Friday, September 08, 2017

Kyle Baker, Cartoonist, Volume 2: Now With More Bakers

I used to be a huge Kyle Baker fan -- I loved his first two books The Cowboy Wally Show and Why I Hate Saturn, and equally loved his early comics-illustration work on The Shadow and the wonderful but criminally-forgotten Justice, Inc. But any half-decent creator doesn't keep doing the same thing forever, so Baker moved on from that stuff to a long career -- some were things I really liked, some not so much. At some point I either lost track of him or his work stopped clicking with me: he was an early enthusiastic pioneer of digital drawing tools, and I was a typical grumpy old fan, liking the old style better.

But the one good thing about having a flood that destroys 10,000 books is that you can re-buy a lot of the stuff you loved again, and have a good excuse to read it again before you put it on the real shelves. (Which, by the way, are now on the second floor of my house, far away from any but the most apocalyptic floods.)

So I've been buying and reading Baker's books again, across his whole career, since sometime last year -- first Kyle Baker, Cartoonist last December (the launch of his initial foray into self-publishing, just over a decade ago) and then a post covering three books at the beginning of this year. I've been buying his books faster than that, of course -- that's the way it works, if you like books at all -- so I've had other choices.

And so I came to Kyle Baker, Cartoonist, Volume 2, the direct sequel to the first one. Baker published this in 2005, when he had three children who look to all be under the age of five. (I think he has one or two more now; the man clearly relishes challenges.) Some of it seems to want to be animation -- there are a few longish wordless stories up front told in large uniformly-sized panels that would make fun animated shorts -- and that was one of the things I was grumpy about with Baker the first time around. This time, though, it's just fine: they're funny pieces, and they work as comics even if the feeling tends more to storyboards.

This book has a lot of other comics, too -- shorter multi-panel pieces as well as a lot of single-panel gags, first covering a wide range of ideas and topics and then, in the last third, focusing on his young family. Family comics can get treacly or maudlin pretty quickly, but Baker made these right in the middle of his life, so they're specific and grounded in what his actual kids were doing at the time, and real kids are always quirkier and more bizarre than the standard gags about them.

Mostly, this book reminds me that Baker is really funny a lot of the time, and especially good at pulling material out of the world around him. (Why I Hate Saturn was the same way, from a vastly different period of his life.) It also makes me wonder what his now-teenaged kids are up to, and if he's working away at an updated look at their lives now. I'm sure he'd make that just as much fun.

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