INTERVIEW: BEN TEMPLESMITH
Interview conducted by Richard Evans
We're very glad to finally be able to showcase the work of Ben Templesmith here at PopImage. Ben's work is unconventional, he's the type of talent who's work will one day grace the pages of the most prestigiously formatted hardcovers. Ben is the type of artist you'll see working with the largest names in the industry, at the largest companies therin. Now, he's working with some of the Industry's brightest rising stars. Whether it's adapting Shakespeare's HAMLET at Unbound Comics, ZODIAC at Nextcomics.com, AFTER DAYS OF PASSION with Antony Johnston or MR. GOMMORAH with Andrew Dabb, Templsemith brings a unique look and feel to all of his projects. Don't be surprised when he makes it big, because we're telling you now - it'll happen.
How would you describe your work to someone who is seeing it for the first time? What exactly is the theme of your work?
I guess the things I place most emphasis on (or try to at least) are mood and atmosphere. I'd say story telling ability too, but others will have to be the judge of that. But then, mood and atmosphere is a big part of storytelling ability anyway, much more than say, the painstaking attention to detail and bizarre amount of rendering you can get in some comics. What's up with that anyway?
Would you consider yourself an amateur trying to break in, or a
professional who hasn't gotten a break yet?
Well, technically I guess I'm a professional, in the sense that, yes, I've received money for doing some comic art... people willing to take a chance on me, and something a bit less conventional looking but no, no printed stuff out from any of the traditional bigger companies. I am a complete nobody.
I wouldn't say that. If anything, I think you're on the frontline of an internet movement. Previously, comic creators haven't had the global reach those today have. How do you feel about creators with online portfolios and instant access to fans and creators?
Well online portfolios and such are brilliant… they're great for the initial reaction side of things. I've had some, shall we say 'interesting' things develop just from having some stuff on the net, but nothing I should talk about yet. Instant access to fans and creators is good, you can't beat interaction! Of course, you need to exclude the bickering and flame wars that pop up all over the place, and some of the other things that don't exactly help the general public's perception of what comics are about these days, know what I mean?
Sometimes the subject matter doesn't lend itself to an obvious atmosphere. For example, its one thing to set the mood for Spawn, it's another to do the same for the Transformers. What do you do in these situations?
Well, I don't exactly think anything much I could do would suit Transformers a whole lot! But I've never really thought about it much. I'm mostly getting asked to do the offbeat/weird sort of stuff, Ancient Irish Monks and witchcraft, swearing sex obsessed grannies (no, I'm not making that one up), and other things more… shall we say, heavier and a bit meaningful in the story department. So trying to work some kind of, hmm... quirkiness I guess you could call it into the art, that and in some cases a more realistic style are what I'm aiming for basically. You could say I'm typecast already and I haven't even done anything of note. Heh.
You named Jae Lee as one of your influences. Lee is an artist whose style has changed very drastically in the past few years. Do you feel that your work will evolve like Lee's, into something new, or do you think that like David Mack or Bill Sienkiewicz your style is pretty much your style?
I hope it evolves. I WANT it to evolve, put it that way. I'm still a long way from where I want to be visually. I'd be doing the medium a disservice if ten years from now I was still doing work that people could say "oh, that looks like Ashley Wood". (Not that that's a bad thing!)
You are currently working on Hamlet for Unbound Comics.com. Your webpage says you're up to fifty pages and counting. Have you done any more pages? How big is this story going to be?
Yes, done many more than fifty now... I lose count after that... I think overall it's intended to be somewhere between ten, to maybe 15 'chapters' (OK, issues) long. I mean, it's bloody Hamlet innit? You could condense it, but it wouldn't really do it justice. The same might be said for trying to be too ambitious with the length too I guess. Time will tell. The main man of Unbound Comics, Aaron Thacker is responsible for the actual adaptation. It was all his idea in the first place. If there were a hundred more guys like him... well, maybe the business would be in different shape today. He's having a go. Got to support people like that. The overall goal at the end of the day though... or decade as the case may be for me, is for it to be one complete volume. It would be stupid not to do that eh?
Do you see this work as something you could sell through a Chapters or other huge bookstore chain?
Absolutely. You'd have to think that being Hamlet, they'd at least consider stocking it right? I mean, most people seem to be exposed to Shakespeare at some point in their lives, so it's got to have some appeal, but more importantly, appeal to a bunch of readers who probably aren't interested in "The Adventures of Captain Nut Hugger and The Spandex Covered Super Llama". Pitching things at a broader audience is what we're trying to do. Oh, and making some money would be nice (He said, naively).
How did you feel about taking on Shakespeare?
Well, it's a bit more 'mainstream' in the true sense than the general stuff that permeates the American/English speaking market. That was one of the main reasons for accepting it in the first place. I'll always jump at any chance to try and help break down the perceptions of the general public about the medium. If it goes off, then good, if it doesn't, well at least we tried.
Unbound Comics is offering the books online, by selling the comic as an electronic product that you directly download. What is your opinion of this untested sales model?
Ummm, couldn't you have asked me this question last year? Heheh, what with that lovely Nasdaq of yours. My opinion is that you have to have a go. It's pretty clear that something is going to happen sometime soon in regards to the 'direct market' way of doing things. It's good to explore and give every alternative a chance.
