All posts by annbaron

Our Fascination with Comics by Mike Baron

OUR FASCINATION WITH COMICS

Why do comics attract such intense fascination? Much of it has to do with the form. It’s all there in your lap. It takes fifteen minutes to read. This makes everybody an expert. For those of us who grew up with comics, they are among our nearest and dearest entertainments. We all have our favorites and opinions on what constitutes a hero.

The art grabs your eye first, especially when you come across the shock of the new. Kirby, the first time you saw him. Steranko or Neal Adams. You read the words. There aren’t that many, but usually there are too many. Many writers can’t abide a wordless page. They’re the writer, it’s their job to add the words! So add words they must, whether they advance the story or not. A comic is not a novel. Words have greater significance in a comic because there are so few of them. Who reads a comic and skips the long-winded passages? Nobody.

Because they’re so simple, everybody thinks they can do it. And they can. Comics are the most forgiving of all art forms. You will believe a man can fly. Flaming Carrot. The Tick. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These concepts would have a hard time gaining traction in other media without first launching as comics. It took sixty years for movies to present these concepts convincingly. In comics, they gain instant acceptance.

The underground explosion of the sixties, seventies, and eighties brought fresh writing to comics. The autobiographical musings of R. Crumb, Spain Rodriguez, Dori Seda and Sharon Rudahl have an immediacy and freshness often lacking in mainstream comics, because they are unique to that individual, untethered to continuity or tradition. Many of these creators have continued to do groundbreaking, often literary work, such as Bill Griffith’s memoir of his mother’s affair, Invisible Ink.

Too often, mainstream comics have fallen back on cliches. How often have we read, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore?” “We have to talk.” “Move it, people.”

You can only read so many novels a week, but you can read twenty-five comics in a day. Now you’re an expert. Because the form is so simple, it’s easy to imagine how you could do it better. Everybody has their favorites. Everybody has strong opinions on what constitutes good story. Some writers understand the medium better than others. Carl Barks. Alan Moore. Chuck Dixon. The explosion in comic-based movies has not resulted in an increase in readers, but it has fired up the comic fans.

Movies require vastly greater resources than comics and because the stakes are so high, the level of professionalism is also much higher. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is better written than ninety per cent of the Captain America comics. When you grow up loving a character or book, you feel a proprietary interest. When the movie deviates from canon or just falls on its face, many readers feel betrayed, that the movie makers don’t understand the character, or pervert its intent.

While comic sales shrink, the obvious solution is to sell comics in movie theaters. But there is no communication between the comic book publishers and the theater chains, and even if there were, they couldn’t agree that the sky is blue. Comics aren’t important enough to occupy space in a modern cineplex, never mind there is plenty of space.

Comics are on life support for a number of reasons. Poor writing. The rise of video games. Most comics can’t compete with a good video game in terms of entertainment. The rise in illiteracy. The collapse of the distribution system. Take your pick. But they will never die because of their simplicity. Anybody can produce a comic. It is a labor of love.

Cliches, Mike Baron

CLICHES

There are certain phrases that permeate the zeitgeist like low-hanging fruit. The moment you read one, your eyes glaze over.

“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

“We have to talk.”

“Move it, people!”

“I know, right?”

“I can’t even…”

Comic book writers feel pressue urge to add words. There’s all that space! For what are we being paid if not to add words? The habit is especially egregious during fight scenes. A real fight is physically demanding. Even the best fighters, who train for months, run out of gas and simply don’t have the energy to talk to their opponents. There are always exceptions, like Muhammad Ali and Nate Diaz. But most of the time, you’re out there panting trying to outguess your opponent.

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I too have added unnecessary dialogue to fight scenes. And I just used a cliché! You see? It’s everywhere!

Show don’t tell is among the most important lessons a writer must learn. This applies to prose as well as comics. Comics are a visual medium, and anytime you can advance the narrative by showing, you should. This doesn’t mean a wordless comic. Dialogue can advance plot too, but it must arise naturally from the narrative. Use dialogue to reveal character or add a touch of humor. Shakespeare understood the importance of humor, which provides brief flashes even in his darkest tragedies. Even Schindler’s List has a few jokes.

Bike Trail by Mike Baron

BIKE TRAIL

Fort Collins has excellent bike paths. I frequently ride the Spring Creek Trail which winds through the heart of Fort Collins. I always count the horses. People keep horses here like other people keep dogs. The trail takes me past the CSU Veterinary School. I can usually count on two there. The trail winds past the little free library box outside the fire station at Prospect and Taft. I always take a book, and usually pick one up. The last book I picked up was Beyond Fear by Joel Kramer, who set out to cross New Guinea in 1993 with a friend, using nothing but an inflatable kayak for transportation. It was an incredible journey.

