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Mike Baron, Eisner Winning Writer and Novelist Interview by Alex Grand & Jim Thompson

Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with editorial reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.

In the meantime enjoy the show:

Mike Baron is an American comic book writer. He is the creator of Badger and the co-creator of Nexus with Steve Rude.

Alex Grand and co-host Jim Thompson interview Eisner Award-winning Mike Baron about his extensive career in writing comics starting with meeting Carl Barks, writing for Kitchen Sink, co-creating Nexus for Capital Comics, creating Badger, Hammer of God at First Comics, continuing Nexus & working on Star Wars for Darkhorse, Flash for DC Comics, Punisher for Marvel, Bruce Lee for Malibu, and his current works like the Josh Pratt Novels, Nexus Novel and Florida Man.

🎬 Edited & Produced by Alex Grand, Thumbnail Artwork, CBH Podcast ©2021 Comic
Book Historians.

Mike Baron Biographical Interview
📜 Video chapters
00:00:00 Welcoming Mike Baron, Eisner award winner
00:00:25 Early days | Uncle Scrooge by Carl Barks
00:02:05 Start writing | The Deep Blue Good-by
00:03:58 I met Denis Kitchen | Bugle Newspaper, Kitchen Sink Press
00:05:53 I have three rules
00:07:12 Music editor for The Phoenix, Boston
00:10:16 Gravel Comics, The Brave and the Bold, The Butcher & Green Arrow
00:11:00 Origins of Nexus 1981, Steve Rude | Capital Comics
00:13:37 Storytelling to full detailed scripts | Alan Moore, David Chester Gibbons
00:16:22 Relationship with Steve Rude
00:17:44 Richard Bruning, Milton Griepp
00:18:20 Nexus series-B&W & color issues
00:19:30 Setting up the characters
00:21:10 Philip José Farmer – World of Tiers, To Your Scattered Bodies Go
00:24:29 Creating Badger, Jeff Butler
00:28:23 Quick questions on Nexus
00:29:45 Ending of Capital Comics
00:30:38 Mike Gold, Getting into First Comics
00:31:45 Steve Rude & differences in working with others
00:33:40 Hammer of God | Working with Steve Epting
00:35:00 Favorites of your own characters
00:36:00 Question on characters of Nexus
00:36:41 I’m open to being surprised by my own characters
00:40:48 Involvement in The Quorum Chronicles
00:43:04 Visual continuity to DC
00:44:28 Crossroads series
00:45:42 Figuring out that First Comics is ending & getting started up with Dark Horse
Comics
00:47:38 Working at Dark Horse Comics
00:48:14 Tell about getting recognition, Eisner award 1992
00:49:41 What makes the Nexus Novel unique?
00:53:00 How did you got to Atari force, All-Star Squadron
00:54:42 Do you consider yourself lucky to get to work with an amazing group?
00:55:40 The Flash, 1987
00:59:19 Why did you leave the book?
01:00:43 The Flash, no rogues’ gallery
01:01:52 You seems interested in Russians
01:03:02 Deadman | Kelley Jones
01:04:56 Sonic Disruptors?
01:07:37 The Butcher character, Brave and Bold
01:09:32 Hawk and Dove | Steve Ditko
01:10:22 Writing Batman stories
01:10:57 Getting into Marvel | Working with Carl Potts
01:11:48 Punisher | Microchip character
01:14:55 Archer & Armstrong, Valiant Comics
01:17:55 Bruce Lee series for Malibu | Enter The Dragon
01:20:30 Martial Arts | Hong Kong action movies
01:23:58 Star Wars for Dark Horse Comics
01:26:28 Other Dark Horse Comics
01:27:26 Your novels | Josh Pratt Novels
01:33:47 Has your view on these things changed over time?
01:36:00 I’ve certainly grown more tolerant of religion
01:38:01 Would you change any of Nexus?
01:39:55 My Current projects | Nexus Novel, Florida Man…
01:44:23 Steve Rude | Rude Dude Documentary
01:46:07 Is Badger still the same with Vietnam war PTSD?
01:48:24 Career suffered from your political beliefs?
01:52:22 Do writers fade away to some degree?
01:53:56 Wrapping up

#MikeBaron #Badger #Nexus #Punisher #EisnerAwardWinner #FloridaMan #ComicBookHistorians #ComicHistorian #CBHInterviews #CBHPodcast #CBH #Marvel #StarWars #Nexus #SteveRude #Eisner #Comics #ComicBooks

Transcript (editing in progress):

Alex Grand:
Well, welcome back to the Comic Book Historians podcast with Alex Grand and Jim Thompson. Today we have Mike Baron, crime and cosmic writer extraordinaire. Mike Baron, thank you so much for joining us today.

Mike Baron:
My pleasure.

Alex Grand:
Basically, this is the Comic Book Historians’ version of This Is Your Life. So, Jim, let’s start it off.

Jim Thompson:
Okay. I know you were born in 1949, but I know very little about those early years before you actually started in comics. Can we go through that a little bit? Where you were born, who your parents were, what were they like, your upbringing, those things.

Mike Baron:
Well, I was born in Madison, Wisconsin, but when I was about six-years-old my folks moved to Pittsburgh and I lived in Pittsburgh till I was, I think, nine or 10. And then we moved to Mitchell, South Dakota, which is where I really grew up. It’s the home of the Corn Palace. My dad had a women’s clothing store there. I have two sisters, one’s older, one’s younger. They’re both geniuses. And I kind of grew up in the middle of nowhere, which I felt was a very valuable experience for me. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Mike Baron:
I rode my bike everywhere. It was in Mitchell that I discovered comic books. It was an Uncle Scrooge comic to be specific, and I was just so entranced with it. I picked them all up that I could, and you got them off spinner racks at the drug store. I started to write to the Walt Disney company. I said, “Who wrote this? Who drew this?” And finally they said, “You want Carl Barks.” And they gave me the guy’s address. I think he lived in Seattle. So I wrote Mr. Barks and I said, “Mr. Barks, I’m a big fan of yours. Would you do me a drawing of Uncle Scrooge?” And he sent me this some months later.

Alex Grand:
Nice.

Jim Thompson:
Wow, that’s fantastic.

Mike Baron:
I also discovered books there, and my big revelation was walking out of a cigar store with a John D. MacDonald novel. It was Travis McGee, Deep Blue Good-by. And as I-

Jim Thompson:
I know that really well. That’s the one that has the rabbit speech in it. Isn’t it? These-

Mike Baron:
Well, I don’t know. I haven’t read it in years, but it began a lifelong love affair and I had a revelation on the sidewalk there that Mr. MacDonald wasn’t writing these for his health. He was doing this for a living, and it kind of formed at the back of my mind that that’s what I wanted to do. And I always had this unshakeable confidence that I could write. I don’t know where it came from because I really didn’t start to write until I was in high school. I went to three years of high school in Mitchell, South Dakota, and then for my senior year, we moved back to Madison, Wisconsin. I finished my senior year at West High School where I started writing for the school newspaper. After high school, I attended the University of Wisconsin where I majored in political science and a fat lot of good it’s done me.

Mike Baron:
But at the time I started writing, and what happened is I went over to a friend’s house. He had an underground newspaper called Takeover. It came out once a week and was sticking it to the man up against the wall, all that stuff. I went over to his house and there were hundreds of LPs stacked up against the wall. I said, “Mark, where’d you get these records?” He says, “Oh, the record company sent them to us. Listen, if you write something about them, you can have them.” So I loaded up. I went home, I started listening, I started writing and I never stopped. So I really… The first serious writing I ever did was music reviews, and I’m still doing it.

Mike Baron:
After the college, I moved to Boston because I heard there were newspapers there that would hire anyone. But before that happened, I’ve got a back up. We rented a house and I was in my senior year at the University of Wisconsin. There was a knock at the door one day. I went down. It was Denis Kitchen, and he said, “Hey, we heard that you wanted to write reviews and stuff, and I have a newspaper called The Milwaukee Bugle. We’d like you to write for us.” So that’s how I met Denis Kitchen, and it started a long relationship. I wrote for Kitchen Sink for many years. I didn’t start writing for them until after I moved to Boston, but I met Denis when I was in college. Well, then I moved to Boston-

Alex Grand:
And what year was that exactly, you think?

Mike Baron:
I moved to Boston in 1971, and I answered an ad in the Boston Phoenix for people who were willing to live on a government campus for a month and smoke the government’s dope and take tests all day long. It was just like college.

Jim Thompson:
Now I want to get the timeline straight a little bit. I know that you did a text piece for Weird Trips Magazine in 1974 for Kitchen Sink. Did you already know Denis before that?

Mike Baron:
Yes.

Jim Thompson:
Okay. So a lot of times… That’s listed as your first published piece related to comics on any level, but your relationship actually predates that by several years. Is that right?

Mike Baron:
Yes.

Jim Thompson:
Okay.

Mike Baron:
That was a piece on modifying the squirt gun, right?

Jim Thompson:
Yeah, I believe so.

Mike Baron:
Yeah, that was how to take an ordinary squirt gun and jack it up so that it had twice the power and carried more water.

Jim Thompson:
The other thing I wanted to say, based on a remark you made a few minutes ago about political science, for all the good it did you, and then you went immediately to the music. It seems to me that politics and music have been your two core thematics almost from the very beginning. It’s there in Nexus, it’s obviously there in something like Sonic Disruptors, but it flows through your entire body of work, wouldn’t you say?

Mike Baron:
Well, I do say, my fiction is informed by current events and they’re… Like most writers, I snatch a lot of material out of what’s happening in the news. I don’t deny that Nexus has a very specific political view, but that’s always secondary to my main goal which is to entertain. I have three rules. Number one is, it’s my job to entertain. Number two is, show don’t tell. And number three is, be original.

Jim Thompson:
Well, I’ll challenge you again when you get to your novels and some of the other stuff because I think they do lean toward both music, music rights, things like that, and also in terms of various politics. But Nexus stands out. But Sonic Disruptors, we’ll talk about, too, because that’s very political, wouldn’t you say?

Mike Baron:
It certainly was.

Jim Thompson:
All right. So, let’s go to the origins of Nexus in 1981. But before that, were you just writing? You were working as a journalist to some degree, correct?

Mike Baron:
Well, yeah. I was actually working at an insurance company when I met Steve Rude. I was phoned by a newspaper editor I knew and he said, “Hey, there’s some guy down here trying to sell us his art, and he draws just like you.” Which is a joke because I’d been trying to draw for years and I never achieved professional level, but I’m good enough that anybody can look at my drawings and see what I’m trying to draw, which is how I wrote my comics for 10 years, was by drawing each page out by hand.

Mike Baron:
But to jump around a little bit, when I moved to Boston and I participated in that study, I came out and I wrote it up and that’s how I broke into journalism. And I became the music editor for the Boston Phoenix. It was my job to go out night after night and listen to live music and interview the musicians, which was a great joy for me and I saw a great many musicians that I loved, and I just lived music. I mean, what could be a greater job for a music aficionado than to be paid to go and review concerts and performances and talk to the musicians?

Jim Thompson:
So what kind of music are we talking about?

Mike Baron:
Well, a lot of it was jazz. I’m a lifelong jazz fan and I got to review and speak to many jazz greats, including Les McCann. I interviewed Jaco Pastorius. I saw Charles Mingus one night at the Jazz Basement. Chick Corea I saw numerous times with his return to Forever group. And I saw Weather Report which was with Wayne Shorter, and I think Jaco was in that band, and a lot of guys I don’t even remember. I’d have to go back and look through the clippings if I’ve saved any, but a lot of pop music too. Freddie Mercury, I’ll never forget. I had lunch with him and Brian May, they were on their first American tour and we met at a hotel downtown. Freddie was very charming. I couldn’t stop staring at his teeth, and I said, “How did you come to name your band Queen?” And he went like this. “Oh, I don’t know. It was just the most outrageous name we could think of.”

Jim Thompson:
So, just on music, for one minute, when you were working at first, would you run into… Would you ever see Howard Chaykin? Did you ever talk to him and you guys talk about jazz? Because I know he’s a real jazz fan as well.

Mike Baron:
Well, I’ve met Chaykin but we’ve never discussed music.

Jim Thompson:
Oh, that’s interesting. When you were… At first, did you talk to any of the other creators that were going on at the same time? I know you worked with Grell later on.

Mike Baron:
Sure. I never worked with Mike, but we’re friends and I ran in… I’m still running into him at conventions, or at least I was until they stopped having conventions. And I met a lot of guys-

Jim Thompson:
Didn’t you collaborate On The Brave And Bold with the Butcher in Green Arrow and Question to some degree?

Mike Baron:
Mike may have contributed a story to that sequence, but he didn’t illustrate anything I wrote. I’d love to have him illustrate something I write, but I don’t know if Mike’s even doing continuity anymore.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah. Okay, I’m sorry. But let’s try to get toward the creation of Nexus with Rude.

Mike Baron:
Well, I met the Dude and we decided to work together right there. And the first thing I wrote was a four-part story about some guy trying to sell encyclopedias door-to-door in a dystopian future, and it was a real misfire because I didn’t anticipate the internet because nobody’s going to buy a set of encyclopedias these days when they can download everything and everything’s on the internet and nobody wants the books anymore, except for us book lovers. We have all the books. I have an encyclopedia on the shelf behind me. But we were in the right place at the right time in that Capital City Distribution, the second largest distributor of comics in the world, decided to launch their own comic title. And so Dude and I were kicking it, and I wanted something dramatic. My first thought was, “What if, when the protagonist shows up, every time he shows up, somebody dies? Well, that would be dramatic. But how do you justify that, and how do you make the protagonist sympathetic?”

Mike Baron:
So I decided to make him a reluctant executioner of mass murderers driven by his dreams to exterminate the source of the dreams, to exterminate the tyrants he dreams about lest the dreams recur and become more severe until they drove him mad. But where did these dreams come from? They came from an insane alien who had chosen Nexus to be the conscience of his race. So, it may not make sense to human beings, but it made sense to the insane alien who’s known as the Merk, and he wasn’t introduced until issue number 19.

Jim Thompson:
Did you understand who Merk was from day one?

Mike Baron:
No. All this stuff was just kind of floating around. When I started writing the stories, my goal was to grab the reader by the throat with the immediate situation. I was probably seven or eight issues into Nexus before I formed the Merk in my mind, and a lot of storytellers work that way. They’ll put something into a story and they don’t know why they do it, but a hundred pages down the road that becomes the key to the resolution. And that’s happened to me countless times. But I did think of the Merk early on. It was just a matter of building up to him.

Jim Thompson:
You mentioned earlier that the way you were approaching it all was a storyteller for your early years until you switched over to direct detailed scripts at some point. But for a long time you were actually drawing panel by panel and basically drawing the comic for the artist to then go and do his version of it. Is that right? That’s unusual, isn’t it?

Mike Baron:
It is unusual, but not unheard of. Archie Goodwin worked that way, and I believe Harvey Pekar. Editors and artists loved it because you could tell at a glance what was going on in the page. My art is crude but it’s good enough to give the idea. And it taught me a great many things about comic book writing. It taught me pacing, how much weight a page could bear, but most importantly it taught me to think about what happens next. And that’s the essential question in all fiction. The reader has to care what happens next to turn the page. And every time I finished a panel, I’d think, “Well, what happens next? What is the logical extension of these events?”

Jim Thompson:
So what made you switch over to full scripts?

Mike Baron:
I was wrecking my back. I had no formal training and I was hunched over on a horizontal surface all the time. I still do it if I have to get an idea across, but I found that my scripts are very visual as well, and they leave nothing to be desired. They’re very concise. They’re not lengthy. If I’m writing a 24-page script, and that’s my preferred length for a single issue, that it often comes out to 18 to 19 pages of printed copy. And that’s not double-spaced, but there’s spaces between all the panel descriptions. It goes like this. Page one, panel one, horizontal, exterior day, a strip mall in a Midwestern town with a liquor store on the corner, a karate school in the middle and a laundry on the right. And there’s a pickup truck in the parking lot. Voices from within. And then you have the word balloons extending from the mall.

Jim Thompson:
So, detailed but not Alan Moore detailed.

Mike Baron:
No. In fact, Dude was illustrating a Dave Gibson story once and I went over to his house and he says, “You want to see a piece of shit? Do you want to see a piece of shit?” And he picked up this script, it was really thick, and he threw it at the wall, bam, pages everywhere. I guess Dave was a very prolix writer.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah. Talking about that with Steve, did you guys become good friends? Are you good friends?

Mike Baron:
Oh, yeah. And we’re still good friends.

Jim Thompson:
Because you worked together for a long time. In comics, we’ve talked to a lot of people who had that kind of relationship and at some point there’s a falling out or a difference of opinion about the characters or whatever. You guys didn’t run into that?

Mike Baron:
Oh, well we certainly had our ups and downs. A couple of years ago he hired me to write an original Nexus series for him and he said, “Well, what’s the ultimate Nexus story?” And I immediately said, “Nexus versus Galactus.” But we can’t use Galactus. So I created Gourmando and I wrote this big script for him. But when Dude got it he changed all my lines. I wasn’t too happy about that.

Jim Thompson:
Did that evolve into the novel that you’re working on?

Mike Baron:
The novel’s done. It’s out.

Jim Thompson:
Oh, is it out?

Mike Baron:
Oh, yeah.

Jim Thompson:
Ah. Oh, there we go. Well, we’ll talk about that in a little bit, but I knew that that was the impetus for it, was that. When you were-

Mike Baron: Dude’s about to publish his version now. It’s up on Indiegogo.

Jim Thompson:
Oh, okay. When you were at Capital, who were you working with? Was there any comics people that we would know that was in charge of the projects?

Mike Baron:
Well, Richard Bruning was the art director and he went on to become art director at DC, and Milton Griepp was the head and the president. Milton today runs the industry website icv2.com, which is the best source there is for industry news about comics, gaming and movies. And Milton and I remain good friends.

Jim Thompson:
Okay. And let’s talk about the Black and White series first, the three volumes. Now, obviously Rude is progressing as an artist with every issue.

Mike Baron:
All the time.

Jim Thompson:
I mean the change from those first issues to what it becomes when it goes to color and those six issues under Capital is amazing progress. Were you guys aware of how much better you’re getting and everything’s flowing better as you’re learning to do this?

Mike Baron:
I think so because I was very pleased with my work and when the comic came out, sometimes I’d read them. Usually I don’t because I wrote them, but when I read them, I could think, “This is a pretty good story. I’m not cheating the reader here.”

Jim Thompson:
I have from the one that included the record album or the record, on forward throughout. And I went back this morning and re-read the first six issues of volume two, the color issues. And I was surprised that everything’s there. I mean, most of what you’re going to do for the rest of the run, you set up all those characters in those first six issues. It’s amazing how much you pack into that. Were some of these existing ideas, or were you just flowing like crazy during that short time period?

Mike Baron:
Well, I think it’s a little bit of both. I will carry ideas with me for years, for decades, even, before I find a place to use them. I have titles that I’m still waiting to use. I had one title that I came up with in college. It was called Trail of the Loathsome Swine, and it was a play on words because my parents’ favorite Western was Trail of the Lonesome Pine, starring Fred MacMurray. And so I just thought, “Trail of the Loathsome Swine,” but 30 years later I finally found the story to go with it. And it’s about a boy who hunts down the feral hog that killed his sister.

Jim Thompson:
Wow. Oh, that’s really cool. So, like the Hammer and some of those characters and Dave and things, were they all created for Nexus or were those things that you had in mind already in your head?

Mike Baron:
No, those were created for Nexus.

Jim Thompson:
And the heads. I mean, that stands out because you see it later on in things like Futuropolis and stuff. I mean, these ideas, the floating heads are there, and you’re doing them first. That’s all part of it. Were you a big science fiction fan? Because it sounds-

Mike Baron:
Oh, yeah.

Jim Thompson:
… like science fiction.

Mike Baron:
Oh, yeah.

Jim Thompson:
What kind of science fiction did you like at the time?

Mike Baron:
I read everything. Clifford Simak, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein. Eventually Phil Jose Farmer became my favorite, mostly because of his World of Tiers series. But you know, recent… Well, it wasn’t so recent, about 10 years ago, I read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and that blew my head apart. I mean, it’s such a visionary novel. It’s such a triumph of the imagination. It just goes to show you that a good thinker can come up with new stories that will astonish you at any age.

Jim Thompson:
Let’s talk about Farmer a little bit in terms of his influence because he’s a favorite of mine as well. I’m probably more partial to the Riverworld books than anything else. I think the first thing I read from him was probably that short story in Dangerous Visions and Harlan Ellison’s anthology. What was it about Farmer that drew you to him more than some of the other writers? Was it the word play? Because he writes like nobody else.

Mike Baron:
No, it’s the ideas.

Jim Thompson:
It was the ideas?

Mike Baron:
And I mentioned the World of Tiers series. I read those while I was hitchhiking through England. I picked the paperbacks up there for a song, and just the sheer imagination of being able to create your own world and the problems that that would create. It just captured my imagination like nothing before or since, and that led me to a great many other Farmer books, including his Edgar Rice Burroughs pastiche-

Jim Thompson:
unknown. Yeah.

Mike Baron:
Yeah. But the World of Tiers series is still my favorite. Then I bought To Your Scattered Bodies Go, and I just pulled that book out. It’s a first edition. It listed for like $6. That’s what that book cost and now you can’t touch it for less than a hundred bucks.

Jim Thompson:
Oh, one of my favorite books of all time. And you’re right. I hadn’t thought about it, but that has so many ideas in it, the series, as it goes through the various volumes and it’s like Nexus in that way, in that it packs in so many mysteries and finding… And it’s one of those where I think… One issue I would say is sometimes the mystery is more interesting than the actual reveal or the solution.

Mike Baron:
I agree.

Jim Thompson:
And that’s a tricky part about science fiction because the fans want the answer. But then when you get the answer, it takes some of the fun out of it. And I think even with Nexus, I felt that a little bit once we got to the Merk. At some point it was like, “Ah,” I almost rather wondered what was going to happen, although I enjoyed it.

Jim Thompson:
Let’s talk about Badger just because that also starts at Capital. That was you… Like with Nexus there’s a little bit of a cocreation thing. I understand that the idea was yours, even the lightning bolt design was yours, but you’re often listed as cocreator with Steve Rude because you guys did it together. Badger, you’re always listed as the creator of that. What was the impetus for that character? And talk about that. In that first series, because I think, like I said, Nexus was like full-blown almost in those first six issues. Badger starts as one thing and it changes, which I think is appropriate for the character, to each time be something different. But Badger in those first issues, he’s almost a supporting character in his own series.

