DCC Showcase ’17: Ben Templesmith and Brett Weldele
As continue to count down to the opening of this year’s Denver Comic Con (8 days!), this week I will be talking about a few more of the creators who will be making an appearance at the con this year. Today, I’ll be talking about two artists who I was unfamiliar with prior to choosing them for the Showcase but both have what’s considered a more “painterly” style. While both have plenty of work to look at, I’ve picked one particularly good example of their skill for each. Without further ado, may I present Week 3 of the DCC Showcase!
Ben Templesmith – Fell
Fell is an interesting tale that combines both noir and dystopia in a rather fascinating way. The story centers around Detective Richard Fell, a clever (probably too much so for his own good) police detective who has recently been transferred to the “urban trashzone” known as Snowtown. While the events that led to Fell’s transfer remain mysterious for much of the story, it’s a pretty easy assumption that he messed up big time. Snowtown has a total of three and a half officers, four now that Fell has arrived, for the entire urban area. As you might expect, this is woefully inadequate for an area as crime ridden and desperately poor as Snowtown. Fell’s superior, Lieutenant Beard, copes with the impossiblity of the job by taking enough drugs to remain mostly insensible and no one expects much of Fell. But Fell is determined to provide some measure of justice to Snowtown while he’s stuck there and uses his skills of Sherlock Holmes level observation and judgement of human nature as he navigates the dark alleys and even darker human minds in his new home.
Fell is written by Warren Ellis (known for Red, Planetary, Hellblazer and Transmetropolitan to name just a few), a creator well known for his sociocultural and political commentary. Ellis is a perfect choice for this sort of story and it’s right up his alley. For fans of Transmetropolitan, Fell will feel quite familiar. With the main character being a detective rather than a hotshot reporter, the story remains more noir than dystopian comedy but Ellis’ flair for writing intriguing characters stuck in dark, corrupted environments remains excellent. Fell is not an entirely altruistic character but much like Spider Jersusalem, he does his best by the city that he serves and the cast of characters around him, while not exactly politically correct, are both entertaining and intriguing. Anyone who enjoys noir and intrigue will find a lot to like in Fell.
Ben Templesmith has worked on a number of licensed properties including Hellspawn, Star Wars and Doctor Who but really made his name with 30 Days of Night and then Fell. Templesmith’s style is distinctly “painterly.” He uses minimalist linework combined with a sort of abstract, watercolor style to create an almost dreamy effect in the panels. The palette alternates between warm, dull browns that comprise much of the sequences during the day and evoke a sense of the ugly, urban environment and cool blues to illustrate the dark alleys and forboding nights of Snowtown. This kind of muted color scheme is an excellent contrast to intensely colorful elements in the panel like the characters’ eyes and hair, graffiti and important items that he wants to draw the reader’s attention to. This style lends itself very well to a noir story like Fell and I was caught up by the way the writing and art blended to create a fascinating world that draws the reader in.
If you’re at all a fan of noir and dystopian environments, Fell is a cannot miss story. The pairing of Ellis and Templesmith blends spectacularly well and once again Image finds a great creator combination for an unusual and compelling story. As far as I could tell from DCC’s list of panels, Templesmith won’t be appearing on any but will likely be in Artist Alley so I’d highly recommend checking out his work!
Brett Weldele – The Surrogates
For those unfamiliar with the story (it was adapted into a movie starring Bruce Willis in 2009), The Surrogates is a dystopian science fiction thriller that asks just how human we can remain when we replace our bodies with machines. The Surrogates opens in 2054, a time in which virtual reality and cybernetics have combined in the invention of the surrogates (or “surries” as they’re colloquially known). Originally created to add the elderly and those with debilitating physical handicaps, surrogates are artificial bodies that allow their users to occupy a body other than their own by linking their mind to it and controlling it via electrical impulses. The popularity of this invention has led to its mass adoption by anyone who can afford the price tag, leading to an astounding 92% use in the United States. As you might expect, not everyone is as accepting of the new technology and a group known as the Dreads actively campaigns against the use of surrogates. When a techno-terrorist starts killing surrogates using the flash lightning storms as cover, it’s up to Harvey Greer and Pete Ford of the Metro Police Department to stop the terrorist before its plans to eliminate all surrogates come to fruition.
The Surrogates is written by Robert Venditti (largely known for Surrogates though he has some other creator-owned properties as well) and illustrated by Brett Weldele. The concept of humanity versus technology is always an interesting and compelling one, not to mention being a concept we’ve been obsessed with since the dawn of technology. In many ways, this story reminded me of Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan as it deals with many of the same issues. Due to people’s ability to occupy bodies other than their own, they no longer feel life in the same way nor do they fear death. Why should they when all it means is a loss of property and the financial cost that entails? How does it change criminal justice and society when your body is no longer your only body? Could you accept it? And what if you can’t afford a surrogate? How would you view those who could? All of these questions lead to a fascinating take on virtual reality and cybernetics. While the story is interesting, the ending isn’t particularly surprising. What makes the story so good is the compelling world building that’s gone into it and in large part, the contributions of the artwork.
While I enjoyed the story and absolutely loved the world building, the art by Weldele is nothing short of masterful. It’s been awhile since I read a story in which I was more impressed by the art than the writing but The Surrogates was definitely one of those special cases. Like Templesmith, Weldele’s style uses minimalist linework and a muted palette of alternating browns and blues to create a dark, dystopian atmosphere. Unlike Templesmith, Weldele’s linework is very heavy and uses little detail, relying on the watercolors and a skillful use of shadows to intensify the atmosphere of the panels. There are panels that are little more than sketches but in comparison to the heavy linework in the other panels, this adds to the feelings evoked by the story in a way that a less varied style would not. In addition, there are ads and additional information at the end of each issue that contribute to the immersion into the world that Venditti and Weldele have created that absolutely blew me away.
While I’ve enjoyed many science fiction graphic novel series, The Surrogates is far and away one of my absolute favorites. The writing by Venditti is good (straight spectacular when it comes to world building) but it’s Weldele’s art that really brings this series to life. Weldele will be on several panels that would be well worth attending: “Hey! Isn’t Your Style Too Painterly for Comics?” and the art demo “Drawing with Brett Weldele”. Be sure to check them out while you’re at DCC and make sure to catch him in Artist Alley!
Hope you enjoyed getting a look at some of the talent displayed by Ben Templesmith and Brett Weldele and that you’ll check them out while you’re at Denver Comic Con at the end of the month! Join Graphic Reviews next week for our final showcase! And if you have comments or questions about this week’s creators, leave them in the comments!