Michel Fiffe interviews Ty Templeton: Part Three

Posted by on January 7th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Previously: Part One, Part Two.

After your stint at Eclipse, you were getting regular work from DC Comics, particularly as an inker. I’m curious as to why that was when you were clearly capable of executing every other task with just a much facility.

A)  It was what I was offered.

B)  It allowed me to work with Curt Swan, Jim Mooney, John Byrne, Irv Novick, Mike Parobeck and dozens of other heroes of mine. Why sing on stage alone, when you can do a duet with John Lennon?

C)  It’s probably my favorite part of the job. Penciling is very stressful for me, as I’m never happy with anything I’ve ever drawn … but inking is relaxing and I’m almost always happy with how it turns out.  I rarely get offered ink jobs any more, but I’d love to do more of it.  I used to sneak pages from friends of mine and ink them for free, just for the joy of it.  I inked a page or two of The Pitt over Richard Pace, without credit, and a few others over the years.  Any editors out there who want to offer me an ink job?  I’ll take it!

You were also the regular fill-in artist for the Justice League International during the popular Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire era. How did you become part of that crew? Was there ever a possibility of becoming the regular artist on JLI?

No secret story here. I met Andy Helfer at a convention, and he offered me the job. And yes, I was offered the position permanently when Kevin Maguire left, but didn’t want the stress of hefting that series on my shoulders alone. Within months, they’d found this guy Adam Hughes, and no one missed me. I did a few issues after that, mostly in the annuals and quarterlies. Helfer was a terrific guy, and understanding when I turned down the regular gig.  I was also splitting up with my first common-law wife at the time, and was stressed about many things during that period. She went on to much success in the world of acting, and became a big TV star, so her stress worked out for her.

You wrote and drew the actual Mad Dog comic book that originated from the television show, Bob. Marvel put it out as a flipbook, with Evan Dorkin doing the “serious” side. Mad Dog as an overall package was an anomaly in the ’90s Marvel roster due to its sense of absurdist humor. How did that project get started?

Oh, I lobbied for that as soon as I saw the first episode of the TV series. Love Newhart.  Loved the premise of the show. About two weeks after it aired, there was a convention in Toronto, and Fabian Nicieza was in town. So I bee-lined to him and asked who was in charge of buying licenses of things at Marvel, and would they like to buy the license for Mad Dog and let me write and draw it?  Astoundingly enough, Marvel had already bought the rights, and Fabian was impressed by my enthusiasm and I had the job within the hour.

Page from Mad Dog #4 (September 1993)  [©1993 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc.]

Sadly, Evan Dorkin, perhaps the funniest guy in our biz, didn’t realize that we were  planning to do my half of the book as comedy, and produced a fairly straightforward superhero book for his half, and fans didn’t like the neither-fish-nor-fowl-nature of the book. We launched to huge numbers and were done in six issues.

That was probably my favorite gig at Marvel, right up until I started working with Dan Slott and started having fun with him. Oh, and writing some issues of the Avengers spin-offs.

You didn’t get into full-time writing until you worked on The Batman Adventures. Did writing for that specific corner of the Batman world interest you?

Very much so. I’ve been a Batman fan my whole life. I was offered Batman Adventures at the same time as Spider-Man Unlimited (the strange cartoon show about Spider-Man living on Counter Earth and hanging out with Ani-Men that was mercifully canceled in one season).  I actually thought it over about which was the better job offer until a friend literally started beating my shoulders and screaming Batman, Batman, Batman at me, and I thought … “What am I thinking? This is Batman.” I worked out of the Batman office, off and on, ever since then. Less so lately, but I’m actually drawing an issue of the new Brave and Bold cartoon book, this very week and having fun. I’ll never wander too far from Batman or his adventures.  It’s my home away from home. The character has been handled astoundingly well in animation over the years.

