All posts by annbaron

Q-Ball, New Comic Book by Mike Baron

Q-Ball

When Bruce Lee burst on the scene, I was ready. I started taking karate and haunting the local newsstand for the next issue of Master of Kung Fu. Paul Gulacy’s art ripped off the top of my head. At long last someone had picked up the gauntlet thrown by Steranko. That was the most amazing art I’d ever seen. But even then, I knew right away the martial arts weren’t right. They were just poses copied from movie stills. I wanted to see the technique as it unfolded. Comics are a visual medium. There’s no reason they can’t do that.

I got my chance with Badger, which appeared in 1983, and reached a peak in Badger #9, “Hot August Night,” with Bill Reinhold’s unbelievable depiction of the fight between Badger and Cobra Crisp.

I worked with Brent Anderson and Val Mayerik on Kato, and Val and I worked on the Bruce Lee comic. An accomplished martial artist, Val’s fight drawings were spot on. Next year you’ll see his latest Badger.

I wanted to do a balls-to-the-wall martial arts comic. I saw Barry McClain’s work and rung him up. Not only is Barry one of the most exciting new artists to break into comics, he’s the hardest working man in the biz. Can’t say for sure, but I think he pencils several pages a day.

Barry was up for it. I liked the name Q-Ball.

Detroit homeboy Curtis Ball joined the Merchant Marine and ended up managing a warehouse in Manila. Curtis wanted only two things out of life: to see the world and study Kali/Escrima. But when a pack of tuxedoed sharks muscle their way into his warehouse, Curtis learns the hard way that it’s not always smart to mind your own business.
The spooks are looking for Donna Wing, a beautiful Chinese blogger, forced to flee due to her exposes of human rights abuse. Now Curtis and Donna are on the run—from the Chinese government, the tongs, and a group of international cutthroats who will stop at nothing to stop them from reaching the United States and spilling their guts.
Sometimes you have to spill some guts to spill your guts.

I go through back issues of Black Belt and Kung Fu looking for photo how-tos, which show six to eight pictures on a page of a technique as it actually happens. In slomo. That’s what we want to do with the comic, break down the techniques so you can study every move and see how it works.

Of course this is a comic, and as Chuck Dixon puts it, comics are opera. So expect big gestures and the occasional anatomical impossibility. Trust us. We know kung fu.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2053015196/q-ball-1-martial-arts-thriller-by-baron-and-mcclai?ref=thanks_share

 

Star Wars VS Star Trek

STAR WARS VS. STAR TREK

Years ago, I adapted Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire for Dark Horse, an easy job due to Tim’s clarity. I parlayed this into a visit to Skywalker Ranch, with my late wife. I’d visited Skywalker once before with Brent Anderson. Skywalker Ranch contains myriad beautiful buildings in a sylvan setting in Marin County. The main building is Victorian, with exquisite workmanship. The underside of the spiral staircase in the library was fitted with polished slats of Brazilian rosewood, so perfect and intricate it resembled a snake’s belly. The cafeteria food beggared most restaurants.

Lucas came out the main door and Brent cautioned us about approaching him.

Years later, I was back to meet with the Skywalker editor in charge of licensing comics, a woman whose name I forget. She bade us enter her office and we chatted.

“I have a theory,” I said. “Star Trek represents the liberal view of space, while Star Wars represents the conservative view.”

That’s as far as I got.

“I’M LIBERAL!” the editor declared. “WE’RE ALL LIBERAL!”

Our visit ended soon after.

I meant nothing sinister. The reason I said that was because Star Trek went out of its way to be inclusive and non-judgmental, while Star Wars featured a hierarchy on both sides. On the Empire’s side, you had the emperor, followed by the darths, followed by military commanders all the way down to the peons. On the rebel side, you had Princess Leia, a royal person, benevolently ruling her loyal subjects.

Two Kingdoms by Mike Baron

TWO KINGDOMS

Animal Kingdom is about a family of high-end robbers ruled by a domineering mother. They go to unbelievable lengths pulling off risky heists to avoid honest labor. Kingdom is about a family of mixed martial artists ruled by a domineering dad. They go to unbelievable lengths to protect one another. Both feature a young man named Jay.

Both are gripping drama. In Animal Kingdom, the mother teaches her son how to shoot. In Kingdom, the son teaches his mother how to shoot. The characters in both seem real and sympathetic, although Kingdom is realer, and has less melodramatic flair. Animal Kingdom incorporates the usual post-Breaking Bad tropes—the criminal underworld and the border, drug kingpins, graphic violence. What makes it unique is Ellen Burstyn’s portrayal of Smurf, the ultimate love/hate mother who wields guilt like a scalpel.

