Written by Neil Greenaway
At Fort Collins Comic Con 2016 I had the chance to sit down and talk with Mike Baron of Nexus & The Badger about his take on publishing indie comics. This interview originally ran on Bleeding Cool on 9/03/2016, and you can read their version of it here.
Mike Baron broke into comics in 1981 with Nexus, his groundbreaking science fiction title co-created with illustrator Steve Rude; the series garnered numerous honors, including Eisners for both creators. A prolific creator, Mike is responsible for The Badger, Ginger Fox, Spyke, Feud, and many other comic book titles. Baron has also written numerous mainstream characters, most notably DC’s The Flash, Marvel’s The Punisher, and several Star Wars adaptations for Dark Horse.
Neil Greenaway: We are sitting at Fort Collins Comic Con speaking with Mike Baron, creator of the Badger, and today we are going to discuss his new series through Devils Due/First. So let’s start out with, just briefly, what’s the backstory on the Badger? How did you come up with this character?
Mike Baron: We had just sold Nexus to Capital Comics and so I said, “Listen guys, I would like to get something else going”, and I had been working with Jeff Butler. So I said, “What do you want to draw?” And he said "I want to draw Druids". So we did this 10 page story about this nasty Druid wizard in the 6th century who was so obnoxious that the other druids took up a collection to pay some Vikings to drop him off the edge of the world. I took that and I said “Boys, I got this druid comic,” and Milt (Griepp) said, “We don’t want a druid, give us costumed crime fighter”. And I thought, why would anybody put on a costume and fight crime, they would have to be crazy. I had been reading The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keys (he also wrote Flowers for Algernon). The Minds of Billy Milligan was one of the first serious studies of multiple personalities, so I decided to use that as a hook to hang the character on. And I named him the Badger because in Madison, Wisconsin (where we come from) it’s badger this, badger that, badger liquors, badger pub. So I went to Jeff and said, “Jeff, they want to do a costumed crime fighter” and Jeff said “Well I’m not going to waste these 10 pages that I drew about this druid”, and I said “Fine, we’ll shoehorn him into this book”. So that is how Badger number one started, with the 10 pages that include the origin of Ham, and then we bring him up to speed where he meets Badger in the mental hospital, and we were off and running.
NG: I know that Badger was at First in the original incarnation of First Comics. How does it feel to be working with them again?
MB: I just want to say my editor Alex Wald, who was my editor decades ago, is a great guy and I am very happy to be working with him again.
NG: So you are still working with the same editor? That is very cool, that you already have that relationship. Can you tell us a little about the most recent Badger series that came out?
MB: I had an opportunity to reboot the character, because the Badger has not been around for about 20 years. I did do a series through Image and those copies are very hard to find. They’re spotty, I did a lot of learning after I did those Image comics and I’m not the same person I was - hopefully I’m better and my writing is better. So when they asked me to reboot the Badger I gave him a new origin, bringing him up to the 21st century. The first issue tells a story never told before about how he enlists in the Army and goes to Afghanistan. It’s grim, but it’s absolutely gripping and it’s a terrific introduction to anyone who hasn’t read the Badger before. It ends with him meeting Ham in the mental institution again. And the subsequent 4 issues involve a struggle among four wizards who rule the Earth, one of whom is Vladimir Putin. Vlad is the bad guy, in case you didn’t know that, and he and Badger eventually come to blows. But it’s crazy stuff. It mixes real world politics with demons. Yak and Yeti and back; Doctor Buick Riviera is back; Mavis and Daisy are back of course and as we continue I’m going to bring back other characters from the Badger universe.
NG: What artist did you work with on that series?
MB: Well Jim Fern did the first issue and it will knock you out, it’s one of the most beautiful comics ever drawn. Tony Akins did the second issue and another brilliant job. But these guys were only available for one issue, so issues 3-5 are drawn by Val Mayerik (the legendary co-creator of Howard the Duck), who has done so much for Marvel in the past and we are hoping that Val will tackle the new series that I am working on now.
NG: Ok, and can you tell me a bit about that new series that will be coming out?
MB: Ham buys an island in the Caribbean, ostensibly to promote eco-tourism. But his real goal is to exploit it for oil and the very rare Zig-Zag nut, which has unexplored medicinal properties and is only found on this one island. He runs into all sorts of interference and friction from factors that don’t want him to succeed, from ecological groups like Humans Off Planet and Greenslice to a mysterious cabal of fugitive financiers headed by Beef Chekov. Eventually he finds himself battling not only Beef Chekov and his minions, but the Venezuelan army, a bunch of angry monkeys, and some rogue whalers.
