Interview with comic writer Mike Baron
Rob interviews comic writer/creator Mike Baron (Nexus, Badger, Florida Man, Punisher, and so much more)
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About Mike Baron
Mike Baron was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. He graduated from The University Of Wisconsin with a BA in political science. While he was still in college, his aspirations of becoming a comic book artist were dashed when he was introduced to Steve Rude. The two formed a fast friendship which led to the eventual creation of Nexus. Baron is a prolific writer, having written stories for Marvel and DC as well as many independent companies. He is a lifelong fan of Bruce Lee, and has a second degree black belt in karate.
Mike Baron Interview - Full Transcription
[00:00:00] Welcome to all chance. I am Rob Southgate. We’re gonna cut right to it today. I’ve got a special guest, somebody I’m super excited to talk to. I’ve got Mike Baron with me. Uh, if you don’t know who he is yet, you are gonna know very shortly. Once he starts talking about some of the things he’s worked on, which is what Mike, what is it just about everything?
IOh, no. Um, no, I, yeah, I wrote the Punisher. And Flash and worked on Star Wars, Bruce Lee comics. Uh, but I’m probably best known for my own creations, Nexus and Badger. Yeah. Which are both exceptional books. So those are great. And then you also have a new one you’re doing, uh, Florida Man, right? Well, uh, I’m working on a fourth, Florida Man novel.
They’re already three floor to me in novels. Uh, and if you wanted, they’re all on. Okay, so Amazon and, and type my name in Mike barren, B a R O N. Just like the bloody red barren. [00:01:00] Not B a R R E N. Not B a R R O N, but B a R O N. Uh, most of my stuff will pop up. Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, you’ve got, you’ve got quite a, uh, a legacy of things that you’ve put out there.
You, you, uh, looking at your background right now, I can. You actually worked on one of my favorites. You worked on dead man as well. That’s true. I’m very proud of that work with Kelly Jones. That was the book when Kelly exploded. That was a hell of a book. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s, that’s awesome. So, Mike, why don’t you give a little history?
I mean, we were just kinda talking about some of the books, but how did you get into comics? What, how did this all come about? Well, I wanted to be a writer ever since I was 12 years old. I went into a cigar store in Mitchell, South Dakota, and purchased a John D. McDonald novel for 35 cents. It was called the deep blue goodbye.
And as I stood on the sidewalk, looking at the [00:02:00] lurid cover, I had an epiphany, which was that McDonald. Wasn’t writing these for his health. He did this for a living. So I decided that’s what I wanted to do. It just took me a long, long way to get there. I was also. Fascinated with, uh, the work of Carl barks who created an uncle SCR for Disney and, and wrote and illustrated his own duck comics for many years.
And anybody who is interested in, uh, in how to do a comic that clicks that fires on every cylinder. Uh, just look at the work of Carl Barks. He was a master creator. There are no wasted panels. There are no wasted pictures. Uh, everything works in concert. When I was in college, I thought I’d write a quick paperback novel and make a few hundred bucks.
sure. So I, so I sat down and I started to write, I had no plan. I just started to write. And after a couple of pages, I realized that I [00:03:00] didn’t know what I was doing and I, I gave up, uh, and I didn’t return to novels for, um, oh, geez. 40 years after that. But, uh, wow. And, but how I got into comics, I was in the right place at the right time.
I was working at an insurance company in Madison, Wisconsin. When I got a phone call from an editor who said, Hey, there’s a guy down here. He is trying to sell us his, uh, his art. And I think you oughta take a look at. So I met Steve Rud on the pages of the student union. Uh, and he wanted to do comics, but he couldn’t write and I wanted do comics, but I couldn’t draw.
So I said, well, let’s do comics. And, uh, we were in the right place at the right time. Yeah, no kidding. Capital city distribution wanted to start their own comic book line. So I went home and I brainstormed nexus and. I drew the first [00:04:00] 12 pages out by hand, which is how I wrote comics for 25 years. I would draw each page out by hand.
And although I’m not a great artist, I’m good enough to get my ideas across editors and writers loved it because you could tell it a glance, what I wanted on the page. And it also taught me very many valuable lessons. Uh, how much weight, a page could bear the importance of an establishing shot, which must appear on every page.
