This past June, comics creator Michael Turner passed away at the young age of 37 after a long battle with cancer. Turner was a beloved figured in the industry, not just for the dynamic artwork he produced, but for his generous personality and courageous spirit in the face of a devastating disease.
The public face of Aspen Comics, Turner was a regular fixture at comic conventions across the United States and abroad, greeting fans with a smile and signing autographs constantly. And as the President of the company, Turner was involved in every business aspect of Aspen as well.
Following his passing, many began to wonder just what the future of Aspen Comics would be without Turner at the helm or at the drafting table. For that answer and more, CBR News spoke yesterday with new Aspen Comics President Frank Mastromauro about the future of the company, and we follow-up now with Aspen Editor-In-Chief Vince Hernandez.
CBR: Vince, in your tribute to Michael Turner that we published the day of his death, it was obvious you were hit particularly hard by his passing. How are you holding up?
Vince Hernandez: I was definitely hit hard, to say the least, when Mike passed away. He was one of my best friends and even today I still don’t go a day without thinking about him in one way or the other—usually when I see something inspiring or unbelievable, that’s when I’ll think of my pal Mike. But I’m holding up well and have been so busy with Aspen’s book line that I haven’t been able to decompress, really. I’m sure that will come but for now it’s all about producing the best comics we possibly can.
Given Turner’s long illness, one would guess there were some discussions of what Aspen would look like editorially should he ever pass away. Did you and he have any discussions about the future editorial direction of Aspen? What sort of things did he want to focus on?
We didn’t have a specific meeting to discuss this because his passing was so sudden. However, it’s never been an issue that we really needed to address. Mike made sure to surround himself at Aspen with people he knew shared his vision for our comics. I know I fit into that mold. Plus, I’ve been editing the line now for a few years and we’re really starting to achieve the depth of our universes and an emphasis on solid storytelling to match the high level of art we’ve always produced. This was something I remember going over with Mike all the time as something we wanted to achieve. We felt that if the stories themselves weren’t of the highest caliber, then everything else doesn’t matter.
What are the fates of “Fathom” and “Solufire” and the rest of Turner’s creations?
Our editorial team has really stepped up to try to maintain the high standards Mike always kept when it comes to the story and art. Frank [Mastromauro] and I are always challenging each other to find ways to make the books better with each issue, and the results I think can be found in the books we’ve released the past year or so, like “Iron and the Maiden,” “Fathom: Kiani,” and “Shrugged.”
Despite his illness, Michael Turner was a prolific artist. How much unpublished artwork, finished and unfinished, can fans look forward to?
There’s a little of both I believe. I would keep my eyes peeled because there are still some pieces from Mike to come that are typically awesome as usual.
What does the future of Aspen look like, visually?
The future for Aspen looks very bright, with some unique surprises in store for our fans. I couldn’t be more excited about the group of artists we have, from JT Krul and Ale Garza on “Fathom” to Sana Takeda on “Soulfire: Shadow Magic,” and Marcus To is stockpiling the most amazing batch of “Soulfire: Volume 2” pages so far ahead of schedule it’s scary. Micah Gunnell is finishing “Shrugged” as we speak and moving on to a new Aspen property that will be a departure from every other title we produce. Francisco Herrera is finishing his series “Soulfire: New World Order” and the art is jaw dropping, while David Wohl and Eduardo Francisco are knee-deep in production on “Executive Assistant: Iris,” which will be out early next year. Also, we have David Schwartz, writer of the critically acclaimed series “Meltdown,” jumping into the Aspen universe this year as he has a “Shrugged” one-shot coming out early next year as well. There will also be more announcements of other popular creators coming to the Aspen universe soon.
Are there plans for a Michael Turner tribute book?
Yes, we are releasing a Michael Turner tribute book and it will be absolutely massive. It will feature both art and words of remembrance from everyone from Jim Lee to Alex Ross. I could go on and on but let’s just say the book will be clocking in at 80 pages as the comics community and beyond have truly gathered to honor Mike’s legacy.
Michael Turner was very much a teacher, bringing guys like yourself, Micah Gunnell and others under his wing. Will the studio aspect of Aspen remain a place for guiding up-and-coming artists?
Yes, for sure. We have artists working with us right now who are learning under Frank, Peter, and myself every day, and it’s really exciting to see their progression. There’s a few newcomers we’re bringing onto the scene that are producing some fresh, exciting work.
As a friend and colleague of Michael Turner, the comics industry’s reaction to his unfortunate passing must have meant a lot to you.
The amount of support the comic book industry has for us as a company really showed after Mike’s passing. We’re a young, independent comic company trying to make our mark and often times we’ve struggled along the way and heard the criticism for it—and the criticism was justified in a lot of instances. However, we’ve never strayed away from confronting and addressing any challenges we’ve encountered and I think the industry and the fans have understood and supported us no mater what—that forces us to try even harder.