Friday, May 04, 2007

Comics: Templesmith on sentient maggots, squid-heads, and whether he hates the Irish or not.

Comic Book Resource is featuring an amusing interview with comic illustrator Ben Templesmith, the influential co-creator of 30 Days of Night (which helped rejuvenate the horror comic) and creator of Wormwood, a funny, sleazy, horror-tinged dark comedy about a sentient maggot who can enter corpses and pilot them sort of like the way big-eyed anime characters drive around mechs (only, instead of fighting giant robots, the titular worm tends to take his re-animated corpses to demonic nuddie bars and underground leprechaun knife-fighting pits and the like).

The comic art of Ben Templesmith seems to be a bit of a love/hate proposition. His lavish, mixed-media work tends toward the phantasmagoric. It has a fluid, highly stylized, dream-like quality to it. The anatomy of his characters is unstable and empathic, rather than rigorous and objective. When 30 Days of Night came out, many detractors argued that his art was a distraction. Critics felts that the plot, a clever, but fairly straight forward, vampire rampage tale, was diminished by the overly-strange, almost aggressively abstract art. Famed comic writer Warren Ellis, in discussing his own horror series Black Gas, even mentioned taking deliberate efforts to bring horror art back to a sort of high-res, detail-heavy gore look and pull it away from the hallucinatory aesthetic of Templesmith (this is, in my opinion, a bit of an overreaction – most horror comics still resemble the traditional, comfortably representational style of Ellis's book and not Templesmith's work).

While I understand 30DoN's critics, I thought that Templesmith's work on that title was not only effective, but necessary. The book was a bold re-insertion of the horror genre into the comics mainstream and it needed art that would immediately stand-out and provide artistic weight to the project. If you're planning a grand return, you can't risk being ignored. Templesmith's art helped make sure that didn't happen. If the art seems too quirky and perhaps too fussy now, it may be because it was suited to a very specific moment, answering the needs of a very specific context. I still think it is boss, but the head scratching of non-fans is somewhat understandable.

Templesmith's solo series, the more light-hearted and humorously nasty Wormwood, is, I think, a better showcase for his art. The bizarre stories he tells – described by some as a sit-com version of Hellboy - are more surrealistic and trippy, meaning his art style reinforces the central mood rather than working as a counterpoint. I think even people dubious about 30DoN might want to give Templesmith's solo stuff a look.

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