On Sunday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego, a large panel of industry professionals gathered in two rows on the dais along with a packed room of fans and other friends to remember beloved comic book artist Michael Turner, who recently passed away from cancer at age 37.
Peter Steigerwald, a long time colleague of Turner’s, presided over the remembrance, which featured a running slide show of Turner’s life in the comics industry and community. Steigerwald began by introducing DC Comics Executive Editor Dan DiDio, who was clearly impacted by the event and spoke somewhat hoarsely, trying to contain his sadness. “It’s little hard for me to be the first guy here,” DiDio said, “looking at this group of amazing people who worked with him for so long and loved him so much and knew him so well. He became a person I enjoyed working with and he became a friend.”
DiDio went on to tell the story of how he and DC had to convince Turner to work on a new version of Supergirl, as the artist was reluctant to take on such a project. “He thought it was just a watered-down version of Superman,” DiDio said. After getting Turner to finally agree to the project, DiDio expressed his admiration for the man’s work that, despite his misgivings about the character, the artist turned out his “favorite version of that character.”
DiDio went a little lighter and set a certain tone for some of the tales that followed. “Mike introduced me to mojitos.” DiDio explained the he had never had a mojito and after having his first one, didn’t much care for it. “Mike taught me that the secret to liking mojitos is to drink seven in a row.”
“This is really a lot of fun,” said the next speaker, Jeph Loeb, as he stepped up to the microphone, noting the bittersweet nature of the event. Loeb spoke about his the relationship between Turner and Loeb’s son, Sam. “Just three years ago, I lost my son to, oddly enough, the same kind of cancer that Mike had,” Loeb said. “He was inspiration to Sam. He was a mentor. He was a friend. Living in a world where both of them are gone is incredibly unfair. They never, ever gave up.
“Whatever you’re feeling, there is no right way there is no wrong way,” Loeb said to the fans in attendance. “If you want to laugh, laugh. If you want to cry, cry. If you want to be bummed, be bummed. The best thing you can do is tell Mike stories. Tell it. If you liked one of his comics, tell it. You do not get over this. When you lose a friend, you will not get over it, you incorporate it into your life.”
Turner’s mother, Grace, next spoke to the capacity crowd. “I wanted to thank you for being here and what your attendance means to me personally.” Picking up on DiDio’s motif, she said “Mike introduced me to the dirty martini.” She ended by saying, “If you were lucky enough to have known Mike well, you found that he made you fell like you were the only important person in the world and that you could always accomplish anything you could dream. I called him Captain Amazing and over the last eight years he lived up to that name. He’s the strongest, bravest person that I’ve ever known in my life. He is more alive today in my heart that a lot of us will ever get a chance to be.”
Top Cow Productions head Marc Silvestri explained how he first met Turner as a young man brought into Top Cow Studios to try out as an art assistant. Silvestri said that upon meeting Turner, he was too busy to deal with him and just had him go off in a corner a draw a building for him. “He had this look in his eyes that I didn’t recognize. It was a look that said ‘ooookay. “He came back with what looked like a loaf of bread with a couple of holes in it for windows and he called it a building.”
Silvestri gave Turner one more chance and a reference photo of a building and said, “Here, just draw this building.” He added that Turner again had that look in his eye. In the meantime, Silvestri was trying to figure out how to tell the young man that he should “probably go learn to drive a truck for a living.”
Turner returned with a stunning recreation of the building from the reference. Silvestri took it and said, “Where the hell did this come from? “No one ever told me to look at picture before,” Turner replied.
“He never realized he knew how to draw,” Silvestri said. “Nothing scared him. And that was what that look was in his eyes. Nothing scared him and he was ready to try anything. All Mike really wanted to do when I showed him that page was get better. I think at that moment he realized it was really what he wanted to do. That lack of fear is what made Mike Turner. That’s what you saw in every page of artwork he ever did. Nothing ever worried him in his life because it was all part of life; the good stuff that bad stuff. Is all just life.”
With his voice breaking, Silvestri closed by talking about a pledge he made to himself when Turner died. “Anytime I would be afraid of something I would think of Mike and go ‘Stop being a pussy, dude.” I will always think of Mike and how he would have faced that issue.”
Stiegerwald lightened proceedings somewhat by telling a tale fueled by alcohol. “This was still several years ago, around ‘97 or ‘98, at the old Top Cow Studios. We were going to ditch work and go out drinking. There was this place, Yankee Doodles, that had a 32-ounce beer. I just slammed it and put the glass down.” Stiegerwald said that Turner didn’t believe him.
“They brought out another one,” Steigerwald continued, “and I did it again. The waitress was amazed. The waitress bought the third one. I had to do that a third time. Mike’s like, “You have to do one more. The fourth one was really hard, by the way.’ He said ‘I can’t believe you’re not drunk.’ I just did four 32-ounce beers in 30 minutes. I could feel my self getting drunk.
“We’re walking back to the studio and Mike started talking about ‘Fathom.’ This was the first time I heard his whole pitch. I’m drunk and he’s on his super-excited pitch. He kept me there for about 45 minutes, he was so excited, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to leave, but I didn’t want to leave. That was Mike, every moment was fun.”
A mic was also open to fans to speak about Turner. One such fan said, “I just wanted to know the guy so bad. I picked a good one to like, I picked a good one to be obsessed with and interact with. He was so good to everyone, really really great. You guys are so lucky,” he said to the panel. “You got to work with him and party with him. And that’s all any of us wants is more time with him.”
Illustrator Talent Caldwell then took the floor. “When I was 18, I wanted to get into comics.” Caldwell spoke of portfolio reviews at conventions, where reviewers called him “No-Talent” Caldwell and told him he had to draw more like Michael Turner and Marc Silvestri. Caldwell took offense to that and turned his attentions away from comics.
“Two years later I go to L.A. and go to school for computer animation and Top Cow comes to the school. I didn’t have much of a portfolio,” Caldwell said, but showed it to Turner. “Mike Turner saw something in my stuff and took a chance on me when no one else would take a chance on me. I can be up here, I can sit down next to Marc Silvestri, I can party with these guys,” After a pause, Caldwell elicited a laugh with “I can turn down X-Men. I can do all this because he believed in me when no else did.”
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