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  • Writer's pictureBrad Gullickson

"A Miracle of Science." The Marvel Art of Michael Turner.

Aspen Comics co-founder Frank Mastromauro explains how Michael Turner altered the landscape of comics.


The Marvel Art of Michael Turner

Welcome to Creator Corner, our recurring interview series in which we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the industry. In this entry, we're conversing with Frank Mastromauro about The Marvel Art of Michael Turner, which is currently seeking funding through Kickstarter. Listen to the unedited audio HERE.

 

You had to be there. Witchblade and Fathom made Michael Turner a superstar in comics. Then, along came those Marvel Civil War covers. The comics world lost its mind, and in the early aughts, I found myself waiting hours and hours in line to meet the man. When I eventually reached the front, it was as if I was first in line, not number four thousand five hundred and whatever. Michael Turner gave me the meet-and-greet experience you always want from your idols. He was warm, welcoming, and generous with his time, even though he had another four thousand five hundred and whatever fans waiting behind me.

Tragically, in 2008, we lost Michael Turner to a rare form of bone cancer. He was thirty-seven years old. A void appeared within the field, and it hasn't sealed since. His influence is seen all over the place, but many may not recognize it. That's why it's so incredibly special and necessary when a project like The Marvel Art of Michael Turner appears. Done in collaboration between Marvel Comics, Clover Press, and Turner's own home base, Aspen Comics, this new book is currently seeking funding through Kickstarter.


Right now, Clover Press is dominating the art book scene. Having successfully led similar projects with Alex Maleev, David Mack, Russell Dauternman, and others, they're a natural fit to bring some love to Michael Turner's Marvel work. And we're not the only ones to think so.


Michael Turner's friend and business partner, Frank Mastromauro, co-founder of Aspen Comics, sat down with us to discuss the artist's legacy and why publishing this book is so crucial. We discuss the madhouse experience of running a Michael Turner line at conventions, the horror of losing Turner, and what he hopes The Marvel Art of Michael Turner will do for new and old readers.


This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

 

The Marvel Art of Michael Turner: Worth the Wait


Brad: I was lucky enough to meet Mike Turner many, many years ago at a Philadelphia Wizard World Convention. What I really remember about that meeting was the insanity of that line. It's hard for me to describe to folks who didn't experience a Michael Turner line, but it was massive, intense. The enthusiasm for his work was overpowering and you felt like something had shifted within the medium when Michael Turner came around. I don't know what the experience was for you back then, but maybe you could clue us in a little bit.


Frank Mastromauro: For sure. I think I know exactly what convention you're talking about, and yeah, we'll get into it. I started Aspen Comics with Michael way, way back when. The convention you're specifically referencing, Philadelphia, that year was the year we launched our Civil War number one variant cover. To be truthful, other booths, and other congoers were getting upset with us 'cause our lines were so long. Everybody was waiting in line to get the Michael Turner variant cover, and there was nothing we could do about it because we were like, "We won't have any more copies for a few hours," whatever it was. They're like, "Well, we're waiting. We're waiting," and the line just went down the entire convention center. Don't get me wrong, Brad, we've definitely had some incredible lines over the years for different things, but truthfully, the one you're mentioning right now was easily one of the biggest, most intense lines we ever had in the history of Aspen Comics. It was pretty wild.


Brad: What was it about Mike's work that was so infectious, so energizing to the readership?


Frank Mastromauro: This is obviously a loaded question for me 'cause Mike was my best friend, and I love him with all my heart. I miss him every second. Mike was just a force of nature when he came into comics. He didn't know much about comics, so he was basically this blank slate. He took as much influence as possible from everyone around him. Obviously, Marc Silvestri at the time was the biggest influence he had, but he was in this incredible bullpen. I mean, it was lightning in a bottle with how the Image Studios were coming up and all of those individual ones from Wildstorm to Top Cow and Rob's company, all of them just completely creating all this new IP and all these new characters and all this stuff for people to love and enjoy.


For Mike, he was just a sponge, man. He just absorbed it all. What was such a blessing about him is he truthfully was such an incredible person. I always tell people and they're like, "Oh, I love Mike so much, and he was so fantastic." I'm like, "Yeah, he was such a good person, and he was a pretty decent artist too." You know what I mean?


That's what I would always say because no matter if you were first in line or last in line, or like we were talking about at Philly, whether you were waiting 4, 5, 6 hours, which people did for Mike, he treated you as if you were the first person in line and gave you a handshake, gave you a look. He connected with his fans. He had a big smile for everybody, and he truly was appreciative of all the hard work that he put into comics and all the art that he drew, those late nights. So many people think comic book art is such a glamorized professional thing, but oh, it's so many just the longest nights possible with microwave dinners and all kinds of stuff.


Brad: A lot of alone time.


Frank Mastromauro: Right. Mike, when he first moved out to Cali, was living in a apartment with six, seven other artists and sleeping on couches and everything to get his break. I mean, the Michael Turner everybody fell in love with obviously needed to be developed and come from somewhere. He came from such a good place. As he grew as an artist that also grew with him, which is just such a testament to the person, because so many people lose that as they get more notoriety and more popular and everything. To Mike, he never lost that sense of pride and the thankfulness and being thoughtful to those who got him there. I can never ever express enough just how great of a person he was in that regard.


