BEN TEMPLESMITH on His BATMAN: 'Small Ears Are For the Fruit Bats'

Gotham by Midnight #1
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Ever since former Vertigo editor Mark Doyle took over the Batman line, fans have been treated to refreshing new takes on the Bat-verse. Next up is Gotham By Midnight, which not only unleashes the creative experience of indie-darling writer Ray Fawkes, but brings the dark, moody work of fan-favorite artist Ben Templesmith to Gotham.

The title focuses on the horror division of the Gotham City Police Department, the "midnight shift" that deals with ghosts, monsters and other supernatural threats. In the group's lead is a character currently starring in Batman Eternal — Detective Jim Corrigan, who also serves as the host of the divine force of vengeance, The Spectre.

Fawkes already told Newsarama there's nothing else at DC that looks "as weird and dark and gorgeous" as the November-launching Batman title. Newsarama talked to Templesmith to find out more.

Credit: DC Comics

Newsarama: Ben, you've been quoted as saying that money isn't a motivator for the projects you choose, and that you're instead drawn to projects in which you feel totally invested. That's obvious in all the indie and Kickstarter projects you've been doing lately! But now that you're working on a "big publisher" comic within the DC Universe, what's your attraction to Gotham By Midnight?

Ben Templesmith: Well, if I've got the rent covered, or, as is the case in the U.S., the medical expenses,, then really, you have to choose the work that speaks to you, that's going to keep you motivated or inspires you. I mean, we deal in creativity, not a screw factory or something. With DC, or any "mainstream" work, anywhere near superheroes that are the more traditional fare of comics, I've always been open … I did break in doing Hellspawn back in the day … but I was always too busy to submit or try to push my way in with the big publishers. I'm really one of those people that does their own thing and only sticks their hand up for something else if they're asked to.

Credit: DC Comics

Well, someone finally asked me, and asked me to do a book related to the Bat-verse, one of my favorite characters at that... and to help launch a #1. How could I say no?

It's all Ray Fawkes' fault there. We've known each other a few years now, so it's a grand thing to be able to finally do something together. Especially considering he's also a writer and artist. I like the way his mind works.

Nrama: You're usually not an "ongoing monthly" comic guy either, and DC has been keeping a pretty tight monthly schedule, for the most part. Are you and DC approaching this project with the intention of releasing it monthly?

Templesmith: Well, I'm not sure if I'm allowed to say, but I think I'm on for five issues. Not sure after that. So yes, it's monthly for the stint.

Credit: DC Comics

I would love to come back to it. But I'm more of an arc artist. At least a month or two to recuperate. Historically I do mini-series. I'd go bonkers if I did a true monthly book long-term. Learned that the hard way. Burnout sucks. There was one year I did 18 issues worth of material, back in the day, when I was much more able to cope with no sleep. These days I'm trying to pace myself.

Nrama: As you know, artists' input varies from comic to comic. How would you describe your creative input on Gotham By Midnight?

Templesmith: I'm one of those weirdos that doesn't like to do much except follow the writer to the letter, if I can. If I'm creating a book, sure, I kind of want to do everything — I mostly do creator-owned work — but if I'm just one creative on a project, I prefer to just follow the lead and do what I'm expected.

Credit: DC Comics

Ray's scripts are great to work with so far. Never been a fan of trying to tell a writer what they should do... I'll write myself if I want! That said, Ray is incredibly open and basically telling me he's open to a lot of things. He's just too damn nice. He is.

My main focus might be a bit of storytelling. I tend to want to add panels instead of subtract them. And if anyone notices my own work, I actually rarely have splash pages. Each project has a different dynamic though. The only rule is that there are no rules!

Nrama: Let’s talk about the visuals of Gotham By Midnight. You mentioned that you're getting to play in the Bat-verse, but what was the most exciting part for you, as you started to design the characters, concepts and settings for the comic?

Credit: DC Comics

Templesmith: I'll be honest and say the first little drawing I did of Batman, knowing it'd actually be in a legit DC book.

Yes, I did one of those online stories in the past that was printed in Legends of the Dark Knight #2, I think, but that wasn't in continuity or anything. This time, I was sweating as I did it.

The rest of the work so far is more relaxed — regular-looking people, talking and doing spooky things. Jim Corrigan…well, I can't wait for what I get to do there. The monster is a bit of a trip though. Ray's letting me have some fun.

Nrama: Anything you can tell us about your approach to the Caped Crusader and the sketches we've seen so far?

Credit: DC Comics

Templesmith: I was rather nervous doing that first panel with him in. I'm rather opinionated on the bat ears. At least, jokingly. I grew up on Kelly Jones Batman. Loved the look. Bats are about 20% of the world's mammals. Of that, most are the "microbats", meaning the ones with small eyes, who eat insects, sometimes blood and have those big scary ears and noses for radar. Batman's ears should always be big to me. Small ears are for the fruit bats, which are cute but, if you're dressing up as a bat to intimidate and create a legend... I'd go with the scarier kind myself. I have toned down my ears though. I mean, I could go crazy with them but editorial might kill me.

