Half of the team who co-created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continues to lend his talents to IDW‘s new adventures of the amphibious foursome. And thought he and Peter Laird long ago sold their ownership of the pop culture phenomenon, Kevin Eastman has no intentions of leaving his creations behind.
With the launch of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Universe” #1, the planets aligned perfectly for Eastman to team up with longtime friend and fellow legendary creator Bill Sienkewicz. Together, the pair have crafted a back-up story, focusing on Leonardo, that will unfold across the ongoing’s first five issues.
Though not readily apparent in the first installment, their story will shine the spotlight on the blue-clad turtle as he attempts to get his head back on straight after surviving a brainwashing attempt by Shredder. And for longtime Turtles fan, Eastman and company have reached all the way back to the original solo Leonardo one-shot he and Laird released in the ’80s, adapting the story to fit into the modern TMNT comic book universe.
CBR News: How long have you known Bill, and did that directly lead to you working together on this project?
Kevin Eastman: Bill is one of the coolest guys on the planet. He’s somebody [I met] back in the early days when Pete and I would go to conventions — especially New York conventions back when they were simple shows right next to Madison Square Gardens. From the earliest days we met Bill, I think it was after “Moon Knight” and around the time he was starting on “Elektra,” he was just a creator.
He was just an artist like anybody else. We bonded over being goofballs, I guess, being friends and fans of Neal Adams and Jack Kirby and so many other influences. I always call them the shoulders we stand on, giants, because without them, we would not have the careers that we have. We just got to be friends. We’d do a show and it would be, “Hey, how are you?” There was always a desire to work together on something, but it never presented itself until now.
Was this a story that you specifically scripted for Bill, or a story you’d had in mind for a while?
I’m lucky enough to work with the incredible Tom Waltz, who’s the head writer on all things Turtles at IDW, and Bobby Curnow, the editor who contributes way more story ideas and plot points than he takes credit for.
How this evolved was, we were all huge fans of the original Leonardo one-shot we did back in the day when Pete and I did a series of single issues featuring the individual Turtles. We were all huge fans of this Leonardo one-shot and really wanted to re-draw it, re-tell it or adapt it to what I call the IDW Universe that Tom built. We have these mind meld sessions where we’ll sit around, talk about plots, where we want the issues, how we want things to evolve and we just kept coming back to this Leonardo one-shot.
Around that time, I’d been talking to Bill, like, “We have to work together. We’ve been threatening the working together idea for, what, 20 years?” I said, “How about if I script with Tom and Bobby, and do the layouts, and then you do the finishes of something Turtle-wise.” And he jumped in with both feet and said, “This should be awesome!” That’s how it evolved. It was a happy accident, perfect timing in that he was available — I mean, I can’t imagine what his schedule is like, but he happened to be available at the same time that we had this idea for the story. It really was a perfect storm to make this happen.
Did you change the story to hit some more of Bill’s strengths after he signed on?
When I work with Tom and Bobby, I feel like we’re very lucky to have the fans, but we write the stories for ourselves, the kind of stories we like to tell and read, personally. If everybody tags along with us, then we all win! With this particular story, when we presented the idea to Bill, we said, “This is the kind of story we’d like to do, would you be interested?” Nothing changed. It was a happy accident in that it was a great idea that certainly suited his style and sensibilities. It was a story, first, and Bill just makes it look even cooler.
Bill’s panels and pages almost trick you into seeing movement, a kinetic energy that perfectly matches this story, because it’s Leonardo jumping across rooftops and fighting increasingly powerful enemies.
The first Leonardo one-shot was just Pete and I having this idea of doing a Turtle adventure, with Leonardo fighting for his life. There would be no dialog extraneous to the story, except the bottom part where Pete did this great layout series of the Turtles getting ready for a typical Christmas, if you will, and how they dovetailed together. So, when we said, “How can we do this? How can we top it? How can we make it more influential to what’s going on in the current IDW Universe?” I had this idea. If we could only find somebody to make it look really cool, let’s tell a great story. Then Bill signed on and, my goodness, I think the fans are going to freak out when they see it.
The first part of the story features Leonardo and the Foot Soldiers, and then some more advanced villains. What was the design process like between you and Bill for those characters?
We did some back and forth. I sent him the idea of what I was thinking about after Tom, Bobby and I sorted out what the story needed to accomplish. We did this series called City Fall [which ran in “TMNT” #21-28] where Leonardo was brainwashed into believing that he was Shredder’s son. Him dealing with that brainwashing is a story element that we’ll deal with later on. We’re going to do four-page segments in each of the first five “TMNT: Universe” issues [asking] what if he’s going through the process of retraining himself and dealing with an inner-mind battle, if you will?
We start it off where people might think it’s a traditional Turtle story with ninjas, a rooftop battle and Foot Soldiers. Where we take it from there is going to be more and more twisted as each segment goes on. By the time you get to the fifth and final part, you’re going to be blown away by what we’re doing with this story of what this Turtle has to accomplish.
Would it be fair to say that more familiar faces will appear as the story moves on?
That’s the fun part, because the whole story’s based on a battle that takes place within Leonard’s mind. He’ll touch on everybody that’s been… I’m trying to seed my words carefully. It’s going to touch on every character from the Turtles, good, bad and ugly, from the last 62 issues. You’ll see a few surprises, a few bad guys, familiar faces and a lot of twisted ideas that he has to deal with. [Laughs] I feel like I’m blowing it, but you’ll see some interesting stuff from the past, present and future.
If you’re going to go deep and get twisted, who better to have drawing the story than Bill Sienkiewicz?
There are a lot of different Turtle Universes, but the IDW one is my favorite. This definitely ties into the ongoing storylines, but is also an idea that could push some thoughts and crazy ideas, and go some different places that we couldn’t go in the regular ongoing. That’s why Bill came to mind, straight out of the box. I said, “Look, this is going to give you a place to stretch and do some crazy things within the Turtle Universe, and me as well, as a writer and layout artist.”
Maybe you’ve already got this planned out, but do you think this will lead to more collaborations with Bill, either in this book or other projects?
Man, I hope so. Bill is an icon. He’s a legend. I’ve been a fan of his work since the early “Moon Knight” days. Just watching everything he’s done, from “Stray Toasters” to “Big Numbers” to “The New Mutants.” A lot of times when people ask about [the origins of] Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, there’s obviously the Dave Sim influence of a parody comic drawn in a Frank Miller style, but “New Mutants” was all the rage around the time that Pete and I were first collaborating on the Turtles.
“New Mutants” was definitely an influence on the “mutant” part of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so the chance to work with him has been an absolute dream come true. I do my sketches, I do my drawings, I do my layouts and co-write the stories, and just wait for the pages to roll in from Bill and go, “Man, I have to learn how to draw again.” [Laughs] His stuff just flows so energetically and he has this way of storytelling that is all his own. I hope we can do something else together one day soon.
You’ve seen a lot of people draw the Turtles over the years, but it sounds like you still get a thrill seeing Bill’s take on the characters.
Whether it be Peter Laird working on Turtles, or Simon Bisley, there have been incredible artists on the Turtles, but to have a chance to have Bill bring his vision to these characters is like… Not like, it is working with a legend. He’s got his own style and his own thing, and it’s been fantastic. I hope the Turtles fans love it as much as we’ve had fun doing it. Hopefully, there’s more to come.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Universe #1 from IDW is on sale now.
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