Author and cartoonist Ben Caldwell took the time to answer some questions for an interview with the Legendarium news team. Ben’s contributions to the worlds of fantasy and science fiction include his instructional art books “Action! Cartooning” and “Fantasy! Cartooning,” his original Dare Detectives series, cover art for Justice League Unlimited, artwork for Star Wars: The Clone Wars comics, comic adaptations of classic literature including Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and Homer’s “The Odyssey,” and designing action figures based on The Lord of the Rings and X-Men films.
Ben Caldwell at the World Building Panel at the 2014 NC ComiCon.
Legendarium: Who are some of your influences as an artist?
Ben Caldwell: Well, my artistic influences range all over the place. Some big ones and some obvious ones that you probably saw were Don Bluth; also Ivan Doro who was a production designer for Disney for a lot of films. He did “Night on Bald Mountain” in “Fantasia.” He also did the “Sleeping Beauty” look. Masamune Shirow who did “Appleseed,” “Dominion,” and “Ghost in the Shell” was a huge influence. In general, a lot of Manga and Anime. . .back in the 80’s. . . .A lot of history and archaeology has had a huge influence on me. A lot of my stuff—I was an exchange student to Asia a couple of times—so, a lot of Japanese art and a lot of Thai art had a big influence on my work, as well as South Asian and of course a lot of early Mediterranean art and a lot of Germanic art. And that stuff’s helped me out literally in some cases in what I had to do. For example, I had to draw “The Odyssey”. . . .Just in general for a lot of my other work, those influences crop in and help make it distinctive. They make it fun for me.
Image from Ain’t It Cool News.
L: What drew you into fantasy and sci-fi?
BC: Well, it had women blowing up robots and talking bunny rabbits with swords, so it kinda sold itself. It’s really that simple. I mean, I just love bombastic, crazy, explosive things. . . .When I got older, my love for fantasy just increased because of something just inherently psychological about it as opposed to most other genres and story approaches, so I really like that.
Just as Caldwell finished answering the question, an intercom announcement interrupted the interview. Caldwell joked, “Good timing!”
L: As a writer and an artist, what do you hope your readers and viewers will take away from your work?
BC: At the end of the day for me—I mean I love the world building, it’s something I spend an inordinate amount of time on, and the stories—but at the end of the day for me, it really comes down to the characters and making my audience really fall in love with those characters, because while what happens as far as why may or may not be exciting on its own. Having people connect with the characters and caring what happens to them is a huge part of why they would be interested in all the explosions and curses and all the other great things you have in the story. So yeah, it’s really finding ways to make my characters appeal, whether they’re, you know, the pleasant, lovely characters or horrible characters with terrible things, having them really appeal to the audience one way or the other so they want to follow their adventures.
L: The next is a chicken and egg question: You mentioned in the panel about how your world should have a foundation with a story before you begin working on it. Do you usually start with a story idea or start with a world idea?
BC: Well, actually it can depend. I’ve had it work both ways. A lot of times I don’t necessarily have a story in terms of a complete plot but I have some general idea of an idea for something. For example. . .I talked about at the show. . .the idea “What if you had a fantasy world where that evolved past the fantasy and into a kind of a more mechanized, more modern world?” And I thought about something like the French Revolution where magic was banned, and so then that was sort of the concept. At the same time, very, very quickly it became the. . .idea of this. . .orphan kid who moved in with a distant relative who was involved in doing magical stuff. And I mean, that was really just those two things, [they] were the foundation for everything that worked out from there. In other cases I do have a. . .story and a world built around it. In a lot of cases I have one story working on that and building a world for that ends up leading to a whole bunch of other stories. . . .For example that one was a spinoff of another story of mine, “The Dare Detectives,” which I already have a finished, published story for. . . .In that world they had the Revolution and so they have a modern world so it would be “The Adventures of the Dare Detectives.” It takes place in a cartoony but vaguely normal, modern world and so I thought, you know, what’s the flipside, what if the Revolution didn’t work out that way and what if it’s still a fantasy environment? And so, in so having worked out those details for the Dare Detectives led to the creation of the other story eventually.
Image from Ain’t It Cool News.