Mike W. Barr Interview

During his career as a comics writer, Mike W. Barr has created and written such titles as Camelot 3000 and Batman and the Outsiders for DC and Malibu’s Ultraverse title, Mantra. This month Barr returns to a title he created during the 80s, The Maze Agency, now published by Caliber. Roger Ash, Content Editor of Worlds of Westfield, recently spoke with Barr about this new incarnation of the series.

Westfield: For those unfamiliar with Maze Agency, how would you describe the book?

Mike W. Barr: Maze Agency is a romantic whodunit series. It’s the adventures of a female private detective whose name is Jennifer Mays who runs a private detective agency called the Maze Agency in New York City. Her boyfriend is a true crime writer whose name is Gabriel Webb. The cases they solve have, to date, all been whodunits, that is to say murder mysteries in the classic style where the readers are given full information to solve the murder and are challenged to do so before Jen and Gabe do.

Westfield: Why did you decide to bring the book back at this point?

Barr: I’ve always wanted to bring the book back. The Maze Agency’s first publisher was Comico, almost 10 years ago. Then when Comico went under, it went to Innovation. Then when Innovation went under, I tried to place it someplace else, but I couldn’t find anyplace that wanted to take it. It was very odd. All the publishers keep talking about how we need variety, we need more than just super heroes, but I couldn’t find anybody who was willing to touch the Maze Agency because it wasn’t super heroes. I keep thinking maybe what the industry needs is a little more of practice what you preach.

I’d been talking to Joe Pruett at Caliber about some other matters entirely, and Joe gave me a call one day and said we’re thinking about doing the Maze Agency. How would you like to bring it back over here? I thought that was a really good idea, and we entered into negotiations, which went very well, and now the first issue is real close to being done.

Westfield: In the previous incarnations of the series, they were all single issue stories. Will it continue to be that way?

Barr: I believe so, I think at least for the first few issues. Readers seem to like the fact that they don’t need to buy 17 issues in a row to get a complete story. I think they like the idea of that being the complete package - you buy one issue and you have a complete dramatic unit there and I see no reason to change that.

Westfield: What can we expect in future issues?

Barr: I’ve made a lot of notes in terms of what the future issues will be. What I like to do with Jen and Gabe is put them either in unusual settings or unusual circumstances, because those always make for the best drama and the most intriguing reading. There will be issues where we take them out of New York, which we haven’t done very often. I think there’ll be an issue that’ll take place at an American Gladiators-type TV show, where there’s some kind of a murder there. I like to take modern, popular topics and run that Maze spin on them.

Westfield: You’ve already mentioned Jen and Gabe. Who are some of the other characters in the book?

Barr: There are two police contacts. There’s a female lieutenant named Lieutenant Bliss and then there’s a rather rumpled, kind of a baked potato-style police detective named Sergeant Simons. They’re in the first issue, but they don’t have a lot to do. As in the tradition of whodunits, the police play varying roles in the series. Sometimes they’re in the issues an awful lot and sometimes they’re not in it too much at all. We haven’t had a chance to do a lot of stuff with the rest of the supporting cast of the Maze Agency yet, but all of them are there and hopefully we’ll be bringing them back in future issues.

Westfield: You’ve also had the opportunity to work with some wonderful artists on Maze Agency like Adam Hughes and Jason Pearson.

Barr: I think the Maze has always been lucky in that we’ve had some really good illustrators on the series and that’s continuing with the use of Gene Gonzales. I had met Gene a few years ago at a convention and then he was recommend to me by Caliber. Gene has done a lot of work for Caliber and I was real happy with their suggestion. Adam Hughes was the first artist on the strip way back when, and Gene, I think, is very much in the Adam Hughes tradition, but he’s doing a lot of his own riffs as well, of course.

Westfield: Why detective stories? What attracts you to that genre?

Barr: I’ve always been a pretty voracious reader, even as a kid, and I’ve told this story several times, so anyone who’s read this might want to skip ahead. But when I was 15 years old, I read my first Ellery Queen novel. Ellery Queen has been a profound influence on probably all aspects of my writing career, and the Maze Agency is, as a whodunit detective series, certainly in the vein of Ellery Queen. My first professional sale as a writer was to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine when I was 21 years old. So I actually got to correspond with, and even meet a couple of times, one of the guys who wrote under the name of Ellery Queen, whose name was Frederick Dannay. So Ellery Queen has always been a major influence on my writing, not just the mystery writing, and I’ve always loved the form, and I’ve always thought that there should be more variety in comic books anyway. I certainly love super heroes and have done a great deal of those, but I think there should be mystery comics out there also.

Westfield: Do you have any plans to reprint the old material?

Barr: We’ve been talking to Caliber about that. I have all the negatives from the old material and I think we certainly could reprint it. Caliber has discussed that, and it will depend on how well the new stuff does. Then we may reprint some of the old stuff. There has been a trade paperback from Innovation some years ago which reprinted the first four issues.

Westfield: Do you have any other upcoming projects you’d like to mention?

Barr: I’m currently working on a couple of Batman projects for DC which have not been scheduled yet, so I’m not sure about format or even the other creative personnel, and I wrote one of this year’s Superman Annuals.

Westfield: Do you have any closing comments about Maze Agency?

Barr: I’ve been very pleased and gratified by the response from readers that Maze Agency is coming back. I’ve been getting a lot of questions ever since the series was canceled about when I’m bringing it back. And I’ve certainly been trying to, but no publisher has been quite enlightened enough to do that until Caliber. So I’m very gratified by the readers’ response and I hope they enjoy reading the series as much as I enjoy writing it.