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Special: An Interview With Kyle Baker
posted May 1, 2005
 

A KYLE BAKER INTERVIEW
BY ANDREW FARAGO


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Kyle Baker is one of comics' singular talents, capable of moving back and forth between various ambitious mainstream publshing projects and the occasional superhero work with DC Comics with an ease that may only belong to him. A well-respected up and coming artist for a bravura run on The Shadow, Baker became a star with a pair of stand-alone graphic novels, the quirky and whip-smart Why I Hate Saturn and the much-loved, slightly gonzo The Cowboy Wally Show. In recent months, Baker has moved into self-publishing with a series of accomplished one-shots, provided the art to the critically acclaimed Birth of Nation with Reginald Hudlin and Aaron McGruder and continued his run on Plastic Man. Recently, he received three of five possible humor nominatons for the 2005 Eisner Awards.

The following interview was conducted by Andrew Farago in mid-December 2004. While the focus was broad, covering his career in general, the cartoonist has funny things to say about topics as varied as Identity Crisis and his fitness for collaboration. It was originally intended for Graphic Novel Review, and finds a temporary home here.

Andrew Farago is the Gallery Manager/Curator of the Cartoon Art Museum. You should visit and say "Hello."


BIRTH OF A NATION

ANDREW FARAGO: I want to start talk about a few of your recent releases, starting with Birth of a Nation. What was it like collaborating with Aaron McGruder and Reginald Hudlin?

KYLE BAKER: It was a nightmare. [laughs] I don't work with people. I did it because I thought it was a good story -- a really good story. When they came to me, before I'd heard the story, I told them I wouldn't do it, because I don't like to split the money. Y'know, if three guys are working on the book, you're splitting the money three ways. They said, "Let us tell you the story." And they told me the story, and I thought it was really great. I thought it was so good. I said, "I'll do it, I'll do it."

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But... Aaron writes cartoons, but his cartoons are very talky, and his characters don't move. And Reggie had never written a comic book. So they wrote a lot of stuff... It's easy to write, "The bad guy comes in with his nine henchmen," but they don't have to draw nine people in nine panels. Then they wanted to add 30 pages to the book. [laughs] They weren't happy with the pacing of the book, so they added 30 pages with nine panels, nine people... every freaking panel is a crowd scene. I mean, you've seen the book.

FARAGO: Yeah.

BAKER: I mean, I did King David, and I know you can computer-generate a crowd of people that look exactly the same pretty quickly. Like an army. King David is all army. Or, you can make a vast city, where all the buildings are pretty much the same size and design, in Jerusalem. But you can't use the same rubber stamp for the Chrysler Building as you do for the Empire State Building. If you've got a crowd of people that all look different, that aren't in uniform... even in Captain America, they were all in uniform. They said, "I've seen you do pages with thousands of people!" But I only had two or three of those pages in King David, where it was a full-page battle scene and I couldn't use the rubber stamp.

FARAGO: They seem to be fond of big explosions, and the entire city coming out to riot...

BAKER: Yeah, yeah. It's easy to shoot, if you're making a movie. It's probably cheaper to shoot that scene, and easier to shoot that scene, than to shoot the scene that's got the star in it. Because the scene with the star in it costs more. You can get two thousand regular people [laughs] for the same price as one day with Nic Cage. They probably figured it would make for a very economical film, you know? And then there's things like the dogfight. There's a big aerial dogfight at the end, and there's a reason you don't see a lot of dogfights in comics. I think the only guy who did a decent job of it was Harvey Kurtzman. I ended up looking at a lot of Harvey Kurtzman to try and do it. Anyway, it was just a lot of work, and it had to be done on time because it had George Bush election jokes. So it had to be done in a few months, so it could be in bookstores in time for the election. Something like King David, which I figure is going to be in print forever, since it's The Bible, and it's not going to go out of style, I took my time on.

FARAGO: The Bible's been in print pretty much constantly.

BAKER: It's like whenever you see an animated Christmas special. Those things just stay around forever. My kids are still watching the same Santa Claus movies I watched.

FARAGO: Back to Birth of a Nation. If I hadn't known better, I would have guessed it was a 100% Kyle Baker project, from the story and --

BAKER: Nah... my stuff isn't that talky. The thing is, my stuff is usually very visual, because I know I'm in a comic book. Something like You Are Here is almost nothing but chasing and fighting. And pretty girls. [laughs] And the dialogue... there's usually two or three pages of dialogue to explain everything, and most of the dialogue contradicts the story. Like in I Die at Midnight, the guy doesn't want her to know that he's taken pills, and they're talking, and the conversation is baloney. It makes no sense. In something like Plastic Man, the dialogue doesn't have any effect on the story at all. [laughs] It's just there for fun. You know, like Looney Tunes cartoons. Because I think that's what people want from cartoons. I think they buy cartoons for the pictures. I know where to go if I want to read pretty words, and it ain't comic books.

FARAGO: Did you make any revisions to their script? Were they against that?

BAKER: No, no... it was their script. I changed things like "the thug's nine goons" to "four goons." Y'know, if they said somebody had a pinstripe suit, I'd tell them that maybe I didn't want to draw pinstripes for 150 pages. [laughs] It's these weird things that you have to draw in order to know. Like there's a reason that cartoon characters have three fingers, because that's one less finger that you have to draw a thousand times. A character with freckles or something just adds days to your job. And nobody cares about those freckles. You've got to really want those freckles.

FARAGO: There are some nice freckles in the book.

BAKER: Here's a typical thing. I'm getting near the end of the book, and there's a big dogfight. And it's a dogfight with a camouflage-painted plane. Which means I've got to paint spots on every damn plane. [laughs] The whole thing.

And Random House wanted this bizarre format -- this is pretty funny, actually. Random House wanted each panel saved to a separate file. When I do most of my artwork, I've got usually two or three panels on a file, or sometimes the whole page is on just one file. So Plastic Man would be 22 files. But they're like, "We want each image to be a separate file." And I said, "That's the difference between 150 files, for a 150-page book, and ten times that, maybe." [laughs] And then they wanted it high-resolution, like 600 dpi [dots per inch], and I said, "There's no way you need 600 dpi. It's going to take me five minutes to open and ten minutes to close, to save an image that large, because it's a four-color image, and you're adding a month to my time!" [laughs] I spent weeks just opening and closing files, saving them as high-res EPS files. I just went in the other day, because the book's going to paperback, and I had to give them a new cover for the paperback. I was discussing the cover with a different art director, because it's a huge building, and I give him the cover at 600 dpi, and he says, "It's huge. Why is this cover so huge?" I told him that they asked for the whole book at 600 dpi. He said, "They must have thought you were doing a black-and-white book!" [laughs] You do need high-resolution for black-and-white art.

The thing about doing that book, and I did it because I thought it would be a great book, and I think it's a great book, but the only guy who had no vote on anything was the only guy who'd ever done a graphic novel. [laughs] I wanted to do a different art style. I'd drawn 20 pages in a completely different style, and they didn't want that. I said, "All right, okay," and nobody does that. [laughs] And that's the other funny thing. DC Comics, Marvel Comics, they don't tell me what to do.

