Greetings, folks. Ambush Bug here with another interview I conducted at the San Diego Comic Con. Special thanks to AICN’s unsung hero, Muldoon, for transcribing all of these back and forthings. Expect a ton of interviews to be released daily until my interview well is dry (and believe me, it’s going to be a while after this con). This time around, I start part one of two interviews about IDW’s upcoming TEENAGE MUTANT TURTLE relaunch which is happening this month! Here’s what TNMT creator Kevin Eastman had to say…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): I am here with Kevin Eastman at the IDW booth. How’s the Con going so far for you?
KE: The Con is going awesome. It’s my 27th year here, so I’ve been around it a few times.
BUG: Wow. You haven’t missed the Con at all? 27 in a row?
KE: No, never. I’ve never not come. We came…1985 was the first year we came out, because we published the first Turtle comic in 1984 and in 1985 we were developing a bit of a following, success, and people said “well we have to go to the biggest show of the year, which is San Diego Comic Con” and so we made the trek out here and haven’t missed a show since.
BUG: I remember I was really young when it first came out, but I do remember getting the first couple of issues. I hope they are still in the same box--they are at my mom’s house. (laughs)
KE: Oh I hope so, they could be worth some money.
BUG: Yeah, but it’s such a great concept, where did you come up with the whole thing?
KE: The idea for the Turtles really came out of our love of comic books in the first place and was sort of like…I grew up reading all the Jack Kirby comics and that kind of stuff, so we were kind of standing on the shoulders of giants in the first place. Since the age of nine when I first started reading comics I always told my parents “this is what I want to do for a career” and Peter Laird and I had met trying to sell some of our work to the same magazine, so we started talking about different likes and dislikes. We ended up sharing a studio together and late one night we were feeling kind of punchy and I said, “You know what would be an awesome superhero? A ninja turtle.” I did this sketch of a ninja turtle standing upright, he had nunchucks on his arms and a mask on to get the effect that I wanted. He laughed and in studio one-up-manship he had to do a drawing to top mine, so he did a drawing and changed some things and I said, “well, I want to do four…” I did four in pencil and I had this comic logo called “NINJA TURTLES” and he inked it in, added “TEENAGE MUTANT” to it and the next day we woke up laughing. He said “We’ve got to really come up with a story that tells how these characters get to be teenaged mutant ninja turtles.”
BUG: Will they ever get out of their teenage years?
KE: (laughs) There’s a saying…and at different times through the publishing history of Mirage we have done older turtles and younger turtles and preteen turtles and that kind of stuff, but it’s tough. It’s sort of like Spider-Man, you know? It’s the same thing. Even though I’ve been reading certain comic characters for my whole life you still want to see them the way that you remember them with the same sort of familiar landscape and so I don’t know, we’ll see.
BUG: So how did it come to be that you were going to be doing…this is like a brand new series. How did that come to be that you teamed up with IDW?
KE: Well, what happened was you know I also own a magazine called HEAVY METAL MAGAZINE, it’s a comic book magazine and you know I shared the 50/50 partnership with Peter Laird on the Turtles for many, many years. When I bought HEAVY METAL and started working on the movies and the entertainment side and moved to Hollywood, I sort of stepped away from the Turtles, Peter eventually bought me out and sold it to Viacom. Viacom then sort of is relaunching the Turtles through a new Nickelodeon TV series and a new movie at Paramount and IDW got the comic rights and I’ve known Ted Adams, the president and publisher here, for many, many years. Ted called me up and said, “Hey we got the rights to the Turtles, would you like to be involved?” I’m like “Dude, you know what? The last Turtle comic I drew was in 1996…yeah. It’s been a long time.” I’ve always been attached with the fans and I always do Turtle sketches at the comic book shows and stuff, but I hadn’t put pen to paper on doing comic stories or doing layouts the way that I used to and so I met with their creative team, Tom Waltz and Dan Duncan the artist, the writer and artist respectively and flipped out over the idea that they had for the relaunch. They really zeroed in on a lot of the stuff we did in the original comic series, the nuances and picked up on certain beats and points and wanted to have the feeling of the new stories to be the same as we did in the original. The marriage was wonderful and I think the relaunch is going to be spectacular, I think embraced by the traditional Turtle fans and then a lot of new fans as well.
BUG: Did you ever think making this all of those years ago that they would still be around today? That you were on to something this big when you came up with the concept?
KE: You know, absolutely not. In fact, I remember clearly cooking lobsters…I had a summer job in Maine cooking lobsters during the summer. You know, we have those 93 or 94 days of summer where we would make enough money to get through the winter and the one winter in 1983 into 1984 when we drew the Turtles and launched the Turtles, after the first issue of the Turtles was published in May I went back to work the summer cooking lobsters. (laughs) I remember giving the Turtles comics to friends and family and them going “that’s something…” (laughs) “…and you want to make a living with that, do you?” To our surprise it kind of took off from the first issue and so the fans and the following kept building and every year that passed that we were still making money off the comic books initially was a dream come true to me, because I always wanted to draw comic books for a living and I was able to not cook in the restaurants or do all of these side jobs and able to draw comic books for a living. Then when we started working on the TV show and the toy line and all of those things…the process of a year and a half gearing up to have those things come out we never really believed that it would actually happen, that there would actually be a TV show even though we were working on it saying…you can’t fathom the jump from drawing things on a 2 dimensional page to actually being on TV or being able to, in those days, walking down the aisle of a KB Toys store and seeing your product on the shelf. When it happened it was mind blowing. We were sitting in our living room in Massachusetts watching the Turtles on TV and going “holy shit!” I remember Peter and I drove down to the KB store…
BUG: I used to work at a KB Toys right around the time…it was a high school job and it was huge when a new shipment arrived. Every time we got the Turtles in, there were collectors, there were kids, everybody was there trying to get those figures…
KE: It was madness! That’s funny. We went to KB in Springfield. We heard they were there and so Peter and I are walking down the aisle in the action figure section and this mother is dragging this kid up the aisle and the kid’s pitching a fit and the mother is like “I’m not buying you one of those stupid Ninja Turtles” and the kid is crying and Peter and I were like “Oh my God, what have we done?” So each evolution, whether the cartoons, the animation, the movies, each little mini planetoid system that we went into, it was with complete naivete. We were completely naïve, we sort of felt our way through it and asked a lot of questions. We had control over our characters. We tried to make the best movie story ideas that we could and got really fucking lucky.
