In Her Own Words
From video games to comics to music, Katie Bair tells us just why she's an all-around wonder girl
Chances are that you may have heard about or seen the name Katie Bair, a.k.a. Karaoke Kate, at some point in the past. Maybe you have seen her at a convention giving out Cosplay or wig advise, but chances are you know her best as the current writer and artist on the first and longest running Ameri-Manga title in the United States, Ninja High School. Yes, Katie Bair is the person who, together with Robby Bevard, took the mess that is the Ninja High School continuity and gave it new life far, far away from Quagmire, U.S.A.
The scene was METROCON 2004. The time was 1 PM. The place was an air-conditioned hallway looking out towards the Crowne Plaza pool. After a few introductions and two blurry photographs later, we were picking out chairs. Katie of course got the King Kaimehameya chair, and our hysterical and lively journey into the unique world that is Katie Bair's life began.
Katie Bair: All right, ask me questions.
Animefringe/Adam Arnold: Ask you questions?
KB: I'm used to the questions.
AF: Let's do a hard one. Who is Katie Bair?
KB: That's not...that's not hard. That's one of those psychology questions, actually. Where they go, "no, who are you? But not your job or whatever.
Who is Katie Bair? Uh, Katie Bair is the product of Janine and Bob Heitman, um, through genetic engineering and some funky wine, I guess. I dunno, um...anyway. I am...I am a comic book artist, a comic writer...I'm a manga artist/writer and a wig designer...and Cosplayer and a teacher and basically they call me the Renaissance Girl because I do so many different things and I just can't stop adding new things to what I do. I have to keep busy. I'm a workaholic! Who is Katie Bair? She's a workaholic! Uh, um...that is a hard question. (laughing) Give me an easier one!v
AF: Okay, who would you say inspired you artistically?
KB: Uh, that's a big mix. A really big mix. Artistically as far as drawing?
AF: Um, yes.
KB: Well, that would be...well, just any kind of video game. Any kind of video game animation, because I was an animator before I was an artist, and then as far as comic books, Adam Warren is probably my biggest influence. Second to that is Rumiko Takahashi for artist. Rumiko Takahashi for story is a pretty big influence for me as well.
AF: You said you were an animator. What company did you work for?
KB: Um, I did some work for a couple of video game companies, actually. Tsunami Media and Sierra Online, and a very small one that went under almost immediately called Pixel Painters.
AF: What did you do for Sierra?
KB: Sierra, basically...okay, check this out; my dad was one of the original programmers for Sierra and he was also the programmer that created their graphics programs. And he needed someone to guinea pig the program on, so he uses his seven-year-old daughter and he would tell the artists that if my seven-year-old daughter can use this, so can you. And they couldn't really argue with that.
"Oh, it's too hard."
"No it's not. If a child can learn this, so can you."
So, I was learning art and animation programs at a very, very early age and that meant I could apply them very early on. So for Sierra it was, like, towards the end of, like, King's Quest IV.
KB: Well, further along the line. Not like the early, early stuff. I was too little. That woulda been child labor.
AF: Those are still hard today.
AF: The early ones. The parser based.
KB: Yeah, yeah.
AF: Still hard.
KB: Well, it was...it was their time.
AF: I know.
KB: I love old Sierra games. Because you know what? Those days it was easy to get killed. Don't walk...oop! You're dead.
"Save early, save often." That's how I learned that. Now I apply it to art all the time, because Photoshop can do the same thing to you when you're using it.
AF: Oh god, I know.
KB: Oh no. Nooo! (laughing) So yeah, "save early, save often." That's my motto. Um, duh. I forget. What was the question? Sorry!
KB: Sorry. I haven't eaten.
AF: I, uh, I don't even remember.
KB: All right. Okay.
AF: That was one of those off the top of my head ones.
KB: Okay, okay, okay. Uh...company something.
AF: As a side note, there's a company on the Internet right now--I think it's AGD Interactive (www.agdinteractive.com)--but they're remaking King's Quest I and II and Quest for Glory II with a point and click interface. Just a side story.
KB: Ooo, that would...well, who would even play that? I've got to wonder.
AF: They're free.
KB: I don't know. It'd have to be old people. Well, not old, like, [*old lady voice*] "I love this game."
KB: Not like elderly people, but like all the old school gamers. [*excited voice*] "I played this when I was FIVE!" Because otherwise, who's gonna play that? None of the kids nowadays have the attention span for that anymore. And yes, they'd be getting killed every two steps and it'd be very frustrating. "No, you didn't find the golden carrot in the second room and therefore you can't complete the game. And no, there's no way to go back and get it. Sorry. Start over!"
