Jim Balent has worked on everything for War Comics to Horror with a long run in Super Hero Comics too. Currently he and his wife Holly run Broadsword Comics, an independent publisher that so far has only one artist, Jim Balent. I ran in to Jim at a convention and he agreed to chat about his career.
First Comics News: The first comic I have a record of you working on was Sgt. Rock #393 in 1984. Was that your first published work?
Jim Balent: Yes, I believe so. I know I worked on two Sgt. Rock back-up stories. But I am not sure of the issue numbers.
1st: I can’t actually visualize Sgt. Rock with large breasts, were you submitting war samples at the time?
Jim: Very funny. When I drew Batman or Green Lantern no one said, “Hey that’s the guy who likes to draw men in tight spandex outfits. “snicker!” But draw a large breasted woman and you’re a weirdo.
1st: That said, your career did take off with Catwoman…
Jim: Right. Before that, I drew an issue or two of Vampirella. Purgatori, the mini-series I worked on for Chaos, came much later.
1st: Were you surprised that DC wanted to do a sexier version of Catwoman, or was that even what they were asking for?
Jim: DC never told me that they wanted a sexier version of Catwoman. They gave me the book and said for me to redesign the look of her. So I came up with the Purple and Black outfit. Some people loved it and others thought it was too sexy.
1st: You drew Catwoman for six years; most creators don’t have that kind of longevity on one comic, what kept it interesting for you?
Jim: I drew Catwoman from 1993 to 1999. As for why – it was simple: I stayed because I liked the character.
1st: After Catwoman, you started your own company, Broadsword. You had a good name in the business and a style that was well known and popular. Why did you turn down offers to take Tarot to established publishers?
Jim: I’ve always wanted to start my own company and I thought this was the time to do it. I also knew that there was a good chance that the project could get watered down if I went with another company. So I started Broadsword Comics.
1st: Are you doing as well financially as an independent publisher as you were on Catwoman?
Jim: I am always amazed that people would ask me that question. I find it puzzling and somewhat rude. I have never walked up to a stranger and said, “Hey, are you making more money now then last year? That just seems rude to me. But I do answer them. I say, comics are expensive to make. I was told by the so called “experts” in this industry that “Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose” would not sell past issue #3. I am now publishing issue #35. So yes I am doing financially well just like when I was on Catty.
1st: Fair enough. With self-publishing you’re responsible for the entire company, how much time is devoted to drawing Tarot, and how much time is devoted to running the company?
Jim: I run the company with Holly Golightly. I have been blessed with a partner who has the same work ethics as myself. We wear many hats, sometimes we are artists working on the next project and sometimes we are in the shipping room or on the phone to our printer. Whatever needs to be done … we do.
1st: When you were working for DC, if you went to conventions they paid or the promoter paid. As a publisher you have to pay to attend conventions; how do you decide which conventions to attend?
Jim: 98% of the time I would decline the offer and pay my own way. I didn’t want to feel like I owed anyone something if they paid for me. I and my company still get invited to many conventions and they offer airfare/hotel/and an appearance fee to show up. Most of the time we can’t … due to the publishing schedule. We always do San Diego every year and when time permits, Pittsburgh. We would love to do all the ones that invite us, in and out of the States. But making the comics comes first.
1st: Are conventions themselves money makers for Broadsword, or are they used to attract new readers?
Jim: Again with the money! Are you gunning for my accountant’s job? Yes, we do make a profit but we go to meet the readers and we get plenty of new readers that e-mail us thanking us for turning them onto Tarot.
1st: Have you ever considered doing another series at either DC or Marvel?
Jim: I grew up on Batman, Spider-Man and Red Sonja. So yes, from time to time that kid creeps out and says, ” Hey let’s draw this!” I’m a comic fan and always will be.
1st: You just got married; can you describe the wedding and the wedding part for our readers?
Jim: (LAUGHTER!) I’ll try and keep this short. On October 16th, Holly and I had a secret Wiccan Star Wars wedding at the Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando. Holly dressed in her Slave Leia bikini and I wore the Vader armor. 12 Stormtroopers, volunteers from the 501st, were our guests. Boba Fett gave Holly away and there was a working R2D2 that was the ring bearer. We hired a three man camera crew to take video and a still photographer to take photos. We storyboarded the wedding and made a mini movie out of it. We shot from 9 am to 2 PM. The hotel was great, staff and guests ran up to us to congratulate us and to take photos with us. And a lot of times we had to say thank you, quickly, we are still filming. I didn’t think it would cause such a stir. Rock stars stay there, so I thought this would be no big deal. (Laughter) it turned out great. Holly and I had this plan for sometime … and many hotels – like Disney! -turned us down saying it was too sexy or too strange. You try pitching a wedding where everyone is dressed in Star Wars armor, the bride is mostly naked and a Witch is performing the handfasting ritual. Let’s see how far you get with Disney! (Laughter)
1st: So it goes without saying that you and Holly are huge Star Wars fans?
Jim: Yes. Holly more so than I. She saw A New Hope movie 48 times in the theater when she was a kid.
1st: Where did you find that many people with Star Wars costumes?
Jim: We contacted the 501st, a Stormtrooper fan club in Florida, One of the members is a big fan of a character I drew for DC/Marvel called Darkclaw. He helped us in contacting the Troopers. John Eberts, a crazy great Stormtrooper. volunteered to organize the troopers and asked how many did we want to attend? At the time I was looking for only two. And he laughed and said dude I’ll have fifty show up! I thought Cool! But whoa! That’s too many. So we got it down to 12.
1st: Have you ever considered doing a Star Wars comic for Dark Horse?
Jim: Sometimes you just want to remain a fan without having to work on a book. But … you never know.
1st: Back to the work – for readers unfamiliar with Broadsword comics, you have 4 different titles, School Bites, Tarot, 3 Little Kittens andVampfire. Can you describe each of the titles?
Jim: Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose is our flagship book that is published bimonthly. It’s a story of a voluptuous Witch who tries to keep the balance between Magick and mankind. The 3 Little Kittens are an anti-terrorist team, lots of action with a touch of tongue in cheek. Vampfire is a girl who is half demon and half vampire that Holly Golightly created and School Bites, also a Holly creation, is a cross between an Anne Rice novel and Harry Potter. All of Broadsword books have sexuality and nudity in them to one degree or another depending on storylines. We believe in strong female characters who are not ashamed to be who they are.
1st: What can readers expect upcoming in Tarot?
Jim: Storylines vary from what is reflected in the news to what is happening in every witch’s life. On March 15, 2006 Tarot and Broadsword Comics will celebrate their 6th year. We will have a special photo cover , Holly dressed in the Tarot costume. On top of our two regular covers. In every issue of Tarotyou will get a story that entertains and educates the reader on the world of witchcraft. I have an interview with a real Witch in the back of every comic, plus I spotlight a female reader who is our “Broadsword Girl” for that month. Readers will enjoy the front of the book as well as the back in up coming issues. Check out our web site at www.jimbalent.com
1st: A lot of comic characters have t-shirts and posters, however having a comic sell its own fragrance collection, how did this come about?
Jim: On one of our store appearance in Salem Mass., Harrison’s comics, we met Neil Morris who professionally makes perfumes. He was a reader of the comic. We had a short meeting with him and we decided to team up with him. We have a large female audience. As well as a male audience. And they went right to it. It sells very well with us. Birthdays and Holidays especially.
1st: What other type of comic related products are coming from Broadsword?
Jim: We’re working on Tarot cards, Artbooks and a Statue. If we could clone ourselves these products would be out already. (laughter!)