BEN TEMPLESMITH ANSWERS 15 QUESTIONS WITH JULINDA MORROW
Ben Templesmith is a New York Times best selling artist and writer with a delicious sense of humour and a dark imagination. Ben caught my attention with his moody and expressive art on 30 Days of Night, and cemented my love for his work with Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse.
Ben’s résumé includes work on Star Wars, Dr. Who and, strangely enough, G.I. Joe.
A gallery of Ben’s nightmarish art follows this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art?
Ben Templesmith: It was simply what I always wanted to do. Tell stories. Primarily visually. It chose me really.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
BT: I have a design degree…no specific comics training.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
BT: Well…whoever came up with the first cartoons for newspapers and elsewhere really. Words and pictures put together to tell stories have been around for a very long time! I’d say Will Eisner, obviously, for the graphic novel format.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
BT: Words and pictures… although you don’t even need the words… as put in a sequence to show the passing of time and/or communicate information.
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining?
BT: The only thing that limits you is your ability to imagine and draw things. Same as with a writer and a novel [or] as an artist and their talent to express what’s in their head. If someone feels constrained, I’d suggest they should find a different outlet… because comics as a medium is about as free as you can get technically. (Have you seen Hollywood film budgets lately?)
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
BT: The ability to tell a story. It’s harder than most think and there are some masters… and there’s some less adept. Interpret a script, if it’s not their own; the ability to sell their work to an audience and/or a publisher, and not get fleeced in the process – though, sadly, that often just comes with experience.
JM: How do you approach your work process?
BT: My work process is simple. I plot out a whole story by scene; then write dialogue for it; then chop up the dialogue to work within panels and pages in layouts; then I finally get to the pages themselves. At no point do I do a real “script” since I know what I want already in my own head. My work is all done by hand, with the final art scanned in, and I usually colour it myself in Photoshop.
JM: How many hours a day do you work? Are you uniformly productive on any given day or more productive on some days than others?
BT: Right now twelve-hour days at least. I have a lot to catch up on. Am constantly behind and have deadlines coming out of my ar…uh… my ears. I’m not uniformly productive. No creative person really is, despite what middle management types or publishers might think or wish. Sometimes it goes smoothly; sometimes it’s like pulling teeth!
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
BT: I was a lucky one that got a movie deal as his first major project out of a co-created book. I didn’t look back from there. So in that sense I hit the ground running and have been trying to live down my earliest work ever since. (As it’s the one the masses usually judge me on, [whereas] my actual audience has picked up work I’ve done since.)
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
BT: Remember that a publisher is a business first, anything else second. Stick up for yourself in contracts, don’t assume what’s good for them is also good for you. Learn what reversion rights are and demand them always. You did ask!
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
BT: Impossible to really say…it changes all the time these days. The work of friends around me, mostly; the seasons, as well. I’m having my first experience of traditional northern hemisphere seasons now that I finally live in a place that gets them. Rather wonderful.
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
BT: Getting comics out in as many forms as possible is a good thing. Destroying business models… well, that’s a separate rather large discussion. I still greatly value print media in actual print. Some people seem to confuse comics with a new, semi-animated thing that may eventually be what comics become…but right now some of them, I think, are mislabeled as “comics”. It’s a new frontier though. (I think I was the first creator to push for a dedicated app just for my work. The landscape is always changing though.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
BT: I’d actually have books marketed to the real world. (There should be an association that just pushes “comics” in America. Every other industry puts ads on TV and elsewhere to change perceptions about them and their products… look at the Clean Coal fools with their agenda!) The current direct market model isn’t a healthy one. I’m no expert; I just know a system that’s not designed to grow a medium when I see one. Online is rapidly congealing the same way with very few dominant players trying to lock everything up. I have no idea if that will be a good thing or if they’ll simply cannibalize and feed off the existing audiences.
I would also make it law that no comic could be produced while the creators were wearing underwear. All work must be done commando style.
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
BT: Bloody squid… Ralph Steadman?
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
BT: To pay my bills and retire comfortably. (That doesn’t usually happen in American comics!) I guess, to make creations that push boundaries…both in terms of content and in terms of other media.