Nrama: What were the biggest challenges in this project?

Templesmith: Probably not buckling under the pressure. I do seem to be putting a great deal of pressure on myself for the damn thing to be good! My art style is definitely not traditional, so it'll be interesting to see what people think.

Credit: DC Comics

Nrama: How would you describe the world you've designed for the comic?

Templesmith: Well, I'm always doing dark and gloomy things. In reality, Gotham as I read it in the comics has really been my inspiration for many settings I've really done for my own work. It feels like for once, I'm being honest... this really is Gotham. I hope with this book we seem to be getting into the dirt, the unseen nastiness that lurks in an already moody and dark world.

Nrama: How would you describe the way you designed (and now drawn in the comic) Jim Corrigan in his "street clothes" persona?

Templesmith: Jim seems to me to just have a bit of distinctive hair, and a flair for oddly colored suits and ties. I don't think I could wear a green suit myself. Rather iconic though, so I really just follow what's come before there. I know a bit about where Ray wants to take him though, so there'll be opportunity for some subtle things every now and then. All is not well with Mr. Corrigan.

Nrama: Have you gotten to draw him as The Spectre), and can you describe what you're bringing visually to (and hoping to highlight about) that character?

Templesmith: Let's just say yes, I've done some initial Spectre images. Did some soon as I initially heard what the book would deal with. I can't wait to get more into him and try to convey his power. I mean, the guy is a living embodiment of holy vengeance. He's not going to smile much.

Credit: DC Comics

Nrama: We've seen your sketch for Lisa Drake, the detective who's part of the Gotham by Midnight team. Ray Fawkes told us she's an "unabashed Goth," which is obviously part of her look. But from your perspective, what was the idea behind her look in the sketch and in the story, and what can you tell us about the way you're portraying her?

Templesmith: Ray also definitely wanted an old school vibe to her: 1920's or so, with the particular hair. It's funny though, a lot of people who know me think I'm actually drawing my fiancée, with her hairstyle. She is a bit of inspiration for sure and yes, she's a bit of a Goth too. So it all fits.

I don't want to say too much about the character though, since she's to me the most interesting of the group outside of Jim. She has a past and some stuff going on. We've not dealt with it yet, where I get to delve into it visually, so I'd leave it for someone better qualified to yap about!

Nrama: Ray also described a few other members of the crew. Can you tell us anything about your approach to Doctor Szandor Tarr, Sister Justine and Lt. Sam Weaver?

Templesmith: Well, Tarr is the science guy. Yes, he's got glasses. Gods I love drawing characters with glasses though. He also started off much fatter. The other two... are a bit more of a challenge. Drawing ethnicity and race is a bit more work. Sister Justine is African American, so I'm hoping I'm conveying her well enough. And Weaver is Latino, hasn't had much airtime yet so not really been able to really show him much. The real challenge has been that they have to look "cop-ish."

Credit: DC Comics

Not just funky people. They need badges and at times, police outfits/jackets in addition/competition with their individual flair.

Nrama: Actually, on the cover where we see the whole crew, there appears to be five characters besides Jim Corrigan. Did I miss someone?

Templesmith: The other guy would be Rook. Basically, our outsider desk jockey cop, sent into the squad to find out what the heck they're doing. Since I have a bit of an odd fetish for drawing bald men … see my last book, The Squidder … I was overjoyed to be able to leave his hair off.

Nrama: Ray also said the book will not shy away from dealing with the wrath of God, heaven and hell, and demons and angels and such. How has it been dealing with that those themes and settings?

Templesmith: While the book ultimately does get to deal with that, I've not had to do anything particularly biblical yet that delves into true visions of gods or angels. Perhaps a few demons though … wink wink.

Nrama: We've already talked about Ray a lot but how has it been working with him on the comic?

Credit: DC Comics

Templesmith: With Ray? Well, someone needs to do something about that guy. He's quite possibly one of the nicest people I've ever met. Creatively and personally. He's an artist too, so his scripts...well, I can tell. It makes my life easier!

Nrama: Where else can we find your work right now? (You can insert your shameless plug here…)

Templesmith: Oh, I'll plug you up alright. I just finished an OGN called The Squidder for 44FLOOD, a publishing company I co-founded. We Kickstarted it, and it went exceptionally well and also released it monthly via IDW Publishing.

I've got a limited edition slipcase hardcover edition director's cut of the whole book, plus a few other goodies and more to come over at 78SQUID.com. If you like Mad Max mixed with Cthluhu, it'll be up your alley.

Nrama: Then to finish up, we've covered the details of Gotham By Midnight, but let's back up to the big picture. You've certainly worked on a lot of different types of books over the years. Overall, how would you describe Gotham by Midnight?

Templesmith: To me, it's actually my first real sort of group book. It also fits the whole occult, magicky, Constantine vibe... a genre I seem to inhabit often, in tone at least if not substance.

Beyond that I like that it's a book about a guy with his own issues, besides any general story surrounding him. Corrigan will be on an interesting journey, that's for sure.

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