Comic artist Ty Templeton has written and drawn for Superman, Batman, The Avengers, and other household names. Last year, he applied his comic expertise to children’s books, illustrating Bill the Boy Wonder, a picture-book biography of Bill Finger, co-creator of Batman. Last week, he chatted with Kidsbiographer about historical accuracy and the differences between drawing for comics and children’s books.
Kidsbiographer: You are, in many respects, the ideal illustrator for a book about Batman’s creator: you’ve drawn for Batman, Superman, and other well-known comics. Can you describe how you applied your comics experience to this picture-book biography?
Ty Templeton: When I looked at Boys of Steel, the first book that Marc did about the creative team behind Superman, I noticed the illustrations were just that – illustrations – and I immediately asked the fine editors at Charlesbridge if I could add more of a “comic book feel” to the way the story was being told. Rather than a single illustration per page, I wanted to do two or three, and separate them out with borders that resembled panel borders. I wanted to nudge the book towards the medium that it was dealing with. It was a no-brainer to tell the story that way, and I was surprised that other folks hadn’t thought of it.
Kidsbiographer: In terms of creative process, how does illustrating a children’s book differ from drawing for comics?
Ty Templeton: I’m not the right person to ask that, as I’ve only done this one book now, and I approached it TRYING to make it more like a comic than a children’s book. So, I’m sure that there are a vast array of differences, but I insulated myself from discovering them by the process I used creating this project. If I had to guess what the main differences are it’s that comic art is meant to be read and moved past, and a children’s picture book includes art that IS meant to be lingered on and stared at. Children, especially, like staring at a drawing, sometimes to decipher how the magic trick of creating “life” in a drawing is done. I certainly remember doing that as a kid, but I grew up to be an illustrator, so perhaps my experience is unique.
Kidsbiographer: What sort of research did you do to illustrate Bill the Boy Wonder?
Ty Templeton: More than I expected to, actually. Marc was very insistent off the top that we get EVERY possible detail correct and he was very helpful in supplying me with photos of Bill’s apartment, his family, his writing desk, etc. On top of that, every character who appeared, every location, and every prop and building had to be correct for the era and correct for the location. There’s a page in the book that features a cross town bus in New York, circa 1950, and when I first drew the sketch, I apparently had drawn a bus that was correct for the era, but NOT correct for New York. (It might have been a bus that had a route in Jersey or something, and I got a note about it!) Marc and my editors were merciless about accuracy, and that makes for a better product in the end, as I can be a “close enough” type of guy if you let me off the leash. At one point, I had a typewriter in Bill’s office that I had correctly researched for the period, but got a note that the colour I’d used was not an available green for that make and model…it was too light a green for the time period and I adjusted it to be a more khaki green. That sort of detail is consistent through the book; even if people might not recognize it, it’s there.
Kidsbiographer: Throughout Bill the Boy Wonder, you employ the colorful, dramatic style reminiscent of Batman itself. Which part of Bill Finger’s life was the most difficult to illustrate in this way and why?
Ty Templeton: I’m not sure any one part was more difficult to illustrate than any other part. I didn’t have enough photos of either Bill or Portia, his wife, to get their likenesses perfect in each shot, so there’s the idea that I’m trying to make an accurate portrait of someone I’ve never met or seen, based on one or two grainy photos of them in profile…so I guess that was the most difficult aspect: getting the portraiture to feel accurate. Oh, and there’s a shot of a news stand, with a bunch of kids reading Batman comics when they first came out, and I had to get the magazines on the news stand to be the actual covers of magazines that were on sale that month. THAT image took a while to find all the right covers for Doc Savage and The Shadow on sale in the summer of 1939…but in the long run, that sort of thing is FUN for me, rather than difficult, so the wording of the question is hard to respond to. There were elements that were time consuming, but none of it was difficult….
Kidsbiographer: What’s the most gratifying feedback you’ve received about Bill the Boy Wonder?
Ty Templeton: At the end of the year 2012, USA Today did a list of their ten favourite graphic novels of the year, and Bill the Boy Wonder was on the list. That blew me away because it wasn’t a graphic novel in my mind, but a kid’s book leaning on graphic novels for a visual style. We must have leaned so hard on the style that we made a few people think we WERE a graphic novel…or perhaps we bent the perception of what a graphic novel could be for younger readers and won the day that way. I love all the positive attention we received as a children’s book, but more than USA Today reviewed us as a graphic novel, and STILL gave us high marks. That was gratifying, as I didn’t expect this book to get much attention from the mainstream comic book press…they tend to dismiss work created for younger readers as below their radar. We managed to get on their radar.
Kidsbiographer: Would you like to discuss any current or future projects?
Ty Templeton: Right now, I’m writing and drawing Ultimate Spiderman Adventures for Marvel comics, and having a blast. I also have a one-room-schoolhouse for comic creators called “TY TEMPLETON’S COMIC BOOK BOOTCAMP” in Toronto, at which I teach courses in layout, inking, scripting, pencilling, anatomy and anything else that involves comic creation, two or three nights a week. ALSO: Each year my school puts out an annual collection of work by the students called “HOLMES INCORPORATED”, any of which can be downloaded for free by your readers at this website.
We’ve been running for three and a half years and the three annuals are all available for free digital downloads. The fourth will be on the way this summer.
I’m still recording keyboards and backing vocals with Glenn Reid’s band if anyone cares, but that’s not really comic related stuff. It’s still fun to check out though… I do all of Glenn’s graphic design work, so the album covers, and book jackets are my work AS WELL AS the singing and playing on the tracks themselves…
And I’m currently working on a new project with….no, wait. Too early to discuss that one…I’ll let you know.