AF: Let's get back on track. (laughing)
KB: All right. (laughing) Sorry, sorry. I do this a lot.
AF: I did it to myself. Um, tell us, how did you get tapped for Ninja High School?
KB: A tap.
AF: You had a wiretap?
KB: I had a wiretap. I was, you know, listening in. No, actually, I had already brought them my other story, Oasis Destiny. So they already had something from me, and they knew I could complete work. And when they were looking for a new artist, the current writer--not the current writer, I'm the current writer; the writer who was the writer before me--who is now my assistant, Rob Bevard saw one of my pin-ups in the Gold Digger Swimsuit issue, that one I did of Gennadrid, and he really liked it. It really stood out to him so much to he was going to a Gennadrid pin-up too and decided not to put it into the swimsuit issue that time.
Um, but he contacted me and he was like, "I really, really like your art. I think it's come a really long way since the last time I saw it. Anyway, I know you did Oasis Destiny. I read that. I like the way you write. So, would you like to do Ninja High School?"
And I had read Ninja High School when I was, like, you know, a little bitty baby kid. Not that small. Okay, I was a teenager, not a wee baby kid, but so I was like, "Oh yeah, Ninja High School!" Oh my god, I knew what that was. I used to read it. I hadn't read it in a while, because I couldn't afford comic books, but, um, I'm like, "Sure, sure, sure. That sounds like fun. Ha ha ha...ha."
Oh yes, I didn't know what I was getting into at all. At all. I really had no idea, because when I left it, it was still fun and it was...it was a good story. But I hadn't read it in a while, and apparently while I was gone, some kind of crazy stuff was going on and, uh, I didn't know about it and everyone was very angry. There...there was much flame coming out of everybody and, uh...yeah, I did lots of [*high pitched voice*] "Hey, hi! I'm the new girl."
Oh yeah, I had no idea. No idea the *groaaar*! Oh no no no. And it was, oh god...it was pretty crazy. They were so hostile.
So just starting up, I'll never take over a title for somebody else ever again. It's just too much...too much baggage to deal with. Like I want to do my own stories. Like even though the new Ninja High School is my own story, there is still a lot of the negative karma from the old story, because people were so upset towards the end of it. And I can't...I'm not gonna have anything to do with it. I'm not going to touch it, but there are people who are asking me to fix it for them. It's like I can't go back in the series. That's not my story. I can't go back and change that for you. I'm sorry you didn't like how it turned out, but those aren't my characters. I would feel, like, wrong trying to change that. I wasn't the original creator. That wasn't my vision for it at all. So yeah, they go from being all somber to [*high pitched voice*] "Let's go buy balloons!" And you know, that would be totally, totally different, and it wouldn't make any sense. So yeah, and I forgot what I was saying.
AF: I remember earlier before the Version 2.0 changeover with Ninja High School, Ben Dunn--I think that's how you pronounce it--
KB: Yeah. Yeah, it is. It's Ben Dunn, like "Uh, it's been done." Which, sure, he's heard that millions of times.
AF: He had a problem. He thought it was like the "Archie Syndrome". So he changed it.
KB: Oh exactly. Exactly. The ironic thing about that was [...] the reason he did version two is he didn't want to have Ninja High School where they are in high school perpetually. It's, like, maybe they've got really, really bad grades, but they actually won't let you stay in high school that long, because after a while, they're like, "You've just got too much facial hair. You have to leave now."
But yeah, he didn't want them to be trapped in high school perpetually. So he aged them and then he brought in this new group, which oddly enough had the same basic premise as the first group, but was younger and you could still follow the old group because they were older and then he "mooshed" them together so it became Ninja High School Version 2.0. And, um, we followed that--you're gonna run out of tape. (laughing)
AF: [*glances at tape mark*] Oh, I've got a back up. (laughing)
KB: Oh good. (laughing) It's a good storyline though. So yeah, he said he didn't want to keep them in high school and I have the exact same thing, but I'm taking it a step further. They are seniors in high school, and anyway, I started this story at the beginning of their senior year, and it'll end at the end of their senior year, and I'm not gonna do Ninja Junior College. So that's it. It's Ninja High School and it's staying in high school, but I'm not going to stretch it for high school. It's a very finite story with a beginning, middle and end, and I think that's how all good stories should be, because otherwise you're not being true to the characters. You're making them dance...and it's just sad.