WEDNESDAY COMICS: Kyle Baker

Wed, August 12th, 2009 at 1:28pm PDT | Updated: August 14th, 2009 at 1:15am

Comic Books
Jeffrey Renaud, Staff Writer

"Wednesday Comics" #6 on sale now

Welcome back to CBR’s weekly look at DC Comics’ new series “Wednesday Comics.” Presented in a broadsheet format (14 inches by 20 inches), the 12-week series features 15 strips written and illustrated by Eisner Award winners like Neil Gaiman, Dave Gibbons and Brian Azzarello. And with DC icons Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman standing tall beside lesser-known characters like Adam Strange, Metamorpho and Deadman, there is truly something for everybody.

Every Wednesday, CBR presents a new interview with the creators bringing this unique title to life. This week, it’s another Eisner Award winner, Kyle Baker (“Plastic Man”), who first tipped off those in cyberspace that something big from DC Comics was coming when he posted teaser art from his Hawkman strip on his blog back in February.

Baker also revealed he’s hard at work on a major project for DC that when officially announced will make “heads explode” and “a trillion times more awesome” than anything he’s ever done in comics.

Additionally, DC Art Director and “Wednesday Comics” editor Mark Chiarello joins us once again after a week off between conventions. This time, Mark’s sharing five serial strips he recommends for those digging the format.

Story continues below

Q&A WITH “WEDNESDAY COMICS” WRITER KYLE BAKER

CBR: Assuming you could have picked any hero in the DC sandbox, what made you lay claim to Hawkman?

KYLE BAKER: I thought that a story that featured flying might make good use of the large size format. I imagined that large aerial panoramas would be impressive. Superman was already assigned to another artist, so I chose Hawkman because he flies.

While he’s perhaps not an A-lister, Hawkman certainly has a long and storied past at DC Comics. Were you a fan of the character growing up in New York City?

As a kid, I enjoyed reading “Justice League of America” stories illustrated by Dick Dillin. Hawkman is a member of the Justice League. I know I also read other Hawkman stories back then. I was a big fan of 80-page and 100 page reprint comics DC used to publish in the 1970 too and his stories were often featured.

Kyle Baker art from "Wednesday Comics"

What about Sunday funnies in general? A few weeks back, Jimmy Palmiotti told us the New York Daily News had the best comics section back in the day. Do you agree?

I was a big fan of the Sunday funnies as a kid, because my grandpa used to read them to me while I sat on his lap. I especially loved “Pogo” by Walt Kelly, and “Li’l Abner” by Al Capp. “Peanuts” was a favorite, and when I was older I liked “Dick Tracy,” “ Dondi” and “Herman.” A lot of strips used to be printed at full-page size back then. Today I enjoy “Dilbert” and “Doonesbury.”

I believe the last time you worked with DC it was your critically acclaimed run on “Plastic Man.” Eel O’Brian and Carter Hall couldn’t be more different but are there any similarities between the two?

They both fight crime. They both expose their cleavage. They both are Justice Leaguers. They’ve both been around for decades. And they both wear visible red briefs.

In terms of telling the story, how quickly did you come up with the story once you knew you were telling a Hawkman tale?

I try to give superheroes problems that their unique powers would be best equipped to solve. It’s important that a character that can fly be given an opportunity to do so. He also has the power to talk to birds. I can only think of one crime that is committed in the sky, and that’s plane hijacking. So I came up with that almost immediately.

Hawkman also tends to fight space aliens a lot, probably because he is a space alien himself. Almost all the Hawkman stories I read in my research featured alien villains. So I figured the hijackers should turn out to be space aliens. When writing superhero stories it’s crucial that the villain be more powerful than the hero. A superpowered flying man from space fighting a bunch of human terrorists isn’t going to be much of a fight. Over the next few weeks, Hawkman’s dilemma will get much worse. He gets injured, and beaten up by a more powerful adversary. Readers should fear that Hawkman may fail, and possibly even die. I don’t want to give too many more surprises away. Suffice it to say that as action-packed as the first few episodes have been, the story has barely begun.

What was the process like, writing and illustrating essentially a 12-page comic? Did you have to pace yourself differently than say a traditional comic?

Kyle Baker art from "Wednesday Comics"

Strangely enough, I didn’t. I have a certain formula to all of my stories, and the formula lent itself well to this structure. I always start my stories with a grabber, something to get the reader hooked in the first scene. And I always try to end each double-page spread with a cliffhanger, something to make you want to turn the page. Each page of “Wednesday Comics” is actually the size of four regular-sized comic pages, so I made sure I always ended each page with a cliffhanger to make the reader come back for more next week. So every page starts with action as last week’s cliffhanger is resolved in the opening panels, next something happens to move the story forward a step, then a new cliffhanger is introduced. All of my books tend to follow that same cliffhanger melodrama structure, whether it’s “Nat Turner,” “Plastic Man,” ”King David” or “I Die At Midnight.” The only real difference with writing a story in weekly installments is that I don’t expect the reader to remember what happened two pages back. In a book, I can have a character buy a gun on page one and not fire it until page twenty, assuming that the reader will remember that the character had a gun.

