Mike Baron is a pal of mine who also writes for Wolfpack Publishing. But novels aren’t where he started—Mike began his career in comics, where he continues to produce the kind of entertaining stories DC and Marvel can no longer supply. Mike’s latest novel in his Biker series is out, and while we talked about it while he tuned his Harley and I put air in the tires of my Vespa.
Brian Drake: Book 8 in your Biker series is coming out soon. Did you ever think when you began the series you’d write eight installments?
Mike Baron: John D. MacDonald inspired me as a writer. His Travis McGee books in particular. Josh Pratt is a tribute to McGee. The tarnished anti-hero has become a staple of modern fiction. I’m not surprised I’ve turned in number eight–I always knew this was going to be a series character. I’m already thinking about number nine. As long as I can keep coming up with fresh angles, I will continue to write Biker novels.
Mike: I got my first motorcycle in 1966. I knew I had the ingredients for a fresh take, and although I’m not very religious, I made Josh a born-again Christian. Today, that makes him a rebel. I’ve watched all the biker movies and read the novels and I felt that with the exception of Sons of Anarchy, bikers weren’t treated very well in fiction. Biker stories are like modern Westerns. The bike is the horse. Josh Pratt is a loner. His name came from a roadside memorial to a biker who lost his life in a traffic accident. I passed it every day. Hence, Josh Pratt. My fiction is heterodox in that it goes against prevailing tastes and mores. I doubt any major publishing house would accept this type of material. It’s not their audience. It’s not the New Yorker, Vanity Fair audience. Wolfpack knows its audience and this is exactly the type of material for which they are looking.
So many elements of the Western resonate today. A way of life that’s passing. Most kids today are risk adverse and motorcycle sales have been declining. There used to be four monthly general purpose motorcycle magazines. They have all disappeared, not because interest is down, but because of the death of print media. Sure, you can still subscribe to Cycle World. It’s a quarterly. It used to be filled with news of new bikes. Now it’s artsy-fartsy close-ups of pavement and stuff. Bike manufacturers aren’t introducing dozens of new bikes each year like they used to. But there are new bikes, especially in the Asian Market. Royal Enfield has been kicking ass. Here at home, the Indian brand is eclipsing Harley, and I think the main reason is their Scout, a brilliant re-imagining of the original Indian with a modern water-cooled vee-twin. Bucking the trend, this past year has been great for motorcycle sales. A lot of people are fed up with herd identity and being confined in their own homes. The motorcycle has always represented freedom. You don’t have to wear a mask. You’re cruising along at sixty miles an hour with the wind in your face. Cycle World says, “Well, that’s true for the most part, but actually—and perhaps counter-intuitively—motorcycle sales are up. You heard that right. Across the board, retail sales for the last three months have shown a steady uptick. It’s more obvious in certain segments but the trend is undeniable; year-to-date powersports sales are better than they’ve been in years. Can you say pandemic paradox?”
Brian: You’re also going strong with Florida Man. Who is he, where did the idea come from, and what adventures can we expect coming up?
Mike: Every time I looked at the news there was another Florida Man story. Most of them were scurrilous. A lot of them were funny. I wanted to create a character who personified Florida Man, someone loud, unrepentant, given to excess, of bad judgment, but with a good heart. Gary Duba is a redneck living in a trailer in the swamp looking for the next get-rich-quick scheme. He works as a roofer and helps his best friend Floyd, an exterminator. A lot of material came from news stories, but I made most of it up myself. I kept asking myself, what was the most awkward, inappropriate, and hilarious situation for Gary and Krystal? If you’ve read the first novel, you know that Krystal becomes an overnight sensation due to actions both tasteless and inappropriate, and launches her pro wrestling career on the basis of her new-found infamy. The stories are episodic. Picaresque. But in the end, Gary triumphs, often through blind luck. I have fun with invasive species. Gary kills the largest python in state history, cutting its head off with a samurai sword. Then he has to duct tape the head back on to claim the reward. Duct tape, vise grips, and WD40 feature prominently. Gary fights a thousand-pound feral hog. Gators. Always gators. Iguana. In the third book, I introduce the Duke and Duchess of Ducats who resemble a certain famous royal couple. They are the exact opposite of Gary and Krystal. I wish I could tell you some of what goes on, but it’s so inflammatory, insulting, scandalous, salacious and outrageous, that I quake to think about it. It’s pretty funny. There are many recurring characters including Krystal’s trainer Delilah, Gary’s best friend Floyd, and of course The Long Arm, Attorney At Law Habib Rodriguez. “Have you been in an auto accident and the insurance company refused to pay what you deserve?”
Brian: Your career began in comics, and there are huge differences between writing a novel and a comic book. But what are some of the similarities? Has your comics background helped with writing novels?
