One of the best writers the comic book industry has ever seen is Mike Baron. He created two of the greatest comic book properties ever, Nexus and the Badger. Mike has written for all of the major comic book companies and handled some of the biggest characters in comics. Mike has won two, count ‘em, two Eisners and has been nominated for a slew of awards including a Harvey.
On a personal note, Mike is also one of the few people I’ve given a painting to. That may not be a big deal for you but I don’t give away art so it’s a big deal for me.
Mike is a comic book treasure.
Mike is a fantastic writer.
Mike not only writes comics, he writes kick ass novels.
Mike is also a major pain in the ass.
Yeah, Mike is one persistent pain in the ass motherfucker.
In his role as major pain in the ass, Mike wants me to read two of his latest novels, Helmet Head and Whack Job and has been on me like the KKK on Obama to do so. I have not been able to read them as of yet, just as I have not been able to produce a long promised drawing for a fan, more on that completely unrelated to this article later.
Mike bugs the shit out of me and I take it because Mike is not only a great talent he is a dear friend who I love like a brother. Yes, Mike understands that I’m swamped like a bitch with my workload and understands as much as I’d love to read one of my favorite writers latest work I need the time to do it justice but Mike could give a fuck.
It’s a great problem to have. One of the best writers the industry has ever produced wanting my opinion on his work is so damn cool I pinch myself sometimes at the sheer coolness of it. Yes, I could garb a few hours during the week and fly trough the books but I simply cannot read a Mike Baron story like that.
A Mike Baron story you have to sit and enjoy and if it’s a Mike Baron horror story you have to take the extra step of making sure you are not alone in the house while reading. That’s because it’s a certainty that at some point the story will be so scary and/or brutal you will long for the comfort of human contact.
Clearly it’s not just my lack of time preventing me from reading the two novels it’s all the prep that goes into reading a Baron novel. I just don’t want to read it, I want the time to read, enjoy and prepare for it.
Those are not excuses, they are facts. That persistent pain in the ass motherfucker is that good.
Mike, I know you are reading this so know this, I plan on reading at least one of your books during the Thanksgiving holiday this week. So stop sending me emails with the subject line; What the fuck are you doing that’s more important than reading my books?
Nothing, Mike. Nothing is more important than reading your books, please no more dead cats nailed to my door.
On a completely unrelated yet somehow I see a parallel so I’m working it in here note, I owe a fan a drawing and I have every intention of doing that drawing but if said fan keeps posting shit on Facebook trying to shame me into doing it then he is in for a rude awakening.
Mike’s not the only guy who can nail a cat. Hell, now that I think of it I’ve nailed quite a lot of pussy in my life…
Blam!!! Rimshot!! I’m here all week! Try the chicken! Read Mike Baron!
WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold
Helmut Head • Mike Baron • Amazon Kindle book, available in all e-book formats • 206 pages • $4.99 download
The premise of Helmet Head is simple: Young Jewish motorcycle cop Peter Fagan inadvertently stumbles into the path of someone or something that stalks bikers and leaves them headless. Although there are plenty of outlaw bikers in the story, the killer targets anyone on a motorcycle. Right after he dispatches a member of the local southern Illinois biker gang, he pursues Fagan with frightening singleness of purpose. He pursues Fagan all the way to the biker hangout, a rundown, out of the way bar, where Helmet Head doesn’t kill anyone. Instead, he orders a drink. When the bartender refuses to serve him, he leaves. This sets the tone for a rather long stretch.
The action kicks into high gear again in the last third of the story, and if you can get past the mad scientist angle and the obligatory damsel in distress, it’s a fairly entertaining ride. The climactic conflagration is a smorgasbord of horror movie clichés – which might have worked, despite the rather offhanded way one of the main characters dies, if it weren’t for the rather anti-climactic (and inevitable) scene in which the villain meets his end.
Mike Baron is a good writer, and that shows early on in Helmet Head – and based on my extremely limited sample of self-published works of fiction, Helmet Head is the best-written one so far. The first few chapters are tightly paced, with just enough colorful metaphor to give the narrative depth. But good writing and good storytelling are not the same thing.
Helmet Head apparently started as an idea for a “slasher film,” and that unfortunately also shows. Unlike a non-stop action film, a good novel, even a slasher/horror/thriller novel, requires some characters with depth. Even if you don’t like the characters, you need to have some sense that they are real. For good or ill, you need to care what happens to them; otherwise you won’t keep reading to find out. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, but interspersing the main story with unrelated stories from the characters’ pasts only works if it gives the characters more depth or motivation or something that gives the reader a sense of empathy. In the case of Helmet Head, it just gives the characters … well … pasts. Fagan’s early life and Jewish heritage are apparently supposed to be significant in some way. As it turns out, not so much.
