Mike Baron – StartUp FoCo Podcast

Mike Baron is an Eisner award-winning author right in our own back yard. If you’re a fan of The Punisher and Star Wars, Mike is someone you’re gonna want to get to know. His insights into the business side of writing are both timely and carry the weight of years of doing the work.

Mike’s panel at Techstars Startup Week Fort Collins is: How to Make a Comic Book on Wednesday February 27th, 4:00pm-5:00pm @ Downtown Artery Gallery

Hi, Mike! Tell us about yourself.

I’ve been a comic writer all my life. In 1981, I created Nexus with the artist Steve Rude for which we won every industry award. Nexus is about a cosmic adventure 500 years in the future. A year later, I created Badger which is about a hero with multiple personalities, one of whom is a costumed crime fighter. Badger’s only superpower is his ability to talk to animals. I have also written The Punisher, Flash, Deadman, and Star Wars among many other titles.

You also recently published another comic of your own, Q Ball, right?

Yes. We crowdfunded Q Ball. It’s mostly a Colorado production. I’m working with an amazing artist in Denver, Barry McClain Jr. Even though we kickstarted the first issue, we were picked up immediately by Antarctic which will publish Q Ball later this year. It’s a five issue series.

Who is doing the best working comics in Northern Colorado?

I’ve often worked with Lee Oakes who lives here in Fort Collins, he’s an amazing artist. Zach Howard, from Denver, is also an amazing artist. He’s working on The Cape with Joe Hill from IDW. Roger McKenzie, the great Marvel artist who’s famous for his work on Daredevil, also lives in Denver. Ozzy Longoria is putting out a horror anthology. Ozzy’s a very talented artist. There’s a lot of talent here.

In fact, we have a meetup group the first Saturday of every month at Griffin’s. It’s headed by Ron Fortier. Ron’s a well-known comic book writer who wrote The Green Hornet for Now and has a ton of his own books out. So there’s a lot of talent up here. I’m always amazed but not surprised when I run into more.

What would you say are the biggest challenges in either comic writing or artistry in Colorado?

Everybody has a personal challenge to do their best work. It’s difficult to break into the system. If you want to work for Marvel or DC, there are all sorts of hoops you have to jump through, but I tell people from personal experience that the best way to get a job with a major publisher is to put out your own comic, and bear in mind that you only get one chance to make a first impression. Do something outstanding, they will notice it and give you work.

What are you most looking forward to during Startup Week?

Meeting new people, delivering my speech coherently.

Do you teach often?

I haven’t taught since last summer, but I did offer a course in novel writing and it was very successful, and I have plans to launch a YouTube channel on how to write with my friend Ray Harvey who also is from Fort Collins and Ray’s an accomplished novelist as well.

I have 11 novels out, four of them are in the Bad Road Rising series featuring my biker hero Josh Pratt. He’s a reformed motorcycle hoodlum who went to prison, found God, and came out determined to do good works but the only work he could get was delivering summons for sleazy lawyers. But people keep coming to him with their problems because he straddles that gray area of the law with one foot in legality and one foot outside the law and he knows how to get things done.

Do you find that people are seeking out original fiction and off the beaten path?

Not yet. But it’s just a matter of getting the word out, because I can speak with confidence that my stuff is world-class and I’m on a tiny publisher, Liberty Island Press. There are one million novels published a year. That’s no exaggeration. Of course, most of them are self-published and they’re just crowding up the shelves. I don’t want to speak ill of my fellow writers, but a lot of them just aren’t professional quality, especially the self-published ones. And they’re all out there fighting for space and elbowing for room.

I know there are terrific writers, just great writers out there, that can barely make a living at it. There’s a guy named Ron Faust. There are so many great writers from the ’70s or ’80s that have disappeared. But I have friends who write and they write really well and they’re just struggling for shelf space. Barnes and Noble is the only mass chain left. We used to have B. Dalton and Waldenbooks and Borders. This is all due to changes in technology because most book sales these days are digital. And I can understand that, especially if you’re traveling a lot.

The physical book has been left behind, and a store like Barnes and Noble can’t afford to have books sitting on their shelf that don’t sell. They’re very picky about what they put on their shelves, and it’s all dictated by the best seller list. If you go into a Barnes and Noble, you’ll see that they now heavily feature toys and other objects that aren’t books at all. Toys and puzzles and miniature figurines that now make up a lot of their sales. On the other hand, many independent bookstores are thriving.

That same pattern’s repeating in the comic book industry?

The comic industry is in free-fall. They don’t know what to do. One of the unspoken problems is that video games have created a generation of kids that aren’t all that eager to read comics, and my opinion is that the average $4 or $5 comic really can’t compete with a really good video game in terms of value for your dollar. The video game is simply more engrossing.

This doesn’t have to be the case. But in my opinion, most of the comics being written today aren’t very entertaining. The writers don’t know how tell a story. They have a number of talking points which they shoehorn in and that’s the book. But the whole goal in the type of fiction that I do and that my friends do is to grab the reader by the throat and drag them into the narrative so that they no longer feel they’re experiencing an artifice, but are totally absorbed in the adventure, and a good book, a movie, or a comic can do that. Comics can still do that.

Is there any one artist or author who we should be absolutely paying attention to as a rising star in Fort Collins or Northern Colorado or beyond?

In terms of art, Zane DeGaine is doing some amazing work. One comic that’s never failed to deliver is Straight Bullets by David Lapham. It’s been around for at least 20 years, but those stories are absolutely gripping. They’re very well-written, but grim.

If you could tell the local Northern Colorado business community one thing, what would it be?

Comics are a terrific medium for getting your message across. Lee Oaks and I did a three-issue series for Popeyes Chicken. It’s just a good story – kid-centric and kid-friendly. It doesn’t lay on the “buy Popeyes Chicken” too heavily. There’s also SimplyHR here in town that has put out their own comic on sexual harassment called Define The Line.

The United States military has always used comic to explain things, and Will Eisner, the famous creator of the Spirit, did a number of comics for the United States Army which covers things like how to clean your weapon, how to set up a bivouac, and they still use comics.

I have boxes of educational comics in my basement from insurance companies and finance companies explaining what they do in an entertaining manner. It’s not easy to make insurance and finance entertaining, but this is one way to do it. People read comics and understand comics. You see a story in pictures, you just want to pick it up and follow it. There’s such a wide range of material.

Octavia Butler’s novel Kindred has been turned into a graphic novel and it’s very well done. Also look at the huge body of autobiographical works that are appearing as graphic novels now. These are outside the traditional comic market. They’re not about super heroes. They’re about private lives. I have one by Bill Griffith called Invisible Ink which is about his mother’s affair with a famous cartoonist, and it’s all very personal, but it’s absolutely gripping because it’s real. He recreates who they were and what they said. He’s a very good artist too. Bill Griffith is the creator of Zippy the Pinhead, which was a syndicated strip in the Bay Area for many years. But you look at the work of R. Crumb or Spain Rodriguez, it’s autobiographical and it’s very powerful.

Mike, where can we find out more about you and your work?

Follow me on Twitter @bloodyredbaron and my website is BloodyRedBaron.net. All my books are on Amazon including thousands of graphics novels on which I’ve worked, including Star Wars, Deadman, Batman, and The Punisher.

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