Many people struggle with their bikes. When you ride a bike, your leg must fully extend to the bottom of the cycle, the knee locked. People grunt and strain, standing on their pedals, and their legs never fully extend. I use medieval toe traps, The modern way is special bike shoes that lock into the pedals and are easy to remove. It is astonishing how many people do not observe the most basic rule of the road: stick to the right.

As the trail approaches Spring Canyon, more horses appear, big gorgeous bays on a shaded pocket ranch west of Taft. Just past Spring Canyon heading south is a pocket ranch which can yield up to three horses. The other day I circled back toward it and found its front, hidden behind a fence on a dead end road.

The Cathy Fromme Prairie is a wide open space in the shadow of the foothills with nothing but a bike path. Signs advise you to be snake awake. New signs have appeared, limiting electric bicycles to fifteen miles an hour. The trail cuts under Taft and then under Shields, near the Apple Wood neighborhood. Now we’re talking. This is horse country. I counted nine horses. The trail cuts under the railroad and I’m back in Fort Collins with rushing traffic and blowing trash.

I have enclosed two images. One is a painting of Kender MacGowan with his beloved horse, whom he had to put down. Val Mayerik is the artist. The second is the lagoon I pass on my bike ride.

Why My Grade Should Be Raised by Mike Baron

WHY MY GRADE SHOULD BE RAISED

1. There must be a mistake somewhere.

2. At no time during the exam did I recieve an official warning; therefore, relying upon the college, I merely maintained my grade. Surely this should been a satisfactory grade.

3. I know many members of the class who do not work as hard as I do and who got a better grade. I am reconized among my classmates as a good student. Just ask any one of them.

4. I was not well at the time of the exam.

5. This mark ruined my prospect of getting a scholarship.

6. This mark grieved my parents whose pride I am.

7. This is the only course in which I received a poor grade.

8. It is not a higher mark which I seek. I care notning for marks. I think marks are wicked and I disapprove of them. However, this pernicious system of which I am the victim requires marks for achieveing success, and therefore, I seek a higher grade.

9. Several people around me copied from my paper during the exam, yet they received higher marks than I. Surely, this is not fair.

10. I live far away frm the college and I feel this extra travel should have been considered when you gave me my grade.

11. I have studied this subject from the broad philosophical viewpoint and, trherefore, I was unable to answer your technicl catch-questions.

12. The questions are ambigous and therefore my answers should be graded according to the reasonable interpretations that I made of your questions.

13. The exam was unfair and unfairly distributed over the subject.

14. I have to work after school and at nights. Therefore, I should be given a break.

15. The reason I did not do better is because I am very honest. I do not wish to say anything against any of the other members of the class.

16. My mind always goes blank during an exam.

17. I would have done much better if I had taken the other exam you gave to the student next to me.

18. Conditions in the room were not conducive to concentration.

Show Don’t Tell by Mike Baron

SHOW DON’T TELL

I have three rules for the writer. Okay, I have a lot of rules for the writer. But I start with these three: 1. Your job is to entertain. 2. Show, don’t tell. 3. Be original. They’re all difficult to internalize, but some more than others. Rule number two has ramifications that go far beyond writing, and inform the way we live.

Once you internalize “show don’t tell,” you no longer call people names. That’s telling. And not calling people names suppresses all sorts of bad habits. Like bragging. We all want to impress others. When we were young, we would recite our accomplishments ad nauseum, especially after a few drinks. We all know people who only talk about themselves. We’ve all met people who think nothing of reciting their entire family history on a first meeting. Sometimes these histories reflect poorly. It doesn’t matter. The point of the encounter is for them to grab a little therapy by talking about themselves. They never say, “What do you do? What are your hobbies? What do you love?”

The secret to being a good friend is to be a good listener. A writer will absorb these tales of triump and woe and tuck them away for future reference. They’re personal and original, which brings us to rule number three.

In looking over this blog entry, I see that the whole thing is a violation of my second rule and I’m tempted to erase it.

Where I Get My Ideas by Mike Baron

WHERE I GET MY IDEAS

People ask me where I get my ideas. I subscribe to an idea service. It’s expensive, but it’s worth it. Every week, they send me a list of ideas on the Dark Web. They guarantee that these ideas are just for me, and no one else. I had to fill out an exhaustive questionnaire and undergo a series of intense physical tests to qualify because some of these ideas are risible, and could trigger extreme reactions in some people. Madness. Depression. A stroke. Even the funny ones.

