Michel Fiffe interviews Ty Templeton: Part Two

Posted by on January 6th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Previously: Part One.

A page from Stig’s Inferno #7 (March 1987).

How did Stig’s Inferno come about?

Back in high school, I’d done a strip for my high-school paper called Doc. This strip was an embarrassing Doonesbury rip-off about a cab driver and his roommate who both lived with the ghost of Macbeth haunting their apartment shower and an alien from Zaton living in the apartment below them. One main character “Jim” was clearly Zonker Harris, right down to the long blonde hair and little chin beard. (Sound familiar?) The art style, lettering, rhythms and everything was excruciatingly slavish to Garry Trudeau. I was 16 … what can I say?

Later, when I went to OCA my very talented friend and roomie, Klaus Schoenefeld, and I decided to do a strip for the college newspaper … Klaus would draw it, and I would write it.  The original premise started with some of the same ideas as Doc, primarily the ghost roommate idea, only now it was going to be much better drawn, and, as I’d been getting into Dante’s Inferno lately, I switched Macbeth to Dante, and the Zonker /Jim character morphed into a someone called Stig (named after a character from a Monty Python sketch who gets his head “nailed to the floor”). The cab driver was now gone, but Stig continued on being constantly unfazed by the world around him, no matter how weird things got. As we started playing with the ideas, the ghost roommate switched to a pair of demons living in the piano, and then we thought it would be funny to kill Stig, and he became a ghost himself. Klaus loved drawing demons and things wearing armor, and he did a lot of sketches of armor wearing demons around this time, as background designs. Tons of armor-wearing demons.

Eventually, we became convinced this idea of a ghost interacting with armor-wearing demons was too good for the college paper, and it should become a daily strip for some syndicate, so Klaus and I drew up something like 14 or 15 dailies (I wrote them and roughly thumbnailed them out, he penciled them, I inked ’em) … aimless nonsense that wasn’t that funny really, but Klaus drew my nonsense well. These strips got as far as Stig’s death, and that was it, we stopped working on them and put them aside … distracted by playing music, or girlfriends, or whatever distracts young men. I’m not sure we ever showed them to anyone other than our friends. In Klaus’ editorial at the back of Kelvin Mace #1, he writes that we stopped working on them because we got into a fight over a girl we were both seeing … the fight I recall, but the strips had been put aside months before that, in my recollection.

But … fast forward a year or so, when the editor at Vortex asked if I wanted to do a regular book … to fill 24 pages of content every two months, and did I have any ideas?  I said I wanted to do an anthology book, with this Stig’s Inferno idea, plus, a science-fiction spoof called Lance Amazing of the Space Patrol (which was really just an excuse to bring back the alien from Zaton, again from the high-school strip) and one spot for a series called Lenny’s Casino and Grill.

The editor wanted a single lead character, and I settled on Stig (as I’d been writing him in various incarnations for a while) so I put together a new script and asked Klaus to draw it with me … Klaus said he thought it was too much work, for too little money to do it at Vortex, as he was starting to do very well for himself as a storyboard artist for TV commercials and the like after our second year of school … that kind of work did pay way more than Vortex was offering — even though it was good money for an indy book, it couldn’t compete with advertising and magazine money. Klaus was very excited about the money his skills were earning him at such a young age, and he became almost a workaholic for the advertising industry.  I even made a tidy living doing the work he didn’t have the time to do when it was offered … a few spill-over storyboards and magazine comps here and there myself.

For his part, Klaus helped out here and there on Stig when he had a spare minute … he drew a back-up story for me in issue #2, and he helped me lay out a page in issue #3 when I was having trouble getting it to look right.

After issue 3 or 4 came out, the series was nominated for an industry award (I think it was a “Kirby” for best black-and-white title — I didn’t win, though; it went to [Love & Rockets]), and I was starting to get some attention and sales. So Klaus announced he was now willing to draw Stig with me if it was getting critical attention and award nominations and sales. He could start with issue 5.

But the comic you guys ended up working on instead was Kelvin Mace. What was your creative relationship with Klaus like at that point?

Kelvin Mace was given to Klaus to draw as a trade-off for Stig. Since I was drawing the Inferno after three or four issues, I thought I’d gotten a handle on how to draw it, and didn’t want to share. So I pulled this private-eye character from the bag of ideas, and offered it to Klaus to play with.

The idea for Mace had been kicking around my head for months (mentioned in the editorial for Stig #1 as an upcoming back-up) but that version wasn’t the same thing it ended up being. My original idea was just a tough-guy, noir, private-eye spoof named after absolute cold and absolute violence. But now that Klaus wanted to play, we spent a weekend at my mother’s pool, inventing silly things that made us laugh, and it got overhauled with science-fiction/Blade Runner backgrounds — broad-brimmed hats, big guns, flying cars, insanely tall buildings, and deco, deco, deco.  The only thing from my original idea that stayed was the subtitle, “A man who has no business being anyone’s role model” and a scene where Kelvin bats a midget disguised as a baby out the window to prove how impressively violent he is. There’s little plot in the first issue, just excuses to draw the things that Klaus liked to draw, and spots for me to tell jokes. It took Klaus something like four or five months to draw, as he did it in-between much better-paying advertising gigs, but amazingly enough, it came out, people liked it, and Vortex asked for two more issues.

There’s a huge hint of things to come in the editorial in Kelvin Mace … in which Klaus says some nefarious things about his plans for the future. Something about getting even. (In retrospect, it’s rather amazing I didn’t see any of this coming).

