Filed under: About Thought Bubble, Film and Sequential Art, Guests 2009, Minterviews, Programme 2009 | Tags: Anime, Ben Templesmith, Comics, Leeds comic con, Leeds comic festival, Leeds comic workshops, Leeds Thought Bubble comic festival, Sequential Art, UK Conventions
Alright guys, this it it – we’re now less than a week away from the start of this year’s Thought Bubble. Fasten your seatbelts, keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times, and do not leave your seat until we’ve come to a complete stop (around 5pm Sunday 22nd November). Otherwise enjoy yourselves, it’s promising to be a belter.
In celebration of the impending awesomeness, we have the final in our series of minterviews with some of our professional guests – today sees Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night, Fell, Wormwood Gentleman Corpse) take time out to talk to us, the results of which are below for your delight and delectation. Get some.
Hi Ben, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today; for starters, could you tell us how your comic book work first came about?
I technically broke-in twice into comics, at the same time virtually. One was via Joe Casey on a project he wanted to do at Vertigo, called The Darwin Theory, which we actually started, but, alas, never ended up seeing print for one reason or another. My first actual work the world knows though was as the new artist on Todd McFarlane’s Hellspawn, after Brent Ashe, then TMP art-director saw my work online, and I think he said Todd walked by and noticed he was looking at something on his screen, and it basically went from there!
Your artistic style is not what most people would consider ‘traditional’ comic book art, was this a conscious decision to reflect the, often gothic, tones of titles you’ve worked on, or is it simply your natural illustrative style?
That always makes me laugh. Being “non traditional” in comics means I’m, kind of, just “art” to the rest of the world instead of the perceived stereotypical “comic” style. It’s great that the medium has opened up now to a whole variety of eclectic styles though, in the last few decades certainly. As with most artists I guess my style is simply about being an extension of who I am to some degree. I always loved the darker side of things, and atmospherics – that just translates to the art really. I always try to slightly tailor things depending on the project though, of course.
Do you feel that this ‘stereotypical comic style’ is, perhaps, one of the main reasons that it’s taken so long for comic books to become accepted, by the mainstream, as a culturally relevant storytelling medium?
I still don’t think it has. Sure, we now have the “graphic novel” being a cool buzz-word, but all the general population still think they are, in general, is superheroes. Obviously they’ve had great success now, but a medium still isn’t one genre. A few more successful non-superhero stories that are just, well, good stories that have more interesting art could change that, but I won’t hold my breath just yet. It would just be nice if comics had the comparable success of, say, a Harry Potter, or a Twilight series – to really break it open with a bona fide cultural phenomenon – to change mindsets completely. I can dream, no? I only see the quest for “acceptance” as a way to guarantee a viable future for the medium though – not for riches, or glory for glory’s sake.
Has your individual style adapted to embrace the recent advances in digital illustration techniques, or do you prefer to work with more orthodox materials?
To be honest, not really. I started using the computer soon after I started. Nothing that I do now has fundamentally changed since then. Sure, I updated to a new version of ‘photoshop’ a couple times, but I’m not doing anything differently than before. No fancy tricks or button pushing! I’ve probably decided to go more the other way, and do more real world art before I add any computer elements now, actually. I just want to make art, rather than have things only exist digitally.
You’re one of a select group of individuals within the comics industry who work as both writers and artists, notably having created a number of your own titles – is the artistic process markedly different when illustrating another writer’s script as opposed to your own?
Absolutely – well, until telepathy becomes more commonplace. Since I know what I’m doing in my own head, and I don’t need to bother explaining what I want to another person, doing it all yourself definitely is a different, more short hand experience. Pros and cons to both though. My scripts are more just loose notes until I really solidify the dialogue, which I have all worked out before I actually start to illustrate.
Within your own writing the subversion of human nature, either by supernatural (e.g. the vampires of 30 Days of Night) or scientific means (in Singularity 7), seems to be a recurring theme – is this something that you feel has a special relevance to the modern world?
Well, we’re a moderately intelligent species. As human beings, we’re almost masters of our own destiny these days. The only things that can really screw us are technology and fear, or a combo of both. We’ve seen the results of fear rather recently, and some aspects of science. My little stories that deal with things like that probably show I’m rather cynical when it comes to my thoughts as to if we’ll actually see the year 3000, I guess.
Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, the series which you’re currently best know for, while primarily gothic in tone, also has a very dark, macabre sense of humour running through it – do you enjoy the idea of making people laugh while also terrifying them?
Well, if anyone reads my twitter they probably know by now, I don’t hold back too much. I kind of dig challenging people, and saying uncomfortable things, but also funny things. I figure if you can show people rather nasty, uncomfortable things but make them laugh at them at the same time, it’s a rather good way to get by – something a little more complex and harder than simply grossing someone out for its sake alone. It, kind of, gives me a thrill to know I can actually make someone laugh out loud at my sick ideas sometimes. I feel honoured whenever anyone tells me that – never thought it’d be something I could do as a kid.
30 Days of Night was one of the first major cinematic adaptations of a less well-known comic property to find success at the box office – do you feel Hollywood’s increased interest in titles which don’t necessarily feature an eponymous Superhero for a protagonist has been beneficial to the comics industry?
Actually, it technically wasn’t! Previous to that one there’d been things like The Crow, or Road to Peridtion, etc, but, yes, as an actual comic that was trust more into the mainstream of the time – it did wonders to revitalize horror comics at the time – I guess you could say that.
Having non-super hero movies made, especially if they meet with success, is ultimately far more important to the comics medium than doing just superhero films. That’s a genre, one that people will get sick of one day perhaps, but stories themselves never go out of style, so if creatives can transfer successful ideas across mediums it helps keep talent creating new things, and bringing in new readers, hopefully, who don’t just have to like one genre. Imagine if the only ever books to get turned into movies were the Fabio romance-type novels, or just spy thirllers? Diversity is the best thing possible.
Speaking of films, the creatures in the 30 Days of Night comic series appear to draw inspiration from cinema rather than literature – did you have any specific referential sources in mind when developing your vampires?
I’ve been told my vampires looked like “Euro-trash”, though I’m not really sure what that means since I’m Australian, and don’t know what “Euro-trash” actually look like. I just figured they shouldn’t be the overly frilly-dressing romantic looking types, frequently popular, and now rather popular again. I guess. Never once did I think of Blade or anything though – for me I just drew inspiration from Charles Darwin (for my wanky theories on how vampiric eating machines would look via evolution), and the movie John Carpenter’s The Thing.
One final question, on the nature of comic conventions – are they something which you personally enjoy attending, either as a creator or a spectator?
I’ve been told I travel a lot, so I guess I do more than most. I personally love going to new places and meeting people who read my work in them. I could be working in a box factory, in an alternate universe, but instead I get to travel the world to meet people who actually appreciate my work. To me that’s amazing, and I never want to forget that or take it for granted. To meet the people who allow me to earn a living, well, that’s really something every creator should treasure.
Big props to Ben for talking to us, a fitting end to this series of minterviews. I’d just like to take the time to say a huge thank you to everyone who’s contributed to the blog this year, you’re all amazing! Hopefully we’ll have even more awesome stuff to induce wonderment in your brain sacs next year, but for now let’s focus on the more pressing engagement: Thought Bubble ’09!
In TB ’09 news, Leeds University’s Anime Society has made us some lovely promotional material, which, I’m sure you’ll all agree, kicks some serious ass.
Okay, enough for now, remember that Thought Bubble ’09 kicks off Thursday 19th November in the fair city of Leeds, we hope to see you there!