Jim Lawson was an artist for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series for over 20 years.
How did you become involved with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?
I have to attribute it to luck and good timing really. Let me preface my answer by saying that as a kid- when I was pretty young, I was into comics but as I grew older and I was attending art school, I only knew about comics very periphially and was not aware of what was going on in the comic book world (I thought I was going to be more of an editorial illustrator).
Anyways, it was through a friend of mine that a meeting was arranged for me to meet Kevin and Pete. I hadn’t heard of them nor the Turtles- all I knew was that they were a couple of local guys who were beginning to make it big with a self-published comic that they were doing. So- I went there (along with my portfolio) and they liked it. My eyes were certainly opened the first time that I met them- I had no idea that comics could be like that– so creative and so much fun. They offered me an inking job and I’ve been with Mirage ever since, at least up until the sale.
What did your job entail? Could you describe the typical development of an issue?
Like I said- in the beginning I was an inker, primarily. The first stories that I worked on were back-ups in the original Turtle book called Prime Slime Tales. Shortly after that I wrote and did the art for some back-ups of my own which was Bade Biker. From there I became more or less solely a penciller. My main job, and probably the one that I’m best known for, was as the penciller on the main Turtle book.
As far as how it works- it varies a little bit from writer to writer. In Pete’s case, it begins with a script which is 3-4 type-written pages. It’s basically the story, often without any dialogue but in some instances, there will be little scenes where some conversation will be given. Then often, with other writers, the dialogue will all be there- and accompanied by tiny descriptive sentences or paragraphs describing scenes. Sometimes writers (like Steve Murphy) will go so far as to include tiny panels or layouts with what they what.
In any case, thumbnails come next. I always do 2 to a page- taking up the left side of the paper, and rough in the dialogue on the right. From these, I just go to full-size. As a rule, I work smaller than most- with my full-size pages almost always being 8 1/2 x 13. That I think I took from the old Turtle book, which Pete and Kevin drew very small (8 x 12).
Lately I’ve been hand-lettering my own comics, so that goes along with the pencils. Once all that is done, and everything’s there- ink the letters, the panel borders and the art. I’m sure your readers realize, but many people can’t appreciate all the work that goes into a simple little comic book.
Are there any TMNT projects/story lines that you worked on that stand out in your mind?
Return to New York is always the one that sticks out in people’s minds. It was a big deal here- having the creators working on the Turtle comic together again. Kevin did the layouts on that series and from them, I did the pencils. Kevin always had an amazing way with layouts and panel design and I like to think that I learned a little bit from working with him.
As for something somewhat more personal- there was a Leonardo solo series that I did called Blind Sight. The majority of that book was done with the art done as white silhouettes. Doing it like this really forced me to think about things in a different, altered way. I almost feel like I had to design the book, as much as draw it. Anyhow, whether it was successful or not, people often mention it to me as something that they responded to and was memorable.
Is there anything that you learned during your work on the TMNT that you think every comic creator should know?
Speaking quite honestly here, I think that I had a rather unique look into the inside machinations of the Turtles, as a whole. My simple summary is that (in the Turtle case) I believe that it all got to be too much, and by that I mean that all the stuff that came along with the toys and cartoons and movies, kind of served to obscure things and had sort of a smothering effect on their (Kevin and Pete’s) creativity. I saw them both draw less and less. I think the responsibility of shepherding an empire got to the point of becoming a burden.
I guess what I’m saying in my very roundabout way is that there are forces that cause you to lose focus or that make you forget why you do what you do. I’ve felt it too, and luckily I came back around to the realization that I love comics and the whole story-telling thing. Keep that spark.
Are there any projects you’re currently working on?
Yeah, I’m working on a thing right now called Dragonfly. It’s all mine, and I haven’t talked about it often, other than to release a few pieces of art on my Facebook page. I always hesitate to say too much about something before it comes out, or to talk about something creative of mine in general, because it opens it up to people’s comments (usually negative) and I find that that stifles enthusiasm. I’m very protective of my enthusiasm. I ran into this the other day when I talked about the Dragonfly idea in front of Pete and Eric Talbot. “Why this? Why that? You should do it this way? Have you thought about doing this?” Probably all done with good intention, but I find that it causes me to doubt myself and I don’t need that.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
The only thing I can think of is to throw out a big thank you to all the Turtle fans that have made my job and career so great- I really appreciate it.