Tag Archives: Butcher Baker The Righteous Maker

An Interview w/ Mike Huddleston

I wrote a piece on Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker months ago, and some time after an interview with the book’s artist fell into my lap. Mike Huddleston comes from that Kansas City crew of comic creators, and in some ways, he may be one of the more developed of the bunch. Attending art school in KC, Huddleston gained much of his motivation through some sort of rebellion – being looked down upon by professors for his admiration of comics.

“I spent the first year of college arguing with teachers, putting comic books under their noses, but receiving only a begrudging acknowledgement of the artistic merit of the work,” says Huddleston. “It was frustrating, especially as I was in a commercial illustration program- do you think painting a car for some magazine ad is more creative then the work in a painted graphic novel?”

In his last year of school, at the age of 21, Huddleston started to get work at DC Comics. He would describe the early introduction to the comics industry as a “crash course.”

“To work in comics, you have to be able to produce a huge volume of work, especially if you are taking on more than just one of the chores (penciling, inking, covers, etc.), and I wasn’t ready. At all,” says Huddleston. “The work I did back then wasn’t very good (you can ask Dave Johnson), and ultimately that first year in comics proved to be a false start as I didn’t work in comics again for another 5 years.”

Which leads to this quote:

“I was torn on my direction.

“I looked again at someone like Bill Sienkiewicz who could move effortlessly between the worlds of commercial illustration and comics, and I couldn’t decide which field to focus on. Eventually I went with what I loved and just hoped it would work out. Since then, I feel like I’ve been figuring things out and making my mistakes on stage, with each project focusing on a weakness or some new idea and just hoping I don’t bomb so badly I’m never hired again. So far, so good.”

Today, Huddleston collaborates with writer Joe Casey to produce the comic book series Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker, and he also provides art for the Dark Horse adaptation of  Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain. What follows is a conversation between Mike and I in which we cover some of his feelings about comics and the current state of things as well as Butcher Baker.

Read on.

Alec Berry: Before I really start handing out questions, I want to mention … you haven’t done that many interviews. I Googled for all possible “Mike Huddleston Interviews,” and I think I came up with like two. I just find it odd that a guy like you – with numerous years of experience  – hasn’t really been interviewed much nor has your work really been covered.

Your name just doesn’t seem to be tossed around a lot, you know. So, do you see yourself as someone “under the radar,” or am I just reading the wrong comics blogs?

Mike Huddleston:  No, I think that’s a completely fair assessment.

I don’t know exactly what or why that is, but I think the fact that I can be slippery as far as styles go may be a part of it… also I’ve never been a part of some big, major comic event, so I haven’t had that intense spotlight that comes from touching those really famous characters.

It’s not something I particularly worry about though as I am continuing to work on great projects, and I am finding more and more opportunities to really let loose like in Homeland Directive, and Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker.

AB: You mention the spotlight that comes with famous characters … Something Joe Casey mentioned in an interview was how when you’re out of the spotlight, you have room to run and experiment because there’s not really any expectations placed on you.

It seems most comic books, especially from Marvel and DC, strive to keep a straight, normal look to please readers. You’re an artist who’s adopted numerous styles over the years. What do you think of a house style?

MH:  This is actually something I’ve thought a lot about as I’ve tried different styles; whether it was a strength or a weakness. Generally, yes, people don’t want surprises in the things that they like. They want McDonalds to taste like McDonalds no matter where in the country or world they are. You know, it’s just good marketing. It’s good business for artists like Jim Lee or Alex Ross to always look like themselves as fans know what they are getting, and for that matter when an editor is planning a team for a project he can hire an artist with the idea of getting “X” style from him. But those are decisions made for business, not a cultural enhancement of comics as an artform.

I’ve always described my approach to others as “great for personal artistic growth, but terrible for business.” The revelation for me recently has been the response to Homeland Directive and Butcher Baker, where instead of trying out a single idea or technique on a new project, I tried everything I was curious about all at once. People really seemed to notice, and many discovered me for the first time- SO maybe there is a way to make fans happy AND move things ahead a little.

AB:  I think it’s possible to do so. I think many artists push their selected mediums everyday in some way, but really, only so few strike the appropriate chord and catch the attention.

You’re not selling millions of copies of Butcher Baker, but do you feel you and Joe Casey are potentially pulling that off? Are you guys striking the exact chord to catch the greater awareness and influence, or do you feel Butcher simply grabs eyes for its sometimes radical content?

Maybe it’s too soon to tell?

MH: Hmmm. Well, the content: language, nudity, cosmic hermaphrodites, etc, as well as Image’s initial advertising campaign- that sure didn’t hurt the book’s awareness, but if that’s all there was, the book would have failed by issue #2. I think the thing that people respond to is the fact that you can feel a genuine passion in Butcher- the book isn’t made for any larger commercial success, or movie tie-in. As crazy as it maybe, it’s not a cynical book. It’s a big fat love letter to comics and superheroes!

