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 with new Aspen Comics President Frank Mastromauro about the future of the company. We will follow-up tomorrow with an interview with Aspen Editor-In-Chief Vince Hernandez.
CBR: Frank, how's everyone at Aspen doing? You've suffered a major loss and it can't be easy.
Frank Mastromauro: Everyone is doing pretty well. It’s been a couple of months now and even though the pain is still strong, we’re trying to continue on to our best ability. There’s a lot to do, so everyone is just keeping busy getting things done.
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Given Michael Turner’s long illness, one would guess there were some discussions of what Aspen would look like as a business should he ever pass away. Did he offer some guidance on what he'd like to see Aspen do without him, or is that a conversation you were reluctant to have?
Honestly, that discussion never took place. Up until Mike’s last day, we never really talked about him not being here. Any talks before his passing all dealt with how he was going to get better and such. Mike was always an open person and we could talk about a lot of things, but they never focused on him not being a part of the company. He is Aspen and will always be a part of us.
With that said, during the last year or so, he didn’t have as big of a contribution to the products and books we were putting out as usual. Being sick off and on quite often, we were only able to put out one issue of “Soulfire” in a two-year time frame. We had already adjusted the company a bit during that period to compensate for that, and have been doing things pretty much the same way since he’s been gone.
Looking at the day-to-day operation of Aspen, how have things changed since Turner’s passing?
Well, most of our day to day work here remained relatively unchanged, but it’s the other portions of the day that were really affected. To elaborate some, I was used to speaking with Mike multiple times a day and going to his place for various reasons almost everyday as well. I would structure meetings, errands, work related projects, and tons of other things around when we would speak or see each other. This affected so many small aspects of our jobs which you didn’t ever notice until it wasn’t there. Notes on colors for [Vice President of Publishing] Peter Steigerwald, various tasks for [Editor-In-Chief] Vince Hernandez to do, comments for [Director of Design and Production] Mark Roslan on our books -- you name it, Mike was a part of it, in some way.
For weeks after his passing, it seemed that the days grew so much longer because none of that existed anymore. I’m still not used to it, but I’ve at least filled that time with more work to stay busy. And even without Mike, our immediate future is looking brighter than ever.
What's the immediate future look like for Aspen? Will publishing remain the same, or will focus change in some way?
Me and Mike would always talk and say we’re a small company, but we cast a very large shadow. In a little over five years, we’ve been through more ups and downs than most I would wager, but thankfully we’ve always persevered. I don’t see that changing in any way. We’re still going to put out the best comics and products possible, set new trends that others always duplicate, and be on top of our game for as long as the readers and fans will have us. We’ve formed a lot of great relationships over the years and plan on building on those and keeping them strong.
Our publishing will grow a bit, but not to the point where our quality or timeliness will suffer. There’s a lot of big things on the horizon for us and I’m really excited for the future.
Michael Turner and his artwork made up the face of Aspen comics. In his absence, who becomes the face of Aspen?
For sure. Mike was definitely the face, but I think the body of our company will be able to stand on its own just as well. The only necessity will be for us to keep true to his spirit in regards to how he wanted the company to run and perform. I don’t see us faltering at all in that respect, that’s not how we handle things here.
This is delicate, but one of the main questions on the minds of a lot of Aspen fans and friends of the company in the comics industry concerns the financial situation for Aspen in the wake of Michael Turner’s absence. Is the company still sound and viable?
Yeah, I’m sure a lot of people are probably wondering that, no worries. To be completely honest, and I love Mike with all my heart, but I’d say we’re in a better position now than before he passed away. Not that things were ever bad, but in the past we’d have some good months and some not-so-good months, all depending on how Mike’s health was going. A lot of those medical bills weren’t cheap and as most people know, insurance doesn’t always cover everything. But we’d always get through whatever life dealt Mike and make the best of it.
Now, things have evened out some, so I’m able to forecast and budget out for longer periods of time than I could before. Plus, we still provide work for NBC on “Heroes” and have several other outside projects in the works. As I said before, thankfully our future is looking pretty bright.
Within the comics industry, Aspen has produced a lot of product for Marvel Comics and NBC -- will that remain unchanged moving forward?
In a nutshell, yes. We still have a great relationship with Marvel and they’ve been truly supportive throughout the past few months. NBC just premiered the third season of “Heroes” which people probably saw a few things during the show that we worked on, but just didn’t know it. All of that should remain pretty much unchanged.
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Hollywood has circled around Aspen properties quite a bit over the years -- are things still progressing as they have been, or have you guys dropped back a bit to regroup? Is Hollywood still a part of the strategy for Aspen?
Well, there are quite a few rumors going around right now about the Fathom movie, and even though I can’t speak about it (yet), some very cool announcements should be coming soon. Plus, some more big news outside of Fathom should be forthcoming as well. I’ve done the opposite of dropping back, and things are actually progressing quite nicely. It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’ll all be worth it once we’re able to reward the fans of Aspen with our properties on the big screen.
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 best thing has been the complete outpouring of support we’ve received from the fans and the comic book community. We still receive letters and cards daily, and so many of our friends in the industry have been steadfast by our side, just being supportive and there. When I was with Jeph Loeb a few weeks back, he said Mike’s pain is gone, and all of ours remains. It’s up to us to be there for each other now and every once in a while, just ask, “How are you doing?” The honest answer is “not great,” but you appreciate the person asking anyway. I was by Mike’s side for over ten years, and now he’s by mine. Always will be.
Aspen Comics Editor-In-Chief Vince Hernandez joins CBR News tomorrow for part two of our look at the future of Aspen Comics.