Some of the ideas are cryptic. There’s no appealing to the Idea Board for clarification. You get what you get and that’s all you get. A number of ideas come in the form of story titles. THESE ARE YOUR MONTHLY STORY TITLES is the header. Frankly, I could use some help with the following:

“Drunk Octopus Wants To Fight”

“Never Say Nebuchadnezzar Again”

“Oxy, Oxy, All In Free”

“Put Your Gear Away, Put Your Fear Away”

“Bicycles Hate Icicles”

“How To Get Peanut Butter Off The Roof Of Your Mouth”

If any of you have stories to go along with these titles, I would like to hear them. No not really. It’s like that guy who keeps telling me, “I have a great idea for a novel! I’ll tell you, you write it, and we’ll split the profits!”

Ideas come from everywhere. As soon as Adrian Berry published his book The Iron Sun: Crossing The Universe Through Black Holes, a hundred science fiction writers went to work. I used his research in Nexus. Some science fiction writers foresaw the rise of the internet, including Neal Stephenson, John Brunner and William Gibson. Others, like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, followed the internet. All you have to do is read the newspaper. Wait. The newspaper is dying. It’s almost gone. All you have to do is cruise the internet.

More Music by Mike Baron

MORE MUSIC

There’s more free music in Fort Collins then there is in my hometown Madison, Wisconsin, which is three times FC’s size. There’s something in the water here that breeds musicians, and we have been going out night after night to hear new bands.

At Odells, Dog City Disco stunned us with their dynamics. They’re a jam band in the wake of the Grateful Dead and Leftover Salmon, but there’s nothing fuzzy in their playing. Calling themselves psychedelic funk rock, the six-piece includes sax and trumpet as it marches through changes that whip your head around, with one foot in prog rock. Now, whenever we see a band that fails to grab us by the ears, we say, “They’re no Dog City Disco.”

Saw Crescent City Connection at Odells too. This six piece, also with trumpet and sax, effortlessly invokes the music of New Orleans as members walk through the audience like the Second Line at Mardi Gras. Can’t find their names, but the bass player is the leader and he puts a lot of body creole into every note.

https://www.crescentcityband.com/home

Sugar Britches are everywhere this summer. The duo, consisting of guitarist Josh Long and guitarist/singer Brian Johanson sing original material. Long is a born showman who works the audience like an experienced carny. He also leads his own group, Josh and the Long Haul, mostly country, but one of these days Josh is just going to bust loose and form a rockabilly band, which every twitch in his body demands.

Larry and the Pourboys at the Maxline Brewery. Four huge guys who like Elvis, Van Halen, Tesla, Boston, Steve Vai, Satriani, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Dokken, White Lion, and Zeppelin. They opened with “Hello There!” instantly winning the crowd, and grooved through some Neil Diamond, Rick Springfield, Wild Cherry, Def Leppard, but they write original material too, which is outstanding.

https://larryandthepourboys.com/home

We’ve only seen The Burroughs once this summer, but we hope to correct that.

The Music Scene by Mike Baron

THE MUSIC SCENE

When I moved to Fort Collins from Madison years ago, I never dreamed that Fort Collins was a music powerhouse to rival the much bigger city, yet throughout the summer, we have gone out night after night to witness one great musical act after another. Odells Brewery is our favorite venue, and outdoor patio hung with flowers with a raised stage. You never know who you’re going to get. Our season started out with a jaw-dropping performance from Dog City Disco, a six piece jam band from Boulder with super dynamics, rhythm shifts, brilliant chord progressions and musicianship.

We saw the Burroughs at Bohemian Nights presents Concerts in Old Town. I have raved before about this nine piece soul band from Greeley whose lead singer, Johnny Burroughs, is a ginger version of James Brown, with the voice and the moves. The whole band dances. The all original music showcases superb dynamics with bridges and hooks that whip your head around. Johnny’s conversion to Kid Creole by way of Cab Calloway is now complete.

http://www.theburroughssoul.com/

My old buddy Bill Delaney came to visit. The first night we saw Johnny Johnston at the Red Truck Brewery and he blew us away with his slide delta-style guitar, accompanied by one-man rhythm machine Danny Crecco.

We kept running into guitarist Josh Long—at the Red Truck, Odells, and the Foothills Mall. Josh Long is a guitar monster with one foot in rockabilly and the other in jazz. Josh is in Sugar Britches and Josh and the Long Haul.