Then, of course, like you're saying, I mean, his art from the first page of a comic to the last page of the comic, he got better per comic, not per series or something. His art was always evolving, and he was always working on his line work and completely just making sure what he drew next on a blank piece of paper was better than what he drew the day or two before that. He was constantly trying to get better, which is obvious if you follow his line of work from his earliest stuff back at the Cow to all of Fathom to then everything we did at DC to then Soulfire, there was just so much leveling up. It's insane how fast he elevated to such a high degree of craftsmanship.


The Marvel(ous) Art of Being Michael Turner


Brad: Yeah, that's an excellent point. The speed with which, to use your words, he elevated and built upon himself was really rare. Again, going back to that memory of mine when I was waiting hours in line to finally get some FaceTime with Mike.


Frank Mastromauro: Thank you for that. That's awesome.


Brad: Oh, it wasn't even a question. What I remember about that was when I finally did get to meet him and have a few moments with him, he seemed as in awe of the experience as everybody waiting in line was. He seemed so joyful and so happy to be there because he was there a lot longer than after I left, you know?


Frank Mastromauro: Sure. Yeah. That was one thing about Mike, like I said, he was so appreciative of everybody waiting. It wasn't just like, "Oh yeah, there's my line. I'll take care of it," or something like some other people. He truly wanted to make sure everybody who waited, got the experience. I mean, there were some shows where we'd be breaking down the show and he'd still be finishing up signing, sitting at a table by himself with the last couple people that came in late on a Sunday or something. We always made sure, because after Mike's surgery, for those unaware, I'm sure most are aware, but Michael Turner in 2000 was diagnosed with a very rare form of bone cancer, a sarcoma that was a slow-growing cancer, and he went in for surgery, had eight and a half pounds of bone removed from his body. It was his entire right hip, part of his femur.


I mean, essentially, there was nothing connecting his right leg to his body anymore in terms of a skeletal structure. The doctors, at the time, it was honestly a miracle of science. Mike actually went to two different medical conferences on stage and showed how he could still walk, definitely with a cool little strut and limp and everything, but he was able to still walk without that bone. At conventions when he'd sit, we're so used to just sitting down and being stable and being upright. Mike would kind of be tilted over because there was nothing there on that right side of his body. We'd carry six, eight pillows to every convention. We'd ask the convention staff if they had a better chair, things like that, and they'd always hook Mike up and he would just get comfortable and just sit there for hours, signing for fans, shaking hands as often as he could.


Every single person would always ask for a sketch, and it was super difficult for Mike because he didn't want to disappoint people. That would've been days of sketching a sketch for everybody, but he always did. He was so gracious, man. He always did his best with all of that and signed everything. I couldn't imagine. We talk about this a lot. Mike's been gone over sixteen years now. But someone would bring up a short box and Mike would sign a bunch and then a next person would come up and he'd sign and then continue signing more. Nowadays, I mean, people of his stature charge 20, 40, 50 bucks a signature and everything. It's crazy. Mike was always just like, "Nope, I'm signing all this stuff. I got you covered. We'll get it done," and people would get to sit and talk with him, and he'd tell jokes. He was just an incredible person. Truly, that's why everyone always waited.


The Marvel Art of Michael Turner: Why Now?

Brad: Where we are right now in 2024 with comics. I mean, there's so much vying for a reader's attention and there's so much great quality comics out there just waiting to be discovered. Why is it important to keep the legacy of a titan like Michael Turner alive in the imagination of contemporary fans?


Frank Mastromauro: Yeah, that's a fantastic question. I've been a fan of comics since I was five years old. Everybody who knows me knows Incredible Hulk's my favorite character, and I truly have lived the medium. I started in the mid-nineties and I've been doing comics pretty much my entire life. When you look at all the powerhouses of today that are doing so many incredible books and how even though all the Marvel movies are so incredible, and the MCU, which let me throw in a quick little side. The co-owner of our company is the founder of Marvel Studios, David Maisel, and we could talk more about that in a minute. His vision and what he had for those movies was par to none. There was nothing like it that had ever come and basically revolutionized the way people wanted to go see movies in a consecutive way and telling a narrative that continued through for years and years and years, culminating in Endgame, which I mean, never had I had a movie experience like that in my life when, spoiler alert, when Cap grabs the hammer, and the entire theater cheered.


It was unbelievable. With comics, there's so much out there now, and in today's world, like you said, 2024, I mean with print on demand and so many different ways of getting a comic book made and so many different ways of building an audience, it's so different than it was before. And at Aspen, we've definitely gone and have continued to go the standard way of publishing through our distributor and things like that. Also, Direct Consumer has been such a changing dynamic. It is so different. Yet we don't want to take away from the retailer, so we still do our publishing, and we still provide them exclusives and things like that. But back to your question, I didn't mean to get off topic, but back to your question.


Brad: No, this is great.


Frank Mastromauro: There are so many incredible creators today, and all of them are built on what came before, right? With Mike, he was in that sweet spot when Image Comic was booming, and so many different changes in comics were evolving and happening, and fans were going insane with all these different new titles and all these different new things. Marvel and DC were upping in their game, and it made everybody better. It really did, I feel.


For Mike, he was such a huge part of that, and we don't want that to ever be diminished. Obviously, time goes on and new people come about, and just like in sports, who's the next big superstar? With comics, keeping Michael's spirit and energy and the passion he had, we want people to know, and we want people to be able to experience it, and we want people to look at his art and go, "Oh my God, I never saw this before. Oh, this guy was incredible. Who was he," and look into him and just find out, we spoke about earlier what type of person he is and how good of a man he was, and what he did for our medium that we love so much. I think that's what it's all about.

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