Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ben Towle - Cartoonist Survey #145

Ben Towle is a freelance artist and cartoonist who lives and works in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Ben started drawing comics at a very young age and had his first published work appear in his elementary school’s newspapers. He went to Davidson College and after graduating in 1992 with a B.A. in philosophy he joined the rock band 'Come On Thunderchild' . The band released an indie label record and Ben and the band toured the Southeast for a couple of years. While touring with the band he produced a series of full-page comic strips based on his experiences on the road for an alternative-weekly newspaper in Charlotte. Deciding to go back to school and more formally study comics and cartooning he enrolled at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

In 2002 he received his MFA in Sequential Art and started working as an art instructor at the North Carolina Governor's School, headquartered at Salem College. Since then Ben has taught cartooning and comics at workshops, libraries and schools such as The Sawtooth School for Visual Art, where he still occasionally teaches. He is also the co-founder and assistant director of the
National Association of Comics Art Educators. NACAE is a non-profit organization that offers online comic and cartooning resources for educators and provides a list of available speakers across the country. Ben’s first full length comic “Farewell, Georgia” was published by Slave Labor Books in 2003. His other solo work includes the graphic novel “Midnight Sun”, a fictional account of an actual expedition by an Italian airship to the North Pole and many short stories published in various comics anthologies. He recently illustrated “Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean” and is currently working on his re-telling of "The Count of Monte Cristo" and illustrating a book about the turn of the century Oyster Wars of Chesapeake Bay. For more on Ben checkout his website. You can also see some of his work here at ComicSpace and on his online portfolio

What is your favorite pen to use?
If you mean literally "pen," then that'd be my Rotring Art Pen. If you mean, "What is your favorite way to get ink on a page," that'd be a #4 Rosemary & Co. Series 22 Designer brush.

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
I do draw in pencil first--with wood (non-mechanical) pencils. Usually I rough with a non-photo blue Prismacolor colored pencil, then light pencils with a Derwent Graphic B or 2B, then tighten up with an H.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
Mostly with the computer, but occasionally by hand.

If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
Watercolor paint.

What type of paper do you use?
2-ply Strathmore 500 Series Bristol board.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
Motorcycles are painful and never turn out looking good. I'd turn down a gig drawing "Ghost Rider" for sure.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
Pretty much everything from Unfortunately, there's not an art supply store near here.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
No, but after I complete a project, I ritualistically clean my whole studio.

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
If I'm thumbnailing or writing, I need silence. If I'm actually drawing (or inking) I'll listen to NPR, comic’s podcasts, or music. I like a lot of different types of music and don't have any particular genre that I favor for drawing.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
Yeah, I read a lot of comics as a kid. I think maybe THOR during Walt Simonson's run was probably the one I was most passionate about as an early teenager.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
Currently it's probably a toss-up between MUTTS and CUL DE SAC. Of all time, it's THIMBLE THEATER/POPEYE for sure.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
I had too many favorite books as a child, and I still have a ton of them that my daughter reads. If I had to narrow it down, I'd say it'd be the works of Tomi Ungerer: stuff like THE THREE ROBBERS, EMILE, CRICTOR, and RUFAS (all of which I still have).

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
I have a MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
On the whole a blessing for sure, but definitely a potential time-waster. I'm apparently the last person on the planet with neither a Facebook nor a Twitter account, and yet I still feel like I spend too much time in front of a monitor.

Did either of your parents draw?
Yes, my mother is a very good artist and is an art therapist by trade. My father can draw as well, but never pursued it seriously.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
Probably my wife, who actually puts up with my vein attempts to make a career out of this. (And she has to put up with me talking about comics all the time as well.) She deserves a medal.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
Yes. I've kept a sketchbook ever since I was a little kid. I have them all piled up in a cabinet in my studio.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
I've done lots of teaching, although not much lately. I really, really enjoy it.

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
I feel that hard work and focus is more important than either.

Do you collect anything and if so what?
I collect old and out of print how-to books on cartooning and linear perspective.

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
I'm not sure... Some days I feel like I'm the Pink Panther from that episode where he has a storm cloud that follows him around raining in his head, though.

Are you a righty or lefty?

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
I probably would have made a good veterinarian, or maybe a lawyer.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
I have a fantastic drawing space: a big upstairs room on the rear of our house that's mainly just my drawing area. I've got a big drafting table, my desktop computer, and built-in book shelves and cabinets that hold all of my art supplies as well as all of my graphic novels. If only I could figure out something to do with these ugly "longboxes" that make the place look like The Android's Dungeon...

Do you play any musical instruments?
I currently play ukulele, but I played bass guitar for a long time and could probably pick that back up if I decided to.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
1) Draw. 2) Draw more.

Who is your favorite artist?
Favorite artist? Or favorite cartoonist? My favorite artist is probably Chuck Close. My favorite cartoonist currently is Christophe Blain, but I definitely go through phases with cartoonists. As me again in a couple of months and it's likely to be someone else.

Thanks a lot Ben!

Cartoonist Mark Anderson of Andertoons is up next.

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