Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Kyle Baker, Cartoonist

Self-publishing is tough. Single-panel gag cartoons are tough. Self-publishing a book of single-panel gag cartoons while you have two kids under the age of five plus a newborn is so tough I can barely conceive of it. But that's how Kyle Baker, Cartoonist happened, a little over a decade ago.

Baker doesn't fit neatly into any of the boxes of the comics world -- well, I bet a lot of creators feel that way, but Baker's been aggressively charging into all directions of the landscape since he nearly-simultaneously drew the movie tie-in miniseries of Howard the Duck for Marvel and created his first solo graphic novel, the still totally awesome Cowboy Wally Show. So he's exactly the kind of creator that you'd expect would eventually self-publish -- probably the big project he'd been working on in the background for years. You know: that kind of interesting writer/artist, who drops in and out of work-for-hire stuff while looping back to the projects he creates from scratch.

And he did: his Nat Turner series came out from his homebrew publishing company in 2005...but only after he did some books of gag cartoons about his family. That's what I mean about not fitting into boxes: even when he zags instead of zigging, he zags somewhere else first.

This book, I think, was the inaugural publication of Kyle Baker Publishing -- again, right after the birth of his third child, for maximum difficulty -- and it offers about a hundred and twenty pages of funny. Lots of it are single-panel cartoons, though there's no indication that Baker did or tried to get them published anywhere else first. But there are also lots of longer sequences: four panels, three pages, with dialogue or without. The first half is full of random cartoons, about people and animals and a few of the usual cliches (I saw at least one desert-island gag).

The second half looks towards the next couple of Kyle Baker Publishing projects: it's all about his family. Little kids are funny when looked at the right way: they do silly things nearly every day that just need to be fine-tuned into jokes. (Note: this is not as easy as I'm making it sound. Also, people with little kids tend to be sleep-deprived and not up to heavy joke-construction in most cases.)

Baker's generally working in my favorite of his art styles here: crisp, cartoony hand-drawn lines with grey washes for depth. He does have a lot of set-in-type balloons -- Baker uses non-standard comics fonts a lot, for reasons I don't know, and they tend to look odd to my eye -- but there's many more wordless comics or captioned panels, and those are great, not doing anything to set off my nitpicky complaint engine.

Anyway: this book is ten years old, and I bet these kids would like you to forget when they were young and adorable. (I know mine do.) But Baker is pretty darn good at this funny-cartooning thing, as seen in Cowboy Wally and his run on Plastic Man and a lot of other stuff. If you come across a Baker-being-funny book, give it a close look: you'll probably really like it.

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