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The Corner Pocket by Mike Baron

THE CORNER POCKET

Mike Baron

I was a fat and cowardly child. Growing up in South Dakota, I feared everything from the boys in the locker room to big dogs. I bullied and was bullied. It’s a mystery to me how I managed to hang on to some of my childhood friends, but here we are, fifty years later, tighter than ever.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, I moved to Boston to work on weekly “alternative” papers. I ended up in a basement apartment in Brighton, a half block from the Ja Shin Do Academy, a storefront karate school. Every day on my way to the MTA, I passed that school. I would stare through the mist-covered windows at students moving around the hardwood floor, hearing their thumps and kiais. Like most young men, I was fascinated by karate. One day I said fuck it, and went inside to talk to the teacher Andy Bauman. Andy acquired his black belt while stationed in Korea. He could punch through a wall.

I trained at the Ja Shin Do Academy under Andy, Joe Demusz, and Jane West. It was very traditional, very hard. I can’t believe some of the things we did. Thousand kick night was a regular event, as was picking up a teammate in a fireman’s carry and running around the park.

One day a lanky young man came in, went up the makiwara screwed to the wall, and punched it, breaking his hand. He never returned.

When I returned to Madison in ‘77, I resumed training at Choi’s Karate, under Jim Henry. Jim was a charmless thug, but he knew his stuff. I trained with Vince O’Hern, founder and publisher of Isthmus, Madison’s “alternative” weekly, for which I was music editor. Amazingly, Isthmus is still with us, following the collapse of ninety per cent of the alternative weeklies in the country, due mostly to the rise of the internet. I was about to test for black belt when Choi’s went belly-up. Vince and I continued to train together, sometimes at the UW Natatorium or at Lathrop Hall. Lathrop was a beautiful old brick building with a pool in the basement. It’s gone now, like so much of the classic campus, replaced by an ugly building.

I let training slide for years, working out in the basement of my house in Fitchburg. I designed, built the house, and paid it off. It had an in-ground pool. But I made bad choices and ended up losing it and moving to Colorado.

But before then, I found a group of fighters training in the basement of a community center under John Fehling, who’d trained with Danny Inosanto. It was my first exposure to stick fighting. Not that I love stick fighting! Who needs it? It was interesting.

I picked up my first comic in South Dakota, Uncle Scrooge. At UW, some friends turned me onto Steranko and Neal Adams. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I couldn’t believe people could draw like that. I was hooked.

I lived in Boston when the first Master of Kung Fu came out. I bought multiple copies. It was only twenty-five cents. Steve Englehart wrote and Jim Starlin drew it. Doug Moench Gulacy took over. It took Gulacy a few issues to find his stride, but when he did, it was explosive. He took Steranko one step further. But even then, looking at the beautiful drawing of Shan-Chi throwing a flying sidekick. I sensed something wasn’t right. We didn’t see any fighting.

When Hulk waves his fist and five thugs fly off-panel head first, we don’t really see what happened. We get the comic book rush and understand the story. But it’s not like looking at a real fight.

These comics, Master of Kung Fu, Richard Dragon, Iron Fist, purportedly about martial arts, had very little. Only Denny O’Neil, who created Richard Dragon, understood something of the fighting arts. I wanted to show martial arts in a comic like a Jackie Chan film. I wanted to see the techniques unfold so that we understand how Shang-Chi ends up on his back. Comics are no competition to film. Film has many advantages including sound, controlling the pace, and choreographers who understand that the audience wants to see the kung fu. Those magnificent, highly choreographed fights you see in Enter the Dragon, Drunken Master, or Ip Man aren’t realistic, in the sense that the brawl in Treasure of the Sierra Madre is. But they are masterful action entertainment and you know you are seeing real kung fu, even if every move is carefully choreographed. Jackie Chan routinely shot scenes hundreds of times to get one perfect take. Comics only need to draw it correctly from panel to panel.

