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Dave Baker unpacks the meta-narrative of MARY TYLER MOOREHAWK

Top Shelf has just released Dave Baker's epic, densely constructed graphic novel, Mary Tyler MooreHawk, and we're lucky here at Comic Book Yeti to have a bit of insight into this mind-bending tale from its creator!


COMIC BOOK YETI: Dave, thanks for making time to discuss Mary Tyler MooreHawk. It was a uniquely entertaining read. How’s everything been going in the lead-up to releasing the comic?

DAVE BAKER: Hey! Thanks for having me. Things have been going very well, actually. Frankly, I’m kind of blown away by the response to the book. This thing has been a labor of love for more years than I want to think about. And now that it’s finally coming out and the critical response has been so overwhelmingly positive, I’m just so humbled and grateful. I genuinely couldn’t ask for more. Well, maybe for a few books to sell. That would be cool too, haha. 

CBY: It certainly would! This graphic novel is dense and multi-layered, and clearly exhibits the commitment of an auteur. How did the process of creating Mary Tyler Moorehawk differ from previous work (such as your acclaimed comic, Everyone is Tulip) where you’ve worked with creative collaborators throughout?

DB: Mary Tyler MooreHawk is the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do. For anyone who isn’t aware, the book is split into two halves. The first half is a comic book that follows the titular Mary Tyler MooreHawk and her family of super-scientist adventurers as they travel the globe and attempt to stop a super-villain from destroying the world, the other half of the book is a prose novel, told through collected zines and articles, by a young journalist named Dave Baker who’s obsessed with a canceled TV show called Mary Tyler MooreHawk. He’s consumed by a mission to figure out who created this show, and why it only lasted nine episodes. And here's where things get truly strange… this journalist uncovers that the creator of the show was also named… Dave Baker. 

So, to get back to your question, yes. This thing was very difficult. It took me roughly five years. I basically re-taught myself how to draw for this project. I changed my creative work flow, and learned a new lettering program and digital toning program, and, y’know, also wrote a goddamn novel. So, this project took a lot of commitment and time and energy. I love collaborating with people, but there’s something about working on a project solo, that gives you the freedom to fully explore an idea and to tailor an idea to your specific interests. And, obviously, the downside of that is that you can get lost in a maze of your own making… which, not by accident, is one of the themes of the book. 

CBY: Before diving into the story, I was curious about your artistic process and choices. You’ve elected to go with a monochromatic palette of pink, and a loose, expressive style of line work. Can you share with our readers how you brought this project to the page? What mixture of analog and digital tools went into bringing this comic to life? 

DB: I’ve been making comics for a long time, at this point. And the last lengthy project I drew before this was Vol. 2 of my OGN series, Action Hospital. During that process I was using a Uni-ball pen and a chisel pen, for the inks. I really liked the line quality I got with them, but it was requiring me to push on the paper fairly hard. When I finished the project, I realized that I had pretty badly messed up my hand. So, I decided that I needed to switch to making comics without inks. So, I kinda trial and errored my way through using red architectural pencils to do my construction lines, then finished linework in mechanical pencil, then I pull it into photoshop and take out the red, leaving a pretty finished looking aesthetic. I add tones and letters digitally. While that brief explanation sounds fairly straight forward it took me a lot of technical experimentation to get the workflow correct. So, as I alluded to above, I basically retaught myself how I make things. Which was both fun and maddening, I’m not going to lie. 

CBY: Oh, I wouldn't have guessed there was no ink in the finished version. This book delves into meta-narrative more than the average comic. It also features extensive footnotes, which is a rarity in the medium. It seems like you employed this to full effect to ensure a lot of contextual information was laid out, but was there anything left unsaid you cut because of time or space constraints? It seems like you’ve laid out an immense world of people, places, and things - with some absolutely packed, swarming character pages introducing the “From the Secret Files of Mary Tyler Moorehawk” chapters. I particularly enjoy Cutie Boy: World’s Nicest Robot, the nature of his powers, and the nod to Astroboy in his briefly covered, but tragic-sounding, backstory. What other characters are particularly near and dear to you, whom you’d like to elaborate upon here?  

