In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, cartoonist Dave Baker talks about his mind-bending graphic novel, Mary Tyler Moorehawk (Top Shelf Productions). Get ready for mind-bender that combines multiple formats and multiple dimensions between fiction and reality.

THE PLOT: Who Is Mary Tyler MooreHawk? How did she save the world from a dimension-hopping megalomaniac? Why was her TV show canceled after only nine episodes? And what happened to the reclusive genius behind her creation? 

These are just a few of the questions that young journalist Dave Baker begins to ask himself as he unravels the many mysteries surrounding the obscure comic book Mary Tyler MooreHawk.

However, his curiosity grows into an obsession when he discovers that the artist behind his favorite globe-trotting girl detective…is also named Dave Baker. 

Ahead of the graphic novel’s release date for February 13, 2024, Dave Baker opens up about how the premise came about, combining different formats, and coming up with the character of Dave Barker. Join us as we head into the writer’s studio and discuss the craft of storytelling.

Villain Media: Tell me how the concept for Mary Tyler Moorehawk came about.

Dave Watcher: Mary Tyler MooreHawk is a hybrid graphic novel and novel project that I’ve been working on for close to five years. I wrote, drew, colored and lettered it, and then I worked with the amazing graphic designer Mike Lopez and photographer David Catalano to bring it home. The comics sections follow a group of super-science adventurers, led by tween detective sensation Mary Tyler MooreHawk, as they attempt to stop a villain from a parallel dimension from committing spatio-temporal holocaust. The prose sections of the book take place 100 years in the future. They follow a journalist named Dave Baker as he embarks on a quest to discover the whereabouts of a reclusive artist, who is responsible for creating a TV show also titled Mary Tyler MooreHawk, that only lasted 9 episodes. To make this journey even stranger, the journalist uncovers the fact that this mysterious creator is also named…Dave Baker. 

VM: Tell me what interested you about the character Mary Tyler MooreHawk, who seems more than a globe-trotting girl detective.

DW: I’m a massive fan of the Teen Detective genre. You know things like Jonny Quest or Hardy Boys or Torchy Blane or Nancy Drew. There’s something about those stories that just immediately makes me excited. I think it has something to do with the fact that the underlying moral of all of those stories is that “adults are lying to you.” The kids always know something is up, the adults and parents are always like, “No, there’s no way Mr Caulder down the lane is secretly embezzling money from the church.” And then, shocker of all shockers… he is. And the kids in question were right all along. This theme is represented in basically all of the Rudy Nappi oil paintings that adorned the covers of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. The kids are always “looking”. That visual representation of the primal awareness of youth is something that got me really excited to make my own “teen detective.” 

MTMH is someone who is naturally and purely good. She wants to do the right thing not because it will bring her rewards, but because that’s what the world needs. More people trying to do the right thing. That primal innocence and conviction I think shows through in the way I draw her, too. Just three circles. Nowhere to hide emotionally. No corners to recess into. I wanted to create a character that was just as much an aspirational sigil for goodness as she was a vehicle for action adventure storytelling. But, of course, because it’s a story: you’ve gotta give her some problems. So, having that unflinching goodness forced to reckon with the complications of “family dynamics” just felt like a perfect fit for both my storytelling sensibilities and the strictures of the genre, in general. 

VM: I love the premise because it sounds very much like the movie, Being John Malkovich. Tell me about diving deep into the mindsets of young journalist Dave Baker, artist Dave Baker, and your name.

DW: Yeah, I love Charlie Kaufman’s work. I think he’s a brilliant artist. I wish he would make comics. I think he’d be really good at it. 

Yeah, one of the themes of the book is the artist vs. the individual. Sometimes, you as an artist have to make choices that aren’t beneficial to you as a human. Or vice versa. You have to sacrifice or take on specific modalities of existence in order to push your creation forward. So, I think for the journalist Dave Baker there’s both a fascination with the idea of creative projects and the ability to leave an imprint on people’s souls, and also a jealousy. Conversely, the artist in the book, who has receded from the public eye and is basically just creating the work he wants to create for himself…has been bruised by that system so much, he can’t tolerate the, what he perceives to be, negative feedback any longer. 

Overall, I feel like the metatextual conversation that happens between these two dueling archetypes manufactures something else…a maze. The maze of creativity. The deep seeded desire to be involved in a creative pastime, the high likelihood that you’ll be lost in it, and the very low percentage of people who are treated well by the industries that surround these art forms. 

VM: Was it more freeing or more challenging when writing/drawing for the Dave Bakers?

DW: Frankly, everything about this book was challenging. I re-taught myself how to draw, learned a new lettering program, taught myself how to digitally color, and wrote an entire novel. There were a lot of firsts on this project. In fact, the long hours creating for/about the Dave Bakers fucked up my right hand, and I colored most of the comics sections with my left hand. 

That being said, I think the most difficult Dave Baker to deal with in this process was me. I wanted to make a specific thing. In a specific way. I had an idea. And almost no one got it. And that’s a dark hole to live in for four or five years. I pitched this book everywhere. And got a wall of rejection. Eisner Nominee? Doesn’t matter. Book out with Simon and Schuster? Bupkis. What I was trying to do was so strange and off the wall it was just, understandably, very difficult to get a publisher to bet on me. But, that goes to show you what a forward looking and enterprising publisher Chris Staros at Top Shelf is. I feel deeply indebted to him. This book literally would have been read by three(s) of people if it wasn’t for him. 

VM: What would you like readers to come away with Mary Tyler Moorehawk?

DW: Oh, man, that’s a big question. Well, I think I hope they fall in love with MTMH, Cutie Boy, and Roxy Racer as much as I have. But further than that, I hope it’s an experience unlike they’ve had previously. The book is trying to do something that’s not common. I don’t even know if it’s successful at doing those things…but it’s TRYING and I think that’s what’s important. 

VM: Tell me how Mary Tyler Moorehawk changed you as a cartoonist.

DW: This is a whole-ass essay topic, but I’ll just say quickly that making this book was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Full stop. It almost broke me physically, mentally, and spiritually. I feel like I’m a stronger cartoonist because of the lessons I learned while making this book, but also, in a weird way…the sacrifices I’ve made in my personal life pursuing this  project, or just the idea of being an artist, have been worth it for the pride I feel now, having completed this thing. Having it not subsume me is nothing short of a miracle. And if Top Shelf and Chris Staros hadn’t bet on me, I would be carrying around a wound that would take me a considerable amount of time to heal. 

And also the simple fact that I just don’t ink anymore. Sorry, Pen In My Cup On My Desk! 

VM: What are you working on now?

DW: Well, currently I’m writing and drawing another project titled Halloween Boy. It’s kind of like Buckaroo Banzai meets the BPRD. It’s about an action adventure hero who thinks he’s the Patron Saint of the Impossible. And each issue is him helping someone out of an unwinnable scenario. That being said, what I’m really trying to do is just enjoy this moment. It’s been a long ass road getting here. And I’m trying to soak it up. 

For more information, follow Dave Baker on Twitter and Instagram Mary Tyler MooreHawk arrives in stores February 13, 2024.