Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Questions 37: Ben Dewey

Ben Dewey is an internationally published freelance artist living in Portland, Oregon. As a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art, he brings a traditional sensibility to comics informed by his training as a painter.

Ben started drawing sequential graphic narratives in third grade and then developed an obsession with superhero comic art which continues to this day. He is currently a member of Periscope Studio where he works on projects for noteworthy clients like Marvel Publishing Inc., Dark Horse Comics, IDW Publishing, and others.

Doug Dorr:   What projects are you working on currently?
As I write this I'm finishing off the Pencils and inks for a digest length (72-80 pages) Star Wars story, for Darkhorse and written by Ryder Windham, called 'Strange Allies' that will be previewed on free comic book day (May 11th) and see release this summer.

I also do an ongoing web-comic (along with writer Nathan staples) called "Tales From The White Pony" that is just a few weeks worth of posts away from 200 pages. It started as an exercise in producing comics quickly; the first 50 pages were produced in 90 minutes each. It has become something else entirely and I credit much of my recent artistic development to the process of working on it. We just revamped the website to be more immerse and easy to navigate. You can find it at

DD:   What is your writing Process?
With TFTWP Nathan and I will talk out big sections of the story. Depending on what we are trying to achieve in a scene we might have a longer more specific conversation about panels and dialogue but for the most part, our approach isn't dissimilar to the old Marvel method where Kirby would plot bits and Stan Lee would edit, write and tidy up (as I've heard their relationship described.)

I've become more interested in writing lately as I brainstorm for my next project. Steve Lieber showed me some great resources that have been very helpful in describing the essentials of constructing a story:

Secondly the book "Story" by Robert McKee (interview with him)

10 Lords (Vaders) a Leaping
I came across this last bit of education a while back: I've been a big fan of the original Star Wars for a long time. I'm somewhat of a purist for many sentimental and aesthetic reasons. I enjoy these red letter media reviews of the new movies (minus the grotesque and superfluous 'serial killer' subplot) because they are like a master-class in what not to do when developing a narrative. (NSFW link)

So I try and keep these influences in my mind, remember what I'm trying to express and make an attempt to entertain myself. I believe that the mixture of those things results in something worth reading.

DD:   What Comic/ Trade would you recommend?
I think differently if I'm suggesting for other creators, than I would for non-industry people.

I love a number of books based on the strength of the art alone so I tend to buy those when I can and suggest them to other artists. Right now I'm really into the work of Stuart Immonen, Olivier Coipel, Jim Cheung, Cliff Chiang, Eric Canete, Pascal Ferry, Gabriel Hardman, Yanick Paquette, Chris Samnee and Terry Dodson (who is my favorite over all.)

I get some good recommendations from my studio mates that fall outside my own natural interests but hold a ton of value for other reasons. Dustin Weaver often offers up unusual comics like Jason Shiga's 'Meanwhile' that are really worth sharing.

For writers I would suggest Jeff Parker's books for humor, action and pacing; he is an artist too so he is great at planning fantastic sequences without overdoing it. I also enjoy the way Paul Tobin fills his stories with purposeful energy and unmistakable personalities for each character. I wish Marvel would have let Paul and Jeff keep making 'adventures' line stories because they were fun and bounded like comics are supposed to be. Kurt Busiek's run on Conan captured the sort of gutsy, grandiose adventure I want to see more of.

DD:   What Comic/ Trade would you recommend to someone new to comics?
I'd suggest those books that got my girlfriend Lindsey into comics: Alan Moore's 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen', 'The Watchmen',

Jeffery Brown's 'Clumsy', James Kochalka's 'American Elf', Craig Thompson's 'Blankets' and all the 'Calvin and Hobbes' you can get your hands on because Watterson is the definition of 'a master' at his craft.

A first book should be a fun book. Part of the joy of comics is exploration and like any adventure the initial draw should have an intoxicating effect. A new reader should experience a 'romance' with comics first. They should get the opportunity to walk into a comic shop and see those racks and shelves full of exciting looking titles. If the right one catches their eye, and has the content within to seal the deal, then they'll do the rest.

