I first discovered JW Balsley's work at WonderCon this past year. I immediately fell in love his unique style. His work clearly has influences from the great Rober Crumb, and the detail he puts in his work is insane.
He currently writes and illustrates his own web comic THE DEVIL'S HENCHMEN and ROOT HOG OR DIE. Both can be found on his website www.thedevilshenchmen.com
Not only is he super talented but he's also one of the nicest creators, I've ever met. He took the time to talk t my wife and I when we met him and talked about his art. If you see him at a con, make sure you stop by and say hi and check his art out. I guarantee you won't be able to leave without getting a print or something, his stuff is that good.
COMIC LOUNGE: First off can you tell us a little about yourself?
JW BALSLEY: My internet name is JW Balsley and I am a cartoonist, illustrator, animator and musician. I have been working on and developing my comics online since 2011. I have been drawing comics my entire life ever since I can remember, making up different characters usually cartoon animals or creatures of some kind in wacky adventures or random comics. I started developing them back in 2000-2001 around when I started going to Art School but it wasn't until years later I started taking them more seriously after a few years learning and playing music.
My main comic series is THE DEVIL'S HENCHMEN, about a gang of hooligan maladjusted animals often living in a Mad Max kind of world. The characters are based off a lot of characters I liked growing up and have started to morph into their own personalities the more and more I work with them it seems. It doesn't follow a particular story arch but is made up of random comics using them and also a few longer stories, although I'm planning to keep things shorter from now on.
I also do a more autobiographical comic sometimes called TABOOSE using my main meerkat character in random situations and life events. Aside from that I've also done a few completely random comics and also a comic called THE ROOFLES about a race of little furry creatures, they have a king named King Bosco and his main servant, Idgit, whom he loves and also torments, I really need to make more of these post hast ha ha.
CL: When did you decide you wanted to make a career out of art?
JW: I've always wanted my art and cartoons to be my day job, although after trying different paths such as trying to be in the animation industry and things like that, I've ultimately decided that making my own art, cartoons and comics are the most important to me, even though they are not financially viable. I still do freelance or odd jobs right now, but I live pretty simply and keep to myself mostly so I have more time to work on my projects. To me, exclusively pursuing and exhausting my creativity on someone else's project or for a corporation completely disinterests me, although I'm always open for freelance commissions and projects, right now I'd rather do other things for income and focus as much on my art and cartoons. I even taught English in South Korea for a year as it had a great schedule for me, all night and morning off ha ha.
CL: Who have been some of your biggest influences?
JW: I suppose my biggest initial influences were cartoons I grew up with, Disney and Warner Bros cartoons., all the early 90's animated shows but the early Simpons, Tiny Toons, Ren and Stimpy, Rocko's Modern Life. When I was in fourth grade I discovered Life in Hell which was a big influence on me too and later on I discovered R. Crumb and the underground comics and Maakies. I've also been influenced by fine art but especially folk/ outsider art and tribal artwork. I've also been inspired by lots of children's book illustrators of all kinds. I'm also inspired by movies especially movies from the 20s-the early 90's and especially Grind-House movies from the late 60s-70s.
CL: What was your first published work?
JW: I've had a few smaller publications in little papers and zines here and there, although most of what I do is online at my site www.devilshenchmen.com, although from 2013-2018 I was also on the webcomics site Dumm Comics (dummcomics.com) with some great and very talented cartoonists and industry professionals which I was thankful to be apart of and helped me develop some ideas and experiment. From 2010-2015 I also had an initial site called Balsley's Comix, which I've moved over to mu new site, although there's a few I still need to add.
CL: Can you talk about some of your current projects?
JW: Right now I'm wrapping up a 60 page comic called ROOT HOG OR DIE that I have 10 more pages to color as of writing this. The story centers around Valerie the cat and Skanky the skunk as they steal treasure, escape cave monsters and have a nasty encounter with some evil nazi-swine, the Porkkkies and also find true love. After I wrap up this story I've decided however, that I just want to keep my way comics shorter from now on so I can explore more ideas and characters as working on longer stories has become way too much for me to juggle lately. I also want to start making real short animated cartoons too along with the comics, somethings are just better animated and somethings can work better in a comic it seems.
Over the last half year, I also developed on the side a new comic/cartoon I've been calling SALLY AND THE STOMPERS about a gang of girl bandits; Sally a hippo, Maggie a hedgehog and Rita a civet, surviving in a post apocalyptic world filled with savage gangs of mongooses, badgers, snakes and creatures of all kinds, although the savages are not what they seem... as there are others powers at hand. This new world will still be going on with The Devil's Henchmen and even the Roofles as lately I'm seeing it as one big world.
CL: What do you prefer when illustrating, digital or traditional?
JW: Although I'm familiar and can do both, I still prefer to mostly draw and ink traditionally on paper but usually color digitally. For a few years I was drawing only digitally which actually helped me in my drawing in someways, but now traditionally is where I can really express myself better for some reason. Although sometimes I'll pencil digitally then I'll print it out in Non-Photoblue on Bristol paper and still ink it traditionally. I really like different brushes pens and fountain pens and nibs. When it comes to animation, although I've only done a little, I even think I'll try to use hand drawn backgrounds as much as possible and even do my initial drawings traditionally, but in Harmony or Flash I'll still just usually do a lot of it digitally.
CL: Do you have any dream projects that you would love to do someday?
JW: I suppose right now all my dream projects will have to come from me ha ha, although I would like to start doing more animation and start creating my own animated cartoons but it would be great to have help on something like that. Right now, I'll just create little comics and animations and possibly start storyboarding some animatics as I recently learned Story Board pro a few months ago, at least the bare bones of it.
CL: What does being an artist mean to you?
JW: To me, being an artist is about sharing some kind of vision you have or expressing something, but ultimately it's always been about playing with me and trying to have fun creating new characters, jokes, stories and situations and seeing what happens next.
You can find out more about JW Balsley's work on his site at devilshenchmen.com and his Twitter is @jwbalsley