Mike Baron:
Well, there’s a reason for that. I discovered Jeffrey Butler on a poster in Madison. He did a poster, so I got in touch with him and I said, “Jeff, do you want to do comics?” And he said, “Sure.” And I said, “Well, what do you want to draw?” And he says, “I want to draw druids.” So I wrote this 12-page story in which this cantankerous weather wizard in fifth century Wales so irritates his fellow wizards, druid wizards, that they hire the Vikings to drop him off the edge of the world.

Mike Baron:
And Jeff drew it out and it was beautiful, and I took it in to show the boys at Capital and Milton said, “No, we want a costume superhero. We want a costume crime-fighter.” And so I said, “Well, Jeff, they want a costume crime-fighter.” And he says, “Well, I don’t want to waste those pages.” So I said, “Fine, we’ll work them into the story.”

Jim Thompson:
Ah, that makes sense.

Mike Baron:
And my first thought was, “Why would anybody put on a costume and fight crime? They’d have to be crazy.” And I was reading The Minds of Billy Milligan at the time about a multiple personality, and so it struck me that I could make him a multiple personality. And also because everything in Madison was Badger this and Badger that, the Badger. So he became a uniquely Wisconsin character.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah. Alex, do you want to take us to the end Capital?

Alex Grand:
That’s cool about the multiple personality because it seems like there’s a lot of comedy. You throw a lot more comedy in Badger, obviously, than Nexus, and it seems like there’s a lot of… It’s almost like Deadpool, but before Deadpool was even made.

Mike Baron:
Everybody says that.

Alex Grand:
It’s almost like what makes Deadpool cool is this Badger ingredient that they just… Because he wasn’t like that at the beginning, then you throw a Badger in and now Deadpool is a lovable character. So I almost feel like that’s really from you. And I know Moon Knight had a multiple personality, but your version is funnier, more interesting. And so that shows that you’re kind of a futurist as far as that goes, because that becomes huge later on in media, in general, right?

Mike Baron:
Oh, thanks.

Alex Grand:
Do you ever feel like, “Man, that’s my thing.” Have you felt that way?

Mike Baron:
Well, no. You know, synchronicity happens all the time. I remember the year there were two Christopher Columbus movies, and then remember the year there were two volcano movies?

Alex Grand:
Yeah. And two Wyatt Earp movies and all that stuff. Yeah.

Mike Baron:
Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
Two meteorite movies. Yeah. It’s constant.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. So I guess that it’s something in the air at times. So now a couple of quick Nexus questions. So, I’ve heard Space Ghost, Alex Toth, Space Ghost, being part of it. Did that factor in when you were designing the costume?

Mike Baron:
No, not really. That’s all Dude’s contribution. He’s a big fan of Alex Toth, Russ Manning, Jack Kirby, most especially. And Dr. Seuss, and you can see all those influences.

Alex Grand:
Oh, that’s cool. Now this concept of 500 years in the future, was that like a Buck Rogers? Did that factor in at all for you?

Mike Baron:
No, not at all. I just figured, well, that’s a good time to set it in. Nobody knows what’s going to be happening.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. Unimaginable. So create the image. Then there’s this discussion of computerized societal memories, overwhelming media channels. And a lot of that’s kind of going on today. So this is more of Mike Baron futurist. Do you feel like, “Yeah, I kind of feel like I saw some of this coming,” as far as those concepts?

Mike Baron:
Oh, maybe a little bit. I mean, once the internet was established, I just extrapolated from that. It’s not too hard a stretch. And now, I mean, everybody says Buck Rogers, remember when… Or, Dick Tracy, remember they had the two-way wrist radio? Well now we have it, only it’s TV.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. True. So now, what happened where Capital Comics ends and then all the titles go to First? What happened during that time, exactly?

Mike Baron:
Well, Capital, they loved comics, but they didn’t really know what they were doing. They didn’t have the ins and outs of distribution nailed down-

Mike Baron:
Have the ins and outs of distribution nailed down. They didn’t have a well-oiled machine to keep the thing going. So they shopped it around, and I insisted on going with First because I liked what they were doing. And I saw Warp by Neil Adams, and they were doing Mike Grail, and they were doing American Flagg. And I said, “Well, let’s go with First.” So we arranged a meeting at the Belvedere Oasis, which spanned the interstate between Madison and Chicago. And unfortunately it’s no longer there, but at that meeting, we decided to go with First, I was with Mike Gold, who was there.

Alex Grand:
Okay. So what was your impression of Mike Gold and how you got into First Comics?

Mike Baron:
Mike Gold is a wonderful human being and a great editor. And I just worked with First happily for 10 years, I wish they’d never gone under. There are a lot of reasons put forth, probably the greatest was high overheads. They moved out of the attic at Evanston and into a big, fancy building down in the Loop. And there were other reasons, but it was a great run. The comics were great, and we were lucky when Dark Horse picked us up.

Alex Grand:
Right. Yeah, and that Nexus a seven through 70, that was from First Comics that went from ’85 to ’91. So that was a pretty long length of time. That’s about six years as far as comic professional years, that’s quite a while. Did you notice signs of change into ’91, or was it pretty much the same working relationship as far as putting your comics in?

Mike Baron:
Well, it was the same for us because we didn’t live in Chicago. We’d just do our stuff and send it in.

Alex Grand:
Okay. And then now just kind of a question about your working with Steve Rude, there’s that documentary on him? Have you seen that?

Mike Baron:
Yes-

Alex Grand:
Yeah, you’re in it, exactly. And so there’s this whole thing about his emotions. He’s a very talented artist obviously, but there’s this kind of question of, they refer to the mental illness, bipolar. Sometimes he’s really into doing the arts, sometimes he can’t do art for a couple of weeks, and there’s this energy, these swings. Did that factor in, in how you were putting issues together?

Mike Baron:
No, I don’t think so. I don’t really think that. There were times when he was unable to make the deadline, and that’s why we had a lot of fill in artists at first. But when we switched to Dark Horse, we were at a more leisurely pace. We weren’t putting out a monthly book, we’d put out four, six-issue mini series and they would wait until they were ready to go before they published them. So it didn’t really affect his work there.

Alex Grand:
Okay, there you go. And that makes sense. And that kind of falls into like putting TV seasons out. Get it all done and then kind of leak them out, and I guess that’s how the mini-series works as opposed to a monthly strict schedule. And now you also worked with some other artists. Was there any differences as far as let’s say with Steve Rude versus let’s say someone like Paul Smith for a couple issues, did you have to explain more to other artists versus Steve Rude whom you co-created with?

Mike Baron:
Not with Smith, he was a big fan, he was familiar with the comic before we asked him to draw it. And I think he did some of his best work on that title.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah, I do too. It’s really good.

Alex Grand:
It is. Yeah, it’s a gem seeing some of those issues by Smith. Because I loved his X-Men and so when I ran into that, I was like, “Wow, this is great.” So then, and you got an Inkpot Award in 1988, and now in 1990, Hammer of God, one through four with Steve Epting. How has working with Steve Epting? And tell us about that story.

Mike Baron:
I’d love to work with him again. About the story, I’d have to reread those issues to remind myself what I wrote.

Alex Grand:
But is there… Let’s say as a writer, you put scripts, by this time, are you just putting in text script and then sending it to the artist? Are there any phone calls, any sort of co-plotting going on at that point?

Mike Baron:
Occasionally I would often a ask writer, “What would you like to draw?” I mean, an artist, and I would try to write to his strengths.

Alex Grand:
Mmm-hmm (affirmative). And so now, as far as Judah the Hammer, was that a fun one to write, fun character to write?

Mike Baron:
Oh yeah. They’re all fun characters to write, even the grim ones.

Alex Grand:
Yes.

Mike Baron:
If I’m not having fun, the reader’s not going to have fun.

Alex Grand:
I see. Yeah, so you’ve kind of put yourself into the story, and you’re having fun as you’re writing it out. Do you imagine yourself as a reader at the same time?

Mike Baron:
I think that all writers do. I think you have to say, “Well how’s this going to affect someone? Does it make sense? Is it entertaining?”

Alex Grand:
During this period of time, do you have any favorites, any particular favorites as far as characters are concerned?

Mike Baron:
You mean the characters that I’ve created or other people?

Alex Grand:
Yeah, as far as your creations, yes.

Mike Baron:
Well, Nexus and Badger are still very near and dear to me. Right now I’m working on Florida Man with Todd Mulrooney, and we’re very excited about that. I don’t know if you’ve seen the art, but it’s jaw dropping, and it’s a complete change, because-

Alex Grand:
Right, it’s a different genre, yeah.

Mike Baron:
Yeah, no super heroics, there’s no science fiction, hopefully people will recognize a little bit of themselves in Gary Dubai. And it’s very funny. I mean, the only purpose of that comic is to make you laugh-

Alex Grand:
Yeah, and that’s cool.

Mike Baron:
And it will, it’s the funniest comic ever written. I guarantee your head will explode, your eyes will pop out of your skull, and as soon as you’re done, you’ll turn to the nearest person and say, “You got to read this.”

Alex Grand:
Now that’s cool. Well, I’m excited to check that out-

Jim Thompson:
Mike, I just have one quick question in terms of what we were talking about the characters in Nexus. Were there ones that fans like, and so they got more play or became more central to the storyline because of the fan reaction, or was it always just about you as a fan reaction? Because I know you would see on the letters pages where some were super popular. Or others maybe, they’d say, “I don’t want to see Tyrone anymore.”

Mike Baron:
No, that really didn’t affect me. Because as I said, the story rules it’s whatever the story requires. And my goal was to grab the reader by the throat with the situations and the characters, and I would just follow that path wherever it led. I don’t think that I’ve featured or diminished any character due to reader appeal, because I have a pretty good judge of what makes a good story. And as long as I’m on that path, I’m pretty happy.

Alex Grand:
Now in Nexus when it comes to like killing dictators, or having vengeance toward dictators, was there any sort of real life dictator in the early eighties that you were thinking about at the time?

Mike Baron:
No, not really. All of history’s great slaughterers, Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, all those tin-pot dictators down in South America.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, because I got definitely a South American vibe, myself when I was reading that. So then now when it comes to writing the Badger, you went again for, this also went through first for 60 issues, plus a mini-series from ’85 to ’91 during the First Comics run, when you’re coming up with the quips and the storylines, and putting all that kind of, you’re hitting the reader from multiple sides verbally, you say that you put yourself into it, but it seems like there’s just so much spontaneity, and it feels new every time. Do you have inspirations, like do you have to kind of take a break, if you feel you ever get burnt out and you have to watch a comedian or watch something funny to kind of get that funny bone back? How does that?

Mike Baron:
Well, yes and no. The writer has to surprise himself before he can surprise the reader. And any writer who’s accomplished, knows that you’ll create a character, and at some point that character will take over and tell you what he’s going to do next. Well, I have a rule is, when I don’t know what happens next, I back away from the typewriter or whatever I’m doing, I take my pen and pad, and I write down all the possibilities that could happen, no matter how crazy. And sooner or later, I’ll find the path forward. And if it doesn’t come to me, I’ll set it aside, but I’ll think about it. Now sometimes I’ll think about it for days and eventually the answer will come to me.

Mike Baron:
So I’ve learned the hard way that you don’t proceed unless you know what’s going to happen next. But I also believe that the writer has to surprise himself before he can surprise the reader, and so I’m open to being surprised by my own characters. And as I said before, any good writer worth his salt is going to insert something early on in the story, and he won’t know why, until a hundred or 200 pages later when that’s something becomes the key to the resolution, or to the story. For me, the perfect ending always comes as a complete surprise, and also inevitable upon reflection.

Alex Grand:
So during a story arc, do you have the ending in mind when you’re writing the beginning or does it kind of flush out as you’re doing it?