And as far as how people are responding, or what chord it is hitting-  that’s probably a bigger mystery for Joe and I than any of our readers. It’s always kind of impossible to see the thing that you are making until it’s over and you can look back at it. I know I get each issue of Butcher and just look at it wondering, “what exactly have we done?”

So maybe it was just a good time, with so many characters becoming commercials for movies, and the earlier insanity of superhero comics being put away, for a book like Butcher to come out and yell about how small we’ve let everything become.

AB: What do mean by “how small we’ve let everything become”? That comics don’t exactly meet the potential they have?

MH: The single comic that comes to my mind when this topic is raised is an old issue of X-Men, an annual I think. In this issue the X-Men go to the South Pole, travel to the Savage land, pass through a magical portal and end up riding in a ancient ship attached to the back of a giant white flying dog. It’s ridiculous and awesome in the way that comics effortlessly can be. That spirit of pure fantasy and real strangeness seems to have left our top hero titles. Now the focus seems almost always to be realism… that’s fine I guess, but it’s boring.

AB: That’s something I always come back to when I review or write about something. I feel comics can go much further, but they rarely really do.

MH: If by “further,” you mean more interesting and taking more chances. The fact is that mainstream comics are a very conservative arena. They sell largely to the same fan base they did 20- 30 years ago, and it isn’t an audience that cries out for change. I mean look at the words spent on the redesign of the DC universe- the suits are basically the same, but now with extra lines in new places. Not exactly a revolution, but in the comic world it’s a big deal.

AB: Alright, let’s go into Butcher Baker. It’s been a year since the first issue was released and at least few months since the latest issue, #7, came out. What do think of that work now that it’s had some time to stew?

MH: Really, I’m not sure what I think about those first issues. Often with my own work I feel like I’m encountering it after the fact just like everybody else. My main reaction to Butcher is “what is this thing??!!?” I still find myself laughing at certain moments wondering if an adult is going to show up and throw the breaks on. Apparently not.

AB: What can you say about the delay on the series?

MH: Ugh. The delay…. The delay is something that professionally is really embarrassing for me. Long story short is that I illustrated a couple experimental projects back to back (Homeland Directive at Top Shelf, and Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker at Image), while at the same time moving to Europe. Between the projects and the move, my schedule went to hell and when the start date arrived, and even slipped by, for The Strain, I hadn’t finished the first arc of Butcher. Butcher is still coming along though with #8 dropping this summer.

snapshot of issue 8, in progress

AB: Was there ever really a set of self-imposed deadlines on the book, or did you and Joe just approach this as a “it happens when the inspiration’s right” type of project?

MH: There definitely were deadlines. Neither Joe nor I, nor our publisher Image, are “when inspiration strikes” types. The delay is not a happy moment for anybody.

AB: How does your approach on The Strain differ from your approach on Butcher? Looking at the finished product, I would assume you go in with a different mindset.

MH: Yes, my approach on The Strain is totally different. Actually, it’s kind of a return stylistically to my work on The Coffin. As I’ve worked on it, the phrase that has come to mind is a “movie on paper” as opposed to Butcher, which is a surreal pop sketchbook that also happens to contain a great story. So with The Strain, I’m putting a different hat on; I am translating somebody else’s vision, so I want to be respectful of that and be the best director I can.

AB: I went back and re-read Butcher Baker, and something that struck me, more this time than on the initial read through, was the focus placed on contradictions and a sense of the duality in them. How are you contributing to Casey’s idea of contradictions through your artwork?  You’re implementing numerous styles … does that play a part?

MH: Truthfully, I don’t know, and honestly I think these are questions sometimes best left unanswered by the artist. When I read reviews of the first seven issues of Butcher Baker, readers had many theories explaining the art choices and how it related to the story. Some were on the mark; some were better than what I had planned. I look back at issues occasionally with these other theories in mind and am surprised to think “huh, maybe I WAS doing that….” So, I have my opinion on why the art is what it is, but it’s not necessarily the definitive opinion.

AB: Reading the book as a whole, it’s clear Casey is interested by the idea of comics being serious yet, simultaneously, comics being disposable. It seems he believes both about comics, and the series almost comes off as a bit of an exploration of that thought, and again, contradiction. What can you say about that debate? Is that something, you too, often consider?

MH: Yeah, where do comics land exactly? In form they are completely disposable: little pamphlets of paper that come out by the hundreds every month. But comics are able to deliver ideas just as effectively as any prose or cinema. Maybe its “disposability” derives more from the content… if it’s superhero book X, it might  be more disposable than the latest Alan Moore. …dunno.