They were the writers, though, so I tried to see their side. How would I feel if the artist started to, willy-nilly, chop my story up? I wouldn't like it. So whenever I deal with anybody's script, not just their script, like with Alan Moore... No matter what's in it, I just stick with it, because it's their story. You know, I don't like it when people change my stuff.

FARAGO: So that's why we haven't seen too many collaborations in the last 15 years or so.

BAKER: Generally, there's less money involved. That's the biggest reason. The only reason I can afford to stay in comic books -- I was discussing this, because I'm working on a movie project with somebody, and he was asking me why I don't do more of the Hollywood stuff. He asked how I got paid on Plastic Man. I said that I can stay on Plastic Man because I get all of the paychecks. You know what I mean? I'm the writer, colorist, letterer, inker... blah, blah, blah. So I'm doing the work of five men. If I'm not doing all of that, it's not really a very good paying job for me. I could be doing something else. That's the main reason I don't collaborate. I didn't really make money on Birth of a Nation so far.

FARAGO: But the trade paperback might change that?

BAKER: The paperback might change that, and also, you're selling the book to people who might not have seen your books before. People who like Aaron McGruder's stuff, but have never heard of me, now they've got a book by me. And maybe they'll want to stick with me.

FARAGO: Are you getting some feedback from fans who haven't seen your work before?

BAKER: I get feedback on everything; everything I do always brings new fans in. There were people who'd never heard of me until I did Captain America [Truth: Red, White and Black], because they only read Marvel Comics. And they said, "Wow! This guy's great!" Then they went and bought all of my other stuff. Same thing with Plastic Man, only now there's a lot of kids coming in. I get a lot of kids now, from that and Mad reprints. A lot of children like my stuff [laughs], which is good.

FARAGO: There aren't many comic-book artists today who can say that, unfortunately.

BAKER: I'm very conscious of doing that, because... I can't remember, how old are you?

FARAGO: I'm 28.

BAKER: Twenty-eight, twenty-eight. I must have asked you that sometime, because I ask everyone. I've been making a study of it [laughs], for the last few projects, ever since I came back to comic books. I stopped doing comic books in the nineties, then I got back into it with You Are Here. Ever since I came back, the original audience for my stuff has been very hostile toward the new stuff. The people who liked The Shadow, Why I Hate Saturn, and Cowboy Wally... if you ever go back and look at the reviews of You Are Here, everyone hated it, because it wasn't those books. It was something new, and I was moving more into that funnier direction. Trying to draw more like Tex Avery or something. The reason I was trying to do that was because I know what people like today is a simpler... My favorite cartoonists, I don't spend money on really elaborate cross-hatching, I spend my money on Dilbert, and Matt Groening, like everybody else. [laughs] You know what I mean?

So I look at the new design, and it's all graffiti-influenced and stuff. You just have to stay on top of it. I meet a lot of 18-year-olds who've never seen my stuff before, and they say, "Oh, wow, this looks very contemporary. I'll pick this up," and then they work backwards, and they see I also did The Shadow. And they don't like the old stuff, because it looks very dated to them. It's funny. The first time I noticed that was when a fan came up to me at age 18, and said, "I like your stuff, even the old stuff." And that was the first time I heard that. Usually people say, "I even like some of the new stuff." [laughs] "I'm a big Cowboy Wally fan, and some of the new stuff's good... do you ever think you'll go back to Spider-Man?" That was usually how the conversation would go. And there still is that breakdown, people who hate everything I've done since You Are Here. And they're all older. And there are the other ones, who hate everything I've done before the nineties. And then there's people who like everything. So there you go.

FARAGO: The first stuff I remember, where I definitely knew I was seeing your work, was the Howard the Duck movie adaptation...

BAKER: [laughs] Oh, my God... that was my first job!

FARAGO: ... and the other one would be Wolfpack, both for Marvel.

BAKER: Yes! Inking Ron Wilson, that's right.

FARAGO: That's the first time I really understood what an inker did, because it was the first time I saw Ron Wilson's artwork and was really into it. I couldn't figure out what the difference was -- and I realized that the guy who drew Howard the Duck was inking it.

BAKER: [laughs] I remember that after a couple of months, Ron just started hanging back, he started drawing less and less. [laughs] 'Cause he knew I was going to just come in and bulldoze over it anyway. "I'm not even going to bother drawing this guy's fingers."

FARAGO: It was heartbreaking, because you went on to something else, then Akin and Garvey, maybe Chris Ivy, came in, and it was back to the same old Ron Wilson... (KB laughs) I was 12, and still remember that.

BAKER: Ron was an interesting guy, though. We were impressed by him. He was one of the first guys from our neighborhood to make it. And he was one of the first guys to have his own characters, The Superboxers. At that time, nobody had their own stuff. Starlin had just started doing his own characters at Marvel, with Dreadstar.

FARAGO: The early days of Epic Comics.

BAKER: Yeah... I always wondered whatever happened to Ron. I bet he's gone on to become some kind of entrepreneur or something, because he definitely had a good head for business.

FARAGO: The comic industry doesn't have a good reputation for taking care of older artists. Once the next new style comes along, you're out the door.

BAKER: Well, I think that's probably true with anything. Wouldn't you say music's the same way? People buy a lot of OutKast records now, but in ten years, OutKast might be looking for a job. Or maybe not. They might be huge. The people who don't drop off are the people who change. People like Picasso, who went through three thousand styles, and stayed popular for a hundred years. When he died, he was almost a hundred years old. But the guys who keep doing the same stuff... I love the Rolling Stones, but I don't feel like I have to buy their new record, because I'm sure it's the same as the ones I've got. [laughs] I know I'm not missing anything. Same thing with Michael Jackson albums. You hear a couple of new tracks, and it's like, "Yeah, same stuff. I can miss it." But then there's other guys, like, someone like Al Pacino, who'll sometimes just do something so weird that you have to show up. [laughs] Or Dan Clowes, whose stuff makes you say, "What a weird book! That's not like any of his books!"

FARAGO: He's one of those guys who can just reinvent himself with every new project.

BAKER: You have to! That's true of all of the biggest guys around. The guys who don't are the guys who aren't around anymore. He started becoming popular in the eighties, and a lot of the guys who were popular back then are gone. Or aren't working that much. The only other ones who are still at it, I think, are the Hernandez Brothers. You know, of that group. And Charles Burns, who now and then puts out a book.

FARAGO: I think he's just about to wrap up Black Hole, and I think once that comes out as a single collection, a whole new audience is going to discover him.

BAKER: And I'm sure that he's one of those guys, who, because he's had more exposure in other, larger areas, the people who'll buy the Black Hole book will be the people who like his stuff from Time magazine or something. [laughs]

FARAGO: I'm sure that his Altoids advertisements reached 30 times his Black Hole audience.

BAKER: Yeah, he does album covers... And it's currently a very popular look. That book will look contemporary, because it looks the same as ads on MTV. Comic books are one of the few -- it's gotten a lot better, but it's one of the few places where the artwork doesn't reflect what's going on in every other media. Television graphics, sports graphics, on sports television shows, those look like hip-hop album covers. And they've got hip-hop music. They know that they've got to stay current. You even go to Starbucks, and they've got the same kind of cool graphics that you can see on MTV. [laughs]

FARAGO: Do you think comics will ever figure this out?

