Drawn To Work

Artist Has Been Creating Images Since Childhood

Artist Kurt Lehner and all the characters he has been involved with. Submitted photo

In school, he received attention after he drew an image of one of his classmates. Currently, Kurt Lehner continues to enjoy drawing. He has made a career on comic books, superheroes, cartoons and pop-culture at large.

Lehner has worked for Disney, Warner Bros. Dreamworks and Marvel. Most of his roles involved work as a character designer and an animator. His time in the animation and comic-book industry has led him to work with some of the most prominent names in entertainment.

Lehner said that his love of pop-culture and especially comics, cartoons and their associated products came to him at a very early age growing up in Toronto. He was also a regular viewer of Saturday Morning cartoons.

Lehner will be at Chautauqua Comics during Free Comic Book Day Saturday selling his artwork and offering autographs.

“I used to watch Speed Buggy, Laff-A-Lympics, Gilligan’s Planet, etc.” Lehner said. “I always chose to get up at 6 a.m. because I knew that’s when the cartoons started.”

Lehner will be at Chautauqua Comics during Free Comic Book Day Saturday.

“I was in third grade and drew the image and the teacher and the school were over the top when they saw it,” he said. “I didn’t understand why it was such a big uproar.”

Lehner was so involved with pop-culture that going on trips to Niagara Falls meant only one thing. Always visiting the Canadian side of the falls, Lehner once asked his father if the family could visit the American side for a simple reason.

“I thought that (the American side) was where New York City was, that was where Stan Lee was etc.,” he said. “Seeing that, I always dreamed of coming to the U.S. to work on all types of (entertainment) projects.”

Eventually, Henner graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto and started a career in advertising. In that time, he worked as a story board and layout designer for various clients. Among them were Kmart and Sears for their catalogues. In the late 80s, he also designed covers for coupons booklets for Canadian retailer Hudson’s Bay. One catalogue was published for Canada Day (Canada’s equivalent to the Fourth of July) and received country-wide attention.

His work in animation was with Dreamworks and lasted from Sept. 12 to Dec. 5 1992, for the television series “Fievel’s American Tails” based on the two theatrical films in Stephen Speilberg’s epic of a Russian mouse and his family’s life in America. He served as storyboard and character designer on the series.

His second project at Dreamworks was character designer for the direct-to-video film “Joseph: King Of Dreams.” The film was a depiction of Joseph and his brothers and a prequel to “The Prince of Egypt,” a depiction of the life of Moses.

Lehner credits his time at Dreamworks for his work in advertising.

Lehner found work at Disney between 1994 and 1997, and served as character designer on an episode of “Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles” and “Beauty And The Beast: The Enchanted Christmas.” During the same time,he worked at CBS on “Jim Lee’s Wild Cats” and his work gained attention from the series’ franchise company, Marvel. Lehner then worked as a production manager on the Marvel Action Hour from 1994 to 1996.

“I just showed them some animation work and I was brought on,” Lehner said. “They understood that I had a talented understanding for superheroes, comic books and animation.”

At Warner Bros., Lehner was an animation and clean-up artists (working on final drawings) on “Space Jam.”

He worked on a town hall scene where classic Looney Tunes characters first meet their captors in the film.

“It was a long scene because it also had an awful lot of footage,” Lehner said.

Other characters that Lehner worked on in his career include “Franklin the Turtle,” “Cadillac’s And Dinosaurs,” for Nelvana and “All Dogs Go To Heaven 2” for MGM.

Around 2006, Lehner made a career change by creating lithographs of various Disney, Marvel and DC characters. However, the practice was not new to Lehner.

“I had been going to conventions selling lithographs since high school and university (college) that I became known as the comic book guy,” he said. “Having been in the animation industry for so long I had not done it till then,”

He was invited to attend a comic-con in Toronto and to also create exclusive art pieces for the show. For Lehner, this also accomplished another goal he had since childhood.

