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Portland Writer David Walker’s Acclaimed Comic “Bitter Root” Is Remarkably Topical. He Wishes It Weren’t.

The success of “Bitter Root”—an indie comic about a family of monster hunters set during the Harlem Renaissance—has been something of a surprise, especially since Walker never intended for the series to win everyone over.

WW presents "Distant Voices," a daily video interview for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they're doing during quarantine.

Amid the pandemic and protests, David Walker has found a new sense of optimism.

"I'm a dark, cynical, pessimistic person," says Walker, who reviewed movies for WW in the early 2000s. "Now that we're facing the fire, it's like, OK, that negative pessimism, I got to put that to the side. I've got to find hope and I've got to help other people find it."

It'd be easy to attribute that new positivity to the awards Walker's comic Bitter Root has recently won or been nominated for—including the Eisner Award for Best Ongoing Series, which is basically the comics industry equivalent of a Best Picture Oscar—or the fact that a Bitter Root movie is currently in the works, with Black Panther director Ryan Coogler producing.

On top of all that, he's also working to adapt his novel Super Justice Force: The Adventures of Darius Logan into a TV series and has been releasing Discombobulated, a weekly comic strip through his own imprint, Solid Comix

The success of Bitter Root, an indie comic about a family of monster hunters set during the Harlem Renaissance, has been something of a surprise, especially since Walker never intended for the series to win everyone over.

"The first issue of Bitter Root has someone killing a bunch of Klansmen—like, gunning them down," says Walker, who co-created the series with Chuck Brown and Sanford Greene. "I was like, 'If people have trouble processing the fact that we're gunning down the Klan, who cares? They weren't going to read our comic anyway, they're not going to be our friends, they're not going to buy us Slurpees at 7-Eleven. Just let it go.'"

But while Walker is proud of Bitter Root's acclaim, he's been drawing just as much meaning from his nonfiction projects, including a graphic novel about Frederick Douglass and another upcoming project focused on the Black Panthers.

And besides, the wide resonance of Bitter Root—a story about a Black family fighting literal racist monsters—isn't an entirely positive thing.

"There's so much of what we're writing about and creating in Bitter Root that is going on right now that, in some ways, it's heartbreaking," says Walker. "I would rather look back on racism and oppression and trauma in a way that is like, 'Remember when?' as supposed to, 'It's happening right now, five minutes ago."

WW talked to Walker about the Bitter Root movie, educational comics and his time as WW's film critic.

See more Distant Voices interviews here.