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What’s In A Name by Mike Baron

WHAT’S IN A NAME

When I name a novel, I try to use words that will entice and intrigue the reader. Bands do the same thing. Has there been a more resonant title than The Rolling Stones? It summons not only the Dylan song, but a lizard-brain ancestral memory of the blues, in which rolling stones prominently featured. Today, the Beatles resonate like crazy, but when they first appeared, people said, “Beatles? What’s that?”

Some names resonate because of what went before, some resonate because of what they suggest, and some resonate because of what came after. Who could have imagined that Hellboy would become part of our geek lexicon? When Hellboy first appeared, the juxtaposition of hell and boy was intriguing. Opposites, or oxymoron, are always intriguing. There’s a Swedish band called the Genuine Fakes. The Violent Femmes. Led Zeppelin. These names are memorable because of their contradictions.

Some names have no meaning. Blink 182. Sum 41. Matchbox 20. Level 42. If they do good work, their names will have meaning. If their work is unmemorable, they will slide into the dustbin.

Some names suggest irony, which is always intriguing. A Simple Plan. Everything Is Wonderful. How I Won the War. Many authors create a style for their titles, uniting a series. John D. MacDonald named his Travis McGee novels, The Deep Blue Goodbye, A Deadly Shade of Gold, Darker Than Amber, A Purple Place For Dying and so forth. Randy Wayne White, whose Doc Ford series follows in MacDonald’s steps, gives his books punchy, two word descriptors. Deep Blue. Black Light. Chasing Midnight. Bone Deep. Sue Grafton, of course, is running through the alphabet.

The title Superman is a stroke of genius, especially considering the timing. Its success has led to innumerable characters with man, boy, girl or woman in the title. When you designate one person The Catwoman, it sounds iconic. And it is.

My novel Banshees is about a satanic rock band that comes back from the dead. I chose the name not only for its literal meaning, “a spirit in the form of a wailing woman who appears to members of a family as a sign that one of them is about to die,” as well as  Siouxsie and the Banshees. But the Banshees are male. That’s part of the story, which readers will discover.

The reason for Biker is obvious.

Sometimes I get a title and carry it around for years before I find the story, such as “Trail of the Loathsome Swine.”  Sometimes I carry the story for years before I find the title, such as Whack Job. Mine is not the first title to be named Whack Job. You can’t copyright a title.

Horror Comics Again by Mike Baron

HORROR COMICS. AGAIN.

Comics are the worst medium for horror, yet the horror comic will not die. Comics fail at horror because of limitations. They control what you see, and they control the pacing, to a degree. But at any minute, you can close the book, look up, and say, “Oh. It’s time for lunch.” You can’t do that in a movie, unless you’re watching at home. Movies control not only pacing, and visuals, but sound as well. Think how important sound is to your favorite horror movies. That voice in The Exorcist. That creak on the stairs. And the immersive visual experience suggests half shapes and terrors. Who can forget when the camera pans up through the window to the werewolf in the trees, in The Howling? Or James Whale’s masterful jump frames when we first glimpse the monster in Frankenstein?

Novels are just as effective as film in conveying horror, because they too are an immersive experience. The power of the word. The power of description. The novel is that oldest of all fictions, a tale told around a campfire. No other medium is as effective as putting you in the protagonist’s head. Some of my favorites are The Shining, Michael McDowell’s The Elementals, and Robert R. McCammon’s Swan Song.

Has anyone ever been scared by a comic? Those old EC cautionary tales with the shock endings were good for a frisson, but I’m speaking of supernatural terror. Some people consider films like Saw, Last House on the Left, and Hostel horror. Maybe. But to me, they’re slasher films. And a slasher film is not a horror film. A horror film raises the hackles because it makes you believe in supernatural terror. Films like The Changeling, The Ring, and The Haunting. The latter, by the way, contains not a single drop of blood or special effects, but oh, that sound track.

I loved Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing not because it scared me, but because it was such a complex, plausible story. I devoured Creepy and Eerie, mainly for the art. But it never freaked me out. I should talk. Both DC and Graphitti Designs are releasing the Deadman I did with Kelley Jones in the eighties. Kelley is the consummate comic book horror artist, combining the best of all the old EC artists including Graham Ingels, and the new EC artists such as Berni Wrightson. Kyle Hotz is another. However, only Kyle is frightening in real life.

