Tag Archives: mike baron

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.

The Silence of the Scams

THE SILENCE OF THE SCAMS

For twelve years I drove a ’99 Maxima. On the way back from the high country it started making awful noises and the power cut out. It had over 120,000 miles on it. I took it to my mechanic. “Looks bad,” he said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with it. I’d have to tear the engine down.”

It was time. Using money I made defrauding widows and orphans I purchased a ’14 Maxima with 32,000 miles on it. The dealership tried to sell me a supplemental service contract. “Let me think about that,” I said.

Two weeks passed. Then the notices began. I threw some of them out but I have eight rightchere at my elbow and I’m sure there will be more today. The notices said, “REQUEST FOR ACTION—IMPORTANT VEHICLE INFORMATION ENCLOSED.” And, “FINAL ATTEMPT TO NOTIFY, RE: 2014 NISSAN MAXIMA.” And, “REQUEST FOR IMMEDIATE ACTION—TIME SENSITIVE MATERIAL ENCLOSED.” And, “IMMEDIATE RESPONSE TO THIS NOTICE REQUESTED.” And, “VEHICLE ALERT NOTICE—PLEASE RESPOND WITHIN 3 BUSINESS DAYS.” I got three of those. And, “IMMEDIATE RESPONSE TO THIS NOTICE IS REQUIRED.” And, “THIS IS ABSOLUTELY YOUR LAST CHANCE—RESPOND OR DIE.” And, “THE END IS NIGH, REPENT NOW.”

Okay. I made the last two up. But you get the idea. Oddly enough, none of these desperate appeals came from a legitimate business. Only one, EWS, has a return address. The rest just seemed to be anonymous threats to get my money. I have received at least twelve. I expect more. This time they will be my FINAL, FINAL NOTICES.

Weekend at Dude’s, by Mike Baron

Nexus 35 years

WEEKEND AT DUDE’S

I went to Phoenix recently to plan the next phase of Nexus with artist Steve Rude. I flew Frontier. Once again I was singled out for extra scrutiny by TSA. Happens every time. “Why me?” I said. “You have an anomaly in your groin area,” replied the agent. “Must be my enormous johnson,” I said. Actually, it’s the titanium brace in my hip which I acquired when I fell through a trap door in my own house in 2000.

Frontier’s seats are made of a single unit of plastic that doesn’t hinge. The little fold-out shelf was the size of a postcard. Water was free. A bag of chips cost seven dollars. However, the plane arrived more or less on time. Dude picked me up at the airport and we drove to his house which lies on the far western fringes of Phoenix in a weird neighborhood consisting of giant houses, many with thirty foot tall garages, surrounded by desert. As we entered a big dog, possibly a fox hound, rushed up to greet us. Dude chuckled and said, “Ha, the giant blowhard.”

Jaynelle found Daisy wandering the neighborhood and took her in. Now they have two dogs. Designer and graphic artist Mike Jones was there as well working on the Nexus Compendium which will provide behind-the-scenes looks at Nexus’ history plus a lot of never before seen art. I signed 500 posters, also signed by the Dude and the Big G (Paul Gulacy,) which are going out as premiums to kickstarter participants.

Just the other day I received a desperate plea from the Big G, along with everybody on his FB list, that he’d been mugged in Ankara, Turkey and needed money to get home. Of course he’d been hacked and it was a scam but Chuck Dixon and I had some fun stringing the hacker along with promises of money.

We also discussed the next phase of Nexus, following the current storyline which debuts in January. The current storyline is loosely based on Nexus vs. Galactus. It is epic! Dude took us on a tour of the environs and introduced us to his barber and the saleswoman who sold him his car. We ate at a nice Mexican/Italian restaurant that night which had outstanding shepherd’s pie. Then it was back to Spaceship Dude for more brainstorming. Dude hauled out page after page of original Kirby as well as paintings by Harry Anderson and Drew Struzan.

We plotted all day Sunday and went for a walk around the neighborhood. Very little grass and what there was has those damnable underground watering systems. I used to have one. Then we got Mack. The first thing she did was chew up all the underground tubes. There were little parks here and there, half acres of greensward surrounded by palm trees. I asked a guy why so many houses had those thirty foot garages and he told me, “for people to store their stuff.” The only reason I could think for those garages was to house sailboats, and there is a big lake about thirty miles away.

Sunday night Jaynelle made a delicious clam and pumpkin chowder, and on Monday morning Mike Jones dropped me off at the airport on his way back to Texas. And that was my weekend at the Dude’s.

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.

