Career Q&A: Artist Ben Templesmith on “30 DAYS OF NIGHT,” “WORMWOOD” and more
Ben Templesmith’s is a one-of-a-kind artist who’s built his career on unique visions of color and form. With a subdued palette and iconic style, Templesmith’s reputation grown by leaps and bounds as the man to go to for a bit of the bizarre. He is also known as being one half of the duo behind 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, filling up the pages with grotesque bloodsuckers and their screaming victims in a fight to survive a vampire invasion during a month of Alaskan darkness. After the award-winning book launched his career, he went on to do work for both mainstream and not-so-mainstream comics, even creating his own character in the form of WORMWOOD: GENTLEMAN CORPSE. Fango spoke with the illustrator about his career, thus far.
FANGORIA: Your most notable work is 30 DAYS OF NIGHT with Steve Niles, which Niles still writes for. How do you feel about the series possibly ending soon?
BEN TEMPLESMITH: I’m very happy that the 30 DAYS OF NIGHT franchise is being laid to rest for a while. I think that after the initial trilogy, it lost its way for a while anyway. The whole concept of 30 DAYS OF NIGHT is in the title and it hasn’t been in the title for a very long time, so the fact that it’s ending in some capacity is a good thing. I’m waiting for a revamp in ten to fifteen years. I left the whole 30 DAYS thing in the past quite a few years ago, but Steve’s still writing it. It’s quite the labor of love, so it means more to him than to me at this point. I’ve been trying to define my career since the vampires; not that he hasn’t, but he’s still involved and I’m not. I’m sad, but I’m not that sad. Let it rest for a while. They made it a monthly and the sales weren’t there, that’s why they did it. It’s a sad business reality. That was the non-fluff answer. That was the brutal economics answer.
FANG: How much creative control did you have on 30 DAYS OF NIGHT? What about Steve Niles other large work, CRIMINAL MACABRE?
TEMPLESMITH: First is first, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT was originally a creator-owned book. It was just me and Steve having fun, goofing around because we were bored and waiting for something else to happen. We had complete creative control, editorially speaking, not so much in other aspects of being creator controlled intellectual property. So in my case, because I was a small time guy, especially at the time, it was my big break. But yeah, complete freedom in that sense. I don’t get a say in anything to do with the book in regards to who is the artist after me or anything like that.
With Cal McDonald, that was Steve’s idea to begin with and very much his baby and I was just the artist. He was the boss, which is the way it should be. You’re meant to follow the dictates of the writer anyway. But I’ve never had issues with editorial, especially not with IDW, which is a nice thing. Because I won’t be told what to do. I mean, it’s stupid, if you want me to do a book, people at this point know what they’re gonna get. I’m not going to draw like Jim Lee.
FANG: Were you involved in the 30 DAYS OF NIGHT movie at all?
TEMPLESMITH: I actually did not do any work for 30 DAYS, I was cut out of all of that and had no contact with the movie people. But it was kind of like stars aligning when I went down to visit the set and met the director. It was then I learned that I could have been involved in stuff. But I didn’t have an agent or someone pushing for me in Hollywood and my publisher didn’t let me know anything. I was in Australia at that point not knowing much. I didn’t actually do much. I did do something for a web based computer game about it, but that was about it. I had no concept work or anything like that. All of that was down to how amazing the director was, for using my originals for the concept.
FANG: Would you like to do concept work for movies at all?
TEMPLESMITH: I would happily do concept work. Concept work is just the fun stuff. I’ve done a little bit. I’ve done a movie called BOOGEYMAN 2. I apparently designed the boogeyman, at least at first, until they fired the director and moved to a different one and the movie actually got made. But I’ve never seen the movie.
FANG: There’s a rumor that you might be doing more work with Steve Niles. Can you tell us anything?
TEMPLESMITH: Yes, we have plans. We’re talking again, but I can’t reveal too much yet. We’re collaborating with a third person, Menton the 3rd, who’s an artist, and we’re doing an art book slash comic book slash narrative. It’s going to have comic books in there, called LUST. We did a Kickstarter for it and raised like, seventy thousand bucks. Some lucky people are getting a hard cover book sometime soon. It’s about the seven deadly sins. We’re taking Lust for book one. There will be a series of books, though we’re only doing the first one so far. So Steve and I are working together again, but we have bigger plans than that, which I’m not talking about yet.