DB: Oh, man, I could write a whole essay just about this question. As far as things left unsaid, the footnote mechanics come from me reading David Foster Wallace and Mark Z. Danielewski’s works. They both use footnotes in a way that, to me, is basically just comics. They’re fracturing the page real estate of the prose novel in the same way that a gutter breaks up the comic book page. I got really obsessed with that idea, which I think you can see in the book in multiple ways. As far as things left unsaid, there's definitely stuff I cut out for time, and pacing. There was more of Hardtop, the young journalist's uncle character, and there were some more things at the end, which I won’t spoil. But, honestly, I’m pretty thrilled with how things shaped up. 

As far as my favorite characters go: I really have a soft spot for Dreeb Lazenby. I don’t know why but ‘heads-for-hands’ is just so endlessly funny to me. I also really enjoy some of the characters from the prose sections. Specifically, Antonio Hell-Drone Dearthsberg, who’s kind of a future-set Harlan Ellison type figure. I was originally planning more with him as well, but the story wanted other characters to get the spotlight, like Connie, who I also have a big attachment to. 

CBY: Yeah, there are so many references to media, characters, or happenstance rattled off, like Where Skybirds Dare, Senator Xephram Appleton-Skincrawler (R–AZ), or “pre-purge” comic books and horror magazines, they are clearly part of your world building exercise. Can you shed a little light on the inception of Mary Tyler Moorehawk, and what the creative process has entailed, producing this expansive world that clearly bleeds over the boundaries of what’s contained solely within this graphic novel? When did you start working on this, and how did you end up partnering with Top Shelf to bring it to the public?

DB: I honestly find it hard to pinpoint exactly what the starting point was and how I arrived there. I think the quiet and easiest answer is probably, that I wanted to do something literary. I wanted to try and push the form and the medium of comics. Would I succeed in that? Who could say. But I wanted to take what I normally do and evolve it. To push things into a place where hopefully there hadn’t been a lot of graphic novel literary antecedents. Again, I don’t know that it’s up to me to say whether I succeeded or failed, but I gave it the good old college try.  

As far as the world building goes, I think that’s just a game of self-imitating “Yes, and”. You just start typing things and building out funny concepts and then before you know it, you have “a world”.  And then you have to create a sense of architecture for yourself where you’re building all those ideas together into a greater point, if that makes any sense. 

As far as Top Shelf goes, Chris Staros saw the book and instantly got what I was trying to do. I’m supremely indebted to him. He’s someone who has a lengthy track record in comics and has helped push many people to the next level. The fact that he saw my weirdo book and decided to give it a go means the world to me. 

CBY: I certainly think you've delivered a unique entry into the medium. So Mary Tyler MooreHawk is riddled with callbacks to issues unknown in addition to the subplot around the television series adaptation. When you’re making internal references, how much external media leaks in? (For instance, the Chapter 2 Physicalist Today cover evoked for me the same suburban dusk of 1999’s American Football eponymous LP artwork, etc.) How much is part of your own internal worldbuilding organizational process? Where do you draw the line between reference and homage in your work?

DB: There’s an embarrassingly large amount of Buckaroo Banzai in my book. Like even the idea of linking to a thing that doesn’t exist is basically me just ripping off Earl Mac Rauch’s seminal Buckaroo Banzai novelisation. I can’t overstate enough how impressive and impactful Rauch’s work on both the movie but also the novelization is, to me. And so, the brief answer to your question is: a lot. There are a lot of the callbacks and jokes and things that are “in world” but if you know, they’re just me riffing on Buckaroo Banzai ideas or unused ideas in general. The title to chapter two is Crystal Hell, which is the title for the unused Full Moon Pictures Dr. Strange rip off movie Dr. Mordrid sequel that never happened. That theme of “things that never came to be” is throughout the whole project. It’s a meta reference inside of a narrative reference, I suppose is one way to look at it. And it’s something that goes back to the theme of being lost in a maze of your own making, whether that be fandom or the creative process or relationships. A lot of people in the book are lost and looking for absolution. 