Comics have one big advantage. They can legitimize story material that would be laughed off any sound stage. You will believe a man can fly.

I was working at an insurance agency when one day I got a call from a friend who was an editor at an “alternative” newspaper that erupted due to a union dispute. “There’s some guy down here trying to sell us his drawings,” he said, “and he draws just like you.”

I met Steve Rude on the steps of the Student Union. Until then, I’d been trying to draw. I met the Dude on summer afternoon, he opened his portfolio there on the veranda, and I stopped drawing. Once Capital City picked up Nexus, I proposed a comic about a Druid wizard, cuz that’s what Jeff Butler wanted to draw. Milton Griepp said, “Give us a costumed crime-fighter.”

Why would anyone put on a costume and fight crime? They’d have to be crazy. Thus was Badger born, and the forum in which to showcase martial arts. I urge anyone wishing to understand what I mean to get Badger #9, “Hot August Night,” and look at the fight scene between Badger and Cobra Crisp. Using some photo ref, as well as my childish drawings, Bill Reinhold nailed it. I choreographed every fight scene, usually by drawing it out by hand.

I wrote Kato for Now, first with Brent Anderson, then with Val Mayerik. Val is an accomplished martial artist as well as one of the finest painters of his generation. Go to www.valmayerik.com. We took pains with Bruce Lee to make the fights not just realistic, but in keeping with The Little Dragon’s philosophy.

Q-Ball popped into my head. A stick fighting pool hustler. Some people say, “If he’s Q-Ball, why isn’t he bald?” Wait. Q-Ball is on a journey of discovery. We have big surprises and epic fights.

The friends you meet in martial arts are true friends. Www.karatewestinc.com

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

 

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.

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?

Meaning of Life by Mike Baron

THE MEANING OF LIFE

What is the meaning of life? It’s up to each of us to find our own meeting. God wants you to be happy. Gaia wants you to be happy. Even Dogdrbek wants you to be happy. Crom doesn’t care. So what makes you happy? Many people find meaning in their work and in their relationships. Good stuff! Many people find meaning in their favorite stories. Has a movie ever been greeted with greater anticipation than Rogue 1? Those of us on Facebook, particularly in comics, movies, or pop music, find just as much meaning in the enjoyment we derive from our favorite stories or music, as any devoted Buddhist Monk does from serenity.

Some people find the most meaning in pop culture. More than in their personal relationships or work. That’s fine, because enthusiasm drives life. We need our enthusiasms. Miles Davis said, and demonstrated, that music was the most important thing in his life. He may have left a trail of wreckage in his personal life, but he also gave meaning to millions of others. Sixty years ago, many young people found meaning in the Beatles. I knew a woman whose father was very old.

“He’s just hanging on so he can finish The Clan of the Cave Bear saga,” she told me.

Not to compare the Beatles to Mother Theresa, or the Little Sisters of the Poor. But just because you are more excited about the next James Bond movie than saving the starving masses doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human.

I know some wonderful people who are completely divorced from pop culture. They don’t watch television or movies, they don’t read fiction or comics, and they don’t listen to pop music. Sometimes they get depressed. These are people in good health with no financial reasons. Perhaps you could call it existential angst. I’m not saying becoming a Batman fan is going to save your life, but enthusiasms give meaning to life. As John Mellencamp said, “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” As Graham Parker said, “Passion is no ordinary word.”

When Mice Attack by Mike Baron

WHEN MICE ATTACK

Mice are invading our kitchen. When Old Bob was around, this never happened. Old Bob would catch those mice and kill them. New Bob has no such skills. New Bob is primarily interested in barking, playing, tracking mud into the living room, and modeling different hats. Of Mack, the ostensible Boston pug/terrier mix, the less said the better. She is worthless! She is the Loudest Dog That Ever Lived!

