Since its debut as a black-and-white indie one-shot in 1984, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” has grown into a major cultural phenomenon — one that, at times, has veered far from co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s original vision for the reptilian heroes, but one that has also sustained itself for nearly 30 years and captivated fans of all ages through comics, a hugely popular cartoon, live-action films and more. Nickelodeon, the ubiquitous children’s network, purchased all rights to “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (“TMNT” for short) in 2009 and will air a new animated series in 2012, the third cartoon series featuring Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael and Leonardo.
On August 24, though, the Turtles return to comics at IDW Publishing, with co-creator Kevin Eastman co-writing, doing page layouts and providing variant covers. The new ongoing series is scripted by Tom Waltz with art by Dan Duncan, and the first two issues will feature covers by Walter Simonson and Sam Kieth. Comic Book Resources spoke with Eastman about the evolution of “TMNT,” his long-awaited return to his creation and his role in the new ongoing series.
Eastman, who sold his stake in “TMNT” in 2000 and now owns and operates the comics magazine “Heavy Metal” as well as its eponymous publishing operation, said it has been “beyond awesome” to work on the Turtles again after so much time away. “I honestly didn’t realize how much I had missed them!” he admitted. “The last TMNT comic project I worked on was with Simon Bisley in 1995/1996 on a book called ‘Bodycount’ — which was published by my good friend Erik Larsen.
“I am so happy to be back, and especially thrilled to be working with such a wonderful creative and talent writing/art/production team at IDW,” Eastman continued. “The whole gang is great!”
Given that his co-writing and layout duties will be Eastman’s first direct involvement with the Turtles in 15 years, CBR News asked for his thoughts on the property’s changes and evolution over the intervening years. “Oddly enough, I have always kind of been around them, even though I haven’t been directly working on them since selling my interest out to my bro and co-creator Peter Laird,” Eastman said. “Besides, in addition to some of the projects I have published through my Heavy Metal company — like the ‘Artobiography,’ the ‘Bodycount’ collection and my ’25th Anniversary’ collection (the last two were specifically under license from Mirage Studios) — I have also done a bunch of behind-the-scenes consulting on different entertainment projects here in Hollywood, which usually asked for my two cents and I’d gladly contribute, whether it was used or not.
“I think how they have evolved is wonderful on a wide variety of levels,” Eastman went on. “Like other mainstream characters that have been around for 27 years, there are lots of great creative teams that come and go off the property, each with unique and wonderful ideas — and a lot of times geared for different audiences. So, for example, my 5-year-old and I both love TMNT, even though his favorites are the kids’ versions of our characters, while I like the more adult versions.
“I really do enjoy all the different versions, just for the heart and soul and good intentions — not to mention the hard work — that go into bringing those stories to life.”
For all that “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” can be, then — it has been around long enough for people to have grown up with it on TV yet it also gets new batches of kids hooked with regular new series, and there are comics which have also been published consistently through the years but have often been darker than what fans of the cartoon might expect — Eastman’s perspective on the heroes has remained consistent. “If I am telling a TMNT story, I’m going to tell it the way that I want to read it, or simply make it the kind of story I think they should be in, acting and reacting the way I think they should,” he offered. “Like I said, I like what other people see in them — they teach me things about my own characters that even I don’t know or realize, or take me (and them) to places I never imagined — and that is totally cool.
“I look at it like reading ‘Daredevil’ when I was growing up,” Eastman continued. “Some stories and some artists I like better than others, but what I liked was the character(s) in the story — mainly a hero I dug called DD — and was willing to take the ride and see where it led me, good or bad. I always bought the next issue to find out what would happen next. I guess ‘TMNT’ has become that kind of property…”
The fact that Eastman was still in the loop with current “TMNT” projects meant he was ready to jump in when the call came from IDW. “I think around the time I was called in and started playing around with some sketches and notes on one of the entertainment projects, I re-found my love of drawing them — something I would always do a ton of at comic conventions, anyway,” he said. “And as things that are meant to be go, the comic option came up through my longtime friend Ted Adams’ IDW — via editor/buddy Scott Dunbier, who made the offer. The timing was right and I jumped on it, especially after reading what Tom Waltz had in mind creatively.”
For the relaunch, Eastman is involved in both the writing and the art for this series, collaborating with Waltz and Dan Duncan, respectively, a combo Eastman described as an “awesome, simply awesome team.”
“I met Tom via his proposal first, then on my first trip down to the IDW office,” Eastman recalled. “He’s a great talent and really created an incredible vision for the TMNTs as a jumping-off point into IDW’s re-invention, re-imagining of the universe — but in a way that to me holds very true to the original spirit Peter and I worked in back in the day. He gives me more credit than I deserve in the writing; he nailed it from day one, but he gets to stand in the middle of all the ‘TMNT’ work that has come before — he gets to pull from everywhere, and pick the stuff he likes the most to work from — and I am flattered he likes the oldest/original work the best.
“I love working with him, and on the art side, having first been a big fan of Dan’s artwork then meeting the guy, I am floored at his drive and skill,” Eastman continued. “He really does remind me a bit of the same great qualities as Alex Toth. Add Ronda [Pattison]’s coloring into the mix, and I think the series is exceptional on every level — fans new and old I think will fall fast and hard for this new series.”
Eastman will also be providing variant covers for the first several issues, which he said will be iconic images of Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo. “The idea originally was to just have me do some awesome group shots for alternative covers, and let Dan do the story-specific ones — which made it all the more fun for me, I got to play it fast and loose — although I decided I wanted to do them all as classic rooftop shots of the guys, my favorite (and the fans’ too, I believe),” he said. “And hell, it’s Kevin Eastman back on the front of a new ‘TMNT’ book for the first time in 15 years. I’d hoped the fans didn’t completely forget about me, and they haven’t let me down. I hear the pre-sales have been positive! Woo!”
IDW has also lined up some pretty big names for the regular covers, including Sam Kieth and Walter Simonson. Eastman “can’t freaking wait” to see these artists’ takes on the characters he created. “I love Walter Simonson — I put him up there with legends like Jack Kirby,” he said. “Sam and I came up around the same time, and I have always been a huge fan of everything he’s done. A total honor for me, really.”
While Eastman was reluctant to say much about the first arc’s story, which introduces the new villain Old Hob, he did say that “a lot of folks will be surprised by some of the edge you’ll find — Tom didn’t pull any punches in his pitch — and [Nickelodeon] has supported it all the way through!
“I am so impressed — I think the entire effort has been a big, big tip of the hat to all the ‘original TMNT’ fans,” Eastman concluded, “and it is all in a direction that will allow new fans to jump on board without needed to have read a single issue of all that came before.
“I look forward to hearing what you think after you read it…”