Ben Templesmith has hacked out quite an eerie niche for himself since his breakout art work on IDW’s horror comic, 30 Days of Night, and has since become a formidable creator on books like Singularity 7 and Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, for which he received an International Horror Guild nod. He’s had two art books released, (Tommyrot and Conluvio), has been nominated for an Eisner for the last four years, and along with superstar writer Warren Ellis created a new comics format with their FELL series. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s also an Aussie. What a guy!
Ben, when you were growing up in Perth, were you an avid comic fan with ambitions to work in the industry. Was that always the dream?
Yes, my one burning ambition was to get published telling stories in Anglo-American comic books basically. Since I was about 13.
Your style is very distinctive. Was it equal parts experimentation and admiration for other artists that brought you there?
Everyone has influences and usually they’re much more prominent when you’re first starting out. I guess you could say my current style is the end product of loving people like Ash Wood, Victor Amrus, Richard Searle and Ralph Steadman, and the fact I have to do what I have to to meet a deadline. That forces you to streamline a process quite a bit too. Especially on the computer side of things.
What’s the reaction when you tell people you create comics for a living?
Usually a blank look. Then they assume I mean Superman or Spider-Man or something. Then once I’m past the “No, I create my own comics, things without the guys in tights you’ve heard of,” I have to explain how comics are actually made from the ground up as most people are largely ignorant of anything to do with comics in general. I never do, but I should probably just shut up and say “Yeah, like Batman and stuff,” and leave it at that, rather than try to fight perceptions and stereotyping.
Were you able to play much of Dead Space while working on the comic tie-in? Are you a hardcore gamer who throws things at the TV when you’re frustrated, or do you just pick up the controller every now and then?
No, I didn’t play any. I watched others. I could have played some when I was up at EA headquarters. Nope, I’m not a hard core gamer. I just got an XBOX actually. I’ve long preferred strategy games on a PC more than the console shooters, though they’re good for a bash when in the right mood for sure. There’s a helluva lot of artistry in them these days and that attracts me as an artist now as much as anything.
The movie did little to nothing for my comic book career. That was all started by the movie optioning hype 5 years before the film came out. But since the film, I’ve now got somewhat of a profile among the types that look to make movies, so it’s a good way to springboard into other media thanks to the movie I guess, but I don’t think it really made too much difference to my core work, which is comics, as I love them. Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse and FELL, with Warren Ellis have really developed that audience far, far more I think.
Moving from artist to writer, as you have done with Singularity 7 and Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse must be quite satisfying. Would you like to continue with that dual-creator role or will you always be a penciller at heart?
I was always thinking of my self as a “creator”, not just an artist who gets told what to draw. It just so happened I started out as only a work for hire artist. After that one book (Hellspawn for TMP) I’ve been doing creator owned, or part creator owned work that I own
a piece of for the most part ever since. It’s trying to create new things that you yourself own a stake in that drives me. I just like feeling personally invested, (apart from trying to tell stories and have an audience for them, which is why I love comics in general) and I’m lucky enough that IDW Publishing are willing to give me and a few like minded creators a home like that.
I should add that I’ve never been a penciller. I produce complete artwork. I’m an artist. I do the lot. Pretty much at this point the only thing I don’t do is the lettering, and I’d love to start lettering my own books too. Man, pencillers have it so easy! Especially now colourists are expected to be full painters, fleshing everything out far more than in earlier years. Colourists deserve more credit on a lot of books as far as I’m concerned.
You moved to San Diego only a few months ago, from Australia. What are the major differences that you’ve had to adjust to?
The timezone. The higher taxes. Absurd health care costs, absence of public transport, lack of intelligent planned city development and disorganized disfunctional bureaucracy, both public and private. Hey, you did ask! Perspective from other countries is a wonderful thing I reckon. Other than that though, San Diego and the US is a great place, full of opportunity, wonderful people and things I grew up with as a kid only seeing on TV.
IDW Publishing has been your creative home for the last few years. Would you like to eventually draw spandex clad superheroics for Marvel or DC at any point?
IDW Publishing have been fantastic to me and very supportive. I’d happily work on some spandex clad superheroics at Marvel or DC. They’d just have to ask. I’d still rather make up new characters though, rather than service existing ones. I could could even do that at IDW at some point, who knows.
Yes. I now cry myself to sleep every night. Warren had changed me long before I was even working in comics. Thanks to his vocal nature on the way of all things comics, as well as his work on things like Transmetropolitan, I’d already pretty much agreed with his idea of
the way things should work. Thanks to FELL though, I think I had a brand new audience get exposed to my work, some of which has followed through onto other things, which was an added bonus. I also got to grips on how comics storytelling, pacing, etc can really work, much more than before. ( FELL being a 9 panel grid thing ) I owe Warren muchly, not least for working on a book fantastically written, breaking a format in and being critically acclaimed.
I’m more into dark sci-fi fan than horror. I don’t like to squirm. I like to think and squirm at the same time. So stuff like Aliens, The Thing, Dark City I really dig. Huge historical epic fan too though, even if they never get the history right. I really should go and see Mongol.
Lastly, are there any hidden talents you possess that the Templesmith fans of the world should know about, like do you make a mean lasagne?
Well, I make a mean powered baby chowder but I’m not meant to say that in public apparently. My lawyers get upset, what with the murder trial coming and all.