Nary a week after the historic inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, Ben Templesmith and IDW Publishing bring you "The Presidents of the United States," a new book featuring Templesmith's take on all 44 of America's Commanders in Chief, with accompanying text relating the important events that characterized each of their presidencies. CBR News caught up with Templesmith to get all the details.
Though Australian, Ben Templesmith is nothing if not a student of American history, and it was while researching U.S presidents past and present that the project first occurred to the artist. When he mentioned the idea to IDW, the publisher didn't need much convincing to green light the project. "Don't know if I ever really **pitched** it," Templesmith told CBR News. "I just mentioned the idea and somehow it ended up on the publishing schedule!"
An avid traveler, Templesmith has always been interested in not just U.S history, but also that of the world. It was obvious to him that many people in America and aboard aren't particularly well versed in the U.S.'s fascinating array of leaders. "I'm always curious why things end up the way they are," Templesmith said. "Like why the White House was burned down, or why social security exists, or how faraway Hawaii came to be part of the U.S."
Those are just a few of the presidential facts that Templesmith chose to accompany his 44 presidential portraits. "I just tried to nab as many important facts about each one that I could and include bits of imagery surrounding the portrait from events during each one's tenure," Templesmith explained.
The artist took pains to keep his own political leanings from influencing the book's content. "There's no commentary or bias in there, consciously," he said. "Things like inflation under Carter, the New Deal with FDR or the wars and terror attacks under Bush 2 are not a comment either way on them. They just happened."
The fact that some presidents get more copy than others also has less to do with bias and more to do with the eventfulness of each man's term in office. "There's always going to be more for some than others, especially if a guy dies shortly after taking the office," Templesmith explained. Barack Obama had yet to be inaugurated when "The Presidents of the United States" went to press, so his entry is understandably brief. "Not surprisingly, Bush 2 gets probably the largest list of events/things, but he actually did and changed a lot of things and had many things happen under his presidency, for better or worse."
Templesmith chose to illustrate the presidents as they looked when they were in office. "Which means some don't look old and wizened, as they may be more familiar to some folks," he remarked. In many cases, the artist used classic shots of the leaders as photo reference. "Google and a few reference books were my friends. It gets a little harder the more modern you get as politicians discover the art of smiling, which I found highly annoying." Templesmith also used color and background imagery to make each portrait as visually interesting as possible, layering in background imagery with a transfer technique using photocopies the artist had altered to look like grainy, old-time newspapers. "Forty-four mug shots would be very boring. I wanted this to be something kids would potentially find interesting to look at."
At the same time, Templesmith was careful to make sure that the collage of imagery in the background was not overbearing. "They're really just meant as background that you only see if you really bother looking," he explained. "Things like stock market crashes/bank panics (of which there are many) get the classic Wall Street shot and such. When states enter the union, etc., I've put a few of their symbols in there, lots of different nations' flags during foreign policy moments, stuff like that."
Though Templesmith is not a historian by trade, he does hope that "The Presidents of the United States" encourages people to delve deeper into the rich histories of America's 44 Commanders in Chief.
"The Presidents of the United States" is on sale now from IDW Publishing.