It seems almost inevitable that someday Hollywood will catch on, allow Kyle Baker free reign, and the rest of the world will realize what comics fans have known for ten years: Kyle Baker has the gift.
His graphic novels Why I Hate Saturn and The Cowboy Wally Show are among the funniest things I've ever experienced; perhaps second only to the BBC's amazing television series Black Adder. Baker's humor is subtle, sharp and off-kilter: "Why do vegetarians spend so much time trying to make vegetables taste like meat? Do monks buy a lot of inflatable sex dolls?"
Baker's first three graphic novels
Critics have sometimes dismissed Baker's first two graphic novels as plotless or situation comedies done as comics, which I think misses the point; When stand-up comedian Steven Wright segues from an anecdote to a one-liner, do we feel plot-deprived? Would we really rather see boy-meets-girl yet again in favor of laughing so hard that milk shoots out of our noses? Breadth and respect for the reader make Baker's stuff more reminiscent of the plays of Oscar Wilde or the short stories of P.G. Wodehouse than even the supposedly "intelligent" American sit-coms.
There's something endearingly quixotic about Baker's indifference towards the collapse of the American comic book industry. No matter how talented you are, if you write comics and the number of outlets has dwindled from 7,000 to 3,500 in just a few years, how can that not limit your audience?
Don't get me wrong; with the recent publication of Baker's You Are Here, and the promise of more graphic novels on the way, I'm delighted that Baker is continuing to devote himself to the only medium that approaches the accesibility of film while maintaining the purity of vision of the novel.
If you've yet to experience the heady delight of Baker's humor, try starting with Why I Hate Saturn, recently reissued from DC/Vertigo. If you're already a fan, hopefully this peek behind the magician's curtain will deepen your enjoyment...
This interview was conducted in early 1999 by Kristen Brennan and published by Jitterbug Fantasia. All images © Kyle Baker. Be sure to check out Mr. Baker's official website, KyleBaker.com.
You've written magazine articles, scripted for television, even produced and directed a music video. Yet you keep coming back to the low-paying, breadcrumbs-of-respect world of comics. What is it about comics that feels worthy of your time and energy, despite such meager rewards?
If my life were devoted to the pursuit of money and respect, I'd have become a neurosurgeon. If I had become a neurosurgeon, I'd probably be unsuccessful at it because money and respect are bad reasons to become a neurosurgeon. They're bad reasons to do anything.
I believe it is important to contribute, to be of use to people. Whether it is painting, plumbing, or cooking, if you are making yourself useful, you will be appreciated and compensated by those people you serve. If you are not being compensated, it is because you are either useless or enslaved.
I make people laugh. That's my job. People with difficult, important jobs and responsibilities use my work to make them smile and temporarily forget their troubles. I don't know if my job is worth money or worthy of respect, I only know that it is my job. It's what I do best, what I do better than most. I believe I have a gift for humor and I see it as my duty to share my gift with others.
[return to jitterbug fantasia]