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C2E2: Jeff Balke talks being gay, marriage, and comic autographs

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Comic cons are springing up left and right in every other major city and not to be out done is The Windy City's Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2). The event just wrapped up its fifth year and the dates for 2015 were just announced, April 24 -26, 2015. While attending the successful event, I spoke with colorist, Jeff Balke.

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A colorist is the person who colors in the comic art most often digitally, or sometimes with markers depending on the medium. They are sort of the un-sung hero of comic book creation. They don't write the stories, nor the dialogue, or draw the original art. However, they are responsible for bringing flat black and white to life with startling color that will hopefully, on the business end anyway, entice readers to buy comic books. Jeff Balke has been a professional colorist for five years. He travels to tons of comic book conventions selling colorized sketches and such giving fans a chance to meet him and pick up a piece of art.

Allie Hanley: You are a proliferate colorist, well known in the industry for your color choices. Can you share with me some of the pieces you are most proud of?

Jeff Balke: Well, I've worked on a lot of different stuff, and with a lot of different people. I’m more known for my “Grim Fairy Tales” from Zenescope. I started with issue #49 and I just worked on many different titles. It’s the Grimm Fairy Tales – the horror side. Definitely not the Disney side.
People know me mostly from that; But I also do sketch coloring. You can bring anything black and white to me and then I will color it up right here just the way you want it, on-site and that’s my way of doing a sketch.

Allie: What elements do you prefer to work with?

Jeff: When I work on the books and the prints, definitely digital because you only have about a week to get an entire book done, like 22 to 24 pages. So there’s not a lot of time but when I am here at the show I love working with markers. It just flows out.

Allie: What markers do you use?

Jeff: Well for skin tones I prefer Copic, and then for everything else I use Prisma Color Markers.

Allie: You are well known to use social media as a means to getting the word out about your work and the shows you are going to appear at.

Jeff: The thing that I have always wanted to happen when I got into this industry was to have books, be famous and popular, become rich, and one of those things happened, and it wasn’t the rich part. So, I got into the industry and like any other industry it is so cut-throat. Everybody in it, and I hate to say this, but they are pretty much into it for themselves; but at the same time everyone will help everyone out to a certain degree, which I really love. I posted a few things on Myspace and my career just blew up. Everybody loved my coloring. Now it’s a career.

Nowadays I go downstairs to my studio and I color everyday. How awesome is that?
So I wanted to put entertainment and fun back into the conventions. It was getting a little to heavy. It felt like you couldn't talk to this person because they worked for that company etc. So I wanted to make it fun again, at least for me. You gotta have fun and that’s why on my FB pages I always make a flyer and I let people know where I am going to be, and let them know about the sketch-coloring.

Allie: So what you are saying is that the industry can be a bit two faced? Is that when you meant?

Jeff: Kind of.

Allie: So I recently learned that you got married. How has the industry treated you as a Gay man?

Jeff: Pretty much like every other industry. There’s was only really one case when I first started out, about two years into getting into this industry I lost a job because I was Gay and that I was out about it.

Allie: How long ago was that?

Jeff: Probably about four years ago?

Allie: So really not that long ago, but besides that, you really haven’t encountered anything like that? SO generally people are warm and open?

Jeff: <Laughing> Ya, I really haven’t run into any kind of issue. And my husband and I – wow that sounds good - were just talking about that the other day. We were wondering just how many openly Gay creators are out there that are married? I’m sure it’s not many, but we haven’t found anyone yet. However, it’s a really big industry and I’m sure there’s someone else out there that has come out of the closet and said Ya, I’m Gay and I’m getting married!

Allie: It kind of matters because there’s not a lot of you. But maybe in three or four, five years it won’t matter; And hopefully that’s what society is moving towards.

Jeff: Yes

Allie: But right now, in the real world it does matter.

Jeff: It does, It does. I had a teenager – probably 18 or 19 come up to me here at the show (C2E2), who knew that we got married, and he sort of had a tear in his eye and he said to me you are a big inspiration to me as an artist and to me as a Gay man. And you know that really touched me. Even now I’m getting goose bumps when I think about it.

Allie: Oh my, you are I can see them on your arms.

Jeff: I’ve never had that before in my life. I’ve never had that happen. I went up to someone many years ago when I was first coming out and said that to them. But not as a creator, but just as a friend of mine. It really made a big impact on my life. So having this guy come up to me was really very, very cool.

Allie: So now besides that, is there someone in the industry that you looked up too, that was your inspiration?