By contrast, in Week 4 of the Hawkman adventure, I began in the first panel by showing Hawkman fighting an alien on the wing of a visibly damaged plane while the alien announces that he has signaled his armada to attack. This is pretty much what happened the week before, but I assume the reader may have forgotten some of it in the seven days between. The next panels progress the story forward, as we see the invading spaceships approaching earth. Then we return to see Hawkman fighting on the plane. The wing falls off of the plane, and the page ends on a new cliffhanger as Hawkman announces he must stop the plane from crashing. If I hadn’t reminded readers in the first panel what had happened to the plane last week, they would have been confused when the wing suddenly fell off this week.

Can you share any details about the story you are going to tell? We know we’re going to see Dinosaur Island at some point. If ever there was a hero who should be doing battle on Dinosaur Island, Hawkman certainly comes to mind.

Yes, Dinosaur Island will be showing up eventually. As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to think of images that would make the best use of a larger page format. Panoramic aerial vistas came to mind, and of course dinosaurs. Dinosaurs always look better large. Also, the same way I said a character with flight powers requires story dilemmas which necessitate flight, a character that carries a mace and a sword must be given opportunities to use them. The big challenge in writing for a hero who carries a mace and sword is that these are not defensive weapons. There is no ‘stun’ setting on a mace. A mace is designed solely for smashing bones and tearing flesh. As a writer, I can’t give Hawkman a human adversary. It would be cruel. If the plane hijackers had been normal human beings, Hawkman would have bashed their skulls in and stabbed them. Even though the hijackers have shot the pilot, the punishment exceeds the crime. On the other hand, beheading a giant space lobster with a sword seems quite all right, even heroic. A man using a mace to battle a T-Rex seems positively sporting.

Kyle Baker art from "Wednesday Comics"

Artistically, are there any challenges to drawing a superhero with wings? On the flipside, what freedoms does it allow in terms of storytelling?

I’m sure that in the quarter-century I’ve been drawing superhero comics I must have drawn a few characters with wings. I know I’ve drawn many birds. Hawkman’s wings are black, and having a large black shape on a character helps compositions immensely. When I drew “The Shadow” it was the same. A large black shape becomes the focal point of a composition, so it helps that your focal point is your central character. I’m not exactly sure how Hawkman could walk down a narrow airliner aisle with those big wings, which is why the backgrounds disappeared once he started fighting in Week 3. He probably should have been smacking passengers in the face with his wings during the fight, or gotten them caught between the seats. It would have been realistic, but I think readers want heroes to be cool, not realistic.

What freedoms does it allow in storytelling? I imagine flight is one of the biggest freedom fantasies for man. We all dream of being able to travel anywhere instantly. Flight is freedom. Storytelling is also freedom. A story is a reshaping of reality into whatever you desire.

Are you utilizing any new or altered techniques within this format as perhaps a testing ground for other projects?

I’m using most of the same tools I employed on my “Special Forces” comic series for Image. I draw on a Cintiq, using Painter and Photoshop software. I’ve also been using 3D software since 1997 starting with my “You Are Here” book. Most recently I’ve been using Animation Master for 3D. My work has been computer-generated since the 1980s. As the technology has improved over the decades, my work has changed. At first I used computers for lettering, then for color a few years later. In the 1990s, I used 3D CG and digital photography for backgrounds and reference. The quality of the tech has improved over decades, and has become more integrated. A few years ago, I would photograph a pose or prop, then trace the photo and scan the tracing, or trace the scan on the computer with my drawing software. For instance, I needed to draw a hand, so I photographed my hand with the built-in camera on my laptop, then traced the photo on my Cintiq with Painter software. It’s the same process as ever, I guess.

Kyle Baker art from "Wednesday Comics"

I’m working in an animation studio this week, and we were talking about our old tools. We used to employ Polaroids to capture poses, and put them into a projector called an Art-O-Graph, which would project the image on paper so we could trace it. One artist bragged that he still has his Art-O-Graph and airbrush, though he has no use for either.

One thing a lot of cartoonists used to do was buy models of cars or planes and shoot reference photos. For Hawkman, I downloaded a blueprint of a 707 airliner from the internet, then I built it in 3D using Animation Master. It was easier than trying to find a model of a 707. The hobby shops aren’t around anymore. So I set up my CG 707 model and render it instead of photographing an actual toy. I’m not using my scanner so much anymore.