BAKER: I think some people do. There are guys doing it, and a lot more of them then there used to be. Also, there are a lot of people coming in from some other area, which I think helps. When I started comics, it was such a rotten business that it was the place you started. You'd get out of college, then go to a comic-book company, get some experience, then you'd go get a real job. Like in advertising, or television, or something. Most of those guys end up in animation, the guys who leave comics. And that was pretty much the way it went. But now you've got people who have success in some other area, doing graphic design for magazines or something like that, and then they come in and want to do a comic book. Like, I know Prince's designer was working for Karen Berger for a while, because he's just a big comic-book fan, and he's always wanted to do it. You never saw that before, because, for one thing, the rates weren't competitive. That's why Jack Davis, once he got out of comics, never went back. They couldn't afford him. Same thing with Neal Adams. Neal stuck with it because he was publishing his own books, but you don't see him doing X-Men. And you never will.

FARAGO: That's definitely been a trend the last few years, especially with the writing. Like Reginald Hudlin...

BAKER: Good example. There's a guy who's coming in, and he said to me, "I'm thinking of writing Black Panther." I said, "What are you, insane? Why would you want to work for Marvel Comics?" The other thing is, for me, anyway... technology has changed the media to the point where, for example, a lot of television isn't profitable anymore. Like with all the mergers and stuff. In the old days, I used to work at Warner Brothers television. And you'd make a show at Warner Brothers, and they'd sell it to a network, and the network would pay for it. That's how the studio got their money. Now the studio owns the network. Now, if Warner Brothers animation makes a cartoon and sells it to the Cartoon Network, they're selling it to themselves. Nobody's paying themselves. [laughs] So suddenly, there's no money in television. There's also so much competition that all media has dropped... there are television shows that only have a million viewers, and that's considered a real hit, because there's 300 channels. You've also got DVD stores, and so many other entertainment options.

At the same time, comic books have gotten more fancy and more expensive, the distribution has gotten better. In the old days, if you had a weird idea, like a Charles Burns book or something, you weren't going to be able to sell it very well. If you went to DC and said, "Hey, how about doing Black Hole," they'd say "Eh... we can't really sell that. Our fans don't want to see it." Or even Plastic Man. "How about Plastic Man?" "Oh, I don't know... " But now, they know that they also have Barnes & Noble as an option. While the people at the comic-book stores usually don't want to read Charles Burns or Kyle Baker, the people hanging out at Barnes & Noble usually do. Like I said, these are people who will read Time magazine, or a magazine that I've been in, or see one of us on TV or something.


PLASTIC MAN

FARAGO: On Plastic Man, is that a character that you always wanted to do, or did DC come to you?

imageBAKER: No. I'd never read the book. What happened was, Joey [Cavalieri] had come to me and said that, at the last DC meeting, he'd pitched the idea of having Kyle Baker do something with one of their characters. One thing that they like to do, I think at both big companies now, is to take a specific creator and have him do whatever he wants, because they've had some good luck with that in the past. You know, Frank Miller changing Batman, or Neil Gaiman changing Sandman, and just completely throwing Sandman in the garbage and making up a new Sandman. [laughs] So they said, "Why don't you take one of our characters and... " Basically, they like your original concepts, but if they keep the name of one of their characters, they get to retain the trademark. If I came in with "Rubber Man," I would own it. And this is why, someday, I will probably end up doing "Rubber Man." [laughs] With Plastic Man, they can say, "Do whatever you want!" and encourage me to even be crazier, because they're hoping that I might come up with some new character. Like... the girl [Edwina] is more popular than Woozy Winks! [laughs] You know what I mean? That's what they're hoping, that she could end up with her own book. She could get a TV show. That's what DC's all about, trying to come up with some new characters. So they really said, "Just go crazy."

They had suggested The Creeper. 'Cause I don't read DC Comics, really. I'm familiar with them from when I was a kid, and I'll read the ones I work on, but that's normal. There's no way anyone can read everything they put out these days. A lot of creators have to be briefed before they start a job. So, they sent me a package of Creeper stuff, and the Creeper, his power is, as created by Steve Ditko -- because there's a new version now, I know -- his power is that his clothes change. [laughs]

FARAGO: Right.

BAKER: So I said, "What a lousy power! I can't do anything with this!" But I had done a Splash Brannigan story with Alan Moore. Splash Brannigan is a character who's made out of ink, and he can turn into anything, because he's made out of ink. Alan sent me the story because he thought I'd be really suited for it, but when I got the script, I didn't think I'd do a good job. I'd never done anything like that. I didn't know why he sent it to me. I thought maybe there'd been a mistake. And I know he usually tries to pick people who have a style that... like he gives Sergio [Aragones] a story that's perfect for Sergio, with a lot of historical elements or something, and, you know, he'll give Kevin Nowlan something that he does well. Or he'll have Art Adams draw the pretty girls. I wasn't sure why he gave me Splash Brannigan, but then it turned out that I did a really good job. And he knew better than me. I knew I could do something with Plastic Man, because Splash Brannigan is basically a Plastic Man rip-off.

FARAGO: There's even a Plastic Man cameo at the very end of your Splash Brannigan story...

BAKER: Right. So I said, "Why don't I do Plastic Man?" Also, it was a good excuse to get some Plastic Man stuff. A lot of times, I do this stuff so I can read some older stuff. I don't get to read a lot, because I'm working so much. So sometimes, if I want to read something, I have to work on it. That's what I did with Classics Illustrated. [laughs] I would do books that I'd never had the opportunity to read, because I'd be too busy otherwise.

FARAGO: Your chance to read Cyrano de Bergerac...

BAKER: Same thing with King David! That was a story I hadn't read in a while, and it was a good excuse to do some research and stuff like that. So they gave me all this Jack Cole stuff. Before that, all I had seen was the one story that was in Jules Feiffer's Great Comic Book Heroes -- you ever see that book?

FARAGO: Yeah...

BAKER: That was the origin story. And there was a book called Comix that came out in the seventies. By Mad Peck Studios.

FARAGO: Written by Les Daniels.

