MIKE GOLD: True-Life Nexus Comics
I first saw Nexus at one of those ancient Chicago Minicons we used to run at the beautiful and even ancienter Congress Hotel. The Minicon was an intense show held roughly every month, no matter the weather or the proximity of the latest Chicago Bears game. We had about 75 dealers tables, admission cost 75¢, our dealers and attendees drove in from a 350 mile radius, and the whole thing was over within five hours; less, if the Bears were playing that Sunday.
Our guests came from a similar radius, and frequently you’d see Jill Thompson, John Byrne, John Ostrander, Joe Staton, Paul Kupperberg, and a dozen or more at the tables near the entrance… as well as more than a few who were breaking into the business. Mike Baron, who lived about 80 miles north in Madison Wisconsin, was one such newbee, and when they launched their magazine-sized Nexus #1, he and artist Steve Rude gave me a copy. I consumed it that evening, and became a fan. Big-time.
Maybe a year later, Mike showed up at the Minicon dressed as The Badger. He looked and acted perfect in every way, as though Mike Baron was The Badger. This set my spider-sense tingling.
When their publisher went blooie, I aggressively pursued the opportunity to pick up both titles for our fledgling First Comics company. Both fit our line perfectly: superheroish but not traditional superhero, with a cutting edge provided by a writer and by artists who each had an evolved worldview. Like most of the best creative talent in all endeavors, Mike and Steve had their own individual connections to reality. Badger artist Jeff Butler was, as I recall, pretty straight-forward.
So when I came to actually negotiating terms with the defunct rights-holder Capital Comics, First Publisher Rick Obadiah and I drove up to Madison – Rick went to the University of Wisconsin and knew all the words to “On Wisconsin,” which helped us get a great table for lunch – and had our meeting in the offices of their now former-art director, Richard Bruning. Yeah, Rich is an old fart, too.
We were able to resolve all issues except one, and that one was so minor I can’t remember it today. I recall it wouldn’t have affected Capital Comics at all, but it would give First some needed flexibility. I held firm. So did Capital publisher Milton Griepp. Milton turned to Rich as a mediator, and Rich said he understood my concern. Bless you, Rich. Milton still held firm.
Mike decided he had enough. He walked over to the window behind Milton and opened it, proclaiming he had had enough of this shit and was going to lower himself out the window and hang there until we reached a deal. Then he started to lower himself out that window.
Did I mention the window overlooked the Wisconsin state capitol building?
At that very moment, I wanted to publish Nexus and The Badger more than I wanted oxygen. I sat poker-faced, Rick looked at me in shock, and both Rich and Milton were sort of… dismissive. As if this sort of thing happened with Mike every day.
“Well,” Milton said to Mike who was hanging out the window behind him, “if you feel that strongly about it, I’m okay with this.” Mike came back into the meeting room and we had a deal.
No matter how good those comics were – and Nexus and Badger were very good – that meeting was better. These guys possessed unique minds, and they put their heart and soul into their work.
I’ve had a lot of interesting situations with both Mike and Steve since: the real story of Sonic Disruptors is one that I will tell one day, now that everybody involved is no longer with DC Comics. And I’ll share just one story about these guys.
One day, I’m at First Comics and I get a call from Steve. “Hey, man. It’s the Dude.” Yep, it sure was. Imagine Maynard G. Krebs as one of the most talented artists in the world, circa mid-1980s. “Hey, I, like, just got a call from Rich Bruning! You know he’s out in Hollywood now!”
“Yes, I know…” I responded, waiting with bated breath for the Dude’s next words.
“Well, Rich told me he was working on the Nexus movie, doing all kinds of great design work.”
At that moment, I knew two things: 1) There was no Nexus movie, and 2) If I just shut the hell up, I’d find out what’s going on and probably have a wonderful ride. The Dude continued.
“I guess you forgot to tell me, huh? I know you’ve been busy.” Steve wasn’t pissed at all; he assumed I had a busy schedule and would have gotten around to it. This realization, even though it was based on a very faulty assumption, showed more thought and consideration than I’ve seen from a great many creators. I was genuinely moved.
“So, I gotta ask you, what’s up with the movie? Can I work on it?”
Passing up a great straight line, I sucked in all the air in my Evanston Illinois office and slowly let it out. “Steve. Listen up. Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘pulling your leg’?”
“Yeah, sure. That’s like somebody’s playing a joke on you, right?”
“Right, Steve,” I replied.
“So… you’re saying Rich was playing a joke on me!”
“Oh.” Without pausing he added “Hey, that’s great! Really funny! Thanks for telling me!”
Damn. I didn’t know Emily Litella had a son.
And I really miss working with those guys.
THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil