Interview with Ben Torres
(July 2017)

Artist Ben Torres recently concluded the KINGPIN series with writer Matthew Rosenberg, and here we discuss that series, his DAREDEVIL Annual story "Fragments" with writer Roger McKenzie, and his background in art and design. Hope you enjoy the interview, and many thanks to Mr. Torres for this opportunity.

Kuljit Mithra: Before we talk about your work on the DAREDEVIL Annual and the recently concluded KINGPIN series, I wanted to ask you about your creative background. I see you've got experience with graphic design and product design to go along with your illustration work, so please let my readers know a little about yourself.

Ben Torres: I started out drawing the Knight Watchman for Big Bang Comics. The Knight Watchman was created by Chris Ecker and written by Gary Carlson, two really great guys. That was back in the early 90’s, then in 1994 I was hired by Hasbro Toy Group and began my career as a toy designer. My very first project was for Water World the old Kevin Costner movie. I was dropped in the high end of the pool and expected to swim. It was such a gratifyingly intense and invaluable experience. I was honored to be placed on the G.I. Joe team and work with great designers and toy industry legends. After only a few months there I was on a plane to LA to help develop a new G.I. Joe TV show where I met more legends. I ended up working with Will Meugniot the man responsible for the 1990’s classic X-Men series among many others and the late great Roger Slifer the creator of Lobo. It was a real fruitful time and I eventually became a designer on Star Wars, Batman, Pokemon, Aliens among other lines. Our VP of design Kevin Mowrer spear headed the notion of seamlessly integrating product design into our movie licenses like Star Wars and Batman. It’s pretty common now but it was pretty new back then. The idea being instead of producing toys that were disconnected from the movies we would present concept ideas to the movie studios that could be a part of the narrative and we could then turn those concepts into toys. As a result of that business strategy I ended up working on various movie related projects like Star Wars, Men In Black, Jurassic Park, etc. In addition, this strategy allowed me to be credited as creative consultant on various television series such as G.I. Joe and Mummies Alive among others. Friends tell me I should get an IMDB page. I might. I even worked on the infamous Superman Lives with Nic Cage for 4-6 weeks. I had posted some artwork from that period years ago on Facebook and literally the next day I was getting e-mails from strangers from across the world. I had no idea that the planned project had taken on a life of its own. I remember we had a copy of the Kevin Smith script and it was really cool. I haven’t seen the documentary on Superman Lives yet but plan to this year.

I spent the early to mid 2000’s working for the large collectible company the Bradford Exchange, running a design department in China and freelancing for Hasbro, Mattel, Jakks and various other toy companies. I designed a lot of the Toby Maguire Spiderman product for all 3 movies, in addition to Spectacular Spiderman, Thor, Captain America The First Avenger, Toy Story, Hannah Montana, etc. It was a good time.

While I am a product designer and illustrator at heart I do graphic design work as well, at first it was more out of the necessity to visually communicate the overall intellectual property in brainstorm meetings for various movie and toy companies. However, I found that I enjoyed it and slowly began to get work from some major companies from logo design, to brochure designs, to web design, etc. I enjoy doing work for large companies but I really relish working with smaller companies who are trying to find their corporate identity. So I sit with them and provide them options on some paths that they could take to promote and grow their companies. It’s pretty fulfilling in that aspect.

Mithra: Before your story in the DAREDEVIL Annual with Roger McKenzie, I know you worked with him on Charlton comics. How did you get involved with that company? You've done quite a number of projects with him... what makes this collaboration special for you?

Torres: Roger and I were part of some Facebook comic group. We started interacting with each other and then one day I realized I was talking to THE Roger McKenzie. I was a huge McKenzie fan so that’s what makes it special for me. People give Miller a lot of credit for reimagining DD... and he should get that credit… but it was Roger who took a really corny book and began to turn it dark beginning in issue #151. He created characters like Ben Urich and did some great things like highlight Gladiator's insanity, really give Matt Murdock a back story, created Josie’s Bar, etc. I read DD before McKenzie took over and I believe the scripts were written by Jim Shooter and some other guys, but McKenzie began to give DD some personality and character, then when Frank got on board it just really started to develop nicely. So anyway, I shot him an email and thanked him for making my childhood enjoyable. We started shooting the breeze about a few things and he asked me to draw the New Adventures of Yang. I was a little hesitant at first because I hadn’t drawn comics in 20 years. Doing a page is approximately 8 hours and it takes a lot of a certain kind of discipline and desire to be a comic book artist. So I thought it over and eventually said yes because I was a fan of his and I would also be working with the legendary Mort Todd (Cracked Magazine) as well. Yang was a decent first effort on my part. I had to get used to using “different brain muscles” because when you are doing concept work, toy design, graphic design or just simple illustrations the process is different for each discipline. In comics however, you have to interpret someone’s script, then act as layout artist, camera guy, lighting guy, illustrator, etc. etc. For fans who don’t know, it takes A LOT of work to create a comic book. What Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, Jim Lee, John Byrne, etc. were able to do and maintain that high level of output and quality is miraculous.

So it just kind of evolved and then we did Deathwatch together and that was a lot of fun. Deathwatch is essentially horror story about a zombie like dude who goes around beating up the mob. My kind of story… LOL.

Mithra: I believe I've read that Marvel reached out to McKenzie to return to the company after 30 years... was it McKenzie who suggested he work with you? Can you briefly describe how that all came to be?

