Let us delve into the vast and wonderful world of Independent Comic Book Publishers. As some of you may know by now, I spend most of my days reading and researching the world of Indie Comics and I like to pass my knowledge on to you. Why do I do this you might ask? I too was stuck in the universes of Marvel and DC at one time. If it wasn’t published by them, I wasn’t buying it. Then one day someone opened my eyes to everything that existed outside of the big two. Shortly after that, the Indie market just blew up with Image and Valiant becoming big players. Other small press publishers started to come onto the market like Malibu, Defiant and Cartoon Books (from Jeff Smith). In the Indie world, creators can and will do just about anything they want because they own the characters and the ultimate success or failure of the book. When you work for the big 2, you are following marching orders and you have little, if any, say in the direction of the characters or book. This is exactly what makes Indie Publishers so exciting to follow.
Now I try to recommend as many new Independent titles as I can to broaden your horizon, but sometimes you have got to start at the source. In order to really get a feel for the books that are being published, sometimes you’ve got to understand who is creating them. The publishers of these comics are just as interesting as the books they are releasing. To start off this new series of getting to know your Indie Publishers A-Z, I’m going to introduce one of my favorites, BroadSword Comics (www.jimbalentstudios.com).
For those of you who did not grow up in the 1990’s, there was a trend in Bad Girl comics. Chaos comics really led the way with this trend with characters such as Lady Death, Purgatori, Chastity and Bad Kitty. This is about the same time that DC let loose on Catwoman which brings us to the ultra talented artist Jim Balent. I, for one, will never forget Jim’s cover of Catwoman Volume 2 #1. Jim Balent stayed on with Catwoman through issue 77, which in comic books today is nearly an unheard-of span of time for a creator at either DC or Marvel. In 2000, Jim Balent stepped out of the mainstream industry to start his own line of comics. Jim started BroadSword Comics with his wife, Holly Golightly, with the title Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose. I’ll admit that when this comic first came out, I thought that it was going to be another book like Lady Death which had no real storyline but this book kept showing up. Year after year, this little book that could, kept showing up. More and more people were talking about it. Finally, I had to see what all the fuss was about. Why was everyone talking about this book? So I bought my first copy of the series and I understood what all the hype was. Sure there are voluptuous women in the books, but there is an actual storyline here that people love. There is a reason why Tarot has continued to succeed and books like Lady Death continue to just publish one-shots or mini-series. I mean that I can concede the fact that if you compare cover to cover, you may walk away with the same impression of the books. It's beyond the cover that sets BroadSword leagues apart from the competition. Tarot is now celebrating its 22nd year in publication. If it was just another “Bad Girl” book, I doubt it would have made it past its first or second year. With Tarot, Jim and Holly have spent a lot of time evolving the characters and their storylines over the years. They believe in the old rule of quality over quantity. That is the core to all of Jim and Holly’s titles. With every BroadSword title that is produced, you are getting a well-structured story with the side of voluptuous women. And who does not love a side of that.
Overall, BroadSword Comics has a little bit of everything. Tarot is made for Mature Readers only. Now just because you are over the age of 18 and can legally buy the book doesn’t make you a Mature Reader. I know people in their 50’s that still would not qualify as MATURE readers. This book covers some pretty intense action, emotions and graphic scenes. So, please read responsibly and friends don’t let friends touch their comics drunk and all that jazz. For the younger ones, 13 and up, there is Holly G’s School Bites and Jim’s 3 Little Kittens. Both titles have been great reads, but they didn’t slouch on the sexiness either. Yeah, the nudity isn’t there, but nudity isn’t everything. I’m sure that the young men (and not so mature readers) will need some “alone time” after one of these books.
I had a chance to interview Jim Balent to talk about BroadSword. Jim and Holly are constantly jumping from deadline to deadline, but he was nice enough to take a few minutes out of his busy schedule to tell me more about BroadSword, how it got started and where it is going.
White Rabbit Comics: Since this article is intended to make more people aware of the world of Small Press comics, what would you like a new reader to know about BroadSword if they were going to pick up one of your books?
Jim Balent: BroadSword Comics is a company created by two artists (Jim Balent and Holly Golightly) who LOVE to draw and making Comics!
WRC: Before starting BroadSword, you were one of my favorite talents on the DC roster. What was your driver for jumping ship and starting your own company at that time?
JB: I have been drawing and creating my own characters and comics since I was 5 years old. When the opportunity came for me to make this childhood dream come true, I went for it.
