This San Diego Comic Con weekend saw the officially announcement of new series Prison City by creators David F. Walker (Shaft, Nighthawk, Power Man and Iron Fist) and Tim Fielder (Matty's Rocket, Blackjack: There Came a Dark Hunter). The Griotvine was able to get the inside scoop from both creators on the book and the details in creating such a series that is promoted as a "...story of the oppressed and marginalized, fighting to regain their humanity in a society that favors the rich over the poor, the strong over the weak. It shows that in a world of hate and violence, love is an act of revolution."
Greg Anderson-Elysee: This weekend it you announced Prison City, your new creator owned series. What can you guys tell us about Prison City?
Tim Fielder: Prison City is about the chaos that is created when a failed city is transformed into a Corporate sponsored penal municipality. The drama that emanates within those confines makes for great drama and human upheaval.
David Walker: It's about many different things but at its heart it is about the privatization of America, the oppression of the poor, and love as an act of revolution. It is a nightmarish vision of America that isn't too far removed from reality. There are some dystopian tales that seem far removed from where we are as a society, but this is right around the corner, waiting to hit you in the face with a brick.
Greg: Where did the premise for Prison City come from and how long have you two been working on it?
Tim: I've been working on Prison City for almost 6 months I'd say. However, we initially started our collaboration with another project. But after a meeting of the minds we decided to proceed ahead on this. Thank goodness we did. As to the origins of Prison City I think it's best answered by David.
David: This has been a project I've been developing for many years. I was reading about the epidemic of prisons in this country and private prisons in particular and I started thinking about how bad it could get. I had also been reading about the private contracts to rebuild Iraq during the first years of the war and I was sickened by the way greedy corporations were looking to profit from the destruction of people's lives and the idea for Prison City all started coming together. Tim and I had been talking about collaborating and the more we talked and got to know each other, the more it made sense to do this together.
Greg: A summary of the book states it's a "story of the oppressed and marginalized, fighting to regain their humanity in a society that favors the rich over the poor, the strong over the weak." As two Black creators in the comic business, why do you feel it's important to tell this story?
David: In many ways, this is a cautionary tale of how bad things could get in America, while at the same time, it is a metaphor for how things really are. Tim and I bring the perspective of our experiences as Black Americans to this series in a way that will hopefully give a voice to types of characters that seldom get a chance to speak, that rarely get a chance to act in a way that resonates with emotional depth or intellectual complexity.
Tim: The history of black people is one that is birthed in the fire of marginalization and our ability to overcome it. Our heroes and villains are built within that context. It's always been that way. As black creators we must tell those stories because it falls to us to extend, reframe, codify those narratives. What an honor.
Greg: What can you tell us about the prisons themselves? How does this prison system work, especially having to maintain a whole city?
David: If you've ever been to an economically devastated city, you've been someplace with the makings of Prison City -- limited mobility, excessive policing, no opportunity, and a lack of resources -- and then turn it all up to eleven. Much of the series is about how the city operates and how the lives of the guards mirror the lives of the prisoners. The prison itself is divided into sections, or "neighborhoods," and these are determined by all kinds of factors. Female inmates are housed in one area, death row inmates are kept some place specific, and all over there are factories where inmates work. In Prison City, much of America's manufactured goods come from forced labor factories.
Tim: Take Cleveland, remove any pretense of free will, mobility, or nobility. Govern that city as if it were a corporate factory. Then add an openly militaristic police force. Then you've got Prison City.
Greg: How big is the city anyway?
David: How big is Detroit? Pittsburgh? It's big like that -- not an entire city, but a huge section of it. Tim and I keep playing with square miles of the prison, but the thing is that the prison grows. It is like a disease consuming the city.
Tim: Although the story takes place in the dark carcass of a familiar large urban center, we intentionally set it in a fictional location.
Greg: What kind of political parties are involved in this decision to have such a system and are there people of power fighting for its removal?
Tim: Hmmm? We'll see. Let's just say that the evil empire hasn't gone away in Prison City.
David: Imagine if Dick Cheney had become president and given control of the country to Haliburton,while using the war on terror and Homeland Security as an excuse to suspend all freedom in America.
Greg: Yeesh. Let's jump a bit into the characters. Who are the main characters and what roles do they play in the story?
David: There are two main characters -- one is a new inmate, the other is a new guard. The story is told from their perspectives, which will intersect at some point. In some ways, this is two series in one, each told from a very specific perspective. Through them, we learn about not only the prison, but also America itself. We learn how Dick Cheney became president, how the war in Iraq never ended, how the draft was reinstated, and how the nation finally becomes privatized.
Tim: The heart of Prison City is a love story. Consequently, the two leads must fight to survive even when that very love puts them in danger.
Greg: David, reading some of your other works, your voice comes off rather unfiltered when it comes to particular themes and stories. I'm referring to your works like Nighthawk and the most recent issue of Power Man/Iron Fist, both books addressing the abuse of power from higher ups and the government when it comes to people of color, in particular Black people. Is this book a way of going further than where you can go with Marvel and if so can you elaborate on your thoughts and feelings about this?
David: Absolutely. Look, I really like working for Marvel and they have given me incredible freedom in my storytelling. But I have many stories to tell and some require removing of the kid gloves and engaging in a bare-knuckle brawl. This series is me going in on the anger, fear, and frustration I see in aspects of this country and tearing into its jugular with my teeth. This series is not only going further than where I've gone in my other work, it's going further than any other work in pop entertainment has gone, especially with regard to people of color, the marginalized, and the oppressed.
Greg: Tim, can you tell me a bit about your art process in creating this city and lore?
Tim: I've spent many years as a visual world builder. I see it as a challenge, and frankly quite enjoyable to go into why things look the way they look. So understanding the nature of Prison City means bringing a visual to its past. So upon reading the story my job is to enhance written narrative with a visual narrative. So hitting the Internet super hard to collect references and taking photos is essential. Of course tons of sketches and concept images are produced. As an artist it's been interesting to work on a story that of David's caliber. But then he considers me a narrative collaborator. My job at the end of the day is to make it look HOT.
Greg: There has been a rise of interest when it comes to diversity in books, and earlier in the year I wrote about a Black Comic Renaissance. What are your thoughts on this current movement of interest?
David: It is a beautiful time and a crucial time. And we are just at the beginning of this renaissance. This may sound like ego, but I'm here to help write the new chapter in comics' history, and not just Black comics' history. Tim and I are part of a community working to increase visibility and we are defining success on our own terms. We aren't fighting for our place in the industry; we are already here making it work for us while we work in it. As part of an amazing community of black creators and fans, Tim, myself, and so many others are here to reaffirm our humanity while crafting tales that speak to people across lines of color, gender, or sexuality.
Tim: We are in it up to our necks. The Stream knows no bounds in its relentless quest to deliver compelling content to audiences that quickly move on to the next thing. Since the upper and mid tier IPs are gone, this means there is warped need for the NEW. Stories about and created by people of color are a component of this phenomenon. I LOVE IT!
NOTE: An earlier version of this article mistakenly said Prison City would be published by Image.