Torres: I honestly can’t remember. All I know is that Roger asked me to do four pages for this story he had about Melvin Potter. I think he wanted to pitch it to Marvel. I did it, then the next thing I know I was contacted by Marvel to finish up 6 pages in a week or so. It was the 4th of July weekend and I had made plans a year in advance to be out of town on a mini vacation so I had to take my computer, my Cintiq, etc. with me and I banged it out over the weekend. It was an honor to do that story with Roger and to draw DD who’s top three (after Spidey and Bats) on my favorite character list.

Mithra: With the Melvin Potter story, I was wondering if you had to do anything different in your preparations for a comic that wasn't a full 20 pages? My impression is that you'd have to be very concerned with story and art flow with the limited space.

Torres: The only thing that I wished was different was that I wish it would have come at a time when I was not supposed to be on vacation... LOL. Yes I wish we had more pages to develop the story, it’s really difficult to streamline due to space so you have to focus on the major beats of the story. Roger had a ton of very cool ideas when we were brainstorming early on and it would have been cool to introduce those into the Fragments story. With that said I am really happy with what we did.

Mithra: Also, with Potter, was there any particular influence in terms of how you drew him? I found your work here and on KINGPIN reminded me of Frank Miller's work, especially with inking and shadows, and also the use of color for some of the more violent panels.

Torres: Unlike other artists who are hesitant to divulge their comic influences. I love Frank Miller, love him to death. I love his work so much that the G.I. Joe team strongly lobbied to get him to do the first cover for Dark Horse’s G.I. Joe Extreme comic book and he killed it. Anyway, I love John Romita Sr. and John Romita Jr. and Jack Kirby is THE King…so those are the major influences you will see in my work. These legends that I mentioned mastered how to effectively use positive and negative space on a page, know how to make the readers eye flow, know how to create mood and tension, can layout the heck of a page, etc. These guys are masters of the craft and I studied and study them to get inspiration. Sorry for the tangent…LOL.. but yes.. I tried to make Melvin Potter look similar to how Frank drew him in McKenzie and Miller’s DD #166. I thought it would be a nice nod to McKenzie’s return because issue #166 was his final issue of DD. Regarding coloring, Miroslav Mrva did the coloring on that story and he killed it IMO. I’ve never spoken to him but he does great work.

Mithra: With writer Matthew Rosenberg on KINGPIN, you made a really good character study of Wilson Fisk and also of Sarah Dewey. I was disappointed when I heard it wasn't going to go past issue 5. I know you can't get into the "behind-the-scenes" of the cancellation, but how disappointing was it for you to find out?

Torres: Thank you for the compliment. Matthew is one of THE best writers out there today. When I began the book Marvel was very upfront about the process. The desire was to do an ongoing series and based on the numbers they would reevaluate if we would continue on around issue #3 I believe. The numbers didn’t hit target sales. I followed the numbers as well and expected it happen. After a while as a professional you get used to it. For instance at big companies like a Hasbro per say, a line that was not making approximately $20M was considered a small toy line and more than likely would be discontinued. Now for a small company those are great numbers but for a big company like that you have to ask do I keep putting resources into a product that does not generate projected numbers. The answer is usually no. Especially when your other lines are averaging 100’s of millions of dollars. It’s not that the product is bad it’s just that it has to make business sense. So while slightly disappointed I understand the decision and agree with it.

Mithra: One thing I enjoyed was the interaction between Fisk and Dewey and the way Fisk was drawn so large and Dewey so small... reminded me of how Bill Sienkiewicz drew Fisk in the DAREDEVIL: LOVE AND WAR Graphic Novel. Done on purpose?

Torres: Bingo! Yes it was done on purpose, a lot of people didn’t enjoy that. Since the story was essentially a human interest tale that followed Sarah’s descent into Fisk’s world I wanted him to be this larger than life monstrous kind of figure. His very presence should cast a large engulfing shadow. I varied his size when he needed to be more intimate but I wanted the reader to be very aware that this guy is dangerous. It was a creatively strategic choice. If one isn’t familiar with Fisk’s history it would seem odd to see him that large. But if you look at how Romita Sr. Romita Jr. even Miller and Mazzucchelli drew him he was usually drawn menacing and larger than life. I wanted to combine what they did with what Bill Sienkiewicz did in the DD graphic novel… Kingpin looked other worldly to me in that graphic novel. He was drawn in such a way where you had to pause and really soak in his presence. That novel is under rated and actually quite brilliant by the way. I will say, I didn’t realize that the more modern iterations of the Kingpin have him slimmed down with more normal proportions.

Mithra: How was it working with Rosenberg? Judging from some of his interviews, he seems like a big Daredevil fan and wanted to tell this particular story.

Torres: Matthew was a blast to work with. He loves DD and the history of the character. Honestly I hope Marvel lets him do a DD series.

Mithra: Last question, with KINGPIN now done, what's next for you? Some more Charlton work? Thank you for your time.

Torres: Well as of now Roger and I doing more Deathwatch stories, we’re also getting together a few things to pitch to some companies and I just ran into my Big Bang Comics buddies and we’re talking about getting back together and doing some new Knight Watchman stories. Plus I have some other things that I’m consulting on for various companies.
It was my pleasure to do this interview best wishes to you. I appreciate your passion for DD and love what you're doing with Man Without Fear.

(c) 2017 Kuljit Mithra & Ben Torres
Daredevil:The Man Without Fear

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