Mon, 14 November 2011
Hello, 'Nation. Swain and Adrian here. The two of us have a saying that we use around these parts. It goes like this — lay off the hyperbole! Say it from the gut and with meaning, or don't say it at all. And don't get us wrong. Hyperbole has its place in this world. But you just don't wanna reside there, ya know?
That said, here goes. Harvey Kurtzman. Mort Drucker. Don Martin. Sergio Aragones. Jack Davis. These men are considered cartooning gods. And if you're of a certain age, you know that all of them wrote and drew pictures for MAD magazine. MAD was co-founded in 1952 by William Gaines and the aforementioned Mr. Kurtzman as a humor anthology, and continues to be published to this day.
The work that these gentlemen did for MAD (some of them for almost five decades) was beyond remarkable. It redefined what cartooning was to become for later generations with its outrageous parodies and lampooning of pop culture.
So, with that kind of preamble, is it hyperbole to say that we see Kyle Baker in a similar light? Not completely. If you look at the breadth of his work on a practical level, Kyle is clearly working in their same tradition of "cartoonist". He writes, draws, colors, letters, and does the design work for most of his projects. He's an auteur.
Baker as a writer is a humorist/satirist at heart — again, just like his MAD predecessors. His gags are always clever, caustic, and clear. They can range from family-friendly slices of life to sharp observations of the sexes. And his dialoguing is some of the most natural that you'll find in comics.
Without question, the humor and attitude in Baker's stuff reflects the city from which he hails: New York. New York has been the backdrop for many of his stories, most especially, the one that made us die-hard fans — Why I Hate Saturn.
First published in 1990 by Piranha Press, Saturn is a smart, funny, and by most accounts, accurate representation of urban single life in the late '80s/early '90s. It's an early example of a non-comic book publisher, in this case, Doubleday, seeing a comic book story as a viable publishing option.
Putting Saturn in perspective — right smack dab in the middle of mutant fever and "gimmick" covers — comes this long form graphic novel about a neurotic writer, her platonic friendship with a bar-hopping guy pal, and sibling rivalry. All with little-to-no action. And it is hilarious! We highly recommend this book if you haven't read it.
Why I Hate Saturn, sadly, has never been a huge hit. And it's perhaps indicative of Kyle's status in the comics industry — critically lauded by dedicated fans and peers for his inventiveness, craftsmanship, and humor, yet mainstream readers at large have never responded in droves (or dollars) to his projects.
However, should the uninitiated wise up and seek out works by Kyle, there are plenty that we think deserve your attention: The Cowboy Wally Show, The Shadow with writer Andy Helfer, Dick Tracy, You Are Here, Plastic Man, Nat Turner, I Die at Midnight, his Hawkman tale in Wednesday Comics, and all of his self-published collections like Cartoonist and The Bakers.
After his Wednesday Comics gig ended, Kyle got a call from Marvel to work on Deadpool: MAX. That's pretty much where he's been comics-wise for the last two years. We both admit that his MAX stuff is not our favorite stuff by him (by any stretch), but it's still great to see him on something regular.
And again, we don't mean to be sacrilegious in comparing Baker to the giants listed above. Kurtzman and company are all esteemed quite highly by fans and critics alike, and deservedly so. However, what they all share in common is the distinction of being creators of timeless quality and perpetual verve. A Kyle Baker book will absolutely never fail to entertain. And that's the TRUTH (pun intended).
There's much more to Kyle than we're laying out here — trust. We're just trying not to give too much away in this blog post. The two of us have been champing at the bit to give Baker some shine on these mics, so this one was a long time coming.
Hope you enjoy the exchange. We damn sure did.
- SWAiN & ADRiAN
**Our thanks to Eric Nolen-Weathington of TwoMorrows Publishing for doing a terrific interview with Kyle as part of their Modern Masters series. That issue (along with Comics Journal # 219) was an invaluable resource to us in our prep for this episode.