What can you tell me about the compensation for creators working for Unbound comics, do you still retain rights to your art, are you paid a sales percentage, etc? It seems that "how much you make" is the most secretive part of the comic industry so feel free to say "no comment".
Unbound is, in many ways, a distribution system. They would just get a small percentage of each sale (The point being of course, that because paper and ink are not really involved, the whole product is a helluva lot cheaper, and the money, apart from UC's cut, goes directly to the creator). Creators retain all rights, but for absolute specifics, it's all up at their site. Some software hitch/upgrade of the actual digital delivery system is currently delaying a proper launch though. All solved soon.
Do you think electronic comics will ever replace the paper books we are
Probably. One day. The technology just over the horizon seems much too interesting and useful for us to just stay with paper. I do love paper though. People won't just be reading off boring old screens though, yuck.
Getting back to your webpage, what is 'Existence is Futile'?
Umm, one of those ideas you get at 3am and think, "Yeah, this is great!" Don't know if I'll do any more, too busy, but the intention was to just to put myself into a strip and I'd spout off about something or other… but I could never really think of anything much to say.
What about 'Blooming Inertia'? What is the story behind that and exactly how many people are involved?
It's a collective of sorts, set to do too much, but the seeds are there. Chad Hindahl is the main bloke, very talented music guy he is. He came up with it. Just a loose bunch of creative types planning on doing a few creative endeavors that are slanted slightly the same way. There's a section on it up at my site, when there's things going on, there'll be activity there.
Can you explain to me how you got the ZODIAC gig with Dan Curtis Johnson and what the story is about?
The Nextcomics thing just came about when one of the organizers, Arni Gunnarsson, emailed me and asked if I could help out. It's only the odd illustration every now and again, to help illustrate a series of short stories so I leapt at the chance. Of course, having Dan as the writer was even better... as the stuff I've been sent is incredible. Just one of those things where I was one of the names to spring to mind when Arni needed someone I think.
The North American comics market tends to be very egocentric. Do you feel that in order to be successful you need to break into the North American market? Can you sustain a comicbook career in Australia or is the market too small?
Nah. Australia is basically an extra state of America when it comes to comic book tastes and buying habits. There was a time when there were quite a few local books, but most have since died in the arse or the people responsible for them have moved onto bigger and better things. We get stuff out of the Diamond catalog just like you feller do.
I don't think I need to break into the American Market to feel successful either. Just having a few people compliment me on what I've already done makes me feel that. Besides, as I've recently learned, the world of comics is a lot larger than just the American Market. I just need to learn some other languages and I'll be set.
Who has inspired you the most? Do you find more influence in the comicbook medium, or in the artistic endeavors of famous painters?
The most? Ashley Wood. Seeing his work for the first time in a locally produced anthology book back when I was a kiddy was a breath of fresh air. Ink was made for spitting, splatting, rubbing in with your fingers... who needs fancy linework when you can get a great texture with a thumb print right? Gradually I've then found some of the people who influenced him or were in a similar vein, like McKean. What does that man eat for breakfast, and where can I get some?
Music is what most influences me these days though. It's central to the process now.
Looking at your work, I often see underlying images, faces appearing in the shadows or words scrawled across the page that reveal themselves almost subconsciously. How do you create such effects? What medium do you use to bring your work to life? I've seen some stuff that is obviously ink and paper, while other times its one step up from magic, like the appearance of the ghost in Hamlet. How do you do it?
There's no one set way of doing it really. You just have to think a bit differently about the images you're making. I scan in lots of things… some look good, some don't. Never scan a dead goanna. (err, a largish lizard). Not good. The trick is to look closely at other people's stuff, and try to reverse engineer it. Once you know Photoshop (and that's all I really use), it's just a case of trial, error, accident and experimentation. I know nothing about drawing directly on screen though. All I do, exists in some part or another, in the physical world first.
What mediums do work in primarily and what are the tools you use to do it?
A lot of ink and paper, water colours, acrylics, masking fluid, sand, biros, fine liners, scalpels, masking tape, safety pins... anything really. Just scan it all in and pray it vaguely matches the idea and vision in your head.
If you were able to work on one big project for any of the companies out there, with any writer, colourist, etc, who would it be and what project would you like to do?
Ok, err… something dark and controversial, a creator owned property, graphic novel length, full colour, written by Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison or likeminded people, all drawn/painted/scratched/shat out by me, with the design qualities and look of many of the TMP books. I have no real ambition so to speak, of drawing much in the way of established characters, though Batman would be interesting.
I like to start a little controversy by asking creators who has pissed
them off the most. So, who do you think needs the axe?
Heh. You WANT me to make some enemies don't you? Ok, Stan Lee. He pisses me off. Having him as a 'spokesman' in any sense of the word for the commercial comic book medium, sends all the wrong messages about how we should be perceived now. I was cringing at that time when his face seemed everywhere trumpeting SLM. Let people like Ellis and Bendis have the limelight and the mainstream press. They do useful things with it. But then, I'm still a nobody, what do I know?
Thanks to Ben Templesmith for taking the time to get involved in this interview. You can visit Ben's site at Templesmith.com.
We'd also like to say good luck to the ambitious Unboundcomics.com and to all our friends at Nextcomics.com. Visit them both for more great Templemsith art and a collection of other great talent.
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