We didn’t read Cray-Baby Adventures when Art Baltazar self published it back in 1994. It didn’t even make our radar, probably because we hadn’t even graduated high school yet and we were too caught up in superheroes loaded to the gills with shoulderpads, accessorized belts and oversized weapons. While we were aware of Art’s next effort, the critically acclaimed Patrick the Wolf Boy, we weren’t mature enough as comic readers at that point to fully appreciate it. Heck, it wasn’t until just a couple years ago, when the folks at DC caught on and gave Art and his co-writer Franco the reigns of Tiny Titans (and eventually Billy Batson and the Power of Shazam! as well) that we really started paying attention to the guy. As it turns out, he’s a powerhouse of talent and we had a lot of catching up to do (Franco’s no slouch either, but we didn’t get to sit down for a 30 minute chat with him, so we hope we forgives us if we shine the spotlight a little more on Art right now).
If you’re a comic fan and you’re not reading Tiny Titans right now, you should be, and don’t let the all-ages tag fool ya. While it’s obviously aimed at younger readers, it’s steeped in DC continuity enough that even the die-hardiest of fans will be impressed with the loads of references strewn throughout. And if it doesn’t make you smile (or laugh out loud), then you’d better pay a visit to the doctor: you might be dead. The artwork is adorable, the sense of comic timing is impeccable and while many books claim to be all-ages, Tiny Titans is truly a delight for readers from ages 1 to 100… okay, maybe 1 is a bit young, but you get the point. With Billy Batson and the Power of Shazam!, Art and Franco (together with artist Mike Norton) have created a title that draws upon the whimsical legacy of the Marvel Family and reminds us of the books we read as kids. Simply put, they’re fun. Or as Art says “We tell the stories we want to read.”
Equally as awesome is the guy behind the curtain. Comicscape met with Art Baltazar at the Motor City Comic Con and as it turns out, he’s one of the nicest people we’ve ever met. A lively fellow, Art is just like the comics he writes and draws: he treats his fans with dignity and respect regardless of age or gender and he’ll keep you in stitches the whole time you’re talking to him. The guy is the real deal, exuding kindness, fun and generosity. After just a few seconds of talking, it felt like we were old pals. In the midst of signing autographs and handing out sketches, Art gave us a brief interview, discussing his beginnings in comics and his outlook on the medium.
Baltazar’s love of comics was nurtured by his father, who spent days at home with his son drawing comics of their own. The two would create stories together until schedule changes got in the way and Art continued on his own…
“When I was a little kid, he would draw stuff … he used to stay at home with me all the time, he used to work at nighttime. But when his hours got changed to daytimes, he stopped drawing for me ‘cause he wasn’t at home so I had to do it for myself. So that’s where it started.”
Art’s childhood passion for comic books and Hanna Barbera cartoons became a way of life that continues to this day. And the tradition of childhood drawing sessions with his father has been passed on to his own children.
“I’m home all the time, so we all draw together. My daughter is the one who can sit and draw for hours, but my son –when he’s finished, he moves on to the next thing. My daughter… she just wants more and more paper.” Art said with a smile taking over his face.
As Comicscape readers know by now, we’re all about teaching the love and appreciation of sequential art to the next generation and encouraging new readers, and we’re doing our best to pass the torch to our own kids. It came as no surprise that the Baltazar children are huge comic fans and we asked Art what some of their favorite books were and what kind of comics the family reads together.
“I read anything that’s about comics like Wizard or Previews or anything like that. I buy anything Geoff Johns writes, I read anything with the Hulk in it. I love the Hulk, I love the Teen Titans, Superman has always been my favorite. I read anything with Superman.
My son is 6. He loves Billy Batson… Whenever we go to the shop, my daughter picks up anything with a girl on it. She’s 4 so I’ve got a lot of Archie comics with Betty and Veronica. I try to buy them the old Harvey comics I find ‘em in the dollar bins and stuff. I bring home a lot of Casper books for them… I try to buy that stuff at the shops. Once in a while I’ll pick up Superhero Squad … they love Superfriends. They look at everything I read, but I like it when they shop for their own books.”
Judging by the line of folks we saw waiting for sketches and listening to the excitement fans had discussing Tiny Titans, it seems that Art Baltazar is on top of the world right now. We asked him what the future holds.
“I wanna do kids books forever. That’s what I am. I’m a cartoonist and I wanna draw cartoons and comic books. I’m not a guy who’s drawing this to write Final Crisis one day or something. I wanna do this. If I can’t create something or write cartoons, I’ll go nuts. I gotta draw every day at home, even if I’m on the couch or whatever I’m doin’. I just gotta do it man. I live so I can draw stuff… and see movies.”
Art continued to elaborate on his philosophy on making comics and what makes the books he and Franco create so much fun.
“I wanna write stories that are awesome superhero stories. Superheroes should always be in danger, there should always be a threat and at the end of the story, he gets thrown off a bridge tied up, y’know? That’s what always happened with Spider-Man. He would always get chained up, fight the Jackal and the Tarantula and he would lose at the end. That’s what they should be about. They should be high adventure. So when we write the stories, we write about stuff that we want to read and we remember. When we read comics, we were about 8, 9, 10 and they didn’t talk down to us, so we’re the same.
I hate when comic books and cartoons try to teach kids lessons. Like, or when their grandparents show up on TV. Somebody wanted me to put Uncle Dudley in the Shazam book and I said “He will never be in it” because no kid can relate to an old guy. They don’t wanna read about him. Or like when Michael J. Fox’s grandparents would show up on Family Ties, I always hated those episodes. Or when the Brady Bunch mom and dad played the grandparents… that’s a wasted episode.
It’s about the kids… No lessons are ever learned in Tiny Titans and we’re gonna keep it that way.”
For our money, we think Art might be wrong, or at least a bit mistaken. We feel there’s a big lesson to be learned in our encounter with him and it’s quite simple: if you’ve got a passion for something, work toward it and put your heart into it. Art’s enthusiasm for storytelling and his love for his craft shines though in his work. In the midst of the Secret Invasions, Sieges and Brightest Days, his books remind us of the simple pleasures and joy that comic books have been giving us since our youth and continue to give us today, and we’re thankful for it. Whether telling classically-styled stories for a new generation with Billy Batson and the Power of Shazam! or filling the void left by the retirement of Bill Watterson and the passing of Charles Schulz with Tiny Titans and Patrick the Wolf Boy, Art Baltazar and Franco are recapturing the joy of comics and living the dream.