This wasn’t something I considered, at least consciously, but I did take joy at trying to illustrate horrible things in a beautiful way. My question was: “how will the reader react if you hand them this horrible toxic present wrapped in beautiful paper and a huge bow?”

AB: What’s cool about Butcher Baker is that wonderfully dressed toxic attitude, yet you guys never seem to let the story suffer because of that. You’re constantly telling the story, still. Not just relying on personality.

MH: Without Joe laying down a good story the attitude and art would be meaningless. There are tons of books with big attitude that suck. Joe’s characters are the key to the whole thing.

AB: How well would you say you mesh with a writer like Casey? I don’t know, reading the book, and knowing the little about both of you I do, it just seems like you’re on a similar page in terms of how you approach creating stuff.

MH: I love working with Joe, and if he ever forgives me for the delay on Butcher I’d love to work with him again. He’s tough and opinionated, but fearless and is a great collaborator. Joe also serves as a great bullshit goalie- a couple times, especially at the beginning, he  had questions about my art choices on Butcher, but once we talked and he saw that I genuinely had real ideas about the how and why of what I was doing,, everything was cool. So he’s not afraid to call you on the carpet, but if you can back up your shit he becomes a big cheerleader.

AB: Where Casey leaves off, you do seem to really pick up and actually contribute to the narrative rather than just draw the script.

MH: Well, ideally that is what the art is supposed to do: enhance the narrative. I exaggerate things in the script. It’s like telling a good story- you accentuate the parts that matter and leave the rest out.

AB: Do you find it hard to actually collaborate? You’ve certainly done your fair share of it with guys like Phil Hester, but do you ever think it might be easier to go all out and produce a comic all by yourself?

MH: I love to collaborate and, although like every creative pro I have an idea of someday doing a project all on my own, I think you benefit from the combination of ideas in ways you would never expect. I have a belief in the value of randomness in art… this is an aside, but I make music mixes all the time. I found though that the mix you craft and make just perfect can really suck, but 20 songs on a list playing alphabetically, or by length of song, or whatever, can be really exciting. There are connections you didn’t expect, choices you wouldn’t have made. That’s what collaboration offers you- that chance of random noise that makes things great.

AB: What’s the key, in your opinion, to collaborating with someone? I would think it would take some serious chemistry, and it seems most of comics is more about a writer handing you a script versus actual team work.

MH: For me, the key to collaboration is finding people of like mind to work with. If you want to go hog wild experimenting, but your partner is trying to create the next big superhero team, you might be in trouble… or you might not, who knows?

AB: You obviously use color in your work to great affect. What sort of influences are you drawing from for the color work you do? To me, your approach to color is all pretty new, but I’m an ignorant, young mind. Educate me!

MH: As far as influences for my approach to color, I really don’t have any I can point too. I shop around online and in magazines constantly for palettes and design ideas, but those are all just the elements.

The conceptual influence for the color comes from artists like Bill Sienkiewicz, Kent Williams, and probably, most strongly, Ashley Wood. In the early 90’s, I was a typical fan of the then new Image explosion, but then some new kinds of books, at least new to me, showed up and changed everything: Bill Sienkiewicz’s Stray Toasters, Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum and Kent William and John J Muth’s Meltdown. These painted books were like nuclear bombs going off in my hands and it pretty much decided my course- I was going to do comics, and if I was ever skilled enough I wanted to make books like these.

AB: Do you feel that color evokes something a little more visceral than say page layouts or line art? Would you say color just has a more direct impact on a reader?

MH: For me nothing is more visceral than layouts. Those first few rough lines that hold so much potential for greatness…it’s kind of downhill from there, and at the bottom of that hill usually is comic book coloring. Color done well CAN have a huge impact on the reader, but so often in comics it feels that the line art is treated just as a coloring book. We add color in each spot, not because it makes the page stronger, but because we expect to see every white space filled. So we color everywhere, keep it in the lines, and keep the approach consistent throughout. It’s boring.

AB: True, but there are guys, like Val Staples, who go beyond the job description. And yourself … the color work on Butcher nails that  bombast and “lo-fi futureshit” Casey mentions in some of the early back matter pieces.

MH: Well, thanks.

AB: I listened to an interview with Charli XCX today, and she described her upcoming album by saying it sounds like the colors pink, gold and black. Sort of the reverse, but what sound do the colors in Butcher make, if you could describe it?

MH: The colors in Butcher sound like Edan’s album, Beauty and the Beat.

AB: Much of Butcher Baker is a love letter, but while a love letter to the past, it’s also about rejuvenating that old stuff we’ve come to associate comics with – like super heroes. For an artist like you, who’s constantly tweaking his style and pushing forward, what’s it like considering those old things while trying to go forward?