About Teen-Angels & New Mutants by Mike Baron

Teen Angels & New Mutants, Stephen Bissette’s treatise on “Rick Veitch’s Bratpack and the Art, Karma, and Commerce of Killing Sidekicks,” is really about the exploitation of youth for entertainment in all its forms, with erudite digressions on the history of comics, Frederick Wertham, and the porn industry. Bissette, most famous as an illustrator of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, turned his back on comics for reasons laid out in this lengthy but endlessly entertaining treatise. He tears into the Big Two, DC in particular, for their cynicism, market exploitation, and in particular, the broken promises of The Death of Superman, which tricked millions of gullible fans into purchasing what they thought would be a seminal event only to be betrayed within months.

Bissette dissects Kevin Eastman’s Tundra imprint, where Brat Pack first appeared, and explains why it failed. He also provides a timely history of self-published comics, including Dave Sim’s manifesto. He charts the history of social conscious comics in the modern era, beginning with Denny O’Neil’s and Neal Adams’ Green Lantern/Green Arrow books. The first one, showing a shocked Green Arrow and Green Lantern finding Speedy shooting up, is one of the most famous covers in comics.

Along the way, Bissette takes a hard look at youth exploitation and the fate of such child stars as Sue Lyons, Corey Haim, and Brooke Shields, as well as scrofulous boy band impresario Lou Pearlman who was shocked when his boy bands actually succeeded. He just wanted a farm team for his pederasty.

If all this sounds a bit much, it’s not. Bissette’s observations are trenchant and amusing. “For a satirist like Veith, the Midnight Mink and Chippy were never expressions of either a latent homosexuality or homophobia, any more than Moon Mistress and Luna were inherently misoxgynist projections. They were, clearly, reflections of he tself, the anima and the animus.”

The only odd thing about this book is that Bissette never discusses what actually occurs in the pages of Brat Pack, but an appendix offers summaries of each chapter. Should be required reading for any serious student of comics.  –Mike Baron

Biker, By Mike Baron

BIKER INTRO

by Mike Baron

I got my first motorcycle when I was sixteen. The Honda S90. Cost four hundred bucks. Oh, the power of that mighty machine! It topped out at fifty-five going downhill. Out on the eastern flats of South Dakota a motorcycle meant freedom. It’s difficult to describe the appeal of a motorcycle to those who have never ridden, but once you ride, you understand.

I waited impatiently for each new Travis McGee novel by John D. MacDonald. You all know his work even if you don’t know his name. MacDonald wrote Cape Fear, which was made into two movies, the most recent starring Robert DeNiro. While the front of my mind was filled with ephemera and teen-age emotions, the back wanted to be a writer. It would be a long time before my skills caught up with my ambition. I began writing for newspapers as soon as I graduated, notably the Boston Phoenix and the Real Paper. I began writing comics with my science fiction title Nexus, which I created with Steve Rude.

I tried to write novels, but all I did was pile up words and waste a lot of paper. I’m a slow learner, but I do learn. It wasn’t until I moved to Colorado that the flow of garbage from keyboard ceased. All of a sudden I was mining copper. Then silver. Every would-be writer has a million words of bullshit clogging up his system, and it behooves him get it out as soon as possible so he can get to the good stuff. English novelist John Braine (Room at the Top) says that no one should attempt to write a novel before they’re forty. They simply don’t have enough life experience. Of course there are exceptions, may they rot in hell.

Most pop art, especially literature, movies and comics, depend on the principle of tension and release. Story dynamics are what keep you turning the page, eager to find out what happens next. If you don’t identify with the protagonist, the pages become very heavy. A good story is like a good pop song. It has a tonic. “In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs…” It has a bridge that creates tension. “And all the people that come and go/Stop and say hello…” Finally, it has a hook that resolves the tension created by the tonic and the bridge. “Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes/A four of fish and finger pies…”

In a novel, the hero is up, then the hero is down. The hero is never static, because that means nothing is happening. There is no story. A good novel mixes psychological with physical dynamics.

