The TURF artist sits in The Outhouse for a chat with Royal Nonesuch!
When Tommy Lee Edwards entered the comic book industry in the mid 1990's, he brought with him a unique style unlike anything else seen in American comic books. Using a pop art approach to achieve his painterly feel, Edwards keeps himself busy not only in comics, but in the worlds of film, video games, and commerical illustration. His work can currently seen on Image Comics' TURF, which marks the comics debut of BBC television and radio personality Jonathan Ross. In the first of a two-part interview, Edwards talks about how TURF came together, and what it was like working with a celebrity.
Note: this interview was conducted before Image announced that TURF #1 had sold out at the distributor level.
Have you ever worked with a writer from outside of comics before?
Years ago, I did a book for Vertigo's shortlived sci-fi line called Helix, and I was starting out in comics, maybe 1994. The writer on that was Chris Hinz, who's a novelist. The book was called GEMINI BLOOD. I just recently did a PRINCE OF PERSIA graphic novel with Jordan Mechner, who created the PRINCE OF PERSIA game and wrote the PRINCE OF PERSIA movie and this graphic novel. Me and Bernard Chang and a few other guys did that. It's this big anthology graphic novel for Disney Press. I think that comes out next week [the Prince of Persia graphic novel is out now]. There are a few guys that I've worked on a comic with that were new to comics but not that often and not as much of a collaboration as on TURF with Jonahtan.
You're publishing TURF through Image, so you're responsible for all the packaging, promotion, etc.
Which has been a lot more work than I anticipated [laughs].
How did the collaboration work? Did Jonathan give you a full script?
Ultimately we end up with a full script, but in the beginning, there's a lot of talking and then a lot of times he'll write out sections of the story almost in pieces. He has an overall outline for where the story is going to go, and he'll write certain scenes to kind of flesh them out. It's constantly evolving. With #1, we had to figure out not only that script, but the entire series, and how exactly it's going to end. We had to figure out how it's going to end before we could finish #1 so you can plant all those seeds that will come to fruition later. With #2, there was a script, that had a lot of dialogue, and it was almost broken down to pages, but not quite there yet, so he'll send it to me and then I'll go through it and figure out how to make things fit, maybe move things around, maybe figure out things that will go into a later issue, and then I'll break it down into panels to figure it out more, and another pass with Jonathan again doing some dialogue...there were probably four drafts before I started drawing it.
It's all Jonathan's writing, and I'm sort of the filter, and I come up with some ideas. Sometimes we'll disagree on things, and we'll convince the other person "why." If we can't figure out "why" for something, we'll throw it out. It's been really cool to have such a collaborative process, rather than, like, with Mark Millar on 1985, that was already written so long before I got on board, and I could talk with Mark and if there are certain things I want to tweak, he's always really cool about that, but this is so much more of a collaboration which is great, because we created it from the gound up. Jonathan had the basic idea, and we started playing around with it. It's been awesome.
So in the past, it's been more of the 1985 mold, where the script is done, and then you get your turn with it.
Sometimes it depends. Like with GEMINI BLOOD, it was a new book, and I designed the look of everything, but it was all written by Chris Hinz. Or ZOMBIE WORLD: WINTER'S DREGS, [which] I did for Dark Horse with Bob Fingerman, that one he and I own. It's all new characters. But TURF has been one where I was able to jump on so early on, and we started working on it before we knew even what the title was, or who was going to publish it, or anything. Just this morning, we were trying to figure out the solicitation material for the last issue, and figure out how it's going to read. It goes back and forth between the two of us, and then we send it to our editor. We hired John Barber, who was my editor on 1985 and WOLVERINE and some other stuff at Marvel to come on and help us out with a lot of the stuff because, like you had mentioned, doing a book for Image and all the responsibility I've ever wanted, it's still too much responsibility [laughs]. I usually take on more than most typical illustrators anyway, just the way that I work, creating the logo for the book--I usually do that with [letterer] John Workman, and I do all the pencils and inks and colors. I prefer to work that way, but it's been great to get a little bit of help from a second pair of eyes in the form of John Barber.
How did the book land at Image?
We ended up going with Image because we got such a good vibe from Eric Stephenson, the publisher, and later Robert Kirkman and all these guys, they're just so enthusiastic, and not only were they so excited about TURF and the story, but it seemed like TURF just fit well with the kind of variety that Image is publishing. We pitched it to a few differ publishers last summer and everybody we met with wanted to do it, like Del Ray and IDW and Marvel, but it just really came down to enthusiasm, and I wanted to go as independent as possible, and not go with a company that was owned by a corporation like Disney or Warner Brothers, even though we would be able to do it creator-owned either way. I'd rather go with something as independent as possible. That's one of the reasons for my wanting to do it. We met with [Image] last summer at Comic-Con, and shortly after made it official and they've been great. I've been really thrilled with Image.
Did you get a sense while pitching this that some of the publishers were more concerned with pushing Jonathan's name, rather than the story itself?
I think that was more of a concern for Jonathan, where he didn't want people to be interested in TURF or want to publish TURF just because of him being so well known, not so much in the States, but I think he was really worried about somebody almost humoring the idea of him doing a comic. "Oh we'll go ahead and publish your comic, and that'll be fun and I'm sure it'll do well enough." At Image, they like the idea of Jonathan and they know how big of a comic fan he is and what an advocate of comics he is, with all the documentaries he's done, and the collecting, and everything, and also the stuff he's done with film and documentaries and reviewing films, and he understands story, but that doesn't necessarily make him a good writer. So that's where Image was like "wow, this story itself is really great," so it seems like genuine interest in the actual project and in us as creators, not just Jonathan's name.
It's definitely helped in a way, too, because Jonathan doesn't talk to the press, so sometimes the press is very eager to sort of speculate on things, and he's basically decided to only recently do some press, and it's about TURF, and they wanted to talk to him about leaving the BBC and whatnot, and he would just not even talk to them! So we're trying to really make TURF sell on its own merits, but at the same time, he does have this track record of all this great stuff, and he's got a lot of fans and followers and people who appreciate his work, and maybe a lot of those people aren't necessarily comic readers so, in the long run especially in the UK we may be bringing in a whole new group of readers who may not otherwise have bought a comic book, so we're really excited about that; that's kinda cool. We've got a big cover page story coming out in the Guardian newspaper next week. Stuff like that has been a really great way to help get T noticed and get it off the ground.
He and I do so many different kinds of things, like me with the movie stuff and the licensing stuff and the video game stuff, so I can bring in interest from that realm, and he can do the same from other areas. It's been a really good combination, neither one of us are just purely comic book creators.
It's funny that you mention that Jonathat is doing press only for Turf, because though I knew about TURF, I didn't even know Jonathan was leaving the BBC!
Yeah, he decided not to renew his contract, and after I think June or July, he's gonna be done. He's got plans to do other things outside of making more comic books too! But he's real eager to do press on Turf, and he's eager to have people look at it and judge it on its own merits. Rather than kind of judge it negatively or [favorably] based on other things he's done.
Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of our interview with Tommy Lee Edwards!