Heidi from 4TH RAIL:
TAROT: Witch of the Black Rose isn't just a comic book, it's a theme park. Not only do the guys who pick up the book get to ogle the sexy women Jim Balent draws, but the girls get a dose of empowerment about their right to be sensual and beautiful. Is it getting hot in here?
Creator Balent and Holly Golightly are producing a uniquely bold book for the comic market. Flavored with wiccan tones, and with a tendency to always have a moral message of love and kindness, the book is a dichotomy of sorts. Balent, who gained fame with his incredible run on CATWOMAN, doesn't hold anything back in his portrayal of hot, sexy women. The lead characters, Tarot and her reformed evil sister, are both large breasted and curvy. Did I mention they tend to be naked a great deal of the time? Don't get me wrong, the story usually provides for the nudity, in dealing with themes of comfort with one's body no matter what the shape, but hubba-hubba!
As a female, I am perhaps in the minority that the nudity and exaggerated body image doesn't bother me. It is the style Balent is well known for and excels at, and it captured and beguiled readers of CATWOMAN. Besides, his portrayal of male characters tends to be as equally bold, as Tarot's love interest has found himself in the all-together several times as well.
Theme wise, the book concentrates on the lives of these two women, and their quest to lead a peaceful existence as they practice their craft and lead their lives. Staunch religious right-wingers will hate this book for the focus the book takes on wicca, but for a good Lutheran girl like myself, it is just an interesting study in alternative lifestyles. I learn a little something new each issue, and am left with a message along the lines of "live your life as you see fit," "don't hurt each other," and "be comfortable in your own skin."
Would I let my young nephews read this book? Hell no. This book is definitely for mature readers, with it's carefree nudity and tone. As an adult, I find Balent's talent amazing, and his take on the character interesting. At times I think it gets a little cheesy, but he gets his point across.
I actually asked my husband why he read the book, and his reply was "Balent's art," though he is intrigued by the morals each issue has, despite the free love vibe. As a female, I am fascinated with Tarot, and her relationships with both men and women. Balent and Golightly have slowly added layers to the character, giving her a personality of serenity and resolve.
After a marathon run of 77 issues, Jim Balent takes a bow from Catwoman.
His new series, Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose, published through his
own company, Broadsword Comics, will debut in early spring. I called Jim at his studio to get the scoop about his departure and his plans, and made some interesting discoveries along the way about his karate skills and his relationship with practicing witches.
Let's first put those nasty rumors to bed: What's the real story about your departure from Catwoman?
It's very undramatic, basically. It was just... a brand new year was coming up, and the Bat editors were coming off of a large storyline of "No Man's Land" and they decided to switch all the artists around on the books to stir up a controversy. They moved me off of Catwoman, and they said I did a great job on the series--is there another project you want to tackle? At the time I didn't want to leave Catwoman and I also had several issues to go before my time did run out. So I just told them, "Thank you," and I was just going to concentrate on the work at hand. And then after I got off the phone, I thought, "Wow, this is a great opportunity to start my own company up, Broadsword Comics." So, basically, it was that; it was very calm, there was nothing negative.
No throwing things?
(Laughs) There were no karate matches. I've heard these rumors, and I've just wondered, like, wow! I was at home, I got the phone call, and that was it. I was not in the offices, there was no screaming, there was nothing.
You're getting ready to launch your own comic company, Broadsword Comics, and it's first title, Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose. Without giving the storyline away, what's the overall concept of Tarot?
It's a supernatural adventure; it's filled with bewitching beauties and haunting heroes. It's a story about two sisters who are witches and one of them, Raven Hex, becomes fed up with the way witches have been treated all these years and decides to use her magic to set it straight. But in her haste and her anger to bring about this Witch's Justice, she unknowingly will bring about a second Burning Time for the witches. Tarot, her sister, realizes this, and realizes she must stop her sister before her dark magic consumes her and witchkind. It's a story of the use of magic in a positive way as opposed to a negative way. And also, it's a little bit of a commentary about how witches are treated in today's society. But most of all, it's a supernatural adventure, and I think people will really enjoy it. If they need to know familiar characters, I've been describing it as sort of Batman meets Xena, with a whole bunch of witchcraft involved.
