Wednesday, December 11, 2019

IN PRAISE OF JIM LAWSON


TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (published by IDW) reached its 100th issue this month. Which is no small feat in today's market. I was fortunate to be included in the issue with a pin-up and a brief interview about my contributions to the series (I did the art on #51 & #52 and a few covers). Therein, I praised the great TMNT artist Jim Lawson, but felt the urge to expound more on this unique and (I feel) under recognized artist.

On the topic of TMNT, I can wax poetic. Like many kids, most of my early comic book reading was pretty scattershot; buying whatever random titles caught my eye. But things changed once I got ahold of a collected edition of the original Eastman & Laird TMNT comics. From then on, my casual interest in comics turned into a lifelong obsession.

At that time there were 2 versions of TMNT; the original Mirage Studios comic (printed in b&w and aimed at “mature” readers) and the kid-friendly cartoon version and it’s accompanying comic, TMNT ADVENTURES (printed in color and published by Archie Comics).

As the TMNT empire expanded Eastman & Laird brought on a stable of artists to continue with the comics. Like other TMNT mainstay artists, Jim Lawson contributed to both the Mirage and Archie comics.

I first saw Jim Lawson's work (inked by Gary Fields) in TMNT ADVENTURES #7 (1989).  I immediately loved Lawson's clunky, chunky, muscular, off-kilter style. His style was somehow both loose and solid at the same time.


Then again notably in TMNT ADVENTURES #9, which to this day remains one of my favorite single-issue comics. It's a self-contained story about a spy on the run with stolen secret documents about a weapons system. The spy hides the documents in the sewer before being captured by Shredder (who wants the docs for himself). In a somewhat disturbing sequence Shredder mutates the guy into a chameleon. The story a surprisingly poignant ending. The entire issue is flawless and the art is charged with movement and energy.



In the TMNT MAGAZINE (1990) Lawson provided short comic features and his artwork (inked by Dan Berger) took on an even looser and more cartoony look.



Towards the end of TMNT ADVENTURES Lawson's linework was inked by Eric Talbot. The result was a sort of gritty/cartoony style with areas of heavy black and a stippling effect that perfectly matched the darker "MEGADEATH" story arc.




All the while, Lawson continued to provide art for the original Mirage series, famously working on the acclaimed "Return to New York" and "City at War" story arcs. Here, he utilized an altogether different style (with a series of inkers), which employed more fine/detailed linework and screentones.




Both styles came together during Lawson's 13-issue run on the 2nd Mirage Studios TMNT series. As the series progressed the line work became thick and heavy. The result was even more bold and gritty, with some pages taking on a look simliar that of Richard Corben or Simon Bisley. The examples below are some of my favorite pages...

The following years saw many iterations of TMNT before they found a proper home at IDW in 2011. During the interim, Jim Lawson produced a number of comics including the underrated PLANET RACERS graphic novels (with Peter Laird). From 2004-2007 he worked on the TALES OF TMNT (2004) series which included the experimental mini-seires LEONARDO: BLIND SIGHT (2006). In addition, Jim Lawson is one of the great creators of dinosaur art/comics (up there with William Stout and Ricardo Delgado) with his work spanning from comics like DINO ISLAND to his PALEO series.

Over the last decade or so, his style has (mostly) settled into a approach emplyoing brushstrokes and crosshatching techniques. His marker coloring technique is also excellent.




Thankfully many of the comics mentioned above can be found in newly released reprints from IDW (which I highly recommend). And, of course, you can find Jim Lawson online where he posts his incredible comission work on Instagram at: @jimlawsontmnt 



When I first saw Mr. Lawson's work in 1989, I was 7 years old. So that makes a solid 30 years of being awestruck and inspired by his particular vision, his commitment to excellent draftsmanship and his willingness to be wonderfully weird. Jim Lawson's work is well known among TMNT fans, but I believe he deserves much wider recognition as one of the great comic book artists of his generation.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

TMNT


I recently drew two issues (#51 and #52) of TMNT for IDW. The first issue is on sale today, so I thought it might be a good excuse to write about my history with the Turtles.

Over the last year, I've been working on the sequel to my 2013 series PLANETOID (Image Comics). I'd made a lot of progress but I was feeling kind of burnt out and bothered by the fact that it had been so long since I'd had any work out on the shelves. Coincidentally, around this time, I got an offer from the always affable Bobby Curnow (IDW) to do some fill in work on TMNT ongoing series.



I'm wary of working on licensed properties (based on past experiences) but TMNT is a special case. The IDW series is a rare thing in comics. The series seems to be doing everything right in terms of how to manage a licensed property. It has reached the milestone of 50+ issues and garnered a loyal readership and the talent involved in the series has remained top notch throughout it's run. But most importantly (to me) the series has the blessing and participation of one of the original creators, the great Kevin Eastman.

As a kid I read a lot of random Marvel titles, but the single comic book publication that made me want to draw comics myself was the color edition of Eastman and Laird's original series published by First Publishing.



At the time, the TMNT craze had just begun, and I was hooked on the cartoon and toy line, but what's special about this particular volume is that it collected the original TMNT comics which were essentially creator-owned, underground comics. Even as a kid I could tell the difference from the Marvel/DC comics. As a result, I began drawing my own characters and stories rather than copying existing characters. 

All the hype aside, Eastman and Laird's original TMNT are simply very good comics. The storytelling is bold and sure-footed as is the art itself. The Turtles themselves are probably the most iconic and well designed post-Kirby superheroes. Even the lettering (by Steve Lavigne) is very good. But above all, I loved the world-building in those original comics. Usually world-building refers to fantasy environments, but Eastman & Laird's grittily detailed New York City stirred my imagination as much as any other world I've experienced in fiction.



Also, (and this may seem like an odd thing to focus on) the introduction (by Stanely Wiater) in Vol.1 also had an impact on me as a kid because it went into some detail about Eastman and Laird's inspiration. In the introduction, three comic book artists are named in bold; Jack Kirby, Richard Corben, and Frank Miller.



These names stuck out in my mind and from a young age I had my eye out for their work (this is pre-internet, mind you). Eventually, I got my hands on Miller's RONIN, Corben's DEN, Kirby's KAMANDI, etc. Years later, as publisher of HEAVY METAL MAGAZINE, Kevin put out a anthology of Corben short story work, that again, was a revelation to me at the time.

I could go on about all the ways in which TMNT influenced me (Jim Lawson's work on the TMNT ADVENTURES series needs mention) but I'll just say that it's quite literally a childhood dream realized to have worked on the series and say thanks to the IDW crew for letting me onboard. It was fun drawing these two issues. A lot was learned. 

I'm now back at work on PLANETOID and the work is coming easier to me now...  and I hope to have an announcement soon! Till then, be well.



Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Update

I have a story in the new DC Vertigo anthology, VERTIGO QUARTERLY: CYAN.  On sale tomorrow, April 30...


I did some art for a TMNT cover a while back. It will appear on issue #35 (out in June, I think). I don't plan on doing much more work on licensed characters, but the turtles are an exception. Eastman & Laird's original TMNT was (and is) a huge inspiration for me.

 
...and here's an alternate color version of the cover (which I prefer).


Also, the collected PLANETOID Vol. 1 is now available on Amazon


My primary focus now is the PLANETOID sequel. I also have a growing collection of short story work that I hope to have published sometime soon...!