Shortly after Mace #1 had come out, Klaus went to Germany, rather spur of the moment one afternoon, to be with his girlfriend, and while he was out of the country, he sent back a message through a third roommate that he needed me to move out so he could offer my room to his girlfriend’s brother. The impersonal nature of the eviction pissed me off, and after I found a new place, I didn’t call him in Germany, and felt he could call me when he got back. Vortex and I also parted company during this time — I had lost all trust in the publisher to ever pay me some of the thousands of dollars he still owed me for Stig, Kelvin Mace and Mr. X work, and I’d taken my Stig character to Eclipse Comics.   Something like six months went by without any contact with Klaus or Vortex, when I discovered we were all  among the guests of honor at a 10th anniversary celebration for a local comic store called the Silver Snail in Toronto …which was the first news I had that Klaus was back in town, and had been for most of the last six months.

Klaus’ Kelvin Mace #2 came out during this period … it’s a beautiful issue with gorgeous, full-color art. Without question, the best comics work he ever did, and it’s notoriously hard to find at conventions. I have the color originals for a couple of the pages framed in my hallway to this day. Don’t love the script Klaus wrote, but the art is sensational.

Anyway, about a week before the party for the Silver Snail, Klaus shows up at my front door and invites me to dinner. We talked about what the hell was going on with him, and he told me he’d always resented my taking Stig away from him — he’d believed I’d stolen it — and that from the start, he’d intended to take Kelvin Mace away from me as a retribution, and to further that end, he’d sold the rights to Kelvin Mace to the editor at Vortex and Vortex was going to continue to publish the Kelvin Mace book and let other people write and draw the character and I wasn’t invited, nyah nyah …

But — about a month after he’d sold his rights, Klaus had felt bad about it, and wanted to know now if I forgave him, and could we be friends again?  And how do we fix this Kelvin Mace mistake at Vortex, and can we bring Mace to Eclipse?

I was flabbergasted.  I had no idea he’d been this resentful about Stig (although, as I mentioned above, his editorial in Mace #1 said all this stuff in print, but he’d told me it was a joke).  I explained to him that he couldn’t have sold all the rights to Kelvin Mace as I still owned my half of the character regardless of whatever deal he thought he’d made with Vortex (a quick check with a lawyer the next day proved me right), but that he had sold his rights to the character only, which left him screwed, but not me.

I said I forgave him. I was involved in a relationship at the time that was giving my life a lot of joy, and was having a blast in my career, so it didn’t seem worth it to stay mad at him, especially when he was feeling terribly guilty about what he now considered a dreadful mistake.

We went to the Silver Snail party together and had a great time, throwing bread rolls at each other, signing copies of Kelvin Mace and Stig, and Mr. X at the same table, (the publisher wasn’t there, so it was a relaxing time) hooting and carrying on in general.  We’d made plans for our girlfriends to finally meet each other, and to create a third issue of Kelvin Mace together starting next week and to try to solve this silly “rights” problem he’d gotten himself into.

Then, two days later, he died.

Cardiac arrest in a city sidewalk in front of a hardware store while jogging there to buy shelf braces.

At the age of 24.

The day before my birthday, by the way. And the same day as my cat got hit by a car.

And then later that evening, my fiancée called off our wedding, and packed up and moved, as it had suddenly gotten way too weird.

Since then, there’s never been another issue of Kelvin Mace or Stig’s Inferno, though I’ve drawn Kelvin Mace in a few benefit books (True North, etc.) and Stig made a cameo in my graphic novel Bigg Time, both characters essentially died with Klaus after what can only be called the worst week of my life.

I can’t imagine wanting to return to those characters or comics in general after that. What’s happened to the Stig’s property since?

Not much.  The last issue came out about a month after Klaus died, and I stopped working on issue #8 that very day he died, so it was never finished.  I’d written scripts up to issue #9, and drawn about five pages of #8 and the cover, which I think got printed in an issue of Amazing Heroes back in the day.

Stig shows up in almost every crowd scene I draw in comics, though — he’s in the Simpsons, The Exterminators, Batman, Superman, Spider-Man … he even showed up in an issue of Conan I helped ink.

I still draw Stig stories in my sketchbooks.  I did one a few weeks ago, in fact: a little five-page ditty that took about three hours.  My friends and family get to see them. He shows up in convention sketches and warm-up drawings, and anyone who goes to tytempleton.com gets to read the first five issues for free online.

Kelvin Mace still shows up in my sketchbooks. I did a cover painting for what was originally supposed to be a Kelvin Mace #3 which I’m quite proud of, and the first three pages of artwork for an unpublished issue that will never see print, but I might upload to my homepage some day … I wrote two full Kelvin Mace scripts about five years after Klaus died, thinking I’d draw them myself, but realized I didn’t want someone who wasn’t Klaus to draw it .… I’ve got a sketchbook somewhere with a 10-page Kelvin Mace story in it, that’s rather detailed for a sketchbook story.

But after all these years, I’m not so hung up on Klaus’ death any more and I think I’d return to them and probably really enjoy it if the opportunity arrived.  I still get the urge to self-publish some new issues of Stig, or Kelvin Mace just to see if people are still interested.  My Mr. Comics imprint was eventually going to lead to a four-issue Stig miniseries, but the publisher ran out of nerve after only a year, so it seemed like the wrong time to try it.

A page from Critters #11 (April 1987).

Next: DC and The Batman Adventures

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4 Responses to “Michel Fiffe interviews Ty Templeton: Part Two”

  1. […] is the original: Michel Fiffe interviews Ty Templeton: Part Two Tags: although-dick, comic, comic-strip, creator, dredd, newspaper-strip, numbers, […]

  2. […] Part 2, Michel Fiffe interviews Ty Jump to Comments up over at The Comics Journal. […]

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