Each month we’ll be shining the spotlight on a Silverline creator and sharing their secret origin story, learning what makes them tick, and giving you the scoop on how they came up in the comics world.
Up today is Barb Kaalberg, who inked a great number of comics for a wide variety of publishers. Some of her work has been seen in Impulse and Primal Force for DC Comics; Captain Marvel for Marvel; The Badger for Image; Planet of the Apes, Mantra, The Solution, Solitaire for Malibu.
Now, without further ado, we present to you…
10 QUESTIONS WITH… BARB KAALBERG
1. So, who are you and where do you hail from?
My name is Barbara Kaalberg, and I’m a comic book artist from the Madison, WI area. I’ve been here since 1986 when there was a fairly sizable comic book community here, including Capital City Comics distribution and Kitchen Sink Press. Steve Rude and Mike Baron were also a couple of locals, amongst others.
2. What would you say it is you do here?
I’ve been an inker for 30 years and I’ve just recently branched out into storytelling, too. I say storytelling because I’m not a scripter. There are more talented people out there (RA Jones, for instance) that script comics 10 times better than I, but I have ideas and stories in my head. It’s kind of daunting, stepping out of my wheelhouse and venturing into creating a whole book. A lot rides on it. I’m confident, however. The name of the project is Divinity and I have a really, really good feeling about it. I’m also the CFO of Silverline.
3. Where might Silverline readers have seen your work previously?
Hoooooo Boy, that is a long, long list, my friend. I’ve worked on something like 200 books from companies all across the spectrum, from Eternity, Malibu, WaRP Graphics, Now Comics, Innovation, Acclaim to Dark Horse, DC and Marvel. Probably some other companies that I’ve forgotten. You can see some of the stuff I’ve done on the Comic Book Database, although they have a tendency to leave out a lot of independents and kickstarter stuff, which has been what I’ve been doing the last few years. http://www.comicbookdb.com/creator_chron.php?ID=2238
4. Many creators at Silverline have been in the comics industry for years — what’s kept YOU plugging away at comics? What do you enjoy most about the medium, as well as your specific trade?
The love of this crazy industry and the people in it is what keeps me going. I had to leave for personal reasons back around 2000 and I missed it like phantom limb. It wasn’t easy (by any means!) to come back in 2014 after 15 years of being out of the game, but comics is like the chickenpox virus – once it’s in your system, in never really leaves. I love the comics industry. It’s crazy, unpredictable, passionate, complex, frustrating and so much fun. It’s full of the most AMAZING people! Another thing that keeps me going is ego. Every artist wants recognition and acceptance. I have bouts of terrible self doubt and self confidence. I’m always striving to feel like what I do measures up even fractionally to many of my peers. I’ve realized that this is a struggle that will never be won but it drives me to keep trying.
5. What was the first comic you remember reading that made you think, “Hey, I could do this!”
Elfquest by Wendy Pini. I discovered Elfquest in the mid-80’s. I was already a pretty good amateur painter, working in acrylics, when I was reading her black and white comics. I realized I could take my brush skills and turn them into inks. I’d been reading comics since I was a teenager. I worked in a pharmacy and one of my jobs was to rip the covers off of unsold comics so they could be returned to the retailer and then I was supposed to throw the body of the comics away. Yea, I threw them away . . . right into the trunk of my car. Anyway, I digress, I’d read comics for years but it wasn’t until I really looked at this B&W comic did I SEE the art. Really look at it and study the lines. That was it for me!
6. Who were some of your earliest influences on your trade?
Without a doubt, Dick Giordano. The first year I went out to SDCC I took a portfolio of everything including the kitchen sink. Sketches, painting, stuff I’d done in high school. It was embarrassing. I had NO idea what I was doing. Editors crucified me, as they should have. But Dick was giving this seminar on inking and it was amazing. I took notes like I was getting graded for it. It was like my Holy Bible. Then I looked at inks from Wally Wood, Bernie Wrightson’s ‘Frankenstein’, Joe Simon and other greats. I gravitated toward controlled inks like Mark Farmer’s more than loose, organic inks like Bill Sienkiewicz because it came easiest to me. I practiced for a year and went back out to SDCC with a better portfolio and got a job right off the bat.
7. What was the first comic you ever worked on professionally?
You are going to laugh, but the first thing I ever did was NOT inking, but grey washes. I think it was Chris Ulm who hired me to do the washes for Eternity’s ‘Tiger-X’. He asked me if I could do grey washes and I told him no problem. I lied through my teeth. I’d never water colored in my life. I worked in acrylics. The minute I stepped off the plane from SDCC I headed for the library and checked out around 6 books on watercolors. Did about 2 or 3 issues of washes before they started giving me inking gigs which, honestly, I was 10 times better at (and even that wasn’t that good) Eternity jobs (like Planet of the Apes) led to Malibu and that was when things really took off.
8. Follow up Q — Can you still read that comic today without wincing?
Oh, Hell no. The washes were bad enough but the first couple of books I inked, Jack the Ripper (Eternity), are absolutely cringe inducing. I’m surprised they kept me on, but it paid off for them in the end to have the patience with me to get better.
9. If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice that would help them better navigate the comics industry, what would it be?
Don’t compromise your principles. It happened a couple of times that I let things slide that I shouldn’t or took a job or two that weren’t worth it. My biggest regret, however, was leaving the industry all together for 15 years. Yes, the reasons were for my family but, looking back, there were probably ways that I could have kept my hand in. I lost so much ground and there are so many new faces, now, that I don’t know and they don’t know me.
10. After you die, would you rather your memory be memorialized with an overpass or a parking lot?