Welcome to a new column about science fiction art by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer. Artist Ben Templesmith's daring, horrific, and sometimes just plain perverse approach in graphic novels like 30 Days of Night and his solo creation Wormwood, Gentleman Corpse is influenced by the science-fantasy cosmos of H.P. Lovecraft's Old Ones and the work of H.R. Giger. However, Templesmith says "The biggest influence on me sci-fi wise has to be the BBC prop and art departments on old classic Doctor Who episodes."
If you're anything like us, then Eisner Award finalist Templesmith's art will bring out the hidden Decadent in you — the one who likes to snort powdered absinthe and scream out Rimbaud poems on New Orleans street corners just for a lark.
Templesmith also names Ronald Searle and Ralph Steadman as influences, and it's this mix of comic and horrific influences that gives Templesmith's images such vigor, along with a cheery inability to censor himself. His latest book is Wormwood, Gentleman Corpse: It Only Hurts When I Pee, and it features the continuing adventures of the aforementioned gentleman corpse.
Wormwood is, as they say, "defiantly weird," in the way people use "weird" when they're at a loss for words. Templesmith's black sense of humor, his uniquely delicate yet muscular style, his nuanced but bold use of color, and his knack for finding just the right detail to make a panel or page come to life—these traits in combination make the art and words work so well for readers.
Templesmith told us:
Wormwood is really just me having fun and trying to through in as many disgusting perversions of my old childhood influences. [And I do] call it my riff on Doctor Who, if it were more demonologically oriented and written for very juvenile adults with a sick sense of humor.
Despite his flirtation with SF influences, Templesmith has a cautious if positive relationship with the modern world:
I am afraid of it. Always reluctant to dive in and embrace it, but once I do, I pretty much fall in love with it. (The latest being "Twitter," which I'm addicted to). I [also] try to keep my computer work fairly simple. I don't want to swap completely to the computer to do all my art. I still value the personal meat-world touch and only use technology for the bits I can't replicate physically myself. Some people think I do it all on computer, but I think I've just worked out a system that plays to the strengths of all the mediums, rather than overly rely on just one.
Templesmith recently moved from Australia to San Diego, also the home of his publisher, IDW, who has backed him to the hilt creatively. He says:
I literally have no constraints from the publisher, they just let me do as I wish. Well, so far anyway. I've yet to be sued or told 'no, you can't put Paris Hilton in the book and have her decapitated corpse used as a play thing by a band of sexually depraved redneck zombies, Ben.' Wormwood is really my personal project, so just the fact I get to do it at all is the fun bit.
Despite the commercial success of 30 Days of Night, including getting the major motion picture treatment and winning a Spike TV award, Templesmith is refreshingly oblivious to the idea of following up by adhering to any one formula for success. In addition to continuing to work on Fell with Warren Ellis, he's starting a new series called Welcome to Hoxford that looks like it's going to be a no-holds-barred psychiatric hospital creep-fest. Our guess is that Doctor Who won't figure into this one, unless he shows up as a patient . . .
Ben Templesmith [gallery]