Building an Artistic Temple

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This article is part of a series of spotlight articles on the winners of the Broken Frontier Awards 2005.

It’s hard to tell if any other independent comics artist was as productive in 2005 as Ben Templesmith, but certainly none was more versatile.

Consider his projects: The Matrix-inspired Singularity 7, Blood-Stained Sword, a cyberpunk samurai tale, Hatter M, a twisted take on Alice In Wonderland, Fell, chronicling the grim adventures of a detective in a feral city, and the exquisitely horrific Shadowplay.

In every one there were those Templesmith-isms that together comprise the unique and unmistakable stamp he puts on his work. The dark, ethereal, sometimes otherworldly mood so evocatively rendered in Singularity 7. In Blood-Stained Sword, the scratchy, frenetic linework that imbued his fight scenes with the kinetic energy of a kung-fu flick. The integration of multimedia effects, photography, and drawn  images to nail a sense of place in both Fell and Hatter M. Likewise in Fell, as well as Shadowplay, the complex emotions he conveys with such an economy of strokes.

The influences one finds throughout his work—from European comics to graphic design to manga. And finally, and perhaps most eerily, an affinity for exposing the darker, sometimes terrifying aspects of humanity in a way that in Shadowplay is both frightening and entertaining.

However, Templesmith also brought something different to each new project in 2005. After Singularity 7 and Blood-Stained Sword, he began moving away from the artistic style that made 30 Days Of Night such a huge hit. Once he teamed up with Warren Ellis on Fell, gone were the free-form gutterless panels, the challenges every image posed to tried-and-true notions of representation. His lines became tighter, his panels more detailed, his skills as a storyteller more refined. He relied more on color to play nuanced shades on the overall dark moods he set, but still he maintained his lightness of touch, that knack he has for rendering with just a few strokes what some others need dozens to accomplish. Hatter M would find him developing still further as an artist as he conjured a dirty, sordid, entropic Paris that so convincingly conveyed a sense of place. And while Shadowplay would find him returning to the vampire story, he brought a greater sense of detail to it and produced some truly creepy images.

But as much as one would try to break down Templesmith’s art, the whole always remains more than the sum of its parts. And it’s this—the immediate and full impact his art makes on the reader—that’s made him the best in his class. Frankly, Ben Templesmith scares me. It’s not fright, though he is a master of not only genre horror, but also of that deep-down personal horror that defies categorization. Rather, it’s more like awe. I read every comic bearing his name in 2005, have reviewed three, and found his work more and more impressive as the year progressed. He’s hitting his stride now with a bold, singular, finely tuned artistic voice. And yet, there remains in his work a certain impregnable mystery, something that cannot be captured when his images are analyzed.

To me, that’s scary in that awe-inspiring way, because it means that what we’ve seen in 2005 is only the beginning.

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