Interview: Ben Templesmith Talks 44FLOOD

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If you read horror comics, you know the name Ben Templesmith. Over the past decade Templesmith has solidified his spot as one of the top horror artists in the game. After a brief two year hiatus, he returned to the comics industry this past year with renewed appetite and vision.

Recently, Ben Templesmith co-founded a company called 44FLOOD alongside Menton3, Kasra Ghanbari, and Nick Idell as a way to offer unique comic/art fusion books. Their first project, an annual anthology series called “TOME”, was launched through Kickstarter, reaching it’s goal of $18,400 in only a few hours. Over the past week, 44FLOOD has been teasing a new project called “LUST” through their facebook page that will reunite Ben Templesmith and Steve Niles (more details coming tomorrow). Templesmith sat down with Bloody-disgusting at Montreal Comiccon to discuss his return to the industry, his excitement for the future of 44FLOOD, his views on art, and plenty more.

BD: It seems a lot of the reason why you guys started 44FLOOD is as a means to represent artist by giving them the space to do what they want. Do you feel there’s been a misunderstanding of artists in comics in recent years?

Templesmith: Historically, there’s always been a lack of respect for artists in comics. I mean look at Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, they’re the prime example of that aspect of comics. One guy has a lot of publicity and promotion, and the other guy, in the mainstream nobody knows his name. But everyone knows Stan Lee. We live in the age of the writer, the story is key, but the look of it comes second. It’s interesting because Hollywood is the reverse pretty much, the stories are crap but the look is stunning.

When you deal with publishers sometimes art is seen as just a labor job, but I always pick up a comic because of the art first, only after do I really get into the story. That’s what we wanted to bring it back to with TOME. It’s kind of a brotherhood or sisterhood thing as well, it’s creativity and you have to give people room to breathe, and we’re thankful for the response so far.

BD: Did you feel there was a need for a platform for artists to have that room to breathe?
Templesmith: The main reason was to give a voice to projects we thought were cool, that we would do anyway, but something most publishers wouldn’t even contemplate doing. They wouldn’t see the investment to be worthwhile because of all the time and people involved. But let’s not pre-empt things, let’s wait til the book is out! So far, everyone seems very enthused.

My problem is most of my work is popular, it’s not superstardom, but it’s popular enough for me to make a living. Most of it is rarely in print so there are not hundreds of thousands of copies out there, but when there’s a new printing it generally sells out. I’ve been gone for two years from comics, so it’s amazing that I’m still invited to cons!

BD: Why did you come back to comics?

Templesmith: It’s in my blood. I got an email from Warren Ellis, and I was like I better let people know I’m not dead. When I came back to America, I stayed with Menton3 in Chicago and being in the studio with him, I started getting creative again and I started working on my comic in a while. So eventually, it was like, why not form our own company? We have the same ideas and ethos about creativity coming first. Obviously comics, is a business, and as always, business is business but it doesn’t have to be the same old same old. We want to bring it back to comics as a movement. The medium is not the industry but the industry is not the medium. Or something like that [laughs].

BD: You’ve mentioned before that you see art as ideas. How do you see ideas becoming art?

Templesmith: Well the reason people like art is because of the idea that went into it. You can draw an amazing lamp, but its still just a lamp, you need an idea to go with it.

BD: So how do ideas translate into art?

Templesmith: I try to come up with good ones, good stories. What I meant was that the world is run by corporations who pay to get new ideas. The idea is key. Whether it’s Disney, DC, Warner, Marvel, they have back catalogs of ideas that are worth millions. If you can come up with an idea, a good one, you don’t need the corporations. If you have the wherewithal to capitalize on it yourself, you can, use the Internet, or whatever. It all starts from one simple idea.

BD: So, its’ about having the thought and then working to get it out there, to communicate?

Templesmith: Executing the idea, that’s the hard part. But that’s where we want to help with 44FLOOD, helping artists get out there to the masses on behalf of that person rather than taking their idea and running with it under the company name.