At the Dog Park by Mike Baron

By Mike Baron, Writer of Nexus and Badger. Cali on Mike's Chair

 

AT THE DOG PARK

 

The dog park is three acres of enclosed wood chips on which dogs like to dine, from which we can see Long’s Peak gleaming in the sunlight. Long’s Peak is over fourteen thousand feet and sixty miles away. People die every year on Long’s Peak because they think it’s an easy climb. I don’t know why they think that.

The more dogs, the more activity. A half dozen or less encourages sloth and introspection but when the mutts mount up, so do the dogs! They circle like a large Hadron Collider attracting other dogs as small planets snagged by gravity, usually in a counter-clockwise direction. Archimedes observed how a whirlpool of dogs sucks in all other dogs.

I am down to two dogs following the passing of the immortal Bob. Freddie and Mack LOVE big balls. You wouldn’t think a twenty-pound dog could get a soccer ball in her mouth. WRONGGGGG! This dude brings a giant knot to the playground and the dogs go berserk, especially Freddie and Mack who are obsessed with BIG BALLS. The giant knot is just that—an inch thick hauser twisted into a five pound sphere with two ropes running out the poles. Dude tossed the giant knot and Mack got there first. Gripping the hauser in her steel trap jaws, she led a dozen dogs on a deranged dervish in the dirt to the detriment of none.

This morning at the park I met a guy named Rod. I told him I wrote comics and he told me that his grandfather, Milton Wohl, was one of the original Fleischer Brothers animators in Florida, and had worked on the early Popeye and Woody Woodpecker cartoons. In the Army during World War II, Wohl’s bunkmates were Charles Addams and Bill Mauldin.

You meet interesting people at the dog park.

Mike Baron Writing A Gleaming Nugget

NUGS

 

People often say to me, “I have a terrific idea for a novel! I’ll tell it to you, you write it, and we’ll split the profits!” After I am done kicking them in the nuts, I say, “What is your novel about?”

“Well it’s about a prince, or maybe he’s just a duke, who lives in a country that’s sort of like Switzerland, only with elves. And there are some dragons. And a princess.” At this stage I nod and pass out.

When people ask you what your novel, or movie, or comic is about you must be able to tell them in a brief and exciting manner. A gleaming nugget of concise enthusiasm. One of the oldest stories in Hollywood was the pitch for Star Trek. “Wagon Train in space.” This may or may not be true, but it illustrates succinctly what the show is about. You don’t have to boil it down to four words. A paragraph will do. But your paragraph is just as much an advertisement for your novel as the novel itself. It must intrigue and excite. Once you’re committed to your idea, your first priority should be distilling that hard little nugget of information.

People ask me what my novels are about. Helmet Head: Nazi biker zombies. Whack Job: Spontaneous human combustion and alien invasion. Biker: hard-boiled biker gang crime. Skorpio: A ghost who only appears under a blazing sun. These brief descriptions are not meant as cover blurbs. Cover blurbs are a bit longer and go into more detail. But the nuggets themselves are enough to excite interest. Nazi biker zombies is only three words yet it leaves no doubt as to the nature of the story. Let the reader discover the beauty of your words, the subtlety of your characters’ relationships and wisdom as they read your book. The point is to hook them. The point is to sound like these guys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQRtuxdfQHw

You want your description to sound the way these guys talk.

10 Best Pop Music of 2014 by Mike Baron

Tenbest14

One: THE PINECONES: Ooh! (Reel Cod)

An instant classic and a masterpiece. Paul Linklater’s Toronto-based trio makes incandescent, luminous psychedelic rock that draws on the Yardbirds, the Hollies, the Beatles, the whole power pop panoply, sounding instantly familiar yet refreshingly new. Ooh! detonates like a thermonuclear bomb at the corner of Sunset and Vine and doesn’t let up, beginning with the Yardbirds/Hollies mash-up of “Gloomy Monday” in which Linklater’s guitar demands attention with fleet riffing usually associated with Al DiMeola or Les Paul. “It’s Always On My Mind” ambles in like the Lovin’ Spoonful with an operatic, almost vocally expressive guitar solo.

Linklater’s guitar sounds like Segovia on the exuberant “She’s So Confident.” “Come On Back” is pure psychedelia from San Fran’s Summer of Love, with strains of George Harrison, the Pillbugs, and John Cipollina. “That’s the Way” harks back to the great harmony groups of the fifties and sixties like the Everlys and Righteous Brothers due to the close harmonies of Linklater and bassist Brent Randall, which occur on most songs. “In ‘n’ Out” is Brian Wilson elegance: pure, simple and surprising. Every song is a winner.

