Remembering Mike - Benitez to Finish Soulfire

Joe Benitez to Complete Soulfire

Since comic book artist Michael Turner passed away in June, his friends have been offering to help out with his unfinished projects at Aspen MLT, the company he founded in 2003.

One of his unfinished projects is the first volume of Soulfire, Turner's original series about a futuristic world without magic, which had three issues left. As Aspen's Editor-in-Chief Vince Hernandez told Newsarama last month, the company wanted to finish Turner's story with one artist, so picking the right person was important.

We followed up with Hernandez and found out the artist chosen to finish Turner's Soulfire story is Joe Benitez. Other artists and writers who have been offering to help out are donating their work for a graphic novel titled Michael Turner: The Tribute, which has been solicited for November.

We talked to Hernandez about the selection of Joe Benitez, as well as what fans can expect to see in the upcoming tribute book dedicated to one of the comic industry's most beloved and popular artists.

Newsarama: Vince, last time we talked, you made it clear that Aspen Comics would not only continue without Mike, but that you had some exciting things coming up. One of the things you had yet to announce was the artist who would finish Soulfire. Are you ready to announce the artist's name?

Vince Hernandez: Absolutely. We thought long and hard about it, and we went over all the names. We didn't want to go the route of using a lot of different artists like DC did with Superman/Batman. We wanted to go with one artist because we thought it would fit his vision more. We wanted someone who would fit his style, and we wanted it to be somebody who had a connection -- not necessarily a professional relationship with Mike, but somebody who knew him and would understand the importance of this project and finishing the last two-and-a-half issues.

We ended up picking Joe Benitez. We're excited because we think he's one of the best artists out there. And in terms of style, his is really close to Mike's. They're not the same, but we thought it was a good fit. We were getting offers from all kinds of artists. People wanted to help out and complete those last two issues. But after going over it with [President] Frank Mastromauro and [Vice President] Peter Steigerwald, and everyone in the company, we wanted to make sure we picked the right person. We talked about it, and we didn't necessarily want a mega-star or some new person, although those were possibilities, but it was more important for us to just get the right fit. We wanted the best option for Soulfire, because that's how Mike would have wanted it. And after we talked about it, it became clear that Joe was that person.

NRAMA: Joe worked with Mike at Top Cow years ago, didn't he?

VH: Yeah. They worked together at Top Cow almost 10 years ago. Mike was starting out and I think Joe was starting out at the same time. So their careers have that intertwining element to it. And Joe really respected Mike and still does. Obviously, he took it hard when Mike passed away. And Joe's a good friend of ours. He hasn't worked specifically with us on anything yet, although he's doing characters for us for an upcoming project we're doing. But we haven't had the opportunity to work with him, but we thought the timing was right for him to come in. We think he just fits perfectly.

NRAMA: Once his three issues are finished, Soulfire's second volume will launch with a story by J.T. Krul and artist Marcus To. Is that still the plan?

VH: It is. And they're already on issue #5 of the second volume, so it will start coming out on a steady schedule at that point.

NRAMA: Let's talk about this Michael Turner: The Tribute book. How did this come about?

VH: You know, I don't think it was ever something that we sat down and decided. It was just something we all knew we were going to do anyway. We knew we wanted to do something to remember his name and his legacy. We did a lot to remember him at San Diego Comic-Con, since it was close to when he passed away, but we wanted something more tangible that fans could have forever. And this is a good opportunity for all of his colleagues and friends who have the opportunity to pay tribute to him with art or through their words. We wanted to give them the opportunity, because after San Diego, we got so much support. All these artists came up to us and everybody wanted to pay their respects in their own kind of way. It seemed like the obvious thing to do.

I'm excited, looking at the list of names we have attached to this book, it's going to be one of the biggest books, I think, in comics this year. Every day, I just keep thinking, wow. This includes pretty much anybody you can think of in comics.

NRAMA: Can you share any of the names of creators who are participating?

VH: Well, a few of the names people would know, there's Joe Quesada, Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee, Alex Ross, who is doing the cover, and J. Scott Campbell, Joe Benitez, Randy Green -- most of the artists you can think of. We have people outside of comics too.

NRAMA: For the writers, how are they contributing?

VH: It's really up to the creators how they want to do it. Most artists are doing their own pieces of art, while writers are writing remembrances or something like that. We gave them the decision to do what they wanted, so each artist is going to go with whatever route makes sense.

We've gotten a few of the pieces in, and they're all different. A few of them are Aspen characters, and some people have commented that they wanted to do something separate from comic book characters. So we're going to have a wide variety of original pieces from creators. It's up to them.

NRAMA: Is this a hardcover?

VH: No, it's a softcover trade kind of book. It's planned right now to be 80 pages. It will be like our Aspen: Extended Edition, if people remember the size of that book. We've been working on it for the last month and a half. It's in this month's Previews for release in November.

NRAMA: And is this book attached to a charity?

VH: Proceeds from the book are going to be going to the American Cancer Society and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. So we hope that this not only gives Mike's friends in the industry a way to create something in his name, but it will also give his fans a way to remember him while helping out these causes.

NRAMA: Is there anything else you want to tell Aspen fans?

VH: Just to stay tuned. The only thing that's changed for us as a company is that everything we do going forward is done in Mike's memory. We're still delivering the same kind of quality our fans have come to expect. But we have some really exciting announcements coming up, with new writers and artists coming on board with new properties. So just stay tuned.

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