The name Josh Pratt comes from a roadside memorial in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. My protagonist formed like some unholy creature in a vat of pop culture. The Wild One. Easy Rider. Kung fu movies. But always, at the back of my mind, Travis McGee lurked. MacDonald put his finger on the pulse of evil and the evanescence of life like no other pulp writer. His lyrical descriptions of South Florida have drawn thousands of readers to Bahia Mar, the marina where the fictional McGee anchored his houseboat, the Busted Flush.

But Josh is my own creation, a reaction to the smart-ass private eye, as pioneered by Raymond Chandler. Is there any doubt that Philip Marlowe is the original smart-ass? “He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.”

You don’t hear Sherlock Holmes cracking wise or using irony! Josh is someone who got dealt a bad hand. No mother, a worthless, abusive father who abandoned him at fifteen, Josh fell in with the only family he ever knew, the Bedouins, a rag-tag biker gang in Wisconsin. He went to prison for atrocious assault, among other crimes. His nickname is Chainsaw. He shudders every time he hears it. Locked in a cell, Josh had time to reflect on his life, read, and listen to music, guided by Chaplain Dorgan.

Dorgan didn’t jam Jesus down Josh’s throat. Josh accepted Jesus because it made sense to him. I’m not Christian. I’m a not very devout Jew. My wife is Christian. I mean she’s a real Christian, who does good things and doesn’t announce it on Facebook. Josh’s Christianity is in part a reaction to the prevailing wisdom. Every good writer has a little imp of the perverse in the cockpit. Social Justice Warriors love to vilify Christians. I see it every day on Facebook. Yet, they are peculiarly reticent when it comes to Islam. The explanation is simple. Social Justice Warriors attack Christians and not Moslems for the same reason animal rights fanatics target women in furs instead of bikers in leather.

The writer’s first commandment is to entertain. If you don’t entertain, you will not make your case for the lesbian whales. Didactic fiction usually falls flat and that goes for Atlas Shrugged. To Kill A Mockingbird and The Grapes of Wrath are exceptions. The second commandment is to be original. The third commandment is to show, don’t tell. It is my goal to grab the reader by the throat in the first sentence and drag him through the narrative without stopping to breath.

A word about Harleys. Josh rides a modified Road King. I like Harleys. I have ridden many and rode a Road King to Sturgis in 2000 where Cher got booed off the stage at the Buffalo Chip by talking about her “good friend” Bill Clinton. Bikers know bullshit when they hear it. I own two Hondas. No true biker will give you shit about your choice of bike. Once, while servicing my Gpz 550 in a parking lot, I looked up startled to find a meth head jerking my way.

“Hey!” he said. “Don’t you know you’re supposed to ride an American bike?!”

“This bike was built in Nebraska,” I said (true.)

“Oh. Okay then.” And he jerked his way out of the lot.

Bike cover

Existential Thrillers by Mike Baron

EXISTENTIAL THRILLERS

An existential thriller is a story in which the protagonist is doomed from the git-go, but struggles to survive with ingenuity and an indomitable spirit. The two greatest examples are Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear, and William Friedkin’s remake, Sorcerer.

The Wages of Fear is a 1953 French-Italian drama film directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, starring Yves Montand, and based on the 1950 French novel “The Salary of Fear” by Georges Arnaud. When a Mexican oil well owned by an American company catches fire, the company hires four European men, down on their luck, to drive two trucks over mountain dirt roads, loaded with niotroglycerine needed to extinguish the flames.

Sorcerer is the same story, bookended by Roy Scheider’s criminal mastermind stealing mob money, which sends him into exile in an unnamed South American hellhole where he rots for years, until the oil company makes its desperate offer. Wanted: four brave men to pilot two dilapidated trucks across hundreds of miles of impassable terrain, carrying loads of nitroglycerin. After The Exorcist, Friedkin could do anything. He chose to do this. It is mesmerizing, but because of the subject matter it was not a hit.

Sam Peckinpah directed two of the greatest existential thrillers, The Wild Bunch and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. The Wild Bunch needs no introduction, but alas, many young film goers have never heard of it. A gang of aging outlaws, led by William Holden and Ernest Borgnine, hold one last heist in hopes of retiring to Mexico. The heist goes wrong and they flee, an army of Pinkertons on their trail. The Pinkertons L.Q. Jones and Strother Martin at their most scrofulous. “Gutter trash!” in the words of Robert Ryan, who leads them. The Wild Bunch itself includes Lyle and Tector Gorch, played by Warren Oates and Ben Johnson.

