TwoMorrows’ Modern Masters series has long intrigued me, but rarely coerced me to actually purchase a volume. Walter Simonson and Mark Schulz, the only two creators previously spotlighted whose volumes I’ve purchased, have very distinct voices, write as well as illustrate, and offer perspectives far outside those of your typical comics creator. Kyle Baker – whose background includes a run on Plastic Man, but has also worked in animation and on his own graphic novels, The Cowboy Wally Show, Why I Hate Saturn and others – is exactly the sort of do-it-my-own-way creator whose work I not only admire, but whose perspectives on creativity and the industry demand my attention.
This book follows the format of previous Modern Masters editions, with interviewer and editor Eric Nolen-Weathington taking Baker through a nearly chronological accounting of his career. Baker offers his thoughts on nearly everything in his oeuvre, and his recollections range from the personal motivations (which jobs he took because he would’ve taken any job that came along), the importance of owning your work, the creative challenges of stepping into another creator’s shoes (as he did on The Shadow) and the ease of writing for established character voices, and the pros and cons of animation, Hollywood and comics. He even discusses how the industry and the market for commercial illustrations has evolved and speculates where his work may be found in the future.
Kyle Baker’s always been one of comics’ most appealing talents, and it’s no surprise to find that he’s also incredibly smart about his own career. Nolen-Weathington keeps the conversation rolling, interjecting unnecessarily only a handful of times, allowing Baker room to express himself fully. The interview ranges from creative ambitions to financial requirements, and Baker explains how everything serves as a creative outlet and a paying opportunity.
You’ll even get to read Baker’s thoughts on the cancellation of Elseworld’s Finest 80-page Giant due to the inclusion of his own “Superman’s Babysitter, Letitia Lerner” story. (He got paid, so he didn’t mind very much; it’s neither the first nor last time he worked on something that wasn’t published.)
Of course, the galleries of Baker’s artwork are mind-blowing. Sketches, unseen animation drawings, unpublished comics projects, and dozens upon dozens of color and black & white illustrations populate every page, dressing up Baker’s words with lively, frenetic drawings.
Like previous editions, Modern Masters vol. 20: Kyle Baker isn’t quite essential reading, but it’s well worth the time for fans of Baker’s work. More than that, anybody interested in how today’s media-savvy, enterprising creators balance creativity against economic survival, Kyle Baker’s insights will be invaluable.