Two: SPIRIT KID: Is Happening

Spirit Kid is Emeen Zarookian and Jeremy Mendicino, two superb poppers working a rich vein of hook-heavy pop also mined by David Myhr and Greg Pope. Emeen sings exactly how he looks, a rockin’ hobbit whose munchkin-like vocals perfectly match the material. “Everything Is Old” kicks things off with Kinks-like swagger and stadium-ready guitar. Guitar work throughout features superb dynamics incorporating almost subliminal classic riffs. Guitars drop out for one bar as and Emeen sings over percussion, a fresh bracer before the guitars come thundering back. Some of the songs run into one another like a circus train rolling by. “Is This Heaven’s” bass resembles like a sounding whale while “Tood Good For Winning” effortlessly summons XTC’s English Settlement.

“Miss Communication Breakdown” is in a Greg Pope vein with an abrupt phase shift into acoustic jangle for several bars. “Dot the I” explodes over a live wire guitar and infections hand-clap beat while “Heart Attack” rivals “Come On Eileen” for the sheer number of hooks.

Three: SECRET POWERS: 6

Ho hum. Another brilliant power pop masterpiece from this Montana-based quintet, overflowing with Beatlesque flourishes and killer hooks. Frontman Ryan Mayne’s six songs employ his characteristic descending themes beginning with “Bitter Sun,” a Jellyfish-type with cascading harmonies and an art-rock ELO-ish bridge, followed by the delirious “Palarium” with Beach Boys chorus behind a McCartney-esque melody. John Brownell’s “Spare Parts” has a Squeeze vibe. Mayne’s “Reservoir” slips under your skin with a rockabilly beat — dig that piano — and a massive hook. By the time you get to Mayne’s “Paula Brown” all resistance has fled. This is fist-pumping complex power pop that belongs on the shelf with the afore-mentioned bands, the Zombies, The Knickerbockers and their ilk. Brownell’s “The Way the Story Goes” rivals Spooner’s “The Way the Stories Go” in exactly the same way with a Queen-like guitar interlude. “Ready To Get Old And Die” is a future anthem, something Queen might sing and a fitting salute.

Four: WYATT FUNDERBURK: Novel and Profane (Jolly Ronnie)

Based in Nashville, Funderburk has contributed to records by The Wellingtons, The Connection and Linus of Hollywood while his own musical vector falls in the power pop tradition of David Myhr, the Davenports and Campbell Stokes Sunshine Recorder with whom he shares an affinity for effortless pop hooks. “Summer” has a Ben Folds/Fountains of Wayne vibe while “You Know What To Do,” a goodbye boyfriend song, has an elegant bridge and the type of one/two harmonies popularized by the dB’s. “Feeling Good Tonight” sounds the most Nashville with a loping vocal and cowboy yodel.

“Never Seen the Sun” bounces along with that one/two harmony while “North on 65” is as rich as Duncan Maitland’s music. Finally, “If I Ever Wanted Easier” is a Raspberry-worthy rave-up. This is how you end an album, and yet another reason we want albums and not single song downloads.

Funderburk now collaborating with Explorers Club’s Jason Brewer.

Five: HUSHDROPS: Tomorrow

This power-pop trio has the kind of quirky melodic sense found in The Posies, The Quarter After, and the Hang-Ups but always sound like themselves, due in part to the kind of A/B harmonies championed by the dB’s. Well that’s a lot of reference but it’s all good, starting with the Kon-Tiki-ish title track. These guys have a huge sound and it’s sometimes difficult to believe it’s only a trio. “This Town’s” guitar winds out like Jorma Kaukonen or Clapton with fuzztone so thick you could wear as a robe. “Up Against It” is slippery and delirious. “Take A Little Pain” sounds like something Burt Bacharach might have written, while “Find Her” is a subline Duncan Maitland-ish stunner. “Take Your Places” pings, zips, whines and shoots off sparks. “You Never Put Me Out” is a cousin to anything off Pet Sounds with a guitar solo that slots into place like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

Six: ADRIAN BOURGEOIS: Pop/Art

Bourgeois’ melodic genius is on extravagant display on this two disc set with virtually no filler, beginning with the piano-driven ballad “New December” which starts somber before soaring into poignance on strings of angels. As a songwriter, Bourgeois has a Todd Rundgren sensibility and an ear for bridges and hooks. His songs, such as the symphonic “Time Can’t Fly A Plane” seem bigger than their four minutes with more switchbacks than a mountain road. “Everybody Knows It Was Me” is a Ben Folds style rocker that starts sweetly but finds grit in the bridge and Bourgeois’ sweet tenor is spot on. His distinctive harmonica, part country, part blues dominates many of these songs including “Pictures of Incense,” another Todd Rundgren charmer that stiffens up in the bridge. There’s more than a twinge of Dylan in a lot of these including “Jonah” and “My Sweet Enemy,” which features banjo and harmonica. “Have It Your Way” is an urgent stomper with Ricky adding the high harmonies.

