Aspen: The Future Without Michael Turner

Aspen Announces SDCC Exclusives

When comic book fans think of Aspen Comics, they think of artist Michael Turner. With the official company name being Aspen MLT, Inc. – with the MLT standing for Michael Layne Turner – it's not unusual to think of one being part of the other.

So with Turner's death in June, many fans have wondered if that also means the end of Aspen Comics.

“No way,” says Vince Hernandez, Aspen Comics Editor-in-Chief. It's business as usual, and the editorial and creative people at Aspen haven't even thought twice about moving forward.

To answer the questions of fans, Newsarama talked to Hernandez about the future of Aspen Comics, what is going to happen with the comics Turner was unable to finish, and the status of other projects coming from the company, including the Geoff Johns/Michael Turner project Ekos.

Newsarama: Vince, you're aware that people are wondering about the future of Aspen.

Vince Hernandez: Yeah. A lot of people are braced for the worst. Everyone is asking us if we're continuing on without Mike. We don't fault them or anything. It's a fair question. But for us, there was never a question that we would continue. We've always worked under what Mike would want us to do while he was alive. And after he passed, for us it was just a matter of saying, all the stuff we do going forward, we're going to do in his memory. But everything else is the same.

It was never a question of whether we would go forward. There was never a moment we even thought about quitting or stopping our line or anything of that nature. There's not a big message we want to send out or anything. We just want to keep doing the books we do. We want to continue to provide the kind of work that people expect from Aspen Comics.

NRAMA: I think a lot of fans don't realize that you've been functioning as a company in more recent years without a lot of administration from Mike because of his health, haven't you?

VH: Absolutely. And honestly, when Mike started the studio, he didn't want it to always be about him. He and Frank [Mastromauro] brought in talent that we're still using today. We've always tried to build in-house talent and build from the ground up. For the last couple years, with Mike's health, like you said, we were still publishing. He was still doing our covers and a lot of the Marvel covers, but at the same time, while he was going through all the medical stuff, we were putting together other mini-series and books that could stand on their own without necessarily relying on Mike's art.

That's what we've been doing the last three or four years. We've been building up this roster of talent. Right now, I'm really proud of the art and the creative teams that we have. In terms of our history, it's one of the worst times because we lost Mike, but it's one of the best times in terms of who we have working on our titles.

NRAMA: Let's address some questions that fans may have going forward about Aspen's comic books. Is that OK?

VH: Sure!

NRAMA: Aspen had an agreement with Marvel, and Mike's work was a big part of that. Does the agreement continue?

VH: Absolutely. It was a union built out of good relations. They were one of the first people coming to us with support after Mike's passing. Obviously, the series that was planned with Mike is a no-go. The one with Jeph Loeb. But everything else we planned with Marvel hasn't changed much in terms of what we're planning to do with them in the future, besides Mike's presence.

NRAMA: Mike was working with Geoff Johns on a series called Ekos. You've said the Marvel project with Jeph Loeb is a no-go. Is Ekos also going to also be a no-go?

VH: Well, we haven't announced what we're doing with that. But it's definitely still going to be coming out. Geoff knows the story completely, top to bottom. It's all done in terms of story development. We just haven't figured out how we're going to go forward with it. Mike was involved 100 percent with developing that story. I know they were really excited in the last couple weeks before Mike passed, and he was talking about some of that story stuff even then. So that's very much a go and Aspen will be doing it.

NRAMA: Mike made it clear in our most recent interviews with him that he fully intended to finish the first volume of Soulfire so that the second volume could begin this year, but of course, that didn't happen. What are the plans for those unfinished issues?

VH: We put Soulfire on hold for a little bit. It's a series that Mike was doing, and the second volume will be done by J.T. Krul, who's writing it, and artist Marcus To. He's the person who will be following up Mike, and he's spent the year working on the book. He's already on issue #5 of Soulfire: Volume 2. We were waiting until Mike could finish Volume 1 before we started to release Volume 2. Now that game plan has changed, so we're reworking the schedule.

NRAMA: Is someone going to finish Volume 1 for Mike?

VH: Yes. We can't say who it is yet. But our hope is that it will be one person who will be doing the three issues that are left. I know a lot of people have spoken with us about getting different artists to finish the comic. I know Superman/Batman did that when Jeph Loeb's son died. But we just wanted to go with one artist that we thought would best capture what Mike did in the first eight issues. So Volume 1 will be completed, then we'll jump into a new five-issue miniseries called Soulfire: New World Order, which is a series by artist Francisco Herrera, then we'll have Volume 2 by J.T. and Marcus.