Unfortunately, Ms. Barkin takes to Twitter. “Donald Trump has a small penis. That is a fact.”

And she said, “‘C’mon #Isaac! Wash every pro-life, anti-education, anti-woman, xenophobic, gay-bashing, racist SOB right into the ocean! #RNC.

Why does she do this? Doesn’t she understand her program has many conservative fans? Why do celebrities go out of their way to insult half their base? Nevertheless, I will keep watching.

The cast of Kingdom does not spew obnoxious opinions.

Wascally Wabbits by Mike Baron

WASCALLY WABBITS

My front lawn is piebald. When we moved in, front and back lawns were perfect, drenched every other day by the underground watering system, which is de rigeur out here on the high plains. Then came the dogs. They ripped up the underground watering system and chewed all the tubes. So forget the back yard. It looks like the Eastern Front in 1944. Strange patches appeared in the front yard. This spring, I dug them all out and planted fresh seed, watering copiously. Within two weeks, the desert bloomed! But two weeks after that, every patch I planted had reverted to dead grass.

I consulted Doug, who worked for the Dept. of Agriculture and has a green thumb. He pointed to the rabbit turds. “There’s your problem. These rabbits are pissing all over your yard.”

At first I didn’t believe him. But then I noticed every time I went out in the morning, rabbits. Rabbits, rabbits, everywhere. I bought a box of rabbit repellent at Walmart and spread it around the lawn. The rabbits laughed!

I went online and looked up natural rabbit repellent: garlic powder and ground cayenne pepper. I spread it liberally over the lawn as if it were a steak. The rabbits laughed! I screamed at them. The rabbits laughed like I was Sam Kinison! I will get them. Fall is almost here. I will cook up such a concoction of anti-rabbit stew they will take a wide detour around my lawn! I will order coyote urine off the internet! I will dig a foxhole and pop up with my BB gun! This I swear.

Be vewy, vewy quiet.

Best Dam Store by Mike Baron

BEST DAM STORE

On Friday Kim and I rode down the Front Range to Lyons, up 36 to Estes Park, and down Big Thompson Canyon back to town. The back road to Lyons goes by reservoirs, farms, ranches, and a half dozen upscale gated communities with names like Whispering Pines and Red Rocks Redoubt, by several estates over ten thousand square feet. Kim, who weighs 145 lbs., rides a Valkyrie. I ride a Shadow 750. The ride from Lyons to Estes Park was chock-a-block with bikers and families in enormous motor homes towing Jeeps. The higher we rode, the cooler we got. I was glad I’d brought a sweatshirt.

Estes Park was jammed. Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, it features dozens of galleries, beaneries, haberdasheries and knick-knack stores. Antelope and buffalo jerky are big sellers. We rolled down the Big Thompson, which had only reopened this year following a devastating flood in 2015. Houses and parks were wiped out. They’re planning to shift the whole road ten feet higher onto enormous concrete stanchions, an ambitious program that will take years. The canyon winds through several mountain communities, rustic cabins hard-by the road except for the lucky few that found flat places on the far side of the river. You can’t raft the Big Thompson, it’s too rough and there are several dams.

Suddenly my engine stopped. I pulled to the side of the road, fiddled with the ignition, and it started again. Then it stopped for good in the worst possible place, in the narrows, with barely enough room for a two-lane highway, river on one side and a sheer thousand foot cliff on the other. I pulled over as far as I dared, just short of falling off into the scree at the base of the cliff, got on Kim’s bike, and we rode a quarter mile to the Dam Store, “The Best Dam Store By A Dam Site.” I had passed it dozens of times but never before entered.

Kim dropped me off. He had classes to teach. The store people loaned me their phone (there is no cell service in the canyon) and I called Aces Motorcycles, which is just up the street from me. Mark the Mechanic told me he’d phone Scott’s Towing right away. The phone calls were going fast and furious. The Dam Store was irked. So I said, “Give me a trash bag, I’ll clean up the parking lot.”

I picked up every cigarette butt, discarded fast food wrapper and plastic cup. That lot hadn’t been cleaned in years. Now the Dam Store loves me.

Routine by Mike Baron

ROUTINE

People seldom ask, “What is your routine like?” I rise at five-thirty every morning because the dogs want their breakfast. This week we have a house guest, Hatchet from Alaska, who weighs 110 lbs. I feed the dogs being careful to separate June Bug from Mack, as they have already had three death struggles, and had they not been separated, would have fought to the death. This is entirely Mack’s doing. She is jealous and territorial, and has not greeted June Bug warmly.