For me that was the Jim Lee/Chris Claremont X-men #1 with the wraparound cover that came out in 1991 but for someone else it'll be Charles Burns' 'Black Hole.' It's all about the romance of that first moment and most people have to pick that for themselves.

DD:   When are story illustrator, how involved are you in the writing?
As an illustrator, if I'm working on a project for a major publisher, then I'm generally not involved in the plotting and scripting of the story. I've done a few projects where a writer has asked my input but most scripts arrive fully formed. The writer does his part, then it's my turn to interpret that foundation of written words with as much clarity, excitement and nuance as my personal approach allows. Even though I'm adding on after the fact, I like to think of it along the lines of a filter or a prism: what goes into it can come out looking and feeling very different.

On my web-comic I do a fair bit of plotting and scripting. However, since Nathan is lettering it and I have a tendency to be verbose, he often edits down or reshapes the dialogue I write to be more succinct.

DD:   What skill would you like to learn?
I'd like to be better at using digital media but I'm also interested in continually refining my traditional drawing for the purpose of storytelling (that is a never ending journey!)

I'm always working on my guitar playing too.

I used to fantasize about skateboarding but I realized that what I really enjoyed was playing Tony Hawk 2 on Playstation. Nowadays I want to learn a foreign language so I could live abroad and get better at math so I can understand physics more completely.

DD:   Do you have a collection? If so, what is one of the items you're most proud of?
I have a sweet guitar collection but I assume you meant comics so I'll stick to that realm! I have a silver surfer comic (number 1 from 1982 drawn by John Byrne) stored at my Mom's house in Cleveland that my Dad drove me to get when I was 11. That comic blew my mind. I love Silver Surfer.

I have a bunch of cool original comic art that has been given to me by friends and studio mates. I have a Kris Justice inked page and Gabe Hardman original page from Agents of Atlas. I own a wonderful David Hahn sketch from a page of Fables that features twin Gorillas from rival cold-war nations discovering that they are brothers and teaming up to fight deadly menaces from the past, present and future. Ben Bates did a sweet Conan sketch for me. Jonathan Case gave me a wonderful drawing he did for a silly job; that guy really does turn everything he touches into gold. Rich Ellis gave me a fantastic Thor piece he did that is festooned with monsters. Ron Chan did a caricature of me for my birthday (that is also a puppet) and it sits on the edge of my framed Gabe Hardman Agents page. I'm working on getting something from all my studio buddies.

DD:   What is your favorite genre of Comics?
I like comics that emphasize beauty and craft. I notice that as a priority, more often, in the artists who draw superhero books but there are good examples found amongst the more exotic themes favored by 'independent' artists like Chris Ware, Dan Clowes and a few artists I've already mentioned.

On rare occasions I like work that experiments with structure of narrative, mechanics and the unique properties endemic to comics. Though, most of that sort of work leaves me feeling unsatisfied because conceptual exercises don't tend to succeed in communicating much beyond the impressiveness of the intellectual gymnastics required to create them in the first place.

On the whole I prefer a classic tale well told to a clever mental exercise that lacks visual polish.

DD:   Do you have an Ipad? If so what do use it for the most.
I have a flying V and I use it the most to Rock.

DD:   What is your favorite TV show/ movie?
My favorite show is "The Wire." It is the most adroit exploration of the problems facing contemporary urban America that has ever been achieved. David Simon and the rest of the people behind that show deserve our thanks for demonstrating what can be done, by humans in the arts, with the maximum application of intellect, talent and empathy.

"The West Wing" is a close second with "30 Rock" as a close third (Sometimes you just have to have fun.)

My favorite Movie is probably "The Empire Strikes Back."
I also love some movies so much that I won't watch them unless I'm certain there will be no distractions of any kind to interrupt the viewing. Those movies include: "Ameile", "The Iron Giant" "King Kong" and "Seven Samurai"

DD:   What was your first comic convention?
I think it was the S.P.A.C.E. show in columbus Ohio. Nathan and I went there to see what people were doing and it was a small show, in retrospect, but eye opening.