Uh, and most importantly, what happens next because I was writing by the seat of my pants. Uh, and I draw panel. I draw panel that I was happy with. I said, this represents the story. This is part of the story. And then I would look at the blank space next to it. And it forced me to think about what happens next.
Uh, and that’s the most important question in fiction because if the reader doesn’t care, he’s not going to turn the page. Right. Uh, so I think in that way, because I was [00:05:00] writing that way and thinking that way, there was very little filler in my comics that, that everything was part of the story. Be it visual, or be it words.
I also learned to be parsimonious with my words. Because comics are a visual medium, and, uh, one of the most important lessons in any kind of fiction. And this includes novels as well is to show don’t tell which means that any information you can impart to the reader or viewer visually, without having to explain it, you should.
And if anybody wants to see a superb example of this, just watch the opening of any better call Saul episode. , which usually I agree with a, with a silent, uh, five minute panning shot and you don’t know what’s going on, but it’s intriguing. And when you get to the end of that panning shot, you’re ready to go into the story because you know, what’s happening.
You are, you are propelled. I agree. Those opening shots on better call SA are amazing. And even if they. Flip the cards and tell you what’s [00:06:00] happening. You can’t stop thinking about it. So that, that is a master work right there. I agree. Are you by chance friends with art Beltazar do you know him? It doesn’t ring a bell.
Oh yeah. Comics. Uh, he did, he did, did like itty bitty, Hellboy, tiny Titans, all that. At some point, Mike, when you’re at a ComicCon and you see an AYA comics banner go up and talk to art Beltazar you will not find a guy in comics. Who’s a bigger fan of breaking bad and better call Saul. I think you guys would get along.
all right. We actually were gonna put a podcast on called Breaking Baltazar just so that he could sit and talk about. This is shorten that the breaking balls. Yes. Yes. Uh, although I’m trying to have it distributed across the world and that might, you know, India might not go with that one. So, uh, so wow.
Really fascinating. So you said you didn’t go back to novel writing for 40 years, but you were writing comics throughout [00:07:00] or did you just kind of put it aside as well? I was writing comics until. 1996. Okay. When for a variety of reasons, I fell out of the ass of the industry. Uh, I didn’t really understand what it was to maintain a career.
I don’t blame anyone but myself, but there were 10 years there. Uh, when I couldn’t get any work writing whatsoever. And, and, uh, uh, I had commitments. I had a wife who was ill. I took every job I could. Including janitor and unloading automobile bumpers and things like that. Sure. Uh, and, uh, during the course of that time, we, we moved from Wisconsin to Colorado.
And then she died from an overdose of Oxycontin and vodka. I was very naive. I, I should have realized she was a lifelong alcoholic that I, I did. And, but there was nothing I could do about it. Sure. Uh, and after that happened, a couple months passed and I decided to try my hand again. And this time, while I was [00:08:00] writing, I realized I, I understood story, not just in comics.
Which is a completely different art form. I mean, there are, there are a lot of crossovers, but a novel is very different. Uh, I understood prose writing and I understood what constituted story. Uh, and since then, I, I have not made a misstep because once you understand what constitutes story, you stick to the story.
I mean, that doesn’t mean you can’t go off on tangents if they relate to the story, but they must relate to the story. And when you understand what story is, you don’t make any missteps. And since then I’ve, uh, been trying to write three novels a year. Wow. Which is what any professional novelist will do. I have a friend who writes six, six novels a year and he does an outline.
He does not online. Uh, I am now firm believer in the outline. Okay. So that is you do like to work with the outline. It it’s funny, cuz I [00:09:00] do talk to, uh, writers, uh, various genres that some are all about the outline and some of ’em like you said, they can’t work within an outline. Um, I know when I was trying to do some writing for me, it had to be very, very loose sketches because I was gonna break it every time.
Right. Well I, no matter how detailed you’re outlined at some. You’re gonna veer away from it. That’s just the way it is. Uh, that’s always happened to me. I write the outline and fills my head with thoughts, but when you get into the bulk, the, the meat of the story, and if you have a compelling character that you believe in and, and he’s fully fleshed out at some point, that character turns around and tells you what he’s going to do next.
