Tito W. James: So, you’re a very famous cartoonist who does Aw Yeah Comics with Franco. You also happened to do my favorite comic from Disney Adventures Magazine. I think it was called Gorilla Gorilla.
Art Baltazar: You read that? Oh my God–that’s so cool! You’re the right age for the kids who started reading it.
TWJ: Yeah, I remember ripping the pages out of the Disney Adventures Magazine and taping them to my wall.
AB: That comic strip gave me my career. Man, it was so good. No one knew what it was. The moms would just buy the magazine for their kids. But the kids who’d read it knew Gorilla Gorilla was in there. It was a big hit at home with kids. But no one in the comic book industry knew it.
TWJ: For those who are unfamiliar the premise of Gorilla Gorilla — It’s about two roommates, Gorilla and Lizard who transform into King Kong and a Godzilla-type kaiju. Gorilla becomes Gorilla Gorilla and Lizard becomes Lizard Lizard. They are enemies in their monster forms but are unaware of their secret identities.
Just because I’m feeling nostalgic, can you fill me in on how it ended? I’m not sure if I ever got the whole story arc.
AB: When it ended, the two characters still don’t know that each other are monsters. Gorilla Gorilla can control when he changes, like a superhero. But Lizard would get aggravated and change when he was angry like the Hulk.
I think when the book ended they were looking at the TV and seeing Lizard Lizard stomping around the town. Gorilla says “Someday I’ll find out who that is. What do you think Lizard?” and he looks over and Lizard is passed out on the couch. Then Gorilla just picks up a comic and says, “Oh well, we always have comic books.” That was the last strip. Gorilla was always suspicious of his roommate being a monster but he never had proof.
TWJ: What got you into comics as a kid?
AB: I watched a lot of Hanna Barbera, Magilla Gorilla, The Flintstones, Tom and Jerry. And then I read all of the Spider-Man and John Byrne’s X-Men. I’m always a classic guy. I like Superman, Batman, Hulk, and Spider-Man. I read all those, but I also read a lot of Richie Rich and Casper.
We used to get the comics in a package at the Polish deli. My mom would buy books and none of them would have covers. So, whatever was in that pack, I read it. DC, Marvel, Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, all kinds of stuff. None of them had covers because the Deli would send the covers back to the distributer and sell the interiors. I never saw covers on comic books until I was ten years old.
TWJ: Could you talk about doing humorous takes on popular superhero characters?
AB: Yeah, I’m a big Superman fan, ever since the original movie. DC called me and asked me what my favorite characters were in the DCU. I said I liked the Teen Titans and I like Superman. So that’s what they offered me. They said “Would you like to do your comics with our characters?” And I said “Yeah.”
For me to do comic books with mainstream superheroes was really easy for me because all the stories are already in my head since I was a kid. So once a month I’ve been telling them since. I started doing comics in 1992. So, it’s been going on 28 years for me to be doing this. I’ve never stopped and it still feels like the first day when I was 16 years old stapling my first comic together.
TWJ: You did your own version of Hellboy in Itty Bitty Hellboy. His movies are usually R-rated and the comics are very mature. How were you able to translate a character like this into your own style?
AB: I love Hellboy! Mignola has such a unique style. His characters look simple until you try to draw them. I had to design Itty Bitty Hellboy about 40 times before I got him to look the right way. I realized that he’s so tiny that he wouldn’t have horns yet, they’d be little buds. You know how like a baby bird starts out naked, yellow, and fuzzy until it finally grows its feathers. So, I thought about it like that.
Once I figured out Hellboy, it was easier to draw the rest of the guys; Abe Sapien, Lobster Johnson, they just came naturally. Hellboy was cool, man. Mignola loves it and now they’re making statues, pins, plushies, and stuff.
TWJ: Do you have any advice about communicating humor in comics?
AB: Just keep writing what you think is funny. When me and Franco write, if we come up with a joke that’s not funny, it doesn’t go in the book. So, we keep writing until we’re both laughing. That’s the secret–just have fun with it.
I’d like to thank Art Baltazar for taking the time for this interview. You can find more of his work at AwYeahComics.com.