Mike Baron:
Little bit of both. I believe in moral fiction, which means good triumphs over evil, sometimes at a terrible cost. But when I’m writing a story, be it a novel or a comic, I do have an idea how it’s supposed to end, and I work toward that idea, and it’s how I get there that makes up the story.

Alex Grand:
I see-

Jim Thompson:
Do you, do you have a last, a final story of Nexus when it’s time to close it out?

Mike Baron:
No.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, that’s cool. That’s kind of Erik Larsen’s like that with Savage Dragon, it’s still open-ended, that’s pretty cool. Chronicles of Corum, 1986 to 1988, you were adapting Michael Moorcock’s Sword Trilogy with Mike Magnola, then there was Jackson Guice. Tell us about your involvement in that project.

Mike Baron:
Magnola first asked me to do that, and it’s easy to adapt novelists who writes so visually. And I took a book, they said, “Here’s the first Chronicle of Corum.” And if the book was 350 pages long, and I knew I had to turn it into six issues, I would just roughly divide those pages up by six. Not hard and fast because you want to follow the natural contours of the story, which means that each issue begins when a chapter starts, and each issue ends when a chapter ends, and you space it out and you time it until it all fits. And I prided myself on not using any of my own language. It’s all Moorcock’s, and the same thing when I adapted Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire for Dark Horse.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. So that’s interesting. So in reading it, then you kind of… It sounds like in adapting it, you read it and then you almost put yourself in the shoes of the writer, and you almost kind of absorb some of their technique in writing and then you bring that with you to your adaptation. And so it becomes a hybrid of you in that writer, that’s fascinating.

Mike Baron:
Well, I decide what the artist is going to draw, but as I said, both those guys are very visual writers and it wasn’t difficult.

Alex Grand:
So now why did you leave the book? Did you leave the book before it was finished?

Mike Baron:
Which one?

Alex Grand:
The Chronicles of Corum,

Mike Baron:
I’m not sure what happened there. I know that at one point an artist friend of mine, lives Canada, I’m just blanking on his name right now took over, but it may be that I just had too much going on at the time.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, yeah. Because you were doing a lot in 1988. That’s true. And we’re going to go some of that other stuff-

Jim Thompson:
Yeah, you left with like three or four issues to go. And there was a third artist that came on-

Mike Baron:
Shane Bloom was the writer.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah, yeah. And then it changed. And I was curious about that. Now Kelly Jones inked almost all the issues. So it had at least that visual consistency, yeah. And it’s funny, I was just going to say that all of these things that we’re seeing at first, at this point, a lot of these relationships carry over, immediately over to DC, when we get to DC, Kelly Jones obviously we did man, but Gold is the one that brings you over for Flash, I mean, it’s a lot of carry over directly from First, and back to you out.

Alex Grand:
Yeah.

Mike Baron:
That’s because Mike moved from First to DC.

Alex Grand:
Mmm-hmm (Affirmative)

Jim Thompson:
Oh, and was he responsible for taking a lot of these people with him?

Mike Baron:
You get it.

Jim Thompson:
Oh, that makes sense.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, I think that’s how Larsen got in there too, was through Mike Gold. So now-

Jim Thompson:
Steven, probably too.

Alex Grand:
Steven, yeah maybe. But although Steven already was doing stuff with DC, but yeah. So take us to how you first figured out or found out that First Comics was ending. And then tell us about getting started up with Dark Horse, and that transition.

Jim Thompson:
Oh, Alex, one thing I was curious about that was also the crossover series, Crossroads. That seems to mess you up every once in a while where you get stuck, I know with both Flash and there it seems like you’ve got carefully plotted out trajectories, and it seems like crossovers getting in the way of that sometimes. What was your thought when they announced that first that you guys were all going to have to crossover or something?

Mike Baron:
You mean, our First Comics, when we were going to crossover with DC?

Jim Thompson:
No, no, the Crossroads book where-

Mike Baron:
Oh. That, I was writing for a living, and if they say, “Yeah, we want John Sable to team up with Badger,” I said, “Great!” Right now I’m doing a crossover with Nexus, Lone Star and Big Foot Bill.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah.

Mike Baron:
Big Foot Bill, with Nexus.

Jim Thompson:
Wow.

Alex Grand:
But yeah, so take us through that, from figuring out that First Comics is ending and then getting started up with Dark Horse, and how that all happened.

Mike Baron:
Well, I don’t know. I do know that Mike Richardson was very interested in the characters, and that he bought the rights to them. He at least he bought the rights to Nexus, and then he returned copyright trademark to Steve Rude and I in an unprecedented act of generosity, which has never been repeated.

Alex Grand:
Okay, so the rights to Badger and Nexus. Was it yours when it was under Capitol Comics?

Mike Baron:
No, we signed them away. We were young and stupid.

Alex Grand:
I see. And then it got transferred over to First Comics, and then Dark Horse got the rights from them?

Mike Baron:
Yes.

Alex Grand:
Wow, okay. And so then when you say he returned trademark and copyright, does he still maintain film rights and things?

Mike Baron:
Yes.

Alex Grand:
Okay but then-

Mike Baron:
But that’s because we signed a contract with him.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, I see. So then you have the rights in the Comic Media, and then he has the rights as far as film and TV?

Mike Baron:
Yes.

Alex Grand:
Okay. Thanks so much for the clarification, I wonder about stuff like that. All right, so it was more, he saw you got his characters out and your talent, and so then you went with Dark Horse essentially, that’s what happened?

Mike Baron:
Yes.

Alex Grand:
So what led to him giving the trademark and copyright back to you guys? How did that happen?

Mike Baron:
Sheer generosity on his part.

Alex Grand:
He just kind of said, “All right, well look, I’ll just give it to you guys?”

Mike Baron:
That’s right.

Alex Grand:
Wow! It just occurred to him to do it. It wasn’t you guys’ idea?

Mike Baron:
That’s right.

Alex Grand:
Well, that is unheard of. I’ve never heard of anything like that before. All right, so then now tell us about the workings at Dark Horse then. Essentially you were saying that they were a comic series, so it was a more leisurely pace. Were you ever getting anxious, like, “Hey, I want this out sooner,” and you wanted route to be faster, or how did that all just work? Or were you already doing other projects, so financially you weren’t that dependent on it coming out so quick?

Mike Baron:
Well, I was busy with other projects, and you can’t hurry the dude, but he was working at a reasonable pace, so that we could have at least one mini-series each year, sometimes two.

Alex Grand:
Now in 1992, you guys got an Eisner for a Best Single Issue and Best Writer/Artists Team, and then Rude got Best Artists. So tell us about the goings on, as far as the recognition that you’re getting after 10 years or so of creating this character?

Mike Baron:
Well, it was gratifying. It was for the Nexus the Origin, which was a retelling of the first story we did way back in the beginning. And I was happy to rewrite that story because I knew I could do it better. And it’s always gratifying to be recognized by your peers for outstanding work. And now I’m very proud of it.

Alex Grand:
That’s great. And then a Nexus Space Opera for Rude Dude productions. Now, is that the story where… Is that the one where you were mentioning that he changed the lines, is that the one?

Mike Baron:
He started changing the lines on Space Opera, but it really went full blown on the Gourmando series.

Alex Grand:
I see. Okay, okay. So then tell us about some of those discussions. Would you call him and say, “Hey, what’s going on?” And was it just too late by the time you found out? How was that?

Mike Baron:
Yeah, because he was the publisher. And not only was he paying me to write it, he was lettering it himself.

Alex Grand:
I see. I see.

Mike Baron:
And I think he’s lettered the whole new book himself too.

Alex Grand:
I see, yeah. Yeah. Okay, and then, now you were going through the, the Nexus novel. Tell us about the Nexus novel, writing it and explain to the audience and evidently without spoilers, about what makes this unique, this Nexus novel that you’ve made?

Mike Baron:
Well, literary experience is very different from a comic book experience. For one thing, you can go into with the story and the personalities in much greater depth. I wrote this last year at a period when I couldn’t sleep. So I would just sit and write all day. And I had the whole story in my head, from plotting it out for the dude. But when you get into it, as I said, you have to surprise yourself before you can surprise the reader, and I introduced many new elements in the novel. Most notably, these twins, a boy and a girl who had a perfect telepathic rapport, and who had been given over to a criminal syndicate to be released as assassins, and who had been savagely mistreated. And they decided to leave the criminal syndicate and burn it all down when they went. They didn’t kill any of the students, but they killed all the teachers, and then they embarked on a life of crime. And eventually they came to Nexus attention because they killed so many people.

Alex Grand:
Yeah.

Mike Baron:
Kill kids.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. Dark cryptic stuff. So do you find… They say that if you combine genres, so let’s say make, combined sci-fi was with crime, or combined sci-fi with spy thriller, or things like that. Are you finding that you’re doing those kinds of things organically to get different plot threads going?

Mike Baron:
Yeah, I do do them organically. I have a three-issue Nexus series coming out from Splatto. And Richard Meyer solicited this from me and he said, “I want something like the Mandalorian.” Well, I have never seen the Mandalorian, but I knew enough about it, that I knew it was kind of like a Spaghetti Western.

Alex Grand:
Yeah.

Mike Baron:
Yeah. So this is Nexus in the old West on a certain planet. When he goes there to rescue this child, this is about three children, it’s called Triplets. And they have perfect telepathic communication as well, only they’re good. And because of their perfect telepathy, they become of great value to currency speculators, because they can transmute energy instantly, I mean, information instantly across vast interstellar distances, which is impossible by any other means. So they’re kidnapped by this criminal syndicate, and used to transmit information from one world to another across interstellar distances. And the first world is very like the old West.

Alex Grand:
That’s cool. Yeah, you know what you can do to explain that vast distances, neutrinos, just say that word. That works.

Mike Baron:
Neutrinos.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah see, it worked.

Mike Baron:
I like galactus too.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, there you go. Throw some of that in there, it explains it. So, all right, Jim, DC Comics.

Jim Thompson:
Okay. So I know that Gold reached out to… Well, you started before Flash, you did some other books, or at least some issues-

Mike Baron:
Atari Force.

Jim Thompson:
Atari Force and then an All-Star Squadron issue, I think.

Mike Baron:
Yeah, yeah.

Jim Thompson:
Some of that. With that, did Gold reach out to you to get those jobs? Or only when you got to the Flash?

Mike Baron:
I think that another editor contacted me about Atari Force. I’d have to go back and look-

Alex Grand:
Did Richard Bruning have anything to do with Atari Force?

Mike Baron:
Not that I know of.

Alex Grand:
Because somehow thought I’d read something about design direction on Atari Force. I might be wrong, I thought so.

Jim Thompson:
So was that your first sort of licensed property that you worked on?

Alex Grand:
I think so. Well, the Moorcock’s was first-

Jim Thompson:
I was going to say, the Moorcock is kind of like that, but not exactly the same. What was it like working on something where you’re used to being able to do whatever you want to some degree, although you had editors, but with the Atari Force, I imagine there was more pressure to do certain things with it. And more supervision probably?

Mike Baron:
Not really. I mean, there was no pressure, there was supervision, but I picked up the continuity that had been given to me and just carried it forward. I didn’t make any outrageous changes in direction or tone or style. As I said, I understand it’s my job to entertain, and I do the best I can with what I have.

Jim Thompson:
Do you consider yourself… And I could ask this at any point in this questioning, but did you lucky you were to get to work with the level of artists that you got to work with during this period? Because it’s kind of amazing group by this point. I mean, you’re still relatively early in your comics career, and you’re hitting all of the up-and-comers before they really become the fan-favorites they become. But it’s an amazing list, and that includes obviously Atari Force.

