background and his questioning of the concepts of “good” and “bad” helps set Darius Logan’s story apart from others in the same genre.
“A lot of times our socio-economic status makes it possible for a lot of people’s circumstances to get us into predicaments that we would not have been in otherwise, and we become branded felons and bad guys and I have so many of those kind of people in my family,” Walker reflects. “There’s a big difference between ‘bad people’ and ‘people who do bad things.’ “
Disappointingly for Walker, the response from many publishers has been tepid. During the process of finding a publisher for the manuscript, Walker received rejection after rejection after rejection.
“All of the publishers that I have approached have ‘passed’ on the book, and each of them had a different way of saying that it was because the main character was black and a male,” says Walker.
“There are a lot of kids out there that get into trouble, who aren’t bad kids, but are then labeled as ‘bad’ kids for the rest of their life.”
“The first thing [publishers] said to me was ‘teenaged boys don’t read,’ ” he recalls. “The second reason they would give is that black teenaged boys, especially, don’t read. To which I responded, ‘Well, why aren’t they reading?’ ”
Eventually, Walker published the book himself. He is currently working on the second part of the Darius Logan saga, which he hopes will become an ongoing series. The first few chapters of the book are available to read online.
And recently he has been in communication with Overbrook Entertainment, the production studio run by actor, producer and musician Will Smith. The actor’s production company indicated interest in Walker’s story because the role of Darius may be suitable for the actor’s son, Jaden Smith.
Walker says that self-publishing Justice Force was a good move for his principles, but when it comes to the business end, he does have one regret.
“I made the mistake, when I first put the book out, of going by my initials, instead of my full name.”
“At the time it seemed like a good idea, don’t ask me why,” says Walker, soberly.