GUEST BLOG: Horror 101 With ’30 Days Of Night’ Co-Creator Ben Templesmith

By Ben Templesmith


So, the powers that be (Cheers, Rick!) have let me have a go at some blogging here. (You poor, poor people, little do you realize what a train wreck you are in for.)

I had wanted to talk about my intensive breeding program to raise a sentient race of Chinchillas, or perhaps my love of collecting preserved mammoth dung (I have the largest collection in the southern hemisphere) or even about the logistics of superhero sexual relationships, but alas, all were deemed a little, well… off.

So I’m going to talk about horror — specifically, the nature of creating horror in comics and how I go about it. I mean, it’s sort of what I’m known for.

If you don’t know me, I’m Ben Templesmith. I draw (and write quite a bit too, actually) horror comics. I’m probably most know as the guy that came up with the look of the vampires for “30 Days of Night,” which went on to be made into a feature film. I drew/draw “Fell” with Warren Ellis, a crime procedural with a dank and dirty setting and rather offbeat and off-color crimes and… I created “Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse,” which as you can tell by the title, is perhaps not a Fabio Lanzoni romance novel. Oh, and I recently wrote and drew “Welcome to Hoxford,” a werewolf prison drama, which Chris Columbus’ production company, 1492, is picking up to perhaps make into film.

So… Horror. Comics.

I can tell you what isn’t horror: Most comics. Most comics these days seem to take classic “monsters” and reset them in power fantasy, detective, romance or just plain all-out brawl stories. They try to be edgy like that, and most miss the point. Most are drawn in the same or very similar style to superhero comics. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying comics that take what are termed “classical horror” and give them a bit of a new spin are crap, I’m just saying they’re not exactly horror. They’re trading on horror but are actually producing something else.

Horror is mood. Horror is situation.

Part of that is the art, and part of that is the writing. “30 Days of Night” (the original series story and perhaps the volume I wrote, “30 Days of Night: Red Snow”), I’d like to think had both elements. Steve Niles came up with the concept. You had a small town, arctic winter, no sunlight for over a month and you add vampires to the mix.

It’s a story of survival. It’s a story of brutality in the face of that — of how far you might go to make sure you’re alive at the end, and of seeing your loved ones ripped apart as food. It’s not just a fight comic, and not an action book with horror elements. The entire setup is, for me, horrific. And that’s why it was so great and why I chose to commit to the project in the beginning. “30 Days of Night” harkened back to one of my favorite horror films of all time, John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” It was all about the situation — of desolate isolation and death.

When I did the art, I kept “The Thing” in mind. As some snippets of art show, I tried to keep it frenetic, tonal and dark. I played with color in such a way as to make the point where you see blood really pop and be visually different from the more talky, timid moments. If the book had been drawn as if it were Spider-Man or Superman — with the traditional, rather gaudy bright color schemes of that genre — it probably wouldn’t have had the same effect.

Another thing about horror, is what you don’t see. I keep things dark. I keep them sketchy, at least compared to the very clean lines of more mainstream comics many fans are used to. Many people have a love/hate relationship with my work for precisely that reason. They either get it, or they don’t.

Thankfully for me, I think comics have rounded a corner and you’ve seen an explosion recently of less than traditional styles and looks that are gaining a new appreciation within the medium. Not that the traditional look of comics is bad or deficient, but the diversity of styles is perhaps helping grow genres that previously were a little hamstrung. Horror is benefiting much in that regard.

“Fell” isn’t entirely a horror book. Some people think it is and at conventions I kind of correct them that it’s actually a crime comic with a very horror, moody feel — which I hope was what Warren intended me to do on it. Snowtown, where the book is set, kind of takes on a character in its own right. That’s in many ways thanks to Warren’s brilliant writing, but I hope I did my part with the art.

For me, mood is everything. I wanted “Fell” to feel so desolate, despite the fact that it’s a large urban setting. I wanted it to be depressing, hence the constant blue hues when outside. (It doesn’t hurt to have stories dealing with desiccated babies, too.)

“Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse” isn’t really horror, either. It’s a dark, black-humor book. Again, I give it some of the horror trimmings. It’s got blood and guts and lots of disgusting concepts in it, coupled with the dark and tonal art I’m generally known for. It’s purposefully a little brighter in color, though. It’s not meant to be depressing, old and as rundown as “Fell” is. Then, on top of that, I add the layer of comedic writing (well, I try to, anyways). Thus far, it’s worked out rather well.

Essentially, I’m lampooning horror in many ways with “Wormwood.” Nothing in it is serious, yet it’s all seen through the visual horror filter I give things, pretty much as if I was doing a straight-up horrific book.

And then there’s “Welcome to Hoxford.” In this one, which I also wrote, it’s meant to be a horror book. It’s about the situation: A privately run mental prison no one ever seems to get released from, and something killing all the inmates. The inmates in “Hoxford” are some of the nastiest criminals you could imagine, yet there’s meant to be something else in there that’s even worse. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but yes, it’s basically a survivalist tale again, laced with the horrific quirks of many of the inmates and the occasional sick and nasty joke.

Visually, I tried to make “Hoxford” as foreboding and dark as possible. So, there are lots of black and blues, punctuated with reds where appropriate, and then full red and warm tones where the action really heats up in certain instances. Personally, I think it worked — but you guys, the audience, get the final say, not I.

I think I’ve ranted on long enough. Has anyone learned anything? (I mean, apart from not letting me near this blog again, of course.) I honestly hope so. There are so many other aspects to doing horror, it’s just not funny. I hope more people really delve into its nature and start do some great work. People like Mike Mignola (“Hellboy”) and Jae Lee (“Inhumans”) I consider masters at creating moods with their art, and books like Robert Kirkman’s “Walking Dead,” with it’s fantastic horrific situations, really punch you in the guts. “Walking Dead” is, in my opinion, one of the best horror books out there.

But a good horror comic is worth the wait. If you’re into films of the horror genre, comics can offer you the same experience — if they’re done right.

Now, I’m off to eat a dead baby or something.

Ben Templesmith is the celebrated co-creator of “30 Days of Night” and “Fell,” as well as the creator, writer and artist of “Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse” and “Welcome to Hoxford.” He has also provided art for comic book projects based on the “Dead Space” video game and the “Doctor Who” television series, along with a variety of other projects.

You can find out more about Templesmith and his work at his official website, as well as his Twitter feed.