Artist Tommy Lee Edwards' TURF Wrought with Vampires, Mafia

Amidst the seedy urban landscape of New York City in the 1920s, you’re bound to see your fair share of unusual sights: made men of the mafia plying their trade, illicit and illegal alcohol being served in the back rooms of various establishments, and vampires.

Wait. Vampires? Real vampires, not just those on the silver screen in theatre houses? This isn’t real life, this is Turf

Turf tells the noir-ish tale of Mafioso men going up against a clan of vampires from Eastern Europe, who are trying to take over their racket. These aren’t sparkly vampires you should cheer for though, these are blood-thirsty killers… your father’s vampirs, in a good way. So the vampires are in town trying to edge out the mafia, and one lone mobster named Eddie Falco is brave enough to take a stand. Luckily – a space alien smuggler just crash landed on earth – although who knows what side he’ll take.

Turf is born out of a unique collaboration between famed UK media personality Jonathan Ross and celebrated American comic artist and illustrator Tommy Lee Edwards. Mutual friend Mark Millar introduced them, and they quickly saw eye-to-eye on this creation that mixes noir, horror and aliens in one of the most unique books of the summer. Last week we talked with Ross in-depth about Turf, and now we turn to his artistic partner Tommy Lee Edwards [Click Here for an interview with Edwards on the Torchwood comic book].

Tommy Lee Edwards is a comics veteran, whose most recent work was with Mark Millar on the Marvel series 1985 and before that Bullet Points with J. Michael Straczynski. In addition to his work in comics, Tommy Lee Edwards is an in-demand artist for blockbuster films; he designed the style guides for Men In Black 2, Superman Returns, Batman Begins, Harry Potter & The Sorceror’s Stone, Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and the recent film The Book of Eli. With so much work, it takes a special kind of comic project for him to sign on – and the chance to create a new concept with Jonathan Ross was exactly what he wanted.

With Turf #2 in stores this past week, we asked Tommy Lee Edwards to take a break from the next issue so we could talk to him about the project. Along the way, he provided us some exclusive artwork and some rarely-seen photographs of him and his work by photographer Sean Living-Water.

Newsarama: From what I've read, you and Jonathan hooked up thanks to a connection from Mark Millar. Can you tell us more about those early conversations between you two as you got your footing and decided to collaborate?

Tommy Lee Edwards: Yeah, Mark thought that Jonathan and I might hit it off, and he was right.  It didn't take long to realize that Jonathan and I have a lot in common, with our love of comics and film.  What's been great is that we both have very high standards for these mediums and both work very hard to try and meet those standards.  The visual storytelling needs to be very clear, and the characters need to be fully developed, and the stories need to offer a lot of meet to the audience.  Stuff like that.  

Nrama: What was it about Jonathan's original idea for Turf that appealed to you enough to commit to it?

Edwards: The first thing Jonathan did was sell me on the idea of working with HIM.  I had an immediate mutual respect with Jonathan as a professional, and as a fellow family man.  We worked up a business plan that made a creator-owned book financially feasible for me, and moved forward.  Out of the three ideas Jonathan pitched to me, Turf seemed the best fit.

Nrama: What was it about that initial concept of Turf that made you jump into creator-owned comics?

Edwards:   I loved the rough ideas for the characters.  It combines so many genre things I love, and seemed to have huge conceptual potential.  This was about a year and a half ago, and Jonathan had a pretty good idea where the story of Turf would go.  But the whole thing was very malleable.  I loved the idea of creating this thing with somebody from the ground up.

Nrama: Spaceships, vampires, gangsters and the prohibition era – that seems like a lot of genre ground to cover, but probably quite fun if you're drawing this day in and day out. Can you tell us about the range that all these elements allows for you when you're sitting at the drawing table?

Edwards: I tend to get bored rather easily.  That's why I'm usually juggling several projects at once.  So I really like the variety Turf offers me.  Lots of different characters and locations set in a rather exotic time period.  And unlike most readers out there, I know how and where all of these characters link up, and where the story is ending up.  So it's fun to plant little seeds that will eventually connect all these dots.  It's great fun, but man is it a lot of work.  I mean a LOT of work.

Nrama: I see it here in the pages, Tommy. The Dragonmir vampires look like more than just your typical vampires. What were you thinking when you were designing the brothers and their henchmen?

Edwards: Although I'm American, I grew up on Hammer Horror films.  So my vampires have a bit of that flavor.  Also, they need to be recognizable and distinguishable from the human gangsters.  So the Dragonmir clan tends to look very slim.  Dressed to the nines in black and grey to try and fit in, but just off somehow.  Well that, and they float.

Nrama: Speaking of floating, Squeed Prin's spaceship made me ogle that page for quite some time. Did you spend a lot of time designing what his space ship and the others would look like on the page, or did you just work it up while on that page?

Edwards: Oh I designed the hell out of that ship.  I scratch-built a model with my kids based on my sketches, and have it sitting next to my drawing desk.  I designed Squeed a long ways back, but I don't think I completely figured him out until the end of Turf #2.  I was thinking about the first time we see Kirby drawing Galactus, and how there are subtle costume shifts from page to page.  Sometimes you just really have to spend a lot of time living with a character and drawing them over and over until they finally come to fruition.

Nrama: Just as the comic takes place in earlier bygone days, I've read that you've gone to a more classic illustrative approach taking up the ink and brush to do this. Why'd you go this route, and what does it mean for you in terms of your process of doing it versus – going digital or something?

Edwards: I let the project at hand dictate my choice of medium usually. Turf definitely needed to be old-school, but still be relevant in today's market.  So mostly brush drawing, with some pen.  Very standard and clean layouts.  No bleeds or inset panels.  I drew Marvel 1985 and Bullet Points with a brush, but a Torchwood comic and recent Prince of Persia graphic novel on the Wacom Cintiq 21" tablet.  Depends.  Those were all laid out differently too.  Most of my Star Wars work is painted in acrylics, gouache, and watercolors.  Kind of depends on what the client needs, too.  The concept art I did for The Book of Eli movie was done digitally, but I'm doing some concepts for Captain America that will be ink and charcoal and watercolor.  Remember when I said I get bored doing one thing?

Nrama: You have a lot on your plate – and a lot of plates you’re working on. You're also coloring this work – you've worked with some great colorists in the past, and some that …. Are just okay. Why'd you decide to take it to the next level and do it all?

Edwards: I usually color my own work.  If not, it's done by my wife Melissa Edwards.  She colored some of my older projects like Moon Knight, Zombie World, and Disavowed.  She also sometimes colors other people's books, like John Paul Leon's Wintermen and Earth X.  Primarily, she takes care of the kids and our home and much of my business.  I don't trust any other colorist, because I've had horrible experiences on stuff in the past, like Deathblow, The Crow, Batman, and X-Men.  Comics is the rare place where an illustrator can have complete control.  So unless you have to crank out a book every month, there's no real reason to compromise.

Nrama: Taking over on the lettering side is John Workman, one of the industry's greatest talents and also a frequent collaborator of yours going all the way back to 1996's Gemini Blood. Before I let you get back to the board, can you tell us about your collaboration with him, and what you think he brings to the book?

Edwards: John and I have a connection that will never be matched.  His lettering is part of the art, lettered by hand, and is designed to be that way.  A few people have commented on the lettering in Turf #1 covering up aspects of the art.  That's always funny to me, because the lettering and the art are one.  There is nothing to be covered up.  Turf is lettered from my layouts before I even open the bottle of ink.  John and I have a long standing and very particular way of working that has developed throughout time.  I have those relationships with other creators, and am launching one with Jonathan Ross right now with Turf.


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