Art Baltazar is one happy-go-lucky guy. About eight years ago, he kissed the corporate ad world goodbye and relinquished himself to his life long passion for comic books – with his wife’s blessing. Today, Baltazar runs his own comic creation house, Electric Milk Creations, and is responsible for comic book series like NinjaTown and Patrick the Wolf Boy. Earlier this year, he, along with his partner Franco Aureliani, launched Tiny Titans, a popular DC Comic book series that shows what superheroes like Robin and Wonder Woman, as well as an assortment of their peers, might have been like in first grade. We caught up with Baltazar at his home studio outside of Chicago to delve into the mind of the man behind these undersized overachievers. – Vivian Manning-Schaffel
When did you first become obsessed with superheroes?
I was about six or seven. I’d watch the Batman show and the Spiderman cartoons. My cousin, who was in high school, used to bring his comics over after school and sometimes he’d just leave them, so I’d read them. When Star Wars came out, I was all into Star Wars, but before that I’ve always loved superheroes. I always wanted to draw, so I’d take tracing paper and trace Spiderman and that’s how I learned. I was born to do this.
So what inspired you to do a cartoon for younger kids?
I’ve been writing and drawing publishing my own comics since the early ’90s. My first book came out in ’94. When Jann Jones from DC Comics called and asked if I wanted to do a kid’s comic book . . I never knew she was a buyer for DC. I just knew her as a friend of mine. She’s been buying my books forever. I said, “Yeah, of course!” It evolved from Teen Titans, which was so cool. Classic superhero characters like Spiderman and the Hulk were my favorites, so it was a no-brainer. I remember at the time I had to crank it out in a week or two.
How old are the Tiny Titans? They seem like they are six, because they have a little street savvy.
They are in first grade.
How do you get into the first grade mindset?
I don’t know. I just write what I think is funny. All my life I’ve always watched cartoons, like Magilla Gorilla and Bugs Bunny. The way I draw is cartoony, which young kids like. They are labeled as kids’ books, but I find a lot of adults like the comic books too.
So the Titans are a little older than your kids, who are four and two.
There’s also another group of Titans that are too young to go to school: the toddler Titans. The Tiny Titans have to babysit for their little brothers and sisters now and then. My kids still say some stuff that ends up in some of the scripts. My boy asked me yesterday, “Why do people call other people ‘dude’?” And I said, “I don’t know, dude.” That kind of thing.
You work from home. How do you pull that off with two little kids running around?
Oh, I don’t know, I manage. I have an art studio in my house with art tables and computers, and I put a headset on and work like this everyday. The kids are here now and the babysitter’s upstairs with them.
Do you like working at home?
I love it because I can do all this artwork and still take the kids to school. I love the freedom. The hardest thing is coming up with the discipline. What really helps me get motivated is, after the morning news, there’s a court show that comes on. And this guy says, “All rise,” and I usually get off the couch, grab some coffee and get downstairs to work. It’s like my cue.
Ever sit on the couch until The View’s on?
That’s when you know you’re bad. I’m guilty sometimes. I’ve seen that show through every woman, from Star Jones, to Rosie, and now Whoopi . . .
Who’s your favorite?
I really liked Rosie. Even though she was tough to listen to, I like when people stir up trouble.
What happens when you get to work? How long does it take to make a comic book?
I draw everything on paper with a light blue pencil, then I ink it all in, scan it and email it to DC. I’m supposed to do one a month, but I do one every two weeks.
That’s cool – two weeks on, two weeks off . . .
Now that summer’s here and the babysitter’s here, I’m trying to do three issues a month.
Has your son checked out your comic books?
My four-year-old, Gordon, is starting to pick up books and read them. It’s kind of cool. I gave him a Tiny Titans book to look at and he read the first page to me. He’s starting to read a lot. It’s cool, because when we give him stuff to read and he learns a new word, we started putting a post-it note on his door. Now he’s got them all over the door.
How’d you pull off making your fantasy gig a reality?
I was a graphic designer in the ad world, but I hated my job. I couldn’t take it. And my wife just told me to quit. I said, “We won’t have any money.” And she said we’d figure it out. I’ve been full-time cartooning since 2001. I just said, “The heck with it. I’ll just starve.” And I took a chance.
So you’re actually doing what you always wanted to do when you grew up.
You know when you first put a superhero cape on and jump off your couch? I kinda never took the cape off.