Jeff: Right, I've got a few of those actually, and not being Gay, but just an artist… he’s sitting just over there and not that far from me is Mark Bagely. Not to long ago Spiderman #375 was really big. Venom was really big, they had a new character, Carnage, come out at that time. He was drawing, and he also drew Ultimate Spiderman that just came out a few years ago… He actually was a big inspiration to me. He made me want to get into the industry. His attitude was that he loved his fans. He even said that if it wasn't for you guys I wouldn't be on this side of the table, and now that’s my slogan… because it’s so true. If it wasn't for the fans and the people who support me I wouldn't be doing this five full years now.

Allie: So I am going to put you on the spot here, I don’t judge, just want to know your opinion… here it is… As far as creators, not colorists, but the people who are creating the artwork on salary or similar for Marvel/DC who are set, making a good living... there is a contention that many people feel that they are over-charging for their artwork at conventions like this. How do you feel about it? Moreover, as I look at your booth, you have a lot of beautiful work and you are selling what I think is pennies on the dollar compared to a lot of the other people. I mean right here I see beautiful stuff going for three pieces at $20. Many sell one piece at $30. So that’s fantastic. So overall, what is your opinion on artists who are charging $100, $200 for a sketch – or even more?

Jeff: Ok, I don’t really understand that. I know that they have been in the industry for really long time,. They've got a name for themselves, and that’s fantastic. But I don’t understand where they come up with the price. Now I am not going to give any names, but there is a certain artist who charges $1700 for a bust shot, which is from the chest up. And that’s it and it’s just in pencil. Now I don’t understand what gives them the right to do that. However, when I look at my table I want every single person who comes up to my table to be able to purchase anything at anytime. From $1 to $20 is what I want. And when people come up to my table and buy something that’s a huge honor; And to have fans, oh my God, that’s even more of an honor.
So I just don’t understand where they come up with those prices. Some of these prices are ridiculous and I just don’t get it.

Allie: Ok so just to be fair, let’s look at the other side of it. You travel to a huge amount of show, about thirty a year?

Jeff: Yes 30.

Allie: Ok, so on average, how much you spend per show; Getting to the show, setting up a booth, staying in a hotel, and all that so people can understand what an artist who charges $100/$200 is putting out to be there just to be fair. Roughly what do you spend?

Jeff: Convention costs on average run artists like myself anywhere from $1000 to $2000 to participate each.

Allie: That's a lot.

Jeff: Some of these bigger guys, keep this in mind, the guys who are charging $1700 a sketch or $600, they are getting the tables for free, they are getting the hotel for free, and sometimes they are even getting flown out; and then you are giving them $200 - $1700 a sketch! So I am probably going to get black balled but <laughing> it’s very true and what I don’t get or understand where those prices come in when they get everything handed to them on a silver platter at conventions.

Allie: So have you had anything handed to you yet?

Jeff: NO! <laughing> I am not at that level yet.

Allie: Well lets just be clear, you’re not hating on them.

Jeff: No, I am definitely not hating on them but I would like to get to that level where I could charge more, but I always feel guilty because I feel like if you charge more, you are going to have a lot less people come up to your table. And I am a colorist, so it’s a lot different. It’s not like I am an illustrator. People will line up around the block for an illustrator, for a colorist not so much. We are sort of the unsung heroes of the industry, as I have been told.

Allie: So one last question for you. There’s been a lot of talk that comics that are being created and then colored with just pen and ink are going away, and that it’s not going to be around for much longer.

Jeff: I think it will always be around. It just may cut down a lot. The digital age is here and we are in it right now, which is great. But when you go to a comic book show and you download a comic how are you going to have that artist sign your I-Pad or Reader? Sign your phone? You are going to always need that traditional hard copy with you. Same goes for traditional drawing. The electronic copies are saving a lot of trees, you know go green and all that which is fantastic, but people actually want originals. Now I have been asked six times already today if I have any originals. Unfortunately I don’t because I am a colorist. But I have black and whites here, I color them up, so technically it’s an original. Then or course I have a lot of prints. So I think it’s going to cut down a lot but in the end it’s still going to be here.

Allie: Where are you going next?

Jeff: Well I am going to take a few weeks off after going 7 weekends straight but after that I have Dallas Comic Con, I have my first horror convention in Orlando called Mayhem, and then after that something in New York, - a new show.

For more about Jeff and catching up to him to get your sketch colored or to get one of his at his booth follow him at www.jbalkesart.com and his email is Jeffbalke2005@yahoo.com. Look for him at The Dallas Comic Con ( recently now owned by Fan Expo) May 16 - 18.

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