Writer Kevin Baker Talks The Craft Of Comics And Taking Readers To ‘Luna Park’
For a relative newcomer to the comic book medium, author Kevin Baker doesn’t seem to have had much trouble fitting right in.
It shouldn’t come as much surprise to readers either. Over the years Baker’s explored a fairly diverse career in writing. Between his “City of Fire” trilogy of novels (including the New York Times bestselling “Dreamland”), nonfiction work and columnist work, comics seem like a logical step for an author willing to try something new.
Baker’s taken that particular step in November 11th’s “Luna Park,” with a quiet confidence and appreciation for the medium’s storytelling strengths. Illustrated by Danijel Zezel (“Loveless”), the story follows two lovers as they struggle to be together through turbulent times and circumstances.ComicsAlliance: You’ve written a series of novels, nonfiction and content across journalism – basically every medium. What attracted you to the graphic novel format this time around?
Kevin Baker: Well, actually Vertigo approached me about doing it and I really didn’t know all that much about graphic novels at the time – it was a few years ago – but the more I looked into it, the more research I did on it, it seemed like a lot of fun. Among other things, you could hand off a lot of the work of writing a novel to your illustrator [laughs] and I thought Danijel Zezelj did a fantastic job on it. You don’t have to worry as much about things like description and all the hard nuts and bolts of novel writing. And it was just kind of fun to write in a different medium, to have a chance to let my imagination run wild and try some different things.
CA: One of the first things I noticed about “Luna Park” was that although it takes place in a lot of time periods, one similarity it had with some of your other works – especially your “City of Fire Trilogy” — was particularly the turn of the 20th century time period. What is it about that time period that you keep coming back to?
KB: Well, it’s a very interesting period. The whole “City of Fire Trilogy” was set in three different periods beginning with the Civil War and then the turn of the century and the 1940s, all of which are interesting eras. The turn of the century though, is a particularly interesting era for Coney Island, because that was when you really had… in many ways still the most beautiful and weird, exotic and dangerous amusement parks set up there, which were of course Steeple Chase, Luna Park and Dreamland. They stood side-by-side almost along Coney Island from 1903 to 1911, and that was sort of the ultimate period for Coney Island in a way, when it was at its strangest and most beautiful. It was also a big time for American immigration and a time when a lot of youth and new Americans were going out there and seeing… what their world was and what it was going to become. Coney Island was kind of the place where you went to see, for instance, recreations of buildings, which were set on fire. They’d set up these kind of asbestos fake tenements on fire and acrobats would jump out of the windows and things like that. It was a place where you’d go to see the coming technology. These parks were lit up by these, for the time, enormous power plants that could’ve lit several American towns of the period. It was a little before newsreels that you’d see recreations of disasters around the world. So it was the place to go to kind of see your world in microcosm and it’s a fascinating place in that sense.
CA: Since you’ve written in so many different media and across so many time periods, did you have to do anything special to kind of prepare to write the comic? Did you have to sort of ask, “How do I write a comic book script?”
KB: [Laughs] No, I kind of worked out the basic idea with [Vertigo Executive Editor] Karen Berger and submitted a couple of things to her… There was a little bit of back-and-forth about it and how to do this. So, no, it was a learning process, but it was really a pleasure all the way through I’d say. It’s really a visual medium too. I felt that Danijel should have a lead in how the pages looked in all of this, and I think he continually improved on the initial script that I sent to him in terms of how it would look. So there were a couple of veteran people who have been very good at helping to carry me along.
CA: Something I noticed as I was looking at the art were the fairly wide cinematic panels, and how they were stacked in sort of a widescreen format. A lot of authors who jump into comics can take the paid-by-word approach on comics, but “Luna Park” has a lot of breathing room. Did you have a lot of back-and-forth during the artwork process?
KB: Not so much in that sense, I really feel like from the beginning I didn’t want the words to get in the way of the pictures. So I was very conscious of that from the start. In fact, I probably underestimated how many words you can get in a panel (laughs). I was kind of surprised at how small they were and how little of the panel they took up in the end. But I was very conscious of not wanting to get in the way of the artist. I think that worked out. I was, of course, writing descriptions in the scripts “close of this, head shot of this,” but of course in terms of visualizing it on the page I think Danijel was much better at kind of making that come alive. Right from the beginning I wanted to really limit the words. In fact, Karen was, in certain places, encouraging me to put more words in. I just didn’t want to fill it up with my words or it’d sort of be a regression.
CA: The story does jump around from time period to time period, which can be challenging to pull of in any medium — you’re watching “Lost” sometimes and thinking “When Are they?” – but from what I’ve seen you didn’t really have to get heavy-handed with the transitions in “Luna Park.” Was that something you focused on upfront to avoid whiplash?
KB: It was something to keep in mind, and originally too we had the story going back to even another time period that Karen very wisely felt should come out, because I think it was a little too much. I originally had [the story] going back into the 1930s as well and [the cut] just kind of kept the story better supported, I think. But I think [comics] is the medium where you can do that more easily than in anything else. You can do it with pictures and you don’t have kind of the confusion of being live people that you have in a TV [show]. It just always seems hokey in TV where you have the screen go wavy and all that and suddenly everybody’s in period costume! I think in the medium of comics, graphic novels, you’re automatically accepting much more in terms of playing with the boundaries of time and space and it’s easier just to show it.
CA: Did you have any challenges you didn’t expect coming into the project? Was there anything that kind of came out of left field?
KB: That’s interesting. I don’t think that there was really anything that was a total surprise like that. I think I was maybe a little surprised at how m
uch of a story you could fit into [a comic’s] space. It was generally kind of fun… I picture everything in kind of a movie-like way when I’m writing a novel. So, in a way this was really fun to do and fit in nicely with how I imagine stuff to start with. But I don’t think there were any real surprises. Maybe just realizing how much you could get into a panel maybe, but that’s it.
CA: Did the experience maybe make you want to work on another graphic novel concept or comic series in the future?
KB: Oh yeah. I’d love to. I’ve already submitted some other ideas to DC and I’m hoping to be able to do this more in the future. I’ve got a bunch of ideas of what to do.
CA: Have you considered adapting any of the previous novels you’ve written into graphic novel form?
KB: Oh, if anyone had any interest I’d be happy to do that. I haven’t heard anything like that from anyone, but I’d be happy to do it. I think it’s kind of more fun for me to go and do original stories and there’s some stories I could see as novels in the future and some would fit better in [comics]. I’d love to be able to just keep doing fresh stories as I go on.