The hardest thing to do when shooting photographic reference of human models is action poses. For example, if Alex Ross wants to paint Batman jumping off of a roof, freezing the moment in mid-air, Alex may have his model jump on a trampoline while the artist snaps still photos, hoping the shutter will open at the precise split-second that the model’s legs are in a good position. Or the artist may use a movie camera, selecting the best frame from many and hoping there isn’t too much blurring from the motion. John Buscema used to suggest looking at “Sports Illustrated” for action poses. Some folks freeze frame sports videos. I have a funny old picture of me standing on one leg with a lamp shining up from the floor so that when I turned the image upside-down and traced it, removing the background, it would look like I was falling and lit from above. I was a Marvel villain being thrown. Now I build 3D CG models of all my characters. The big difference between human models and CG models is I don’t have to buy pizza for CG models. Also, CG models don’t complain about how uncomfortable the costume is.

So the answer to your question is: I am using the same techniques which I used in the 1980s. The techniques I learned in art school. The same techniques used by Neal Adams, Al Williamson, Bill Sienkiewicz, Drew Struzan, Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell. The tools have changed, but basically it’s the same: Find the model, pose the model, light the model, make a composition, and trace it. Just like Vermeer.

Hawkman is without his own solo series right now. Would you take on that assignment, if DC offered it up?

Sure. I love making comic books.

Kyle Baker art from "Wednesday Comics"

What else are you working on these days? Anything else DC-related?

I’m doing a comic which I promised not to talk about. It’s going to be a super-huge event and the publicity folks want the exclusive right to make the announcement. I can’t even mention it on my blog. I tend to share artwork on my blog from upcoming projects, as long as there are no spoilers. For example, I posted a lot of Hawkman pages last year, and DC said, “WTF?,” but I figured that Hawkman fighting aliens was not really a big spoiler, and that the true surprise of “Wednesday Comics” was the format, which I kept mum about.

I figured if you could see most of my Hawkman pages online they would pale in comparison to the actual physical object – kind of like watching a vid-cam internet upload of Pixar’s 3D movie “UP.” You’d rather pay for the real experience instead of squinting at a blurry computer. “Wednesday Comics” is cooler than everybody expected it to be, and they expected it to be pretty cool to begin with.

Anyway, my next DC project is so super-awesome that I am sworn to secrecy. It is the ultimate Kyle Baker/DC mega-event which will define this era in comics even as “Watchmen,” “Dark Knight” and “Maus” defined their era last century.

When DC announces what my impending project is, heads will explode, and it will be the lead story on every comic website. It’s that cool. When we announce it, it will be all people will talk about for weeks, maybe years.

Put it this way. You know how my Hawkman is turning out to be even more awesome than everybody thought it would be, even though I promised everybody it would be awesome and I gave half of it away for free online, so everybody was already expecting it to be awesome, but still they’re like, “Damn! This is ten times more awesome than I expected!” Well, this next thing I’m doing with DC will take that awesomeness and multiply it to the trillionth power, and even though I’m telling you this and you’re now expecting it to be a trillion times awesomer, when the announcement is finally made by DC about the trillion-times awesomest Kyle Baker project ever – that trillionfold awesomeness will be but a fraction of the true mind-blowing spectacularity which is yet to come.

Q&A WITH “WEDNESDAY COMICS” EDITOR MARK CHIARELLO

CBR: Over the past few weeks, you’ve shared thoughts on the genesis of this project, what a weekly schedule looks like on a weekly book and reader and peer reaction from the various cons. This week, would you mind sharing some of your favorite serial strips so folks who are enjoying “Wednesday Comics” can go out and sample some other comics delivered in a similar format?

MARK CHIARELLO: My favorite strip ever is the British Eagle series “Heroes, The Spartan” by Frank Bellamy. It was truly the inspiration for the format of “Wednesday Comics.” You can keep “300,” in my opinion. This is the definitive telling of the Spartan saga.

Another favorite is “Johnny Hazard” by Frank Robbins. Robbins was a master with the brush, his use of blacks is astounding. The cold war flavored storyline is a bit antiquated after all these years, but it’s still a rollicking read.

Kyle Baker art from "Wednesday Comics"

Of course, the great “Krazy Kat” by George Herriman will never be surpassed for sheer creativity on both the art and writing side. Herriman was a true genius of Albert Einstein/Leonardo DaVinci/Robert Crumb/ proportion.

Usually when a new artist and/or writer take over a classic strip or character, the new efforts pale in comparison. The grand exception to this rule is the new “Prince Valiant” strip written by Mark Schultz and illustrated by Gary Gianni. Holy smokes. Please do yourself a favor and pick up the hardback “The Prince Valiant Page” (2008, Flesk Publishing). It’s a wonderful look at the brilliant new iteration of this classic.

And, okay, “Calvin and Hobbes” is the greatest strip of all time. And you may quote me. If you don't own the big, boxed collection of this series, you are not living life to its fullest.

“Wednesday Comics” #6 is on sale now from DC Comics. Be sure to check back next week when we discuss Batman with Brian Azzarello, and don’t forget to email us your questions for Mark Chiarello.

TAGS:  wednesday comics, kyle baker, mark chiarello, dc comics, hawkman

 
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