Michel Fiffe interviews Ty Templeton Part One

Posted by on January 5th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Ty Templeton penciled Batman Adventures #3 (December 1992), written by Kelley Puckett and inked by Rick Burchett. [©1992 DC Comics]

Ty Templeton is an exceptional cartoonist, whose work shows a playful mastery of the form, sometimes giving unprecedented depth and vitality to characters usually rendered flat by lesser talents. His art and writing are extensions of one another, harmoniously creating what we like to call “Pure Comics.” He’s as brilliant as he is hilarious.

In the tradition of great cartoonists, being a humorist is a requisite. That being said, it’s odd that humor as a sensibility is rare in mainstream comics and being funny relegates one to the fringes of an already marginalized industry, which is why I’ve always considered “funny” to be too limiting of a term to encapsulate Ty Templeton’s work within the boundaries of the modern comics field. Although Templeton has a grasp on what makes humor work, he can run circles around the majority of his peers in any genre with incredible thematic range. Templeton’s interest in human behavior may result in poignancy, pathos or scathing social commentary, but at the end of the day, Templeton’s a funny guy.

After cutting his teeth in the black-and-white boom of independent comics, Templeton broke into the mainstream at DC Comics and has remained there for the majority of his career. In that time, he sharpened his skills on high-profile properties such as The Batman Adventures comics while lending his hand to many off-beat DC projects. It was in 2002 when Templeton crafted his most ambitious, most completely realized work to date, the satirical Bigg Time. Since then, he has been juggling a vast array of comic assignments, spearheading a comic-book company, teaching in Toronto, and fatherhood.

Despite Templeton’s invariably high level of craft, his underrated talent is perhaps overshadowed by either the constraints of the “on modelsystem, fandom’s attention to superficial details or perhaps both. I was interested in how an artist of Templeton’s caliber has remained dedicated to a business that is oftentimes resistant to his brand of humor. I found that his perseverance is a result of being genuinely enthusiastic about the material and about life in general. That dynamic has kept Templeton at the peak of his game. While his talent and adaptability are commendable, it’s his sense of humor that has carried him through triumphs and tragedies over the years.

Ty the Guy was generous enough to talk about his humble beginnings at Vortex Comics, art vs. commerce, Harvey Pekar, religion, his semi-autobiographical opus and a litany of other unbelievable things.

In our mutual correspondence, Templeton once summed it all up by quoting, of all people, Ringo Starr: “If you attempt to be sublime, you’ll only end up looking ridiculous … but if you don’t mind being a little ridiculous, you can end up sublime.”

Michel Fiffe: What inspired you to become a cartoonist?

Ty Templeton: Tons of things.  I suppose first and foremost, my father was a sports cartoonist in the ’40s, and a film and novel writer in the ’70s and ’80s … and though he’d stopped the drawing  part of his career when I was young, I was aware of his cartooning when I was a kid, and saw examples of it growing up. He taught me some drawing lessons when I was very young, which I’ve delighted in passing on to my kids, and taught me quite a bit about plotting and writing as I grew into an adult.

Add to that, that the first comics I ever purchased with my own allowance were “Joker’s Five Way Revenge” by O’Neil and Adams, and “Even an Android Can Cry” by Buscema and Thomas. Could there possibly be two greater comics to introduce you to the medium?  I think if my first comics had been something by lesser talents, I’d probably be a plumber. And as a kid I got handed copies of Asterix and Tintin. Then I found a Mad magazine that belonged to an older brother.

When I saw my first Playboy … I flipped to the back and checked out the Annie Fanny and Buck Brown cartoons. The centerfold was fine, sure … but the cartoons were the real gold. (That’s just sick!)

Your first published comic story was for Vortex Comics. How did your involvement with them begin?

When I was in my late teens/early 20s, I was going to the Ontario College of Art in Toronto Canada, learning to do commercial storyboards and magazine layout comps, all the while playing guitar and singing with a couple of different local bands. Whatever ambitions I had towards cartooning at the time were in the direction of Playboy/New Yorker/Gahan Wilson single-panel gag strips. Not superheroes, as I didn’t naturally draw like that.

But one day, I’m at a party, and a fellow student named Anthony Van Bruggen tells me he’d just had a story published in a local comic called Vortex, and that the publisher’s office was three blocks up the street from our school … and that I should check it out. He had the issue with him and it looked pretty cool.

I went up the street the very next day and showed off some of my artwork to the editor, figuring it would be fun, and there might be money in it.  The editor asked if I’d like to do a story in an upcoming issue for something like 50 bucks a page, script and art. Not bad, as this was ’80s dollars.

After my first story, “Cheap Thrills”, I did something called “Killing Dragons” and another couple of short two and three-page filler stories. And then I got offered my own title.  It was a fairly quick ride. Maybe six months from the first story, to being offered my own title.

The lettering of Mr. X and eventually writing a script or two for that book, came later, after I’d been hanging around the office for months, done a few stories for Vortex, and launched Stig’s Inferno. By that point, I was the office rat and rarely went home.

This must’ve been around the time you were made into an editor. Were you given free reign in giving the title some identity?

Not really … I became editor, more or less, because I was in the office the day the previous editor had quit, and I didn’t mind taking on the task. At the time, I was really enjoying working in the comics industry, and actually liked all aspects of the biz, including marking up copy, reading letters, calling printers, all that stuff. There were some fun moments where I got to meet new creators. I bought the first stories published by Chester Brown and Sam Keith while I was there, and am very proud of that. (I didn’t really discover Sam Keith, as I think he might have published a few low-print things in his home state, but I did discover Chester through his Xeroxed minicomics he was selling on consignment for a quarter at local stores, and convinced our publisher to run with him.) I got to publish a Steve Ditko story, and talk to Steve on the phone, which was a rare treat. Most amusing of all, our office secretary was a woman named Alannah Myles, who we used to go watch sing at a local pub called the Horseshoe Tavern, downtown, and would listen to her demo tapes she and her boyfriend Chris Ward would bring into the office.  I remember how thrilled we all were when her first album topped the charts with “Black Velvet,” and then how un-thrilled we all were when she became so freakin’ unpleasant to be around shortly after fame hit.

Next: Stig’s Inferno

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6 Responses to “Michel Fiffe interviews Ty Templeton Part One”

  1. […] fix that sentence!).  Michel Fiffe interviewed Ty a while back for The Comics Journal, and Part 1 is […]

  2. walterdickinson says:

    For Toronto area residents Ty teaches WRITING FOR COMICS this February. Check out: http://www.cartoonistsworkshop.com under the “workshops” section for details.

  3. […] Ty interviewed by The Comics Journal! Michel Fiffe of the Comics Journal is posting an interview with Ty on the TCJ website.  First installment covers early days of Vortex and leads up to the alt favourite Stig’s Inferno.  Check it out here: http://www.tcj.com/?p=2549 […]

  4. […] excellent career-spanning interviews with the supremely underrated Ty Templeton up at the new TCJ. Part One and Part Two. And, a supplementary post with more […]

  5. […] Old Art Jump to Comments Ty has been so pleased by the response to Michel Fiffe’s interview, and to seeing some of Ty’s old art, that he’s been going through his fifteen […]

  6. […] Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five […]