A Fanboy Interview With Kyle Baker
from his latest collection.
Sometimes a project and an artist seem destined for each other.
While even Kyle Baker admits that a few years ago he wouldn't
have thought of himself as being the perfect Plastic Man artist,
it's one of those "but of course" moments.
of course Kyle Baker has the perfect sensibility to recapture
the magic of Plas, something that in truth, few other than
his creator Jack Cole have been able to do.
the past year, Baker attracted controversy over his work on
Marvel's The Truth: Red White & Black, an expansion of
the Captain America mythos. His style was not quite what fans
expected, though it was exactly what Marvel wanted. People
are still debating that one.
if The Truth turned you off Baker, look again. Aside from
being a facile and ingenious cartoonist, he's a gifted artist
and storyteller. Don't believe me? Check out Why I Hate Saturn
or the moving and thought-provoking King
took a little time out with me at San Diego to talk about
the Plastic Man project, which we'll cover first in part one
of this interview.
jovial artist was warm, friendly, and honestly one of the
best experiences I've ever had interviewing a creator. Good
thing, too, because, yeah, I've been a fan since his days
working on DC"s version of The Shadow.
McCaw: How did you get involved with the Plastic Man project?
Baker: DC called me and said we want you to do one of
our characters and do your thing. Preferably somebody who
could use the help. You know, rather than Batman or Superman,
some character that's kind of finished.
were pushing for The Creeper, and I read some Creeper books
and his power is his clothes change, and I couldn't figure
out what to do with that. So I said, why not Plastic Man?
I did a Splash Brannigan story that Alan Moore had created
(for America's Best Comics), and Alan has a real knack for
seeing things in my work that I don't. He sends me a script
all the time, I've done some other ABC stuff, and I'll think
"why did he send this to me?" And then I do it and I go, "hey,
I'm actually good at that." So he sent me Splash Brannigan.
I said, all right. I'd rather do some other story, but all
right, I'll do it. And it turned out I really had a knack
to Baker's Plastic Man #1
So that led you to Plastic Man.
You've talked a lot about going back to Jack Cole. Have
you been influenced editorially at all, did they give you
No. The whole point of the thing, they keep saying…I'm actually
pushing more for things like maintaining continuity and stuff
than they are. You don't want to throw the baby out with the
asking, "Can I do this?" And they're like, you know, "we're
selling it as Kyle Baker's Plastic Man. You're kind of the
hook." It's that Kyle is doing something…
like when Pete Bagge did Spider-Man or Jim Kochalka did The
Hulk. You're picking up to see what Pete Bagge does to Spider-Man.
If you picked it up and Pete Bagge was drawing like John Romita…well,
he'd probably do a sh***y John Romita for one thing. You know
what I mean? You'd be disappointed.
when people call me up now, like for Captain America or for
this, they're like "do your thing and go nuts." And it's usually
me who likes the character so much that I don't want to screw
around with it too much.
kept everything like Woozy Winks. And the story is old Plastic
So you're going back to the Cole continuity, if there is such
a thing. Justice League left an opening for you.
I didn't go back to the Cole continuity. I just went back
to the Cole formula. It takes place after he's left the Justice
League, he's gone back to the FBI. Justice League is going
to show up later. Through different stories Batman will walk
in, and Robin and all those people will come in. They'll have
adventures with him and stuff. I have an idea for a Justice
Are you finding it difficult to balance where he was used
more seriously in Justice League? When we'd last seen him,
he was now 30,000 years old, and wanted to find his son. That
seems more soap operatic than I think you're doing. You've
gone back to the fun, and they left him on such a sad, but
hadn't read that issue. I'm serious.
That was the doorway they left you, and you haven't read
I haven't read it. I'm waiting for the trades. I look at the
trade paperbacks. I'll address that. I'll have him make some
reference to that. I didn't know.
the thing is, I just finished working on Looney Tunes. And
a lot of this stuff is getting things back to what made them
work. It's the same thing when they hired me to do Looney
Tunes: "Bugs Bunny is washed up, nobody's interested in the
toys, we had to close the Warner Stores, we need to freshen
Bugs Bunny up."
the other writers said, "you don't need to freshen him up.
You've got to get back what was working about Bugs Bunny.
