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  • Writer's pictureBrad Gullickson

"Johnny Quest, Tintin, and Nancy Drew. That's my Trinity." Dave Baker on 'Mary Tyler MooreHawk'

We chat with the cartoonist about his ambitious graphic novel and why it's fueled with so much fire and urgency.

Dave Baker Mary Tyler MooreHawk Cover

Welcome to our Creator Corner, our reoccurring interview series, where we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the industry. In this entry, we're conversing with Dave Baker about Mary Tyler MooreHawk. Listen to the unedited audio HERE.


Do yourself a favor. Today, swoop over to your local comic book shop and score yourself a copy of Dave Baker's Mary Tyler MooreHawk. It's easily the most ambitious comic of the year (and maybe the decade), and you'll be hearing a lot about it for the next several months as we race toward the end-of-the-year Best Of lists. The book does more than marry comics, prose, photographs, and more. It's a celebration of all mediums, all stories, and it's ringing an alarm that most of us comics lovers should already have clocked by now, but maybe we haven't.

The back of the book will tell you that it's about a young kid adventurer who saved the planet but had her TV show canceled. It will mention a journalist named Dave Baker, who's scrambling to understand how the nine-episode series got the shaft and why its creator shares his name. What the plot description misses is the passion and urgency fueling the narrative. The Dave Baker we spoke to the other day has a lot of concerns about the beloved industry he's found himself within, and he's putting every anxiety on the page, and it is compelling as hell.

Our Dave Baker tells us how a silly pun grew into such a massive tome, where he was driven to put all of himself into it - literally. We discuss the various inspirations that shaped his narrative, the gross capitalist beast that satiates itself on creators, and why we'll never escape it. All we can do is fight, and there is beauty in the attempt.


Dave Baker, Mary Tyler MooreHawk, and Words of Affirmation

Dave Baker Mary Tyler MooreHawk Splash
Image Credit © 2024 Top Shelf Productions

Brad: Here at Comic Book Couples Counseling, we are firm believers in words of affirmation. You have a character in your comic, Cutie Boy, who is kind of a Mega Man, Astro Boy character - step-brother to the title character. They get stronger when they get words of affirmation. Where does Cutie Boy come from?

Dave Baker: I am a big Tokusatsu fan. If anybody doesn't know, there's a genre of Japanese live-action television aimed primarily at young boys called Tokusatsu. In that special effects-driven subgenre, there's multiple tiers. There's Kaiju films, and like Henshin hero films, and giant hero films. I specifically am a big fan of a lot of Shotaro Ishinomori's work. He did a lot of books and worked on TV projects. He did Cyborg 009, and Kamen Rider, and Skull Man, and a lot of that stuff.

He did a show that was a co-production with the Hawaiian government, I believe, called Kikaida. It is a very Shotaro Ishinomori down-the-middle idea. All of his shows and comics and manga - they're all like a guy. Then he gets kidnapped, and then he gets turned into a cyborg, and then he has to fight some dudes. The kind of pivot point is like, is he a guy who gets turned into a grasshopper cyborg? Is he a guy that gets turned into a train cyborg? What's the cyborg theme?

Kikaida is like a music-themed one, where it's a dude who has a guitar, and he plays the guitar, and he transforms into the hero Kikaida, who's kind of the last bastion of truth, justice, and the Japanese way, and that character's mask has a half-exposed, cyborgian, asymmetrical look to it that even before I was into this stuff, I'd always been like, "Man, that head with the exposed positronic brain, and the weird half mask, that thing just looks so cool."

In the action adventure, Johnny Quest, Nancy Drew type genre, there's always the best friend, the younger brother, the adopted kid who has something that makes them a little unique or a little off center. In Johnny Quest, it's Haji. In Nancy Drew, it's George, and Frank and Joe Hardy, obviously.

In mine, I was like, "Oh, it'd be really fun if the little other child member of the family was some sort of Astro boy, Kikaida, Kamen Rider-y archetype," so you could kind of play with some of those tropes that I love so much about the Tokusatsu subgenre, but it wouldn't be the whole thing. It wouldn't just be me riffing on Ishinomori. It would be the added context of just some sprinkling of Ishinomori. You know what I mean?

Brad: What about the aspect of telling him something nice about himself, and he gets a little stronger?

Dave Baker: Oh, yeah, sure. Yeah. Frankly, I don't even know where that comes from. I think that's just like, I was looking for a silly way to have him get more and more powerful in scenes. The idea that you would just be nice to somebody and they would get better at something is really - I don't know, it's charming to me.