MH: It’s a mixed feeling about the old comics… intimidation and annoyance at once. When you look at the skill level and imagination of someone like Jack Kirby you can’t help but to feel like an imposter, struggling away on your 20+ mediocre pages a month when I think this guy was knocking out 15-20 pages of genius stuff a week! But at the same time you can see how the spell cast by those early artists has frozen the comicbook art form and it’s readers in time- somewhere around the mid 60’s- making the field less and less relevant to the culture at large.

It’s a deceptive state right now as you would think that comics are bigger than ever with the success of things like The Avengers, but the opposite is true. Comicbooks for super heroes are now completely irrelevant. You can be a huge fan of Spider-man, Thor, Captain America, etc. now without ever picking up a comicbook.

So this is a long way of saying that I love the old artists, but it’s time to wake up from the world they made and give comics a new reason to exist.

AB: After asking that question,  I realize you have worked on other books which sort of riff on older stuff. The Coffin certainly supplies a Toth or Alex Raymond vibe.

MH: True. I’ve tried to put on older styles to further the storytelling of a particular project. Maybe that is a contradiction to my earlier answer… I don’t know.

AB: Do you feel comic creators hold an obligation to push the work forward all the time?

MH: Well, of course it would be great if everyone was constantly reinventing the wheel and creating unpredictable, challenging new work with each new project, but with the nature of the business that’s just not realistic. Sometimes you have projects that let you stretch and throw out a bunch of ideas, and sometimes you have projects that just getting across the finish line is a victory.  It’s a hard enough gig though that I can’t knock anybody; even artists whose work I dislike get a large measure of respect from me just for putting in the hours and effort it takes to work in comics.

AB: So there’s nothing wrong with just doing the job?

MH: Absolutely not… but as much as I say that now you’ll probably catch me in a day or so bitching about someone playing it safe.

AB:  What about the people who just write off super hero comics and claim the genre dead? Reading Butcher Baker, I would assume you probably have some beefs with that mindset.

Do you think it’s possible for corporate comics to really do anything inventive at this point or has the battle been fought and lost?

MH: I think corporate comics can still do interesting things, but to do so they have to fight against their corporate instincts. Instead of behaving like a company watching it’s quarterly profits, (which IMO results in projects like Before Watchmen), we need companies to think more like venture capitalists. Invest in the risky ideas so you can find the next Sandman, the next Chew, the next… whatever. We need more of the spirit seen in Vertigo’s early years, or this latest version of Image in comics, and big corporations are the ones in the best position to do it…. IF they have the vision.

– – –

for more on Huddleston, you can check out his blog.


Filed under Interviews

My Top 10 – 2011 Edition

Comic books. I read a bunch of them this year. Here are what I consider my favorite from 2011, ranked in some sort of particular order.

10. Moon Knight – Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev

Technically, this probably shouldn’t be on any top 10 list because I’m not sure every issue has been crafted so well, but whatever, I’ve had a lot of fun reading Moon Knight every month. More fun than I can necessarily describe. I mean, fuck, I took the liberty to write about every issue of this comic, and I plan to do so on into the foreseeable future. Because this is my character, as lame as that sounds. Besides Greg Burgas, I’m probably the internet’s biggest Moon Knight fan, and I can’t tell you the time I’ve spent waiting for a legitimately good series starring the character. And now it’s here, and Bendis and Maleev are building a comfortable, best friend-type comic around the character. It looks great, the core’s there and I feel invested in the actual plot. I am a happy reader.

9. Spaceman – Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso, Patricia Mulvihill, Clem Robins, Dave Johnson

I only list each creator because this is one of the few comics in which collaboration actually fucking matters and produces the product you read. Whether Spaceman ends up as a compelling, mark-making science fiction yarn or a disappointing collection of pulp paper, one thing’s for sure – this comic houses the best team in comics. And not just Azz & Risso. No. Mulvihill, Robins, and Johnson too. It’s an entire squad producing this monthly adventure, and, God, it’s synced so well. While there’s only 2 issues out, Spaceman clearly has held more of my attention than all the rest of the mundane mush 2011 had to offer. Pay your dos. This is how mainstream comics should be made.

8. Zegas #1 – Michel Fiffe

Dammit if this isn’t one of the best looking comics this year. Fiffe creates slice of life parables and dresses them in peppery apocalyptic ash fires, elevating the impact of the story he’s after as well as providing his comic a declared visual identity. His cartooning is in league with King City scribe Brandon Graham, pulling influence from all kinds of line work – European and beyond. And, man, the color work. There’s this citrus Earth tone he’s goes for and completely nails to create this wonderful effect of twilight and swelling emotion. Zegas #1 reminds the reader of how impending doom can cause us to live and make the most of what we have. Fiffe captured my attention this year, and Zegas #1 is certainly a reason why. I can’t wait for a second issue, or simply anything he does next.