WRC: The comic book market has never been too kind to smaller publishers like yourself. After you started BroadSword, did you ever wake up one day in a cold sweat and wonder if you made the right choice?
JB: Publishing your own title is a scary and exciting thing to do. You will get MANY people who will tell you what you SHOULD DO and NOT DO. If you listen to all of them they will make you crazy and worse... make you put out a watered down version of your product and vision. I have had people in the industry (the so called Experts in the field) tell me that my ongoing comic (Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose) would not last past issue 3. The best thing to do is follow your Dream and keep as close to your vision as possible. Trust yourself and trust the Readers.
WRC: In the beginning years, what was your goal for BroadSword?
JB: Same as it is now. To publish the best comic that I know how and ALWAYS hit your deadlines so that your issue comes out on time. Respect your readers. They're the ones that are allowing me to live my Dream.
WRC: Has that goal changed or morphed since then?
JB: Those are the BASIC solid rock rules Holly (Holly Golightly artist and Vice President of BroadSword Comics) and I live by every morning when we get up and hit the drawing board and computer. There may be a tweak here and there but that is the work ethic we live by.
WRC: I know a lot goes into making a comic book. I’ve attempted to self-publish my own book as well. A LOT of energy goes into making the magic work. I’m assuming that this is why Tarot is not a monthly book. Do you ever regret that you’re not on the shelves every month?
JB: (For the past 22 years and going...) Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose is a Bi monthly book , a NEW issue is in stores every 2 months. Back issues and our Trades are in stores every month. There is a lot of energy that goes into creating a comic on a regular schedule. We did at one point for six months put out a title every month. (Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose and The 3 Little Kittens) But the work load was very heavy and it really became UNFUN to publish that much work in that short time span. (We illustrate ALL the comics ourselves. I illustrate the covers and write, pencil and ink the interiors and Holly colors, letters and does all the production work for each comic. The only outside help we have is our color flatter, Randi and Editor, Neil.) Sure I would LOVE to publish 6 titles a month... but we would have to clone ourselves! So right now we are working at a productive pace.
WRC: BroadSword has been around for now for almost 22 years now. Based off of how many smaller publishers have come and gone from the market, you have to consider yourself very successful. Did you ever expect to make it this far?
JB: I have a lot of respect for any company or individual who has self published. It's not easy. It's a lot of Time and a lot of Money.
I don't know the reasons why some companies stop... that's not my business... it's theirs. I am too busy and focused on getting my books to the printer on time so that my readers are happy. Did I sit down on day one and think... 22 years from now I will be publishing over 100 issues? No! But did Holly and I sit down with a battle plan to be a successful ONGOING comic book company? Yes!
WRC: Do you have any big plans for your upcoming 25th anniversary? or for book #125? Are you planning a big buildup like Zenescope has been doing for their #100 over the last year?
JB: I sometimes joke that if I had to do it all over I would only publish issues 1, 25, 50, 75 and 100... because a lot of people are fixated on those numbers and for some reason makes them more valuable than say issue 35 or 72. Think of all the time I could have saved! HAHA! But seriously I DO understand that certain issues mark milestones in the world of publishing. Every year on our anniversary issue we do publish a SPECIAL PHOTO COVER where Holly is dressed as Tarot... or undressed as Tarot. So in that case we do celebrate every year. As for issue 125... Yes we do have special plans but to mention them here would be a bit early.
WRC: Until recently, Tarot was your main/only book on the market. Is Holly’s School Bites book and your 3 Little Kittens book the start of many expansion books we can expect from the BroadSword universe?
JB: Holly's SCHOOL BITES books and my 3 LITTLE KITTENS are specialty books. They are published when their Chapter or mini-series are completed. As I mentioned... it is a Killer to publish multiple books on a monthly schedule. So we work on these specialty projects on the side and publish them when they are completed. So as for these being the start of the BroadSword Universe? Yes. It is safe to say that we have many Ideas... some in the works now!... that will be published down the road.
WRC: As an add-on to that question, obviously Tarot (and now School Bites) keeps you and Holly pretty busy. Have you thought about bring in any of your friends/contacts from the industry to do a supporting miniseries for some of the popular characters you’ve developed?
JB: When I started BroadSword Comics with Holly...I didn't want to be a publisher that came up with an Idea and then handed it off to others to draw or write. I was excited about doing everything myself. There were plenty of offers from Professionals to join BroadSword as a writer and as an Artist... and I LOVE their work! But I wanted us, Holly and myself, to be the main Artists on any of our creations. There have been times that Holly has invited Guest Artists to write and illustrate a story for her books. But She has always done the majority of the overall work in every issue.