And I always thought that a reader, a writer has to surprise himself before he can surprise his readers. I believe in that firmly. Uh, and if you have a good sense of story, uh, you will plant seeds early in the story. You don’t know why, why did I introduce this [00:10:00] character? but as you near the end of the story, it becomes clear, uh, and that character or that development becomes very important.
Uh, and for me, the ultimate ending should come as both a complete surprise in, in retrospect, inevit. Fascinating. Uh, I, I do have a, a question looking at your body of work, uh, like taking Badger into consideration and, and Florida man, and some of the other works the, the nexus obviously, but then you’ve also done a lot of work, uh, as a gun for hire working on, you know, what if, and, uh, Batman and, and what have you you’ve, I mean, you’ve worked on everything.
It feels like, uh, do you. Find it easy to jump into another character’s universe and right. Or do you kind of prefer to do your own thing and kind of craft around that? What, what is your thought there? Uh, between original versus hired [00:11:00] gun? I would prefer to work on my own creations and as long as they’re doing well, uh, but I’m always happy to write for others.
If they ask me to do something, I do my research. Think about it. I work up an outline. I proceed from there. I just finished a, uh, think it’s a, uh, a 62 page Coball blue graphic novel. Okay. And, uh, I wrote a tiger blue issue. That’s that’s being crowdfunded right now. And I’m adapting a screenplay for a producer.
This is a science fiction, uh, story. And, and of course I have the screenplay, so, so that’s very easy for me to adapt because, uh, the language of movies is already visual, but you still have to specify, uh, what you’re going to include in that panel. Sure. Uh, you have. Choose what words you use and always keep in mind that there has to be an establishing [00:12:00] shot on every page.
Well, what is an establishing shot? It’s an image that shows everybody involved in that scene. And their physical relationship to one another. And it’s very important. Uh, the only time you don’t use an establishing shot is when you start with a mob in a bar or something or a clubhouse, and then you go from talking head to talking head as they converse.
Uh, and that’s very hard to pull off because when I read the language in a lot of those comics and you we’ve all seen. We’ve all seen a page. That’s divided up into six, nine or 10 panels and each one has a different talking head and they’re all conversing. Well, that conversation has to be interesting in and of itself.
It has to use fresh language or else the reader’s eyes glaze over and they ask, why am I being subjected to this? It’s not entertaining. Right. [00:13:00] Right. It’s almost. A chore getting through it at times. I mean, I, I can think of, especially if the writing is bad, I, I can think of, uh, a couple of times that it’s been effective, uh, where it’s compelled me to keep going.
Uh, specifically the, the one that’s popping into my mind is, uh, uh, a page from, uh, the dark night returns where it had the talking heads. It didn’t really have anything other. Shots of news anchors talking about what was going on and it was compelling. It draw, it, drew you to the next thing, but I’m sure the next thing was a big splash page of, you know, Batman flying through the night with lightning and whatever it was.
Um, but you’re right. You, you do need that establishing shot. It’s interesting. You think very much like a filmmaker. I talked to a lot of filmmakers, uh, and I’ve dabbled, uh, you, you are so right. And I wish that I, I wish that a lot of writers, young writers. Actually studied what you’re talking about so that they understood number one, the importance of that establishing shot of, of keeping the reader’s interest, even at the [00:14:00] end of a page.
Uh, and, uh, I’m sure you’ve, uh, seen, oh, I’m McLeod, his, his book, uh, understanding comics where he talks all about the importance of the white part of the page. And it, you said it, you said it, that, that, that divide between this panel into this panel and that white space in between. Tells you everything.
It’s so interesting. You mentioned, you mentioned, uh, talk, uh, uh, newscasters. Yeah. And that’s a very good device to use, especially when something big is happening and it becomes news. It’s fine to show a talking head. Uh, this is Rebecca turmoil for w K O w news reporting that that a meteor has landed on city hall.
I mean, that’s a, a very effective way. To transmit information to the reader. I don’t use it all the time, but I use it a lot, especially when you’re painting a broad canvas when there are [00:15:00] things that demand public reporting. Uh, but I also take pains to make it interesting to put something in there in the language itself.
