This June, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” co-creator Kevin Eastman goes solo, tackling both writing and art chores for IDW Publishing’s “TMNT Annual 2014.” Eastman, sans co-creator Peter Laird, has been back at the “Turtles” helm since re-launching his signature in 2011, working alongside writer Tom Waltz and editor Bobby Curnow, but this will be the first time since returning to the characters that he’s created an entire comic, top to bottom.
Eastman spoke with CBR News about the annual’s story, revealing which classic “Turtles” adversary is finally making an appearance in the current continuity, opening up about why he sold “Heavy Metal” magazine, explaining why the idea of family is key to the TMNT concept, his own relationship with his seven-year-old son and much more.
CBR News: Kevin, your biggest IDW “Turtles” story to date, “City Fall,” ended recently and many consider it to be the best arc yet. I assume you were you happy with how it turned out.
Kevin Eastman: Are you kidding me? Yeah! One of my favorite things about working with IDW is [“TMNT” writer] Tom Waltz and [editor] Bobby Curnow. Tom knows what he wants to do for the first 50 issues, and there’s this wonderful, organic path they weave through every single aspect of the “Turtles” universe to get there. From the first series I did with Peter Laird to the animation series to the movies. By the time we got to “City Fall,” it was easily the best time I’ve ever had on the series since the first few issues I did with Peter. By the time we got done with “City Fall,” we were wondering what we were going to do next! At the same time, we’ve set up so many ideas and so many directions that there’s so many ways we could take this thing.
Let’s get down to it, then: What’s in store for the Turtles in “TMNT Annual 2014?”
One of my personal favorite characters was Renet, which we brought in to “Turtles” #8, the original one. It was the big Dave Sim “Cerebus” crossover. It’s a character I’ve always wanted to bring back, and this annual is an opportunity to do that. It offers an opportunity to spin off a storyline and a plot we might not otherwise have explored [in the main series.] We wanted to pick a moment in time and have Renet return and take the “Turtles” to a place they’ve never imagined and never expected.
I get to explore a character I haven’t written or addressed since, and I’m scaring myself here, the late ’80s! It’s been fun to go back and play with that character again and see where it takes me.
This story takes place after “City Fall.” When I pitched the idea, it was to fall outside the current ongoing series we’re doing, but also relate to it in a couple ways. Renet comes in at a point when the Turtles have finished their Northampton trip and have rehabilitated a bit after what happened in “City Fall.” We kept it purposefully outside the main series so fans can still enjoy that series without having to get this, but this will still relate in a few ways. For lack of a better term, it’s a fun distraction.
This is a bit more light-hearted, more comedic than what we usually do. If you look back at the first issue #8 of “Turtles” I did with Peter it was a funnier, more comical storyline than what we did in issue #7. It was more silly than serious.
[With my art in this issue] I want to tip my hat to the shoulders of the giants I stand on with my art. That’s Jack Kirby. That’s Roy Thomas, who did the original “Conan” series. All the artists who inspired me when I was younger.
I’m looking at the cover now, and it totally gives off that epic, fantasy, metal-warrior “Conan” vibe. It could be the cover to an issue of “Heavy Metal.”
Oh, man, totally. If I didn’t have Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas and Richard Corben in my life, where would I be? My love of comics is deep and far-reaching. I have a 7-year-old now, and when he looks at some of the comics I had as a kid, he loves part of them. But to me they were the Holy Grail of coolness! So to be able to go back and re-visit my childhood is great. To do these stories now is nothing more than my thanks to the guys who inspired me and got me to pick up a pencil and draw in the first place. To be able to make a character that has some resonance with to what Barry Windsor-Smith and Roy Thomas did with the “Conan” series has been a blast to say the least.
Also, the first “Turtles” annual [in 2012] is the longest story I’ve written and drawn all by myself. In years past I’ve been able to work with the incredible Peter Laird and all sorts of talented artists, but the first “Turtles” annual, all 50 pages, was just me. I’ve never done a story of that length, and it sort of made me realize why I love comics in the first place. So when I’m now chest-deep in the second annual, it’s been the same invigoration and inspiration. I mean, wow! This is so cool! I get to draw comics for a living.
What does your 7-year-old think about comics?
Here’s a funny side-story. His brother works in food service. He has a great job and he’s a great kid. My son is a big fan of his. So one day he says to me, ‘Dad you don’t have a real job — you just sit home and draw turtles all day. You don’t actually go out and work like other people do!’ [Laughs]
But at the same time, he loves that I draw. He draws, himself. He’s always sketching and doodling. It’s kind of funny, because I look at some of the stuff he does for school, and he stays in the lines. He has the same instincts as me, of making things look like a finished comic book. So he sort of loves it, but doesn’t know he loves it as much as he does.
When his friends come over, they think it’s so cool his dad draws the “Turtles.” And he goes, “Yeah, that’s kinda cool, but that’s just what he does. He stays home all the time, cooks breakfast, drops me off at school, picks me up, we have fun and play basketball.” It’s just normal to him. Some dads go off to work, and some go upstairs and draw.