Are you close to witchcraft or witches?
Yeah, actually I have a good friend up in Salem. As a matter of fact, Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose takes place in Salem. I've always been interested in witchcraft since I was a kid, and just reading on the subject matter--you find so much misinformation out there. It's quite interesting what we sort of believe these people are and who they aren't, and the more you read about it the more you find it's a very ethical religion. It's always fascinated me. And when I was developing this story, I contacted a real good friend named Laurie Cabot, who's the official witch of Salem, and I told her my plans and I ran the story by her, and she thought it was fantastic. I would hate to put out this story and offend any witch. My goals are basically to show this larger-than-life woman, who is a witch, and the problems she deals with in her real world and also in her magical world.
Why take on the headache of self-publishing, rather than taking the project to an already established creator-friendly venue, like Image?
I was approached by Image, saying, "Hey, bring Tarot over to us." And they made a generous offer, but I've always felt, "Well, I'm going to do this on my own." I've always wanted to publish on my own. Since I was five years old, I was drawing comics in my bedroom, and that way I was creating it. And I decided, "Hey, now I have the time, I have all the resources... Why not? Let's do it. This sounds like a lot of fun." It's a lot of headache, but also in the end, I can go to bed at night and go, "Wow! I did this on my own! This is fantastic!"
Are there any other titles in the works other than Tarot?
Yes, but I can't speak of them because of legal matters.
Let's start a back-issue rush: Sgt. Rock #393 contains your first professionally published work for DC--a backup story called "The Ninja."
The reason "The Ninja" came about was I was really into Frank Miller's run on Daredevil, and I just ate up all the ninja stories. I even did research. It even sort of threw me into the martial arts world where I became a 2nd degree brown belt in karate. So I was just eating up martial arts left and right. When the opportunity came for me to do a backup story about a ninja, I jumped at the chance.
The grim-and-gritty war story is quite different from the stories you're known for today, with strong female lead characters like Catwoman and Tarot. How did you make that kind of jump? How did the name 'Jim Balent' become synonymous with 'really good looking women?'
(Laughs) Well, I don't know. I've always just considered myself just a storyteller. Whether I'm doing stories about ninjas or strong female characters, I just throw my whole self into it; I find that part of the character that's inside me and I try to bring it out--like with Catwoman and with Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose. I think the hero's journey is this universal story that everyone has. I think it's what I'm interested in right now, and I think it really shows in my artwork.
Running Broadsword will require a lot of time. Will you still be doing conventions and book tours?
I will be in San Diego, but I will be doing a Salem appearance in May [at Harrison's comic Collectibles] to promote... probably the second issue of Tarot will be coming out then. For the first issue, I'll be doing some local comic book store appearances here in Pennsylvania. But I've been receiving a lot of requests for me to come across the country, and depending on my schedule I may pop up here and there.
TAROT WITCH OF THE BLACK ROSE#16:
This really has the potential to twist the psycho-sexual matrix of a whole generation of boys much like the original Vampirella did. I felt like I needed a shower after reading this. I can’t even figure out where to put this in the Critic scale. Awful is the closest I can come, but really want I want to say is “Ew!”
There may be no goofier, sadder or more hypocritical double-page spread in comic book history than here, where two naked women, covered in frosting and cherries and possessing impossibly large breasts, are tied to an enormous cookie pan by a gingerbread woman in lingerie, also with impossibly large breasts, and one of the naked women on the pan is saying: “Love celebrates the whole person, mind, body and spirit. It doesn’t just focus on the physical.” Greeting cards + porn= Jim Balent’s Tarot. Awful.
TAROT WITCH OF THE BLACK ROSE#20:
This was so very creepy: just when I thought Balent was being, um, tasteful in the scene with the Medusa (normally areolae in this book are so profusely designed, you’d think Balent couldn’t differentiate between a breast and the bottom of a skateboard), out comes the Medusa’s pubic hair. That, along with some creepy bondage, and a final page of bald-pubed “vampire elves controlling sword-wielding zombie war-thogs” really skeeved me out. Mix in a script that seems like The Lord of the Rings written as a Hallmark card, and you’ve got a book that the car-wreck-watching side of me wants to recommend (this is the sort of mixture of warped and banal that exploitation film fans build cults around), while the normal Joe part of me wants to stage an intervention. I gotta go with No Rating, because I’m just that confused over it. You forgot to mention the ass-sniffing pig men and the Box o’ Bondage. Or how the rotting flesh on the Zombie Elves thankfully didn’t touch their perfectly proportioned boobies.
