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Byerly’s Three-Toed Approach to “TMNT: The Animated Adventures”

by  in Comic News Comment
Byerly’s Three-Toed Approach to “TMNT: The Animated Adventures”

The latest cartoon version of the Turtle crew made their comic debut earlier this year in IDW Publishing’s Free Comic Book Day one-shot, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: New Animated Adventures,” written by “Ghostbusters” scribe Erik Burnham and drawn by ongoing “New Animated Adventures” artist Dario Brizuela. The ongoing series bows in July with the release of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: New Animated Adventures.” Based on the hit Nickelodeon show, the comic is written by Kenny Byerly, a writer for the animated series, with Dario Brizuela tackling art.

Byerly spoke with Comic Book Resources about the first issue of “TMNT: New Animated Adventures,” revealing plot details for his first story-arc, explaining how the comic will link-up with its animated cousin, discussing his thoughts on writers promoting their own work and much more.

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CBR News: So, what’s in store for the Turtles in “TMNT: New Animated Adventures?”

Kenny Byerly: Donatello invites April to come along to the top-secret military junkyard where he finds parts for his inventions, but of course they end up with more trouble than they bargained for.

What sets these “New Animated Adventures” Turtles apart from the existing Turtle crew seen in the ongoing IDW “TMNT” series?

The third toe. I will stick up for the third toe. They have three fingers, why not three toes? It makes more sense, and I like the way it looks. There, I said it.

The animated Turtles are a more traditional take, as far as the origin is concerned. The tone is lighter, more suitable for kids, and there is more of an emphasis on comedy and the Turtles thinking and behaving more like actual teenagers.

How do you view each of the four Turtles’ places in the group?

The Turtles balance each other out so well. That team chemistry is surely a huge reason why the franchise has endured.

Leonardo is the idealist. He cares about doing things the right way, whether that means strategically, ethically or safely.

Raphael is a pragmatist, always pushing for the most direct approach. He also calls everyone out on their crap.

Michelangelo is the heart and the comic relief. Sometimes it’s a little too easy to go to him for your tension-cutting joke, but it’s immensely helpful to have the option.

Donatello is Doc Brown: You throw it to him any time you need to explain something or build something. I hope it doesn’t sound too formulaic when I put it this way. I could go deeper, but then this paragraph would never end!

Since you’re a writer for the Nickelodeon “TMNT” animated series, do you have plans to plant any seeds in the show that might blossom in the comic book or vice-versa?

Not exactly. For one thing, by the time I started writing the comic, I’d already finished my time on the show. Also, since the comic and the show are produced on such different timelines, it’s impossible to predict how they’re going to sync up.

But the comic book can expand on the world of the show. For example, the top-secret military junkyard in the first issue is the one Donnie mentioned in the episode “I Think His Name is Baxter Stockman,” where he found the experimental AI chip that powered the tPod and later the StockmanPod. So in a way, that’s a seed that was planted by the show, although at the time I didn’t know we were planting it.

What are some of your favorite classic “TMNT” comics or TV episodes?

My favorite “TMNT” properties growing up were the movies and the video games. I saw all three live-action films in the theater, and I played a lot of the Turtles arcade game and “Turtles in Time.” To be honest, I actually didn’t watch the show that much. As a kid, I was an oddly tough sell when it came to suspending disbelief. The movies felt more grounded in reality, so it was easier for me to get on board. But the cartoon was too silly for me. I always found Krang baffling. I couldn’t figure out what he was supposed to be or why he was there. I guess I was not a fun kid. It wasn’t until I got older, and started to get sick of the dark and gritty take on everything, that I was able to just let go and accept all the comic-book-y craziness for what it is.

What’s your favorite aspect of the Turtles mythology overall?

Just how imaginative it is. The mythology includes so much weird stuff from so many different influences that no matter what kind of story you want to tell or what kind of villain you want to create, you can get there somehow. There’s sci-fi, horror, action, comedy, superheroes, everything.

On the show, one of our producers studied ninjutsu, and his sensei was our advisor, so I really enjoyed exploring that aspect of the mythology. Ninja were completely ruthless. It was all about using deception to win by any means necessary. You don’t train to be stealthy because you’re looking for a fair fight. Now, the Turtles are heroes on a kids’ show, so they’re not going to run around killing all their enemies. But they can be fighting on the side of good and still embody a more authentic ninja approach, which you see in the show when Splinter teaches unexpected lessons like “Seek victory, not fairness.” It’s fun to find places where you can inject a little of that specificity.

“New Animated Adventures” is your first comic book work. What led you to try your hand at comics?

I grew up on “Archie,” then “Batman,” then “Sandman,” manga, all the major graphic novels that everybody reads. It’s a wonderful medium that I’ve gotten so much enjoyment from over the years. Even though I wasn’t actively pursuing comics work, I always hoped I’d get a chance to take a crack at it one day. When I heard about the tie-in comic, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to dip my toe into the comics world, and, fortunately, the editors were very receptive.

There’s a video of you self-promoting your “TMNT” TV work on the street at Comic-Con International in San Diego last year. How important do you think it is for writers to push their own material in the digital age? Is it enough to rely on the studio hype machine anymore?

The studio hype machine is great. I highly recommend it. If you have one at your disposal, let them do their thing. We never felt like the success of “TMNT” was riding on our Comic-Con video. That was just for fun, a way for us to bask in the excitement of having worked on this massive franchise, and fortunately, Nick was cool with it.

But if you’re working on a smaller project without a hype machine behind you, or just trying to establish yourself, then yeah, self-promotion is crucial. Acting like a clown on YouTube isn’t the only way to do that, but it’s one way. Writers have always had to promote themselves, but now we have new tools at our disposal. I predict that the more common this online self-promotion becomes, the more important it will be, because you’ll have to compete with everyone else who’s putting themselves out there. It will be pretty horrible.

Finally, do you have any other TV or comic projects coming up?

I wrote for “Family Tools,” a new comedy that just premiered on ABC and is already cancelled. If they don’t air all our episodes, look for them on Hulu, maybe! I’m doing some work on a friend’s new PBS show where kids solve paranormal mysteries using math. And my wife and I just had our first baby, so I’m constantly posting new baby videos on Vine.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: New Animated Adventures” #1 by Kenny Byerly and Dario Brizuela is out this July from IDW Publishing.

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