When we first “met” Mike Baron it was in 1981, when he and artist Steve “The Dude” Rude delivered the comicbook Nexus into our comic shop (no, not personally, but you get what we mean). That series explored a world that was weirdly-eclectic mashup of superhero and science fiction genres, which was set some 500 years into the future. This was followed (in 1983) by the appearance of The Badger who was (at least nominally) a superhero — although not like we had ever before seen. Perhaps what attracted us personally most about Baron (aside from his very engaging, entertaining, and totally off-the-wall approach to comics archetypes), was that he chose to enter the field, not through the previously-established “corporate” comics (Marvel, DC) but via Indie comics (the newly-minted Capital City, as well as later via Dark Horse, Image, and IDW).
Eventually, he did go on to write for Marvel (Punisher, Star Wars), DC (Action, Atlantis Attacks), Valiant (Archer & Armstrong), and others, but he has always been most strongly associated with, and known for Nexus and Badger. Most recently, Baron has switched over from writing most-excellent comics to penning amazingly engaging prose novels, and (as can be expected) has begun to build up a very impressive body of work in this field. Over the years we have had the privilege of not only getting to interview Baron on a couple of occasions, but to actually “friending” him on Facebook and engaging in quite a number of very spirited debates. Having read three of his prose novel (Helmet Head, Whack Job, and Disco — Biker and Skorpio are next up) we once again find ourselves caught up in the world of Mike Baron, and frankly, we wanted to share our love of his work with all of you.
Between the time we conducted this interview and it appearing on the web, we learned that all Baron’s Josh Pratt novels, beginning with a reissue of Biker will be republished by Liberty Island Press. Not only that, but he has also re-launched Badger through Devil’s Due/1First Comics.
Robert J. Sodaro: After years, and years in the comicbook market, writing for not only, Creator-owned, Indie books (that you own), but for what we’ve come to call “Corporate” comics, you have switched over to writing prose novels. Can you tell us why?
Mike Baron: It was my original goal. I have been trying to write novels since college, but it wasn’t until I went through rough times and moved to Colorado that I understood the form. Peter Brandvold the Western writer was instrumental in pounding into me several important lessons, the most important of which is show don’t tell. It took me a long time to find my voice and themes but when they kicked in it was like a thunderclap going off in my skull. I’ve written about the process, which you can find on my blog at www.bloodyredbaron.net.
RJS: Is there a fundamental difference between writing a script for a comicbook and writing a prose novel, and if so, could you give us a brief explanation of what that difference is?
MB: There is a huge difference. Comics are a very forgiving form. I could write comics from the gitgo, even though my method was to simply start drawing the comic out by hand on a legal pad while high on cocaine and vodka. Working panel by panel taught me about pacing, the importance of showing. The bulk of my work on Nexus and Badger was free-style. I now outline my comic book stories beginning to end. In writing a novel, I make notes months in advance. I work up a fairly detailed outline. I boil it down to a blurb. “Wagon Train in space” (Star Trek.) “Nazi biker zombies” (Helmet Head.) “A ghost who only appears under a blazing sun” (Skorpio.) But these are mere hooks to ensnare and intrigue. My outline covers the entire story, the characters’ motivations and personalities, the beats, the bridges, and the hooks. Novels require concentration. Every word must add to the story. I now apply this to comics, but we have all loved comics where the dialogue doesn’t track with the pictures and comics where it tracks too well.
When I start a novel, I buy a new notebook which I fill with story points, beats, names, technology I intend to use, helpful domain names, and memorable names I made up or got from daytime television. I consult the notebook as I write the novel.
RJS: Do you approach the writing of each differently or is the difference in the execution of the story rather than in its inception?
MB: It depends on the story. Skorpio incorporates a diary of an 18th century, 22-year-old Portuguese explorer. I read 18th century manuscripts to get in my explorer’s head, to speak with his voice — a young man of letters in a wilderness. When the story snaps back to the present the contemporary voice takes over. I try to convey the maximum in information and emotion with the minimum words. I use a very close point of view, as Pete taught me. When you look at the great illustrators, like Alex Toth, Mike Norton or Steve Rude, they are trying to do the same thing with their brush strokes.
RJS: With a comic you have a collaborator (the artist) do you prefer writing alone or with a collaborator?
MB: I often ask an artist, what do you want to draw? If the artist has good ideas I will incorporate them but I usually trust my own voice on dialogue and captions.
