— by Gabi Stevenson, Communications Manager

Comic book artist Mike Hawthorne’s path to success is more like a long-winding journey. He’s illustrated major titles like Deadpool, Spider-Man, Venom and Wonder Woman with Marvel and DC Comics, worked with brands like the Philadelphia 76ers and Wendy’s, and self-publishes his own comics and zines through Kickstarter and Patreon. He also worked on five of the top 10 most read comics of 2023.

And, in exciting news for Moore students and Philadelphia-area comic artists and fans, Hawthorne will now be the keynote speaker at the College’s inaugural Comics Expo, taking place at Moore on Saturday, April 13. The event, as Illustration Professor Richard Harrington recently described in The Philadelphia Inquirer, is one where “student, novice and more established cartoonists can show and sell their work, raise their visibility, and expand their networks.”

Although Hawthorne steered clear of large comics conventions in the past, he’s found community among fellow artists who share his values. He thinks events like Moore’s Comics Expo are perfect occasions for students and young artists to practice for bigger events.

“This is the kind of setting that just makes sense to me because conventions are centered around commerce. Doing [a comics expo] at an art school where students get to practice presenting themselves without all the pressure of being at a big convention—I just love the idea,” Hawthorne said. “When Joe [Kulka, Associate Professor of Illustration] asked if I wanted to come out, it was an easy yes.”

Hawthorne earned his bachelor’s degree in painting from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture in 1998. The education he received in figure drawing and anatomy still come in handy not only in his work, but as a professor of illustration at Pennsylvania College of Art & Design.

After graduating from college, Hawthorne jumped headfirst into the world of comics, opening Thinktank Comics and publishing his first comic series, Hysteria, in 1999. Although Thinktank soon went out of business, Hysteria led him to new and exciting opportunities at bigger publishers.

“Something I still preach to students is not waiting for permission or waiting for a gig that may never come. Just decide to make the thing and it will serve as your proof of concept,” he said. “Maybe it won’t work out the way you expect, but this will prove to people that you can make something.”

Hawthorne has a lot of appreciation for the women editors he worked with through the years, including Diana Schutz, who gave him his big break at Dark Horse Comics, Karen Berger of the now-defunct Vertigo Comics, and MacKenzie Cadenhead and Heather Antos, former editors at Marvel Comics. He says he wouldn’t have a career if Schutz hadn’t given him a shot.

Looking back on his career so far, Hawthorne says his favorite projects are his first and his biggest—Hysteria and Deadpool—because of his connections to them. Hysteria is set in the fictional location of Port Asteria, which is loosely based on his mother’s native Puerto Rico. In 2018, Hawthorne became the artist to draw more pages of Deadpool than anyone else in Marvel history. Bits of his life can be found sprinkled throughout the comic and the Marvel universe. There are two different characters named Mike Hawthorne, while Deadpool’s daughter and her grandmother bear striking resemblances to his own family.

“I didn’t really read Deadpool before I got to draw it, and our version was really in-line with my sense of humor. His ‘sad clown’ aspect appealed to me,” he said. “There’s a lot of me in some of these storylines that I still remember fondly.”

Hawthorne is currently developing a new series with Image Comics, where he’s able to “get back to writing and drawing.” Even with all his accolades, he doesn’t believe anyone should follow in his footsteps. He thinks it’s more important for burgeoning artists to figure out what’s best for their careers.

“It may look like I’ve made it, but I don’t know if we’ll all make it if we do it this way. You just have to find what works for you,” he said. “All of us have different stories of how we made it, and none of them ever match up.”

He tells students who want to freelance or start their own business to be patient and avoid comparing themselves to professionals in other industries.

“You can’t compare yourself to your buddy who’s graduating with a degree in accounting. Whether you’re selling fine art, or you’re a craftsperson, or you’re making jewelry, eventually you’re going to build up enough of a client base that you’re able to making a living comparable to someone who got a more traditional degree,” he said. “Give yourself some breathing room and don’t put too much pressure on yourself.”


Want to attend Moore’s first-ever Comics Expo on April 13, featuring emerging cartoonists, graphic novelists and indie publishers in and around Philadelphia? Click here to register for the event.

Photo and artwork courtesy of Mike Hawthorne