Ben McCool and Ben Templesmith’s creator-owned series, Choker, debuted to great fanfare–issues #1 and #2 sold out, and fans couldn’t get enough of their darkly comic detective/cyperpunk epic. Choker focuses on a former cop with a bad case of Alien Hand Syndrome, Johnny Jackson, who is suddenly reinstated on the force to deal with a series of bewildering murders and saddled with a partner who may not be what she seems.
As part of Image Month, we got to interview the always-entertaining McCool and Templesmith, who talked about their partnership, where Choker is going next, and what they’re looking forward to next.
TFAW.com: Hi Ben and Ben, thanks for joining us!
Ben Templesmith: Cheers very much! Huzzah huzzah and all that.
Ben McCool: The pleasure is all ours!
TFAW.com: So why don’t you start off by introducing Choker to us.
Ben T: I’m definitely leaving that one for Ben McCool, but suffice to say anything with shrunken testes trophies and geriatric eating cannibals is something I’m into.
Ben McC: Choker, in a nutshell, is a peculiar amalgamation of two of my fave genres: dark noir and cyberpunk. By fusing them together, I managed to create the basic idea and most of the characters. The story evolves around Johnny Jackson, an ex-hotshot cop shafted by a hugely corrupt system, and we’re soon introduced to Shotgun City and the delicious depravity that lurks within. And Templesmith, bless his little cotton socks, has succeeded admirably in bringing it all to life!
TFAW.com: How did you two meet up?
Ben T: We met while rather intoxicated at a do, several San Diego Comic-Cons ago. I had no idea what Ben was saying for quite some time, but it was bloody entertaining. And if he could write like that (which he can!), well . . .
Ben McC: As Ben T said, we met at a pre-Comic-Con party and got along like a house on fire. Or at least, he seemed to appreciate what he could siphon from beneath my curious accent. From there, we figured it’d be a hoot to work together, and ta-da! We made it happen.
TFAW.com: [To Templesmith] As an established, high-profile artist, you probably get approached by writers who are just starting out all the time. Choker is McCool’s first major project–what attracted you to it?
Ben T: I just knew I wanted to do something with Ben, since I thought he could really go places (and he definitely is, as it turns out), and we seemed to hit it off. If I’m not trying to do my own thing, I’m only really going to want to work with people I like and think the work could be interesting. I really didn’t know much about Choker, when we hatched the plans . . . it was more about working with Ben in general on something he’d wanted to do for a long time, and experiencing the creator-owned side of comics a bit.
TFAW.com: [To McCool] Did you have Templesmith in mind from the beginning? What sort of look were you envisioning for Choker?
Ben McC: To be honest, I never thought I’d be able to attract somebody of Ben T’s caliber to the project; as a writer just starting out (which I very much was in 2008) I figured I’d have to be more realistic in regard to the artist’s profile in the industry. Guess I got super bloody lucky!
I always wanted the book to be dark, atmospheric and filled with crazy little details, and it wasn’t until I saw Ben’s pages rolling in that I realised how perfect a fit he was; he totally nailed the visual aspects of Choker. Again, I’m a lucky, lucky boy!
TFAW.com: So what’s your collaborative process like? How do you two work together?
Ben T: I get script via email and try not to bollocks it up basically. And right now make Ben wait a bit too long for finished pages. (Sorry!)
Ben McC: Yep, as Templesmith said, we keep it nice and simple: I churn out the scripts, email ’em off, then Ben T draws ’em. There may be little bits and bobs that we discuss in more detail from time to time (a line of dialogue, appearance of a character, etc.), but for the most part it’s very straightforward. We seem to be on the same wavelength, and suffice to say, it’s a very troubled one!
TFAW.com: Choker has been immensely popular right off the bat, with issues #1 and #2 selling out. Has this put extra pressure on you two?
Ben McC: Not really. As much as I appreciate the tremendous support Choker has received–and believe me, I’m grateful beyond reason–I don’t consider it added pressure. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to produce as good a story as I’m possibly capable of–after all, if somebody’s kind enough to part with their hard-earned cash to read my lunacy, the least I can do is put maximum effort in!
Ben T: It’s gone great. I don’t feel any extra pressure . . . just the normal pressure is more than enough for ulcers. Just wish I could get the issues out faster. Am working on that right now.
TFAW.com: As it stands now, Choker is a six-issue miniseries. Do you think there will be others down the road?
