Comic-book artist known for his highly stylized covers

Times Staff Writer

Michael Turner, a leading contemporary comic-book artist who was known for the highly stylized covers he created for major titles and for drawing female characters with curves as commanding as their superpowers, has died. He was 37.

Turner died June 27 at a Santa Monica hospital of complications related to cancer, said Vince Hernandez, editor in chief of Aspen MLT, the Santa Monica publishing company Turner founded in 2003.

Through his company, Turner created online comic adaptations for the NBC series “Heroes” and published his own titles, including the best-selling “Fathom,” a deep-sea story about a female superhero with water-based powers.

“He was definitely one of the most popular and influential comic-book artists working right now,” said Andrew Farago, curator of San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum. “He was very, very much in demand as a cover artist on high-profile projects.”


Since 2000, Turner had battled chondrosarcoma, a bone cancer. The illness hindered his ability to do the labor-intensive sequential art required of comic-book storytelling and was one reason he turned to drawing covers.

He was a bankable name whose ethereal yet dynamic cover art often boosted sales.

Ryan Liebowitz, general manager of the Golden Apple Comics store in Los Angeles, said Turner’s name was synonymous with special-edition covers that often became collectibles.

“He was doing just the covers for the biggest and best projects -- ‘Justice League’ for DC or ‘Civil War’ for Marvel,” Liebowitz said. “Fans would clamor for that.”

Turner regularly drew covers for such DC Comics as “Superman/Batman” and “The Flash.” When DC decided to bring back Supergirl after a long hiatus, Turner was hired to reimagine her.

Dan DiDio, executive editor of DC Comics, told The Times that Turner often combined “an innocence and sex appeal” in his comic-book characters.

“He made the Flash run the fastest even when he had him standing still,” DiDio said. “There was a sense of energy in everything he did.”

For Marvel Comics, another major comic-book publisher, Turner often drew special-edition covers for publications that featured such characters as the Incredible Hulk and the X-Men. The milestone 500th issue of “Uncanny X-Men,” due out next week, will feature a special-edition cover by Turner.

In 1994, Turner was hired by Century City-based Top Cow Productions after an editor saw his art at the Comic-Con convention in San Diego.

At Top Cow, Turner co-created “Witchblade,” a comic about a female detective who fights evil after discovering a mystical glove. Turner’s artistic vision in “Witchblade” “put Top Cow on the map,” said Marc Silvestri, chief executive of the publishing company.

“Much of the success of ‘Witchblade’ had to do with Mike’s artistic talent and his wish to create greatness. . . . He approached creativity without fear. That just showed on every page. He did wildly entertaining work,” Silvestri said.

“Witchblade” and “Fathom,” another early work, featured voluptuous lead characters drawn in what became Turner’s hallmark style.

“He brought glamour and glitz to comic books,” said Liebowitz of Golden Apple. “His work definitely had sex appeal.”

Michael Layne Turner was born in Crossville, Tenn., in 1971, and studied premedicine at the University of Tennessee. A semester before graduating, he moved to Aspen, Colo., and then San Diego, where he taught martial arts.

Growing up, he didn’t read comics, but he discovered them at a San Diego show and was hooked, Turner once said.

His rapid growth as an artist was “mind-boggling” to watch, as was his upbeat approach to life, even while fighting cancer, said Silvestri of Top Cow. “His pages made you want to fly through the air, and that’s how he lived his life.”

Turner is survived by his mother, Grace Crick; his brother, Jake Turner; and his fiancee, Kelly Carmichael.

Memorial donations may be made to the American Cancer Society,, or the Make-A-Wish Foundation,