Comics, Culture, and Conservatives
An interview with writer and comics creator Mike Baron.
Recently I read a page-turner of a new novel with the eye-catching title Sons of Bitches, which centers on a young Jewish artist who releases a comic book boldly depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad. This naturally makes her a target for outraged Muslim fundamentalists, and their death threats force her to hire former biker hoodlum-turned-private investigator Josh Pratt. Justice, revenge, and mayhem ensue.
This is obviously a reflection of the real-life experiences of such artists as Mollie Norris, who apparently still remains in hiding years after merely suggesting an Everybody Draw Muhammad Day, and frequent FrontPage Mag artist, former Muslim Bosch Fawstin, who was targeted by terrorists at the Draw Muhammad event in Texas a couple of years ago (a contest which Fawstin won). And then, of course, there was the massacre of twelve employees at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris in response to their “blasphemous” depiction of Muhammad on the magazine cover. Violating Islamic blasphemy laws comes with a high price – but so does submitting to them.
At the Freedom Center we understand that politics flows downstream from culture, so we want to begin highlighting the work of right-leaning creatives who often face ideological resistance within the entertainment industry. Today our spotlight is on comics creator, writer and novelist Michael A. Baron, the author of Sons of Bitches.
Mike Baron is the creator of the superhero comics Badger and (with artist Steve Rudd) Nexus. His other comic credits include Flash, Punisher, _Deadman_ and Star Wars. He has written for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Creem, Fusion, the Boston Phoenix, the Boston Globe, and numerous other publications. Baron’s latest work is a series of novels (four so far) called Bad Road Rising published by Liberty Island, a publisher whose offerings push back against political correctness and the left’s cultural dominance (its motto is “Let Your Right Brain Run Free”). Baron is the author of three horror novels as well, and a science fiction novel called Whack Job, all published by Wordfire Press and available from Amazon, as is the Bad Road Rising series.
I invited Baron, who – full disclosure – is a friend of mine, about his new novel and his thoughts on politics, art, and the comic industry.
Mark Tapson: Mike, how would you describe your conservatism, your political outlook? Have you always been a conservative?
Mike Baron: I think so. I grew up in Mitchell, South Dakota. I think the main reason I’m conservative is because I chose reason over emotionalism. I was an emotional kid and I didn’t like myself. I didn’t want to be that way. I refused to identify as a victim. It took me a long time to grow up, but my instincts were always to do what made the most sense. Attitude is everything, and a positive attitude made more sense to me than a negative one. Funny thing is, both my folks were pretty liberal, and my dad worked on George McGovern’s campaign. I remember riding to the airport with Senator McGovern. I read a lot of science fiction. In those days, authors like Robert Heinlein, A.E. Van Vogt and others rooted their stories in a strong sense of individual liberty and achievement. Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge McDuck had a profound effect on me.
MT: How do you express your conservatism in your work? Or is that even a consideration for you? Because unlike many artists who are leftist, conservatives are less inclined to put politics at the forefront of their art.
MB: Mark, my first three rules are, 1. Entertain. My first job is to entertain the readers. It has nothing to do with politics. 2. Show, don’t tell. 3. Be original. Every writer brings his own experiences to his fiction, and my writing naturally reflects my view of the world. I was a terrible cynic, and I hope that I’m becoming less cynical, but a healthy cynicism is part of my world view. I remember novelist John D. MacDonald’s character Travis McGee complaining how the airlines attempted to infantilize everyone back in the sixties! My fiction is heterodox because of my world view, but my characters express my world view through their actions, not through words. I think that’s very conservative. I don’t make politics the focus of my art but any careful reading of Nexus will reveal that both Steve and I are conservative, in that we accept that the world is messy and imperfect, and attempts by government and committees often make things worse.
MT: What is it like being a conservative in the overwhelmingly left-leaning comics world? Has it ever been problematic for you in the industry? Or in the publishing world?
MB: Oh, yeah. Random people contact me through Facebook. Here’s one: “Fucking douche nazi fuck!!” Some guy I never heard of. Here’s another: “Who knew the writer/co-creator of the great Nexus would be a total right-wing nut job a-hole? ‘Trust the art, not the artist.’” INDEED.
Brett Smith asked me to write the graphic novel for Based Stickman [nickname for a California resident who broke a stick over the head of an Antifa protester at a Trump rally]. They announced it at San Diego Comic-Con two years ago. At the time, I asked if I could submit to [comics mag] Heavy Metal. The editor sent me this response: “Mike, I’ll be frank, we cannot publish anything of yours. Someone came by the booth at SDCC with a flyer for Based Stickman, and that is 100% antithetical to what we are about, both as a publication and as human beings, and we do not wish to be associated with it in ANY fashion, even tangentially.” I soon concluded that Based Stickman was not a serious subject for a graphic novel and withdrew from the project. That made no difference.
There are many other examples which I won’t cite. I have struggled to hang on to my liberal friends in the comic industry with some success. I never post politics on my Facebook page. Why would I do that? I’m trying to attract readers. It astonishes me that so many successful creators compulsively post agit-prop day after day.
MT: Artists and novelists who dare honestly address the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, as you did in Sons of Bitches, face the risk not only of being smeared as “Islamophobic” but even of incurring the violent wrath of jihadists and progressive activists. What made you take on this very politically incorrect theme in your novel?
MB: The situation cries out for a fictional treatment. I’m Jewish myself. I watch a lot of pop culture, and a lot of shows featuring terrorism, and in ninety per cent of those shows, the terrorists turn out to be some “right wing extremist” types who wear their racism on their sleeve. I know those people exist, but not in such numbers as to dominate fiction. Before 9⁄11, you could have Arab terrorists as bad guys. But now, everybody has to pretend that huge portions of the globe don’t want us dead. Look at the outstanding HBO drama The Night Of, written by the great novelist Richard Price. I loved it, but it also carries an agenda.
MT: You also take jabs at social justice warriors and activists like Code Pink and the Socialist Workers Party, but without being heavy-handed about it. Speaking of heavy-handed messaging, what do you think about the identity politics and social justice activism that are now dominating and ruining the comics world?
MB: I see what my friends post but I rarely read comics these days. What I see is breathtakingly bad and violates all rules of good storytelling, as the characters repeatedly lecture the audience. A lot of these writers live in a fantasy world where right-wing extremists and white supremacists are blown up to the level of an existential threat. Plus the constant depiction of Trump as some kind of monster. I’d be happy to show you the pictures, if you like. Writers must remember that their first job is to entertain, and the better they entertain, the better they are as writers. There’s something about virtue signaling that sets off my alarm bells, and I think that’s true for all my conservative friends in comics. Just like a Social Justice Warrior can spot a Nazi instantly by their American flag lapel pin, I can spot virtue signaling from a mile away. It’s how you conduct yourself that counts, not proud declarations of virtue.
MT: That sounds conservative to me. Thanks, Mike, and best of luck with your next project.