"Sometimes I can be awfully glib. It’s a little hard for me to be the first guy here because I look at the faces in this group and I know the men that were working with him and I understand that every one of these guys has the most amazing words to say about him, and I feel a little strange to be the first one speaking [out of these people] who knew him so well and loved him so much. I think back in 2003, I was just new to comics. I didn’t know anybody and Mike’s the guy that reached out to me."
The microphone was then opened up for anybody from the audience to come up and share stories and thoughts about Turner. Heroes and Supergirl writer Jeph Loeb was the first person to step to the microphone. He began with a story about his experiences with Michael Turner and their start on Supergirl in Superman/Batman.
"Mike and I knew each other a long time. We danced a long time about doing something together and finally DC asked us if we wanted to do Supergirl. I don’t know how much you guys know about Mike, but the thing is, he didn’t read a lot of comics. When we started talking about Supergirl, it wasn’t just that he thought she was a watered-down version of Superman—he just didn’t know who she was. We started out doing this whole thing, and of course Frank [Mastromauro] is sitting there going, ‘Dude. Crisis on Infinite Earths issue #7, man!’ and Mike would be sitting there going, ‘Crisis What?’ Again, as only Frank can, he threw him into the deep end. ‘Here’s Crisis. It’s really interesting and easy to understand if you’ve never read a comic book before.’ So, as only Mike can, he just nailed it. The first meeting we had [for Supergirl], Mike was saying, ‘I cannot understand anything that you are saying to me.’ I was like, ‘It’s like Witchblade, but it isn’t.’ But at the second meeting, which literally was like 3 days later, he comes in going, ‘I kind of see her as the girl from Krypton again. We’re going to use Harbinger, right?’ and I say, ‘What?’ and he says, ‘We’re going to use Harbinger. You can’t do Crisis if you’re not doing Harbinger,’ and I turn to Frank and I say, ‘Who the hell is Harbinger?’ and it was just the way that he did things. He just took them and he’d lock them into his heart and lock them into his hands and he drew beautifully. He expressed himself in ways that very, very few of us can. We were incredibly lucky to know him."
After Loeb concluded, Green Lantern and JSA writer Geoff Johns stepped up to the mic and related a story of goatees, basketball and a bet.
"I’m from Detroit, and about three years ago, Mike’s a big Lakers fan, the Pistons were doing very well and they were in the playoffs with the Lakers and Mike went nuts. He would not let me say they were going to win. ‘No, the Lakers are going to win.’ I had a goatee at the time—it was a bad idea because all these picture of me with a goatee are everywhere. I said, ‘I’ll bet you 100 dollars and you have to grow a goatee—I had just shaved mine—if the Pistons win.’ Mike laughed at me really hard, and he said yes. Final game, it was the third quarter; Pistons were up about 25 points and Mike called me to secede and he grew a goatee. I take responsibility for that. Mike was always a good sport. He was one of my best friends. I really miss him a lot. About 2 months later, I heard him say, ‘I like it.’ And he kept it."
After laughter and applause from the audience, Turner’s mother, Grace, took the stage to relay her gratitude to all those assembled to pay their respects to her son.
"If you were lucky enough to have known Mike well or ever had the opportunity to be one-on-one with him, you found that he had a way of making you feel like you were the only important person in the world and that you yourself could always accomplish anything that you could dream. I called him Captain Amazing, and over the last eight years, he lived up to that name."
After the thunderous applause died down, perhaps one of the most absorbing stories was related by Top Cow artist Marc Silvestri. Silvestri gave his account of how he first met Turner on his first official day as a Top Cow artist:
“There’s a story that I tell often; that I used to tell just to give Mike a hard time because it’s true and it’s funny, and it’s when he first got into the business. It’s taken on an entirely new meaning since his passing. The best way to describe Mike is when I met him at the studio at Top Cow, everyone who knew Mike knew immediately that you couldn’t help but like the guy. You didn’t know why exactly, he didn’t force it on you. It was nothing calculated, it was nothing by design; you just liked the guy. You knew you liked him. I said, ‘Hey, man.’ He said, ‘Hey, man.’ No big deal. I don’t think he knew who I was at the time, and like Jeph [Loeb] said Mike knew nothing about comic books. He just didn’t want to wait tables anymore, and I didn’t know what to do with the guy. He came in as a background dude, so I said, ‘Hey, man. Draw me a building. Just draw me a building. Go over there to that sh–ty little table—which is where we’d put the new guys in the corner. Draw me a building.’ Mike had this look in his eyes that I didn’t quite recognize because there was nothing there other than, ‘Okay.’