As soon as the weather turned cold, the first mouse crept into the house. Ann alerted me when she saw mouse turds on the counter. I thought they were caraway seeds. I set two traps baited with peanut butter. This was an especially cunning and ruthless mouse, and when I checked in the morning, it had successfully consumed the peanut butter without setting off the traps. I reloaded the traps with lutefisk and the following morning, the miscreant lay with its neck snapped. Good! Finito! Done!

The following day, more mouse turds, including in the silverware drawer. Ann put everything through the dishwasher and I set more traps. The mouse eluded us for two more days but then one morning I went downstairs and there it lay in a pool of its own blood. I removed the corpus delicti, disinfected the counter, and lectured the dogs.

Now we are plagued by a new mouse, a super mouse, an ubermaus, if you will. The traps are set, the video cameras are rolling. Christmas Eve we are watching Willard.

TSA

Dear TSA: I am a sixty-seven year old writer from Fort Collins. On 9/2, I flew from Denver to Atlanta. Agents pulled me aside after passing through the metal detector and with my permission, stuck their hands down my waist and patted every part of my body. They waved me through. Then another TSA agent, Mark Broeren, pulled me aside and went through my luggage, pulling out every item of clothing. They took out my toiletry kit and handled my toothbrush, razor, and pills. Agent Broeren took me into a private room. I unslung my suspenders and was about to drop my trousers. Agent Broeren said, “Stop! You do that and I’m going to have to call some other guys in here and then it becomes a whole other deal.” I took this as it was intended, a threat for unlawful detention. In the absence of any threat or illegality. I said nothing. Agent Broeren felt every part of my body including the soles of my feet. When he was finished he said was free to go. He never explained why I’d been subjected to his scrutiny and he did not apologize.

Yours,

Mike Baron

Life On Two Wheels by Mike Baron

LIFE ON TWO WHEELS

Young men want to go fast. I couldn’t wait to get my first motorcycle. I was so eager to ride I pulled Chuck Roberts off his mini-bike as he roared by on a dirt road in Mitchell, SD. Chuck, I hope you have forgiven me. My first motorcycle was a Honda 90. Oh, what a powerful machine! It almost went sixty downhill! In Mitchell, there was only one cycle dealer, a guy who sold Hondas out of his garage. When Honda introduced the massive, world-crushing 450, we could not conceive of such an enormous machine! It looked like Shamu, the killer whale!

I no longer desire to go fast. For those who wonder why we ride, I can only say it is a sublime experience. Watch Easy Rider. Many years later, my next motorcycle was a Honda Hawk 400. Oh, what a powerful machine! I swapped out the mini-apehangers for a flat bar that made a huge difference. Then I co-owned a Honda 400 Supersport (the four cylinder engine) with a girlfriend. When I sold Nexus, I got a Kawasaki Gpz 550, the ne plus ultra back in the day. Because of federal regulations, the speedo only went to 80. I had the Kawi over a hundred numerous times, but I never knew how fast I was going because of that federal speedometer. Many years later I sold the Kawi and got a Honda Hawk 650, a water-cooled vee-twin. I wish I still had it.

Then I got a Shadow 750, which I am still riding, and a 1979 CB650 given to me my Tom Delaney on my 65th birthday. My friend Kim, who is smaller than I, rides a Valkyrie. Once he dropped it in gravel and it took two of us to pick it up. A couple months ago we went to Fort Collins Motor Sports to test ride the new Indian Scout. The Scout is the greatest motorcycle ever made. If you ride, you will agree. We were both ready to deal until the manager informed us that virtually every motorcycle they sold involved a two thousand dollar “set-up and documents fee.” I understand that dealers have to put the bikes together and that a set-up fee is legitimate. But two gees? The Shadow Sixty, supposed to retail for nine thou, became eleven thou. The regular Scout, which is supposed to retail for eleven, became thirteen.

Pox upon thee, Fort Collins Motor Sports!

I will continue to ride my miniscule motorcycles and enjoy the experience, which is not so much what you ride, but the ride itself.

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