Artist Ben Stenbeck
When it comes to the Mignolaverse, Mike Mignola likes to work with creators that understand his creations but bring their own creative muse to each project. Artist Ben Stenbeck is one of those type of creators. One need only look at the number of times he and Mike and collaborated on various projects.
One of the last projects they worked on was the title Koshchei the Deathless. By its conclusion, it was one of the artist’s favorite projects. And if the opportunity ever came to dive back into the Koshchei character, he was more than ready. Since good things come to those who wait, once again Steinbeck and Mignola are teaming up with another tale centered around Koshchei. This time making the trek into hell with appropriately enough, Koshchei in Hell.
Recently, we had an opportunity to catch up with the talented artist to discuss his beginnings, his work with Mignola and by extension Mignola regular colorist, Dave Stewart. Not to mention, of course, their new Dark Horse limited series Koschei in Hell. So, let’s welcome artist Ben Stenbeck to GVN Talking Comics.
Early Comic Inspirations
GVN: Thanks for giving us a bit of your time Ben. We do appreciate it. Since this is our first time getting to chat, I would like to touch upon a bit of your background. When did you take an interest in comic art and whose work opened your world to that possibility?
BEN: I was fascinated by comics before I could read them. I guess I was 5 or 6? There’s a few I had at that age that still stick in my head today, an issue of Rom by Sal Buscema and an Issue of Conan drawn by John Buscema, 70s Marvel horror stuff. Really creepy feeling things that I couldn’t understand like -why does it look like the pretty lady is physically attracted to the big blob monster that eats cows?! It was all over my head but fascinating to look at.
My incentive for learning to read was the promise of a hardback reprinting the original Kirby Incredible Hulk origin story. The way distribution worked then in New Zealand, 2000AD was just as prominent on shelves as any Marvel stuff (And it appealed to me more than superheroes). It was all that weird gross sci-fi stuff that’s perfect for young minds, especially people like Mike McMahon and early Bisley stuff.
Leaning toward the Dark Side
It was when Dark Horse started doing licensed comics like Aliens and Predator, (especially that first series drawn by Chris Warner) that I became obsessed with all of that. I then started thinking about ‘drawing comics’ as a thing someone could do for a job. I was 13 and just had this abstract thought one day, “How do you get good at drawing?” I just took a wild guess that you have to draw all the time and that then you might get good at it. So, I started doing that.
First Professional Work
GVN: I share your feelings when it comes to the Buscema brothers. So, once you make the plunge into comic art, what was your first professional work, and did you have any apprehension during that stage if this would be your profession? (Self-doubt seems to be a common occurrence in the early stages for young creators)
BEN: My first paid gig in comics was a short Buffy story. Breaking into comics had been this relentless obsession up to that point, but I didn’t know anything about Buffy or really care about Buffy. So, it was a bit weird. I’d worked so hard to get there. I’d already done a bit of film and television work, as well as children’s books and commercial illustration. I’d already paid some dues when I got my first comics gig but felt like I’d really blown it once it was done, and sort of thought, “well I gave comics a shot and it turns out I’m not good at it.” Then some video game work came my way, so I went and did that for two years. It was good to take a step back and reassess things. I decided I still wanted to do comics but that I still had a ton to learn about making them. I think self-doubt is healthy and I don’t think it ever truly leaves or should leave. That’s what makes you try to get better.
Mixing Digital and Traditional
GVN: In doing my research, I noticed that your technique is a bit of a hybrid, using digital for the pencils and then traditional inks. When did you discover that this was the process that worked best for you? (I have grown so much in my admiration for traditional inkers…it is a skill that requires hands of a surgeon…in MY way of thinking not to mention the splotches of ink everywhere when I attempt it.)
BEN: I’m not sure when I shifted to digital pencils. It was sort of a long evolution, I guess. At one point I was doing these really rough digital pencils and then printing that out and putting it on a lightbox and doing tighter pencils over the top of that, and one day I just thought, “this is silly.” I’ve got way too many steps going on here. I should just eliminate the pencil altogether. I tried inking one comic digitally and realized I could never work like that. I’d never leave it alone. There’s no moment where you can say ‘ok its finished’ I just kept reworking and reworking so I swore off digital inking after that. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way to work, it’s the end result that’s important and I think everybody is entitled to figure out the method that works best for them.
