Today I wish a happy birthday to Kyle Baker, who was born on December 13, 1965. As a cartoonist, Baker has so far won eight Eisner Awards (considered the American comic industry’s equivalent of the Oscars), five Harvey Awards (as voted by his peers), and five Glyph Comic Awards (which recognize the best comics made for and by people of color in a particular year). His animation work has been seen in Looney Tunes projects, Phineas and Ferb, and Andre Benjamin’s late, lamented (at least by me!) Class of 3000. Baker is comfortable working in digital formats or pen and ink, creating everything from gritty historical epics to portraits of family life. For me, though, Baker’s genius evokes one work: the immortal The Cowboy Wally Show.
Originally released in 1988, the story has aged incredibly well. Legendary (if controversial) star Cowboy Wally is being interviewed for a retrospective, and so the reader sees his life and work through the pages. That simple premise is fleshed out through countless one-liners, corny yet glorious puns (“Be here next week when Salmon Dave sings ‘I’m A Sole Man’!”), and witty repartee. Cowboy Wally is willing to try anything, which makes him easy to like in spite of his many character flaws. His oeuvre includes the Foreign Legion epic Sands of Blood (featuring the best conclusion to a rousing war movie speech ever), and an extremely low-budget reworking of Hamlet that defies description. When I watch The Simpsons, I’m sure that Krusty the Clown’s career (not to mention his questionable merchandising) has been heavily influenced by Cowboy Wally’s Shoot-‘Em-Up Laugh Riot.
Baker posted several of his books in digital format online for free last year. So, though it’s no substitute for displaying at least one print copy prominently in your home, you can experience the majesty of The Cowboy Wally Show here. I don’t think any author will ever top Baker’s dedication page:
“Acknowledgments: I blame society.”