BAKER: Yeah. There was one story, called "The Granite Lady," and that was all I knew of Plastic Man. I liked those two stories, but I couldn't buy the [DC] Archives, because they're $50 apiece. [laughs]

FARAGO: They didn't send you a giant stack of, say, every Plastic Man appearance in the Justice League, telling you to make sure it's the same exact character?

imageBAKER: No. I knew he was in the Justice League, but they sent me the Jack Cole stuff. That was all. And [Art] Spiegelman's book, they gave me Spiegelman's book, which had the Jack Cole stuff in it. [Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits; with Chip Kidd] Yeah, that was all I had read. They're always looking for the new thing, and I think the buying public encourages this. They really respond to a major change. It's like, you have to kill Green Lantern to sell comic books. [laughs] You can't keep stuff the same; they don't like it. People claim they do, and you get a lot of complaints whenever there's some kind of change in these comic books, but if nothing changes, the comic books don't sell. You have to kill some guy's wife. It's getting outrageous. You have to kill them and rape them and cut the heads off of them, and have the villain turn out to be one of the top heroes in the DC Universe. [laughs]

DC, generally, gives me minimal input, because they really want me to come up with something new. There's some guys where they say, "Look, just draw this like Frank Miller." [laughs] But to Frank Miller, they'll say, "Come up with the craziest thing you can, because maybe it will stick. If it doesn't stick, it's easy enough to change. We can have Robin be the killer, and if people don't like that, we can write another story where the killer Robin was a robot." [laughs] "We can change Green Lantern into 'Evil Green Lantern,' and he turns into the Spectre, and now he's going to turn back into Green Lantern... " [laughs]

FARAGO: Sounds like you're more up to date on this than you give yourself credit for.

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BAKER: Because now I have to write this stuff. That's the thing. I got into it when I wanted to do the "Continuity" story ["Continuity Bandit," Plastic Man #8-9]. Because I kept getting all these people saying (whiny voice), "What about Plastic Man's kid? What about this? What about that?" It's... I don't know if Superman still has a mermaid girlfriend, you know, sometimes these ideas aren't good! We keep the stuff that's good. Even Frank Miller, he knows when something's done. When he did that dark, scary Batman, it was in the eighties, when we needed a dark, scary Batman. Back when Jim Aparo was doing Batman. Nothing wrong with Jim Aparo, Jim Aparo is Jim Aparo, and then Frank came in with this crazy Batman. But that was 20 years ago. Nobody cares now. They're all scary. That's not a gimmick anymore. I can go to the movies to see scary heroes.

FARAGO: Did you read the Dark Knight sequel?

BAKER: Yes, I did. I enjoyed it. I thought it was a completely different book than the first one.

FARAGO: That's really the only way he could have gone with it. If he'd done the same thing again...

BAKER: Here's the problem: people have been doing the exact same thing, even swiping his panels, for the last 20 years! Every comic I've picked up is a Frank Miller Batman. Jim Lee's Batman is a Frank Miller Batman, with the big square fists. And Jim will tell you that; I'm not knocking him. It's a tribute. When you see something that works, you do it. You keep it until it's gone. You draw Superman like Curt Swan as long as people are responding to that. And in the eighties, they say that people aren't responding to Curt Swan, they like the John Byrne look. Let's get the comics to start looking like John Byrne. Things come and go, and the guys that don't come up with new material, you get tired of them. The whole world's tired of Michael Jackson. [laughs] 'Cause he's still doing the same dance.

FARAGO: Is he wandering the streets again, or is he still locked up?

BAKER: I don't know. [laughs] Whenever I make a pop reference, I usually try to pick somebody that everybody's heard of. [laughs] Yesterday, I made a Dolly Parton reference, because everybody's heard of Dolly Parton. I made a Richard Simmons joke in Plastic Man, and I was worried, because I knew it was kind of a dated reference, but we couldn't think of a more universal example of wimpiness. [laughs]

FARAGO: There's a goal. Someone should aspire to that.

BAKER: Yeah, when you say "Richard Simmons," everyone knows what you're talking about. But that joke had two eighties pop references in it. Like when you see Don Rickles onstage, and he's still making Dean Martin jokes. You don't want to be that guy, but sometimes you've got to be.

FARAGO: Don Rickles actually stars in one of the all-time great DC Comics...

BAKER: Yeah, that's right. [laughs]

FARAGO: Have you read that one, with Jimmy Olsen?

BAKER: Yeah, they reprinted it in paperback. I get all these free comic books. I get the DCs for free, so I do look at a lot of them. The good stuff, like the Jack Kirby stuff and the Walt Simonson stuff, I'm up on that. And I've been reading this Identity Crisis, just because I'm doing Plastic Man, and I have to see if there's anything there to work on.

FARAGO: Make sure that he's not the murderer?

BAKER: No, not that, but, for example, I just lifted... oh, golly. [laughs] When's this coming out?

FARAGO: Not until February.

BAKER: I just lifted some dialogue from Superman/Batman #13, because it was such funny dialogue that I just had to take it. [laughs] Have you read any Superman/Batman?

FARAGO: I read the first story...

BAKER: I have to keep up on it, because it's DC's top characters. Superman thinks Supergirl got killed, so he's beating up Darkseid, and he's making this big speech for like, two pages. Literally. Two-and-a-half pages of, "She's dead! There's so many things she'll never know! The thrill of eating ice cream, and being asked to the prom!" He goes on for page after page! "Her first kiss! Thanksgiving dinner with the family! Sunny days and puppy dogs!" [laughs uncontrollably]

FARAGO: I might have to pick that one up.

BAKER: It's hilarious! [laughs] Just read it at the newsstand. It's just the funniest damn thing. And I got this the same day that I got the Identity Crisis with Batman crying on the cover. [laughs] That's the thing, you've got to look at this stuff.

The weird thing about DC is that, for a cartoon company, they give you a lot of freedom. When I work on Bugs Bunny, I have to draw Bugs Bunny the way they tell me. It's not like the old days, when Bob Clampett could do his Bugs Bunny, and it doesn't look like Tex Avery's Bugs Bunny at all. Now they give you the model sheets of Robert McKimson's Bugs Bunny, and they say, "It's all got to look like that." And that's true anywhere, when you draw Scooby-Doo, or any of those things. It always has to look exactly the same, or you're fired. But in the case of DC, they let you do whatever you want, as long as you keep the colors the same. As long as Superman has an "S" on his chest, you can make him skinny, fat, tall, short, [laughs] you can give him long hair, short hair, you know... same thing with Batman.

FARAGO: In stories like the one where you undid the "Plastic Man's a deadbeat dad" story, are the hardcore DC fans angry at you for doing stories like that?

BAKER: Hardcore DC fans don't read Plastic Man. They dropped the book around issue one, because they were very offended that I dared to do an origin story in the first issue. [laughs] Everybody got mad because nothing happened in the first issue. All that happened was an origin story: I introduced the character fighting crime, then I had the origin story, then I had a cliffhanger. Somehow, this wasn't enough. [laughs] When I was a kid, that was a first issue. The first issue of every comic book had a fight, then the origin, and then some kind of cliffhanger. [laughs] And the thing that cracked me up was that the people who were protesting most loudly were complaining that it wasn't Jack Cole's Plastic Man. None of them were acknowledging that I lifted the entire origin sequence verbatim, basically traced it [laughs]; it's the exact same layout and dialogue! When they're criticizing me, and my work on the first issue, they're criticizing Jack Cole's writing on Plastic Man.

FARAGO: "Ya putrid punks!"

BAKER: That's his line! Exactly! Word for word, from the origin story! And the reason I did that was because every time you do a Batman origin, you have to tell it the exact same way. You don't start making up new dialogue, right? It doesn't matter if it's John Byrne or Neal Adams; he sits in his chair, he says, "Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot," and then the bat comes through the window and he says, "That's it, I shall become a bat!" That's it; you don't play with it. Same thing with Superman and Krypton. Jor-El puts the baby in the ship; you don't play with it. And you use the same camera angles. Everyone does. Am I right?