Working with Mike
GVN: You have worked with Mike Mignola on a multitude of projects, and I can see why he enjoys collaborating with you as your work very much reflects Mike’s own artistic aesthetic. Your latest is a revisit with the character of Koshchei for Dark Horse Comics Koschei in Hell. When you completed your work on the six-issue series Koshchei the Deathless with Mike, did you feel there were other avenues YOU might have liked to explore with the character at that time and were there any indications that Mike might return to Koschei?
BEN: Koshchei the Deathless was my favourite thing I’d done, so when it finished, I just wanted to keep doing more, whatever it was about. It’s the kind of stuff I could spend another decade working on. It could have been left just as it was. But it did feel at the end like he had some stuff to do in Hell. There are some things that need to happen to close up Hell properly. And Koshchei gets roped into doing some of that.
GVN: Because of your history of success with Mike, is there still much discussion of what the visuals will look like on a project between you two or has an innate trust been established that you will achieve what he is after?
BEN: I bit of both; I think. Some stuff Mike just leaves in my hands and some stuff he has a really specific idea for. A lot of the story telling with Mike is right there in the script so it’s hard to go wrong. Every now and then Mike will want to adjust some of my story telling/ page layouts, but that’s only about one page an issue. It’s a similar process with designs. I did a design for some changes that happen to Hellboy’s sister Gamori and that was just one sketch. There was one character in this series I just couldn’t get, and then Mike did a couple of beautiful sketches and nailed it. Of course.
The Comfort Zone
GVN: Speaking of Koshchei in Hell, did working on this new series give you an opportunity to draw some things outside of your comfort zone or have you passed the point where that is even a concern?
BEN: I have definitely not passed that point. But Koshchei in Hell doesn’t have any of the stuff that keeps me awake at night. Thats my favourite thing about working from Mike’s scripts. Even if it is something outside my comfort zone, it’s always something that’s more of a fun challenge, than something I really don’t want to draw.
Working with Dave Stewart
GVN: Along with Mike, the other part of that established Mignolaverse creative team is colorist Dave Stewart. When you first took on the Mignolaverse and the opportunity to work with Dave, were there any guidelines that were laid out for you as you worked in reference to color or was it matter of just Dave doing Dave things with your work?
BEN: It was a long time ago now (back in maybe 2007?), but I tried to micromanage Dave the first time he coloured my work. I’m embarrassed to say I sent him a three-page document just for the first issue and I can’t believe he continued to work with me after that. I think a lot of my opinions on colour evolved from reading the work as a fan and watching Dave’s evolution as a colourist. In Baltimore, we very quickly fell into a routine where we know what each other does and how that works with what we do.
Upcoming Projects and Following Ben
GVN: Thanks so much for your time, Ben. Before I let you go, I want to give you an opportunity to promote any other projects you may have and where can fans follow you on social media or the web?
BEN: Your welcome! Thanks for the great questions. Mike and I are always talking about what’s next. There are things in the works with us, but I can’t say more than that at the moment. 2023 will see the publication of my first solo series. Unfortunately, I can’t say much more about that either right now. But it’s this thing I wanted to do since 2012 about a feral kid in a post-apocalyptic world. My work on it is mostly done and it’s just getting through the home stretch that’s going slow. As soon as I can say more, I’ll be saying it on social media on Twitter and Instagram and you can visit Benstenbeck.com. Thanks Again!
Dark Horse Comics Koshchei in Hell, Issue 1 by Mike Mignola, Ben Stenbeck and Dave Stewart hits stands on November 30th.
Senior Writer at GeekVibesNation – I am a 50 something child of the 70’s who admits to being a Star Trek/Star Wars/Comic Book junkie who once dove head first over a cliff (Ok, it was a small hill) to try to rescue his Fantastic Four comic from a watery grave. I am married to a lovely woman who is as crazy as I am and the proud parent of a 18 year old boy with autism. My wife and son are my real heroes.