I log on, check my emails, go to Facebook and joust with friends or foes. A half hour after feeding, the dogs, led by Bob, agitate to go to the dog park. They know their rights! Bob is very vocal. We go to the park where I release the dogs, sans leashes, as they stampeded directly to the gate and wait to be let it. We go in. I hobnob with my friends, a social worker, a retired cop, a health care administrator, a computer programmer.

I rally the dogs by calling, “All right, fellas! Let’s go!” They rush from the dog park to the car where I give them each a treat. Back at the house, I address the day’s projects. I am always working on a novel, either the actual writing, or outlining. The outline has to be entertaining and informative. The goal of the outline is to elicit, “Wow! I’ve got to read this story!” It is not just a personal blueprint.

I touch base with collaborators around the world. For the past eleven years, I have left the house around eleven to go to karate. It is now difficult for me, and I can barely move after a typical session. So perhaps it’s time for me to move on from this activity. I can’t decide. I’m just about the oldest dude there, but they’re my friends and have expressed dismay that I would consider quitting. Kim is sixty and still going strong. On the other hand, that’s his job. Writing is mine.

As I work on a massive horror story, a sequel to Banshees, the next Josh Pratt story is in the back of my mind. I’m thinking of titles and writing down notes. In the evening, I write in a legal pad while TV drones on in the background. If I hear an interesting name, I write it down. I know it’s real. Like Ashkan Stoon, Urdo Corso, or Haha Yaya. A name by itself can inspire a story. I get many of my best names from Judge Judy.

I watch Better Call Saul, Animal Kingdom, Ultimate Fighter, and I’m Dying Up Here.

I have stopped watching The Americans, American Gods, and Pillars of the Earth. Yesterday I watched Baby Driver, the first time I’d been in a theater in ten months. I recommend it! It’s a stylish caper film with a heart.

I keep a pad and pen by my bed, and often write things down before I go asleep.

ComicFest

COMICFEST

Last week was ComicFest at the Denver Tech Center. Comic Fest is a pimple on the ass of StarFest, celebrating its fortieth anniversary. StarFest is science fiction, and incorporates HorrorFest. “This year we are pleased to welcome David Guintoli (Detective Nick Burkhardt of “Grimm”), Bitsie Tulloch (Juliette and Eve of “Grimm”), Christian Kane (Jake Stone of “The Librarians”), Walter Koenig (Star Trek’s original “CHEKOV”), Rene Auberjonois (Deep Space Nine’s “ODO”), Hale Appleman (The Magicians “Eliot Waugh”), Mike Quinn (Star Wars “Nien Numb”), Jodelle Ferland (Dark Matter “Five”) along with many other Actors, Directors, Producers, Artists, Authors and you!” I am not familiar with The Librarians, Nien Numb, Dark Matter Five, but I have heard of Grimm. Many years ago, I had lunch with Mr. Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, and James Doohan.

While Starfest luxuriates in the expansive environs of the Marriott, ComicFest huddles in the smaller exhibition hall at the Hilton Garden Suites across the street. Rio Herrera, its tireless promoter, is perhaps the biggest comic enthusiast in Colorado, a man of probity and wit. I was seated next to old friend Pat Broderick, who has done a cover for Badger. Nate Hamel and I are working on a new project based on his shark drawings.

I huddled with Barry McClain, my partner on Q-Ball. I have always wanted to do a straight martial-arts thriller, a serious, credible story. Even as a neophyte, I knew that Paul Gulacy’s Master of Kung Fu, which galvanized the industry and won my undying allegiance, did not depict martial arts accurately. Comics are a visual medium, and kung fu makes for exciting story-telling. But the audience knows the difference between a pretty pose and real technique presented in a dynamic manner.

There are very few good kung fu comics. Way of the Rat, by Dixon and Johnson, is one of them.

Hence Q-Ball, with inker Barbara Kaalberg and colorist Charlie Hogg.

My publisher and world-famous science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson held court behind the usual impressive Wordfire Press fort. His Dan Shamble, Zombie Detective novels personify droll.

We joked and juked and now I’m back.

Questions & Thoughts about Writing, Mike Baron

Bill Nichols writes:

I know you’re busy but if you get the chance, this is something I’m going to be doing on the Comic Creators Secrets blog, asking industry pros these questions and hopefully giving aspiring creators something to think about on their own journey.

http://www.comiccreatorssecrets.com/blog/
The blog is meant to be an online extension of Sketch Magazine of sorts, posting advice about creating comics, the industry, being creative, etc. as well as re-posting whatever other wisdom we come across.

