Apr 12, 2024 - News

"Deadpool" comic artist overcame poverty, tragedy

Comic artist Mike Hawthorne

Comic artist and Temple alum Mike Hawthorne. Photo: Courtesy of Mike Hawthorne

Comic artist Mike Hawthorne's curse is his blessing.

The big picture: When he was 10 years old, he says his mother, an unflappable woman known for courage, got spooked when they returned one day to their New York apartment to find a shoe ominously propped against the door.

What they're saying: "It was the only time I saw her really freak out. … And so we left," says Hawthorne, who recounted his childhood in a graphic novel memoir, "Happiness Will Follow."

What happened: They briefly returned to the apartment but they kept experiencing freak accidents, including their cat falling out of a window.

  • Mom, a devout Catholic whose family believed in Santeria, thought her son was cursed and in danger, so she sent him to live with relatives in rural Pennsylvania.

Moving turned out to be a blessing.

  • Hawthorne says art was an escape from the struggles of poverty.
  • He earned a scholarship to the Governor's School for the Arts. With the help of a high school teacher, he got into Temple's Tyler School of Art and Architecture, where he studied painting and graduated with his degree in 1998.

The latest: Now he's a famous comic artist illustrating the superheroes you see on the big screen, from "Deadpool" to "Spider-Man."

  • Hawthorne, who lives in York, Pennsylvania, is speaking this weekend at Moore College of Art & Design's first Comics Expo.

Axios sat down with Hawthorne to learn his origin story. The interview was condensed for clarity:

On his fascination with comics: "I can actually remember the first time seeing names in comics and realizing this was someone's job and thinking, 'That's for me.'"

  • "I passed up a couple opportunities to get a master's for free 'cause I thought, 'I'm going to go be a famous comic artist, which was not a great decision.' Kids out there, 'stay in school.' It worked out in the end."

After the death of his mother, Hawthorne began self-publishing comic books — his "crash course" for success.

  • "I always compare it to being a contractor where you build somebody a porch and you hope the neighbors look at it and say, 'That's a pretty cool porch. Who did that?'"
One of Hawthorne's comic sketches.
Hawthorne is known for his kinetic, action-packed drawings. Photo: Courtesy of Mike Hawthorne.

On his early love for graffiti: "I would draw people's names for 50 cents, and if they wanted a character it was a dollar. I would take my earnings from school and stop at the corner bodega and buy Butterscotch Krimpets."

  • "Comics is bombastic. That came from graffiti, where you want to do something that knocked people over the head, made them talk about it the next day in school."

On his tagging name: "Heist. There was a cop in the area, and that was his last name. I thought that was the coolest thing — a cop with this crook last name."

On his high-school inspiration: "I had this great art teacher Mr. Dodson. We just made this deal. He said, 'Look, I will keep replacing your sketchbooks as long as you keep filling them.'"

On what comic name he'd give his late mom: "Her name was Blanca, which is kinda a cool name already."

On his career: "I get to do the thing I imagined as a little kid, like a kid playing air guitar and then looking up and he's playing guitar for some huge rock band. I have the art equivalent of that."

If you go: Saturday, 10am-5pm, free.

avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Philadelphia.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Philadelphia stories

Philadelphiapostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Philadelphia.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more