FARAGO: Yeah.

BAKER: So what did I do wrong? Somehow, I managed to piss everybody off, and all the hardcore fans dropped it after the first issue, and then it found its audience. The people who like it, like it.

FARAGO: And they're in for the long haul.

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BAKER: Exactly. We've gotten rid of the losers. [laughs] The reason I did the continuity story was... All comic books have a really long development process. When I started Plastic Man, I'd already been working on Captain America. Plastic Man was going to be the next book, a hardcover. What we were hearing from the Captain America fans... and this was the first time that I'd dealt with superhero fans. Usually the people who buy my comics tell me that they buy Dan Clowes books, the Hernandez brothers, and stuff like that, so they're not that hung up on continuity and getting the costume colors right and stuff. So this was the first time I'd worked on something like that, and we were getting response from the fans saying that they didn't like that we were changing Captain America's origin. That we were actually changing details, like we had him created after Pearl Harbor, instead of before Pearl Harbor. People didn't like that, so there's some sort of twist ending in the Captain America story to cover for that, since people were so pissed off about it. [laughs] I can't remember what it was, 'cause I didn't write it, but Bob [Morales] had to add a line like "Steve Rogers was created as Captain America five years before this story takes place." [laughs] I don't remember.

FARAGO: Just a throwaway line.

BAKER: Anyway, I wasn't familiar with this audience, the comic-book superhero audience, since I hadn't done superhero comics in 20 years. When I was doing it, we were dealing with children at 7-11s, fifty-cent comic books. That's not the audience anymore. From that, I got the feeling that fans really didn't like too much shakeup. Then I started reading the top superhero books, because I wanted to figure out what was going on, and what appealed to people. I do this with every job I do, not just comic books. If you work for somebody, you see what else they make, and what their audience likes. If I want to be in The New York Times, I check to see what sort of style other artists in The New York Times are using. That kind of thing. So I read Batman: Hush. This story, it seemed to me... and this is someone who hadn't read a copy of Batman in years, probably since Dark Knight. So I'm reading Hush, and I can't make heads nor tails out of it. People show up, and apparently, the way it's played, the way it's staged, I should be happy they showed up.

FARAGO: Uh-huh.

BAKER: I can tell, because the guy got a whole page. He'll open the door, and they'll go, "Oh, my goodness! It's DOCTOR JONES!" Or whatever. And it's staged in such a way that I should be really thrilled. I should be wetting my pants that Doctor Jones is in the doorway, except I never heard of Doctor Jones. [laughs] This stuff is obviously targeted at people who read every fricking issue of Batman, for the last 50 years. That's another thing; I should be thrilled when some obscure character who hasn't been in the book since the fifties... I mean, there are guys who sit there and try to find the most obscure details to put in that book, to thrill some guy who's been reading it since 1938.

FARAGO: And he's got to be "in character," according to that 1938 appearance, too.

BAKER: You know something else that's a big gimmick now? It's that a character will be drawn in a different style. I saw Planetary, where Batman was drawn in the Neal Adams style, and the Frank Miller style, and that's supposed to be entertainment, in and of itself. I think he did a good imitation of those styles, by the way, but it's just that kind of "inside" crap.

I had already started Plastic Man by that time. I'd already been working on the first paperback, so I knew that whole story. I'd already pitched it to Joey and everything. Then, I'm reading the comic books now, and I realize that I'm completely going down the wrong trail here, and I really want to give people what they want. I will do a story that will address all the continuity issues, because that seems to be what people most respond to. That's selling books, the ones where some "major change shakes up the DC Universe," just like we were talking about. So, in the press, when I was doing the promotion for Plastic Man, I was telling people, "Yeah, I've got this first story, but when that's done, I've got this whole 'continuity thing' going." [laughs] Because I wanted people to not drop the book. I was going to give them what they wanted in four issues. But people were so hostile toward the book that by the time I got to that storyline, none of those idiots were left! So I said, "Screw it, let's have some fun!"

The only reason I did that story is because I promised to do it. So now that I've got that out of the way, I've been doing... Like the newest story that I just turned in, for the next month, or the month after that, is my favorite story, and there's very little superhero stuff in it at all. As a matter of fact, there's no superhero stuff. [laughs] It's just rubber jokes. Plastic Man has a mouse in his house, and [laughs] he just spends 22 pages trying to get this mouse out of his house, and it doesn't work. But it's hilarious. And everybody at DC agreed that it was the funniest issue, and I think I've finally settled into the kind of stuff I like doing and the kind of stuff I like reading, because the DC fans aren't reading it anyway. [laughs] It's just the people who like the weird thing that I'm doing now.

FARAGO: And the trade paperback, with the first six issues, is out now?

BAKER: Yeah. I don't know if anybody bought it. I don't know anything about it, do you?

FARAGO: I haven't seen a copy of it yet.

BAKER: I got one copy in the mail -- no, wait, I didn't, yet. We had to buy it. [laughs] And I haven't heard much about it. Again, I think a lot of it depends on whether it gets outside of comic book stores. The people in comic book stores have already made up their minds. They're not waiting for the trade paperback, I don't think. [laughs] I think our only hope is Virgin Megastore and Barnes & Noble and stuff. I think those are the same people who bought the other books I've done.

FARAGO: I think every hardcore fan should read the "Continuity Bandit" story.

BAKER: I really tried to make it the sort of story that everybody could read, though. I tried not to be too inside. 'Cause I hate that stuff. I think that's what went wrong with Star Trek. You know, the fact that I can't watch Star Trek anymore. I used to like Star Trek, but now it's the same thing. "It's Doctor Mafoogy!" I don't know who he is, and they don't tell me who he is, and I feel lost. Soap operas never do that.

We used to have a rule, at Marvel Comics, when [Jim] Shooter was in charge, that you always had to explain who the guy was, just in case somebody had never read your book before. Daredevil would always have to say, "Ever since the accident that blinded me, I've had super-hearing." It's that easy. Each issue of Superman used to say, "Rocketed to Earth from the exploding planet Krypton, he now disguises himself as Clark Kent and fights for truth, justice and the American way as Superman." It's not that hard. And it makes it so that anybody can pick up the book. Even The A-Team does that. [laughs] Turn on The A-Team, (deep voice) mercenaries framed for a crime they didn't commit...

FARAGO: "In 1972... "

BAKER: Exactly."In 1972, framed for a crime they didn't commit, and they became mercenaries on the run. Call the A-Team if you're down and out." Now you can enjoy the show. And the Lone Ranger used to do that.

FARAGO: TV shows don't have the theme songs that explain, "This is the alien that lives in our basement" anymore.

BAKER: We used to just have a box, yeah. You have to explain to people. Even James Bond still explains to people who he is. The first scene–and this is why I did Plastic Man the way I did–the first scene is always James Bond fighting, some big action scene, and then the second scene is always him in a meeting: "Bond, you're our best secret agent, double-oh-seven, with a license to kill. Here's your mission, here are the devices you'll be using"-- because an audience might be confused if a man just whips out an exploding spoon in the middle of a movie.

