Michael Turner, 37, Creator of Superheroines, Is Dead
By GEORGE GENE GUSTINES
Published: July 6, 2008
Michael Turner, a popular comic-book artist who came to fame in the mid-1990s and was best known for creating two sexy female lead characters, Witchblade and Fathom, died on June 27 in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 37.
Courtesy of Aspen MLT
Armed with only a hastily assembled five-page sample of his work, Mr. Turner was discovered at a comic-book convention in 1993 by Marc Silvestri, one of seven artists who founded Image Comics in 1992. Within months, Mr. Turner went from waiting tables to being a top-selling artist.
Mr. Turner, along with Mr. Silvestri and a few others, soon created his best-known character, Witchblade, named after a supernatural weapon that affixed itself to the arm of Sara Pezzini, a homicide detective in New York; the transformation left her provocatively clad, armed and dangerous.
The novelist and part-time comic-book writer Brad Meltzer, in a special edition of the comics-industry magazine Wizard that was devoted to Mr. Turner before he died, said: “Anyone who says they didn’t become aware of Mike when they saw one of his hot girl drawings is a liar. That’s when he hit the radar.”
Witchblade first appeared in comic books in 1995 and became the basis of a live-action series on the cable channel TNT in 2001. It ran for about two seasons.
In 1998, Mr. Turner created the aquatic Fathom, published by Top Cow Productions. In her secret identity Fathom was a marine biologist with a model’s looks named Aspen Matthews.
Two years later, Mr. Turner learned he had a type of cancer called chondrosarcoma in his right pelvis. He lost his hip, 40 percent of his pelvis and three pounds of bone and underwent nine months of radiation therapy. He eventually went into remission, only to have the cancer return several times.
In 2002, Mr. Turner founded Aspen MLT, an entertainment publishing company. The L stood for Lane, his middle name, which he rarely used. The company’s comics were delayed by a yearlong legal battle with Top Cow regarding the rights to Fathom and other properties. The case was settled out of court the next year.
In 2004, Mr. Turner began contributing work to DC and Marvel, the comics industry giants. His cover art brought him particular attention, including his illustrations for Identity Crisis, a top-selling seven-part mystery written by Mr. Meltzer, in which DC superheroes, including Superman, Green Arrow and Hawkman, are forced to question their culpability in a vengeful murder.
As with every cover they worked on, “Mike and I spoke at length about the design” of the final one for the project, Mr. Meltzer wrote in an e-mail message. The cover presented the characters as empty costumes, which ambiguously represented either the end of the age of superheroes or a rebirth.
Mr. Meltzer continued: “The only thing we argued about, as only two geeks can: whether Batman’s cowl should be flat and empty, or stiff and armored. I lost. He won. And he was right. But make no mistake, with Mike gone, the capes and cowls are most certainly empty. His covers were the first thing every reader saw. And he was the one true ‘big name’ on the book. That’s why people picked it up.”
Fans were important to Mr. Turner. He was always appreciative of people who stopped to say hello at conventions, and he signed countless autographs, even when he was confined to a wheelchair, Gareb Shamus, the publisher of Wizard, said.
Mr. Turner was born in Crossville, Tenn., on April 21, 1971, and is survived by his mother, Grace, and his brother, Jake.
In high school, Mr. Turner took an art class, but he mostly drew for his own amusement. In 1993, he was encouraged to put together a sampling of his work and to attend the San Diego Comic-Con, the nation’s largest comic convention. It was there he met the staff of Top Cow.
“We gave him his first shot,” Mr. Silvestri said. “That will always be important: that we had a little something to do with bringing Mike to the world of comics.”
One of the first tests for the new artist was to draw a building. It looked awful, “like a lump of bread,” Mr. Silvestri recalled. Still, he found Mr. Turner so affable that they tried again, this time with help from a reference book on New York architecture. The results were remarkable.
“I did a double take,” Mr. Silvestri said. “It was beautiful, incredible. More than I would’ve possibly expected from a seasoned professional. I asked him flat out, ‘Where did this come from?’ He said, ‘No one ever told me to look at a picture before.’ ”