"There was no intimidation, there was no trepidation at all, there was no anxiety, there was no worry that any kind of career hinged on anything that was going to happen after he drew this building. So he went over to that sh–ty little table, and an hour later he comes back and shows me this thing on this sketch pad that can best be described as a loaf of bread stacked vertically with a couple of holes in it and called it a building. At that point, I was like about to go up to David Wohl and say, ‘What the hell is he doing in this studio,’ but Mike was a really likable guy and you just wanted to have him around.
"So, it was like, ‘Okay, whatever, dude. Cool. Not what we’re looking for, but here.’ I walked over to the bookshelf and I pulled out a picture book of New York City. I found a picture of a building. I said, ‘Mike, draw this building. Alright? Go back over there, go draw that building.’ He had that same look in his eyes that he did when he drew the loaf of bread. Still, no fear, no anxiety, just ‘Okay.’
He went away for a couple of hours and came back, brought me his sketch pad. I was already trying to figure out how I was going to tell this guy that he’s going to be driving a truck for a living, and I just remember seeing this beautiful building rendered exactly how it should be; the way an artist would render a building, the way an artist would see the beauty in an object that we all take for granted and see everyday. I remember looking at this thing that was no longer a loaf of bread and I looked at Mike, and literally, nothing had changed. He wasn’t suddenly impressed with himself, no huge lightbulb went off in his head. His feelings on whatever I was going to tell him about this building was no different than it was when he presented that piece of crap bread. I just looked at him and I went, ‘Mike, where the hell did this come from?’ He just said, ‘Nobody ever told me to look at a picture before.’
"I realized that Mike had no idea he knew how to draw. Mike had no idea how talented he was. All he knew was that it was something that sounded interesting to him and it was like everything he treated in life. I realized later what that look in his eyes was. Nothing scared him. Nothing scared this guy. His brother and him had this competition that was probably coming out of the womb. They had this amazing competition that was based not on rivalry, that was based on love of life and experience and everything life had to offer, and all Mike really wanted to do when he showed me that page, as far as I understood, was no fear, it was, ‘Okay now what?’ He just wanted to get better. He just wanted to be the best he possibly could at anything in life.
"That lack of fear is what made Mike Turner. That’s what you saw in every page of work he ever did, and that’s where beauty came from is that nothing worried him in his life because it was all about life and experiencing the good stuff, the bad stuff. That’s why when Mike got sick nobody knew it because Mike knew it was a part of life. He was fighting it tooth and nail, but it was part of life. When Mike passed, something happened, I made a dedication to myself that anytime I would be afraid of something, I will always think of Mike and how he would have faced that issue. I will never forget him. None of us will ever forget him."
After the applause died down for Silvestri’s story, a statement from Crash Bandicoot creator Jason Rubin was read to the assembled crowd on Turner’s dedication to his field. Steigerwald then took the mic and began to relate his account of how he first heard the pitch for Fathom:
“Mike loved this story because the first part of it involves a lot of my alcohol abuse. This was still several years ago, around seven or nine years, we decided we were going to ditch work and go out drinking. There was this restaurant that had these 32-ounce beers and I downed it—Sam Adams. Drained it, put it back down on the table.
"Mike looked at me. ‘There’s no way. You poured that out on the side somewhere. You didn’t just do that.’
"’Yeah I did.’
"’I’ll buy you another one if you do it again.’
They brought out another one, drank it again, and this time the waitress was amazed. She was like, ‘That’s a 32-ounce beer.’ ‘This is the second one.’ ‘Oh, do a third!’ She bought the third one. So, after that, I was like, ‘I’m done,’ and Mike’s like, ‘You’ve got to do one more.’ So, I did a fourth one and he’s sitting there and—the fourth one was really hard by the way, just because it’s a lot of liquid. ‘I can’t believe you’re not drunk,’ he said, and I’m like, ‘I just drank four 32-ounce beers in 20 minutes. Of course I’m not drunk yet.’
"As the night progressed, I went from sober to suddenly drunk. Around the end of the night we’re walking back to the Top Cow studio, which was in this long hallway and he was a little lubricated up, and he started talking about Fathom. This is the first time that I heard this whole story and his whole pitch. I had just drunk four 32-ounce beers about two hours ago, and Mike is on his super-excited spiel. I don’t think he stopped to breathe the entire time, and I’m leaning up against the wall. "’Yeah man, that’s a really interesting concept,’ and he kept me there for about 45 minutes. He didn’t stop; he was so excited. I didn’t want to leave either. It was so awesome. I wanted to leave, but I didn’t want to leave, and that was Mike. Every moment was fun, even when we were fighting tooth and nail over changes, and that was how I found out about Fathom."
The next person to take the mic was Fathom and Superman artist Talent Caldwell who related one of the most touching stories of his first experience with Turner.