“Shot In the Dark” is a masterful blend of major and minor chords. “The Lost And the Free” is as bouncy and infectious as the 5th Dimension and follows an internal logic that leads to catharsis. “Better” is another melodic gem with the ineluctable progressions of Duncan Maitland. “Parachutes” and “Still Life” bring that symphonic Jellyfish sound, while the romantic “Celebrate” could have come off a Jeff Buckley record. “Rainy Day Parade” ends this cornucopia in folk ballad mode, again invoking Dylan.

Seven: RANSOM AND THE SUBSET: No Time To Lose (Tune Stack)

A late summer breath of fresh air, this trio led by singer/songwriter RanDair Porter channels classic power pop in the Fountains of Wayne, Churchills, Goldbergs mode. RanDair sings in an endearing, slightly lugubrious joker’s tenor beginning with the Jellyfish-like “Anna..’ “When Will I See You” is typical of their sound, enticing, bouncy, killer hook, highly reminiscent of Fountains. “Leaviong With You” is pulsing rock with an irresistible A/B harmony on the bridge while “Million Out Of Me” is an ode to get-rich-quick schemes with a touch of Badfinger and Vegas With Randolph.

“No Time To Lose” is a heartbreaking McCartney-esque ballad about a woman desperate for love. “She needs a husband, she needs a man, someone to love her, he’ll understand.” “Questions” is a cry of existential angst perfectly suited to RanDair’s sardonic voice. “Baby Cry” is an unberably sad song about a dog. Ransom delivers terrific dynamics, hooks, harmonies, and deep emotion.

Eight: THE LEGAL MATTERS (Blunk Street)

Detroit power pop trio consisting of Andy Reed, Chris Richards and Keith Klingensmith have produced a chiming, multi-part harmony celebration of the Everly Brothers, C,S&N, Hollies, Byrds and Beach Boys blended into a sing-along series of seriously sweet songs beginning with the “Rite of Spring,” whose close-coupled A/B harmonies recall the dB’s. The acapella passage puts the emphasis on the honeyed voices. You can almost hear the Hollies singing “Stubborn” or the Everly Brothers singing “Have You Changed Your Mind.”

“Mary Anne” is something Brian Wilson might have written ca. Pet Sounds while “So Long Sunny Days” is a languid surf and sun drenched slice of canyon rock with liquid guitar. There’s a hint of Jeff Buckley in the gorgeous “Outer Space,” but it’s all gorgeous.

Nine: MICHAEL DERMOT: Pilot

Strong debut of emotionally and musically complex hortatory rock in the manner of Andy Reed, Captain Wilberforce, by the end of the record you will be able to identify this band blindfolded. This trio delivers a dense sound with fuzztone on mostly mid-tempo burners that stick in the brain, beginning with the Billy Joel/Michael Penn-like “Another World.” “In My Mind” begins as a doo-wop powerhouse with Dermot’s left hand heavy on the keyboards, but it seems to be working toward a chord change that never appears.

“Destiny Park” features excellent dynamics that guide you through a series of gentle rhythmic rapids and a haunting bridge. “KONTS”, the “King of Nothing to Say,” is an anthemic condemnation like “Nowhere Man” or “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” with a carving knife guitar solo. “Haunted” is epic and “Unforgiving Night” is a bittersweet emotionally devastating song with gorgeous chords.

Ten: THE HANGABOUTS: Illustrated Bird

Suddenly from out of the blue with mere days left in the year comes this polished gem of tuneful rock in the tradition of the Red Button, The Galaxies and The Everly Brothers. John Lowry and Gregory Addington have that kind of harmonic magic. “Roman Forum” starts things off in an Eagles/Hollies vein. “Cut Down” has a swooningly gorgeous bridge, as do most of these songs. The boys’ keyboard work is impeccable from chiming organs to background burbles. Touch of McCartney in “November” while “I’ll Get Over It” has some of that Nillson magic. “Dr. Dragon” would be a good theme song for a Roger Moore 007 movie, but not for Connery or Craig. “I Wonder Why” combines elements of the Red Button, the Offbeat and the Beach Boys.