You've managed to cut out everything." And it's the same with
with the Justice League stuff is that he never turned into
anything. His neck always got long. He's Plastic Man and that's
formula was straight crime story. He finds some kind of crime
committed. He has to track down the criminal, and he has to
fight the criminal. But he uses his clever powers.
fight a criminal the way Superman does. Superman would pick
up a car, or use rays out of his eyes or something. Plastic
Man would usually try to trick them. He might disguise himself
as the criminal's henchman, or even the criminal's car. Guy
gets in the car and it turns out to be Plastic Man - things
the other thing - there's always the surprises. When you're
reading the book, you start looking for the red object. And
so do the criminals a lot of times. They're like, "wait a
minute! That red table must be Plastic Man!" and they shoot
the table full of holes. And it turns out to be his bullets.
a gag unto itself...
What's been the most fun thing about working on Plastic Man?
For one thing, I like the fact that I don't have to deal with
anatomy. That's refreshing. It's impossible to draw the guy
It was originally announced as a mini-series. So now your
first four issues look to be definitely in the spirit of Cole,
but I've read that the next is this big continuity heavy thing.
Are you going to be parodying the whole crossover thing?
Not really. Everything I do…I'm more for entertainment value,
and I'm more a classical storyteller. You try to have a beginning
and an end, and the character has to have a clear goal. Superhero
stories, I get confused.
what is selling, and even just judging from the response I've
gotten from getting back to regular superhero stuff, like
Captain America…I've been getting comments from the fans and
stuff. You just have to relearn the market.
the old school. The last time I did comic books was in the
eighties, and we used to have certain rules that don't seem
to apply anymore.
don't use a lot of dialogue, because most of the readers were
children. We also used to have what (Jim) Shooter used to
call the Popsicle principle, which was that your competition
was a Popsicle. Your price could never go above the price
of a Popsicle. Your customer is a kid in a Seven-Eleven. He
comes in with a dollar his dad gave him, and he's like he
can buy a Popsicle, a candy bar, play Space Invaders or buy
a comic book.
thing was, you always had to assume that the reader had never
read your comic book before. So every month, Daredevil had
to say, at some point in the story, "ever since the accident
that blinded me, I've had superpowers." Just for the kid that
this was his first issue of Daredevil.
I pick up books and I want to get into them. And I can't get
into them because they're so inside, and I've been doing it
for twenty years. I pick up an issue of Justice League, and
I can't tell you what's going on.
seems to be, I keep going back to this example, and I hate
to pick on this book, but - Jim Lee's Batman. I love Jim Lee.
I picked it up because I like the talent involved and stuff,
but that's the example. I picked it up. I haven't read a Batman
book in ten years, and I thought "I love these guys, I'm going
to check it out."
Poison Ivy shows up with Superman. And Superman starts beating
the crap out of Batman. Thank God I saw the Uma Thurman movie,
because there was no mention of the fact that Poison Ivy is
a woman who kisses people and turns them evil. There was never
a scene of Poison Ivy kissing Superman. Ever. They just show
Ivy never does anything except pose. So it seems to me that
the fans really like stuff that's super self-referential and
that we got on Captain America were that we'd ignored the
continuity. We stopped getting those comments halfway through
when there was a plot twist that revealed that we hadn't ignored
the continuity. That we were playing with your expectations.
And now suddenly everything was okay.
was upset because our story started at Pearl Harbor and (deepens
voice) everybody knows the first issue of Captain America
was before Pearl Harbor, and then our twist was that Captain
America had been around all along, and the government was
trying to reproduce the formula. The doctor had been killed.
that happened, everybody was like, oh, we love you. It seems
to me that the fans care more about that sort of thing. And
the fans really seem to be paying lots of money -- and that's
why I'm not knocking it and why I'm going to do it - fans
seem to want to pay lots of money for photorealistic images
of superheroes not using their powers.
page pin-ups of superheroes standing around for photos.
second arc is going to be me posing my most muscular friends
in photographs, and then tracing the photograph. Having them
stand around and talking. Characters just show up and refer
to previous episodes because fans really seem to enjoy that.
want to see if the sales go up. And I've discussed it with
is what is selling. I'm not making this up.
part two, Baker reflects on
The Truth, why the bookstore market and the comic book direct
market are at odds with each other, and some of the more personal
projects he has in store for the future, such as the book
pictured at the top of this article.