Mike Baron:
Yeah, I was very grateful to be working with Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and Eduardo Beretto great artists. And then of course Kelly Jones and our work culminated on Dead Man with the graphic novels, which is where Kelly exploded into what he is today.

Jim Thompson:
Well, let’s talk about 1987 and the Flash. Because that to me is a game changer book for DC. I mean, obviously it’s after a crisis, and they clearly want to make a statement. And I don’t know what they told you in terms of that, but it’s redefining DC, how they treat a superhero. I mean, not just because it’s now Wally West and not Barry Allen, but just everything about that book. Was that you wanted to do that, or did they say, “We really want you to change all the rules, we want you to make this character very different from your typical DC character. He’s got to be edgier, he has to have all these different details.”

Jim Thompson:
It’s a radical departure, I think. And when I read it in real time, I both loved it and kept rereading it, and also was like, “That’s wrong, he would never do that.” I mean, he’s sleeping with… Well, he just keeps changing his girl in the 14 issues you’re there, he’s willing to go after the bimbo, with the old guy who she pretends is her uncle. I mean, there’s some gross stuff going on.

Alex Grand:
Hard stuff. Hard stuff for its time, yeah.

Jim Thompson:
And I know you were getting some fan feedback, I mean, pushback on this. What was going on in your head?

Mike Baron:
Well, I knew I had to make him different because they said, “Well, Barry Allen is no longer the Flash he’s now Wally West.” And so I thought, “What makes this guy tick?” And he was a lot younger than Barry Allen, and he was a young man, a bit of a cad, he had to eat a lot to keep up his energy levels, to expend the energy that he did. And I was just kind of flying by the seat of my pants as I usually was in those days, in other words, I was drawing each book out by hand, panel by panel.

Jim Thompson:
Did Marv Wolfman ever come up to you and say, “What are you doing to my character?” Because I mean at that point, he’d been writing Wally West in Titans. And it’s such a different character from the Wally West of Blue Valley, that would seem America’s kid next door almost.

Mike Baron:
No, no. Marv never said anything about it.

Jim Thompson:
Okay, and-

Alex Grand:
And I think Marv was also doing his own revolutionary stuff with DC too. So I think at the time they were just going for John Burns Superman, and there’s a lot of new, weird stuff going on there. I think you’re just part of that culture, right? Revitalizing characters?

Mike Baron:
Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
Where did you get Kevin, having him win the lottery in the first issue? Because that’s like, “Where did that come from as well?”

Mike Baron:
I don’t know. I’d have to reread those issues. But it’s funny because I hit that gong again in Florida Man.

Alex Grand:
That’s awesome.

Jim Thompson:
Well, that’s interesting. Was it surprising to you that the Flash, those 14 issues plus the special weren’t reprinted or available really up until recently? That they never did a collection of them?

Mike Baron:
Not really.

Jim Thompson:
For being such a groundbreaking book. Why did you leave the book?

Mike Baron:
I ran out of ideas.

Jim Thompson:
You ran out early! I mean, with Nexus, you’re still doing it-

Mike Baron:
[crosstalk 00:59:41] It would never happen today. It would never happen again, and I regret that I quit the book. But that’s why I stopped. I just said, “Mike, I don’t know what to do next.”

Jim Thompson:
Now he left his editor at the same time or around that? When-

Mike Baron:
I don’t think so.

Jim Thompson:
I had read that because another editor-

Jim Thompson:
I had read that there, because another editor mentioned something about you moving to… Said, “If you like that weird Mike Baron stuff, he’s doing Deadman now.” Okay. And was Deadman something that was assigned to you? Or was it something you wanted?

Mike Baron:
Yes, it was initially assigned to me, but once I started to think about the character, I realized that he was a horror character and not a superhero.

Jim Thompson:
Right, right. That’s exactly right.

Alex Grand:
Does horror appeal to you more than superhero?

Mike Baron:
I think so. Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
Now, you didn’t rely on The Flash, just a couple more questions and then we go back to Deadman. On The Flash, you didn’t rely on any of the Rogues’ Gallery. Was that your idea or were you told not to deal with those guys, to do all fresh characters?

Mike Baron:
Well, we did use Vandal Savage.

Jim Thompson:
Oh yeah, that’s true. But I don’t think of him as the Rogues’ Gallery completely. I think of him earlier than that.

Alex Grand:
Well, like Captain Cold and those guys.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah.

Mike Baron:
No. And if I had stayed on the book, I probably would have circled back and used those guys because that’s what writers do. They study the history for clues for the path to go forward. But I just had enough fresh ideas in my head at the time, just enough to carry me through for that first year.

Jim Thompson:
Because and for people who haven’t read it, there’s characters like Kilgore and Savage is one continuing character. And he comes back at the end, but you have Kilgore and you have Chunk, which was a character that continued even after you left. William Messner-Loebs did a lot of stuff with that character as well. Were any of those charact- and the Russians, and I wanted to ask you about that because both with Nexus, but here too, you seem very interested in Russian, both visuals and also as a plot device. Is there a reason for that?

Mike Baron:
Yeah, I think they’re funny. And also, the history is fascinating and I’m drawn to Russian literature, but I love to give guys Russian accents because it just gives me a kick. Like here’s a Russian grocery list, “Biff, ex, mitt, is Russian grocery list.”

Jim Thompson:
Well, because that’s almost straight from the comic. These guys as the messengers or-

Mike Baron:
I love to write dialect.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah, those were good characters. And you had the opposing, the B team of those, the blue team versus the red team. And you had a lot of Russian going on in that one. All right, Deadman, what did you think of action weekly as a concept? Were you looking at the other creators too? I love those issues, with the various ones. Were you paying attention to that or just Deadman, that you were doing?

Mike Baron:
I was really just focusing on my own contribution. I’m sure I read some of the other stories at the time, but I’d have to look at those issues to remind myself.

Jim Thompson:
And after the book reverted back to action, to Superman title, did you pitch the Deadman series? The prestige format books or did they come to you and say, “We thought that was working well, we’d like to do it in that prestige format.”

Mike Baron:
I think I pitched them, but I could be wrong.

Jim Thompson:
And was there any pushback to the visual change in Deadman to make him not look like the superhero, but to be that bag of bones look? Because that’s a huge departure visually, that rewrites the character who had been around for a long time.

Mike Baron:
I’m not aware of any pushback.

Jim Thompson:
But was it your idea or was it Kelly Jones’s idea to do that.

Mike Baron:
You know, I think as soon as Kelly and I started working together, I could see those tendencies in his art and it helped convince me that I was on the right path to treat Deadman as a ghost story.

Jim Thompson:
Were you at this time, because you were working at Marvel too, and you were doing a lot of different things. What was going on with you personally at the time? Was there a point the pressures were getting to you, were you were unraveling a little bit or you were doing something destructive or what was happening with you? Because by the time we get to Sonic Disruptors, it seems like things are getting a little bit out of control at some point.

Mike Baron:
Sonic Disruptors has the distinction of being canceled. And the thing is that my writing techniques have changed drastically since then. I never used to outline. And I was making the end up by the seat of my pants, moving panel by panel. And I really didn’t know where it was going, except that it was going to end with revolution in the streets. And I think the sales were probably pretty bad and that’s why they canceled it.

Mike Baron:
Now, when I undertake a project today, I work up a detailed outline and the outline is not just a guide for me. It’s something I want to be able to hand anybody and have them read it and be entertained. The outline is entertaining in and of itself. And of course the result of the outline is whenever somebody reads it, they say, “All right, yeah. Where’s the finished work? I want to read that now.” So I’ve taken a more analytical and methodic approach to my writing, but the end result, I hope, will seem just as spontaneous.

Jim Thompson:
Now, did you have one issue that was not released, that was at least written? Or did you have all 12 issues?

Mike Baron:
No, I don’t have an issue in the can.

Jim Thompson:
Oh, okay. So there’s not like a issue seven or issue 8 script?

Mike Baron:
No.

Jim Thompson:
Okay. Because it is unfinished, do you ever want to do something else with that or probably wouldn’t be possible anyway?

Mike Baron:
In fact, I did. I created another series called Ethel, which wraps up Sonic Disruptor, but it was never published.

Jim Thompson:
Oh, okay. That’s what I was looking for. Is that going to be published someday?

Mike Baron:
Oh, I don’t know. It was about 10 years ago with a friend of mine who lives here in town and was not for any specific publisher, but I’d be happy to send you the material that we have.

Jim Thompson:
Oh, I would love to see that. Absolutely. Butcher in Bold and Brave and in terms of that, Butcher was the character you created first. Now, do you have any rights to that at all? Any connection with that or is that just work product that you created? Because that’s yours. I mean, that’s solely your character in that respect, but do you have any relationship with DC in terms of that?

Mike Baron:
I would have to inquire. It was a long time ago and of course, Butcher does some crossovers with other characters that I didn’t write or draw. So they may have a proprietary claim. On the other hand, they may not care. And they may say it’s all yours. I would have to ask.

Jim Thompson:
Did you enjoy doing that character?

Mike Baron:
Yeah, I did.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah, because it’s good. I enjoyed that series a great deal. And I enjoyed the Brave and Bold, which is confusing to people because Batman’s not one of the three characters in there. But The Question is, and I wondered about that, did you write The Question with the Denny O’Neil version of The Question in mind or the Steve Ditko version in mind?

Mike Baron:
Did I write The Question?

Jim Thompson:
Well, yeah. I mean, The Question is one of the characters in the Brave and Bold series.

Mike Baron:
And I wrote it?

Jim Thompson:
Well, you wrote the series, right?

Mike Baron:
I don’t know. That doesn’t ring a bell.

Jim Thompson:
Okay. You’re listed with Mike Grell as co-writers on that.

 

Mike Baron:
I’d have to take a look, Jim.

Jim Thompson:
Okay.

Mike Baron:
I’m losing brain cells right and left here.

Jim Thompson:
Me too.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. He’s a character in this series, he’s not a big hero, but he’s there a few times. That’s all.

Jim Thompson:
And then Hawk and Dove, you do a version of that, which again, is a Steve Ditko concept. That’s what I was interested in that it seemed like there was this period right around the same time where you’re doing various Ditko things. Were you a Ditko fan?

Mike Baron:
Well, I am a Ditko fan, but that’s not why I wrote Hawk and Dove. They asked me to do that and I was happy to do it.

Jim Thompson:
Do you remember what your concept was, how to make yours different from the various versions of that?

Mike Baron:
Again, I’d have to go back and reread them, Jim. It’s just like 20 million words beyond that now, and sometimes I forget what I wrote.

Jim Thompson:
I can’t remember who my clients were from 10 years ago, so I totally get it. Batman, you got to write some Batman stories during that period. Is that a character that you were invested in, in any way or wanted to write?

Mike Baron:
Well, I love Batman and I’d be happy to write some more stories, but I really prefer my own characters.

Jim Thompson:
Ah, so when you were doing this and in Marvel, you were doing the Punisher and stuff, was it kind of a less satisfying experience bec-

Mike Baron:
Oh, no, no. I love The Punisher.

Jim Thompson:
Well, I think that’s a good segue, Alex.

Alex Grand:
So first, when you got into DC and you kind of got in with my golden Atari Force, how did you then go to Marvel? Who brought you into Marvel? Do you remember?

Mike Baron:
Carl Potts

 

Alex Grand:
Yeah. We’ve interviewed him, we love Carl. Tell us how it was, do you remember how that conversation went and then working with Carl?

