Tacoma’s own TJ Walker, a multimedia artist who started with comic books and is now a film maker, will add another feather to his cap Jan. 10 when his film series “Phoenix Run” premiers on DUSTx channel’s Roku network.
DUST, initially an internet based media channel specializing in science fiction that started in November 2016, now has more than 2 million online followers on YouTube, Facebook, VRV, Pluto TV and Xumo. Last August, DUST launched a free-to-stream channel on Roku devices for DUST stocked with films, TV shows and original short films.
The new channel, DUSTx, is free to access on Roku and the programming carries ads, which are sold by Roku. The channel is said to be a destination for “mind-expanding science fiction that explores the future of humanity through the lens of science and technology.”
Walker’s “Phoenix Run” follows characters who are zombies endowed with the powers of superheroes. The blending of two hot, pop-cultural genera – zombies and superheroes – has proven to be a heady brew.
“Phoenix Run” started as an augmented comic book (a comic book that works in conjunction with a smart phone app) and evolved into a web series of film episodes featuring live actors and state-of-the-art filmmaking techniques. The series won numerous awards on the comics convention and independent film festival circuits over the past few years.
Walker’s current project, “Green Fiction,” is another science fiction anthology. In this one, science fiction and marijuana collide. The storyline blends a gritty crime drama with characters possessed of superhero strength. It is thus another genera-bending/genera-blending story in which organized crime figures, cops gone bad and a mutant strain of cannabis called “Supreme” (which delivers powerful physical effects to its users) are thrown into the maelstrom of a life-or-death struggle. Like “Phoenix Run,” “Green Fiction” is a story told via a wide spectrum of media including augmented comic books and film – the latter starring Noel Gugliemi.
Walker brings a maximum of technology to bear in his storytelling. A weaver of worlds, he seeks to create an all-encompassing sense of place that readers and viewers can embrace and inhabit in their own emotionally-charged fantasy lives, which adds flavor to “ordinary” reality. How much of our image of ourselves is enriched with our attachments to fictional characters and the worlds that they inhabit? Does not the average “Star Wars” fan, for example, carry around an inner Jedi knight?
Walker’s scripts manage to flesh his characters out, just like the phone app brings pages of his comic books to life. What could be two-dimensional, stock characters are given the appearance of psychological depth as they grapple with their grim circumstances; their interpersonal relationships; and come to grips with the curse of their pariah status and the blessing of their power. Walker likes to blend gritty characters like zombies, underworld figures and bad cops with elements (government vaccinations and narcotic drugs) that imbue them with super powers.
Ultimately, the moral of the story seems to be that the enhancement of human power – no matter how well intended – does not necessarily result in the betterment of society. What enhances the good also enhances the bad. Instead of a triumph of good, there is merely an escalation of firepower in the eternal struggle of the good versus the bad. The struggle is not ended; it simply becomes more spectacular and destructive.
Jan. 10 is also the day on which Walker aims to unveil a crowdfunding campaign for a first of its kind interactive comic book.
“It’s time for interactive storytelling,” said Walker, “and I believe that bringing our interactive storytelling concept to comic books and mobile devices will be more effective to our users and have a bigger impact than doing this form of storytelling with a TV show.”
Backers will receive multiple perks such as a demo version of the interactive comic book series and app as well as the full version once completed.
“We are also using some of the funds to pay foster teens we hire and bring on set when we film live action sequences for the Interactive comic. The teens will either act or work with different production departments,” added Walker.
For more on Walker’s projects, visit jwalkentertainment.com/phoenix-run. To view video material for the crowdfunding campaign, go to drive.google.com/folderview?id=1YKJU83TU6M8zeb951pA6JclvBDD0Bqcp.