Self-portrait panel from Amazing Heroes #200 (April 1992). [©1992 Ty Templeton]

And while I was the main writer on those Adventures issues, the regular Batman was living in Earthquake Gotham, or Virus Gotham, or Bruce-Is-Crippled Gotham, so people started thinking of us as the “real” Batman, which was very rewarding.  All of my Eisner Awards come from my attachment to that series … so I have tremendous affection for Batman and the DC animated office in general. I was still doing Justice League covers for that series until about two years ago, and I inked one of the final issues of Justice League Adventures right before the end.

There are some long stretches where you exclusively do writing. Do you still draw on the side to practice?

No, I don’t draw when I’m not working on a drawing. Nor do I write when not working on a script. The only thing I do daily that’s a creative or artistic thing is I play music every day. Piano and singing, usually…but some days, I get it in my head to grab the guitar. Nowadays, I play mostly swing jazz… Nat King Cole, or Sammy Cahn, some Duke and Basie when I’m feeling ambitious. I’m not a virtuoso on the keys by any means, but to a layman, I sound pretty good, and I can fool myself some days into being happy with what I can do. I’ve sat in a room with Oscar Peterson, though, so I have no illusions about my skills. On days I don’t play the piano, my wife or my kids ask me what’s wrong.

Aside from making comics and playing music, acting used to be your passion-cum-career. Do you still act? Do you find that being a performer affects your comics’ storytelling?

I don’t still act, not really. But I did consider it my profession for a number of years.  There’s a few small parts in movies, a bunch of commercials, a number of stage plays and one or two characters from episodic TV in the resume (though my IMDB entry lists less than a third of it).  Nowadays, I’m only acting if a friend needs a warm body to get through a non-union production and I can help out. I did a play about four years ago, that was fun, but only took a few weeks out of my life. Oddly enough, I’m doing some voice acting for a radio series in a couple of weeks… but I’m not at liberty to discuss it yet.

I gave up acting when I got married. Raising kids required both parents around the house, and actors are notoriously not home much.  Plus, when you’re in love, you don’t need the love of strangers…

It doesn’t really come into comic work, other than it makes me feel very comfortable in front of crowds, which is helpful when I teach, or when I do talks at conventions.

With projects such as the Plastic Man Special, your contribution to World’s Funnest with Evan Dorkin and the notorious Elseworld’s 80-page Giant with Mark Waid, your work always had a real sense of fun despite the prevalent dour mood in comics. Was this a conscious reaction or were you guys just doing your thing?

I’m a naturally fun person, that’s my nature. My favorite movies, shows, bands, people, and work is always about having fun in this life. I grew up addicted to Monty Python, the Beatles, Woody Allen, Star Trek, comic books, playing rock and roll, chasing the ladies, and laughing my ass off all day long. It doesn’t mean I don’t like a meaty drama or a complex plot from time to time (Kubrick, for instance, is still my favorite director, and some of my better scripts are tragic in the long run) but I figure my job, as an entertainer, is to trade you a few dollars for a few moments of escape from the world of troubles. I don’t mind making my audience think about things, but I’m not interested in bumming them out with nihilism or suffering. Creators who create that stuff, are usually unhappy people in their lives and are trying to share their hearts with the other unhappy people who want to feel less alone in their world. That’s a great reason to make art … but I’m not a basically unhappy person. I laugh more than anyone I know, and can’t imagine life any other way. So when I share my heart, it usually involves clown shoes.

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3 Responses to “Michel Fiffe interviews Ty Templeton: Part Three”

  1. […] 3: Ty has more to say Jump to Comments The Comics Journal has posted Part 3 of Michel Fiffe’s interview with […]

  2. […] If you’re not familiar with Ty’s work, he has done everything from indy small press material for Fantagraphics and Vortex Comics to scripting for DC, Marvel, Bongo and IDW. The Comics Journal is currently doing an interview with him at their site in installments. I recommend checking it out here: http://www.tcj.com/?p=2687 […]