WRC: In doing my prep for this interview, one of the things that made me laugh was a statement on your Wiki page. I’m not sure if you’ve ever Wiki’ed yourself, but in your history it briefly describes your work on Tarot. The last sentence in your history section is “The main characters of the series are often nude” as if this is the important part of who you are. I was wondering what are your thoughts on this?
Now, as everyone knows in the entertainment industry, sex sells. Do you think the inclusion of nudity within your comics has helped you be a success? Or is it the exact opposite because you are limiting your purchasing audience?
JB: HAHA! I love these "Sound Bites" or these single statements that someone thinks wraps up your life or your art in one little neat sentence!
The statement "The Main Characters of the Series are often Nude." is true... in a way. It would also be true if someone wrote after reading some of my BATMAN Comics" Jim often draws men in tight spandex costumes punching each other." HAHAHA! Someone is not seeing the big picture. The Nudity in my books represents a lot of things. Humor, Vulnerability, Sensuality, Power... it all depends on the story I am trying to tell. Some people will look at the nudity and have a negative reaction to it... others have had a positive reaction to it. When I receive a letter or meet a reader that tells me my books/illustrations/stories helped them to have a better body self image or helped them through their Cancer treatments or took my books to the Front lines in the Iraq War...WOW! That beats ANYONE who wants to be a Troll and try and tear me down. My books have the words "MATURE READERS" on the front cover. It doesn't just apply to the age of the reader it also applies to their state of mind. But I do understand if some people or stores do not want to purchase the book. Everyone has issues they have to work out and stores have their own local politics to deal with. My readers don't want me to water down my books in hopes to maybe sell MORE issues. I have to respect them for that and listen to them. I always found it strange that certain parts of the public are okay with seeing graphic violence in their comics like, headshots or bodies exploding, but show a nude woman taking a bath or love making was TOO much to handle and should be banned.
WRC: Your fan base, especially of the female persuasion, is very loyal. I like that you even have a section of your comic dedicated to them. Do you have any interesting stories about these Die Hards from any of your appearances?
JB: I do have a loyal Female Reader base! And I thank them and I'm SO PROUD of them as well! There IS a page in the back of my books dedicated to them called the BroadSword Girl page where female readers send in photos of themselves holding a Sword. They have stood up for me and my art from day one and I love them all! I have seen a young female wisp of a reader defend my work when a Troll broke through my autograph line and said to me at a show how horrible my art was and if he was a female he would be embarrassed to see my work in print. Then this reader who was waiting in line to see me turned to him and said "I'm a female... it's great art ...great stories... what's not to like?!" She shut that TROLL right up! The guy was dumbfounded and just turned and walked away! I love that girl! Not because she stood up for me but that she stood up for HERSELF and she wasn't going to have some TROLL tear down a part of her that she was comfortable with. There are many stories from each convention I come home with that make drawing in my studio for 10 hours a day worth while. I mentioned the girl who went through Cancer and that my comic helped her have a better acceptance of who she is a woman. We hugged at the show, there was a bit of tears... it's a memory I will never forget!
WRC: Where can your fans (old and new) find you this year? What conventions are you planning on attending and is there any way you can be tempted to come up and visit our main reader base here in New England?
JB: We do get invited all over the world to appear at conventions. Unfortunately we have to turn them down because our publishing schedule is so tight. Making the Comics come FIRST! Holly and I are scheduled to appear at the San Diego Comic Con in July if they still have it. We do make it up to Salem, Massachusetts from time to time in the month of October for fun. We like to visit our friends and can sometimes be found at the local comic shop Harrison's Comics. When we are not drawing we are then at Disney or Universal Studios Orlando... if you see us there or on the streets... feel free to stop us and say Hi. If you have books with you we will sign them.
Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose is available now at your local comic book stores. Issue #123 will be on the shelves July 2021. If you would like to do some catching up but can’t seem to find the title at your local comic book store, you can still pick up most of the series on Jim Balent’s website, www.jimbalent.com, or at www.bscDigital.com. If you are looking to read some of Holly Golightly’s work, try her site at www.schoolbites.net. Also, to get updates on what Jim and Holly are doing as well as anything to do with BroadSword Comics follow them on Facebook under JimBalent or HollyWitch.