Ben Templesmith is a creator who should need no introduction. His distinct, visually dynamic art has appeared in such titles as 30 Days of Night, Fell, Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, Batman for DC’s digital-first series, and many others. Mr. Templesmith is a founding member of the 44Flood project, whose first crowdfunded books are currently arriving to backers around the globe.
As I pull out my digital recorder and get set up for our interview at the Emerald City Comicon, Mr. Templesmith cheerfully chats with fans while working on a commission piece. His paintbrush skillfully washes green onto the tentacles coiled around everyone’s favorite barbarian. Renditions of a few of his “saints” (Hunter S. Thompson, Edgar Allan Poe, & H.P. Lovecraft) survey the convention floor from prints displayed on his table. I notice that his Australian accent is more subdued in comparison to when I first met him at a convention years ago. He’s dressed sharply in a three-piece suit. I’ve always found Mr. Templesmith to be savvy, well-read, and friendly to talk with. All set up, we begin the interview.
Ben Templesmith: I’ve done a couple of concept things for Joe, and I guess he liked them enough that he said, “You know what? I’m actually doing comics for these. You should do this one.” I said, “okay.” It’s his baby. It’s his thing. I’m just drawing it, so I’m work for hire basically on it. But I could not resist working with the guy that created Babylon 5.
He shaped my entire science fiction world view.
Have you guys already been quietly working on it for a quite a while? It comes out at the beginning of April.
Yeah, we’re two issues in. I’m waiting on the script for issue three. I’ve got to get the cover done in a couple of days, so I’m working on that now. And it will debut at C2E2, so I do believe there will be a special cover too.
I don’t know about devil-may-care… It’s actually a love story, so I’m covering all the genres. It’s a horror/love story really. Every time he dies—dies nobly—that’s the risky thing, he gets five or ten minutes with his dead wife in the afterlife. Then he’s come back and has to do it all over again… because angels are horrible. They don’t deal fair.
So he’s being manipulated?
It’s not just the demons you have to worry about. [At this point Ben flashes a small, mischievously knowing grin before proceeding.] So it’s a very fantastical mythological book. And I do get to draw some rather disgusting demons. Issue two is my favorite so far. Issue one obviously has the obligatory establishing stuff. Issue two is where you really get into the meat and it gets really gory.
Is the story going to unfold in twelve-issue arcs?
I’m definitely on for twelve issues. If it’s successful I’d happily do more, but that’s up to Joe too. Of course, I’d love to do more. But that’s the future, so who knows?
Let’s switch gears and talk about 44Flood a little bit. The response to your Kickstarter projects so far has been overwhelming. Were you guys surprised by that?
Who would have guessed people were interested in passionate artists of a relatively okay quality doing their own thing? It’s all thanks to Kickstarter and crowdfunding and the fact that you can so directly contribute to people who interest you. A normal publishing company wouldn’t want to spend anywhere near the amount of money we’re spending on this book. It’s not financially successful for us. But we wanted to do the first one, TOME, as sort of a way to say “we’re here” and put it on the map. So it is completely just a showcase to let people see that we like to do this stuff and be creative. We’re all about the creative people profiting from what they do. We don’t own anything—we’re not interested in that. We just want to make these beautiful artifacts and sell them to people that really care. In doing so, we hope to expose some these painters and fine artists to the world who are actually huge in their spheres. Some of them even want to do comics. So we’re going to have some of that—some cross-pollination.
It seems like it’s always been important to you to expose people to other artists whose work you respect. Like Menton3 for example. I’d never heard of him until you shared some of his work on social networks. Then I saw that he had comics coming out and picked them up and loved them. When you were starting out in the industry was there anyone who helped you?
I’d have to say Warren Ellis. In many ways he was a mentor. He’s promoted so many people and helped so many people, because he’s given them his support. Apart from 30 Days [of Night] which, you know, was the beginning of everything. Warren has, throughout the way, offered advice and been supportive and promoted…
Yeah, he’s someone I really look up to as well.
Warren has my undying loyalty–until I’m brought back as one of the undead. At that point it gets complicated.
[At this point more eager fans arrive at Mr. Templesmith’s table.]
Speaking of the undead, are you ever going to do any more Wormwood books?
Yes! I will be doing at least one more when I have time. Life has taken over for a bit. You know, when J.M.S. asks you to do a book, it kind of puts a few other things on the back burner. I just have to get financially stable again. Just so everyone knows: I don’t get paid to do Wormwood. And I’m not looking for money. I only want to get paid when it sells. It’s a labor of love. And I’ll do it—I have a few stories written. So I’ll finish it when I can pay my rent and actually have the time to put the love into it. No one pays me to do it—it’s not a company book. It’s just me… having fun.
It’s an anthology and I contributed two pages.
Will it be a continuing anthology or just a one-time thing?
I’m not sure, but it’s got some big names in it.
You live in New York but have studio space in Chicago, correct?
I live in New York and Chicago.
Was your decision to contribute to Occupy Comics influenced at all by seeing the treatment of the protesters in New York’s Zuccotti Park?
I’ve been angry for a long time at the bullshit that is the non-capitalist system in this country. I’m a diehard liberal who doesn’t like corporate welfare or casino banking.
I’ve noticed that you pay closer attention to American politics than most Americans.
It’s because your politics are so interesting and there’s so many moronic, uneducated people in power. I mean, evolution is a debate here. I come from a country where we solved certain issues 20 or 30 years ago.
Are there other really noticeable political or social differences you’ve noticed between living here and living in Australia—aside from the inability of bartenders here to pour a proper pint?
Well, health care is the big thing. I’ve noticed the difference. It makes it hard to live here. I mean, living here is certainly a choice. Even with Obama’s plan, it’s certainly not universal health care. It costs people disproportionately more. And the tax system is way more complicated.
[A few more fans arrive at the booth. Mr. Templesmith is always a popular guy at conventions, and I don’t want to be that inconsiderate member of the press monopolizing too much of his time.]
Okay, one final question: Is there any writer you haven’t worked with yet that you’d like to?
[Chuckles] Every time I get asked this now, I say “no.” I actually do say “no” because I’ve worked with Warren. Warren is the only guy that I quake in my boots at—I just respect his work so much. But then someone like J.M.S. asks me to something and I’m like, “You know what? I never even dreamed of that! I never thought of it.” So I have no idea who I would like to work with. I really like working with friends or writing my own stuff, but every now and again I get an offer I cannot refuse. I have no ambition to work with anyone except for good people. I’d love to do something with Warren again—when we finish Fell—which we will come back to again… eventually. But that’s a loooong story.
A very sincere thank you to Mr. Templesmith for taking the time to talk with us. Be sure to follow him on his various social networks: Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, as well as check out his website and 44Flood. You can watch his Secret Origins Spotlight interview from ECCC here. Look for Ten Grand when it hits store shelves on May, 1st.