Brad: That's charming, but that's who I am, that's who Lisa is. I feel like we are only good when we get affirmation from our parents or our friends, or when I was a kid, like affirmation from my teacher, that's when I would excel. They just got to say something nice about me.

Dave Baker: Yeah, and I think that there's also a component of that where the kid adventurer archetype, those novels that were created by the Stratemeyer Syndicate in the 1930s, they're selling a singular thing. They're selling the idea that children and the innocence of childhood is a superpower. The cover paintings by Rudy Nappi, to all those books, it's just Frank and Joe Hardy looking off camera, or Nancy Drew looking, or Trixie Belden looking.

It's because they're selling a wish fulfillment that the adults are lying to you. They just are. The children know what is really happening. I think that inherent in that is that all those characters are just innately good. They're not perverted. They're not flawed. That was something I wanted to do with Mary Tyler MooreHawk - is have her be a return to that earnestness, where now the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC, all of these kind of whatever we now culturally agree are our paragons of positive virtue, it's always undercut with a joke. It's always undercut with a sarcastic comment.

I wanted to try and make something that was really earnest and return to that idea that these characters are important because they're inherently good. Showing kindness is one of the ways that Mary Tyler MooreHawk is inherently good, and therefore, for her little brother to have the complimentary ability that he gets better, the more someone is nice to him, creates an internal narrative ecosystem that feeds itself.

Dave Baker, Mary Tyler MooreHawk, Infinite Jest, and Johnny Quest

Dave Baker Mary Tyler MooreHawk Coke
Image Credit © 2024 Top Shelf Productions

Brad: Man, yeah. Well, I love it. I want more superpower characters with that kindness absorption. Now, my understanding is that once upon a time, Mary Tyler MooreHawk was a pun on Mary Tyler Moore, but you lost the thread at some point in the creation of this graphic novel. It's not like a big gag about Mary Tyler Moore in any way. What happened?

Dave Baker: What happened? I just have a giant list of puns. I just love puns. I think they're really funny, and I think they're even funnier when they're not acknowledged. It's like you said, I love Mary Tyler Moore. This is not me saying like, "Oh, I'm over it." It grew into another thing. The main character was always named, well, that's not true. She wasn't always named Mary Tyler MooreHawk, but this iteration of this idea was she's always been called Mary Tyler MooreHawk.

Yes, it is technically a pun, but it's like you said, it's just kind of evolved into this other strange direction, which is kind of funnier to me that it doesn't relate to it in any way, and that the humor is derived from the idea of a joke as opposed to it actually being a joke.

Brad: Yeah. I kept waiting for it to come back in some way, and then it didn't. I was preparing for this conversation, and it just struck me, that it's like, "Oh, well, it's just a cool name. It's just really a cool name." It does speak to, or my curiosity around it does speak to the idea that this is a story that's been gestating in you for a long time. About a decade ago was when the idea came to you, correct?

Dave Baker: Yeah. It's weird. I don't don't know how to answer that question accurately, because at one point in time, this book was a separate artistic project that I've since abandoned, and maybe will go back to at some point called Series Finale, The Series. I had an idea to do a book that was a fake making-of television show that would've chronicled the last episode, where investors get a bunch of money, and then they get the rights to Serenity, and Freaks and Geeks, and Pushing Daisies, and then they make a conclusion episode.

Every episode of the show is the finale of another show. I thought it would be really funny to make a book that was in-universe, chronicling how that television show came together. Initially, Mary Tyler MooreHawk was just one of those episodes. I wrote the finale screenplay, and then I started - I basically was making in-universe ephemera, where I was making a mini-comic of Mary Tyler MooreHawk to put in there as like, "Look, this is the finale episode script, and then we're going to interview the actors. Also, here's a short excerpt of the comic that the show was based on."

Then I just fell in love with the characters and got so excited about it. I was like, "Oh, maybe it's the other way around. Maybe it's like the comic that then got adapted into a show that then got canceled, and we follow a journalist as he's trying to track down what happened." It kind of restructured the whole project, if that makes sense.

Brad: We don't see too many books that marry prose and comics, and also footnotes. Obviously, you're a David Foster Wallace fan. I was just reading an interview where you were talking about Consider the Lobster. You could see that love in this comic.

