In the ‘90s, highschooler Tyler Kirkham had a dream. He traveled to comic conventions with his parents in hopes of having his artwork seen by his idols, Jim Lee and Mark Silvestri of Image Comics. His dream came true when he got the opportunity to show Jim Lee his 15-page sample of art for an Image Comics title called Wildcats.
“He tore me a new one,” Tyler says of the experience. Although Lee complimented him on his potential, he also pointed out everything he was doing wrong and gave him a long list of things to improve. “I went home with my head down, but with things to work on.”
Tyler was “always into art” growing up in Clearfield. He took every art class his high school offered and would draw his own comic characters in his free time after his assigned projects were finished.
One of his first jobs was with the Ogden Standard Examiner doing art for a teen sections they ran. He illustrated stories and drew cartoons. It was his first paying job and he was hooked.
As he improved, Tyler built a portfolio. An acquaintance living in California showed his work to an editor at Top Cow Productions. The editor was impressed and asked him to come to a meeting in California. Tyler had just graduated high school.
The editor asked him to submit work. After a steep learning curve, Top Cow asked Tyler to illustrate an independent book called The Gift. He quit his day job at Sam’s Club to risk devoting his energies to his art full time.
Tyler went to California for several weeks to work at the Top Cow studio. “I learned more in two weeks than I had in the past five years,” he says.
Tyler decided make a permanent move to California to work for Top Cow. His first job was on a book called Strike Force. From there, he has illustrated several Top Cow series.
His reputation building, he moved back to Utah after several years so he could afford a home for his family. He continued to work for Top Cow for five more years, and through a special arrangement worked on some Marvel titles including Phoenix War Song, Ultimate Fantastic Four and The New Avengers.
Tyler now works out of his Salt Lake City home studio for DC Comics in New York. He says it was a hard decision to leave Top Cow, but ultimately he envisioned his career expanding further. It wasn’t so much a question of earning more money as it was thinking about what was the next best step. He’s illustrated books for the Green Lanterns, Teen Titans, and Superman in the Action title. He is currently working on a weekly title, Earth 2: World’s End, along with other artists.
With his career established, Tyler’s been able to do something he’s always wanted to do since he sat in art class drawing characters from his imagination. He created his own series with his own characters. He worked out a deal with DC, which has exclusive rights to his work, and was able to publish Screwed through Zenescope. A retelling of the Frankenstein story, he plotted and wrote the story with Keith Thomas, whom he met at the Philadelphia ComicCon. Tyler did the covers, but turned the interior work over to other artists because of the demands on his time with DC. “Getting a regular paycheck equaled freedom for me. I was able to pay the artists and pay Keith, and then I got paid when the book came out.”
Tyler has come full circle. Now at the comic conventions he is on the other side of the table. Young, hopeful artists approach him with portfolios in hand. He is able to do for them what Jim Lee did for him, starting them down a road that could lead to a career they love.
Story by Connie Lewis