The gang ends up hijacking a load of weapons for a Mexican warlord, but the warlord, played by Emilio Fernandez, cruelly executes one of the Bunch’s own. The Bunch has already collected their money and realized their dream. But in an explosion of nihilistic rage, they choose to go down shooting, killing half the warlord’s army. The Wild Bunch redefined cinematic violence with its slo-mo shoot-outs and the incredible body count. It is one of the greatest Westerns ever made.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is sui generis, a thriller unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Warren Oates is Benny, a down-at-his-heels lounge pianist scraping by in some Mexican hell-hole, when he gets words that El Jefe (Emilio Fernandez again,) will pay one million dollars for the head of Alfredo Garcia, who impregnated his teen-age daughter. The scum of the earth, including Gig Young and Robert Wenner, crawl out of their holes to claim the prize.

Benny sets out with girlfriend Elita (Isele Vega.) A couple of low-lifes bushwhack them. The biker (Kris Kristofferson!) rapes Elita while the other covers Benny. Benny brains the guy with a cast-iron skillet and shoots the biker. Benny delivers Garcia’s head to El Jefe, gets his money, and is free to go. But once again, overcome with grief and an existential madness, he chooses to go down blazing, taking half El Jefe’s army with him.

Among modern existential thrillers, there are none better than The Grey, starring Liam Neeson as an oil-company roughneck whose plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, leaving six men alive. Their struggle to survive a pack of hungry wolves is as grim and absorbing as The Revenant.

In Runaway Train, conceived by Akira Kurosawa, two cons escape from a maximum-security Alaskan prison and inadvertently stow away on a train with no conductor. Jon Voight, coming off Midnight Cowboy, went in the opposite direction. His Oscar Manheim is a terrifying lifer who has been welded in his cell for three years. He takes along irritating sycophant Buck (Eric Roberts,) dispensing hard-won con wisdom. Director Andre Konchalovsky ratchets tension to the max, and the final scene will chill you to the bone.

Cornel Wilde’s The Naked Prey deviates from the template in that his nameless white hunter lives, but not after one of the most harrowing and brutal chases in cinema history. You will not believe Wilde’s depiction of Africans in the opening sequence. He would never be able to get away with this today.

Self Inflicted Wounds by Mike Baron

SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS

I have known and worked with many amazing artists, but there are a handful with whom I’ve never worked. I have wanted to work with them, and I have offered work to them. Although they say they want to succeed, I wonder if that’s true. When I moved to Colorado I met Jerry. Jerry lived in the Boulder area and had published two copies of his own comic, Obelisks. Jerry’s work was highly stylized in the manner of Mike Ploog, and fantastic. For the next several years I presented Jerry with proposal after proposal which we would co-create and co-own and while he continuously professed his desire to get back into comics, he never drew anything.

An artist friend of mine lives in small town Wisconsin. He has always been a fantastic artist with an ability to blend Drew Friedman-accurate portraits with bizarre graphics. Self-taught, his sketch technique resembles that of Ivan Albright and he has done several stunning album covers for local blues artists. Sherman has often expressed interest in collaborating with me but has never followed up on a single proposal. He doesn’t return phone calls or e-mail. He works hard at his art, but doesn’t push it beyond his web and Facebook pages. This guy has huge crossover potential. He’s just not interested enough to work at it.

I have talked about Neil Spyder/Bannen Hanson here before. Neil made a conscious decision to stop drawing and concentrate on his writing. It’s not the same as saying you want to be an artist but you can’t get breaks. The breaks are out there. Some people make their own breaks. But if you don’t push your art and produce, nothing’s going to happen.

The single best way to attract industry attention is to produce your own comic. Editors will read them.

Sons of Bitches by Mike Baron

Biker current

WHAT THE HELL

I submitted this novel to my regular publisher who laughed and said, “No way!” for obvious reasons. I have signed a contract with Liberty Island Press to publish all the Josh Pratt novels beginning with Biker, originally published by Airship 27. My friends, do you find this risible?

SONS OF BITCHES

By Mike Baron

CHAPTER ONE  “Polly”

The title Muhammad burst from the cover in three-dimensional letters like a Cecil B. DeMille production. A lean, mean fighting machine in a white suit, wrap-around shades, beard and turban with a scantily-clad houri clinging to one leg, cigarette dangling from his lip, side-kicking a Hassidic Jew with skullcap and phylacteries two feet off the ground.