FANG: One of your earliest works was HELLSPAWN, taking over for Ashley Wood. You two have similar art styles, did you have any sort of working relationship? Did he influence you at all?
TEMPLESMITH: Ashley came from the same city I did. He has eight years on me professionally and he has been around longer than I have. He did HELLSPAWN before I did, obviously, and I followed him on the book. He left the book with like four pages left to draw, so I finished four pages. For some reason, Todd [McFarlane] decided to use my pin-ups as the cover for that issue and then the next issue, he did the cover and I did the whole issue. After that, I did all the covers and the issues. We actually shared a studio for about six months, but he never turned up when I was there and I never turned up when he was there, so neither of us believed the other one actually used it. Since then, he went on to be a massive toy company guy and artist in general with a huge gallery shows. Ash’s work got me in to comics and the fact that he was from where I was from, kept me going. I owe a lot to him.
FANG: You have also worked with the legendary Warren Ellis on the comic FELL. How did you involved with him?
TEMPLESMITH: He emailed me. He emailed me at four a.m. He paid me the highest compliment of my career at one point. He channeled someone on his email contact list and said “I’m never going to get a professional artist to work with me on a book for no money with this crazy idea I have.” So, I emailed him at 4 AM my time, in Australia, and said, “I’ll do it.”
He emailed me straight back with the biggest compliment and said “oh, I’ve wanted to work with you for a long time.” And I’m like “it’s fucking Warren Ellis!” He said that! So after that, it was on, because I’m a risk taker. I don’t need money to do a book. I will make money if it sells. I’m a back end guy, I believe in what I do and I’m not looking for a page rate, which is what most corporate artists in Marvel and DC do. They get paid to draw. I only make a living if the work I create and own sells. It’s a lot more risky, but since it’s more natural for me, he’s going to get people like me to do stuff and I’m really glad that I did. It worked really well.
It may come back eventually, it’s a long story. There’s one issue done and I could have it illustrated tomorrow and Image won’t print it. They would want two or three more issues of script written in the can, because they’re not going to release one issue of a monthly book once every two years. I’ll need a few more, so I’m between a rock and a hard place. I need to find a month to do a book for basically nothing to encourage Warren to write more. He thinks his best work on that has already happened. He’s got to rise to the challenge, but he’s intimidated by his own work. He’s quite a humble guy when it comes down to the quality he’s already put out. I think he can match it. I owe Warren my career too, by the way. I will have his babies.
FANG: You also have the creator-owned WORMWOOD: GENTLEMAN CORPSE.
TEMPLESMITH: Well, as far as creator-owned, it is partially owned by a corporation. Ownership implies control and to me, that’s a big thing, a big dynamic. It’s what I’m pushing my career for. So, terminology matters in that sense. It’s more like creator-invested versus creator-owned. There are differences there, business wise. But yes, WORMWOOD was my baby, my first proper baby and it’ll come back, maybe. He’s inspired by all the goofy ideas I had while I was growing up and as a teenager. It gestated all together—just me having fun. There’s no real story there, just hilarious attempts at humor. It’s stupid humor for intelligent people, I call it. Well, there’s a vague story there, I mean, it’s done really well. There will be more.
I’m still debating what the next one will be. I have it written, but I don’t have it drawn yet. I need to find time. “Bingo Night in Valhalla” will happen! Either that or the other one titled “Mr. Wormwood Goes to War.”
FANG: Any upcoming work?
TEMPLESMITH: I am doing a new book, just solicited this month with J. Micheal Straczynski, who created BABYLON 5 and other things. I’m doing a twelve issue series with him called TEN GRAND. I don’t remember the code, but it is in comic previews now. It’s from Image.
FANG: How about a fun fact?
TEMPLESMITH: Most of the information on my Wikipedia page is not correct, mostly because it’s controlled by crazy people who won’t let anyone update it with truth.