NRAMA: For people who are reading this interview but have never tried Soulfire, what's it about? And what story does New World Order tell?

VH: Soulfire tells the story of the young boy in the future named Malikai who is discovering he has powers he didn't know about before. And during this discovery, he gets rescued by this girl with wings named Grace, who is from the past. It's a futuristic world, and people have abandoned any use of magic, and Grace returns to teach this kid Malikai the way of magic, which has been lost. And we have a main villain named Ranier, and he has other plans for Malikai. And New World Order is basically the unleashing of magic on this futuristic world where they live in 2211.

NRAMA: Let's take this opportunity, then, to talk about what's lined up in the next few months for Aspen Comics.

VH: The big thing right now is that we're in the middle of our launch for Fathom: Volume 3. That's introducing our newest artist, and we spent year trying to convince him to get on the project, and that's Ale Garza. It's written by J.T. Krul, and Issue #1 came out in August. Fathom is about the underwater world of the Blue, and the humans who live on the surface. And it follows a character named Aspen, who is the link between the two worlds. In Volume 3, you'll see some new characters and we'll find out more about what happened. Aspen is on the run from the U.S. government in the beginning of Volume 3, and she gets pulled back into the world of the Blue.

NRAMA: Anything else you have coming out?

VH: In October, we have Soulfire: Shadow Magic #0, which I'm writing with art by Sana Takeda. Her art's amazing. Have you seen it?

NRAMA: Yeah! We interviewed her about her work on Drain for Image Comics.

VH: Yeah, that's the series she did with C.B. Cebulski. She has a really different style from any artists we've had before, and we like to work with artists like that. And so Soulfire: Shadow Magic is a five-issue miniseries that starts in December with a #1 issue.

We also have Executive Assistant: Iris coming out later this year. It's written by David Wohl with art by Eduardo Francisco. It's a completely new property that will be a six-issue miniseries by David. It's based off a true story that David found in an article awhile back. It deals with a program that's been going on in China where these high-powered Chinese executives have these women who work for them, who train to be personal bodyguards or assistants, even being assassins sometimes. This comic is about this executive assistant named Iris, and she's been this for her whole life. And she finds out that she's being used for things that she's not happy with.

Another series we have coming up is by Frank Mastromauro, who did Shrugged and is our president. He's creating a property with me and the artist on Shrugged, Micah Gunnell. And that will be coming out early next year.

And we'll continue to do the Aspen Showcase books. The next one up is a Benoist one written by J.T. Krul with art by Micah Gunnell. And we want to continue doing those one-shots.

Beyond that, we have a couple more properties that we're really excited about that we'll be announcing soon. They're top-tier writers in comics that people are going to be surprised are working with us, as far as their style of writing.

NRAMA: Is there a concern that you're going to be missing the attraction to your products that Mike's covers provided, and thus the sales numbers you had in the past?

VH: Well, there's the reality of it. We knew there would be questions about whether we could continue without Mike's presence on the books. But we're not concerned about it. There's going to be a drop, obviously, in the covers that Mike did and the work that he did with Marvel and everything. But it's not something we're concerned about. It's what Mike would have wanted. And that's what we're going to do.

The way Frank has always run the company is to live within our means. We've never shot further than what we can do. We're not going to just put our head down and wonder where all the money went. We're just going to go forward. We'll make it someplace else. This company was formed during tumultuous times. So we never even thought twice about it. The schedule we have coming up is twice as big as last year's, and we're going to keep it going. So I really don't have time to be concerned. [laughs]

NRAMA: Although Soulfire and Fathom are your flagship titles, is the plan to expand into other areas like you did with Shrugged?

VH: Yes. But we're not going to go overboard. We've always lived within our means in terms of what we do as a company. We don't have a certain growth quota in terms of how many comics we need to produce. We expand when it's necessary or when there's a property that we really don't want to pass up. It's not always something we're outwardly looking to do, but if we're big fans of the series and it fits what we do, we'll do it. That's our game plan. For us, it's picking and choosing things that can be done without being late, but things that are still the high quality that our fans expect. They expect a certain level of entertainment from Aspen. And we want to continue that.

Like you said earlier, we've done a lot without Mike when he was going through all his health stuff. And he knew that. And he was one of the biggest supporters of that. So for us, the last two months have been business as usual. It's tough because we've all been grieving. It's hard without Mike. But he would have wanted us to keep going. And for us, it wasn't even an issue. We've just kept going. And we're going to keep going.

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