Artists on the Verge: Ben Templesmith

Fri, August 31st, 2001 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Keith Giles, Staff Writer

Welcome to the final installment of Artists on the Verge, our week-long series spotlighting some of the brightest artistic talents in the world of comic books.

Yesterday we talked with Brett Weldele about his upcoming work on "Couscous Express" with Brian Wood.

Today we close out our series with Australian artist Ben Templesmith. Ben talks to CBR about his upcoming work with Joe Casey, Vertigo and why he's not interested in illustrating Spider-Man or Batman.

"I've always admired Ben Templesmith's work. His color sense as it applies to mood and scenery is very, very strong. I am a great admirer of his work and I'm glad he's getting to do some recognized stuff now. He's very deserving."- Eric Canete

[Spider Jerusalem]These are just a few of the words that artist Ben Templesmith's art inspires. He has a BA in Design from Curtin University in Western Australia and a diploma of Cartoon and Graphic Art from the Australian College of Journalism. At just twenty three years of age Templesmith, hailing from Perth, Australia, has already created an impressive gallery of work.

As one might expect, one of the most difficult things for Templesmith is the fact that he lives so far away from most of his potential audience. "Being where I am, the isolation is a bit of a pain sometimes," Templesmith told CBR News. "It's not exactly a sociable job sitting at a drawing table all day. That said, it's also one of the best things about it too."

It's this very isolation from the world that has both served Templesmith and cursed him. While being in a remote area helps him focus on the work at hand, it also forces him to work twice as hard at getting his art in front of those who can appreciate it the most. Thankfully, Templesmith was born in the cyber-age. With the international reach of the Internet his work has found an audience and his list of fans is increasing.

[Hamlet]"I've been involved with a bunch of web projects, some completed, some not," said Templesmith. "'Hamlet', with Aaron Thacker, (the mind behind Unboundcomics.com), is the big one. I know there've been adaptations in the past, but this one is trying to go beyond the standard cliff notes version. The aim is to get stuff like this into schools. It's about aiming a comic at an audience that's not JUST concerned with entertainment value really. Barring issues of price, if you had to study Hamlet, would you want the book or a prettier graphic novel with basically the same content? Me, I'd go for the thing with pictures.

"There's also 'After days of Passion' I did with Antony Johnston. I also just finished another 3 pager for Andrew Dabb's great short story series 'Slices.' Both of these are currently at Opi8.com."

But just because Templesmith got his start on the web, don't mistake him for one of those flash animation artists.

"I find the whole Flash thing quite annoying personally," said Templesmith. "With online content it's all a hodge-podge of different formats, there's no one standard and download times can be a turnoff."

Yet Templesmith does owe his career to the accessibility of the Web. "Anyone can have a go, it's the Internet after all. Online work as it is won't supercede print, but used intelligently it could bring plenty of new readers and attention to the medium."

[The Crow]Templesmith does have numerous works on display at www.opi8.com, www.nextcomics.com, and www.unboundcomics.com. But, for the cyber-challenged out there, fear not. Templesmith's compelling work will soon be coming into print.

"So far in print I've been colouring Joe Casey and Charlie Adlard's 'Codeflesh', starting with issue five. (It) was a steep learning curve at first," said Templesmith.

"Joe (Casey) has also got me doing something with him at Vertigo soon, a miniseries of sorts," he said. And while he wouldn't elaborate much more than this, he did promise, "It won't be your traditional pen and ink fair."

Beyond that, Templesmith has a few other print projects on the fire. "I'm working on a Graphic Novel called 'Father Spector' about a mystical Irish monk, a Culdee. Dr Robert Curran and I are developing this currently. I'm always trying to do something creator-owned with (Vertigo's) Andrew Dabb, too."

Templesmith is always trying to improve his craft and take his style in different directions than before. "I'm still trying to find my true voice," he said. "So my influences are pretty heavy I know. Ashley Wood, and Dave Mckean would be the obvious ones. Ralph Steadman, Mignola, Kent Williams, a bunch of artists from the Hiedelburg School, Klimt, a pinch of Goyer and a few others. Recently, I got into Sienkiewicz, mainly for the way he uses colour."

He also finds great inspiration in the work of other young artists like himself who are only now emerging on the scene. He's cultivated a friendship and an appreciation for the work of many other new artists. His favorites? "Weldele for sure. It's amazing he hasn't gotten more attention yet," said Templesmith. "Though I'm sure he will soon thanks to 'Couscous Express.' Eric Canete is another guy I follow fairly religiously."

[Dragonfly]To date, Templesmith has enjoyed a moderate amount of success among his peers and a few online fans. As his style sharpens and his workload increases, one might expect that Templesmith would aspire to work on the big mainstream books that other indies have recently landed.

"Not really," he said. "I don't feel a burning desire to revisit the comic characters I grew up with. I don't think I'd be terribly suited to most of the superhero genre work anyway, though it'd be interesting. I don't hate them by any means. There's plenty of creators I'd knaw my arm off to work with though. Ellis, Wood, Ennis, Dabb, and Bendis. I'd settle for anyone who won't run away screaming at the mention of my name though."

Templesmith admits he is much more at home illustrating and painting characters who don't wear spandex or capes. "I think the more success the non superhero work has the better the chances the greater public might have of not confusing the medium with a genre," said Templesmith. "That's got to be a good thing. The growing success of books like 100 bullets, and Preacher, are that they're based on the quality of the work itself."

The quality of Templesmith's art is a dark, evocative one lends itself quite well to several genres, but there's one in particular that he leans towards most naturally. "I'd say horror, but not in the conventional sense, not necessarily blood and guts horror," he said. "Whatever the genre I'd just try to make things atmospheric. I love Westerns and Sci-Fi (too), but only the more moody stuff really. I used to be a cartoonist, so I'm still trying to shake the cartoony-ness out of much of my work anyway."

His first exposure to the world of comic books began much the same as the rest of us. "Conan gave me my first real awareness of the medium. Arkham Asylum opened my eyes a bit more, and yes, I was an X-men Junky for awhile too. That all changed when I read George Pratt's 'Enemy Ace: War Idyll'"

As Templesmith begins to elbow his way into the crowd of new comic book artists, his outlook, as compared to his artwork, is surprisingly sunny. "From my perspective things look to be in an upswing, yes. The whole idea of actual format is starting to come into question. Which can only be a good thing as the industry pushes forward. Not that I live in America, but I hear trade paperback and Graphic Novel sales are catching on in bookstores quite well, and any way possible to expose the non-hobbyist to good intelligent work is priceless really."

Whether Templesmith is creating his brand of dark, edgy art for an online project or the print medium, the bottom line is still the same. He loves comic books. "I got into them for the ability to tell a story," he said. "The whole 'transfer of ideas' deal. That's what I hope to do more of. There's also the fact some of the most creative people OUT THERE seem to be working in comics right now. They must love the things I guess."

Templesmith knows that there are probably many other artists out there who are struggling much like himself with finding a platform to have their art seen. His advice is, "Practice times three. Get a website, a real one, with a domain is even better, and present it in a vaguely professional manner. What with the way communications are these days through the net, if you're fantastic enough someone will eventually notice you. That said, you still have to be pro active."

 
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