An Interview with Jim Lawson

21 Nov


Presenting my second interview of the week with Mr. Jim Lawson.  His style has become synonymous with the Ninja Turtles for the nearly 25 years he’s worked at Mirage.  Lawson has drawn more Ninja Turtles comics than anyone else in the business, and he was quite gracious to let me interview him.

Interviewing Jim Lawson has been a grand opportunity for me, and I’m very thankful to share his insights and knowledge about the Turtles.  In the interview, we discuss the recent purchase of TMNT by Nickelodeon, his future plans (with dinosaurs!), Paleo, most likely the last TMNT comic to come out (at least for a long time) Tales #70, and R.E.M.!

This whole experience has been fun connecting with the Mirage crew, and I hope that further opportunities will come to them as they face the future.

Recently, on your blog, you addressed the issue of the TMNT purchase from Nickelodeon, and briefly mentioned some of your possible future plans.  Have you further thought about your options since then?

Not really. It’s been kind of overwhelming emotionally since the announcement of the sale—I think only now that the dust is beginning to settle and I can start thinking about the future. As I sit here right now, I can’t honestly say just what it is that I want to do.

Do the possibilities still remain to finish up the Paleo TPB and even release more Paleo comics?


Yeah, definitely. Paleo was published under the Zeromayo partnership between Peter (Laird) and myself.  Whether Pete still wants a relationship and involvement in that, that’s unclear to me. However, I don’t see that there would be anything preventing me from finishing the TPB myself.

You also mentioned that the thought of doing a children’s book has been in your head for awhile, do you have any ideas that you might want to share about what this would involve?  Dinosaur themes or something similar to your work from on the Turtles Comics?


The children’s book idea is something that’s always appealed to me- and now that I’m playing around with colors, even more so now. Nothing concrete, storywise- but you’re correct, dinosaurs are absolutely a direction that I would like to go.

How did Peter Laird break the news about the deal to the writers and artists, or how did you find out about the deal?

I think that it was October 13—Gary (Richardson) called us all into a staff meeting here at Mirage. Everyone was there including Pete. It was then that we were told that a deal to sell the Turtles was nearly complete.  Some details of the sale were talked about and Pete discussed his situation and reasons for my he felt he had to make this decision.  Contracts were given us to review and sign. It was pretty emotional.

You explained your personal account of what it was like for you to walk around the Mirage office after hearing about the deal (as a zombie), were everyone else’s reactions similar to yours?

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I think so. Everyone seemed sorta paralyzed by the news. But conversely, I think that we all knew in the back of our minds that this day was coming.

I’m happy for Pete—it’s been tough watching him struggle for the past few years with regards to his loss of enthusiasm for the comics. I hope this unburdens him and he can rediscover the creative person that he once was.

I’ve always enjoyed how stylistically and minimalist your artwork has been especially in depicting action, how did you develop this style that has almost become synonymous with the TMNT?

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Lots and lots of drawing. I’m asked occasionally why my style changed so dramatically over the run of the TMNTs. I can’t say that it was my intention to draw the way I do now-it just naturally happened.  I really like that it’s such an evolving thing- it’s very exciting for me as an artist.

I’ve noticed that the pacing and beats in all of the miniseries that you have both written and drawn have had a lot of downtime, scenic, mood-setting moments (most recently in the Donatello miniseries) which is quite impactful stylistically.  What’s some of the inspiration behind these moments?

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That’s an interesting question. In response to that, all I can say is that I try for a sense of realism in my stories. I very much want to try to convey a character’s mood or emotion- I want to really get in their head and to know what an individual’s thoughts are.  It’s during my own quiet times when I’m introspective and reflecting so I think that that’s what I try to bring into my writing.

I’m sure you’ve answered it a ton before, and that’s why I was hesitant to ask earlier, but who’s your favorite character and why?  How do you go about drawing the separate characters when they look nearly identical?

I don’t know if I have a favorite character. Leo I find really interesting. I guess as the unofficial leader of the Turtles it’s my belief that he is subject to more responsibilites and influences than the other guys. There’s just got to be more of a depth there. From an artistic standpoint, all the Turtles are nearly identical, appearance-wise.  I think for me personally, the differences become more of a facial expression or body positioning– Leo stands straight, Mikey looser, Raph when he’s addressing someone, more aggressive- in their face. Don very often standing separate. That type stuff.

What is your creative process like?  Do the writers leave you plenty of room for your own interpretation?

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It changes from writer to writer, but for the most part, yeah- in my experience the writers that I’ve dealt with have allowed me a lot of freedom. Perhaps it’s because Mirage was what I consider a small-time publisher- everyone pretty much knew each other so I think there was this sense of familiarity and trust.

As for my creative process, there’s no trick to it really. I’ll usually have some germ of an idea and write it out more or less in outline form. Often, certain scenes that I want to highlight I’ll try to dialogue at that early stage. Occasionally, I’ll even have ideas about how I want to end the story and I’ll have to backward engineer events leading up to that. 

Do you have any special pencils or pens that you like to work with, and what is your view on digital pen tablets?