Ben T: That’s up to McCool really as to what further stories he can craft. I’m usually up for four-issue miniseries, so if there’s a way, there should be some more.
Ben McC: I’ve definitely got a few more Choker tales up my sleeve! And of course, they’ll be just as mental as this one.
TFAW.com: [To McCool] Choker has been described as “cyperpunk detective noir.” How accurate is that?
Ben McC: Ha, considering that’s how I myself described it earlier, I’d say pretty much spot on! I luuuurve a good detective yarn, while authors like Phillip K. Dick and William Gibson both greatly influenced the stylistics of my storytelling. There are of course other elements to Choker (black comedy and horror amongst them) but at its core nucleus I’d say that “cyberpunk detective noir” is right on the money.
TFAW.com: Why did you introduce “Man Plus,” which creates superman cops, into the mix?
Ben McC: It was a plot device I’d been thinking about for some time; I wanted to introduce something non-conventional and (dare I say) eccentric into my detective story. And as the fable unfolds, its full capabilities (as well as repercussions) will be unveiled . . .
TFAW.com: What part does Man Plus play in the story? Why are these cops taking it in the first place?
Ben McC: The cops are taking it to boost their physical capabilities; in a nutshell, it’s like a super serum with a twist. Since introduction, scientists discovered that only 90% of the population is compliant with its enhancement properties; those not compatible instead cultivate some very undesirable results…
TFAW.com: How does Johnny’s Alien Hand Syndrome figure into the story?
Ben McC: Johnny, as we discover, is one of the unlucky cops who didn’t conform with Man Plus. Prior to taking to it, he suffered from a mild case of Alien Hand Syndrome, but the mysterious (and so far as the police department is concerned, mandatory) substance manifested it into one of the most violent entities on the planet. This’ll be explained fully in future issues!
TFAW.com: What motivates Johnny’s partner, Flynn Walker? Will she remain a major character in the book?
Ben McC: I can’t say too much about Flynn’s future just yet, but she’s certainly a prominent player in the rest of the story. Her motivation? A desire to be the best, the toughest, the most feared cop on the streets of Shotgun City. And if she gets to f*ck up a few men in the process? All the better . . .
TFAW.com: In issue #3, Johnny and Flynn encounter hostile, flying superhumans–former victims of bullying with a REAL grudge against the “jocks”–and the cops. Is this in reaction to Man Plus, or are you wanting to address a larger issue?
Ben McC: Again, I can’t say too much just yet–I wouldn’t want to give anything away! But I once had a dream wherein a number of stupendously powerful goths ripped a number of sports fans to pieces. True story! I always felt this would make for some interesting visuals, and it fitted into Choker perfectly.
TFAW.com: [To Templesmith] What are your favorite parts about drawing Choker?
Ben T: Honestly? All the cigarettes and smoking. There’s some “tough” characters in the book. I like drawing that stuff. Yes, I’m weird. But it goes to mood and such, which I try to put plenty of into the Choker pages.
TFAW.com: If there are future miniseries, will you stay on board as the artist?
Ben T: I’d imagine so. It’s creator owned.
TFAW.com: What’s different about Choker from anything you’ve done before?
Ben T: Heh, probably the length of time it’s taking me to do and the amount of promotion we did for the book early on. And of course, the success it’s had. Sales have been stellar.
TFAW.com: If you two could team up on a mainstream superhero book, what would it be, and what would you do?
Ben T: I want to do: Old Man Juggernaut. I think it could have legs. I have no idea. I’m kind of into Iron Man and the X-Men I guess. Don’t really think about that side of things too much.
Ben McC: There may be some news on its way that covers that very subject matter very, very soon . . . watch this space!
TFAW.com: What are you most excited about, coming up?
Ben T: Having a rest I think.
Ben McC: A rest does indeed sound good. Also, a beer.
TFAW.com: Thanks again, guys!
Ben T: You’re welcome!
Ben McC: Thanks so much for the questions!
You can still pick up Choker #3 here at TFAW.com, and pre-order issues #4 through #6 (and save 20% in the bargain!).
Have you read Choker? How do you think it compares to Templesmith’s past work? Post your comments below!
Image Month is rarin’ to go–we’ve already posted interviews with Kody Chamberlain from Sweets, Jane Wiedlin and Bill Morrison of Lady Robotika, and Joe Casey of Godland! Next up, interviews with Todd McFarlane and Robert Kirkman.