Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Diver Down

Magnet # 222:  Florida Seahorse

Material:  Clay

Purchased By:  Me

Comic artist and creator Michael Turner was born on this day in 1971. Unlike nearly every professional in the comic industry, Turner didn't grow up dreaming of getting a job in comics. Instead, he was very active (another quality perhaps uncommon in the industry) and rose to the level of instructor in martial arts and won awards water skiing. He studied to be a doctor, but a family friend turned him onto the possibility of being a comic book artist. Turner had taken an art class in high school, and drew for fun, but this advice changed his life. In 1993, he put together a small portfolio, attended the San Diego Comic Con, and was able to impress Mark Silvestri, a popular comic artist who owned a studio, Top Cow. Silvestri bought him on board and starting teaching him to draw. When he asked him to render a building, the results were awful, but when he gave Turner a picture of a building to reference, the change was dramatic. In fact, it was more than Silvestri would have expected from a seasoned professional. Soon, Turner was providing backgrounds on Top Cow comics and taking a shot penciling at a few issues. But his big break came in 1995 when Witchblade, the comic series he was chosen to pencil, hit the stands. It was a huge hit and it catapulted Turner to comic book stardom. Because he hadn't studied comics his entire life, his artistic style was different from those in the industry and it set him apart. Turner had an elegant, detailed style that almost seemed a little like fantasy art. Plus, he drew very hot women very well, an important quality for the predominately male comic book audience. Before long, he was creating his own comic, Fathom, and making it a hit. For this project, he drew from his love of the ocean. Turner was an avid diver and used his trips under the surface to gather inspiration for the book. And he'd often hide a seahorse he dubbed Ernie in his images, so I thought this would be an appropriate magnet for the post.

All in all, Turner seemed to be on the top of the world , so it was a shock to him and the comic book community when he went to the hospital after a sports injury in 2000 only to find out that he had chondrosarcoma, a form of cancer, in his pelvic bone. He soon underwent surgery to remove part of his pelvis, a hip, and about three pounds of bone. Even in the hospital, Turner continued to draw and when he was released, in a wheelchair and crutches, he kept attending comic book conventions and getting out on the water when he could. He also underwent chemotherapy and it seemed his cancer was gone for good. I admit, over the years I stopped paying as much attention to comics as I did fantasy art and wasn't really keeping up with Michael Turner. But I was still stunned when I was opened up an issue of Entertainment Weekly in 2008, only to find Turner listed among the obituaries. Although he had fought the best he could, his cancer finally got the best of him. I wasn't surprised, but I was still saddened. I had always thought over the years, I'd be able to meet Turner or at least get to see him at a convention. From what I'd heard, he was a really nice guy. Everyone in the industry said this and I even met fellow fans who talked about just how likeable he was when they met him. In fact, part of the reason Mark Silvestri kept Turner on even though he wasn't a trained artist was his affable personality. Plus, he was pretty darn cute - lots of girls liked him and, yes, I was one of them. I would have really liked getting a sketch from him. But I guess that will never happen now. Perhaps I should take that as a lesson at my future conventions.

Michael Turner may be gone, but he certainly did plenty with his 37 brief years. Even now, there are quite a few comic book artists who imitate his style. Fortunately, he left behind many stunning images for them to reference and the rest of us to enjoy. And it looks as though his creations will be introduced to mass audiences - both Witchblade and Fathom are scheduled to hit the big screen in the near future. By chance, Turner's life crossed paths with the comic book industry. In the beginning, it made him a star, but it looks like his work will have a lasting impact on the future of the industry, a fitting tribute to such a nice, talented, hard-working guy.


  1. Thanks for the interesting piece about Michael Turner. Even though he had a short life he had an impact on many others.