Interview: Jim Balent
It’s FRIDAY THE 13th, GUYS! So it’s only fitting that the interview that I’m resurrecting this week is with none other than Broadsword Comics co-founder, and the creator of Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose… Jim Balent!
Years ago, around 2008ish, I did a number of interview for a comics fan site. Long story short, that website doesn’t exist anymore, and the interviews I had done for them have disappeared from the internet. Until now! I’m re-running these interviews on Stir Fry Comics so that they can stay on the internet where they belong! The first interview I re-posted was with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Peter Laird. The second was the great Jeff Lemire! The third was with the amazing Ryan Ottley! And finally, we have Jim Balent!
I’m gonna shoot straight with you guys. I did not know much about Jim Balent before I was assigned to interview him. For all the interviews I tried to to a fair amount of research ahead of time, but I do think it shows a little bit. But that said, I learned A LOT about him, and his fantastic wife Holly G, through the interview, and just the process of interacting with them getting the interview done and the various follow up communications that followed. I think the most important thing I learned was that Jim and Holly are a couple of the best, most real people in comics. Jim was great during the interview, and then I had stayed in touch with Holly for various things (related to the interview, and other PR related stuff), and she’s just super friendly, helpful, and sweet. In the end, it was such a great privilege to have had the opportunity to get to know them.
So, besides being super-rad people… Jim Balent and Holly G are the founders of Broadsword Comics, which publishes Jim’s Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, and Holly’s School Bites (and other projects). Jim Rose to fame working for DC in the late 80s and 90s. Arguably his best known work for DC was is colossal 77 issue run on Catwoman (#1-#77). In 1999, he left to start Broadsword Comics, and publish his own comic Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, which at the time of the interview was hitting issue #50, and today has reached into the 90s, going strong. In this interview Jim has some inspiring words about starting and running his own company, and the importance of maintaining control over your creations. I present to you, Jim Balent:
I’ve been drawing since I was 5 years old. When I got older and found out that I could draw comics for a living, I knew what my career would be.
At what point did you realize that drawing comics was what you wanted to do with your life?
I fell in love with comics at a young age. I remember saying that I wanted to be either a comic artist or a race car driver. (I was into Speed Racer back then. But when I found out that race cars didn’t come with saw blades and couldn’t jump over other cars… I went back to wanting to be a cartoon artist.)
There were rumors flying about your departure from Catwoman, which, at this point, is older news, and you’ve put those to rest, but did you face any resentment from fans for walking away from the possibility of doing other DC (or even Marvel) titles?
Many fans have come up to me and said that they really enjoyed my run on Catty. They were all sorry to see me go. Not one of them resented me. The rumor mill in this industry is amazing. To this day I hear the strangest stories about me. I do get offers to do main stream books, so maybe someday you will see my name on another title but right now, I’m still working on what I love.
So, now, eight years later, with Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose hitting #50 next month, it’s safe to say that Broadsword Comics has been pretty successful! I’m sure over that period of time you’ve seen countless indies start and, well, fail.
What factors, do you think, have made Broadsword succeed where others haven’t, particularly with a product that’s received some controversy over its content?
I don’t know why the others failed. Their inner workings are their own.
With me it’s simple. Respect your readers, give them a good product and pay all your bills. That is the foundation to any good business.
Do you ever find that the business end of running Broadsword interferes with what you want to do creatively?
Holly and I run the business. Yes, there are times we both would like to be drawing but instead we are called away to handle less creative matters. But this is all a part of running your own company. I was offered by another Major publisher to have Tarot printed through them 8 years ago. It was a very good offer. Not only was the money great but also we didn’t have to worry about the headaches of dealing with shipping, printing, distributing. All I would have to do is draw the book.
I said no to this because I always wanted to start a comic book company and to make it successful, I felt I had to be involved with every bit of it. The creative and non-creative part. This way if I made a million or lost a million, I would know why.
One of the unique things about Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose is that it presents witchcraft and Wiccan theology in a less “folklorish” way, but more in a way that promotes a more clear insight in to the real theology. This is true both in the stories and followed up with the interviews at the end of each issue. How did this come to be such a strong theme?
I do combine folklore and theology in all my stories. I planned from the beginning that the comic would both entertain and educate. That’s why in the back of the book I have interviews with leading Witch authors and spells from Witches around the world.
Tarot, I’m sure, does not get into as many stores as it would if it didn’t have the nudity, sexuality, and views on witchcraft that it does. Do you find this frustrating, or do you feel that Tarot, being what it is, reaches its audience?
It obviously reaches an audience. I’m on issue 50 and have been around for 8 years. Sure some stores don’t carry my book because of the subject matter or the nudity. But other stores have it right on the selves next to Spiderman! Every store has their own politics that they have to play depending where they are located.
Some stores won’t carry it because there is a church down the block and their attendees do not approve of my book. I respect all the stores out there. They are trying to make a living the same way I am. Doing something they love. So I am not going to tell them what they should sell in their store. I do offer them help. If they want my book and can’t seem to get it… They can e-mail me directly at www.jimbalent.com. For me to get my book in every store, I would have to water it down. And if I were to do that, I would disrespect my audience.
With so much time and dedication going into Broadsword preventing any outside work (even assuming you’d be interested in that), are there any “mainstream” characters that you wish you had taken a crack at before starting Boadsword?
I grew up with Spiderman and Batman… with all the DC and Marvel books. I love them all. For me to say, “I will never draw another mainstream book again” would be killing that inner child in me. Sure I would love to draw one of my child hood heroes. But… I still want to draw my own characters too. I have turned down some mainstream work and have accepted some as well. (I just couldn’t say no to drawing a few red Sonja covers.) Broadsword is as important to me as working for DC, Marvel, Dark horse or Image.
Aside from Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose hitting issue #50, are there another big things coming from Broadsword, yourself, or Holly Golightly that fans need to know about?
A two foot statue of Tarot is being made! It’s just incredible! We are slowly giving sneak peeks at the making of her on my web site and on my myspace page. Holly is busy at work with her own projects. School Bites 4 is in the works and it looks great as always.
Well, thanks again for taking the time to talk with us, and we look forward to seeing what Broadsword has to offer in the future!
Thanks for the interview. It was a lot of fun.
Now it’s back to the drawing table for me.