  1. CBY: There are so many memorable quips in this book, singling out any seems like a disservice to the rest, but can I ask where the phrase, “They say that behind every successful business, there is a crime.” originated? It’s probably one of the most biting quotes I’ve read (particularly poignant reading this alongside Dr. Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow’s Chokepoint Capitalism). In the context of the Physicalist Today voicing, who was in mind as the ephemeral, “they”? 

DB: I think that specific sentiment applies to everyone currently living in the first world. There is no ethical consumption under capitalism. The shoes I’m wearing were made for pennies on the dollar halfway across the globe, the food I eat was created in factory farming, the land I live on was stolen through violence and washed in blood. But how do we, as individuals, fight against that? We can’t. So, you have to pick your battles, as bleak as that is to admit. In my book, I’m specifically talking about the history of comics as a medium and how National Publications, aka DC Comics, was founded as a money laundering operation for Jack Cohen’s rum-running enterprise. But, to me, that’s just the metaphorical stand-in for The American Experience. Comics are an inherently American medium, and therefore it only makes logical sense that they’d have a causal link to large scale Criminal Capitalism, right? 

CBY: Yeah, everything I've read about the history of comics lays it out as, primarily, a bunch of unscrupulous business jerks hoodwinking creatives into earning their money for them. Throughout Mary Tyler MooreHawk, the role of Physicalist Today issues interspersed with the titular character’s adventures provides an opportunity to explore the world in which a Dave Baker of the future (not the you of now), contemporary of a character named Connie Harvawitz-Kurt, exists (if I’m getting that right). I think it’s allowed for a fascinating juxtaposition of imagery and voicing, and I like the opportunity Physicalist Today provides for you to express broader meta-narrative concepts (and playing with alternative/possible futures). I really don’t want to create any spoilers for potential readers, but I am curious - can you unpack the narrative relationship between MTMH (the character and her adventure) and Physicalist Today’s narrative world, and how your conceived world’s Physicalist journalism aligns with, or departs from, Physicalism as a philosophical concept? 

DB:  Yeah, you got that correct. Basically, 100 years in the future, all physical items will be outlawed. And because of that, we essentially experience a cultural heat-death. We lose our sense of self as a nation, we quickly forget what the idea of a story is, and we essentially become a civilization of worker bees, toiling away and just trying to survive. In this future, the people who are obsessed with nostalgia and physical objects go underground. They attend basement conventions and bin-dive on weekends. They’re preoccupied with how The Old World functioned, primarily through the lens of pop cultural media like movies and comic books and CDs. 

The journalist Dave Baker gets turned onto these ideas by his uncle, who takes him to these shows and teaches him about the inner workings of the now-dead industries. He becomes obsessed with collecting physical objects, understanding the social ecosystems of the time, and tracking down the previously mentioned TV show creator and cartoonist, also named Dave Baker. 

So, for me, this was a mechanism to break down how the world has been radicalized through fandom. The term “fan” used to be a pejorative. It literally means fanatic, right? But essentially since Star Trek’s introduction that word has been slowly inched toward something else. It now means a devotee. It means an obsessive. Which, look, I’m not above this. I’m one of The Anointed. I’m just pointing out how that slavish devotion, which used to be reserved for an inexplicable passion for Days of Our Lives, is now for political parties and corporate brands. That gives me pause. We should strive to hold these companies an political institutions in check and accountable for what they do in our names and in pursuit of our wallets, and with every passing year that seems to be less and less so.  

