Profile: Kyle John Baker (1965-)

Kyle John Baker is an American cartoonist, comic book writer-artist, and animator known for his graphic novels and for a 2000s revival of the series Plastic Man.

Baker has won numerous Eisner Awards and Harvey Awards for his work in the comics field.

Biography

Early life and career

Kyle Baker was born in Queens, New York City, the son of art director John M. Baker and high-school audiovisual-department manager Eleanor L. Baker. He has a brother and a sister. Their parents had both attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and their father, who, Baker said, “worked in advertising [and] made junk mail”, would “draw pictures for us and entertain us.” Aside from this exposure to art, Baker has said, his early artistic influences included comic book artist Jack Kirby, caricaturist Jack Davis, and painter and magazine illustrator Norman Rockwell. Other influences included the Charlton Comics artwork of Jim Aparo and Steve Ditko.

Breaking into comics

In his senior year of high school, Baker became an intern at Marvel Comics, making photocopies and filing fan mail. “I sort of fell into Marvel because I happened to know somebody there,” he said. “But I always thought I was going to do funny stuff” rather than superhero comics. He became background assistant to Marvel inker Josef Rubinstein, and later also assisted Vince Colletta and Andy Mushynski. He cited Marvel artists Walt Simonson, Al Milgrom and Larry Hama and writer and editor-in-chief Jim Shooter as providing him art and storytelling advice. Part of his duties involved photocopying, and he would take copies of John Buscema penciling home on which to practice inking. While working for Marvel, Baker attended the School of Visual Arts, in Manhattan, studying graphic design and printmaking, but dropped out after two years. Through that connection, however, he began freelancing with famed graphic designer Milton Glaser, an SVA instructor, assisting him on a set of children’s books. Baker’s first credited work at Marvel is penciling the half-page entry “Kid Commandos” in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #13 (February1984). After a handful of inking assignments on issues of Transformers, The Avengers Annual #14 (1985) and elsewhere, Baker made his professional story-illustration debut as penciler and inker of the publisher Lodestone Comics’ Codename: Danger #2 (October 1985), with a 23-page story written by Brian Marshall, Mike Harris, and Robert Loren Fleming. Cover penciling and more interior inking for Marvel and occasionally DC followed. His first story penciling for one of the two major comics companies was the three-issue Howard the Duck: The Movie (December 1986 – February 1987), adapting the 1986 film Howard the Duck, and which he self-inked.

During this time, Baker also attempted to sell humor spot illustrations, but was rejected by the major newspaper syndicates. Jim Salicrup, a Marvel editor, did commission him “to write a few one-panel gags about [the superhero team] the X-Men”, titled “It’s Genetic” and appearing in the Marvel-produced fan magazine Marvel Age.

First graphic novel

At the recommendation of freelance artist Ron Fontes, an editor at the Dolphin imprint of the publishing house Doubleday expressed interest in Baker’s sample strips of the character Cowboy Wally, “and asked if I had any more. I lied and said I did.” This led to the 128-page graphic novel Cowboy Wally. “The character of Noel was pretty much based on me,” Baker said in 1999. “I lie all the time. The first part of the books is the collected strips, and the other three chapters were written for the book. “It didn’t sell many copies,” Baker said, “but at least it convinced DC [Comics] I should be allowed to draw, not just ink.”

Baker went on to draw DC’s 1980s comics revival of the pulp fiction hero The Shadow, beginning with The Shadow Annual #2 (1988), followed by the monthly series from issue #7 to the final issue, #19 (February 1988 – January 1989). He did assorted other DC work including Justice, Inc. In 1990, Baker and writer Len Wein produced three issues of Dick Tracy for The Walt Disney Company’s Hollywood Comics, the first two issues containing original stories, the third an adaption the 1990 Dick Tracy film.

He began scripting comics around this time: Baker penciled and inked First Comics’ Classics Illustrated #3 & 21 (February 1990 & March 1991), adapting, respectively, Through the Looking Glass and Cyrano de Bergerac. While Peter David scripted the latter, Baker himself wrote the adaptation of the Lewis Carroll work. “I’d never planned to become a writer,” Baker said in 1999. “I wrote short gags, like the kind you see in the newspapers and Cowboy Wally, but not stories. I only learned to write stories because people kept paying me to write them. In the years 1991-1994, 90 percent of my income was from writing, and I received very few offers to draw. I figured I should learn to write.”

Animation

Baker’s animation has appeared on BET and MTV, and in animated Looney Tunes projects, including the animated feature Looney Tunes: Back in Action.Baker was “guest art director” for Cartoon Network’s Class of 3000, and storyboarded the Class of 3000 Christmas special.

in 1994, Baker directed an animated video featuring the hip hop singer KRS-One, called “Break The Chain”.Marvel Comics had published Break the Chain as a comic book packaged with a read-along hip-hop audiocassette. That same year and next, he contributed to the four-issue Dark Horse Comics humor anthology Instant Piano(December 1994 – June 1995), including drawing the cover of the premiere. For another anthology, DC’s Elseworlds 80-Page Giant #1 (August 1999), Baker drew, colored, lettered and with his wife, teacher Elizabeth Glass, whom he married July 18, 1998, wrote the 10-page parallel universe story “Letitia Lerner, Superman’s Babysitter”. It would win a “Best Short Story” Eisner Award despite DC destroying all copies intended for the North American market after deeming some of the content unsuitable, though copies were still distributed in Europe.

Baker said in 1999 he was writing a Christmas movie for Paramount Pictures, titled U Betta Watch Out, and was animating a TV-movie title Corey Q. Jeeters, I’m Telling on You.

At this point in his career, Baker stated in an interview, “Nobody tells me what to write or how to draw. Only an idiot would dare tell Kyle Baker how to make a good cartoon. Hollywood and the magazine world are full of idiots. They water my stuff down and make it unfunny.”

He is credited with writing and storyboarding on the “Phineas and Ferb” television episodes “Candace Loses Her Head” and “Are You My Mummy?”.

2000s

Baker drew writer Robert Morales’ Marvel Comics miniseries Truth #1-7 (January–July 2003), a Captain America storyline with parallels to the Tuskegee experiment. He also wrote and drew all but two issues (#7 and #12) of the 20-issue comedic adventure series Plastic Man vol. 4 (February 2004 – March 2006), starring the Golden Age of Comic Books superhero created by Jack Cole for Quality Comics. Baker contributed to the Dark Horse Comics series The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist, a spin-off of Michael Chabon’s novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

In 2006, his company, Kyle Baker Publishing, serialized a four-part comic book series about Nat Turner, and published the series The Bakers, based on his family life, in two anthologies, Cartoonist and Cartoonist Vol. 2: Now with More Bakers. He has also continued to provide comics material sporadically to Marvel, DC and Image Comics through at least 2010. In 2007 and 2008, Image Comics published Baker’s six-issue Image Comics miniseries Special Forces, a teen-soldier military satire that criticizes the exhortation of felons and disabled Americans into military service. The New York Times reviewed the 2009 trade-paperback collection of the first four issues, calling it “the harshest, most serrated satire of the Iraq War yet published.”

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