"Shadowplay"ing with Amber Benson & Ben Templesmith

Certain entertainers seem to revisit the same milieu again and again-- whether they choose to or not. It may be fate, or perhaps destiny, but these genre "niches" seem to bring these artists luck. Steven Spielberg started his career with aliens ("Close Encounters of the Third Kind"), had his biggest success with aliens ("E.T."), and is currently enjoying a huge box office hit this summer thanks to aliens ("War of the Worlds"). Between "Bull Durham," "Field of Dreams," and "For Love of the Game," Kevin Costner has cornered the market on sentimental baseball flicks. For actor-director-writer Amber Benson though, her "lucky charm" seems to be vampires.

While she began her career as a professional actress at a young age, Benson is best known for playing the character of Tara on the "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" television series. Since finishing with that role, however, Benson has co-written (with Christopher Golden) several comic book stories for Dark Horse's Buffy-licensed line, she co-wrote and directed the animated "Ghosts of Albion" series for the BBC website, and wrote/directed/acted in the live-action feature "Chance." For her latest project, though, it's back to vampires as she writes a tale about young bloodsuckers for the four-issue "Shadowplay" miniseries coming this September from IDW Publishing.

The format of this miniseries is a bit unique: each issue contains two separate stories that run through all four issues. Benson's story is called "Demon Father John's Pinwheel Blues" with art provided by Ben Templesmith ("30 Days of Night"). The second vampire-centric story is called "Shunt" and is written by Christina Z ("Witchblade") with art by Ashley Wood ("Metal Gear Solid"). CBR News was fortunate enough to catch up with Benson and Templesmith to find out more about this intriguing collaboration.

Benson began with a quick explanation of the project's origin. "'Shadowplay' actually came about because Steve Niles approached me to do a few issues of his '30 Days of Night: Bloodsucker Tales' comic. He's a very cool guy and I really liked his '30 Days of Night' series, so I was totally excited to be working with him. But part way through the process, things kinda fell apart. Steve gave us his blessing to continue working on the project, so Ben and I decided to finish the work we'd started and the whole thing metamorphosed into 'Shadowplay.'"

As for her story in particular, Benson said, "'Demon Father John's Pinwheel Blues' is all about a little boy named Pinwheel who gets sucked (literally) into the vampiric world against his will. All he wants is to be human again and go home, but he finds himself trapped in a David Copperfieldian-type scenario where he's forced to join Demon Father John's gang of vampire children.

Benson said she has no idea where the idea for the story exactly came from, but that the title flashed into her mind and the Pinwheel's story unfolded from there. "I've always been fascinated by the idea of the failsafe point and what happens after you cross it," said Benson. "And that's what happens to Pinwheel: he crosses over the point of no return, but refuses to accept that his fate is sealed."

For someone who is fairly new to the comic industry, Benson has come a long way in a short amount of time. According to the writer, her experiences in the world of filmmaking have aided her greatly in this endeavor. "Writing a screenplay is similar to writing a comic book. Actually, comic writing is akin, I think, to the art of storyboarding, which is uber-important to the filmmaking process. Once I realized that, I definitely wasn't as nervous about writing my first comic with Chris [Golden - a 'Willow & Tara' one-shot].

"I was very lucky to learn the comic book ropes from Chris Golden. He basically put me through comic book writing boot camp when we did the 'Willow and Tara' stuff for Dark Horse. Afterward, I felt completely comfortable in the world of comic writing. The more I do, the better I think (and hope) my stuff gets."

It would appear that Templesmith would agree with this assessment. "Her scripts are a breeze to work on though: detailed but open enough to allow me a little experimentation, which I'm definitely doing with the colour," Templesmith told CBR News. "I wanted to have the guts to use true grey scale (with more vivid colour highlights) for ages and she's given me that chance."

Benson is also excited to be working with Templesmith on this project, and sounds pleased with what they've achieved. "I was very lucky to get to collaborate with Ben," said Benson. "He's an amazingly talented artist and I think the work he's done on Demon Father John is fantastic. He actually brought tears to my eyes at one point. I just love his stuff."

With regards to vampires being Benson's "magical milieu," she responded, "For some strange reason, the cult of vampire has become an integral part of my life. I guess it's just karma for being such an Anne Rice fan as a teenager. My love for Lestat and Louis has followed me into adulthood. But seriously, I think there's always something new to be found in the vampire mythology and I just dig as hard as I can to make it interesting to the readers and myself. Obviously, my time on 'Buffy' opened the door to all this vampire stuff, but I don't regret any of it, no matter how odd my life has become."

As for Templesmith, his decision to draw another vampire-based comic came down to the kind of story Benson wrote. "More than anything else, I've had comments about the kiddies I draw-- the vampire-type kiddies," said Templesmith. "It was my idea to do that as much as we did on '30 Days of Night.' There's just something more creepy about the nasty kiddies. I love drawing them. Let's just say there's plenty of kiddies in this-- has them in spades and that does it for me.

"That makes me sound really sick, doesn't it? Heh…"

When asked how he differentiates the bloodsuckers in this story with the ones from "30 Days," the artist responded that the Pinwheel vampires are "very different. More classic vampires really. Not so ghoulish-- more defined incisor teeth, etc. Slightly different look overall for them. The art in general is a bit clearer-- more inked/definite, and the colours should be a bit of a departure. The '30 Days' vamps were meant to be grotesque distortion-- lots of jagged teeth, almost gouls in appearance more than anything else. These guys are something different to that, really."

Both Templesmith and Benson are excited for the book to hit stands, but in the meantime, it appears that each of them have plenty to keep them busy. Benson said, "Chris Golden and I have a novel coming out in November from Del Rey called, 'Ghosts of Albion: Accursed.' I wrote and directed a new film called 'Lovers, Liars, and Lunatics' which I am in post-production on. And another film I acted in called 'Race You To The Bottom' just appeared at Outfest in LA."

Templesmith ran down his laundry list of upcoming projects as well: "'Fell' with Warren Ellis of course, and a miniseries that's ending up going through Image apparently that'll be announced soon, so I won't say much more. And hopefully another monthly (or semi-monthly thing) from IDW called 'Wormwood,' if the gods are kind to me…and the sleep deprivation doesn't kill me. This would be a more personal thing, offbeat crazy stuff-- like a Guinness-drinking, slightly black, horror version of the old Doctor Who, but he sleeps with his companions, is a bit of a bastard, and already happens to be dead. I've had him for years and he's already appeared in LOFI magazine periodically.

"There's probably other stuff I'm forgetting, but perhaps I'm repressing the rest, or I'll go mad and my head will explode."

As no one wants Templesmith shrapnel on their clothes, suffice it to say that "Shadowplay" is a 32 page book with a cover price of $3.99 that arrives in stores this September.

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