Born in Lansing, Michigan, Purcell grew up reading Marvel Comics and DC Comics, and his love of drawing was sparked by watching cartoons of Spider-Man and Batman. The first comic book he read was a Disney comic book. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with Bachelor's degrees in Studio arts and theater and has remarked that with the emphasis on costume design and directing in comics, the theater probably helped him more. He currently resides in Plymouth, Minnesota, and is married with one son.
Purcell has worked on numerous comic books, including Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Soulsearchers and Company, Flare, Flash, The Fantastic Four, Superman, Wonder Man, Hulk vs. Nova, Moon Knight, What If…?, Race Warriors, Kolchak: the Night Stalker, Justice League, Ben 10, and Elvira. His most recent work is Star Trek: Year Four for IDW, written by Trek story editor D. C. Fontana and Star Trek: The Last Generation, written by Andrew Steven Harris. He has also worked on The Phantom for Moonstone and Beyond the Wall (Roman soldiers vs. monsters and barbarians) for IDW.
Purcell claims not to have a favorite company to work for, but is attracted to projects based on the editor and other creators involved with them. He cites his work on Silver Sable as a project he particularly enjoyed, saying he feels that the book was "really going somewhere" by the end of his run. Purcell also cites his work on Gammarauders, stating that having to ink his own pencils taught him a lot about what information he needed to give to his future inkers. Purcell also cites his Star Trek work because he was allowed to visit the sets of those shows, which were among his favorites. Among his favorite characters today include Thing, Robin, Teen Titans, the Metal Men, JLA, The Avengers and Metamorpho.