DD:   What is your favorite part of comic conventions?
So far it is meeting other people who share the joy of comics and the culture related to it. I love escaping into the world that a skilled creator can build so fully in the venue of a simple object: a comic book. The engagement required to read it transforms you into an integral part of the story telling process. Comics is and always will be, at its' heart, a populist medium. To see that rare quality embodied by fans and creators interacting makes me very happy, especially because I've experienced being on both sides of the table. I like knowing that at some future point any one of the people who I talk with could end up as one of my professional peers.

I try to make the con experience better for everyone who stays long enough at my table to exchange a few words. Reciprocity is what comics is all about.

DD:   If you weren’t doing comics what would you do?
I'd be playing more guitar for sure. I'd also be making paintings and enameling like I did in college.
I used to work on parades making huge puppets, costumes and things of that sort. As a kid I dreamt of working on movies as a model builder, concept artist or matte painter. Art making has been such a big part of my identity for so long that I cannot imagine a life without some form it.

Lately I wish I could be a scientist-artist like Antonie van Leeuwenhoek or Johannes Goedaert

DD:   Do you have a favorite restaurant that you would recommend?
My favorite place in Cleveland is called 'Tommy's.' Get the "Quinn" or the "Capetown" and finish it off with a "Brownie Monster." Their milkshakes are amazing too.

In Chicago I suggest 'Giordano's' for pizza so awesome that it makes every other thing that goes by the same name seem like and absurd caricature. Even if you only have a few hours in the windy city you should go to 'The Bongo Room' on Milwaukee. They make the best food I've ever had; hands down.

In Portland I like 'The Blue Nile' Ethiopian, 'The Blind Onion' pizza, 'Mr Taco' burritos and 'Tom's Restaurant' on Division because it reminds me of a neighborhood greasy spoon that my Dad and I used to go to in Cleveland called 'George's Kitchen.' Lindsey and I like to go there on most sundays and play bananagrams.

DD:  How long have you lived in Portland, what made you choose Portland?
I have lived in Portland for five and a half years. I chose Portland because my favorite musician, Kelly Joe Phelps, was kind enough to talk with me after a show for an extended period and during our conversation he mentioned that it would be a good fit for me. I saw that Mike Mignola would note that he lived here in the Hellboy trades- he was my favorite comics artist for a very long time. Prior to all that I had developed an interest in Portland because it kept showing up in relation to things I was interested in. Since my favorite musician and favorite artist both 'endorsed' it I decide to make a go of it when I turned 25.

I had some friends out here already (Chris and Lynette) who very kindly put me up and helped me find my footing. If it hadn't been for them I don't think I would have been able to take root. I try to offer similar assistance to other Portland pilgrims now and I've been fortunate enough in my experiences here that I can do it with relative frequency.

DD:   What is your favorite part of Portland?
I like that it has the benefits of a big city in the skin of a town. You can get around by bike or bus and there is no stigma around that.

In Cleveland you would be considered insane, a loser or dwelling on the cultural fringe for doing things that are common-place in PDX

DD:   Where in Portland/ Oregon would you most like to visit?
I'd like to get to the Portland Rock Gym with more regularity.

The Newport Aquarium was super cool and I'd love to go back there again.

There is a new guitar store downtown. I haven't been to it yet!

I still haven't been to Crater Lake so that is on the list. Specifically I'd like to go to 'Wizard Island' in the middle of the lake!

Would you like to write for another media? or conversely, how would you feel about writing a comic of a character from a different media, for example, Dr. Who, James Bond? What would you explore?
I am at a stage in my development as a creative professional where exploring preexisting characters is helpful in learning about the craft of storytelling whether that is a drawing or a writing experience.

I'd like to do a take on the Star Wars prequels. If you are going to tell that story you need to take certain things, that make the original trilogy so magical, into account. I'm not convinced that Vader's origin had to be told but I have had ideas about what it would be since I was a kid; to start, Yoda does not use a lightsaber and Anakin Skywalker was likable.

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