7. Daredevil – Mark Waid, Marcos Martin, Paolo Rivera

A very well crafted super hero comic which supplies the necessary drum beats and bass notes every thirty days. Why aren’t more mainstream comics like this? I don’t know. For some reason the formula of good creative talent and solid stories is impossible to nail down in the market we now know. But thank the higher up for Daredevil. It’s this sparkle of hope, I think. It’s this bright little bulb in the garage full of dust mites and broken glass. I can only hope it pushes onward to twenty issues. That is more than we deserve.

6. Uncanny X-force – Rick Remender, Jerome Opena, Esad Ribic, Dean White

And the Marvel streak continues. Another book like Daredevil in which I feel the goal of cape comics was really met: monthly satisfaction. But the one thing X-force had over Daredevil was its wonderful sense of threat and culmination. I’m not an X-men reader, but I couldn’t help but be swept away by Remender’s control of the subject matter and its history, combining all elements of X-men lore into this epic celebration of the property as well as reflecting on the idea of progression and our obsession with it. To me, this seemed to be the ultimate X-men comic book where everything came to a head. In terms of a super hero comic, I think it’s an instant classic like that of Morrison’s X-men, and I can’t help but say I’m proud to have experienced it on its monthly tour. Plus, it’s another book in which I actually gave a shit about the plot. I respect comics that can do that to me because 97% of them I read for other sad reasons. Also, it kept to the soap opera integrity X-men stories are known for – right down to the conclusion of the “Dark Angel Saga.”

5. Vengeance – Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta

If only all event comics read like this one. Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta’s hot middle finger to Fear Itself worked so well in the shadows of Marvel’s publishing plan that I’d call it one of the better punk rock comics I’ve read in some time. Each page makes a sham of the drawn out model of story telling we’ve come to cradle in mainstream comics, packing each and every issue with such detail that the singles themselves could be considered events. But what’s hot about Vengeance is its anger. This is Casey’s living example of how he wants super hero comics written. Where Butcher Baker sets the attitude and philosophy, Vengeance comes in to apply the theory, and that’s apparent from the very first page.  Vibrant, dense and capable of toying with all of the event conventions, Vengeance gave the reading populace what it wanted this year. Tight, meaningful hero comics, and most likely the people had no idea, missing it entirely.

4. Criminal: Last of the Innocent – Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Val Staples, Dave Stewart

Just such a great story. That’s honestly all it comes down to with this one. A great story made from great construction. Fuck, Last of the Innocent all boiled down to that final page for me. Shit, the final panel. There was not one better image to sum up an idea. After a year and a half or so of bad/mediocre Brubaker comics, it felt good to read this. I missed Val Staples on the two final issues, but I feel Phillips and Brubaker pulled the work through and stuck the landing. This is a cold story. Cold, brutal and honest. It fits so well into Bru’s overall catalog. I’m proud to own this.

3. Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker – Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston

This hot, synthy, peppermint green comic exuberates so much attitude and testosterone it burns your fingers when you pick it up. But that’s why I love it so. Butcher Baker was the war cry I followed all year. Between Huddleston’s beautiful illustrations and Casey’s madman text essays, BB does philosophy better than any comic book out there at the moment. It’s a fucking beast. Forget this quick quip your reading. Read the comic, or this essay I did on it months back.

2. Blast Furnace Funnies – Frank Santoro

A true poem in comic book form, Santoro sums up what a city or town can potentially mean. But that’s not the kicker. While emotionally packed as well as touching, what makes Blast Furnace Funnies special is its observation and meditation on process. Santoro comes off to me as a comic artist’s comic artist, and Blast Furnace is a testament to that. Originally apart of a museum exhibit in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Blast Furnace digs deep into how comics evolve from thought to a tangible mass of paper. Each panel within this thing tells a story because Santoro pays so much attention that each panel lives as its own independent painting. And the colors. They haunt yet warm you.  It’s a comic that as I now think about it I wish I gave more time to throughout the year, but I guess I can at least honor it somehow via this list. If anything, it’s one of the few things I read this year I know I’ll reread multiple times. It delivers a lasting impact.

1. Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies/ Savage Dragon – Erik Larsen, Michel Fiffe, various others

I think this earlier blog post spoiled the surprise, but whatever, this was a good year for Dragon readers. TSDF may make up most of the reason for a number 1 spot, but Larsen’s Dragon all by its lonesome would still easily rank somewhere on my top 10. Why? It’s comics. It’s larger than life, it’s issue-to-issue, it’s entertaining, it experiments, and it’s free, and even though it’s most always been those things, 2011 was the year Dragon juiced up a bit and showed the public what it could really do. I feel this was the year the book was somehow legitimized. It only had to plummet in sales to reach such a standard … But I believe bringing in Michel Fiffe and Co. helped as well because sharing the staples with Larsen’s comics were an assortment of art comic favorites. As my earlier essay states, TSDF embodies that ideal comic book, mashing super heroes with alternative story tellers to celebrate all of what the medium has to offer. I feel the project will only stand as an example for what’s possible in the future. Or if anything, it should because TSDF is the cue mainstream comics needs to take. I just love that the guy and book people enjoy so much to write off made the point and came away fueling the best comics of 2011. How’s that for justice?

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Butcher Baker, the Statement Maker

Joe Casey wants us to wake up. He’s screaming in our ears. “Hey, fuckheads! Put it together!” For some, a rude awakening. For me, a welcome cry.

I never enjoy being the “all comics suck, especially the cape ones” guy, yet, at times, I slip into that mindset (especially if I’ve read Fear Itself). I join the crew of the hyper-critical, and we chant via our internet connections of how much we hate everything. Actually, I lied. Sometimes that mindset feels splendid. There’s a certain air of “above it all” that comes with the hate. You feel ahead of the curve. At least, I do. At some point though, you realize the amount of negativity you spout and things turn dark. You look at yourself in the reflection of your computer screen and beg the question: am I negative for a justified reason or am I hating to hate?

The “all super hero comics suck” label seems too easy to apply. It goes beyond the reasonable complaint of limited creativity to levels of nothing is possible in the genre. Sure, the genre has its problems. Creators get fucked, progress isn’t always made, and comics resemble product rather than art. The corporate lock down and fan culture provide plenty of reason for people to disown the angle. It even encourages it.  Small press suffers the same issues, though.  TokyoPop completely fucked Brandon Graham, the black and white boom felt more like early Image Comics than progress, and the number of publishers pushing panels of licensed properties goes uncounted. Small publishers suck just as bad. The flaws of comics go beyond the capes. It’s comics as a whole.

Still, for some, there’s nothing beyond Fantagraphics and PictureBox. The output of Oni Press doesn’t apply to them. My argument doesn’t apply to them. Whatever. For those who state an open existence though – the people in it for the art and seeing the world in open terms – it seems pretty fucking stupid to limit your reading. Sure, hero comics contain a lot of bad, and sure, few contain the passion and personal touch of art, but if  any of those things were the case, super hero comics seem like the most likely place. Motherfuckers fly in these books. I’d say a lot’s possible. And – super hero comics hold a certain place in the medium. To ignore them or brush them off only signals a being living in a bubble. In some senses, cape comics are the medium, at least in terms of identity. Study that. Learn from that. Invite the cape and cowl in and let it join the house party you call context.

Joe Casey proves the potential and awesome of super heroes with each issue of Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker. He sends a statement to the art house goon, the mind-mushed hero reader, and the comics professional. The super hero isn’t a bitch; the super hero has balls. Such detail is built into Casey’s lead and book namesake, Butcher Baker, as well as the up front, hyper-active aesthetic of the comic. But I wouldn’t even limit the cry to super hero comics. As typed above, small press or guys like IDW, Oni, and Dark Horse can suck just as bad. Hell, even Image who publishes the work of the industry right now publishes some shit (*cough*Invincible*cough*). As we’ve learned, it’s not about limiting one’s self to a specific area of comics or literature. The mission pertains to an all-encompassing mind, and Casey is a smart fucker. This dude speaks a little something to everyone.

But, hey, comics books are about pretty pictures and cool looking shit. Let’s talk about the bitchin’ work of Mike Huddleston.

So much happens in this comic because of Huddleston. Casey inspires the work and sprinkles in the bits of manifesto and meta, but Huddleston sings the fucking song. His art spotlights many approaches, techniques, and tones to create an air of sophistication and complexity. Baker is not a comic to sit and stare at a consistent color choice or line. Huddleston flashes between neon and grainy black and white. Speed lines touched by a manga flare decorate fight scenes. Cross hatches and angles bend lines to an edge. My descriptions of art only go so far, but you get the idea. Mike Huddleston fills Butcher Baker with a mixture of approaches. The question to ask: why?

When reading comics (or any type of literature), always ask why things are done the way they are. That’s basic 9th grade shit, but it works. Techniques and narrative choices spawn from more than just accident. Everything contains a purpose. In the case of Huddleston’s art, I’m sure there are numerous – NUMEROUS – reasons. The dude no doubt possesses more brain cells than I, so I’m certain his artistic choices run deep. Too much happens in Baker in terms of visual expression for there not to be detailed reasons. I believe I can offer one, measly, bullshit reason, though. Huddleston’s art is on the constant move. Every scene works under different circumstances, and while I’m certain each scene looks the way it does for a specific purpose, I’m more interested in the general idea of change or the simple notion of complexity.

