Monster Sketch Monday – Duane Jones as Ben

Hey folks! Sorry for the sporadic nature of the sketches lately. I’m hoping to get back on a more regular schedule this month.

As I mentioned in the first Monster Sketch post, I sometimes like to use the time to draw an actor, actress or director that I especially enjoy. It’s not all monsters, despite the title. This week I found myself noodling around with the great Duane Jones’ profile yet again.

 

While Night of the Living Dead‘s Ben is the role that made him famous, Duane Jones was in a handful of other films – including the art/horror/exploitation film Ganja and Hess and Losing Ground – the first feature film directed by a Black woman. Perhaps his most important role, however, was as teacher. He taught literature at Antioch College and acting at the American Academy of Dramatic arts.

As a horror fan I always look to his performance as Ben as my experience of the man’s talent. As I mention in my Canon article about Night of the Living Dead, Ben is as much a creation of Jones as he is of Romero and John Russo. Initially envisioned as a rough-and-tumble truck driver, Jones imbues Ben with a calm, rational demeanor – and makes him the dramatic and moral center of the film. (Jones purportedly rewrote much of the character’s dialogue as well.)

Jones spent most of his life not talking about the film, knowing that such a pivotal role would overshadow all the rest of his life if he let it. Instead, he let the performance speak for itself. He gave one interview, late in his life, where he discussed the film’s impact and his role in it. (You can find it on the Criterion release of Night, if you’d care to see it.)

It’s the nuances of Jones’ performance that stay with me. He’s a calming presence, yes, but he’s not above raising his voice nor a moment of (quickly regretted and controlled) frustration. He’s human, he’s the person we all wish we could be in a moment of crisis.

I’m sure there are people with more education and experience that can ramble on about Black horror films – and how Duane Jones in particular is a starting point that leads directly to great films like Get Out – but I’m just slinging digital ink here today. I’ll just say that horror fans owe a lot to Duane Jones (and George Romero for having the courage to cast him) – and that when I think of horror heroes Ben is always in the top ten. Where does he fall in your list?

Just for the hell of it, here’s another sketch I did of Ben last year.

Author: Bob Cram

Would like to be mysterious but is instead, at best, slightly ambiguous.