“It’s meant to be satiric,” Polly Furst said. “I’m Jewish myself.”

“Do you go to temple?” Josh Pratt asked. They sat outside at a round metal table adjacent to the sidewalk at the Laurel Tavern, a family-friendly pub on Monroe Street in Madison, WI. It was late June and the temperature was in the mid-seventies. Josh’s dog Fig sat at his feet. He flipped through the comic book.

“No. I come from a long line of secular Jews.”

“Man, I love comics. Used to read them in prison. This is good art.”

“Thank you.”

“Where do people pick this up?”

“From my website or at conventions. Capital City and Westfield have it. I asked Diamond and never heard back. I think it was too hot for them.”

“Have you received any death threats?”

“Too many to count. I told the police and they said there was nothing they could do. FBI, same thing. It’s like they have no interest in protecting me. I had to shut down my Twitter account and block about a hundred people on Facebook.”

“Did you report them to the administrator?”

“No. I guess I should have, huh.”

“Cops don’t protect people,” Josh said. “They come along after you’ve been stabbed and try to figure out who did it.”

“I have a bunch of shows coming up. I’m not going to be intimidated into hiding! I contacted Executive Security and they suggested you.”

“Huh,” Josh said. He’d graduated from their seminar last December and hadn’t taken any security jobs, although he’d been involved in the Cretaceous murders. “Anything local?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, has anyone phoned you or approached you in person?”

“No. I keep my phone number private but now I’m beginning to worry.”

“Where do you live?”

“I rent an apartment at Alhambra on the South Beltline.”

“I get two-fifty a day plus expenses.”

Polly goggled. She was a skinny thing with pale skin, a poof of curly red hair and a Roman nose. She wore a Tank Girl T-shirt over her flat chest and wire-rimmed glasses. She looked like a goonie bird. She snuffled, pulled a used tissue from her backpack and ran it under her nose.

“Allergies. My cash flow isn’t so great as you can imagine, but I have a terrific collection of original art I’ve collected over the years. My grandfather bunked with Charles Addams and Bill Mauldin in World War II. I suppose I could put some of my pieces up for auction.”

“I’m sympathetic to your case, Polly, but I don’t work for free.”

“I know that. People think that because I’m a starving comic book artist that I should do jobs for the publicity.”

“You make a living at this?” Josh said.

“Sort of. I got lucky last year when Vertigo tapped me to do a three issue run of Fables. Then I did a fill-in issue of Wonder Woman so I have a little money in the bank. I may have to sell my Mauldins and Addams drawings.”

She looked him up and down. “You are festooned with dog hair.”

The waitress came with three hamburgers. Josh set one on the ground for Fig. By the time Josh straightened up it was gone. Polly wolfed hers down looking around furtively as if some green was about to make a citizen’s arrest. She brought out two amber plastic bottles from her backpack, opened them and downed two pills.

“Do you have a concealed carry permit?” Josh said.

Polly stared at him like he was a bug. “Don’t be absurd! No one should have a gun except the police.”

“I’d like to take a look at your place and if you don’t mind, I’d like to see your original art.”

“Do you know anything about comics?” Polly said.

“I like The Badger. I think I have a few floating around.”

“Everybody loves The Badger,” Polly said. “I never wanted to do superheroes.”

Josh hefted Muhammad. “What’s this?”

“It’s a satire.”

“I don’t think Muslims do satire. Tell me something. With everything that’s happening in the world, with terrorists flowing over the southern border like a land rush, what made you think this was a good idea?”

“I’m an artist. I can’t think about what’s politically correct and I can’t let prejudice affect what I consider art or it’s the death of art. Every day we hear another ukase from some idiot that this or that should be off-limits.” Polly spoke in a faux low voice. “’There are many proper subjects for humor. Islam is not among them.’ Fuck that! Even Schindler’s List has a few laughs.”

Josh liked her. He’d always hated bullies.

“Now they say you can’t write Luke Cage unless you’re a black man. And you can’t play a movie Indian unless you’re Indian. There’s a reason they’re called actors. Edgar Rice Burroughs would have been forbidden to write Tarzan because he never went to Africa. Alexander Dumas could not have written The Three Musketeers because he was a black man. They’re calling for the death of the imagination.”   

