We often hear the term Pop Culture tossed about to describe a myriad of art forms. My dear friend, Bill Baker never really focused on that term, for him there wasn’t a defined line between popular art and the closeted, refined art forms that academia terms “Culture”. No, Bill believed that today’s daily comics strip, chart topping song, or down-loadable dime novel were simply Culture. He didn’t need a new name for it, and he had a PhD to prove it.
Bill was a triple threat who was thoroughly versed in music, literature, and art. He’d just as easily relate an Ernest Hemingway story, as talk about Hokusai’s wave, or discuss German Expressionist painters and then roll in a Doors lyric in the background. He’d studied Directing at Eastern Michigan University, and had worked with actors, the stage and Theatre at Florida State. Bill had such a unique blend of the arts that everyone he encountered enjoyed talking with him.
We once had a conversation about motivation and work ethic, and I told him how inspiring he was. He’d written several books, each of which were definitive works on the creators he’d interviewed. He related that it’s not work if you love what you do, and that he’d learned early on to put everything he had into the work. That it would speak for itself, and after that no one could say it wasn’t enough. They could ask for re-writes but never fault his writing ability. I was shocked that he’d had complaints by an editor. He related that often something like that was that a direction wasn’t conveyed in the initial assignment. We hashed the background out about the complaint, and I told him it was simply a case of someone who was either over-worked or a remarkably bad communicator in the role of an editor. It turned out to be both in the end.
When we started CCN – ComicsCreatorNews.com I had told him about this article I had read with David Brothers describing his personal experience with Comics Alliance as they lost their funding. David had related what a great experience it had been, how he had sharpened his writing skills on the job, and how they always had his back even when others might not have. David explained that he had met tons of industry professionals, it opened some doors for him professionally, and how sad he was to see it all ending. He’d also explained that the downside was that now that it was over, and he’d spilled a million words on the page…that he didn’t own a single one of them.
That last assertion shocked me.
When I met up with Bill, Robert J Sodaro, and J.M. DeSantis after BookEXPO in 2013 I asked him if that could be true. Bill was quick to explain that not only was it true, but it was likely that he wasn’t even paid to write for them. Bob agreed, saying that it had become increasingly hard to be paid for articles online that once were bread and butter income in print. And that combination just revolted me…that as a writer someone else would own your opinion and the writer never see a penny for it! It struck me as doubly wrong, and then the conversation turned. We talked about how these online news sites are usually funded, and how much it had become a “purchased press”. So the gist of it was that it’s a pay-to-play structure where the income generated never makes it to those doing all the creative work. As an artist, that just rubbed me wrong. Bill, Bob and J.M. deserved better than that and that’s when CCN was born. Born sitting at the bar in the Molly Wee Pub, out of a disgust for a corrupt system that only serves itself…and Journalists (who are just under appreciated creators) deserving a better system to work within.
Bill helped me craft a contract that acknowledged that authors (our correspondents) intrinsically own their articles, their interviews, and surely their own Opinions. CCN just has an exclusive for a limited time, and then they are free to do whatever they want with that work. Beyond that we added journalistic principles to what and how we would operate CCN. And again, Bill took what I wrote out and did some heavy lifting to make it coherent, and whole. That’s something few writers could do, and likely only if you’d paid attention to copyright law and the various contracts put before you over 15 years. He did it with a smile and panache, and I’m indebted to him for his progressive thinking.
I have so many great memories of Bill, but the thing that I remember most about Bill was his stark, unrelenting humanity. He’d listen to some vapid mental rant and be quick with a joke that put the horror in perspective while never diminishing what was said. I joked with him that he was our pillar of humanity, that he was in fact our Perry White. Perry knew the core of a good Story was how it affected our human condition, that all the other non-sensical details were window dressing on people’s lives. I remember telling Bill that he wasn’t the four-color version from the comics, that he was the Laurence Fishburne version from the film, Man of Steel. And he laughed and said, “So you’re telling that…that I’m a proud Black man?”
We both laughed, and I told him that there was this moment of pure humanity in the film where one of the Daily Planet’s staff is trapped and injured, and Perry is there to help. Perry does what he can, but it’s just beyond his means to do anymore. There is an imminent threat of death, and he simply refuses to leave them behind. He doesn’t know what will come next, but he puts himself in peril and stays with them to comfort them even if it will be his own end. That’s the Perry White that Bill was.
Bill passed on February 20th, 2014 at the age of 55. He will be remembered through his written works, and as CCN’s Editor-in-Chief Emeritus.
Godspeed my friend!
Newsflash: As I called Bill’s many friends to inform them of his passing, I learned of another fully finished Creator interview he had completed before he was taken from us. Leave it to this incredibly industrious journalist to figure out how to file a story after everyone has eulogized him!
Somehow he did, and an enormous thank you to Mr Bryan J.L. Glass for allowing us to run the story. It’s what Bill would have wanted!
A link to Bill’s own book publishing imprint, Bill Baker Presents
Link to some of the books that Bill Baker wrote on Comics Industry creators, published by Rosen Publishing.