Dave Baker: Yeah, the high concept that I usually use to explain it is it's like Infinite Jest meets Johnny Quest, which is self-aggrandizing and/or ridiculous, a little bit, a little bit, but I genuinely don't know how to describe it. I think there are literary antecedents in both the comics world and the prose world that I think you can link pretty directly to it.

The marriage of the two of them and the friction between those ideas is very strange and doesn't really summarize what it is. Yeah, the prose story is told through epistolary zines in a publication called Physicalist Today, and it follows a young man named Dave Baker, who is a journalist who exists in a future where physical objects have been outlawed. Because of that, physical media, like movies and TV shows, and comics or music, it's all kind of gone away. It's been lost to the cultural kind of churn of intergenerational hand-changing in terms of societal control.

The ideas, and even just the idea of a story, has kind of been erased or culturally eroded, so that people aren't really familiar with that, except for the notable exception of this small group of people who are very fanatical hardcore collectors. They refer to themselves as Physicalists, and they meet up in basement shows, and they rent out Marriott ballrooms, and then can't set up in the ballroom, so they set up in the basement underneath the ballroom.

We're definitely not selling old Coke cans, or old issues of Dark Shadows, licensed Dell Gold Key comics or whatever. We follow this guy who's obsessed with all this old media, and specifically, he's obsessed with a show called Mary Tyler MooreHawk that only lasted nine episodes. He's like, "I'm going to figure out why the show got canceled. I'm going to figure out who all the people were."

He starts tracking down all of these people who worked on the production of the show, many of whom live in Montana in this fictional future. He starts interviewing these people, and he finds out a key piece of information that kind of throws everything on a different trajectory, in that the person who created the show was also named Dave Baker.

That unlocks a very strange meta journey, as he tries to parse identity, and what fandom means, how nostalgia is both something that dictates his entire existence, but also is now kind of a forgotten thing in the culture, and whether that's a good or a bad thing. The footnotes play into it significantly.

Brad: Yes.

Dave Baker: There's a lot of footnotes. If anybody hasn't read David Foster Wallace or Mark Z. Danielewski, who wrote...

Brad: House of Leaves.

Dave Baker: Which I also really love, they both use footnotes in a very interesting way, and different ways in their various projects, where they're typically using - there's a main narrative thread, and then footnotes function as this almost kind of either respite, or a side, or a kind of continuation on a discursive strange thought that isn't related to the main thrust of the narrative.

I was reading a lot of both of their works, and I was like, "These guys are making comics. They just don't know it." They're not comic book people, but they're taking the picture plane of prose, and fracturing it into two image sections that's separated by a gutter, i.e. the time it takes your eyes to travel from the top to the bottom of the page.

Those two waxing and waning data fields are creating these interesting permutations and narrative that don't typically exist in a comic, or be just a standard novel without the footnotes. You can see both of them exploring the mechanics of using the footnotes in different ways in their various projects. I wanted to play around with that idea, and I was like, "I really feel like you could use the history of comics and the way editors notes in the sixties kind of fractured and bifurcated time on a third level," because you're taking image A and image B separated by a gutter.

Your mind is putting that together, and you're using the words as the connective tissue to Frankenstein the story together. Then there's a meta-narrative on top of that that typically is only oriented around commerce, where there's an editor saying, "If you want to know more about Hellcat, make sure to pick up Patsy Walker 75," or whatever.

Brad: Got it, yeah, yeah.

Dave Baker, Mary Tyler MooreHawk and The Death of Superman's Creators

Dave Baker Mary Tyler MooreHawk Argh
Image Credit © 2024 Top Shelf Productions

Dave Baker: I wanted to play with all of that stuff and hopefully mine it for comedy, mine it for tragedy, use it to comment on what I was writing, using it to comment on what was happening in the story, and then using both of those things to comment on what's happening in our world now in the past, and hopefully it sticks together, kind of. I don't know. It's not up to me to say that it does.

Brad: I started reading the introduction that Dave Baker writes to this comic, and I read the first few footnotes. I'm going like, "Okay, this is cool. This is interesting. This is different." I think it's footnote five, but don't quote me on it, you start talking about the various ages of comics - Golden Age, Silver Age, and you get to -

Actually, the first thing I noticed where I was like, "Okay, I'm clicked," is when you're talking about The Fantastic Four "by Jack Kirby with dialogue finishes by Stan Lee," and that descriptor right there is really the beginning of this meta-story within the meta-story about creators and what happens to them as they are creating.

Dave Baker: Totally.

Brad: In that footnote, again, I believe it's footnote number five, I sense a lot of, I don't know if I'd say anger, but fire and urgency in that footnote. Am I off?

