Ben Templesmith: Gentleman Artist

September 7, 2010

Scenes From The Road 10: Phoenix Part 1

“I don’t mind at all if people put my work on their skin,” says Australian comic creator Ben Templesmith. “More power to them. It’s a great honour really. I get a lot of requests to do up specific art for tattoos now too — which I can’t really do unless we turn them into commissions and they sadly cost a bit of money to get me to do up, so people have to really want them!”

It’s easy to see why people would pay top dollar for an original Templesmith piece though. The New York Times best-selling and multiple award-winning artist and writer’s slickly textured work has meteorically gained in popularity since he created 30 Days of Night with Steve Niles, the hugely successful comic that was adapted into a film by Hard Candy’s David Slade in 2007.

“I’m one of those cynical types when it comes to Hollywood. I don’t expect, nor do I seek to have comics turned into film,” he admits. “If it happens, great. But I’m more interested in making books that people get enthused for.”

And there have been quite a few books, to say the least. One of his other best-known works is crime comic Fell with author Warren Ellis. He’s also worked on licensed properties like Star Wars, Doctor Who, GI Joe and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

And then there are the books that he’s both written and illustrated, including the horror-comedy Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, the bloody werewolf mini-series Welcome to Hoxford, and the cyberpunkish Singularity 7.

“It’s a much more streamlined process when you don’t need to explain or create someone else’s vision compared with what’s already in your own head and getting it out,” he says. “I work much more organically when it’s just me because I know what I want obviously.”

Scenes From The Road 10: Phoenix Part 1

His own vision seems to be what’s resonated the most with his readers, judging by all the tattoos that fans are getting of his creations. “I do [see] a lot of Wormwood art and now, Welcome to Hoxford art as well, for the most part. Plus a few other books I’ve done.”

“I have two [favourites],” he adds. “One is a dedicated chest/collar Wormwood piece, with the main character and tentacles, on a fan named Xochitl. I knew it was going there when I did the art, so that was great. The second is an amazing amalgamation of Hoxford art, covering this guy named Keijo’s chest. Truly amazing work and a lot of it.”

Welcome to Hoxford Tattoo

Ben’s art, after all, does lend itself quite well to tattoos. It’d surprise his fans, however, to know that his work’s very distinctive look came about less out of some kind of artistic epiphany and more of a necessity. “The need to get stuff done by a deadline, that’s how my art develops really.”

That isn’t to say that Ben hasn’t drawn inspiration from the greats. He counts among his influences Richard Searle, Victor Ambrus, frequent Hunter S. Thompson collaborator Ralph Steadman, and fellow comic artists Ashley Wood and Paul Pope. “If you don’t know them, Google them,” Ben urges. “Great artists, all.”

Ben clearly knows all about what looks good — and not just when it comes to art, it seems. He’s earned a minor reputation as one of the smartest dressed men in comics, almost always being spotted decked out in a suit.

“If I’m in public, the least I can do is dress like I give a crap,” he shrugs. “Most people seem to get by in shorts and t-shirts. If I’m at home, sure. If I’m out doing appearances though? I’ll dress up. It’s a style, I guess, and good marketing. People know me as a suit guy now. I also have a prominent logo I always use, and branding around it, so it’s really an overall thing that way.”

His logo (“a tentacled ‘T’”) is also one of the two tattoos on his arm. The other is a Templar Cross. “Apparently, my surname ‘Temple’ could mean I had some religious fundamentalist Christian [ancestors] called the Knights Templar who used to slaughter other people in the Middle East a long time ago,” he deadpans.

The two designs are just the start of a sleeve inspired by the medieval Bayeux Tapestry that he plans to get done in the near future. “I’m a history nut, so my entire arm needs to have what is essentially a long comic about how William the Conqueror defeated Harold and took England. Should be pretty distinctive and can’t wait to start properly.”

Sounds like an epic undertaking, sure. But Ben knows his limits. “After my arm I’ll probably stop,” he says. “If I don’t, I’ll just move on to my back a bit. As a designer and thinking about the body, I like the idea of just doing the one limb. Seen way too many horribly placed things on people in southern California, where all these drunken college types think it’s great to get a butterfly on their stomach or something.”

Ben’s future work plans include finishing up Choker, a mini-series written by Ben McCool and published by Image Comics. After that, he’s putting his art-and-words hat back on again for a “post-apocalyptic, Band of Brothers-type” comic called Black Sky and, much to the delight of his fans, more Wormwood.

Scenes From The Road 10: Phoenix Part 1

“It’s always the last creator-owned comic I just did [that’s my favourite],” he says. “If it’s not, then I’m not doing my best work. I do have a sentimental favourite in Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, which seems to have taken a life of its own, and even has people dressing up as the characters (which never really happens for 30 Days of Night, for instance). But generally, it’s always whatever I’ve recently completed as a creator, until the next project I’m enthused about.”

(Photo of Ben © Ben Templesmith, photos of Wormwood piece © Xochitl, photo of Wormwood/Hoxford piece © Keijo)

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