But in comic books, some guy will just walk in and go, "Let me blast this wall open with rays from my eyeballs." And I'm like, "Who are you?" Is he good? Is he bad? The costumes don't tell you anymore. Some of the good guys look worse than the bad guys. You really have to tell people.

FARAGO: I've got a niece who's getting into comics right now, and I've had the hardest time finding stuff that --

BAKER: Scooby-Doo.

FARAGO: -- that I think the content's what her parents are going to approve of, and --

BAKER: How old is she?

FARAGO: She's ten years old.

BAKER: Scooby-Doo and Plastic Man. [laughs]

FARAGO: She likes superheroes, and it's just the hardest thing, finding something where she's not going to be totally lost.

BAKER: Also, as a girl, something where she's not going to be looking at some chick's ass.

FARAGO: Right.

BAKER: I mean, what the hell's wrong with the world, where I can't give my five-year-old a copy of Wonder Woman? What the hell's that about?

FARAGO: She's a huge Catwoman fan, but I don't know about giving her the new Catwoman --

BAKER: The one dressed like a whore? Yeah. What the hell's a five-year-old girl supposed to do? Buy Power Rangers. And that's how you lose your fanbase. When you make Wonder Woman a book that appeals to grown men, what the hell are you doing? Supergirl, same thing. I keep looking up Supergirl's skirt. I shouldn't know about Supergirl's panties, I really shouldn't. But I do. And so do you. What's that about?

FARAGO: You should have to guess, you should have to use your imagination.

BAKER: I've seen Supergirl's ass. She's like fourteen. (laughs uproariously) We've really gone off on a tangent this time.


UPCOMING PROJECTS

FARAGO: Okay, we'll bring it back around. Upcoming projects --

BAKER: That's a good question.

FARAGO: I reread the copy of The New Baker that I got at Comic-Con from you a couple years ago, and there's a few projects listed in there that I don't think have come out yet.

BAKER: We're finally doing them. Plastic Man got way out of hand. It was supposed to be a hardcover; I was supposed to be done with that two years ago. It's just gotten out of hand, and nobody else does everything on a monthly comic book, so it was too much work. I'm working on the Nat Turner thing next. We've been animating the Cartoonist books, so we're trying to figure out what to do with that. There's another Bakers book coming. The Bakers are going to finally end up in their own book, because everybody likes that stuff. Those are the things I've got planned, and then I have some ideas that... I don't know who's putting them out. I'm doing a Sherlock Holmes story, but I don't know what's going on with that.

FARAGO: There's a project called Kyle Baker Comics...

BAKER: Yeah, yeah. Kyle Baker Comics and The Bakers... I had planned to do those monthly, and then once I printed The New Baker, I realized how hard it is to make your money a dollar at a time. You can't spend any money to sell it. If you're only making a dollar on a book, that means you can't spend anything on promotion. If you take out an ad, you've just eaten up all your profits. It just can't be done. Whereas, with a fifteen-dollar book, which you're usually selling at wholesale, so it's half-price, at least I can do something. It's worth making a phone call to sell fifty books. Because you have to do some work. It takes a day to sell a hundred books. You can't take all day to make a hundred dollars. At least I can't – I've got three kids. So we ended up folding it into the paperback, which I like.

imageBut now I'm doing Nat Turner as a monthly series, because I've kind of figured out the business more now that I've been publishing a couple of books. The thing that the book trade needs, rather than the comic-book trade... You market to the comic-book trade, it all revolves around the Diamond catalog, so all your marketing is targeted at that and at comic-book conventions. Marketing to the book trade, like Barnes and Noble and that kind of trade, to get reviews in most monthly magazines, you need to start your promotion three or four months in advance. They don't like to do a book that's already out, because your reviews come out four months after the book's been out, which doesn't help anybody. So what we had done on the first couple of books was staggered release dates. We basically had two release dates: we released it in the comic-book stores, then promoted it to the bookstore market for six months, and then released it again to the bookstore market. Which was just a weird, complicated way of doing things, and we had to warehouse all these books. So the new idea is to just put out monthlies to the comic-book market, then bind them into galleys so that we can send out review copies, so that the hardcovers actually go to press at the same time as the reviews.

FARAGO: So Nat Turner's going to be self-published?

imageBAKER: Nat Turner's going to be self-published. It has to be. If you're doing a book about slavery, you sort of have to make sure you get all the money, because the whole definition of slavery is when one person does all the work and the other person gets the money. [laughs] So it's kind of important that the guy who does the book gets the money this time. So I'm self-publishing that one. The Bakers is just going to be a monthly thing, because I don't think I have more than thirty-two pages of jokes this time around. [laughs]

FARAGO: In some ways, you're one of the bigger self-publishers, in that it's more than just you and a stapler and Kinko's putting these books out. Who's your staff?

BAKER: I just hired someone named Nicole Duncan Smith; she just started a couple of weeks ago. She's the person you talked to.

FARAGO: Yeah, she set up the interview.

BAKER: So that's what she does. I sort of have animators, and they're kind of flaky. It's funny... If you ever wonder why some creative people seem to have really strong careers and others don't, and you're wondering, "Gee, that guy was better than this guy, and I don't know why this guy made it and the better guy didn't," ninety-nine percent of it is the ability to actually show up and do your work. You have no idea how valuable it is to have someone who can deliver 22 pages a month. To a publisher, that's like gold.

FARAGO: It's increasingly rare.

BAKER: And it's funny, because I haven't had to deal with it. I always wondered why editors sometimes gave me headaches. I'd say, "Why are you giving me headaches? I've never missed a deadline." But they'd get worried, and I never knew what they were worried about, until I started hiring animators. [laughs] There's some flaky people. My lead animator is named Simon Ampel. He's great.

FARAGO: What animation projects are in the works?

BAKER: Like I said, we're animating the Cartoonist books. You've got both of them, right?

FARAGO: Yes.

BAKER: We did the crossing-guard one, we did the moth one, and we're going to do some Bakers stuff next. Then we're going to try to get it on TV.

FARAGO: Another old project, Corey Q. Jeeters...

BAKER: Yeah, that one's gone.

FARAGO: Did that ever reach completion?

BAKER: No, that one didn't. I don't really work with that producer much anymore. I don't want to burn any bridges, but I don't think it's going to happen. Also, the time has changed. It was supposed to be about kids with guns in schools. It was right after Columbine, and there were some other ones, like a six-year-old who shot up his school, and stuff like that. It was a really big deal at the time, and everyone was saying you couldn't write about it. It was the kind of stuff that was getting censored out of DC Comics, any reference to that. Paul [Levitz, DC Publisher] shredded some books that had Columbine references or something. I felt that, at the time, it was such a major thing that at least somebody should talk about it. But that was back then, and since then we've had 9/11, and we've had Bowling for Columbine. You've had somebody who's already talked about this stuff, and then you've also just had bigger news stories, bigger things.