Mike: It took me a long time to learn how to write a novel because I’m a slow learner. But when I get it, I get it. Writing a novel is to writing a comic as building a house is to throwing up a lean-to. Comics are the most forgiving medium. You can get away with stuff in comics you’d never try in a more respected medium. Well today, anything goes. One lesson I learned was to show, don’t tell. I always see the novel as a movie. How would a movie impart this information? Better Call Saul often begins with a wordless five-minute sequence which is like a gift being unwrapped, and at the end, you see the point. I try to do that in my novels. I use dialogue to reveal character and to make you laugh. The best humor rises from absurdity, especially in juxtapositioning opposites, like the Royal Ducats and Gary and Krystal. I’m also shameless about lifting junk mail, most of which came directly to me. I mean, some of those letters Gary gets… who could possibly be so stupid as to respond to them? Bitcoin. Me love you long time. I have something very important to discuss with you.
Brian: Will we ever see some of your comic superhero concepts make the transition to novels?
Mike: We crowdfunded my Nexus novel (my wife Ann ran the show,) and now Wordfire Press will publish it. The Badger novel is at the printer. We also crowd-funded that. Writing these characters in prose is exhilarating. I think I’ve captured the spirit of the comic while adding depth and humanity.
Brian: Comics are thriving with independent publishers and crowdfunding; writers and artists are producing books like we used to have in the old days. Fun, innovative, entertaining. Why are the big comic companies not keeping up?
Mike: Publishing is in free fall. The major comic companies don’t know whether to shit or go blind. They have forgotten their mission. To entertain. This has resulted in a huge self-publishing market, some of which identifies as #comicsgate, a term that came into use simply to describe creators who were fed up with social justice messaging taking over their beloved characters. Some of these creators are so well-known they don’t have to align themselves with any movement. We kickstarted Q-Ball, a martial arts/espionage series. Ann ran that too.
Now it looks like we’re being picked up by a major publisher. Can’t make an announcement yet.
Chris Braly ran our Florida Man graphic novel Crowdfunder, which was a huge success. We are about to start on the Florida Man Graphic Novel #2. I have written a Nexus/Lonestar/Bigfoot Bill crossover that is up on Indiegogo as Monster Hunt 2: Let’s Get Kraken. My readers know about Nexus, the cosmic executioner 500 years in the future. Lonestar is Mike S. Miller’s creation, another heterodox hero, informed by Mike’s Christianity. Mike is a superb artist who worked for the Big Two and illustrated the Meg graphic novel. Bigfoot Bill is Doug TenNapel’s creation. Doug is famous for creating Earthworm Jim and crowdfunds all his comics. They were kind to let me play in their sandbox. Let’s Get Kraken refers to the kraken Bigfoot Bill wears as a shirt, who is able to open intra-dimensional rifts, which is the only way to get rid of Gourmando, Eater of Worlds. How Nexus ends up 500 years in the past is part of the story.
Lonestar’s Unknown Soldiers include Scout, who can also open a rift between dimensions. I am working on some other projects including Thin Blue Line, about a hot summer night as the city is engulfed by riots. My artist, Joseph Arnold, is a full-time police officer. I never lose sight that my first duty is to entertain, and anybody who likes an action-packed adventure will love this. It’s inspired by real events with which we are all familiar, but its purpose is to grab you by the throat and depict police officers in a positive light. It is not a message or a lecture. I guarantee once you start reading it you won’t be able to stop. This is not the final cover design, but it is the cover art.
The trick is to hook up with a hungry young artist. This has worked for me numerous times. You can find them on DeviantArt or many other places. All it takes to put out a comic is the labor. The costs are nugatory to print up some black and white copies and show them around. This will interest editors. But to make money at it, you either have to sell it to a publisher, or crowdfund. In the past, I have offered co-ownership to the artist in exchange for their labor.
As to the writing itself, you have only one chance to make a good impression. It’s easy to write a shitty comic. Most comics are shitty. Most of what Marvel and DC offer are simply unprofessional. They fail to entertain. RULE NUMBER ONE: ENTERTAIN. So … tell me what his comic is about. This is his opportunity to hook a fish. When someone asks you, what is your comic about, you have to be ready. And it’s got to be a thermonuclear bomb.
Let me give you an example:
Detroit homeboy Curtis Ball joined the Merchant Marine and ended up managing a warehouse in Manila. Curtis wanted only two things out of life: to see the world and study Kali/Escrima. But when a pack of tuxedoed sharks muscle their way into his warehouse, Curtis learns the hard way that it’s not always smart to mind your own business.
The spooks are looking for Donna Wing, a beautiful Chinese blogger, forced to flee due to her exposes of child organ trafficking. Now Curtis and Donna are on the run—from the Chinese government, the tongs, and a group of international cutthroats who will stop at nothing to stop them from reaching the United States and spilling their guts.
Sometimes you have to spill some guts to spill your guts.
Brian: Thanks, Mike! You can find Mike’s work on his Amazon page.
Originally published at First Comics News!