Helmet Head reads like a screenplay padded out to make a novel. The pieces just don’t fit together very well. The pacing is uneven. Aside from the occasional overly long asides into the various characters’ back stories, some scenes just don’t seem to make any sense at all. What does Fagan do after the biker gang takes off in pursuit of the monster that has just chopped off the head of their friend and tossed it through the bar window like a basketball? He goes in the back room of the bar and … takes a shower. Freshly showered, he “… stood in the doorway and scanned the room as he’d been trained to do.” This is because the entire bar is a potential crime scene … one in which he’s just taken a shower. And only after that does it occur to him that maybe he should find a vehicle and get the hell out of there and do something, anything.
To be fair, maybe I expected too much. I’m a big fan of Baron’s work on the comic book Nexus, which seamlessly weaves action, drama, humor, and moral conflict into compelling storylines. The most enjoyable aspect of my brief tenure in the comics industry was working with Mike on that book. Unfortunately, those qualities are sadly lacking in Helmet Head.
Helmet Head has been published as an Amazon e-book, available via the Kindle app on all computers, smartphones and tablets. It costs $4.99, which is pretty good for a full-length novel. Helmet Head is a horror piece that started out as a movie concept developed for movie director Ian Fischer about a monstrous motorcyclist who rides around the Little Egypt area in central America lobbing off the heads of other bikers and, one supposes, the occasional saluki, all expressed with the subtlety and sensitivity we have come to expect from the talented Mr. Baron.
For example, Mike refers to Helmet Head as containing “scenes of graphic violence that would gag a dog off a gut wagon.” It’s got plenty of bikers, high-holy-horror and senses-shattering action that certainly will thrill his many fans. Clearly, this is a date-night kinda novel.
Baron’s tome is the first of a trilogy – Whack Job comes out later this month and Banshees winds up this arc after the first of the year. And can a comic book adaptation be far behind?
Did I mention there’s Nazis in the story? There’s Nazis in the story. How can you go wrong?
You can gawk at Helmet Head’s interior or actually purchase the book by merely clicking on this link.
|Cover art: Joseph Arnold|
About Mike Baron’s Helmet Head:
He was just a rumor to the one percenters–a monstrous motorcyclist dressed all in black who rode the back roads of Little Egypt cutting off the heads of other bikers with a samurai sword. But on one terrible stormy night, Deputy Pete Fagan discovers that Helmet Head is all too real and filled with a fury that won’t be satisfied until his demonic sword drinks deeply.
A print edition will follow from New Pulp Publisher, Airship 27 Productions. As soon as the details become available, All Pulp will share that news here.
Cover art is by Joseph Arnold who will be providing nine black and white interior illustrations for the Helmet Head print edition.
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
Steve Rude, co-creator of Nexus, was arrested last night in a dispute with his neighbors. The charges are assault and failure to comply with a court order.
He’s out on bail now, but will still have to raise legal fees. Mark Evanier notes:
This means you have one of those great opportunities to simultaneously help out a deserving guy and get yourself a great bargain. Go to his website and buy something. In fact, while you’re there, buy several somethings.
via news from me.
The Beat notes that the Rudes live in Maricopa County is the homebase of Joe Arpaio, “America’s Toughest Sheriff”, who’s known for housing inmates outside in 145 degree heat, feeding them spoiled food, and other practices that have gained notoriety and lawsuits from organizations such as the ACLU and Amnesty International, and rulings from federal courts over various violations of the US Constitution– you know, cruel and unusual punishment, violating civil rights, racial profiling, election law violations, and abuse of power.
And just to tie it back into comics, Arpaio created an armed illegal immigration operations posse in 2010, to help his deputies enforce immigration law. One member of the posse? Lou Ferrigno.
More information as we get it.
Today’s list of quick items that don’t fill a full post on their own:
- This online TV thing really is taking off: Lost Finds 1.4 Million Viewers On ABC.com. Read the entire thing and get a look at how the TV landscape is changing, and more importantly, how the new rules don’t apply any more.
- With newspapers downsizing, even Clark Kent can be laid off. See Robert Cass, Rob Tornoe, Matt Manochio, and David Willis.
- Spent some time poking around PODcomix, which does fine art prints from a number of comics pros. Here’s where you can buy the Nexus painting.
- A Giant Midwest Mecca of Action Figures in Oklahoma from Wired. Also: How Comics Can Save Us From Scientific Ignorance.
- And sadly, Chuck Crayne, a major figure in the history of science fiction conrunning, passed away on Monday, February 16, on his 71st birthday. File 770 has a great writeup of who he was and what he accomplished.
Anything else? Consider this an open thread.