So it, it doesn’t sound like every other newscast. Yeah. Yeah. Um, Going back to something you had talked about, you talked about adapting, you know, somebody gives you a screenplay, you adapted into a comic. Uh, first of all, you worked on, you’ve done this with novels as well, like air to the empire. Yeah. Uh, your work on that was exceptional.
I mean, those books are great. Tim of these Z’s work is great. I thought the comic stood on their own as great pieces of work. So, you know, that’s a great example of, uh, adapt. Do you, do you find that like adapting a novel is because they’re, it’s not as a script, you’ve got the visual cues and the, the stage direction and everything with a novel you’ve gotta read through and pick through what to put on the page.
Well, Timothy is a very visual writer and it was very [00:16:00] easy to adapt his work. Well, you did an exceptional job. Um, thank you. I’m thinking of, uh, you know, when, when a, when an adaptation is done right of a film or a novel. Uh, it, it, like I said, it can stand on its own. I, I remember reading, uh, the intro to, uh, game of Thrones, the, the comic series and J R Martin said that, uh, he felt that the comic stood on its own.
Like, if you like the, the show, if you like the books, you should read the comics. Cuz there are three different things, different ways for your brain to have taken in the information. And I go back to when I was in high school and the adaptation of blade runner came. I was obsessed with that adaptation I mean, and it, it tied into the book even more so than the movie at that.
Like there were things, cause I had read the book and I’d seen the movie and it just, it, it it’s so great. And I, I, I know that you do the same thing and I, I think that that might be like a, somebody who’s a [00:17:00] novelist first might be able to pull that. Does that make sense? Well, it does. And, and now I’m adapting my own novels such as, uh, the Florida man graphic novel.
Uh, and we’re about to start work on the second one, but the second one it’s, it’s, it’s a lot. I was very happy with the first and so we’re all my readers, but the second one is, uh, gonna be a lot better, uh, cause, uh, for a number of reasons, but it snaps crackles and pops on every panel. And that’s what I try to do with a comic book story.
I want you to go from panel to panel with excitement. Yeah. Because you can’t wait to see what happens next, because what you’re looking at is so damn interesting. Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, when I think about Badger and I think about nexus, that is absolutely how I would start describing that. If somebody were to ask me about those, it, they crackle and they, you just, you’re driven by ’em.
They’re just great books. Now. Okay. The world is full of everybody turning [00:18:00] these things into, uh, you know, the IPS into TV shows and movies. Where’s the nexus movie. Oh, okay. I didn’t ask that question. Where’s the Badger movie. I didn’t ask that question. Uh, yeah. Keep your fingers crossed. I, they are crossed because I think that your work would be exceptional and it, it reminds me of like, uh, some of the, the pieces like invincible or the boys where, when they finally get adapted, you.
Okay. I’m not just seeing the same thing. This is something new. This is fun. Uh, pre the preacher series. Same thing for me. So I think you fall into an elite class of those types of comics. I, I, boy, I, well, thank you. Really look forward to something like that, so, okay. We’re gonna reel it back. I gotta, I got a question that I ask everybody that comes on this show since ComicCons now they’re back.
So my, my normal question doesn’t have quite the same. We’re gonna reframe it a little bit. Uh, you’re going to ComicCons now [00:19:00] you’re back kind of in the fold. If this is your dream dream con means we’re out of time and out of space and out of who’s alive and who’s dead. Who would you love to meet at a ComicCon?
Mm. Geraldo Boor wow. Of all the people that’s who you pick and why. Great artist. We’ve been corresponding for years. I hope to get him to draw the, uh, the next Badger comic. In fact, I should get on that this week and, and finish the first script. We are talking to a publisher about it. Uh, but if necessary, I believe I could crowdfund that very successfully.
And you wanna meet Hernand that’s. That would be your one. That’s fantastic. I love that. I love that. Uh, when you do your crowdfunding, I’m gonna invite you reach out [00:20:00] to me because I have another show called GoFund this where people come on and they talk about the tiers and they talk about their stretch goals and it makes people aware of their projects.
And I get a lot of comic book people on there, and I absolutely would love to have you on that. You’ll especially love it. Cause it’s a 15 minute. Uh, well, Rob, we’re about to launch a new campaign for private American. I sent you the cover on your PM. If you wanna take a look at it and we’re launch that later this month, and we’re very excited about that.