I tend to like to talk about things that nobody talks about. You'd be amazed at some of the stuff that gets cut out of Plastic Man. Because he works for the FBI, I keep trying to put in things that the FBI is dealing with, like the fact that they're not allowed to investigate 9/11. [laughs] There was a reference to the Phantom Zone in one of the books, and it was because I had this whole subplot that prisoners were being tortured in the Phantom Zone. They were making them get naked and make human pyramids while dogs barked at them.

FARAGO: Oh, man... [laughs]

BAKER: They cut that stuff. [laughs] But that's the kind of jokes I tell. I'm actually going to reuse that artwork, because they rejected it. I'm reusing it, and I'm probably going to put it in the Cartoonist books with a new caption. And the caption's going to be, "See, I told you we should have chose martyrdom." So it'll still come out.

FARAGO: Are you enjoying the self-publishing life, and doing the conventions and everything?

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BAKER: I'm getting back to it. We had a glitch. We had a family illness, we had to move and stuff, and I never got to follow through on promoting Cartoonist Volume 2. I printed it and sent out the first batch, but I never actually promoted it, and a lot of people don't even know there is one. I just got an office on Broadway, we're back in the city and everything, I hired Nicole... Now we're getting back to it. But I don't have a San Diego booth, because I didn't get the chance to register, then all this stuff... I gotta figure out what I'm doing. And also, I've got to do the books. The thing about self-publishing is, we're still trying to figure out what works, and where. Certain kinds of promotions seem to work and certain kinds don't work at all, and we've really done a lot of promotion in the comic-book department: comic-book conventions, comic-book stores. I think I've pretty much saturated everyone's awareness level. I think it's not that [comic-book fans] don't know about the book, just that they're not buying it. I'm not sure how many more conventions I have to do to let people know that the book is there. If they're not buying it, they're not buying it, and they're not going to, whereas I think that I can raise the awareness level in other areas.

Libraries seem to be a growing market for me. Ever since the Publisher's Weekly thing about "Cartoonist" came out, I've been getting a lot of library orders. I'll probably be doing a lot of promotion to libraries, and to bookstores, like Barnes & Noble, things like that, and I'll try to beef up that section of my market. That's one of the big reasons I wanted to do self-publishing, so that I'd have that freedom. Whenever I do a book with DC or Marvel, or even Dark Horse, like when I did The Escapist thing ["Sequestered," Baker's story in The Escapist Volume 1], I have no say in where to try and sell the book

Nat Turner, I'm pretty sure, just based on the track record of my Captain America book, and based on the sales of Birth of a Nation in the comic-book stores -- I can pretty much tell you that's not where the Nat Turner buyers are gonna be hanging out. We'll probably sell a couple of thousand in the comic-book stores, but I'm guessing we'll sell 100,000 in black colleges. [laughs] That's the nice thing about self-publishing, to have that kind of freedom. The freedom to make certain phone calls. I'm free to form certain strategic alliances now, as far as licensing and things like that, which you can't do with DC, since they've got their own deals in place

FARAGO: Plastic Man just switched over to a bi-monthly schedule, right?

BAKER: Yes.

FARAGO: Is that to accommodate other projects from you?

BAKER: No, it's because there ain't nobody buying the book, but they don't want to cancel it, because they think it's a good book. They want to keep it going.

FARAGO: DC's been supportive?

BAKER: Well, the thing about all publishers, not just comic-book publishers, is that the money's made in the catalog. Even if this book's not making the monthly numbers that it should, they know that this book is a classic that's going to stay in print. They're still making money off of Neal Adams' Batman stories. They're still selling Gil Kane's Green Lantern art in various books. They know that, in the long run, they're going to make their money back plenty, and they're going to do very well with Plastic Man. So that's why they keep it around. Also, everything I've done has taken years to catch on. It's never changed. When Cowboy Wally first came out, nobody liked it. When I first took over The Shadow, nobody liked it. Everything I've done, from You Are Here to I Die at Midnight to King David, everybody hates everything I do, every time. And then, sometimes it takes five years, sometimes it takes ten years, but these things catch on to the point where people complain about the new books, and say, "Why isn't it as good as the classics, like Cowboy Wally and Why I Hate Saturn?" Which didn't sell shit. [laughs] Why I Hate Saturn has taken years to become as popular as it is. That book died. Well, it didn't die, but it didn't do very well at all. Plastic Man may be another one of those situations.

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The other weird thing about comic books, and cartoons, is that fans tend to be young. They have no real influence when they're fans, but 20 years later, they say, "You know what was good? Jack Kirby's Jimmy Olsen stories. I'm gonna put that in a trade paperback book." And finally, something like that becomes recognized. Even Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng didn't become celebrated until they were about 80. It wasn't until the kids who grew up watching Bugs Bunny over the years started appreciating them when they were older and started actually reading the credits. You see this all the time. How long did it take them to make a Spider-Man movie? It's been 30 years. Same thing with the X-Men. The people who were initially the fans didn't have any money or influence. The people buying Spider-Man in the 1960s were like me, kids. But now they've grown up to be Sam Raimi. In 20 years, you'll see guys making movies out of Jim Lee's characters. [laughter] I'm serious. It took Hellboy about 10 years, and I'm sure the director, or someone, liked reading Hellboy when he was a kid, then he grew up and somebody said, "I'll give you a million bucks to make a movie," and he said, "Oh, I used to like Hellboy... " Polar Express is the same thing. I've had that book on my shelf for years.

I think that's why they keep Plastic Man going: they know they'll make their money in the future. Another thing that changes is that I become more popular over the years, and they know this, too, as publishers. When something becomes popular, they can go back and sell the guy's early work. A good example is those Neal Adams Green Lantern stories. Those didn't do very well at the time, and that book got cancelled. Nobody liked it. And now they're selling it for about $100, as a hardcover. That was a book that nobody liked.

FARAGO: I'm sure that DC likes winning all of those awards, too, for Plastic Man.

BAKER: Yeah, there's that... but it's all sorts of things. It's good stuff, and I'm sure it will hold up. But I do have a large audience of five-year-olds. [laughs] I do. It's who it's written for. It's gonna take about 30 years for the Plastic Man fans of the world to have some influence.

FARAGO: We're working on it.

BAKER: We'll see. Someday, people will be paying $100 for a Plastic Man book. Well, 30 years from now, a hundred bucks won't be worth anything. [laughs]

FARAGO: That'll be for the monthly comic. [laughs]

BAKER: That's right.


FROM SECRET WARS II TO IDENTITY CRISIS

FARAGO: Good to know that the book will be around for a while. Now, to steal a question from Wizard Magazine, which will be a good wrap-up question: "What would you do if you had the powers of the Beyonder?"

BAKER: You know, I don't even know what the Beyonder's powers are, and that's part of my problem. [laughs] I don't think I've heard of the Beyonder... he's a Marvel character, right?

FARAGO: Actually, I think that he was around right when you were starting at Marvel... the Secret Wars 2 stuff...