Mike Baron:
Carl said, “I’d like you to write The Punisher because of the Badger, I was impressed with the Badger.”

Alex Grand:
Oh, cool.

Mike Baron:
And he said that I do have certain rules. Everything has to make sense. It has to follow A. B must follow A, C must follow B. He was pretty hard nosed about that, but I never had any trouble because that’s the way I write too.

Alex Grand:
And you wrote about 70-something issues of the Punisher. So tell us about kind of getting into that character and had you read the Punisher before on a leisurely basis, and then you were happy to take the character on?

Mike Baron:
I read Stephen Grant’s mini series. When I wrote this character, I addressed it as a straight crime story. No super heroics or science fiction. He was out there to bust crime.

Alex Grand:
Yes.

Mike Baron:
And I worked at that for two to three years, and then Carl moved upstairs and I got a new editor who wanted to incorporate it more closely into the Marvel Universe. So there were some other elements, but I think it was under Carl that I brought in the Kingpin, who is a natural enemy of the Punisher.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, because he’s usually associated with Daredevil and Spider-Man so that’s cool that you did that. And I love the character Microchip. I remember when I was a kid, I thought that was a cool concept to have this kind of dorky guy in a van, kind of doing some management. Tell us about creating Microchip.

Mike Baron:
It just seemed like a necessary character to me. Punisher couldn’t do what he did without tech support.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. And I just ask this, was Frank Miller’s Daredevil in any way an influence on you at this point? Had you looked at any of that stuff?

Mike Baron:
Oh yes. And I admired it very much. I don’t know how it affected me. I don’t think it affected my writing, but I was a big fan.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. Something I noticed, like when I look at Atari Force and then I look at Punisher, like in Atari Force, there’s a lot more dialogue thought balloons. And then in Punisher, it’s more like captions with statements. Was that specifically like, did you see like, “Hey, the industry writing-wise seems to be headed that way.” Or did you organically grow into that as like this is more effective? Tell us about that transition.

Mike Baron:
I think it was organic. And I’ve been trying to get less wordy ever since.

Alex Grand:
I see. So do you feel that words can kind of distract from the comic reading experience sometimes?

Mike Baron:
Show, don’t tell.

Alex Grand:
Show, don’t tell.

Mike Baron:
Every bit of information that can advance the story that you can show visually, you should. Use words for characterization. Occasionally you can use them to advance the story, but only if it’s natural.

Alex Grand:
Have you ever like, let’s say you see your comic fleshed out. Do you ever think, “Oh, we should just delete some of those sentences. They’re not necessary anymore.” Has that ever happened?

Mike Baron:
Sometimes.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. So maybe it was actually good for the artist to see it to drop and now you don’t need the sentence, right? That’s interesting.

Mike Baron:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
So then, where were you living when you were working at doing jobs for Marvel and DC like this?

Mike Baron:
Madison, Wisconsin.

Alex Grand:
So it’s still Wisconsin. So you were mailing all your stuff in?

Mike Baron:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, okay.

Mike Baron:
Everything went by FedEx, the bills were enormous.

Alex Grand:
Afterward, Mike, you were actually worked with Valiant. You did some work with Archer and Armstrong. Can you tell us about how you got set up with Valiant at the time? This was around 1993, 1994.

Mike Baron:
I ran into Bob Layton at a convention and we were kicking it around and he said, “How’d you like to come write for us?” And the first book they had available was Archer and Armstrong. I would like to revisit those issues because I didn’t really feel that I found the groove there, but I did find a groove on a number of other Valiant characters, notably Turok. Which I did with Rags Morales and Shadowman, which I did with Val Mayerik. And I believe I did some Ninjak too, and those were more in my wheelhouse.

Mike Baron:
But if I were to go back again and take another crack at Archer and Armstrong, I’m pretty sure I’d nail it because my writing has changed drastically and my approach to writing has changed drastically. It’s become both more analytical and looser. And I don’t know how to reconcile those except to say that I spend a great deal of time thinking about the story before I write it.

Alex Grand:
Right.

Mike Baron:
And then when I get into the story, I feel much more spontaneous because I know what’s going on.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. That makes sense. And so do you feel like now with these decades of experience that you kind of have a sense of what you need to put down and what you don’t really need to put down in order to convey the same thing? And we’re talking about basically a buddy, like a buddy crime story, right? Like it’s two guys and their buddies and they’re just dealing with different criminal hijinks you’re talking about this specific genre because the other ones you talked about, first, were you a Gold Key fan? And you’re saying that writing for like Gold Key type characters was different than the buddy crime genre, is that right?

Mike Baron:
Well, I never wrote for Gold Key, but I was a Gold Key fan, but we did. And of course we did the Nexus Magnus crossover. So they had control of that character. And I did like the Gold Key characters. I would have loved to take a shot at Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom, but I’m happy with what I did there, and I haven’t looked at a Valiant comic in years, they keep changing. So I really don’t know what they’re doing these days.

Alex Grand:
And and this was the same kind of setup as with Marvel where you were basically mailing and stuff. It was not a local operation. It wasn’t like you went over there and checked out what was going on in the company setting. You’re basically doing this from home, right? And sending stuff in the mail.

Mike Baron:
Right.

Alex Grand:
And then, and for Malibu, you did a Bruce Lee series.

Mike Baron:
Yeah, I went after that.

Alex Grand:
Because you’re a martial artist yourself, aren’t you?

Mike Baron:
Yes. More of a martial craftsman.

Alex Grand:
Okay. And so a couple of things. First, are you a Bruce Lee fan in general?

Mike Baron:
Oh, absolutely.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. Yeah. What was that like? You’d be watching that in the movie theaters when it like Enter the Dragon came out, things like that?

Mike Baron:
Oh yeah. I saw it when it came out.

Alex Grand:
Oh yeah. That’s awesome. Yeah. Beautiful. What’d you think of the mirror scene at the end?

Mike Baron:
Well, I had seen The Lady from Shanghai and so I knew where it came from and everybody who’s seen Enter the Dragon and knows about movies, understands that it climaxed too soon when he fights the guy, O’Hara. When he fights O’Hara over the death of his sister. And then he fights that older guy and the older guy was an accomplished martial artists and Hong Kong actor, but he was no match for Bruce Lee. So the long extended ending just felt like a tack on.

Alex Grand:
I got you. Yeah, that kind of makes sense actually. And wasn’t that really possibly meant to highlight more John Saxon’s role in the film anyway, and then Bruce Lee probably stole the show and they tacked on more stuff with him?

Mike Baron:
Well, I would know about that. Although the director, who was the director?

Alex Grand:
I forgot. Jim, what do you think? Do you remember?

Mike Baron:
Robert somebody? Well here, I’ll find out.

Alex Grand:
Yeah.

Mike Baron:
He did a biography of Bruce Lee years later. And I felt sorry for him because obviously that was the only way he could make money and directors shouldn’t be reduced to… Robert Klaus.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. Yeah.

Mike Baron:
And I had the biography and it wasn’t a bad biography, but of course it’s nothing to that new biography, which came out a couple of years ago.

Alex Grand:
Right, right.

Jim Thompson:
Alex did you know, there’s a young adult graphic novel of Bruce Lee’s life out now that’s very popular at children’s bookstores.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. I had read about that, I haven’t seen it.

Jim Thompson:
I’ve read it. It’s good. I mean, for the audience-based it’s designed for. I wanted to ask a couple martial arts questions-

Alex Grand:
Go for it.

Jim Thompson:
…. to Bruce Lee, is he your favorite? What do you think of Jet Li and some of the other ones, Jackie Chan, obviously, I assume you’ve watched most of those Hong Kong action movies of that period.

Mike Baron:
Yes.

Jim Thompson:
What are your favorites?

Mike Baron:
My favorites are the man movies starring Donnie Yen, I think they’re the finest martial arts movies ever made. But I love Bruce Lee because he brought a new dynamism and realism to the fight scenes. When you watched him, you got a sense that this was real. Much more so than any of his contemporaries at the time. I love Jackie Chan. I love Jet Li. I love their movies. Jackie Chan had a whole different approach to movies. He was a joker.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. A stuntman too, yeah.

Mike Baron:
And he enjoyed his movies, you want the audience to enjoy it too. And that’s one of the reasons so many of his movies are so enjoyable, but the most recent movie of his that I’ve seen was a British production called The Foreigner based on a novel. And it’s very grim and is far in a way Jackie Chan’s best film. He really acts in that. It’s a superb film about revenge against the IRA whose explosion kills his daughter. And if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to see it.

Jim Thompson:
I haven’t seen it. I’ve heard of it. That sounds great. Yeah. I’m a huge fan of the Jet Li, Tsui Hark films. All of those, the Once Upon a Time in Chinas and the Legend of Fong Sai-Yuk, those things are just fantastic set pieces, one after another. I wish Bruce Lee had gotten to do more and then we’d have a better comparison.

Alex Grand:
Right. Now, did you see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? That Bruce Lee scene?

Mike Baron:
Yes, yes.

Alex Grand:
What’s your take on that? And do you think it’s not accurate or do you think it is?

Mike Baron:
It’s my favorite Quentin Tarantino movie by far.

Jim Thompson:
Mine too.

Mike Baron:
I think it’s a masterpiece. I could watch it over and over again. And I do think his take was highly accurate.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. That’s interesting.

Jim Thompson:
Awesome.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, and I think Jim feels that way too. I asked him about that before. And I think there’s controversy there. Me, I always thought nothing could ever beat him, he was a human weapon, but there is something to be said about someone that is like has similar skills, but then as physically bigger, then maybe that fight would be real in that sense. And it’s an interesting concept.

Mike Baron:
And Bruce was gifted with unusually fast reflexes and quick muscles.

Alex Grand:
Right.

Mike Baron:
Which enhanced his strength greatly, but he only weighed 135 pounds.Yeah.

Alex Grand:
Yes. That’s what I mean. Yeah. I mean very light. Yes. So that just having mass with equal speed would be overpowering anyway. So and then you mentioned Val Mayerik. And did you have an overall concept of Malibu or was it just kind of like mailing the stuff in, enjoying the series? What’s your take on Malibu comics?

Mike Baron:
Well, I thought they had a very strong line. I did, they had a number of interesting superhero titles. Of course I can’t remember anything right now. All I remember is my own involvement.

Alex Grand:
But you felt that they were a good operation.

Mike Baron:
I did, yeah. I thought they were a good line. I don’t know why they went out of business.

Jim Thompson:
Star Wars. You were part of it, not at Marvel, but at the dark horse in the 1990s. And you did Heir to the Empire, Last command, Dark Force Rising. Were you a big Star Wars super fan or was it just a work for hire kind of a job for you?

Mike Baron:
Well, I was a fan. I saw Star Wars when it came out and I consider the first three movies classic. I did watch one of the recent remakes, the one where Mark Hamill shows up towards the end of the movie at the very end. And I don’t know, it just seemed like a make-work project to me. And that’s the only post three Canaan movies that I’ve seen, but I was happy to adapt it. I think that Timothy Song is probably the best of all the Star Wars novelists and his prose was so limpid and involving it was very easy to adapt. I didn’t use any of my own language. It was all Timothy’s.

Jim Thompson:
Alex, what’s the name of the Star Wars film that’s not in the three trilogies?