There’s no time limit on this. I’ll be posting them when I can. The first ten questions are the main ones, the “booster shot” are extra.

If you can do it, great. However, iIf you’re too busy, I completely understand.

Prescription: Comics

1) What inspires you to create and keeps you going?

Sometimes I want to work with an artist, so I look at his, her, or its strengths, and write to that. But mostly it’s because I get an idea that crawls into my brain like an alien parasite.

2) Do you have a set routine?

Get up, feed the dogs, write. Every morning.

3) What kind of output do you try to achieve?

One to two thousand words a day.

4) What inspires you WHEN you create? Music? Noise? Silence?

I work in silence. Or try to.

5) Who was the first comic book creator that influenced you to pursue this?

Carl Barks.

6) When did you realize you could follow this path yourself?

Right away.

7) What do you find to be a challenge in creating?

Balanced dynamics. A proper mixture of action, thought, and worldview.


? What else do you have to learn?

I don’t know what I don’t know.

9) What keeps you motivated to get better?

The desire to entertain, first myself, then others.

10) Can you turn your brain (creativity) off (and on)?

Yes.

Booster Shots
1) What advice do you have for aspiring creators?

Write! Every would-be writer has a million words of shit clogging up his system. You have to get it out before you get to the good stuff.

2) Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?

No.

3) How do you handle the slow times?

By developing new projects.

4) How do you feel about the industry?

It’s there.

5) What would you say is your crowning achievement thus far?

Whatever I’m working on, which right now is The Water Bug, a horror novel.

Mike Baron

This Writing Life by Mike Baron

THIS WRITIN’ LIFE

I read on Facebook, “Quit writing a few months ago, started novel two weeks ago and wrote three chapters, scrapped novel last week after starting fourth chapter, sitting here now with fourth chapter open again and contemplating getting back to it.
Yes, I am very confused!!!”

“Five thousand words today! I’m on fire!”

“I need the name of a really heinous villain for my Demon Knight Trilogy.”

“Chapter 33 took way too long to draft, but I finally wrapped it up last night.”

People are blabbin’. Blabbin’ and babblin’. Do not blab. Do not babble. Start with character notes in a notebook. Know your characters and their motivations. Proceed to a highly detailed outline that should read like all the good parts in a John Wick trailer. The outline itself should entice and excite the reader. You need to grab him, her, its, or xe’s attention by the throat and drag him, her, it or xe through the story like the Johnstown Flood.

Sam Fuller said, “If a story doesn’t give you a hard-on in the first couple of scenes, throw it in the goddamned garbage.”

“We want a story that starts out with an earthquake and works its way up to a climax.” –Samuel Goldwyn

Don’t let people see the process unless they ask. What’s the first rule of Write Club?

Pop Geek Heaven by Mike Baron

POP GEEK HEAVEN CALLS IT QUITS

I first learned of Not Lame Records in Madison, WI, when I stumbled across their website. The brainchild of Bruce Brodeen, Not Lame was a power pop clearing house and label that released over a hundred albums of original music, many of them brilliant. Bands included The Shazam, The Deal, Hawks, The Rooks, Sun Sawed in ½, Myracle Brah, and many others. Powerpopaholic called them “The World’s Greatest Record Label,” and a case can be made.

I was such a devotee, I moved to Fort Collins to pick up my records in person. But Bruce could never make a go of it. There just weren’t enough power poppers to make it successful. The music industry has been in free-fall since the advent of the Internet. They don’t know whether to shit or go blind. Bruce hung it up in 2010, concentrating his power pop efforts on his website, www.popgeekheaven.com, for which I wrote. I love power pop and have sung its praises from every platform. Unfortunately, Bruce has too much on his plate right now to devote any more time to popgeekheaven, and so another one bites the dust.

Every year I say it, and every year it’s true. This is one of the greatest years for power pop in history. But you’d never know it following the dinosaur press, rags such as Rolling Stone, Spin, Under the Radar, et al, that are mostly dedicated to legacy acts, and rarely, if ever, cover the burgeoning underground power pop scene. This year will see releases by The Foreign Films, Duncan Maitland, and The Blood Rush Hour among others. These bands are beyond great. They are timeless.

What is power pop? It’s rhythmically driving, dynamic rock with bridges, hooks and soaring harmonies. It’s the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Big Star, Raspberries, Cheap Trick, Marshall Crenshaw, Fountains of Wayne, Sloan, XTC, the Police and a thousand other bands.

Now where will people go to keep up on the latest power pop? I recommend www.powerpopaholic.com, which has links to many other outstanding power pop sites. You support independent comics. Support independent bands.