This was an astonishingly insane issue, and, I really kind of liked it just because it was SO absurd and SO over the top and SO crazy as a pantsful o’ ferrets.
How’s this for resolving your rating dilemma: Goodly Awful.
I should probably not be reading Tarot, by Jim Balent, because it is one of those critically-reviled "bad girl" comics that exists for not much other reason (it would seem) than to give Jim Balent a reason to draw half-naked chicks with huge hooters. And while the stories are kinda thin for my tastes, I keep buying it. It's not just the art - Balent's okay, but he's definitely favoring the babes with hooters over storytelling. I'm all in favor of babes with hooters, don't get me wrong, but it never made me buy a comic on a regular basis. I'm not sure why I keep buying Tarot. I could give the old "trainwreck" excuse - you know, "I just can't look away" - but that's becoming too easy an excuse these days for people to keep buying something or watching something or whatever and then go on about how much it sucks and how they are pained by the experience. Screw that noise.
If I had to guess, I'd say I buy it for a very ephemeral reason. I sense a vibe in here, through the half-baked Wiccan philosophy blended with horror-movie reasoning - a vibe that tells me that Jim Balent is doing something he Really Wants To Be Doing with this book. I don't see this vibe in other "bad girl" books - while an artist might really enjoy drawing the Chick With Stupendous Ta-Tas, there's always an undercurrent of "I can really get a bundle for this page at some convention", or "this is good, but if I didn't need a paycheck I'd be doing my OWN hot babe with jugs a-plenty". Well, Balent is self-publishing Tarot, and it seems he's selling enough to keep it going - while businesses built on the huge-mammaries principle (such as Chaos Comics) go under. All the while giving his audience a, well, unique vision. I admire someone who can do what they really really want to do and make a living at it.
I'd be happy to give up Tarot if I could perhaps get his other title, 3 Little Kittens, since it features girls in cat-motif outfits, one of my little fetishes - if I have to do the trainwreck thing, might as well go with something more along my own preferences. I haven't seen it on the racks at Daydreams, though, and due to my one superstition, I don't pre-order comics. I'm tempted to ask for it just to watch Paul have an aneurysm right there in front of me.
I did promise to talk about the 3 Little Kittens comic once I'd received the first issue in the mail. It has indeed arrived, and in fact, since I mentioned it I've managed to get issues 2 and 3 on my own. So let's talk about the whole business, eh?
I'll be talking about the entire three-issue run, which appears to be a limited series at this point, so consider this a spoiler warning if you think you're going to read this series and don't want anything given away.
Okay, here's the concept: Three stacked chicks in cat-motif outfits fight terrorism and whatnot as the "3 Little Kittens", apparently with the blessings of the U.S. government ("Homeland Defense Department"). They are as famous as pop stars, idolized by the public, and apparently merchandized up the wazoo, considering how often things like "3LK" comics and action figures are referenced.
I'd originally read the series out of order, since I found #2 before Holly GoLightly had mailed me #1, so before I began writing this column, I sat down and re-read the trilogy in order, to get the big picture. And this is what I saw: 3 Little Kittens is not so much about crimefighting as it is about publicity. I couldn't say whether that was in Jim Balent's head as he crafted the story, but consider this: In issue 1, the 3 Kittens defeat a band of terrorists who have taken the staff of a video game store hostage. Taking the entire arc into account, this is not the main story, but an opening sequence that introduces us to our heroines. The last page of the last issue shows our heroines flying off in a jet to take care of a "little Middle East problem", story over, fade to black. In between this, their primary opponent is Latex Red and a trio of "satanic cheerleader" flunkies. What's got her back up? Why, she wants to be more popular and admired than the 3 Kittens. She wants to be considered the Number One Heroine.
