Thursday, April 1, 2010

Ben Templesmith, Wormwood, Fell and Again With Warren Ellis

The first time that I experienced the art of Ben Templesmith I found it interesting, somewhat off-putting, and ultimately, at least initially, not quite for me.  He was a co-creator of 30 Days of Night, with Steve Niles, which was made into a fairly decent major motion picture, but it was the actual comic series that brought him to the forefront of attention.  It was not until I had read the comic Fell, written by Warren Ellis, that I began to actually see how wonderful Templesmith's artwork truly is.

Fell Vol. 1: Feral City is the story of Detective Richard Fell, who has been transferred away from his home and over the bridge to the city of Snowtown, where there is very little in the way of law and order.  The current police department consists of three and a half people (one person does not have any legs) and now Richard Fell.  Fell meets the lovely bartender, Mayko, who seems to be on the up and up until, on what could be considered their first date, she brands him in the neck with the Snowtown "tag".  She explains that the mark is necessary so that Snowtown cannot "claim him" and he pushes the experience aside as a superstitious act of protection.  Senseless violence and psychosis rule the city, and Richard Fell seems to be the only one interested in doing anything about it -- and what is the deal with the four-foot tall nun lurking menacingly about and concealing her (?) face with a Richard Nixon mask.

The first volume of Fell contains eight comic issues and there is a lone ninth issue out somewhere in the wild, but it has been a couple of years since an issue has been released.  I have read that Ellis and Templesmith fully intend to continue the series once they have finished the other projects that they are tied up with.  I cannot wait for new issues.

I bought Fell a couple of years ago on a trip to Borderlands Books, a Sci-Fi, fantasy and horror bookstore in San Francisco, which is deserving of mention in and of itself, but it was with this book that Templesmith's art really grabbed my attention.  His artwork cannot be truly appreciated from a casual flipping through of a comic, it is something that needs to gleaned from a full-attention reading.  I was hooked.  Some might insist that his art style contains aspects of John J. Muth or Bill Siekiewicz, but it takes only a moment of actually looking at his art to see that it is his own.  I found myself trying to determine how he created each page and what his methods were, but it was a mind boggling effort and I decided to just let the matter go and enjoy it for what it was, not how it was done.  The coloring of the backgrounds is what generally sets the tone and mood, combined with the characters at the forefront that bring each panel into stark focus.  Equally defining is the choice to highlight areas of the art with a white pen; very subtle, but very much something that I had not seen before.

I also just finished the first trade paperback of Templesmith's creator owned book Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, which is not the easiest book to explain.  Okay, here goes.  Wormwood is a maggot that inhabits the right eye socket of a corpse which he animates.  The impressively well-dressed Wormwood spends his time in a sort of strip-club-of-the-damned, chain smoking cigarettes, drinking heavily, and enjoying the show.  He is joined by his bodyguard, Pendulum, who is a surly robot who Wormwood created and is ever annoyed at his missing "bits.  Also filling in the ranks is the beautiful short red-haired assassin Phoebe (who I would be besmitten with in real life) with living phoenix tattoos, and the ghost cop Trotsky.  The motley gang of monsters and the lovely Phoebe (did I mention she is lovely?) then sets off to fix the leaks that occur between the underworld and the real world.  Unfortunately, most of those leaks have tentacles, giant slimey nasty ones.  Other odds and ends fill in for secondary characters including a chipper demon lord and his horrendous little pet Leprechaun, who smells of grass clippings when in heat and tosses beer in one's face to show their affection; nasty little buggers.

Currently, Templesmith is producing the six-part comic Choker, which is co-created by Ben McCool.  Choker is a supernatural, noir, cop drama centering on Johnny Jackson, a disgruntled private eye tired of the cheating spouse trade, who jumps at the invitation to rejoin the police force yet is uncertain as to the motives of why he has been asked back.  The book is only two issues in and I am liking it thus far.  McCool's storytelling is well done, but It is no Fell;  I will take what I can get.  Again, the shining spot is Templesmith's art, with even more of the white penned highlights that can be jarring at times, but in a very eye catching way that works.  At the back of Choker #1 there is a featurette that details the method behind Templesmith's illustration process, shedding a definite light on how he creates a piece, but fanboys will be hard pressed to ever reproduce his ever evolving style.

I'm off to buy the second trade of Wormwood and light a voodoo-dolly ablaze in hopes of getting more issues of Fell.

Follow Templesmith's blog at and then be a pal and buy his books.  Prints can also be found at

Wormwood Volume 1 (v. 1) Fell Vol. 1: Feral City (v. 1)

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