In Nothing We Trust: An Interview with James Turner
By Matt Rawson
I had the fortunate opportunity to interview James Turner,
author/artist of Nil: A Land Beyond Belief and
Rex Libris (both published by Slave Labor Graphics), and
managed to learn absolutely nothing, nada, nil… with the
exception of a few interesting tidbits including his inspirations,
his view of the comics industry, Trent Reznor’s parking
immunity, and what’s next on his agenda. I also managed to do
him great cranial damage. So, read on, fellow sufferers, for believing
in great talent is easier than you might think.
Matt Rawson: What was the genesis of Nil: A Land
James Turner: I’m not sure anymore. I think it was a
response to all the negativity around me in day to day life, and in certain
aspects of modern philosophy. Nil just kind of bubbled up out of all that and
took on a life of its own.
MR: Do you listen to music while you create, and if
JT: Depends on my mood. I’ll listen to everything from
industrial (mainly Nails, not so big on Ministry these days) to
classical to jazz, and everything in between. Lately I’ve been
listening to Sinead O’Connor, St. Germain, and Bob Marley. Go
MR: Does Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails really get
free parking in Nil?
JT: Anytime he wants to visit, yes. Along with a free
cup of Java Junkie. But I haven’t seen him around lately.
MR: That’s too bad, sounds like a deal. What other
publications can your illustrations be seen?
JT: I’ve been in such wild and wacky publications as The
Wall Street Journal, Popular Science, Reader’s
Digest, Harvard Business Review, enRoute,
Chatelaine, Elle, and many others, each wilder and
crazier than the last.
MR: Care to divulge any future comics projects (after Rex
Libris, that is)?
JT: I probably shouldn’t say, but what the hell, I’ll
spill the beans. The next graphic novel I have planned, currently held in a state
of suspended animation (everything but Rex is on hold for the moment), is
a spin off from Nil. It follows detectives Puk and Muck of the Hell
Homicide division and their adventures on Hell’s seamier side. Should be
satisfyingly dark and bizarre. Dragnet meets Dante’s
“I think there’s a kind of renaissance
going on in comics now. Throw a stick and you’re likely to hit some
MR: Do you have formal art training, or do you just
go at it by the seat of your pants?
JT: Both. I attended the Ontario College of Art, but
I still go by the seat of my pants.
MR: Best way to do it. Do you work full time as an
illustrator or do you have a pesky “day job?”
JT: I have shed the pesky day job for the time being
and work full-time freelance making little pictures.
MR: What, or who, are your main artistic inspirations?
JT: There have been lots over the years. Renaissance when I
was younger, then gothic, and after that expressionist (Kathe
Kollwitz, Otto Dix, Max Beckman), then Russian constructivist (el
Lissitsky, Rodchenko, etc), then cubist, and lately I’ve been
getting into surrealist. I’m also a big fan of Paul Klee and
Miro. I also think Seymour Chwast and Milton Glaser (and Richard
Lindner) are fantastic. When it comes to comics, I love Jack Kirby,
Moebius, and Herge.
MR: That’s quite a diverse list, and all great
artists. How did you go about getting into comics?
JT: I just did them. Then came the hard part: getting them
published. I sent them to over 40 odd publishers, but got little
response. Most didn’t like the look of them, even if they
thought the story was intriguing. I was preparing to self-publish when
I heard back from Slave Labor (about eight months after making the
submission). Publishers these days are awash in submissions. I think
there’s a kind of renaissance going on in comics now. Throw a
stick and you’re likely to hit some talent.
MR: Have you been a fan of comics for awhile?
JT: Absolutely. I loved comics when I was a kid,
particularly Tintin and The Fantastic Four.
MR: Do you have a recommended reading list for the readers
of this interview?
JT: I’d always recommend Tintin. Also Little Nemo in
Slumberland is probably the most beautiful and imaginative comic ever made;
I urge everyone to look at the work of Winsor McKay. I wish I could draw with such a
combination of elegance, accuracy and style.
MR: I would definitely agree with you there. Any
established creators in particular that you would like to collaborate with?
JT: I don’t think I’ve ever thought of this before.
There are so many talented people out there, I don’t know where I’d start.
It’d be wild to do something with Push Pin Studios. I’d like to collaborate on
a comic with writer
Howard Bloom (The Lucifer Principle).
MR: What is your opinion on the state of the comics
JT: It seems pretty healthy to me, creatively at
least. Finance wise I have no idea. A real publisher’s market though. There are so many
talented people out there, all you have to do is look on the internet
and there’s no end of content; it makes it very competitive when trying to
get published. Great for the consumer. I think there’s more choice in terms
of material now than there ever has been before.
MR: It’s refreshing to get a positive view focusing on
the right angle: talent and creativity. So many seem to only have
negative, apocalyptic, and done-right angst-ridden views of the
industry’s future. Any advise to aspiring creators?
JT: Be stubborn. Persevere. Staying power can be as
important as talent.
“I also think Seymour
Chwast and Milton Glaser (and Richard Lindner) are fantastic. When it
comes to comics, I love Jack Kirby, Moebius, and Herge.”
MR: Ok, on to a technical question. If you were stuck on a
desert island with only one art tool (i.e. ink and brush, pencil,
Adobe Illustrator) what would it be?
JT: Hmm. Do I get a power cord, electrical power, a
computer, mouse, keyboard and all that to go along with Illustrator? If so,
I’ll take that. Otherwise, I’ll go with a big stack of sketchbooks and
several thousand pilot fine-liners.
MR: No power on a desert island, unless you can
MacGyver a generator out of a coconut and monkey grass. For all of us back in
the civilized world, however, where can people learn more about your work?
There’s a section for my graphic novel Nil: A Land Beyond
Belief, a “build a robot” section (not even NASA
offers this), animations, screensavers, and a rather unusual map.
MR: And now for the really important questions. Prairie
dogs or naked mole rats? Up or down? This way or that? Twisting
or turning? What’s your favorite color? Fork? And finally, true
or false: a parallelogram has four sides and four congruent
JT: My brain just exploded.
MR: I’m terribly sorry to hear that. But, massive
head trauma aside, I thank you very much for your insights and information on
your work and your views. I know I will look forward to reentering the bleak
world of Nil through whatever door you wish to let us in. But in the
meantime, I will enjoy your many illustrations and Rex Libris, and
continue pondering the elusive answer to fork?
Cover image used without explicit permission in accordance with the "Fair Use" provision of US copyright law.