“I hear you.”

“Did you ever see The Year of Living Dangerously? Linda Hunt, this little midget woman won an Oscar for portraying an Indonesian man. What do we do now? Take away her Oscar ‘cause she’s not Indonesian?”

“Never saw it.” Josh hadn’t seen many movies and most of those that he had seen he saw in prison. Inmates voted on what they wanted to see so Josh had intimate knowledge of Hell Up In Harlem, Superfly, Buck Town, Easy Rider, Hell’s Angels On Wheels, and Wild Angels. The tiny gay contingent never could summon the votes for The Bird Cage.

“Sorry for the rant. Seems like I gotta justify everything I do these days.”

“Not to me.”

“So what do you think?” she said, fixing her green eyes on him.

“About what?”

“About protecting me!”

“Let’s take a look at that original art. I might do it for the art.”

“Great!” Polly said. When the check came she snatched it. “I’ve got this.”

Minutes later the waitress returned perplexed. “Ma’am, your credit card didn’t go

through.”

“What?”

“We got notice from your bank that it’s been canceled.”

“That’s impossible,” Polly said.

It’s started Josh thought as he reached for his wallet.

Biker, by Mike Baron

Biker current

BIKER

I wrote Biker five years ago. I had been wrestling with novels all my life and stacked up an impressive pile of shit. Every would-be writer has a million words of shit clogging up his system, so it behooves him to get it out as soon as possible. To get to the good stuff. There are exceptions. I hate them.

I wrote Biker and Airship 27 published it. There were numerous typos, glitches and blank pages, but nothing could kill that story. I’m particularly fond of this Amazon review posted last month. I do not know Jerry Smith, but I am grateful for the review.

Writer Mike Baron is one of finest comic book writers the field has ever produced, creating Nexus, the Badger, the Butcher and many other memorable characters (and if you look hard enough, you can catch up with the Badger in his Biker cameo). Here he turns in an action packed novel about a conflicted man trying to do the right thing, but having to break a lot of clavicles to do it. Josh Pratt may be a Godly man, but he’s still tough as nails and will do what the situation requires. If I had one criticism of Biker, it is that Pratt needs to break a few more heads. He does diffuse a few situations by bravado alone before they get out of hand. Baron is such a great hand-to-hand combat writer I would have loved to have read a few more brawling fistfights. Still, a superb read with a fun plot, great pacing and some white-knuckle action. How many other books will you read this month where the protagonist faces off against a mountain lion with a pocketknife? I loved it!

If I had the opportunity, I would go back and make it better. Well I have the opportunity. Comicmix, who brought you Grimjack among other things, will publish a Biker graphic novel in about sixteen months. Why so long? The script is 100 pages and most good artists take at least a day to pencil one page. Before that appears, Comicmix will publish a thirteen page stand-alone story by the great ChrisX, to whet readers’ appetites.

I have written three more Josh Pratt novels. I will publish them soon, most likely through Liberty Island Press. Liberty Island is a libertarian outfit, and while I’m no libertarian, I admire their guts. Because my regular publisher took one look at the first page of the last Josh Pratt novel and said:

This chapter is edgy and entertaining, and you’re just asking for trouble. I love the in-jokes and I like the writing, the snappy dialog. You always have good, edgy stuff. Depending on where you go with it, this might be too hot for a publisher to handle, though, unless they want to use it for publicity and intentionally rile up controversy. We just had to bounce around one from Tracy Hickman and Dan Willis, the Dragons of the Confederacy, where they wanted to put a giant Confederate flag on the cover, right after the church shooting. I said no. They said “but think about all the publicity we’ll get if it causes a big stink!” I still said no thanks (and that was in the middle of the Hugo Awards crap, so I was already being called a neo-Nazi homophobic racist just because I was on the ballot). Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write it, but it’ll probably cause you a lot of grief.

I’m thinking of posting the chapter here.

Fight Scenes by Mike Baron

Fight!FIGHT SCENES

We all love fight scenes. But we don’t all love certain fight scenes. Jack Kirby used to draw the Hulk waving his fist and five dudes flying off panel in five different directions. That is not a fight scene. It’s a graphic depiction of mayhem, but it’s not a fight scene. When Paul Gulacy took over Master of Kung Fu, I was gobsmacked by his  graphic style, somewhat derivative of Steranko. But even then, before I dipped a toe in a karate studio, I could tell there was something wrong with the fight scenes. They were a series of isolated action poses.