Crescent City Connection blew us away at Odells, with booty-shakin’ New Orleans music. They have that rhythm down cold, and the two horns, sax and trumpet, summoned whiffs of both Chicago and Dreams, when they weren’t blasting trad New Orleans music like “Hey Pocky Way” and “Iko Iko.”

https://www.crescentcityband.com/

Last night were our old friends All About The Brass, and while they played the odious “Love Shack,” which is in the repertoire of every band, they also played three songs by Chicago and kilt it.

Florida Man in Jail by Mike Baron

As many of you know, I’m working on a FLORIDA MAN novel. Gary is in jail for trying to beat a restaurant bill by dumping a life nutria on the table. For those who do not know what is a nutria, it’s an invasive water rat.

Gary tried to sleep on the floor against the wall, Earl sitting next to him, when the deputies brought in some hepped up board punks who’d been caught spraying swastikas on the local synagogue.

Gary slept fitfully, wakened numerous times by beefs, splats, squeals, raps and smacks.

He woke at one am to the dulcet tones of an aspiring rapper.

“My dong is long. My shlong is strong. Let it feed like an eagle eating an eagle in the weed.”

Groaning, Gary saw the hip-hop artist, a gawky black kid in chinos and an artfully ripped Tupac muscle shirt.

“That don’t even make sense!” a man bellowed from a bench.

“You want to test me, broheem?” the rapper said. “Step right up. I ain’t what I seem.”

To these dulcet tones and others, Gray drifted off to sleep.

Someone shook him by the shoulder. He woke with a start to find a young man wearing a rough blue cotton Armani suit, a blazing white shirt with the collar outside the suit jacket, and black Brunos, reeking of Paco Rabanne. He had a fashionable three day stubble on his handsome chin, and rich black hair.

“Mr. Duba?” he said. “Mr. Duba?”

Gary sat up and looked around. Where was Earl?

The man seemed comfortable on his haunches. “I’m Sid Saidso. I’m a programming executive with Netflix. I’ve been following your exploits and I’d like to talk to you about possibly doing your own reality show.”

Gary sat up, rubbing his eyes. “My exploits?”

Sid Saidso’s smile was like a thousand watt bulb. “Since the lottery! I’m executive producer on What’s Your Snoblem, which is in its second season, and Barfalo, which debuts in November and stars Bruce Willis and Brie Larson.”

Barfalo?”

“A bulimic buffalo terrorizes settlers in eighteen eighties Nebraska. But never mind about that. I believe in deep preparation. I’m not a drive-by guy. I know how you won the lottery. I know about the alligator in the pool. You were on that plane that exploded. They said it was filled with scorpions.”

“Tarantulas,” Gary said.

“Exactly. You’re a fascinating dude. Your wife is even more famous. Sponsors would pay plenty to feature your exploits. It won’t be cheap. It won’t be exploitative. I respect what you do.”

Gary scratched his head. “What do I do?”

“That’s what we’ll find out.”

Sid Saidso dipped in his jacket and extended a blinding white card between his exquisitely manicured first and second fingers. Gary took it. It showed the black silhouette of Charlie Chaplin dancing with his umbrella, and said,

SID SAIDSO

SAIDSO PRODUCTIONS

LOS ANGELES AND ROME

There was a website, an email address and two international phone numbers. Gary tucked it in his front pocket.

“What are you doing in here?”

“I heard you were in here and slugged the first cop I could find.”

Gary regarded Sid Saidso. “Dubious.”

Saidso grinned. “Kidding! They said I was veering all over the street. Now I ask you. Do I seem the slightest bit impaired to you?”

Saidso held his right hand out like the head of a snake, steady and level to the ground.

“Did you see a big guy? Looks like Li’l Abner?”

“No, I just got here. Here’s what I’m thinking. My team will follow you around. They’re very unobtrusive. You won’t even notice them. They use drones. We’ll wire your house to the extent that you’ll allow. I’m looking at either forty-four of fifty-six minutes to be aired weekly. I believe I can get you a seven figure deal.”

Gary counted on his fingers.

“I know Roebuck Simms bailed you out of jail, but I don’t know why. I think I can get him on the show.”

“You know about Steely Danielle?”

“I was there! I tried to talk to you then but some thug kept getting in my way.”

“What thug?”

“A six foot seven Jamaican transsexual. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

“So why ain’tchoo bail us out?”

“Believe me, my lawyer is on the way. As soon as I’m out, you’re out. By the way. The nutria.” Saidso made the ‘OK’ figure with thumb and forefinger. “Brilliant. I even have a nutria wrangler.”

A guard named O’Malley who looked like El Capitan in Yosemite came back. “Duba, let’s go. You’re bailed out.”

Saidso followed Gary to the gate. “How do I get in touch with you?”

“I’ll call you.”

Habib waited in the reception area. Gary collected his things and signed the forms.

