Ninth Art met with up-and-coming artist Ben Templesmith in his native Perth to discuss how he made the jump from getting his fan art published in SPAWN to becoming the new artist on HELLSPAWN.
11 March 2002

It was one of those odd moments, like you see on TV, where two women rock up to a party in the same dress, followed by gasps of embarrassed horror. Ben Templesmith has good taste in shoes, I'll give him that.

Ok, it wasn't exactly like that, but we do wear the same shoes. Chuck Taylor Converse All Stars, in a ratty, faded grey-blue. Yes, the exact same colour too. It seems All Stars are the shoes of choice for creative types, freaks and anarchists in this neck of the woods.

Templesmith is all three. You can tell this by looking at his art, with its layered darkness and Photoshopped flair. It's beautiful and horrible at the same time, following in the footsteps of his artistic influences.

Sitting in the Moon and Sixpence, an English-styled pub in the heart of the city of Perth, Templesmith sips at his beer. The after-lunch crowd is thin, so we take a seat outside, by a quaintly paved service road canopied by lush trees. I flip through a thick portfolio. Finished coloured pieces, collages and bare inked pages look out at me.

"If you look at my stuff, you can tell I'm heavily influenced by Ashley Wood," Templesmith says, "This is because, one, he does things not many others do, and two, because he actually came from here, which means a lot to me. It's like, 'Shit, this guy can do it, so can I'.

"But only now I'm starting to realise who his influences are, so I'm looking at them now. Ralph Steadman's pretty much my favourite artist at the moment. Have you heard of him?"

"Yeah," I say, "Worked with Hunter S Thompson. Have you got his Gonzo book?"

"The Art of Gonzo? I am gonzo, man!" he laughs. "I like his collages and the way he uses ink. He can make a quiet thing dynamic without being..." He stops. "Am I sounding too much like an art slut?"

I shrug. "That's ok, I've been called a book snob."

"Cool. You can be book snob. I'll be art slut." He has another sip. "I want to get a T-shirt with 'ART SLUT' across it."

An old guy, stinking and dishevelled, asks us for cigarettes and interrupts the interview. We tell him we don't have any.

"That'll be me in twenty years time," Templesmith says, watching the old guy nearly get hit by a truck as he stumbles away down the road. The break in our conversation allows the interview gets back on track. "These days, though, I'm much more influenced by movies and music. My favourite movie of all time is LEON. THE PROFESSIONAL."

"It's a good movie." I agree.

"It's got that certain vibe, that slant, that way of getting into everything that makes it different from the average Hollywood schlock crap. I want to do that. I want to try and bring that sort of thing into my work."

His work at the moment includes the long overdue issue 11 of HELLSPAWN.

"Storytelling has really been what I'm concentrating on. I hope I'm pulling it off," he says. He must be, seeing as a boy from one of the most isolated places in Australia is drawing a monthly comic published by Todd McFarlane, one of the most equally loved and hated men in comics at the moment. How did it happen?

"I got a website about a year and half ago and thought I'd just bung up some stuff and do my own little bit. I thought it was a good way to get noticed.

"A few months later I get an email from Joe Casey, before I actually knew much of his work. And he said, 'Oh I write some American comics, do you want to do a pitch?' I was like, OK. So we did. I worked on a couple of characters and he spoke to some people. He managed to get it into Vertigo, and he managed to get me in first time, a complete newbie, my-name-is-mud person, to do complete art, which I believe doesn't happen much." The book is DARWIN THEORY, due out later this year from Vertigo.

"But just before all that came to a head I was contacted by Brent Ashe, who was Art Director for TMP [Todd McFarlane Productions]. He wanted to get a commission from me. So I did a piece for him, and we had a little bit of a chat and he showed my samples and website material to Todd. Before you know it, it's like, 'Yeah, he's like Ash Wood, but, um, different...'

"So I got asked to do some test pages, which I did. I guess they liked them, but didn't think they were SAM & TWITCH material, so they gave me HELLSPAWN instead. I thought it was just going to be some fill-in work before the Vertigo stuff, but I wasn't going to knock it back."

The big wait between issues allowed Templesmith and HELLSPAWN writer Steve Niles time to work on new ideas to stop themselves from getting bored. The product of this break was 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, which Templesmith says will not be out for a while.

"We were waiting around for the HELLSPAWN thing to clear up, and we thought, yeah, why not? [Niles] knew people at Idea and Design Works and he got the idea in." He pauses for a while before offering his insight into creating independent work as opposed to 'work for hire'. "A lot of it's based on trust. It's like 'Oh yeah, I'll do it', and it's a bit of work. But hopefully it'll pay off."

"I take it HELLSPAWN isn't your first published work?" I ask him. "I mean, you've got stuff all over the net."

"I had a piece of fan art published in one of the early, early SPAWN comics, which was a picture of SPAWN on the dunny [toilet, to those in the Northern Hemisphere]. Then I won a Wildstorm design-a-character competition."

I laugh.

"It was in the second version of CYBERNARY. In the back there was a competition where you design a character for the world of CYBERNARY. So I just did something crap and mailed it in. They were meant to have one winner, but they chose about fifty. The prize was the artist would give you a call and draw the character in a poster at the end of the book."

"I think I've got that issue," I tell him.

"Bah. Burn it," he shudders with disgust. "So, he gave me a call at about 7:30 in the morning. It was on a Sunday or a Saturday, I can't remember, but I'd had a big night before, so I was like" - in an unimpressed voice - "'Oh yeah?' He was nice though. Jeff Rebner, that's the guy. I was probably the last phone call of the lot. But the only thing I can remember saying was, 'Maybe I'll see you one day', like yeah, I'll get into the field and do this stuff because I'm on the rise. I'd just won this competition. I sort of regretted it after. But he explained how he got in. He was greeting cards artist."

"Yeah? Well, it's a start."

"I dunno," he says, weighing it up. "Greeting cards. BADROCK. Greeting cards. BADROCK... I'd stay with greeting cards." He grins.

"After that, I did some university stuff, with a very small print run, locally. When I was at uni, I did the Comics Minor. Didn't learn a bloody thing. In fact they asked me to come back and be a lecturer. Anyway, we had an exhibition in this small museum in Claremont, which just showed all this old colonial crap. So, we took over the museum, putting up a page of comic art each, or something. Gary Chaloner came and displayed some of his work." [Click here for the interview with artist Gary Chaloner that launched Ninth Art.] "Apparently the attendance of the museum doubled while we were there. So there must be some demand for comics and art here."

"It would've beat old bits of ships and pieces of metal, though," I say. He nods.

"Well, Perth does have a pretty vibrant art scene in itself," says Templesmith. "Comics-wise, we're just an offshoot colony of America. It all comes down to the argument that comics are essentially pictures and words, and that's not considered high art, which they're not, really. Mind you, there are some that come bloody close."

"The mainstream still sees it as being a superhero medium," I say.

"I hate superheroes. Look at what they wear. I'll never draw X-MEN. I mean, I've drawn them, but I'm not showing anyone. Ever."

He finishes his beer.

"If I was ever going to draw superheroes in their nuthuggers, I'm going to draw the nuts."

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