Casey shines a spotlight, aiming the bright, phosphorescent bulb on the super hero and the genre’s ability to preform. From that, we’re seeing the genre’s multifunction. Casey’s telling a high octane, “last job” thriller, but he’s also documenting a very personal journey. Much of this book is Casey’s career in comics deployed through the Butcher Baker analog. At the same time, the book offers character study.  The old war hero forced back to the life of combat. How’s that work? Butcher Baker, mentioned in this blog post’s title, also presents statement, a manifesto from Casey communicated through the genre and comic book as media.  The comic book as media … yeah. The spotlight, the statement, the study … it’s on the super hero, but again, no limits, Casey shows us the multifunction of comic books. Comic books in general, as form, rather than keeping to one section. A lot of change and movement exists in that goal. It only makes sense Huddleston’s art be so shifting. At least, in a collaborative sense. The artwork echos the writing. Provides emphasis. Huddleston’s complexity in style and technique is the visual hand to the face to push the idea through the eyeballs. Casey says comic books can do it all, and Huddleston backs him up.

Most comics keep to the single, visual vision. Reasons vary. Mostly, it rests on creative restriction because of risk of readers freaking the fuck out. Readers lose shit when comics lack realism, resemble manga, or go black and white. Huddleston brings all of that, though. He tells the notion of drawing “house style” to fuck itself. “House style” doesn’t know. It wants a set visual when comics could present so much more. The “so much more” never sees the light of day, though. The need to satisfy “house style” mentality boils strong, so artists force out status quo images. The art of Butcher Baker represents a sexy middle finger, and it yells at everyone, “hey, get a fucking load of this!”  A load of what, you ask? Metaphorical testicles communicated by the artwork’s aesthetic. Simply said, Huddleston’s work is pumped full of testosterone, and it follows Casey’s lead in that comics know no bounds.

The statement of Butcher Baker matters, and a main feature of that equals Casey’s personal touch. Baker feels like a very cathartic work of fiction.  We have some knowledge of the bullshit Casey’s dealt with in recent years. DC rewrote a few Superman/Batman scripts, and this obviously affected him. Maybe other things have happened as well. But the DC incident is the public one we, or I, know, and, you what, it’s enough to inspire the self-therapy Casey’s exploring. Baker contains a specific timeline, and it can be traced to match the experience of a comics writer. Issue #4 depicts a younger Butcher Baker – in his prime, the super hero of legend – combating against a villain in the middle of a desert. As the fight romps on, dialogue appears:

Butcher: “This place … kinda’ like the Wild West, eh Gator?”

“You think you can hide out, but it’s still Cowboys an’ Indians …”

“… while the goddamn world ends all around us.”

The Wild West. Cowboys an’ Indians. A good way to describe comic books, right? A medium with such potential and so much room for a pioneer to work with, but really it’s chained down by industry standards to play out the same old fights, over and over. Butcher speaks of the world ending as well. I take that as, “you can try to hide out in comics, doing something important, but while you play what’s really a dumb game, real shit is happening in the world.”

Gator is put down by page 2. Butcher than hands his mask over to an army officer and walks away from the scene.

Butcher: “Chasing super-villains halfway across the globe had me feeling like I was trapped in a Roadrunner Cartoon …”

I feel the line speaks for itself.

Issue #1 would be where we first meet up with Butcher in the present, years after the flashback. He’s living in his grotto, banging multiple chicks, and drinking. The dude’s all over the fruits of retirement. Then come Jay Leno and Dick Chaney, whom could easily be interpreted as Marvel and DC as well as other things. But for the sake of the point I’m on, let’s stick with Marvel and DC. These guys bring Butcher out of retirement to fulfill a mission. The mission, blowing up a high security prison in order to kill a bunch of super villains, goes wrong and Butcher is left with a mess to clean up. The mess being a number of old foes such as a behemoth named “Angerhead” who spouts lines like, “My hatred will fuck you up!” Even though higher powers sent Butcher on this mission, he’s on his own to clean the mess. Hell, the high powers look to cover their asses and send in military force to fuck Butcher. There’s even missiles sprayed painted with the phrase “fuck you” fired at the Righteous Maker.

This reads like an account of a comics writer picking up mainstream work and then realizing the mess it can be. Some creators claim to do very well under corporate structure. Guys like Brian Bendis has flourished and still produce solid work while being the company name. The other half of the story exists, though. Casey would most likely be the poster child. Lines like, “Those assholes promised I had their ‘full support’ on this mission – is this what they meant? The first sign of trouble…they turn their guns on me, too!?” totally fit Casey.