“I always thought of having my artwork in homes but now it has reached so many that it is unreal,” he said. “I am so speechless and thankful.”

Since then, he has been selling various forms of his artwork of DC, Marvel, Disney and Star Wars characters among others. It was during his time creating lithographs that he received a compliment from comic-book legend, Stan Lee who found his work outstanding. For this reason, Lehner cites that meeting and project as his favorite of his career.

“I was commissioned by him to do a piece of him with his characters and I was presented it to him at Wizard World in Chicago in 2012,” Lehner said. “He looked at it for a few minutes and finally looked at me and said. ‘If you walked into my office in the 70s I would have hired you.”

Lehner has also had the pleasure of of trading signatures with Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld. Liefeld also credited Lehner’s work for being well done.

“I have meet him since then and he is always great to see,” Lehner said.

Favorite characters for Lehner to draw span both DC and Marvel.

“I enjoy Captain America because he is so cool and has so much patriotism. He is a super-soldier and he has so much history,” Lehner said. “His moral values are still the same and even though the world has changed over the years, he has maintained them.”

However, his most-favorite character is Superman.

“I enjoy his Boy Scout, Man of Steel, can move planets, and spin back time,” Lehner said. “He is still traditional today and that is what I enjoy about him.”

When planning a piece of art, Lehner said he follows what is popular among fans.

“I watch trends to see where they go,” he said.

Lehner said that characters he has received requests for in recent years have been superheroes currently on television including “The Flash,” “SuperGirl,” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

When he is not creating pop culture art, Lehner is often teaching it. He owns and operates the teaching company the Skillz Program with branches in both Canada and the United States.

The business teaches art and special projects to middle and high school projects to middle and high school students who plan on entering the art field.

“We teach anything to do with entertainment, from cartooning, animation, 3-D, Clay, etc.” Lehner said.

He also teaches high-school art workshop classes in the greater Toronto area.

Among the themed art pieces Lehner will be selling are Star Wars, Marvel, Disney and DC. In addition, Lehner will also be selling a commemorative piece of Stan Lee and an art print of Avengers: Endgame. The latter piece is exclusive to Philadelphia’s Comic-Con but will be available to the public at Chautauqua Comics first.

During the years Free Comic Book Day has run at Chautauqua Comics, owner Al Steffens has also used the event as a means to raise money for St. Susan’s Soup Kitchen.

“We have been doing it (Free Comic Book Day) first started (2002),” Steffens said. “Every year we try to raise money for St. Susan’s Soup Kitchen.”

As the name says, Steffens said that the event involves giving away free brand-new comic books to customers who come into the store. More than 50 titles and franchises will be available this year. They include The Avengers, Stranger Things, Riverdale, Pokemon, Doctor Who, Descendants and more.

Steffens also said that customers who make a donation of a dollar or more to St. Susan’s Soup Kitchen will be eligible to win prizes by spinning a wheel.

“We will spin the wheel and one of the options that you have is to get an additional free comic book, posters, discounts inside the store, etc.,” Steffens said. “All the money we raise for St. Susan’s goes to St. Susan’s We keep nothing of it.”

Steffens could not offer exact amounts that have been donated over the years. However, he said that in the time the store has donated to St. Susan’s the donations have been between $500 to $600. Both doors to the business will be open to allow for crowd flow. The event will include booths outdoors weather permitting.

Steffens recommends that anyone who wants a copy of a Free Comic Book Day issue should arrive to the event early. Customers are limited to three issues a person.

Other events and activities that will take place include adult and children’s costume contests, comic-book long box builds, a comic-book themed Jeopardy, and door prizes. Hot dogs and chips will also be sold. The event lasts from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Chautauqua Comics is located at 214 Fairmount Ave. in Jamestown.

Lehner can be reached online at kurtlehner@blogspot.ca. His art is also available for viewing on Instagram at lehnerart777.