BAKER: Yeah... it was part of some weird event series. He was a Jim Shooter character. The name is familiar. The thing about those Marvel events -- we were usually on such crazy deadlines that it was done on a total assembly line. A lot of those books, like Secret Wars and stuff, me and about a hundred other guys worked on. We'd order pizza and have a hundred guys cranking out pages... all of those "Diverse Hands," "Many Hands" jobs, you know. And you'd get the pages out of order! They'd just split the book up. "Take a page!" And they'd give everybody a page. You never knew what you were working on. I've seen the name "Beyonder," but that's all I know. [laughs]

FARAGO: That's the best answer I could have hoped for.

BAKER: That's what you've got to remember. We were the guys making the books, and we don't even know who the characters are. I called Joey up after all those people asked, "What are you going to do about Plastic Man's kid?" I called Joey Cavalieri up and said, "What can you tell me about Plastic Man's kid?" And Joey says, "Plastic Man has a kid?" You just can't take the stuff too seriously. It's a comic book. It's not real. "The powers of the Beyonder." [laughs]

FARAGO: I remember talking to you in San Diego, when the first issue had come out for that two-part storyline ("Continuity Bandit"). You said you just couldn't see Plastic Man as a deadbeat dad, for a variety of reasons.

BAKER: Yeah, what is that? That's not a good story. What I think is strange is that people seem to really like that. This is when you know you're in the wrong business, and I say that seriously. I'm still from an era when heroes were heroic, and the whole point of them was that they were better than you. Like the Lone Ranger never took any money. They always had that scene: "Oh, let me give you the reward!" [deep voice] "No, no, I can't take any money." And then he rides off, and they say, "Oh, what a great man!" All these people were supposed to be noble and blah blah blah. If you start making them human, and making them crack addicts and stuff like that, then why in the world would anybody with that personality use their powers for good? If you're the kind of guy who has magic rubber powers, and you've already had criminal tendencies, and then you've had a change of heart – this is what the story was, in Jack Cole's version, that he had a change of heart because he had a near-death experience and he was given super powers, and so he decided to not be a criminal anymore, he was going to fight crime. You think, "Wow, that's a noble thing. What a good man he is." But he can't raise his kids. He doesn't even visit his own kids. And he doesn't discipline his kids. What the hell is that? How does that make him a good parent? It makes him psychotic.

FARAGO: Did becoming a father cement your views on this?

BAKER: I have this attitude across the board. I don't like them when they're drunk, I don't like them when they're any of those things. It's inconsistent with the character. It just doesn't fit. People are people, and I read lots of stories about people who are drunk, people who are psychotic, people who are deadbeat dads. I've gone to a lot of movies about deadbeat dads, you know, I like Paris, Texas. It's not the story that's bothering me. It's that the superhero formula used to be symbolic representations of good versus evil. For Superman, everything he does is good. He's a good person, and he's better than you. He helps poor people -- we don't help poor people. He's doing good things. He could be king of the world, if he wanted to, but he doesn't. He gets cats out of trees, and that's why he's better than you. Because if you had the powers of Superman, you'd use them to get rich. So would I. I'd join the Lakers. [laughs] That's exactly what I'd do. I'd make a hundred million dollars.

And then the bad guy, everything the bad guy does is villainous. He's the one who lies and steals and cheats, and everything he does is wrong. And he kills people. That's why Batman won't shoot anybody, because he's good. Once a guy starts shooting people, he becomes like you. Yeah, if somebody killed my dad, that's what I would do -- I'd pick up a gun, and I'd go kill somebody. That's why I'm not a great person, and that's why I'm not a superhero.

I don't know why people are coming to the material, then. I know why I don't buy the material anymore: it's because it's not giving me what I was coming for, which was fantasies about good and evil.

FARAGO: And now it's evil and less evil.

BAKER: I don't know. Every frickin' scene with the Joker and Batman: "You're like me, man, we're two sides of the same coin." And then Batman'll go, "Yes, we're two sides of the same coin. We're the same." And you're like, no! Batman's good, and the Joker's evil! If you've got two guys who are basically the same, except that one guy looks scary and one guy looks like a friendly clown, then we're really confused. You mean the only difference is the way they look? The difference is that Batman doesn't shoot people. Depending on who's writing it. I think Paul's pretty strict on that one. He hasn't shot anybody yet, has he?

FARAGO: I haven't seen him pull out a gun.

BAKER: I'm waiting. You never know, man. You never know. Green Lantern starts blowing up planets and stuff. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the villain the Atom in Identity Crisis?

FARAGO: We're waiting. I think the final part comes out Wednesday, so we'll know two days from now.

BAKER: I hope that's a red herring. It just doesn't make sense. If you're the type of person who, if you had miraculous powers, would use them for good, it doesn't make sense that you would just suddenly go the other way. It's out of character, it's bad writing. Unless it's not the Atom, or something like that.

FARAGO: There are a lot of theories going around, and it's probably going to be mind control or --

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BAKER: This is a business, and all this stuff revolves around giving people what they want to read. All of the trends that you see in comics are a direct response to sales. DC and Marvel do what sells, and they repeat what sells. If the Atom is a villain, it's because audiences respond to superheroes that have turned into villains, and that's what they want to read. We were talking about how you have to change things over the years. Everything is a response to trends; public fantasies change as a response to trends. Someone like Captain America is created as response to Nazism. He's a fantasy of beating up the Nazis, a fantasy of America. You could probably sell a character like that today, but that character was created because of the times, and the fantasy that people were the hungriest for. Even the name "Plastic Man" -- when Plastic Man was created, plastic was this new miracle polymer. All of the Marvel characters were created by radiation, and Iron Man's superpower was transistors, because that was hot at the time. That was what had captured the public imagination. I think the last superhero fantasy that really grabbed the public that way was The Matrix. [laughs] That fantasy of breaking out of your shitty office job and fighting crime, instead of being some cog in a cubicle somewhere. That really resonated with people at the time.

So if people are fantasizing about their heroes becoming murderers, that's just what's in their heads right now. That's what they want to see. That's what they're dreaming of.

FARAGO: Yeah, it's, uh --

BAKER: Weird.

FARAGO: I thought the industry was moving away from it, and there were all these signs that people wanted the noble heroes again --

BAKER: Isn't that [Identity Crisis] the biggest book of the year?

FARAGO: Yeah, easily.

BAKER: Every time people buy it, they're going to do another one. That's common sense. If the biggest book of the year features brutal rapes, you're going to have to top it next time. You're going to have to come up with, what's worse than that? What's worse than raping and killing a character's wife? We're going to have to top that. Maybe we can cut Lois Lane's head off and shove it up her ass. That's what'll be at the next meeting. We're going to have to figure out how to brutalize the rest of the DC universe.

FARAGO: I heard that when they killed Superman, it was just a half-hearted suggestion that somebody made at a meeting --

BAKER: Well, that was a stunt. That one wasn't going to last, just because there are too many people who have Superman licenses. You can't tell the guy who just paid a million bucks for a Superman license that you're going to kill the character that he's about to put on T-shirts. Cancel all the cartoons in development and stuff like that -- it's not going to happen.

FARAGO: Movie deals, and --

BAKER: Yeah, I keep thinking I'd like to do one of those. Just photorealistic butchery. Maybe I'll mutilate and torture Black Canary for twelve months.

Any other questions?

FARAGO: I don't think so. That should do it. Thanks very much for your time.

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