BD: Is part of 44FLOOD focusing on helping artists who are not so well known to break in?

Templesmith: That’s the ultimate goal, to bring up new artists. With TOME, if it continues year after year, we really want the upcoming artists. It’s like, make it prestigious, make it a statement and then later down the line the money that comes in from that initial push will allow us to bring in the new artists. After volume one, we’ll really try to benefit all kinds of people. I think even with this volume we’ve got a pretty good mix.

BD: You have an insane list of contributors for this edition of TOME. How did that all happen?

Templesmith: Everyone knows everyone in the industry in comics, it s a bit incestuous because it’s a small industry. We tried to draw people in from other fields as well, so there are actually a lot of fine artists in this edition. There are so many artists out there who want to do comics but they don’t know how.

BD: You’re giving 3-5 pages to each artist for a story. How did you pick that number?

Templesmith: Well it just made sense. There is some jiggle room with it, some only have one page, but all fits with the layout of the book. Its not a status thing, just how it works design wise with 200 pages to play with.

BD: The theme is vampirism this year?

Templesmith: Right vampirism, not necessarily vampires! So like corporations, exploitation, power, anything feeding parasitically on something else, or traditional vampires. There will be a lot in there.

BD: That’s a touchy subject in pop culture these days and you seem to be averse to pop culture, the current trend of it at least.

Templesmith: I think anyone with taste is probably averse to it. We are not for the Twilight people. In the real world, they’re a lot of the lowest common denominator. Twilight is some type of Mormonism romance, strange thing. We’re not interested in that demographic. But there is a whole world of people not reading comics, we want to try and grab new people.

Current publishers fail because almost every person is a potential new reader. We don’t want the existing fans. We want the new ones. Twilight fans, no. But that’s okay; we’re not after them.

BD: This is the first project that 44 FLOOD is undertaking. So what else do you guys have planned?

Templesmith: We have various other art comic fusion projects, some straight comics in the works. We have a lot of plans and we’re just starting to get the going. We play it by ear, but we don’t want to lose focus, we don’t want to lose our core brand and appeal that we’ve worked so hard to build.

We are just trying to break even first, then become sustainable later. I don’t think we’ll become a huge publisher in the comic book sense. We’re not going for the mass market, our core is to produce art for real people who we connect with, and sell direct to them. The big market is a bit broken to us, so we are going beyond that, because if that collapses tomorrow, we’ll still be okay. We’re mostly about the actual artifacts of the books, making connections, getting out sketches and the art.

BD: Kickstarter was great to you guys, are you going to go back to it?

Templesmith: At least for one or two more then hopefully we’ll be able to do what we want with some funds we’ve made. Kickstarter is a valid tool for us, almost like a pre-order system, much like Diamond, but it’s got much less cost and more work because you mail the books out yourself. It’s a great system because it empowers creative people but at the same time the creator has to learn about printing and shipping and stuff. So we know that stuff and hope we can help other artists through 44FLOOD now. I’ve been in comics for 10 years now, I’m not old, but I’m still kind of a young pup. Menton came from nowhere over the past handful of years, and he’s going to be huge.

BD: He’s a great artist, I blush at the sight of his work.

Templesmith: [laughs] Yeah, we riff on each other’s work a lot, artistically without borrowing styles. We are still very different, but we have similarities which I think people can see. We did a collaboration for TOME, where we each took half of the page and I think that turned out well. It may not be the last time we do something along those lines.

BD: Is there anything else you want people to know about 44FLOOD?

Templesmith: We’re artists for artists. We’re not anti-writer, we like writers. We just want to try to do something different that nobody else has done yet. We don’t want to compete so much with other publishers, we just want to put things out there that are original and novel. The next step for me is to actually do the comics, to be involved in the process in a curative sense; this, I think, was always going to be the next move in my career.