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



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."


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."


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.


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 f