"When I was 18, I really wanted to get into comics, and Vince’s brother—Ted Hernandez—was doing portfolio reviews. I told him my name was Talent Caldwell and he was like, ‘More like No-Talent Caldwell.’ He ripped me apart. He said you’ve got to draw like established artists like Marc Silvestri and Michael Turner. I was like screw that.
"Two years later, I give up on comics and I move to LA to do computer animation, but Top Cow comes to the school I’m going to, coincidentally, and I knew about that. I wrote this letter cursing Top Cow out, saying how dare you guys follow convention saying I have to draw like Michael Turner. I have this letter in my back pocket and I didn’t have a solid portfolio, I just had a whole bunch of random art. [The art is] across the table and Dave Finch and Michael Turner and Renae [Geerlings] and everyone looked at it. I was so prepared to pull this letter out and hand it to them, except Mike was elated. He said he saw something that he liked, and he gave me an assignment and took a chance on me. That same portfolio I showed, I showed to everyone that year at San Diego and no one else would take a chance on me, but he said he saw something in my stuff and because of him, I can be next to Marc Silvestri, I can have chats with Jim Lee, I can turn down X-Men because of him. I have the opportunity to do so many things in my life.
"For the rest of my life, I will know the reason I have these things is because he gave me the chance and believed in me when no one else did."
Towards his story’s conclusion, Caldwell began to tear up, unable to speak for a few moments. Steigerwald came up once again to explain some of the photos that were appearing on the screen, and related how much Turner loved meeting the fans. President of Dynamic Forces Nick Barrucci approached the microphone and related his feelings when hearing that Turner had passed away.
"Mike was a great, giving guy. He always made it to a convention, no matter how he was feeling, he knew that the fans wanted to see him and he would go to the show and he would give his all. I think that was part of what made him great. Right before Chicago, Frank was saying Mike’s not feeling so well but he wants us to go to the show. He wants Aspen to be there, and when we got to Chicago-con, Mike took a turn for the worse and Frank and Peter and everybody had to fly back. They flew back to LA, and we were at the bar at Chicago-con, and Joe Benitez said to Dave Finch that Mike had passed away, and when he said that, I just couldn’t believe it. I went after Joe and I said, ‘Joe, is it true? How do you know for a fact?’ And he said, ‘Ale [Garza] got the call ten minutes ago.’ I literally just grabbed Ale and said, ‘Ale, are you sure?’"
After being unable to speak for a few moments, Barrucci continued, "In my mind, the comics community is one huge extended family. We’re a brotherhood, we’re a sisterhood. Like any other family, we get together at special events; holidays, with our biological families—Christmas, Hanukkah, whenever—with our loved ones, Valentine’s Day. We get together at conventions, and on such a selfish level I can honestly say that the only consolation we had is that we were there together. It was like we had our own wake at that moment. Mike will always be in our hearts, his soul will always be there, and the way he touched every single fan and every single creator will all help us be a better person.
"One of the things I really want to point out is that when Vince wrote that beautiful letter, one of the things he said was to support Make A Wish, and I think we can all help remember Mike by supporting Make A Wish," added Barrucci. "In a way, Mike was very lucky because he knew whether he was going to make it or not, he should enjoy life, and there are many, many kids in the world who never even had that chance to make it that far. If we can all do something to help out, I think that’d be a great way to remember a great man."
Moon Knight artist David Finch then approached the mic on the stage to say a few words. Finch and Turner both began their career at Top Cow in the mid-90s.
"It’s very hard for me to talk in front of people when it’s very personal," begins Finch. "I remember his first day when he walked in the door. He was the best of us. He learned faster than any of us, and like Marc said he had no fear. He just blew past us so fast that we all spent our whole career just trying to keep up, and none of us have been able to."
As Finch walked back to his seat, the difficultly of talking about Turner’s passing obvious, Steigerwald thanked him for providing so many of the pictures for the slide show from the old days back in Top Cow.
Brad Foxhoven, former president of Top Cow, approached the mic in front of the screen. Foxhoven related working at Top Cow through the ’90s and at one time being a roommate of Mike’s. He also shared a story of a time when the two traveled to Cancun. Mike, being an expert water skier, wanted Foxhoven to learn how to do the sport and paid for lessons. "We walked into the pier and this guy (the instructor) was very cocky. He was like, ‘You’re going to learn in one turn, buddy. I’ll get you to water ski.’ So, I get on and sure enough the boat just drags me all the way and back. I’m just annoyed and upset and felt bad that Mike had to pay for it, but I get out of the water and Mike and I had a really good connection going at the time, and I gave him this look and he looked back, and I said, ‘You know, sir. I think you’re a really good coach, but I’m not a very good student, but this gentleman right here I think needs to learn.’
"And Mike’s like, ‘No, no, no. I’m afraid of the water. I don’t want to get hurt.’ So, Mike gets on and does this little act where he gets on the skis and waves a little bit and looks around nervously. So, Mike does this great acting job on the way out—falling, falling in the water, flipping around. The boat makes a turn and Mike starts digging it.
