Imagine for a second, a Boston where a mohawked velociraptor can appear out of nowhere atop a sick skateboard and shred through Beantown’s historic streets. If you’re having trouble picturing it, fear not, for illustrator and graphic novelist Jack Turnbull has the comic book series for you.
The Boston-based Turnbull is two issues into Roger Otto: Dinosaur Skateboarder, which follows the title character’s desire to skate the day away and fit in with the humans around him – even if said humans look very tasty. Of course, fitting in can be difficult when you’re a seven-foot, teenage velociraptor.
The Human Behind the Dinosaur
I had the pleasure of chatting with Turnbull when I attended the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo in Cambridge on October 17. This is also where I picked up the first two issues of Roger Otto – the latest output from the prolific Turnbull.
A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Turnbull has also authored such titles as The Invasive Exotics and I Escaped A Satanic Ninja Cult. While Turnbull may not yet be a household name like say, Stan Lee or Alan Moore, it’s important to recognize the amount of blood, sweat and tears that indie creators pour into each and every one of their panels.
“I work a kajillion jobs to pay rent,” Turnbull said. “Fortunately, these days almost all of my paying jobs are art related; I make most of my money teaching animation and comics to varying age levels. I’m an adjunct professor. I work at a comic book store. I freelance illustrate most times the opportunity is presented to me. I substitute teach. I taught a math class today and drew pizza on the whiteboard to explain fractions to sixth graders.”
About Those Panels
In between Turnbull’s kajillion jobs, the creator is focused on expanding Roger Otto’s world, which is surprisingly a lot like our own, save for a dinosaur or two. Roger, who was born in a laboratory, lives with his mother (who struggles to find work because, you know, she’s also a dinosaur) and goes to school. He has no father, so the Tyrannosaurus Rex statue outside Boston’s Museum of Science serves as the positive male role model in his life.
Once you get past the fact that you’re reading about a teenage dinosaur skateboarder, the main themes are pretty universal – the pressures of being a teenager, wanting to find your place in the world…representing the velociraptor community.
Readers may wonder if Roger is a stand-in for a teenage Turnbull? Apparently not, according to Turnbull.
“Roger Otto: Dinosaur Skateboarder does express my passions, curiosities and anxieties but it is not particular to me,” he said. “The majority of the environments are drawn on location, from memory or reference photography, so from a physical standpoint it is personal. On the other hand, I am not a velociraptor living in contemporary urban America, nor do I have any idea of how it would feel to be a velociraptor living in contemporary urban America, so a large portion of it is imaginary. I do work with middle school students in Boston almost daily and I must admit that the general tone of the series thus far has been inspired by my time with them.”
Although he doesn’t have a Mohawk made of feathers, Turnbull does share Roger’s passion for skating, which is apparent based on all the skater lingo used throughout the series.
“I was given a skateboard for Christmas when I was in kindergarten,” Turnbull said. “I loved it so much. It had a shark on the bottom breaking the surface of the ocean while biting a skateboard in half, but I left it out in the rain one day and that ruined the grip tape.”
Aside from Roger, the city of Boston itself is very much a character in this series. Setting his stories in the locations he resides in is nothing new for Turnbull, but Beantown – and more specifically, all of its incredible skating locations – plays a significant role throughout the first two issues.
“I live in Boston now and have been here for about five years, so this is where Roger Otto: Dinosaur Skateboarder takes place,” Turnbull said. “I will concede that Boston has a much larger presence in Roger Otto than the locations in my prior works. This is due to the fact Boston is my home. I was born in Boston, grew up on the Newburyport Commuter Rail in Ipswich, left Massachusetts for a decade but was harpooned back to its capital, my home.”
Considering that Turnbull sprinkles bits and pieces of trivia pertaining to Boston – one of America’s oldest cities – throughout Roger Otto, the series can also be considered quite educational. Perhaps this is one reason why Turnbull has received positive feedback from readers of all ages.
“My last two graphic novels had a lot of angst, violence and were overall aggressive efforts,” Turnbull said. “I think I had exerted myself a little. When I started Roger Otto: Dinosaur Skateboarder I wanted to make something more lighthearted. Not escapist necessarily, but I did want to tone down the doom and gloom.”
Roger Otto’s Future
So what’s next for Roger Otto? Aside from a third issue, which Turnbull is currently working on, would you believe a franchise?
“I will say this; If things go my way in the long run, there will be two or three Roger Otto: Dinosaur Skateboarder spinoff titles to keep up with audience demand,” Turnbull said. “Some titles I’ve been tossing around in the office include ‘The Unbelievable Roger Otto,’ ‘Kathy: Queen of the Hyde Park Bowl’ and ‘Erson & Billy: Teenage Shredders.’ At that rate of production, we’ll have most likely exhausted the skateboard adventure format. We will need to branch out and experiment narratively in order to create new material.”
Finding new ways to tell Roger Otto stories isn’t the only challenge ahead of this indie creator. Turnbull completely understands that his love of experimenting and mixing genres isn’t always the most marketing-friendly strategy.
“My challenge is justifying my own art’s existence as I’ve been too skeptical to pursue a pre-existing art profession or a tribal genre,” said Turnbull. “I can barely choose a medium, let alone a genre. That or my pursuits have simply failed. So the challenge is to not lose spirit. Gary Panter once said “the more art you make, the more you become,” so I have faith that these billions of comic book pages I’ve produced will give me some type of answer, or at least peace of mind, in the long run.”
Whether or not Turnbull finds peace of mind, the positive feedback for Roger Otto – and the best response to any of his work to date – has been pretty great on its own.
“In the end, making Roger Otto has just been so insanely fun, that going through the process is much more rewarding than winning any potential audience’s approval,” Turnbull said.
For more information on Jack Turnbull and his comics, visit JackTurnbull.com.