Yeah, every artist has their favorites. The pencil that I like right now is something called a Black Warrior. My favorite paper is Strathmore Bristol. With pens, I’ve been using some Japanese brush pens for the past few years- my favorite is the Zebra FD-301. More recently, I’ve taken to using the Pentel Pocket Brush—it features a waterproof ink that is required for use with watercolors.

I have no view on digital pen tablets, as I’ve never used one.

For the younger generation of Comic readers today, you were a participant at the Creator’s Bill of Rights drafting, could you explain your influence in the couple day event?


In all honesty, I don’t think that I had much of an impact on the Creator’s Bill of Rights.  Peter and Kevin were the influential ones- myself and the other Mirage artists were more secondary characters, in my opinion.

How was it like working with Tristan Jones for the first time on Tales #64 (out now)?

Awesome. Tristan’s a hell of a nice guy, as well as being a very talented writer. His enthusiasm for the Turtles is infectious. I’m gonna miss him a lot.

Can you hint at anything that might catch our eye in the second two pieces to the Donatello miniseries?

Not really. In the Don mini, my intent was to give a view of the character that might be a little different than what most people might think. The darker side of Donatello, if you will.

Currently, you’re working on quite possibly the last comic of the TMNT at least for a decent amount of time with Tales #70.  You stated that the story is set in Return to New York and that you’re replicating the process and feel of those comics back in the 80s.  Are there any other exciting things that this issue may contain?

The story will feature Raph, almost exclusively. Eric and I have in mind a fight scene that will be unlike anything that I’ve ever done, so I’m looking forward to how I’m going to choreograph that in the pencils. The book will also be done on the old school Duoshade paper so that should give it a classic RTNY feel, I hope.

With issue #70 focusing primarily on Raph, does this mean the story takes place right before the Turtles fight the Mutant Shredders?  Or does it focus on when he runs off when they’re in the foot base and Leonardo has to save him (one of my favorite frames of all comics)?

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As to when Tales 70 takes place, it’s in that 3 or 4 day time period after Leo and Raph have that fight at the barn in Northampton. The story does take place in the NY sewers. I guess as sort of a prequel to issue 19.

Over the last 20 years you have drawn plenty of frames in comics, are there any that stand out to you as a favorite?  Or any issue that you had a lot of fun on?

A standout most certainly has to be the Leonardo mini-series, Blind Sight. Much of that book was done in white silhouette, and that gave it definitely a different look. As well, it was a real challenge to my drawing and design sense, as far as actually creating the art. Unquestionably the most memorable book that I’ve done.

How did you develop the style behind the silhouettes in Blind Sight?  I’ve often noticed that you’ve used the style (before and since then) for a single frame or two, is this a technique you like to use to establish a certain mood?

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Simply yeah- the white silhouette was just that, kind of a drawing gimmick. It had a kind of visual power that you couldn’t help but notice, though. That’s I suppose, what attracted to it and made me want to take it to the next level.

You often post commissions on your blog, will you continue to do commissions and how would someone go about getting one?  What is the average cost?

I’ll continue to do commissions until I leave Mirage, most likely. When that day is though, I’m not entirely sure. That said, folks who want a commission need only to contact me at my email: Prices vary with the number of figures and complexity of the drawing. As far as a range, commissions are generally from $50.00 to $250.00. Most are in the $100-$150 neighborhood.

Despite having your job as a TMNT writer and artist for the last 20 years, are you excited for the break to try something new?

Absolutely, and I think that’s why I’m uncertain about the whole comics thing—part of me is really hungering for a new adventure, something totally different. It’s hard to imagine a future without drawing as being my bread and butter, but that certainly is a strong possibility.

Just for some general questions that you may have fun at:

What’s your favorite music/band/musician?

No question, REM is my favorite band.

If you hands down love R.E.M., then what’s your favorite song(s)?

Some of my favorite REM tunes are:
Walk Unafraid
E-Bow the Letter
7 Chinese Brothers
I’ll Take the Rain

What type of Motorcycle do you ride?


Right now, I have 4 motorcycles—they are:
2005 Yamaha FJR 1300
2007 Moto Guzzi Griso
2009 BMW F800 GS
1979 Honda Ratwing

What are you currently reading?

I very recently finished “Endless Horizons” by Dan Walsh. Walsh is a sometimes columnist for several motorcycle magazines and this is his travelogue about a journey that he took to South America.

What is/are your favorite film(s)?

Films that feature some kind of adventure, I guess. But within that, everything from Hildago to The Road Warrior to Up to Kun Fu Hustle to Army of Darkness.

What is the comic that continues to inspire you?

Usagi Yojimbo amazes me. How Stan (Sakai) can continue to generate stories that are of a consistently high quality after all these issues- it’s stunning. I just bought the little hardcover/color comic that he just published, Yokai. It’s absolutely beautiful.

Once again, thanks to Jim Lawson for the interview, and I hope everything works out well for him and all of the Mirage crew.  I know that I’ll be their to support them in whatever their endeavors are because through the Ninja Turtles they’ve impacted my life astoundingly, and I hope they can continue work like that in their own lives and work.

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One Response to “An Interview with Jim Lawson”

  1. Spencer November 20, 2010 at 4:35 PM #

    I hope Jim comes back to comics soon. I love his work, Turtles or not.

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