NG: And when can we expect that to be coming out in comic shops?
MB: Oh geez, I don’t know. I just finished the first script and I have to revise it as First sees fit. Hopefully we are going to get somebody working on it soon and ideally it will be out next summer. You know, it takes so long to get anything through First, that I can’t really make any predictions. But I know they want this out there so hopefully next year, 2017.
NG: Then to switch gears a little bit, I know that recently there was a crowdfunded Nexus newspaper, did you have anything to do with that?
MB: Oh yeah, of course. I wrote 66 pages which The Dude (Steve Rude) is working on, I think the 7th paper just came out. If you want to get this you have to go to steverude.com, all the details are there. It’s an amazing product and it’s enormous, it’s 17” x 22” because Dude wanted to resurrect the form and feel of the old Sunday newspaper supplements, so that’s what he’s done. But it’s printed on real high quality paper and a stunning printing job, because he’s a perfectionist. You have to see it to believe it but it’s hard to see because the size means that they can’t rack it in comic stores, but if you go to steverude.com you’ll be able to find it, you’ll be able to see samples and so forth.
NG: Then if we could speak a little bit about them, I see you have some novels here on the table, what are you doing in novelization these days?
MB: I sat out to write novels 40 years ago. I sat down and wrote millions of words of crap, and it wasn’t until 7 or 8 years ago that I finally understood how to create a novel. When I get it, I get it, but I’m a slow learner. I get it now. Now I am like a kid in a candy store. I feel like my career is just beginning. I publish a lot through Wordfire Press, which is Kevin J. Anderson’s outfit. He has published 4 of my novels so far and they are horror novels, much to my surprise, but I’ve always loved horror and always wanted to write it. It just took me a long time to find my voice and find my themes. I didn’t want to retread what everyone else is doing. I can say with some confidence that my stories are absolutely unique. They are not werewolves, they are not vampires. They are stuff you have never thought about, but once you think about it’s going to keep you up all night. Helmet Head is about biker-Nazi-zombies; Scorpio is about a ghost who only appears under a blazing sun; Banshees is about a satanic rock band that comes back from the dead. I have another horror novel up my sleeve that Kevin will be publishing next year. In the meantime I am publishing my Biker novels with Liberty Island Press. This is a hardboiled detective series. My protagonist, Josh Pratt, is a reformed motorcycle hoodlum turned detective who get involved in harrowing cases. The first one (Biker) is grim, but I like grim, I gravitate towards grim entertainment. But of course everything I write is leavened with humor; there’s humor in every story if you look for it. I have 5 Biker novels finished and I’m about to start the sixth.
NG: I also see your comic Dogs here at the table, could you tell us a bit about that?
MB: I had a bunch of dog stories that I’ve been dragging with me through the years and there was no home for them, so I said I’ll just publish these myself. I put together a little book, there are 4 stories; 3 of them are by me and 1 is by Fabian Nicieza. The art for the first two is by Cesar Madarro who is a Spanish artist. He draws only in pencils, they’re just exquisite, and when you look at the pencils you can understand why he doesn’t want to ink them. They could be inked but it would probably detract from the beauty of his pencils. Then there is a two pager by Jay Kennedy and then in the end there is a 10 pager by Neil Hansen who used to draw under the name of Spider. Neil Hansen is one of the greatest artists I have ever worked with. He lives in Canada and I’ve been trying to get him to draw for me again. He did a few covers for the Image run of Badger but he hasn’t drawn in years. When you look at that story it’s going to knock you out. It’s like a punch between the eyes, the art and the story. It’s grim story as well, it’s the only grim story in there, but the art is just unbelievable.
NG: That sounds really awesome. Jumping back a bit, you have this most recent series of the Badger, and you have the one you are working on now. Is it safe to say that the badger is going to be carrying on for a while then? Have you got more stories in you for him?
MB: You have no idea. I have so many Badger stories that I’ve written and some of them are really good. The problem is that they are stand-alone stories and right now the thinking at First, and every other comic company under the sun, is that they have to have a 5 or 6 issue story arc that they can package as a trade paperback. So that is what I’m doing. But if I get the opportunity I would love nothing more than to have a monthly ongoing Badger series, I wouldn’t have to write stories for a year I have so many great stories backed up that are already written.
NG: It would be very cool to see a monthly title that could allow for stand-alone stories. Are there any projects outside of the Badger that you’re working on that you that you could tell us about?
MB: I have a number of series in development with some terrific artists and I’m waiting to hear form the publishers now, but it would be premature to announce them. Of course, if nobody crosses our palms with silver, it’s not going to happen.