As far as Physicalism goes… I have an answer but I’m worried that it would get too deep into spoilers. Find me at a convention and we’ll get into it, in person. ;)

CBY: Sounds like a plan! On that note, I mentioned the evocation of American Football’s album art earlier - Physicalist Today provides an opportunity to vary the color palette and showcase a different visual tone from the “Secret files…” content. Can we talk more about the design elements of Physicalist Today, the photography, and the intentional choices you made around distressing the material, font choices, etc.? That was my personal aesthetic connection to draw, but I’m curious, seeing the range of media included in this title, who are your largest aesthetic influences, in general, and on Mary Tyler MooreHawk, particularly?

DB: So, I definitely need to pay tribute to my two collaborators on this question. The design was all done by Mike Lopez and the photography was done by David Catalano. 

It took me a while to come up with the idea of doing the Physicalist Today sections, and once I did I thought I’d just write them as a novel. But that transition felt too hard and visually incongruous. So, that’s when I reached out to David and Mike to see if they’d be interested in collaborating with me on this project. 

When Mike and I were discussing the design of the project the things I brought up to him were Riot Grrrl zines, DC area 80’s hardcore zines, and 1990’s era Tokusatsu magazines and mooks from Japan. I’m a huge Sentai, Rider, and Ultraman fan. And they have a strong tradition of these hyper-designed publications that really have an energetic and visual feel to them. And so, I wanted to take those aesthetics and kind of filter them through a high-art photography portfolio look. David’s photography is just so impressive and so other-wordly, I knew instantly that he’d bring something unique to the narrative equation. In fact, this idea of using his photos kinda started as another project. He had all these amazing photos of houses, and I was going to write fictional biographies of all the people who lived in the houses. That ultimately, got abandoned and I was just like, “hey, wanna use them for this new book I’m working on?” I think it all ended up for the best. 

CBY: I'm really glad you were able to incorporate all those awesome shots into this book. Okay, so now that I’ve read Mary Tyler MooreHawk, and read up on your portfolio of publications, I’d like to read more. How does your prior work lay a foundation for this graphic novel (if at all)? Can you walk me (and all the readers who visit the Yeti Cave) through your back catalog a bit? You’ve worked with IDW, Dark Horse, Silver Sprocket, done some screenwriting - tell us more.

DB: Yeah, my previous works include Fuck Off Squad (Silver Sprocket), Night Hunters (Floating World), Everyone Is Tulip (Dark Horse), Forest Hills Bootleg Society (Simona and Schuster), and Star Trek Voyager (IDW). I’ve also self published numerous comics, the most recent of which include Halloween Boy and Action Hospital.

I think I’m someone who’s very interested in form. I love the mechanical qualities of comics and I’m constantly trying to push and pull things in different directions. I think you can see the bones of my interests in the way I’ve handled caption mechanics, probably. Starting with Fuck Off Squad and ending with Forest Hills, there’s a throughline there that leads you to the Physicalist Today mechanic, I think. Or, maybe not, I’m too close to these things. I’m not the right person to ask, I think. 

CBY: Well, I'm glad I've at least had the chance to ask you. Now, I know surrounding the release of Mary Tyler MooreHawk, it’s probably been your sole focus, but when you’re checking out comics and other work (film, television, literature, music, art, etc.), what’s been keeping your attention and inspiring you? What should our readers give their attention once they pick up your latest graphic novel?

DB: I really really loved Blood of the Virgin by Sammy Harkham. It follows a film editor in the 1970’s who’s working at a low-budget genre production company and finally gets a chance to direct his first feature film. It’s loosely inspired by the life and work of Peter Bogdanovitch. And, boy, oh, boy. I devoured it. I absolutely loved every page of it. It’s a deeply personal, highly vulnerable piece, and I highly recommend it. 

CBY: Fantastic! Dave, thanks for joining us, and if you’ve got links to portfolio, publication, and social media you’d like everyone to check out, please share anything for our audience below.

DB: Hey, thanks for having me. Yea, you can find me at HeyDaveBaker.Com or on the socials at @XDaveBakerX This was a great chat! Thanks so much! 

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