“Thanks for bailing me out.”

“What can I say, I’m sentimental. Also, I have three properties need new roofs.”

Florida Man by Mike Baron

As many of you know, I’m working on a FLORIDA MAN novel. Gary is in jail for trying to beat a restaurant bill by dumping a life nutria on the table. For those who do not know what is a nutria, it’s an invasive water rat.

Gary tried to sleep on the floor against the wall, Earl sitting next to him, when the deputies brought in some hepped up board punks who’d been caught spraying swastikas on the local synagogue.

Gary slept fitfully, wakened numerous times by beefs, splats, squeals, raps and smacks.

He woke at one am to the dulcet tones of an aspiring rapper.

“My dong is long. My shlong is strong. Let it feed like an eagle eating an eagle in the weed.”

Groaning, Gary saw the hip-hop artist, a gawky black kid in chinos and an artfully ripped Tupac muscle shirt.

“That don’t even make sense!” a man bellowed from a bench.

“You want to test me, broheem?” the rapper said. “Step right up. I ain’t what I seem.”

To these dulcet tones and others, Gray drifted off to sleep.

Someone shook him by the shoulder. He woke with a start to find a young man wearing a rough blue cotton Armani suit, a blazing white shirt with the collar outside the suit jacket, and black Brunos, reeking of Paco Rabanne. He had a fashionable three day stubble on his handsome chin, and rich black hair.

“Mr. Duba?” he said. “Mr. Duba?”

Gary sat up and looked around. Where was Earl?

The man seemed comfortable on his haunches. “I’m Sid Saidso. I’m a programming executive with Netflix. I’ve been following your exploits and I’d like to talk to you about possibly doing your own reality show.”

Gary sat up, rubbing his eyes. “My exploits?”

Sid Saidso’s smile was like a thousand watt bulb. “Since the lottery! I’m executive producer on What’s Your Snoblem, which is in its second season, and Barfalo, which debuts in November and stars Bruce Willis and Brie Larson.”

Barfalo?”

“A bulimic buffalo terrorizes settlers in eighteen eighties Nebraska. But never mind about that. I believe in deep preparation. I’m not a drive-by guy. I know how you won the lottery. I know about the alligator in the pool. You were on that plane that exploded. They said it was filled with scorpions.”

“Tarantulas,” Gary said.

“Exactly. You’re a fascinating dude. Your wife is even more famous. Sponsors would pay plenty to feature your exploits. It won’t be cheap. It won’t be exploitative. I respect what you do.”

Gary scratched his head. “What do I do?”

“That’s what we’ll find out.”

Sid Saidso dipped in his jacket and extended a blinding white card between his exquisitely manicured first and second fingers. Gary took it. It showed the black silhouette of Charlie Chaplin dancing with his umbrella, and said,

SID SAIDSO

SAIDSO PRODUCTIONS

LOS ANGELES AND ROME

There was a website, an email address and two international phone numbers. Gary tucked it in his front pocket.

“What are you doing in here?”

“I heard you were in here and slugged the first cop I could find.”

Gary regarded Sid Saidso. “Dubious.”

Saidso grinned. “Kidding! They said I was veering all over the street. Now I ask you. Do I seem the slightest bit impaired to you?”

Saidso held his right hand out like the head of a snake, steady and level to the ground.

“Did you see a big guy? Looks like Li’l Abner?”

“No, I just got here. Here’s what I’m thinking. My team will follow you around. They’re very unobtrusive. You won’t even notice them. They use drones. We’ll wire your house to the extent that you’ll allow. I’m looking at either forty-four of fifty-six minutes to be aired weekly. I believe I can get you a seven figure deal.”

Gary counted on his fingers.

“I know Roebuck Simms bailed you out of jail, but I don’t know why. I think I can get him on the show.”

“You know about Steely Danielle?”

“I was there! I tried to talk to you then but some thug kept getting in my way.”

“What thug?”

“A six foot seven Jamaican transsexual. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

“So why ain’tchoo bail us out?”

“Believe me, my lawyer is on the way. As soon as I’m out, you’re out. By the way. The nutria.” Saidso made the ‘OK’ figure with thumb and forefinger. “Brilliant. I even have a nutria wrangler.”

A guard named O’Malley who looked like El Capitan in Yosemite came back. “Duba, let’s go. You’re bailed out.”

Saidso followed Gary to the gate. “How do I get in touch with you?”

“I’ll call you.”

Habib waited in the reception area. Gary collected his things and signed the forms.

“Thanks for bailing me out.”

“What can I say, I’m sentimental. Also, I have three properties need new roofs.”