KE: Lucky that we retained the ownership and that things came out as well as they did.
BUG: Well, this new series that comes out, is it a miniseries or is it going to be an ongoing?
KE: These particular four issues arc, and Tom really deserves all of the credit for coming up with an awesome concept and awesome idea and we worked on the story together, but he’s really the guy…and then Dan’s art and I do the layouts, it’s going to be a four issue series, but then I think they are going to do a series of series. So it will be an ongoing series, but there will be like a four issue series and they have a couple one shots and then another series…I’ve got some more ideas and as long as IDW have me doing stuff I’m onboard, because I say since I haven’t drawn the Turtles since 1996 that I’m actually having a freaking blast, I love it--it’s really fun.
BUG: That’s great. So where do you think this excitement…how has it maintained for you over all of the years?
KE: I don’t want to use a bad Saturday Night Live cliché, but “The Turtles have been very, very good to me.” They have and to me the opportunities that I’ve had, not only with the Turtles, but HEAVY METAL and the support of fans that I have it’s sort of like…it gives me such immense pleasure to meet with these fans. They love the characters so much, so I do drawings and I post pictures and hang out with them and I’m really grateful to them and I think it freaks them out that I’m like “dude, I wouldn’t be behind here without you being in front here,” so that’s always being appreciative of the blessing and then you know the opportunities like buying HEAVY METAL and being able to take care of my family and do those kinds of things is fantastic, so it’s sort of like I love them and it was sort of funny that when we did the original comic series in 1984 we got into it because we wanted to draw comics. By 1987 with the success of the comic, we were now businessmen, because we owned and controlled our creations, so we were spending 90% of our time being businessmen and only 10% of our time actually drawing the comics anymore.
BUG: Were you with HEAVY METAL at the time?
KE: No, no--HEAVY METAL came later. I mean, I bought HEAVY METAL in 1991, so Turtles from 1984 to 1991 and then I bought HEAVY METAL and I still stayed with the Turtles until…the last series I worked on was the live action series in 1998 and then that finished, so you know about fifteen years or so of Turtles, Turtles, Turtles, was sort of like “ehh, I have to do something else creatively.”
BUG: Do you think you were lucky or did you have business experience in the past? There have been so many stories of people coming out with these great ideas and then all of a sudden they are kind of portioned and written and someone else has the rights and things like that.
KE: For the longest time…in the early days we were aware of artists like Jack Kirby and people that had worked for big corporations and you know, Stan Lee deserves all of the credit he deserves, but I think that guys like Jack Kirby deserve a lot more credit than they have ever gotten and we were aware that Jack Kirby never got a lot of his original artwork back from Marvel, and you know…so we were aware of copyright trademark protection, so when we first came out and self-published and that stuff, we filed our own copyrights and trademarks, so we made sure with any deals that we went into we at least had enough common sense to know that we were never signing anything, we wanted to know exactly what we were signing. We drove lawyers nuts asking a million different questions and so through all of those early years we were lucky that the comic sales were successful enough that we could be a bit cocky. We were paying our bills off of the comic sales. They were never really designed to be toys or cartoon shows, so when we entered into those worlds we sort of put the toe in the tub sort of thing and felt our way through and when we reached opportunities, we had to have a comfort level before we allowed ourselves to sign away certain rights, but then it was always in the form of a license, so when these things weren’t licensed they would revert back to us and it wasn’t until much later when Pete finally sold off to Viacom. That was a complete buyout, but up until that time we still controlled the bulk of all of the licensing rights.
BUG: Which is your favorite Turtle?
KE: Raphael, hands down.
BUG: Why is that?
KE: It’s funny, you always write in different characters based on friends you have or family or associates or a bully you used to know in school and it was that way for certain characters and to me Raphael is, because I can be a bit emotional and react emotionally as opposed to logically a lot of times…I feel like he’s the most like me or I feel the closest to him and so when I write him I sort of write him how I would react to things and do things, so that to me is sort of my favorite. It was very similar for Pete, Peter was like Donatello. That was his favorite and if you look at the character of Donatello, the way he is written designed and done and you meet Pete, he’s the same kind of thing. Raphael is kind of… I’m not a berserker mental head and whatever, but he was also one of my favorite characters to write, because he was a bit unpredictable and a bit sort of you never know which way it could go.
BUG: Great. Well, good luck with the title. I can’t wait to take a look at it. It comes out next month, is that right?
KE: Yeah, I think middle to late August.
BUG: Great, well it’s great to see the Turtles back and it seems like they are going to be better than ever, so I can’t wait to see them.
KE: I think so and I’m really excited.
BUG: Well, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I appreciate it.
KE: My pleasure.
BUG: Be sure to check out TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES #1 available this month from IDW!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Mark is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and will be releasing FAMOUS MONSTERS first ever comic book miniseries LUNA in October (co-written by Martin Fisher with art by Tim Rees) Order Code: AUG111067! Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!
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Keep an eye out for more interviews and special reports from SDCC 2011!