CONNECTED ART STARS FOR 2020. Artists to keep your eyes on this year. From USA….Q & A
Name: Michael Balistreri
Occupation: Internet Consultant and Artist
When and how did you get started in art?
I started drawing when I was a little kid. I used to draw monsters and cartoon characters…so I guess not much has changed. In high school I started a comic book with a friend and really started trying to push myself to draw more and improve.
What was your first creation that made you know you had talent?
I remember drawing Roger Rabbit when I was around 7 or 8 while my dad was doing something else in the room. My dad walked by and glanced at it, then he did a double take and I could tell he was shocked. He commented on how good it was and he couldn’t believe it wasn’t something I traced. That’s when I started to think that I was pretty good.
What artists have inspired you?
Bill Waterson’s work on Calvin and Hobbes was huge for me. I loved comic strips, and while Gary Larson’s Far Side was also a favorite growing up, I just loved Waterson’s style. His linework, the way he captured motion and his beautiful environments really stood out. Mike Mignola has been a big inspiration since I started drawing my own comic books. I try to learn what I can from him without simply imitating it, since his style is so distinctive. His abstract shapes, heavy shading and the way he shows locations is amazing. Rob Schrab’s manic humor in Scud the Disposable Assassin, Sam Keith’s bizarre but beautiful The Maxx, Jhonen Vasquez iconic work on Invader Zim, John Kricfalusi’s expressionistic backgrounds and over the top expressions in Ren and Stimpy, Tim Burton’s gothic look in his early films, and Jim Lee’s work in comics have all also been influences.
What characters are you planning for the future and type of character are you drawn to?
I plan on getting back to work on my comic book Paranormal Pinkerton, which is about an old west cowboy that solves supernatural mysteries. I have a comic strip called Optimistically Cynical about hipster teddy bears that I draw pretty regularly and it gives me a fun outlet to voice my opinions. I also just like to draw art prints a lot. Last year I drew one art print every day to challenge myself, and I still do them fairly regularly. Some of them are more fan art oriented, things like old cartoons or horror movie monsters, and others are original creations. It’s a nice mix. I tend to like gruff male characters with tragic flaws but deep down they are essentially good people. That could describe several of my characters.
What are you listening to?
I listen to a lot of old punk and ska music mostly. I love music, especially when I’m drawing. It just passes the time well. Some of my favorite bands are Green Day, Bad Religion, Operation Ivy, NOFX and Social Distortion. I listen to a pretty good variety of other stuff too when I’m in the mood, and I’m always looking for new songs.
Goodfellas is a movie I could watch endlessly and still find new things to enjoy. It’s just a masterpiece. Big Lebowski is another that I’ll rewatch over and over and just makes me laugh. There are a lot I enjoy really. It depends on my mood. An American Werewolf in London, The Magnificent Seven, Shaun of the Dead, Spider-man 2, Midnight Run and a bunch of others.
I don’t watch a lot of Anime anymore. The last one I really got into was One Punch Man. That one was great. Ninja Scroll was a favorite. Sometimes it’s fun to watch something like a Lupin the Third. I really had fun watching YoKai Watch with my kids when they were really into it.
Favorite TV Shows?
X-Files was a huge one for me. I like a lot of the greats like Twilight Zone, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, Dexter, The Shield, Boardwalk Empire, Fargo and The Boys.
Is there a scene from a anime, cartoon, movie or tv show that left a big impression on you and what was it?
There’s a pretty infamous episode of X-Files called Home about a grotesque family of inbreds. There’s a scene where an upbeat old song is playing in an old convertible and you see the inbred boys driving. It cuts to other characters locking up and getting ready for bed creating some tension since we don’t know where they are driving. Until you hear the music coming from outside the sheriff’s window, waking him as you hear the car pull up. The music plays quietly as he prepares to fight off the attackers and things are tense. Then the fight starts and they beat him in a savage, caveman like way. Then they go after the wife as the camera slowly pulls out from window to the car as the music gets louder and louder. It was all so well done, and the cheery music juxtaposed to the horrendous violence really struck me. There’s a scene that I feel similarly about in Goodfellas where nice music plays as a montage of murdered bodies are discovered. I really liked the dynamic of a cheery veneer with darkness just under the surface. It’s something I try to work into my own art.
I really liked the whole Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. It’s inventive and really funny. I also like the books of Christopher Moore like A Dirty Job, Blood Sucking Fiends and Practical Demonkeeping. I like horror with an element of comedy.
I play a lot of video games. Mario games are probably my favorite, but the Zelda games are right up there as well. There was a game called Day of the Tentacle that was an old point and click adventure done in a cartoon style that really stood out and inspired me. The Monkey Island series did the same thing when I played them. Psychonauts was a game with such an interesting premise and style (the levels consist of going into characters minds) that also really stood out to me and had me thinking of things in a different way.
I like a good stout beer like a Guinness or a heavy mix drink like a Jack and Coke. Sometimes I like to draw while I’m a bit buzzed.Fast Food/ Junk Food of choice?In N Out or Wendy’s burgers are my favorite.
I don’t eat sugar! Unfortunately it makes me sick. Occasionally I’ll have something that is sugar free, like a chocolate covered caramel.
Favorite Breakfast cereal?
I’m pretty boring here since sugar is an issue. Cheerios or Rice Chex usually. I prefer yogurt with granola or some oatmeal.What was your favorite toy growing up?I collected all the Ghostbusters action figures, and I had the firehouse playset. I loved the cartoon and the movies. I also had a stuffed dog I won in a crane game that I named Herman. I used to draw pictures about his adventures and play a lot of games with him. He was kind of the leader of my toys and I’d pretend they had a tv show.
Who is your biggest character crush and why?
I really liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer when I was a teenager and the show was on. She’s beautiful, strong, kind, smart and can kick ass. What’s not to like?
You enter a warehouse. There is little light, but you are able to find your way around. The sound of music draws you to a corner of the warehouse. There are FIVE GHOUL CLOWNS, playing a dancing video game. They have razor sharp teeth and scary weapons. Magic can not affect them; they sense your presence and turn facing you. They run to you to attack. Time to fight! What character would you want to be to defeat them and how would you handle the situation?
Batman. He thrives in places like dark warehouses and is great at kicking clown ass! I’d disappear in the shadows and pop out for an attack, Arkham City style.
If you had to be chained with a character for one year, what would be the character and what would you do?
This would be a nightmare, as I’m not the most social person. Maybe Wolverine. He doesn’t talk too much and seems like he’d give you as much distance as possible. Or course if it came time to fight he’d protect you, but you might get caught in the crossfire.
You can have dinner with your favorite character. And at this dinner you may ask one question. Who would be the character and what would be your one question?
I’d eat with Hellboy since he is my favorite character and he can be pretty fun in social settings. I guess I’d ask him what hell is really like.
What’s number 1 on your bucket list? (Something you want to do before you leave the planet).
Travel. I left the United States once when I was 6 and that was it, so I still have a lot of world to see. I’d love to tour Europe and take in the history.
What advice would you give to people getting started in art
Draw as much as you can as often as you can, and draw what makes you happy. I spent a long time worrying that I wasn’t very good, people wouldn’t like my stuff, and feeling sad because I felt like other people were better. I didn’t like me own art. Then I just started drawing for myself. I drew what I enjoyed, and the more I did it the better I got. Eventually it led to others enjoying my art too.