“But it never fails. The white men in their black suits…they want what they want. And I’m expendable. Fuck me.”

It’s like the reaction of a writer going in, trying something exciting under a corporate umbrella, and then discovering the company men are pissed and will fuck you hard to fix what you’ve done. This element of the story actually provides an interesting contradiction. As typed, most of this book sets a goal to present the awesome and capability of super-heroes as genre. It’s almost like a pep rally in comic book form. So why show the darker side? I believe it’s to discuss the issue of super-hero comics entirely. As we all know, creator rights have once again become the big, controversial issue in our daily Twitter feeds. And you know what? Good of those people concerned. It’s an issue that demands dealing. But as we all come to question the moral behavior of our heroes’ homes (the publishers), we reach a point of contradiction. We all favor creator rights, and I bet quite a few would give an arm to get Kirby is rightful due, but when you boil down the argument, how many can actually boycott Marvel? A sense of evil and moral question disgusts us, but we also love the story potential of capes. We reach a point of enternal struggle. What do we do here?

Baker’s at the same point. The dude wants to enjoy the life but constantly suffers from its seedy side. He is us, and he is Casey, locked in a world of indecision and contradiction, trying to make any fucking sense of it he can.

And then Butcher makes a break for it after a bloody battle in Times Square. He disappears like a criminal after a successful heist, beaching himself in a resort spa. Not the place for Butcher. The dude can’t escape the thoughts of heroing and who he is. Butcher contemplates what’s next for him.

The writer cannot just leave the field even after a hard fucking. The writer has to produce. It’s who the writer is. Resort beaches and bullshit small talk are not him. But what else is there other than the game he’s already played? Same goes for the reader. Once you see the potential of comics, how can you leave forever?

Butcher Baker sees a lot of time as an analog character, and honestly you could probably spend a few hundred words or more discussing analog characters in this comic. The entire cast of villains thus far seem to each speak a specific personality, and there is as well Arnie B. Willard. This determined, beer-gut of a law man comes as a bit more difficult to pin down. I’d say he represents another side of Casey, though. Just because of his ying/yang connection to Butcher. Issue #5 really gives me that vibe. When the transgender force of universe provides Willard with a higher sense, his thoughts and Butcher’s intertwine. Both characters take a trip to each other’s head, and it’s from this we learn Willard wants to be Butcher. He’s the law man who loves dishing out justice and hates his fat fuck of a wife, and Butcher appears appealing by way of his many female friends and beefy, Liberty Belle truck. It’s all in this head trip process as Casey writes in an Alan Moore image/caption juxtaposition.

The important fact would be Willard’s action of chasing Butcher. He’s chasing him to lay down the law, but his transgender friend offers a little more insight. She (or he) claims Willard must seek the ultimate truth, and from the pages in the comic it seems the ultimate truth lies with Butcher Baker. So, if Willard does represent some side of Casey, what is it that Casey finds in Butcher Baker, which I would say is another piece of him?

Willard could even fit the contradiction theme. A lawman hunting a vigilante, yet he secretly desires to be just like him.

The answer is where this series is going.

Now how the fuck do I wrap this up? I suck at conclusions. (you may even think I suck at writing. period.)

It’s like this: comics can do a lot. We live in an era of Hollywood R&D and formula. Comic books sit in the shopping carts of suits and then meet check out upon option. Nobodies’ taking it seriously until it hits the silver screen. Nobody. Except for Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston, two dudes on a mission to prove the comic book’s versatility and creative potential. Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker contains a mix of levels and “abouts.” It’s a comic book that’s proud to be a comic book, and it’s doing things only comic books can do. In a collaborative manner, I might add. The book even teaches a lesson for the already comic book faithful. More is possible, and super heroes, the go-to blemish of the medium, can transform and do new things while offering personal expression. For some, the manifesto may not be even be enough, but remember, this series is 5 issues old, and Joe Casey seems totally open to change. I’m sure Butcher Baker will develop with the time as well as develop with its author’s voice. This would be the last comic book I’d expect to go stale.

It’s the best motherfucking book out there.


Filed under Uncategorized

Image Addiction Review: Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker #1

I have posted a new review over at Image Addiction on Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker #1. Here’s what I had to say:

“The new series from Godland’s own Joe Casey (or should I say Joe Casey’s own Godland? – which I guess wouldn’t make any sense) is Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker: a comic book centered on an ex-super-hero who is now pulled from retirement in order to deal with a few past villains…”

You can read the rest HERE.

Leave a comment

Filed under Image Addiction Review