"All of a sudden, the driver started doing tricks. So, Mike started doing tricks. The guy pulls up to the dock and you can tell he’s just mad. Mike gets out and he’s like, ‘Wow! You’re the best teacher ever!’ Mike gives him a hug. The guy was so mad. He just cursed our name for the rest of the week."
Foxhoven also related a story about them going to bars during their single days, and Turner telling girls how he was an artist. Turner would then draw, basically, Sara Pezzini but tells the girl it was a drawing of her.
"That’s not very nice, using your powers for evil," Foxhoven said he told Turner. "It’d be really nice if you hooked up the rest of us."
Turner then spent the rest of the night drawing these Sara Pezzini pictures that the group could hand out at the bar.
More fans began to take the floor relating stories of how they returned to comics through Mike’s art and the influence his work had on them. Planet Comicon promoter named Chris Jackson shared his favorite Mike story.
"Several of the stories here related to Mike at the bar, so I’ll turn to a little family friendly [story] and I’ll talk about his gambling."
While at a Pittsburg convention with Turner, the two participated in a poker game. They were at different tables, but as it got toward to the end, Turner tapped him on the shoulder and said he’d give him $100 for his seat.
"I looked up and said, ‘You know, I really don’t want your money. What I’d really like is for you to appear at my convention.’"
After thinking it over Turner agreed to the terms. Sure enough, a couple of years later, he showed up to the convention.
Steigerwald informed the crowd of the waning time, and called up one more fan and Incredible Hercules writer Greg Pak and The Darkness artist Joe Benitez to say a few words. The fan, a girl named Heather, said she was asked to read something from a friend of hers named Peter, who received a letter from Turner.
"Hey, Peter. I heard you were getting ready for chemo," reads Heather as she broke into tears, "and bone marrow transplant, and I wanted to send some words of encouragement. I underwent two surgeries, nine months of chemo radiation, two years of minor medication and went 12 rounds with cancer and beat it. It’s going to be hard, but there is one thing to keep in mind: It’s all about positive attitude. Know—not think—know that you are going to kick it’s ass and it will happen. Be an inspiration to others, and please keep in touch and let me know how you are doing. Enjoy the books. Stay strong, Michael Turner.
"Any time you take a look at his drawings," says Heather after reading, "remember that any drawing is an extension of one’s personality and their love. So feel that."
Greg Pak then came up to talk about Turner and the all-too-brief time the spent working together.
"I was only lucky enough to spend a very short time with Michael but when I heard Mike’s mom speak, it reminded of the experience I had in that if you were lucky enough to spend any time with him, he immediately made you feel like you were his friend and that you’ve known him for years," says Pak. "I did improv comedy for years, and there’s a principle in improv comedy that’s ‘yes, and,’ which is that when you’re working with somebody you affirm what they say and you add something. He was that great improvisational partner that was going to find out what you were thinking about, affirm it and bring that next thing to it and eventually you were going to build this beautiful thing. Talking with him, spending the time I had with him, it was like inside of him was this great wide open sky where anything was possible and he was building these great open worlds and inviting me in to play with him and help him build. That’s the greatest kind of experience you can have with somebody."
Artist Joe Benitez also spoke a few words. As with Finch, Benitez began his career at Top Cow around the same time as Turner.
"The only thing I wanted to say, and this was something that I wish I told Mike, is how much we respected him and how much he pushed us to get better. Again, we had the utmost respect for your son. All of us did. And we’re going to miss him a lot."
As the tribute drew to a close, Executive Vice President of Aspen Frank Mastromauro read a letter from author Brad Meltzer.
"Everyone at the convention is worried about being cool," read Mastromauro. "This entire convention is centered around cool. You want to know what’s cool? Cool is when you don’t know much about art but you try to draw anyway. Cool is when you quickly and almost supernaturally get better than nearly everyone around you. Cool is when your books sell 30,000 more copies just by having you on the cover. Cool is when you can take a 70-year-old hero and revitalize him with a pencil. Cool is when you do the cover to Identity Crisis one year and Civil War the next, then re-launch Justice League then onto Fallen Son and World War Hulk all at number one over and over and over again—all with you on the front cover. But the best kind of cool is when all that success doesn’t go to your head."
Mastromauro then closed off the panel with a few words of his own, recounting his final moments with Turner and breaking into tears over the loss of his best friend.
"For the rest of my life, I’m going to be carrying on Mike’s legacy, and I know he’s looking down on me and saying, ‘Dude, everything’s going to be cool. You guys are going to be good and do the best that you can.’ And that’s what we’re going to do. And I truly thank all of you so much for being here and for loving my best friend who I every day and moment of my life."