The reader (at least this reader) wants the action to unfold in a clear, logical and kinetic manner, much like a good kung fu movie. And that means no wire-fu. One of the reasons for the success of early kung fu classics like Five Fingers of Death and Enter the Dragon was their ability to show martial arts in action. Here was something new in the action genre to an audience raised on John Wayne punch ’em outs. (Good martial arts movies were always out there, from the early Japanese samurai films to Jimmy Cagney’s Blood on the Moon. Treasure of the Sierra Madre has one of the most believable fight scenes in history, a messy brawl in a bar. If you’re not a martial artist, that’s how you really fight.)

I have tried to do that in my comics, most notably The Badger, Bruce Lee, and Kato. In each case, I drew, or provided photo reference, of specific techniques unfolding. I always hated extreme close-ups of a fist smacking someone in the face. It was  disjointed and often the  next panel depicted the opponents in illogical or impossible positions, given the preceding panel.

We read from left to right. Most of the time, action should flow from left to right, and here’s the prime directive: hold your camera steady and let the figures move. There are an infinite number of fascinating, highly visual martial arts techniques. Comics have barely scratched the surface. There’s a guy on the current season of Ultimate Fighter who somersaults into position to grab is opponent’s leg, and then straightens out with a heel hook submission. I’ve seen him do it twice. His opponents know exactly what he’s going to do but seem powerless to stop him.

I have been fortunate to work with great artists such as Bill Reinhold, Neil Hansen, Brent Anderson and Val Mayerik for many of my fight scenes. Val is a highly experienced martial artist and the fights he’s drawn for Bruce Lee (Malibu) and the upcoming Badger will stupefy and amaze you. Jeff Johnson, who drew Way of the Rat for Crossgen, is another artist who understands not only combat, but how to depict it in an exciting and kinetic manner. I’ve always wanted to work with Jeff and now we have a story coming up in Dark Horse’s Legends Reborn which recasts the legend of Pegasus as a martial arts movie.

Sturgis, Mike Baron, Writer

STURGIS

 

Fifteen years ago I rode to Sturgis with Tom Delaney. We began in Yankton where Tom loaned me a Road King. As we headed west we joined a great river of bikers, a recreation on mechanical steeds of the Western migration of the 1840s and 50s. Most of the pilgrims were professionals on vacation although as always, there were many outlaw bikers as well.

Outside Sturgis traffic was backed up fifteen miles. But Tom had lived in Sturgis and knew a back way in, which we used, saving hours. We camped out at the notorious Buffalo Chip east of town. In Sturgis itself, bikes were everywhere. You’ve seen the pictures. You could walk from one side of the town to the other stepping only on motorcycle seats. Of course if you did that, you would be beaten to death.

The Chip’s restrooms were beyond primitive. Saturday morning I entered one and found an unconscious biker slumped on the concrete apron amid the stench and toilet paper. Since then they have renovated the toilets. As Tom and I walked toward the Hells Angels’ nitrous franchise, we passed a springer Harley and a man with a dog.

Tom said, “That’s a nice springer.”

I said, “That’s not a springer, it’s some kind of lab.”

Tom looked at me incredulous. “What?”

I turned toward the dog’s owner and said, “What kind of dog is that?”

The man, flying high, looked at me belligerently. “It’s a good dog. Why?”

Tom took my arm and steered me away.

I bought a balloon of nitrous from the Angels. The first one blew. The second one blew. The third one blew. The fourth one blew. The fifth one blew. I believe the sixth held.

The headliner that night was Jonny Lang, but before he came on, Cher came out to give away a free Harley. Cher was a regular at these things because of the movie Mask. All went well until Cher said, “I want to tell you about my good friend Bill Clinton.”

Fifty thousand bikers: “BOOOOOOOOOO!”

Cher: “Wait a minute! He’s a really good guy! Let me tell you…”

“BOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

The booing and jeers were intense and prolonged, driving Cher from the stage.

She never returned.

Ann: “What does this have to do with writing?”

Read Biker. I am adapting Biker for Comicmix. Chris-Cross is the artist.