Our only other antagonists are the "Omega Stars", a squad of armored and heavily-armed goons who are, like the 3 Little Kittens, government-approved anti-terrorist forces. In classic "we're supposedly on the same side but let's fight" style, they fight with the Kittens when Latex Red disrupts the Stars' P.R. parade. When Latex Red captures the Kittens, does she immediately kill them? No - her goal is to discredit them publicly by, um... exposing their breasts at a rock concert.
Okay, let me interject here - in case anyone had any doubt, 3 Little Kittens is played for laughs. There's no angst or drama here, this is 60s Batman TV show camp all the way through. So absurdity is to be expected. We'll get back to this, and the matter of the breasts, later...
...Because right now I'm talking about the battle for publicity that makes up the main arc of this comic. The Omega Stars are rivals for the public's attention, staging public appearances, and attacking the Kittens when they mistakenly assume it's the Kittens who have sabotaged their parade. Latex Red mainly wants to humiliate the Kittens and become the public's idol in their place - killing them is only "a second option" in case her main plan doesn't work out. Nobody wants to rob a bank or rule the world, nobody's making any kind of political statement - everyone here is fighting to build or maintain their public image. Is this comic a conscious statement about modern media and celebrity status? Or is it just an accidental by-product of Jim Balent wanting to draw two sets of fetish-garbed babes fighting it out? I'll let you decide that.
As I said before, this comic is anything but serious, because, let's face it, you would need a series of mile-thick concrete pylons to properly suspend the disbelief in the premise that the U.S. government would sanction a team of cat-motif women as official terrorist fighters. Although - I would much rather that the U.S. Government spend its money creating small teams of fetish-gear-wearing babes than another damn nuclear missile. There is no efficiency in making weapons and vehicles with stripes and paw-prints, but then again there's no reason a military-bought coffee maker should cost a couple grand, either. But I digress.
There's an endless number of things about this comic that don't really make too much sense when I think hard about them, frankly... but I'm willing to overlook things like that. Hey, it's cat-babes shooting guns and blowing stuff up, and, y'know, if you're already on that roller coaster, there's not much point in wondering if all the cars are in numerical order.
However, I will kinda take issue with the third issue's main crisis - the aforementioned exposing of breasts that is designed to "discredit" the 3 Little Kittens.
In what possible alternate universe would this hurt a celebrity's career?
I mean, come on - it's even at a rock concert - where, lordy, nobody's ever heard of a naked boob being whipped out on stage... what would really happen if three cat-girls were hauled out, tied up and helpless, and someone exposed their breasts? That's right, a standing ovation. And photos would be up on some celebrity skin website in nanoseconds. Popularity would spike hard. Look at real celebrities - would tying up Britney Spears and yanking her top off hurt her career? Did nudity hurt Madonna's reputation? If anything, nudity is something actresses whose careers are already failing use to bolster their popularity. And bringing it back to 60s Batman camp - when I was a kid I would have sold organs to see the show if just once, when someone had Batgirl tied up, they would have said, "Hey - I got Batgirl tied up here. Let's have a look at her breasts!"
Latex Red is supposed to be insane, so, okay, maybe her reasoning powers aren't at their peak. But the last-minute save by the Kittens' mentor seems to indicate that someone takes the risk seriously. Latex Red claims that outraged right-wingers would work to destroy the Kittens' careers. Okay, I'll maybe give her that one - but those sort of people would be outraged just by the Kittens' mere existence - in costume, they already represent a level of feminine display sufficient to give Jesse Helms that long-overdue stroke. Catress has gigantic mammaries, and they are held only from beneath by a corset - all she would have to do is run a few feet and her breasts would trampoline out of their moorings on their own. Jaguara's top appears to be covered only by body paint - there are no fabric lines to indicate even tight-fitting clothing - and a light rain, you'd think, would be all that would be needed to render that character topless. So the potential for seeing the Kittens' breasts would be pretty high, in real life. (Do you think our ultra-prude Attorney General John Ashcroft, who had partially nude statues covered so he wouldn't be seen on-camera with them, would approve the 3 Little Kittens in the first place?)