What is private America? It’s everything America should be, but isn’t with AER fantastic. Now of the characters, like the Punisher, you mentioned the Punisher of these characters you’ve worked on. This is a, such a crappy question and I’m asking it. Who, who do you love? Who is it that who’s your favorite that you’ve worked on outside of your, uh, catalog?
Oh, the Punisher would be right up there. Punisher is the one, huh? You know, I, I kind of baed you with that. Cause I had a [00:21:00] feeling, but it could have gone dead. I love dead man to it. I’d be happy to do one of those, but I’m at a point in my. Where I enjoy stories that stink of reality that I believe could actually happen.
Uh, and for a variety of reasons, most of the superhero fear that comes out today, uh, begs credulity. I’m not buying it. Uh, some stuff I do, but most I don’t and, and my taste in creation runs towards stuff. uh, that, that you think, yeah, this is real. Yeah. And that doesn’t mean it lets out the fantastic, because I would include alien and aliens in that those are two movies.
You watch them and uh, you say, yeah, I believe this has actually happened because, uh, they’ve been thought through they’re consistent. Uh, all the details are right. It could happen. Yeah. [00:22:00] It’s, it’s got that error of reality to it. I, I completely agree. Once again, I mentioned blade runner. I actually feel the same way about blade runner, where it’s like, this could be a future.
That could absolutely be real. You know, I, I know that people go, come on and I’m like, yeah, you’re right. Come on. Okay. Two years ago we might have said, come on today. We’re saying, Ooh, we’re much closer than we thought to that reality. So, okay. I see private Americans. So I’m gonna invite you back on and we’re going to do a go fund this about that.
When does that one launch? It might be later this month, we already have a signup page. Uh, I believe it’s the private American comic.com. Let me check that out. Let me check that out. See here. So while you’re looking, I’m gonna tell the audience number one, uh, check out Mike Baron on Amazon and Mike, you’re gonna give him other places.
They can check you out and check out GoFund this. Because later this month, we will have an episode where he gives the details on private American. [00:23:00] That way you can support him directly and you can make, make this book happen, which is always excellent. If one of the stretch goals is gonna be that he’s gonna meet his artist in person at a ComicCon, we’re gonna make his wildest dreams come true.
finder the private american.com. Excellent. All. Mike, where can people find you? I know we mentioned Amazon, but where can people buy your work? Where can people find you? Where do you wanna send them? Well, first of all, Amazon, if you go to Amazon type in Mike Baron, it’s B a R O N just like the bloody red Baron.
I also am on Twitter at bloody red Baron. I’m on Facebook in the comics and novels of Mike Barron and also Mike LeBaron. I have a website, bloody red barren.com. I’m on subs stack as Mike Baron. Uh, and, uh, I don’t know where I’m gonna be. [00:24:00] those, those are, those are some of the places and, you know, I have a newsletter too.
And if you wanna be included in the newsletter, uh, just send me your email. You can send it to me via Twitter at bloody red Baron, uh, or on Facebook. Great. Excellent. I’m gonna encourage everybody to do that. And I’m gonna put all of this in the show notes so people can just click on it and go right to your stuff.
Um, subst, there’s your newsletter right there. I’m sure you share newsletter information on there and subst. Stack’s just great. Uh, it’s a great place to connect with artists and writers for sure. Right? Mostly I it’ss essays about popular culture or else these crazy letters I get from. Scammers in Nigeria or Laos if you go, you’ll see.
You’ll see what I mean. If you go to my subs column, there’s a couple of columns there. I just reprint these crazy letters. I get, dear sir, I’m the widow of the late li Lidian leader, moer cutoff. I am trying to transfer 120 million to the United States. Your cut will be 30%. Just send [00:25:00] me the following information.
Yeah. And, and of course you do that. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. all right, Mike, thank you so much for coming on. And, uh, we’ll put this in the show notes. People follow Mike, every place he’s telling you get his subs stack. It’s a lot of fun and, uh, listen up for GoFund this where you can support him directly on private American.
Thanks Mike. Thank you, Robert.