Now in comic shops and hitting major bookstores tomorrow, November 17, Vertigo’s new original graphic novel Luna Park aims to transcend time periods while telling a Russian immigrants tale of his time caught inside of a disillusioned dream of American success. Written by the New York Times bestselling novelist Kevin Baker with art by Danijel Zezelj, Luna Park is a unique look at one of America’s most enchanting locations, with a vicious backdrop of Russian lineage. Don’t forget to check out our review of Luna Park.
I got the chance to speak with Kevin Baker, who indulged my questions ranging from Coney Island to the Yankees.
CraveOnline: Firstly, thank you for taking the time out of your day to talk to us.
Kevin Baker: Oh, no problem. It’s my pleasure.
CraveOnline: So, you’re a New York Times best selling novelist that’s published numerous books. What brought Luna Park to the comics medium as opposed to doing another novel?
Kevin Baker: Well you know, I was approached by Vertigo originally about doing a comic and we batted around a couple of ideas, and it just seemed to work really well in terms of being something that could work in a more visual medium. You know, it has various elements of noir and fantasy and time travel that I think really lend themselves to the comic book form and to the more visual style.
CraveOnline: Okay, so was this a book that always had a home at Vertigo? Did it originate with them?
Kevin Baker: Well, no, they suggested something to do with Coney Island and I come up with the story. I’d written a previous book about Coney Island called Dreamland, but there are so many stories out there, so much to delve into that I wanted to go ahead and pull out some more. When they suggested that I came up with this idea.
CraveOnline: I was actually going to bring that up, that Dreamland is set in Coney Island as well.
Kevin Baker: Right, in part, yeah.
CraveOnline: What is it about Coney Island that intrigues you so much?
Kevin Baker: Well, it’s one of these kind of mystical places that’s sort of on the margin of a great city. And there are these other elements of sand and water and a certain desolation in the winter that kind of create a mystique about it. It’s almost at the bottom of New York, if you look at it in one way, and it’s kind of where everybody sort of tumbles down to, and have for 150 years. And always underneath this sort of surface level, pure, happy, amusement park thing, there’s kind of a darker noir feeling to it. Underneath the rides there have always been things like cheap saloons, some brothels, and kind of a whole hidden world that I think works very well for this sort of underworld story that I’m telling in Luna Park.
CraveOnline: Now the other big part of Luna Park besides the setting is obviously the Russian influence and heritage that’s brought in through Alik’s character. Was that something you’ve always wanted to explore, or did that come out unexpectedly?
Kevin Baker: Yeah, that came out kind of unexpectedly. I mean, I’d always been very interested in Russian history but I’m hardly an expert on it or anything. But, you know, it kind of fascinates me in the sense that it’s sort of the opposite of American history. American history is at least perceived in an optimistic way: you know, everything works out. And maybe we only get to that perception by literally whiting out whole parts of our history, like slaughtering the Indians, the salve trade, etc. But it’s at least perceived that way, and in Russian history it’s sort of more that nothing works out. The same things go wrong, time and time again. So I felt that was kind of an interesting contrast, you can really see how these two nations would become Cold War opposites. There’s sort of a yin and yang of Western civilization to them. And at the same point, how to interact them I think is really interesting and that’s what I want to kind of explore here.
CraveOnline: Well it’s a really great book, I really enjoyed it. And obviously, half of it is the art.
Kevin Baker: [laughs] Probably more than half. Danijel’s an amazing artist, and everybody, between the color and the lettering, the whole bit, all the visuals from DC were fantastic, but Danijel particularly was just terrific. This being my first time out in the comic medium, I really felt I should let him lead on how this would look and all, and I think that was a good choice. I mean I wrote the script and I pictured things various ways, but he was the one who really made it work on the page. And you know, it’s mostly a visual medium in the first place, so kind of all the more appropriate that he was able to take it and run with it.
CraveOnline: Did you know him previously from anything? He lives in Brooklyn, a New Yorker also, so did that make things easier?
Kevin Baker: No, I hadn’t met him, but I hadn’t met any graphic novel artists for that matter. I just met him through Karen Berger at DC, and we’ve e-mailed back and forth but only had a couple of face-to-face meetings. It went real well and real smoothly, and it was an honor to work with him.
CraveOnline: Are you a life-long comic book fan, or is it just something you wanted to delve into?
Kevin Baker: Not so much, I mean I read some as a kid, but that was sort of the age when comic books were considered to be corrupting the youth of America. [laughs]
Kevin Baker: You know, all that stuff with what’s-his-name, Wertham, was it? The whole "these are just going to be ruining our brains" and all this, but I’d read Classic Comics and things like that, and I would sneak in a few others, but I really came back to it for this. I think it’s sort of interesting again in the 1930′s and 40′s comics; I had written a novel called Strivers Row, just before I did Luna Park, and it includes a young Malcom X as a teenage street hustler in Harlem, which he was, and he was apparently a big comics fan. Read them constantly at that time. So I kind of explored them more for that book and that was kind of a nice reintroduction to them, leading into Luna Park.
CraveOnline: That’s awesome. Have you gone to any conventions yet to promote the book?
Kevin Baker: I haven’t! I’d love to. I’m looking forward to it, it should be quite a scene. The whole thing is kind of a fun adventure for me, to try out another medium and all that. I’ve been having a blast so far.
CraveOnline: Would you do it again?
Kevin Baker: Oh yeah! I’ve already pitched a couple of ideas to DC and hopefully they’ll take me up on it. But yeah, I’d love to have an ongoing career in this as well as in straight prose. I think it’d be terrific.
CraveOnline: As far as comics go, would you like to stick to the graphic novel format, or would you want to explore maybe a monthly book or mini-series?
Kevin Baker: I could see a monthly book or mini-series, I had an idea for a 19th century superhero that maybe I can see in that sense. I think probably more I’ll do the graphic novel format, but I’m open to anything on this, it’s really been a liberating experience.
CraveOnline: What’s the reaction been from your peers, other authors? Do they see comics as something new, something to explore, or does opinion vary from person to person?
Kevin Baker: Oh, it’s incredibly hot now. [laughs] You know, I’ll meet somebody new and they’ll ask what I do and I’ll be like "I write historical novels" and their eyes will kind of glaze over and I’ll say "And I’m doing a comic book!" and their eyes pop open again. So it’s something that everyone seems to be interested in right now, and other novelists I know are kind of envious I guess, of this, so I’m very happy to be in it.
CraveOnline: That’s great. Now, sidebar: as a New Yorker, the Yankees winning the series. Thoughts?
Kevin Baker: I’m delighted! I’m a huge Yankee fan, I started rooting for the Yankees back in 1966 when they finished last, and the next year my family moved to Massachusetts, so I had to grow up mostly as a Yankees fan in Red Sox territory, and the Yanks weren’t very good.
CraveOnline: Ah yes, that’s rough. [laughs]
Kevin Baker: So you feel like you’ve been through a lot. [laughs] I’m very glad to see them up there. I’m particularly delighted for the great Mariano Rivera, who really deserved this one and really carried us through. It’s great to see such a fantasic athlete come out on top again. It was a lot of fun, but I’m kind of glad it’s over – there are only so many four-hour ball games I can take. [laughs] It was a hell of a season.
CraveOnline: Agreed. That’s pretty much all I’ve got for you, is there anything else you want to add?
Kevin Baker: Just that it’s been a terrific experience, I look forward to doing more of it, and I hope that people read it, and I’d love to talk to them about it. Thanks for the interview, and hopefully we’ll talk again soon.
CraveOnline: Well thank you Kevin, and good luck with the book.