You know what? All the stuff I've been typing doesn't really matter. I bought two of the three issues with my own money, and I'd do it again if the series continues. Like I mentioned with my previous review of Tarot, there's something about BroadSword Comics' output that draws me to it - just a sense that Balent and GoLightly are doing just exactly what they want to - no editors, no interference - and it seems to be working, from a business standpoint. I have no personal knowledge of their finances, but they continue to publish books. They've marketed themselves quite nicely, selling t-shirts and underwear, art prints, scented oils and other doo-dads - and they seem to be cultivating a wide fanbase. In addition to sales catalogs and readers' letters, the back of the comics often feature ladies dressing up in fantasy outfits of various sorts, which is great - it's a fan response many other creators could only wish for. Despite any flaws in the story I may find, it's difficult to argue with success, and so, more power to 'em. I only hope that one day I can get this kind of success myself.
Because I've committed to talk about whatever folks send to me free in the mail (that's Colin Wales, P.O. Box 1324, Muscatine, IA 52761), I should also mention that Holly sent me a copy of Tarot #14 in addition to 3 Little Kittens #1. In that comic, Tarot follows her lost boyfriend Jon as he stumbles into the Faerie Realms, gets abducted by girl trolls, drugged, and basically wanders around having sex with everything in sight (well, with everything sentient, at least, which appears to be entirely female in this particular section of the Faerie Realms). No actual sex is depicted, but lots is implied or covered up. In fact, it's not a particularly violent issue - the few fights in it are "magical battles", with no apparent fatalities - but there are quite a few naked or near-naked breasts, so the book strays into Mature Readers territory... Which reminds me about something I noticed concerning 3 Little Kittens - ads for the book describe it as an "all-age action/adventure comic".
All age? Hmm. Okay, well, there's only one fatality in the 3 issues (a bomb-wearing terrorist, exploded by Latex Red), and even when Catress shoots her guns, she's knocking other guns out of folks' hands - but then there's the breast thing.
I guess it all comes down to whether you think breasts are an all-age subject or not... because while no unclothed nipple is actually shown, there's a lot of talk about breasts, and even a few points where breasts are unclothed, but the nipples are concealed by something else in the way. And often when they are clothed, the nipples are indicating some seriously chilly weather. Hm. Let me put it this way: when I was a kid, I would have been very happy to get a comic like this - but I doubt my parents would have approved.
Back to one of the last lines in the Tarot book - "...a world where violence and death are more socially acceptable than nudity and lovemaking..." Yeah, it's true, as far as entertainment goes. That's what you get when your country was settled by Puritans.
I’m still trying to figure this one out. Mind you, it’s not the story that boggles my corroding cranium, it’s what this series is all about that messes with me. I pick it up, I read the damn thing, I look at the back of the issue and find a gallery of ‘Tarot’ covers from 1-14. All of which featured busty, hellish looking gals in come-hither poses. So, does each issue stand alone? Or is the ‘Tarot’ universe filled with these characters very much like Chaos! and it’s Evil Ernie/Lady Death/Purgatori series? I guess I’ll have to find out next issue. I bought this on a whim because I liked the cover and the sexy/creepy looking chick on the cover (hey, I’m a man!).
‘Tarot’ in it’s fifteenth installment introduces (I think) us to Crypt Chick. A gothy blonde sexpot with a rockin’ body and a right arm stripped of flesh, Crypt Chick and Skeleton Man (cemetery caretaker by day, guardian of the dead by night!) wind up battling the ghost of a T-Rex who’s enraged by the fact that his bones have been stolen by… Oh, it’s just silly. But the pictures are nice.
Published by Broadsword Comics and created by Jim Balent, ‘Tarot’ isn’t must-have, must-read material but if you like hot spooky chicks then consider yourself out two dollars and ninety-five cents.
TAROT: WITCH OF THE BLACK ROSE #7
By Jim Balent
Uhm.. Is it me, or are her breasts just a little too big? I mean, doesn’t she have back problems? Or are her super powers the ability to wield her massive breasts without slipping a disc? And people wonder why comics aren’t taken seriously!?
I don't like to slag anyone in the back of the catalogue, generally. But since you opened the door on it, WHAT THE FUCK? HER NIPPLES ARE 4 INCH LONG SPIKES!!! FUCK! GROW UP!