Robotnicc and his comics
The link between comic books, cartoon shows, films and video games is pretty solid. Their connections go back a couple of decades past.
Comic book characters started appearing in motion pictures in the 1940s as film serials (e.g. Adventures of Captain Marvel, 1941); animated television series were first adapted to the big screen also in the early ‘40s (Dumbo, 1941); comic book figures starred in video games in the late ‘70s (Superman on Atari 2600, 1979); movies based on video games premiered in theaters as early as 1986 in Japan (Super Mario Bros.: Peach-Hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen!) and in 1994 internationally (Double Dragon); and so on.
Beyond the link that connects them, altogether they became an inspiration for Niccolo Balce to do something.
From walls to Disney and more
“Video games, cartoons and comic books got me interested in drawing,” he says. “I looked up to these entertainment outlets since I thought they made art more grounded and practical.”
Inspired by the Atari game Pole Position, Balce, as a kid, drew F1 cars on the walls using crayons. Perhaps seeing his potential, his architect dad then gave him sketchbooks and proper equipment in grade school which he filled with drawings influenced by his ‘80s childhood.
Motivated to be an illustrator, because he thought “that since these things (video games, comic books, etc.) are bought, the guys who did drawings for these things are probably making a living out of it,” he took up Bachelor of Fine Arts major in Visual Communications at the University of the Philippines to train traditionally and taught himself Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash on the side.
Years later, from the kid who drew F1 cars on the walls, Balce went on to become an illustrator whose works have been published in various comic book publications and magazines (Viper Comics and Xbox Nation Magazine), were featured in artbooks (Exotique 4), trading cards (Street Fighter), mobile and social games (Disney Interactive), and have won him major recognition (1st Place in Wizard’s “Bayonetta Re-envisioned” Competition). His creations were even pirated in France, something that made him simultaneously feel terrible and flattered. But “I’ll probably seek legal action the next time it happens.”
At 34, Balce, also known as Robotnicc (a play on Sonic The Hedgehog 2 villain Dr. Robotnik and his nickname “Nicc”), has built himself pretty impressive credentials to back him up as he progresses into the industry and makes a name in California, where he and his wife Jamie and dog Eva are currently based.
Here in the Philippines, there’s instant respect and admiration for artists whose creations have brought life to Disney and all its subsidiaries’ projects – and one of them is Balce. For three years (2011-2013), he worked as senior artist for Disney Interactive, responsible for concept and production art for the graphics used in Armies of Magic and Pirates of the Caribbean: Isles of War.
“Disney was great while it lasted. And it lasted far longer than I expected. I always thought I’d be out after the first project was done,” he enthuses.
More than the perks (free meals), he says he felt a happy disbelief “that I was somehow working for something I’ve sort of been shooting for ever since I was a kid.” He shares, “Never thought I’d actually get in but it happened and it’s done! And now on to new things.”
He’s now working for mobile gaming company RockYou, drawing the environments for Kitchen Scramble while doing many other projects – commissioned and personal – on the side.
However, to this date, he still refuses to put a label on his drawing style.
“I’ve never really pegged a concrete drawing style for the way I draw things,” admits Balce. “It used to be a combination of manga and Western drawing, but now it’s morphing into something else that’s mixed with influences from WPA (Work Projects Administration) posters and UPA (United Productions America) cartoons because of a recent project’s mid-century modern style that was fascinating to me.”
He believes his style is still evolving into something else. For someone who’s done digital artwork for almost a decade, it seems natural that he wants to go back to the traditional medium. He says his style “seems to be heading back to traditional painting,” and he’s been “wanting to balance it out and brush up on my traditional media skills on inks and gouache.”
“We’ll see and wait where it takes me,” declares Balce.
The magic in comics
For comic artists, making comics does not require superpower, but it sure needs a set of special skills and the right dose of magic. As for Balce, it’s an ongoing process that goes on until it’s done and he’s happy with the outcome.
“With comic book creation, I outline a story first and make some bullet points before I do a quick draft of a few pages,” he begins. “After I’ve done some drafts, I’d tighten them up for a second pass, and if I don’t hate them, I’d go ahead and do a final pass with inks and values or colors. Then I do the whole process again for the next few pages until I’ve finished the whole thing, checking to see if it reads or flows or seems to be timed right, then going back and fixing out the kinks on a few problematic pages.”
And if Balce had to pick a favorite among everything he’s done so far, he says it would have to be his Random Encounter comic published under Viper Comics in 2005. “It was a story about a group of friends who stumbled upon some dried leaves that turned out to have healing properties powerful enough to bring people back from the dead,” he narrates.
“It’s absolutely far from perfect, and it shows how bad I am at writing, but it still is something special for me.”