Bryan Turner has a dream job and his kids love it.
He’s a story artist and character designer for comic books and animated films, and he’s worked on such animated series as Ultimate Spider-Man and Guardian of the Galaxy for Marvel. He’s currently working as a storyboard revisionist/artist for Warner Bros. Animation on the new series Dorothy of Oz. The catch is, he’s in Los Angeles while his wife, Melissa, and four kids ages 3 to 14 are back home in Kent Island. We recently caught up with Turner via e-mail to find out how he broke into such an amazing field, how he balances family life and his art and how he’s surviving so far away.
Q. How did you get into comics? Is it something you always wanted to do?
In 2004 while I was working at 6 Flags America doing caricatures, I met Jerry Gaylord the lead artist in the park (and now my best friend). We developed a great competitive artist’s relationship, which lead to the start of our own independent comic studio, Identity Comics.
Over the next decade, we set up at comic book conventions starting with the smallest ones, located in a fire department halls, then eventually the largest ones, like San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic Con. In doing these shows, and continually working on our own books, we met editors and recruiters from all of the major comic book studios. Through the years of building relationships and connections, came our opportunities to finally work with those major studios.
I always wanted to work in either comics or animation. Having gone to school for animation, and growing up (in Upper Marlboro) with 80s Saturday morning and after-school cartoons, my love was always animation. I just had the great fortune of working in the comics industry while trying to find my way into the animation industry as well.
Q. What is a typical day for you? Do you usually work from home or go into an office?
For upwards of 10 years, I’ve worked mostly freelance from home. In the early years, I had to have a regular 9-to-5 job to collect a steady paycheck at places like Gap, Old Navy, T-Mobile and teaching. My wife always encouraged me to continue to grow as an artist, so that one day my hard work and dedication would pay off. So now I am fortunate enough to be working with Warner Bros. Animation in Burbank, California, as a storyboard revisionist and storyboard artist. I had my first taste of the animation industry in 2015 when I accepted the same position working for Marvel on Ultimate Spider-Man. After a 6-month run on that show, I was able to return home and once again, freelance, but this time in animation.
Warner Bros. is a more steady opportunity, so I had to take it. Now my typical days are 8 to 9 hours on the “ranch” at Warner Bros. Then I put in a couple of hours freelancing from my apartment in North Hollywood. On the weekends, I try to get out and do some sketching to stay loose and always improve as an artist — be it a coffee shop, the beach or with my kids when I see them.
Q. When do you find you are most creative?
I feel I am most creative when the sun goes down. I think my brain has taken in the day, seen what it has to see, and then is ready to create based on the information it gathered throughout the day. It’s also a time when I have quiet and space — with little to no distractions. So I find most of my creativity is sparked after hours, so to speak.
Don’t miss Bryan at Awesome Con June 16-18 at the Washington Convention Center. Win tickets here.
Q. What is your favorite comic you have created?
My favorite comic is the one I’m actually developing right now! The main character is a young woman named Robyn. The story is loosely based on a cross between Red Riding Hood and Robin Hood. I’m very excited about what I feel will be a compelling, relevant story about a young girl and her struggles with right and wrong, and the advancement of her people. My favorite comic that I worked on with a major studio was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I was asked by Lego and IDW [Publishing] to do a Lego tribute to Issue No. 1, for the 30th Anniversary. That was cool. Legos+Turtles+80s Cartoons=Win!
Q. Are your kids comic fans? Do they read your stuff? How about your wife?
My oldest son is probably a bigger comic fan than I am. He really enjoys most Marvel properties, with Spider-Man as his favorite. As a whole, my wife and four kids are fans of general pop culture. We love to go see the latest Disney, Marvel or Star Wars flicks as a family. We are, by far, extreme Disney fans.
They definitely support me as an artist. Anything I’m working on, they are the first to ask, “When does it come out? Can we have a copy?” So they are my driving force. My wife, I think, gets joy out of seeing me do what I love, and how that translates to the kids. She’s also a fan.
Q How do your kids feel about what you do? Do they get any perks from your work?
My kids love what I do. Their dad draws Spider-Man and Ninja Turtles and Guardians of the Galaxy! It’s all the stuff they love to watch and read. More so, they see me doing what I love. It never seems like work. It’ll take a huge chunk of my day, but they see how into it I get, and they get to see the process of creating comics and animations. They really appreciate it.
We live in a very rural area on Kent Island, so when there’s news of one of the islands very own working on such titles, word gets around. It’s fun, and humbling, when I go to the kids’ schools for events, and I’m greeted by the teachers or other parents with a huge grin, saying, “And here’s our superstar, Bryan Turner!”
I am truly no celebrity, but it is awesome to know that I bring some of the young kids hope of one day becoming real life artists who work on real life things. I didn’t have that influence in my life, so if I can teach and inspire more kids to reach for the stars — even from a tiny island in Maryland — I accept the challenge.
Q. How to you balance your work and family?
Now the hard part. As a freelance artist, there really is no work/life balance. You just have to make the time for each entity. When I’m at home and the kids are at school, I have to work as hard and as fast as I possibly can. When they get home, life begins. So when the time comes for family, I have to dedicate myself fully to it. Between meals, play and driving the kids to all their activities, many hours of the day are lost. I often return to my work after everyone has gone to sleep — wife included. Babies are snoring, lights are dim, and my mind is full of new information. I will sometimes work until the kids leave for school the next morning. If I’m in a flow, and I’ve got deadlines to hit, I’ll just plow right through. I’ll get a lil’ nap and put in a couple more hours just before the kids come back from school.
I always put God first, family second, then work. That is how I must maintain a peaceful balance, and enjoy what is most dear to me — my family.
Now that I am away for most of the year working in California, I have more time to fine-tune my skills as an artist and work on my personal projects with Identity Comics Studio. However, family is still a top priority. My wife bares the brunt of the kids now. So I must make an even more conscious effort to call and communicate with my wife and kids. We video chat as often as we can. I text the big kids, individually, to make sure they know I’m always thinking of them. We’ve also planned family vacations together, both at home and here in California, so the kids can focus on the perks of being a bi-coastal family. I’ve also set time off from work, so that my wife can have her own getaways. We do all of this while maintaining our relationship with God, whom makes all of this possible.
Q. I hear you travel to many comic cons. Which one is your favorite to attend and why? What will you be doing at Awesome Con?
I do many cons. It’s really toned down over the past couple years, with me working in animation. However we still have our standard list — Emerald City Comic-Con, WonderCon, MegaCon, AwesomeCon, San Diego Comic-Con, New York Comic-Con and Baltimore Comic-Con.
In between those, we may do several local shows where we’ve been asked to be guests. The most shows we’ve ever done in one year was 22. We vowed to never do anything close to that again.
Our favorite close to home show will always be AwesomeCon. We’ve know Ben Penrod (show producer) since the early days of little fire house shows in Annapolis. Our favorite show overall is New York Comic Con. The Artist Alley there is its own destination. The talent that fills that hall is unmatched.
Q. What’s your favorite comic?
My favorite comic (not of my own) is Hyperboy by my best friend and studio mate, Jerry Gaylord. The story represents so much of our childhood and what we’d love to have seen in a super hero as African American kids.
Top photo: Bryan Turner, his wife Melissa and their kids Elias, 3, Elijah, 14, Ella, 7, and Elyse, 12.
Bottom sketch: Self portrait by Bryan Turner.