RJS: Your comics were largely superhero/sci-fi, but your books tend towards more to mystery, crime drama, and at least one story we’re going to call “family Friendly/Young Adult” What cause the switch? Why not stick with superheroes and /or sci-fi?
MB: One reason is that comics are uniquely suited to superheroes and sci-fi. Sure there have been superhero novels, but they don’t pack the punch of the comic. This is one area in which comics excel. I’m seeking to broaden my audience. John D. MacDonald is one of my influences and I have tried to channel his ability to touch the pulse of evil and tell his story in an elegiac, almost mournful voice. I was a MacDonald fan before I discovered comics. He inspired me to write crime stories like Biker, and its sequels, Sons of Privilege and Not Fade Away. I will adapt Biker later this year for Comicmix with artist Chris-Cross.
RJS: Can you tell us a little bit about Helmet Head, Whack Job, Biker, and Banshees?
MB: Helmet Head—Nazi biker zombies! Whack Job—spontaneous human combustion and international espionage! Biker—grim crime stuff. Banshees—a satanic rock band comes back from the dead. Those are elevator descriptions. Helmet Head began life as a screenplay, a fresh take on the slasher genre. I have always loved horror, ever since my sister Ellen Jo dragged me to see The Horror of Dracula when I was eight. Scared the shit out of me! I love a good Stephen King or Robert M. McCammon novel, and have tried to bring a fresh take to the horror genre with Helmet Head and Skorpio, which is about a ghost who only appears under a blazing sun.
Banshees has been with me a long time and is my longest book. Rock and horror go together like cocaine and vodka or peanut butter and jelly. Whack Job, which has horror elements, is an idea I’ve had for decades, but it took me a long time to not only find my voice but to find the story. When I found it I shrieked EUREKA! and did the funky chicken. Whack Job has plot twist that will make your head explode. Biker combines my love of motorcycles with the modern noir of John D. My protagonist Josh Pratt is a motorcycle hoodlum who went to prison and found Jesus. He is the opposite of a smart-ass.
MB: I wanted to do a dog story. Ann [Mike’s wife – RJS] kept bugging me to write something she could read. Ann has no patience for gore, crime, and evil. Disco is about a kid who trains an abandoned puppy to become world disc dog champion. It is Rocky for dogs, and my shot at a YA novel, although I wrote it to please myself, as all writers must. It has universal appeal. There’s sex and violence, but I’ve tried to keep it to “PG-13.” Or at least refer to it as romance and action.
RJS: Which of your prose novels have been published?
RJS: Was it an easy jump from comics to prose?
MB: Hells no!
RJS: Having already established yourself as a writer did you have difficult to cross over into prose or do you think that your comicbook writing count against you because it is “just” comics?
RJS: Which do you prefer, comics or prose?
MB: I like ‘em both.
RJS: You’ve been teasing us with a return of your signature characters, Nexus and Badger (With Badger having made a brief appearance in Disco) when can we expect to see them reappear in comicbook format?
MB: It looks like December for Badger. Why? You’d have to ask First. One reason is that they’re waiting for all issues to be done so they can gang print them. Another is the sorry saga of artists flaking off, burning out, or self-imploding during the construction of the series.
Nexus will return later this year in an online version courtesy of Rude Dude, and will be reprinted as Sunday tabloids to subscribers.
RJS: With all of the comicbook-to-film movies out there, can we expect to see either a Nexus or a Badger film in our future
MB: We have a tentative deal with a Hong Kong-based production company for a Badger movie.
RJS: Any advice for other comicbook writers who want to jump into the prose market?
MB: Oodles! Get a copy of Elements of Style. Listen to how people really talk. Show, don’t tell. Be original. Keep a close point of view. Avoid the passive tense. Find that rhythm. As in popular song, dynamics are the key. What are dynamics? They are variations in key, mood and tempo that create anticipation, and release. Successful fiction, like a good pop song, depends on tension and release.
Mike Baron, his books, and all artwork associated with them are © & ™ 2015 Mike Baron and the associated artists. All rights reserved.
Funnybook City is © 2015 Robert J. Sodaro, D.B.A. Freelance Ink. All rights reserved.
Robert J. Sodaro is a noted comicbook historian and journalist who began reading comics during the early ‘60s while sitting on the newsstand in his Uncle’s “Mom & Pop” grocery store. He has written about them for virtually every print comicbook publication published during the ‘80s & ‘90s.