Dave Baker: No, you're totally right. 100%, yeah, 100%, exactly. Yeah. Throughout all of the footnotes, there's a through line, and it's not even necessarily just the footnotes. Throughout, I think, the whole thing. The book is about being lost and looking for a way to justify to keep going forward in multiple ways, right? In the comic sections, Mary Tyler MooreHawk is looking for a family. Her biological mother has recently passed away, and her stepmother is now raising her and her family.

They're trying to live up to an ideal of what the MooreHawk Institute for Continuing Tomorrow is and should be. In the prose sections, the journalist Dave Baker is trying to live up to what he thinks the artist Dave Baker, who he views as a genius, is capable of. He wants to rival his hero. It's that Oedipal complex, but specifically with adopted father figures, I guess.

Then there are all these characters who are constantly trying to not be lost in a maze of their own making, and that, to me, is the real thematic core of the book. How do you move forward when you know for a fact that things are bad in various ecosystems around you, whether that be interpersonal or professional? In the comics world specifically, as we both know, people get fucked, man. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster sold Superman for 138 fucking dollars, and I went to Jerry Siegel's grave for my birthday.

He's buried over here in Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It's really nice a little, they call it the Columbarium. It's a weird cylinder where they have all these little cubby holes where people have-

Brad: Lisa and I have been there.

Dave Baker: Oh, you have? Really?

Brad: Yeah, yeah.

Dave Baker: Yeah, it was really cool. It was a very spiritual thing for me, man. I'm not a religious person, but that for me, I've been to Moebius's grave, I've been to Jerry Siegel's grave, and I've been to Jack Kirby's grave. Also, I've been to Bela Lugosi's grave, but he's not as nice a guy. That idea of you just know that you're going to have to compromise in some way, and that the friction of that, and how the industry is just set up by literal gangsters.

There's an extended footnote that talks about the history of comics and how Harry Donenfeld was the best friend of a rum runner, and they embezzled the money from, I guess it's not embezzling. They took the money from the rum running and started DC Comics, and there's just so much history in this medium, and it's such an endemically American art form.

You would think that we would all want to live up to "truth, justice, and the American way," the founding statement of the medium, but it's really like publisher's rights, creators, you can go away now, and we're going to just be eating steak while you guys are off in the corner. The industry and the public doesn't care because it's not a performance-based art form. No one sees Jerry Siegel, no one sees Jack Kirby. They don't understand.

Brad: Well, that's the thing about Stan Lee, right? We love Stan Lee so much because we see him in every movie. We see him on every talk show. Jack Kirby just simply died too early.

Dave Baker: A little-known fact is that the reason Stan was in all those movies is because he won or he settled a lawsuit against Marvel and Sony after the first Spider-Man movie. He's the only person really that's beat the system in terms of winning a lawsuit. Jack Kirby's family took it all the way to the Supreme Court. They were on the steps about to hear the verdict, and then they signed a settlement at the last hour, which, you know what? Good for them. This is not me being like, "We shouldn't have taken it." Selfishly, part of me is like...

Brad: But what if?

Dave Baker: But what if? But what if?

Brad: Yeah, and so you're reading this story, and it feels like this is Dave Baker's comic, that it's, I don't know... Well, we're talking Superman. It's like, this is what you would do with Superman if you could have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and you weren't forced to keep ongoing every month because we got to make money every month.

Dave Baker: Right. Yeah. The kind of root core of the beginning of the emotion of the book was when I realized that David Foster Wallace, Doug Wildey, and I all lived in Tucson, Arizona, at one point in time, which was jaw-dropping to me. I was like, "Are you kidding me?" It just felt like a cosmic coincidence of a crossroads that could not exist, especially because David Foster Wallace, he's not from Arizona, but there's a lot of stuff in Infinite Jest that takes place in Arizona because he went to grad school in Arizona.

Then the timeline doesn't exactly line up. We weren't there at one time. It's like two years or three years off, because Doug Wildey and his wife lived there prior to going to LA, and then they moved back for a little bit, I think before they moved to Las Vegas where he ultimately died. I've been obsessed with Johnny Quest since I was a little kid. It's like a foundational thing for me.

It's like Johnny Quest, Tintin, and Nancy Drew. That's my Trinity. I know a lot of people are Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. For me, it's Johnny Quest, Tintin, and Nancy Drew.


Mary Tyler MooreHawk is out now from Top Shelf Productions.


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