by Pam Auditore
Traditional line art is the most utilized method for making comics, relying on a multiplicity of styles to produce variety in the art form. It is the most economically graphic way to tell a visual story. Which is possibly why few in the field attempt an expressive painterly method to produce sequential panels.
Not wholly abandoning line art, Ben Templesmith‘s use of materials convey viscerally felt moods as only a painting can. Like Dave MacKean in Batman: Arkham Asylum, Ben Templesmith‘s art in 30 Days of Night gets applause for expanding the comic medium, but also provokes strong reactions against a style that doesn’t conform to a preconceived idea of what sequential art should look like. Of my comic book friends, those who grew up with their concept of art as the line work of Jack Kirby and most other artists in the field, are utterly confused by Templesmith’s style or why anyone might find it preferable.
I was able to have a few minutes with Mr. Templesmith at Long Beach Comic Con in November of 2013, and discussed his educational background and approach to designing panels and his newest project: Squidder.
PA: Tell me about your training in art. Did you always gravitate to and less representational art? What artists influenced you? If I was to say. I’d say Turner had some influence on you.
BT: Training in art? Heh. No real training. I have a design degree, which taught me a lot of theory really, and I took life drawing classes from 16… but I’m not of the opinion anyone need spend thousands on education to do something so personal as art… which is about practice and finding your own path really, apart from how to use some actual equipment perhaps. I’d love to say Turner was an influence but I’m the product of falling in love with Ralph Steadman, Victor Ambrus, Dave McKean and Ash Wood in my formative artistic years. I don’t think I’ll ever be realistic in my art but I do revel in the fact traditional comic readers consider me “sketchy” and hard to come to grips with. Just happy being myself and “feeling” my way in the drawings more than anything.
PA: Were you also trained in illustration? Were you taught comic art or did you have to teach yourself?
BT:Apart from reading a few books on storytelling I’m really self taught when it comes to everything comics. I’m not fancy. I just figured things out as I went. Still am. People would be disturbed to learn I still use a mouse for all the computer side of things.
PA: How did you become involved in doing Graphic Novels?
BT:That’s a long and involved story mainly dealing with online forums, posting art and having the right people see the right thing at the right time. I never attended a con before I “broke” in… and I actually broke in twice… though the first project, a Vertigo one, never saw print due to departmental politics that had nothing to do with me. It worked out since it meant I could dedicate myself full time to HELLSPAWN, as TMP had asked me to continue on after Ash Wood left the book. Then in between issues of that I did 30 Days of Night with Steve Niles and from there it got optioned as a movie to some rather big news… and then I didn’t worry about work ever again since I kept making my own, rather than relying on a publisher to hire me to draw their books, as a financial model. It’s been the usual way of my career to only make a living if a book actually sells, so collected miniseries in to TPB’s is what I’ve historically dealt with.
PA: 30 Days of Night is your most famous work. How did it come about?
BT: Two creators, bored, with downtime on another project they met on. A battle to get it published when all but one turned it down. Lots of hollywood meetings over a pretty original idea for a hook for a movie… that eventually stuck. It’s a pretty lucky break considering it was before horror comics and new original IP were very “cool” again, as they are much more now. ( Which is fantastic mind you. )
PA: Your style has become influential. There are books like “Awakening” who’s style have been influenced by you and have almost no figurative work at all, but work purely on atmosphere.
BT:Well, thanks! I’ll take your word for being influential. That’s for others to judge. I don’t really bother looking at things that look derivative of my own in any real way. More power to them but I have no wish to look into a distorted mirror. All I do is cheap tricks really. So many people better than me. I’m horribly unaware of a lot of comics coming out these days that may be riffing on what I did before. But all I did was riff on where others have already been myself. Art is a journey. It only made me sad once, that someone was trying to use aspects ( rather strongly ) of my “style”… and that was only because I thought they’d already found their voice as an artist and I loved their style!
PA: How do you see your job working with a writer? What is your process in working with them? Do you do layouts the way the average commercial comic artists do?
BT:My job is to read a script and try to follow directions. Assuming the directions can be understood! Process? I read a script and interpret best I can. That’s really it. I’m not a fan of endless chat over every single panel. Would be rather exhausting. I’m really pretty simple. ( Yes, mentally too. ) The way I’d work, as with any artist, is up to the nature of the project and the editor, especially if it’s something corporate. So it always varies in process. Doing everything myself is a much more liberating process since it’s all in my head and soley about me getting what I have, down on paper.
PA: Can you tell me what happened with “Ten Grand?” Was there mis-communication?
BT:Well, like I’ve told some other interviewers, I was dealing with family stuff & things a lot more important than comics but also an already massive workload & realization I have no business attempting to do the monthly grind comic, especially if it’s not at least a creator owned thing.
Sorry to anyone who hoped I’d be able to stick around on Ten Grand but it’s in good hands. I’m just not cut out for such a tough book and collapsed in a heap. Figuring out the motivations for why *I should do what I do* has been an ongoing process for the last few years. And money isn’t everything. Feeling totally invested and owning what I do? Now that’s everything, as I’ve discovered. It’s what I built any sort of career on, and it’s where my heart lies. Yet I’ve not written and drawn anything *for myself* for years now. WORMWOOD, FELL, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, WELCOME TO HOXFORD,CHOKER and such things were done for love & the pure passion of doing them. Not a “job”. I can’t really fathom the creatives who endlessly flit from corporate property to corporate property as the totality of a career.
If I’m lucky enough to follow my own destiny, I’d be a fool not to take that opportunity. And I’ve definitely been a fool.
PA: You have a KickStarter project “Squidder”, what is it about?
BT:Heh, it’s about doing the stuff I’m truly passionate about and getting back to what I’m really known for in comics, outside things like 30 Days of Night which is the only comic most people have ever been exposed to from me. It’s the much smaller audience, who seem to dig the stuff I come up with myself who I need to get back to and have some fun with. I’m truly lucky to have those people dig my work so much. And thanks to Kickstarter, I can go completely direct to those people and anyone else who’d like to be along for the ride with an interesting new book.
The SQUIDDER? Well, I do nothing but talk squid all day. I’ve a love for all things tentacles and horror, it’s rather publically know. So I had to finally embrace it with a proper book I can truly let loose on. It’s been a bunch of ideas in my head and in various notes for several years now, on plains, at airports, on subways… I just needed an overall narrative to fit a few things together and expand on the world I’ve created.
And that’s where THE SQUIDDER himself comes in. He’s a vet, who lost everything and everyone else moved on. He’s a relic. There’s going to be lots of Squid religion involved, the heat death of the universe, ideas of control, propaganda… and a few sexy squid ladies and horrific fight scenes along the way. Bits of Conan the Barbarian, Mad Max, Cthulhu type stuff… a bit of everything I already dig really.
PA: Why are you drawn to horror and crime stories?
BT:I don’t really know. I think, on a level, they’re a little more honest about how horrible the world is. They’re a little more “real”. Especially for an industry about men in brightly coloured tights for the most part beating up blue collar criminals. I had a perfectly normal, lovely upbringing so maybe it’s the dark stuff that tempts me since i had it so good, early on.
PA: What other projects are you currently or hope to be working on in the future?
BT:I’m keeping my ambitions small right now. i have the next 4-5 months planned out with a project I’m going to focus on. After that, maybe a small rest before I tackle something new. Usually life has been planned out completely for years in advance but that sort of sends one bonkers at times. So screw that. It’s time to actually feel free a little, and see where the brain wants to go next, creatively. Perhaps more SQUIDDER, if people dig it enough. ( And yes maybe some WORMWOOD and FELL, I did promise Warren… )