Alex Grand:
You’re talking about the one that takes place before New Hope.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah. Not Solo. I mean, but the –

Alex Grand:
The one where they get the plans for the Death Star, yeah.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah. We’ll figure that out while we’re talking, but Mike, you should see that one. That’s the most like your work of any of them. I think if you haven’t seen it, you would really enjoy it. Everybody dies at the end. It’s actually got a martial arts Jedi in it. It’s fantastic. I think it’s out of the new ones that came out after Disney got them. It’s my favorite out of that bunch, for sure. But I think you’d actually like, it, it reads like you to some degree.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. Rogue One.

Jim Thompson:
Rogue One.

Mike Baron:
Rogue One. I’ll write that down.

Alex Grand:
That actually is good. And it felt, the way they connected it. It really was the prequel to the Star Wars movies that I was hoping to get when the Phantom Menace came out. When I saw Rogue One, I was like, “This was the prequel I wanted the whole time.”

Mike Baron:
I may have that in a box in the basement. Like a friend of mine just went all digital and he gave me like 500 DVDs.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. That’s cool.

Jim Thompson:
You should dig it out, and let us know. Because it’s very different from the ones that we’re just trying to recreate. You used the word remake a few minutes ago and I think that’s sadly accurate about the Abrams ones, that they seem like just a remake, trying to recreate the original trilogy to some degree and not doing it very successfully. This one’s more like a Kurosawa than it is anything else. It’s it has a air of Seven Samurai to it. I think you’ll like it.

Mike Baron:
All right.

Jim Thompson:
All right, so was that the only work you’ve ever done for Dark Horse?

Mike Baron:
I did some stories about the fighter pilot. I can’t think of his name, it’s something Antilles. I can’t be sure. I’d have to go look.

Jim Thompson:
Oh, sure. Yeah. I know who you’re talking about.

Alex Grand:
Wedge Antilles?

Mike Baron:
Yeah, Wedge Antilles.

Jim Thompson:
And these were still adaptations or was that an original story?

Mike Baron:
It was original.

Jim Thompson:
And, did you stop when they lost the license to Star Wars or did you just decide you didn’t want to do any more?

Mike Baron:
Well, no, I was ready for whatever they handed to me. I don’t know why I stopped.

Jim Thompson:
Okay.

Mike Baron:
They may have changed editors.

Jim Thompson:
And I wanted to talk to you a little bit about your novels and how you, I will confess I haven’t read any of them, but I was very intrigued by the Josh Pratt character. I did do some research on the books. Can you talk about those and kind of trace what each novel is about in terms of that? Because it seemed like they were covering specific interests of yours within each story, taking it to a different setting in a different… One is music focused and others are different things. Go through those and then I might have some follow-up questions on that.

Mike Baron:
Well, Josh Pratt was created out of my love for Travis McGee and John D. McDonald, my original inspiration. And he’s a well-known type. He’s a rough, tough character with one foot in civilization and one foot outside like Philip Marlowe or Jack Reacher, you know the type. But my unique spin was said he was a reformed motorcycle hoodlum who went to prison and found God in prison and then comes out and tries to turn his life around. He’s a very, soft-spoken guy, he’s not a wise ass, like Spencer, and at first the only jobs can get are delivering summons. But the first book, which introduces him, has him breaking up a dog fighting ring. And because of that, he meets a woman who puts them in touch with a friend of hers who’s dying of cancer. And this woman who’s dying of cancer, her baby was stolen by her ex when the baby-

Mike Baron:
… who’s dying of cancer. Her baby was stolen by her ex when the baby was two years old, and this is 15 years later, and she just wants to see the child before she dies. And that sets Josh off on a quest that leads him through the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and finally to a heroin encounter in Eastern Wyoming with a monster, who’s the guy that stole the child, who did an unspeakable experiment on the child, which is based in reality. I don’t want to go into it, but it’s the most harrowing adventure Josh has ever had. And ultimately, he triumphs, but his girlfriend is killed. The one that introduced him. The mother lives to see her child. There’s a twist ending.

Mike Baron:
The second one, Sons of Privilege, is about a popular college athlete who’s found drowned after a night of drinking, and nearby, there’s a smiley face painted on a wall. Now this is based on the Smiley face murders, and they’re real. And if you Google them, you’ll find out that the FBI had a task force for six years to try to find, and every one of them was a popular white college athlete found drowned after night of drinking, with a smiley face painted on a wall nearby. And this leads him to a gang in Milwaukee, among other places, and back into the past, trying to track down just what caused this to happen, which ultimately is traced back to a university professor who uses the dark web to spread a malicious philosophy that successful young white college athletes deserve to die. And he refers to them as, “Sons of privilege,” and that’s why the book is called Sons of Privilege.

Mike Baron:
The third book is called Not Fade Away, and it’s about a woman living in a trailer who was, for short time, the girlfriend of a wildly popular rock and roll star who wrote a song for her called Melissa. And he says, “I’m giving you this song.” And he writes it down on a piece of paper. And he says, “This song, all copyrights and trademarks now belong to Melissa.”

Mike Baron:
And then 20 years later, she hears the song being used as a jingle for an insurance company. And that’s when she gets in touch with Josh and said, “This is my song, they can’t do that.” And that sends him off on a quest to prove that the song belongs to her. But the problem is that the guy who wrote the song, who was a superstar on the level of Jim Morrison, died in a club fire in Denver years ago. Or did he?

Jim Thompson:
See, that’s what I wanted to read. When I was reading that, that’s the when it seemed like it reminded me of you, going back to Sonic Disruptors or Nexus with the music tour and things like that.

Mike Baron:
I think you’ll dig it. There’s a lot about the music industry in there. And obviously, I love rock and roll and I like to write about it.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah, that’s pretty clear.

Mike Baron:
And that’s not the first and last time. Then the fourth book is called Sons of Bitches, and it’s about a naive young woman who publishes her own Muhammad comic, and then she has to hire Josh to protect her from the jihadists who are coming out of the woodwork. And that’s an extremely grim story too.

Mike Baron:
Now, the fifth one is called Buffalo Hump, and it’s about a charismatic Sioux blues musician who’s hired to open a brand new casino on the Missouri River in South Dakota, but he has many enemies. And so the blues musician’s manager hires Josh to be his security and to protect him from assassination. And there’s a lot about the blues in there. There’s a lot about rock and roll too. The sixth one… I’m going to have to look this up. Hang on a sec, boys.

Alex Grand:
But that’s quite a set. They’re all available on Amazon, is that right?

Mike Baron:
They are, yeah.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah. I brought those up because it seemed to me that I could go back and find Nexus issues that certainly are not the same plots, but have same interests, that it’s sort of a reveal of the things that you like to write about. And they’re all there from the very beginning from those early first years at Nexus, a lot of them are being maybe repackaged… That’s not even the right word. Re-thought out to some degree. And that led me to the question, has your view on these things changed over time? And I don’t want to do it as politics, but in terms of just what your views are on things, because everybody changes as they get older, are you processing music and religion and politics, meaning not Democrat versus Republican, but the way it works with Nexus and stuff, in terms of the value of it or the evils of it? Do you have the same views and same processes for that as you did back when you were doing it in the ’80s?

Mike Baron:
Oh, no. My approach has changed. I don’t think my beliefs have changed that much, but I would sum up my approach to writing with three rules. My number one rule is it’s my job to entertain, and I never forget that. As Samuel Goldwyn says, “If you want to deliver a message, hire Western Union.”

Jim Thompson:
Yeah.

Mike Baron:
Number two is to show, don’t tell, which seems so simple on the face of it, but it gets very complicated, especially in prose, but I know how to do that. And number three is to be original, which means to bring my own worldview to whatever I write, but I don’t lay it on, I never preach. I let my characters speak for me.

Mike Baron:
I’m looking at number five, Josh Pratt now, it’s called Bloodline. “Reformed motorcycle hoodlum, Josh Pratt takes a job bouncing at Zeke’s. A man can’t just sit around. When Josh steps up to prevent a creep from hitting on a blonde, the girl’s father hires him to keep tabs on her, and if possible, lure her away from Orlok, the leader of a paramilitary gun running Jugan motorcycle club. The feds make Josh an offer he can’t refuse, one that will test the very core of what it means to be a biker, setting Josh on a journey that leads to a bull-breeding service, a racially-charged settlement in the jungles of Paraguay, and a terrifying encounter with a demonic Buffalo.” No, I love buffaloes.

Alex Grand:
And a demonic buffalo, no less. Almost like a Greek myth, in a way.

Jim Thompson:
I want to push back just for a minute on that, in that you’re saying your beliefs haven’t changed, just your approach to writing.

Mike Baron:
Yes.

Jim Thompson:
And I only say it because, as a parent, once I had my son, my tolerance for violence changed a little bit. There were some things, certainly not anti-violence in terms of entertainment, but it was different after my son was born. I didn’t have quite the same appreciation for it. I’d question it more.

Jim Thompson:
Are you saying that in the time since the ’80s, your politics haven’t changed, your notions of religion haven’t changed, you’re the same guy, belief wise, as you were back when you were doing Nexus? And the reason I’m asking is so that when I go back and look at Nexus, that I have that understanding, and that’s why I’m asking you.

Mike Baron:
Well, I think that I’ve certainly grown more tolerant of religion.

Jim Thompson:
That’s the kind of thing I’m asking you about.

Mike Baron:
Yeah. My wife is a devout Christian, and many of my friends are, and I respect that. And I think that Christianity is a force for good. I myself, do not go to church. I’m Jewish by origin. I haven’t been to Temple in decades. I have Jewish friends who keep me up to date on the holidays. But yeah, I remain pretty much the same I always have been, and I try not to judge my friends on their politics, and I’m trying to hang on to all my liberal friends as well as I can. And unfortunately, I’ve lost a few, some have unfriended me simply because they found out I was conservative.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah. And we’re going to get back to that in my final questioning of you, in terms of some of the criticisms and things. But that’s interesting to me. So if you went back and re-read Nexus, which is very much about religion in its own way, often with a little bit of a criticism of the cultness of it all, and also there’s the almost the false God, of his power source and things. Would you change any of it? Are you stuck with a mythos that maybe you wish was a little bit more open or less aggressive against concepts of religion? Or are you good with it?

Mike Baron:
I’m good with it.

Jim Thompson:
Cool.

Alex Grand:
He’s good with it, Jim.

Mike Baron:
There’s a lot of other stuff I’d like to change.

Alex Grand:
Jim, he’s good with it. He’s good.

Mike Baron:
There’s a lot of other stuff I’d like to change, but I’m very proud of my work on Nexus.

Alex Grand:
Well, that leads to, I have to follow up then. What would you like to change?

Mike Baron:
Well, I would not have given up The Flash. I would have found a way forward. I stopped writing The Flash because I told you guys, I didn’t know what to do next. That wouldn’t happen today. And I’d like to take another crack at Archer and Armstrong. I believe I understand the characters much better. But I have to tell you that somebody else’s characters will always take a back seat to my own. It was like

Jim Thompson:
Yeah. And I wish you had stayed on The Flash too. You were going in interesting directions. And no disrespect to anyone that followed it, and obviously, Mark Waid really brought it into a different place entirely for the modern era. But you set up something that I hadn’t seen at DC, and I was very intrigued by it.

Mike Baron:
Thank you.

Jim Thompson:
So I share your thoughts on that. Alex?

Alex Grand:
Yeah. So tell us about your current projects. So you’ve told us about Florida Man, Disco, a boy and his dog. Tell the audience what you’re up to lately and what they can expect to see from you, and where can they get more of it?

Mike Baron:
Are you seeing this?

Alex Grand:
Yes. Nexus, the novel.

Mike Baron:
Yeah. We published this. It did very well. I’m down to about 50. I’m writing a second Nexus novel. We’re about to release a Badger novel.

Alex Grand:
Oh, good. Cool.

Mike Baron:
The Badger novel is over the top, and if you like blues and rock and roll, you’re going to love this book. It’s about how Badger hooks up with a legendary blues guitarist, whose name is Dalton Seabury. And when Dalton was a very young man, he went down to the crossroads and made a deal so that he could be the world’s greatest blues guitarist, and now the deal is coming due.

Alex Grand:
That’s awesome. Okay. Good. And tell us more. What else? Tell us about Florida Man. What are we to expect from Florida Man?

Mike Baron:
Well, the novel, as you know, is the funniest book ever written and it’s by far my most popular book, there’s a sequel out, it’s called Hogzilla. I’m working on a third novel of Florida Man now, called When Calls the Catfish. And we are working on the Florida Man graphic novel. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. Todd Mulrooney is the artist. He did this cover, which is the reason I asked him to draw the graphic novel. He’s doing an outstanding job. It’s on Indiegogo. It’s still in on demand, you can still get in and get the book. I guarantee you, it’s going to be the funniest comic anyone has ever read and they will burst out laughing multiple times.

Alex Grand:
That’s awesome. That’s great.

Mike Baron:
I’m also working on a graphic novel called Thin Blue Line. It’s about a city that’s experiencing mostly peaceful protests, as we follow a handful of cops over a very long night. My artist is a full-time police officer. I will send you some of the art later. He’s fantastic.

Alex Grand:
Wow. Yeah. Definitely a slice of life right there.

Mike Baron:
Yeah. It’s very realistic. I think it reflects the times accurately. I also think it’s very entertaining. I’m releasing a three-issue Nexus mini series through Richard Meyer. Kelsey Shannon is the artist, and that’s on demand. If you go to the Impossible Stars Indiegogo campaign, it’s an add-on, and Kelsey will be illustrating all three issues. And then we’re going to gather them in a trade paperback.

Mike Baron:
And I’ve also written a Nexus, Lonestar, Bigfoot Bill crossover that Matt Weldon is illustrating. And that’s very exciting too. Mike S. Miller has already contributed a cover, Matt Weldon has contributed a cover, Kelsey Shannon has contributed a cover, and they’re fantastic. And I think it’s up. It’s hasn’t launched yet, but I think they have an Indiegogo page where you can take a look at the art. Nexus, Lonestar, Bigfoot Bill.

Alex Grand:
Nice. Now a quick question on the Nexus. I remember we talked about this earlier, is that you and Steve Rude have a co-ownership of the publishing rights to it. Does that mean that then each of you can individually go off and publish a Nexus without the consent of the other one?

Mike Baron:
Yes.

Alex Grand:
Okay. That’s fascinating. So there’s never any real need to reconcile continuity then. Or do you guys read each other’s Nexus stuff?

Mike Baron:
Oh yeah, of course we do. We keep in close touch, I talked to him last week. Neither one of us is going to do anything that’s going to rip the continuity apart. Dude is absolutely committed to The Canon.

Alex Grand:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay, that’s good. And then, just out of curiosity, have you guys ever spoken politics to each other, and have you guys ever argued or discussed it?

Mike Baron:
No. We talk politics a lot and we never argue.

Alex Grand:
Okay. So you guys are probably pretty much on the same page, right?

Mike Baron:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
Okay. And that’s awesome. And I was never really clear on that exactly. And then actually, that’s a good segue. Jim, go ahead for the final segment.

Jim Thompson:
A couple of questions. Do you think you’ll ever do another Nexus story, illustrated by Steve?

Mike Baron:
Well, we were talking about it, but I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie, Rude Dude. Have you seen it? It’s a documentary.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. It’s a good one. It goes quite in depth on him. Yeah.

Mike Baron:
Well, Steve’s in a place where he really can’t accept the writing of anybody else. If it doesn’t come out of his own head, I don’t think it meets his lofty standards. So it’s going to be doubtful that we’re going to continue Nexus, although I would like to, but the conditions he set down were so difficult that I just don’t think I need that trouble right now. However, I did just illustrate a 10-page Oragami story, which is another character that we created, and he’s going to illustrate that. It’s going to be in The Nexus Compendium next year.

Alex Grand:
I see.

Jim Thompson:
Great. So you guys can still work together.

Alex Grand:
Oh, yeah.

Jim Thompson:
You’re probably just not going to work on a Nexus-focused story?

Mike Baron:
No. I’d love to work with The Dude again, but his ideas of Nexus are far from mine.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. That’s interesting. And I think I understand that because when it comes to, I don’t want to call it drudgery, but of visually putting something together, whether it’s drawing it or animating it or something, when you’ve written it yourself, there’s a lot more inspiration to keep going through the drudgery of the detail of it. And maybe, do you think that’s where he’s at then?

Mike Baron:
You’ve seen the documentary, right?

Alex Grand:
Yes.

Mike Baron:
All right. Well, I think that a lot of the answers lie in the documentary.

Jim Thompson:
Okay. I have a Badger question also, because obviously, I haven’t read the new book because it hasn’t come out yet, correct?

Mike Baron:
Right.

Jim Thompson:
It’s about to come out? Because of when Badger was created, is his origin the same. With so many characters, if they were like born of The Depression, they have to be aged into a different era, because he is Vietnam traumatized. And The Punisher has a similar issue in relation to that. Is he still the same character in terms of post-traumatic stress from the Vietnam War?

Mike Baron:
He’s the same character, but it’s from the Afghany War.

Jim Thompson:
So it takes an Iron Man, Marvel Cinematic Universe approach to it? It moves it.

Mike Baron:
Yes.

Jim Thompson:
Okay.

Mike Baron:
We rebooted the whole thing seven years ago when first published a new series, and the first issue is a totally new origin story.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, that’s interesting, because I remember when I read that in what the Iron Man, the Extremis series in 2000 or so, they took the Afghanistan War in it, and then that made its way to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And it’s interesting to consider that the Vietnam War just isn’t pop culturally significant anymore. To me, that’s weird concept because as a kid it was a big deal.

Jim Thompson:
But it’s so different, but did you view that as an exciting place to take it in a different direction, or was it more of a necessary evil? Because the Vietnam War veteran has a very different experience coming back from, and the culture when he returns is very different from the Afghan War and things. So I just wondered, did you just have to do it for it to make sense, or do you like the change?

Mike Baron:
I never do anything because I have to do it to make sense. If it doesn’t excite me, it’s not going to excite the reader. I really got into it, and I think it’s one of my best stories.

Jim Thompson:
Great. Okay. Last thing, at least for me. You were talking about, as a conservative and things. I want to talk a little bit about that in terms of controversies, impact on your career, if any, how you feel about it. And my first question would be, has your career suffered from people knowing your political beliefs?

Mike Baron:
Absolutely.

Jim Thompson:
Tell us a little bit about that.

Mike Baron:
A lot of people unfriended me, and of course, now I can’t approach either of the major comic companies. But that’s all right. When I look at the stuff they’re putting out, I don’t think that I would fit in there anyway. But also, other long-time friends like Paul Smith. Paul Smith, and I had been friends for years. We stayed at each other’s houses, we rode each other’s motorcycles. Then one day he just stopped responding to me, just complete cut me out.

Mike Baron:
And when I went to the Paul Smith fan page, I said, “Where’s Paul? Has anybody heard from Paul?” And I got a nasty letter from the administrator that said, “You figure it out.” And when I went back to ask him, I found that I’d been blocked from that page. And then I learned that Paul had been doing anti-Donald-Trump cartoons, which he’s free to do, and I remained friends with other people who do anti-Trump cartoons. But I was shocked when Paul just cut me out of his life altogether because he found out I was a conservative.

Jim Thompson:
Do you think that it’s solely that you’re a conservative or do you think that there was this association, and certainly not officially, but that you were labeled as a Comicsgate person? And that’s a different thing from just being a conservative in the comics community, that instantly stigmatizes you with, let’s say a Mark Waid contingent, that actively thinks that’s harmful to the comics field.

Mike Baron:
Well, I found myself on that list, but I’ve never identified as Comicsgate.

Jim Thompson:
That’s why I’m asking you because I didn’t see where you had. You don’t even necessarily defend it, but you don’t attack it, which maybe is the line that you’re required to do in comics. I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking.

Mike Baron:
Well, I don’t know what I would attack. I know some individual people who identify as Comicsgates. Some are good, some are a little sketchy. But to me, as I understand it, Comicsgate should stand for pleasing the consumer. That’s all it means to me. It shouldn’t have any politics at all. In fact, it should be anti-political. It was the reaction that the politicization of so many comics. And that brings me back to my first rule, which is it’s my job to entertain, and that’s what I seek to do.

Jim Thompson:
Okay. We just want to give people an opportunity to hear that kind of stuff, without coming down in any direction. So we appreciate what you said. Anything else you want to say about that? And I guess my followup would be, but that hasn’t been what it’s been to all people. There have been statements that have been made that are problematic. You would acknowledge that?

Mike Baron:
What are you talking about?

Jim Thompson:
In terms of Comicsgate, has anyone that represents themselves in that direction, that you think went too far or said something that you don’t think is helpful?

Mike Baron:
I don’t pay attention to what they say. I’m not part of that community, so I don’t read what they say. I do know that I never engage at ad hominem attacks. I don’t even use sarcasm. And I advise other people to follow my example to not engage in ad hominem attacks or use sarcasm.

Jim Thompson:
I think it was Mark Waid that said that the reality is that comic book writers do fade away to some degree, that it’s a generational thing. Is there some truth to that, that you would say, that people do age out of… how their writing may not be what the cool kids want, at the same time? Obviously, you still have a following, but in terms of, in your experience, because the reason I ask you is you were one of those new voices. You were brought in to The Flash, specifically because you were new. So isn’t that part of the comic industry historically from the beginning till now?

Mike Baron:
Well, I wouldn’t know. I can only deal with my own experience. But one thing that gives me hope is every day I wake up, I think I’m a better writer than the day before. And I’m now turning out the best material of my life.

Mike Baron:
Well, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I’m doing all right. And I’m branching out into new fields.

Alex Grand:
Right.

Mike Baron:
And if you look at the comic industry today, I don’t know any of the editors at the big two, and that’s important to me.

Alex Grand:
Right. So a lot of it is also just maybe slightly aging out of that system, but doing quite well in another system, right? Is that the deal?

Mike Baron:
Yeah. Well, I’ve been meaning to write novels.

Alex Grand:
For a long time?

Mike Baron:
Yeah. And it just took me 30 years to learn how to write, but when I got it, I got it.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. That’s cool. All right. Well thanks so much, Mike. We really appreciate your time. And we know you’re a busy guy and it sounds like you’re writing four books at the same time, all the time now, but we really appreciate the technique that you’ve shared with us. I actually do enjoy hearing the way you craft a story and craft a script. And actually, that’s one of the reasons why I like to read a lot of your stuff, is not because of the entertainment necessarily, but how to write a story. And I find that that’s just an interesting thing that I find valuable. So thank you so much for your time with us today.

Jim Thompson:
Thanks Mike. And I’m going to read one of those novels, the one that I was asking you about. The Fade-

Alex Grand:
Josh Pratt.

Mike Baron:
Not Fade Away.

Jim Thompson:
Not Fade Away. I’m going to make a point of ordering that today.

Mike Baron:
All right. Well, thank you, Jim.

Alex Grand:
we appreciate everyone listening and learning more about the history of comics in all its forms.

 

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