It’s kinda funny. When I was 7 years old, I was hunting down Jack Kirby’s “Kamandi,” that kind of stuff. I try to nudge him this way and that way, but kids have to find their own path. He sees the comic books and the toys I have. My studio is a combination of a studio and a comic book store stuffed into one room. He loves it, but doesn’t completely relate to it.
Family is something that seems to be pretty important to the Turtles, too. The entire series has mostly been about the Turtles becoming a family. Shredder even made his own comments about family in the finale to “City Fall,” saying “family is something that has to be earned.” How important is family as a central theme to “TMNT?”
Peter and I grew up as misfits. I was a fat, geeky kid in high school and grade school. I just loved comic books. I had my misfit family, which was a small group of people that loved the same things I loved. Peter grew up, in many ways, the same way. I worked at a pizza place in high school, and the people there became my family. My family was a bunch of misfits. A surrogate family. You care about them.
I loved comic books like “Fantastic Four” and “The X-Men,” where they became a misfit family that loved and protected each other. When we did the first issue of “Turtles,” we wanted to have that same kind of vibe. Through this bizarre mutation, whether they were real brothers or not, they became brothers in the end, and we had this wonderful father of the year called Splinter who guided his sons to be all they could be. Along the way, they added a sister/mother character in April, and a crazy big brother everybody loves in Casey. The family aspect has always been very important.
Half the time, your real family is crazy, too. Every family has crazy aunts and crazy uncles and crazy brothers and sisters. For better or worse, you love them for what they are and you want to protect them. To enjoy their journey as much as you enjoy your own. It was important to the original series, and Tom Waltz has grasped on to it for this one, too.
Let’s talk about “Heavy Metal.” You recently gave up ownership of the legendary fantasy anthology, but you’re staying on as editor and publisher. You ran that beast for two decades strong as owner, and have often spoken of how much it influenced you as an artist. How were you able to come to the decision to let it go?
“Heavy Metal” inspired me to create the “Turtles,” and because of the creation of the “Turtles,” it allowed me to buy “Heavy Metal.” When I was younger, so many comics were being written for a younger audience, but then along comes “Heavy Metal.” It introduced me to European artists like Moebius, Jodorowsky and so many others, as well as American artists like Richard Corben. That led me to discover self-publishing and underground comics.
So anyways, from the success of the “Turtles,” I was able to buy “Heavy Metal” when it became available. It was an absolute dream project. I worked on the re-release of the original “Heavy Metal” movie. I did a very terrible second movie, “Heavy Metal 2000.” We had a tiny little staff of about six people for the last 21 years. But I’ve always wanted to see “Heavy Metal” grow into something more.
“Heavy Metal” should be one of those companies that is every artist’s goal. Every artist’s dream. Everybody should want to be part of it and celebrate the art form. So when someone came along and said they wanted to invest in it and make it the way I always wanted it to be, I just had to see it. “Heavy Metal’s” always been a tiny little company, incredibly underfunded. When I tell you there’s a six person staff including me, I’m not joking.
Marvel and DC artists are always coming up to me saying, “Oh man, I have the coolest idea for a ‘Heavy Metal’ story!” That’s the dream for me, and the dream for the new owners. Bring us your dream, your cool idea, your comic you’ve always wanted to do. You can still draw “Spider-Man” to pay the bills, but if you have something that is all your own, whether it’s a 4-page story or a 40-page story, bring it to us. And we’re very, very, very creator friendly. We’re gonna have a hell of a lot of fun over the next few years.
What’s the status of the Robert Rodriguez “Heavy Metal” film we talked about last year?
When I met Robert, we almost became friends first, before finding a series of business opportunities that we’d like to explore together. And dude, I have to tell you, I’ve worked pretty much every second I’ve been awake, but I think this guy works harder. He’s always doing something, always has a number of side projects going.
Robert and I had a particular vision for the movie we wanted to see. We wanted to give some love to the things we were inspired by. But it’s not the same business model that Hollywood wants. The things that we envisioned didn’t seem to work for a lot of Hollywood executives so we just weren’t able to get enough funding for the kinds of things we wanted to do. We just weren’t able to find a proper home for the property. So everything’s still in the works and up in the air, in a good way.
I love Robert. He’s just the coolest guy ever. Half my time with him was in a studio in LA, right next to my house. He would come over at like 1:00 in the morning to watch animation together, and we’d come up with ideas for stories. Like a couple of school kids living out their fantasies. But without the money to actually do it, it doesn’t always work out! [Laughs]
Switching gears, the new “TMNT” movie isn’t far away. What’s it like to finally it opening just around the corner?
It’s been a four, almost five-year journey to bring the next “Turtles” movie to life since the time we pitched it. I know everybody is like, “Oh, Michael Bay, Michael Bay, Michael Bay, he’s gonna ruin it! He’s gonna destroy it!” But everyone I have encountered has been nothing more than incredibly sincere to try and bring the Turtles back in a way that’s new, fresh and exciting, but with total respect to everything that’s come before. I’ve read the script. I have a cameo in the move. It’s awesome — really fun.
What they’ve done with the film is going to make fans incredibly happy, including myself. The vision is awesome, the effects are incredible and the story will be something everybody can relate to and like. I’ll leave it out there for the fans to let us know what they like in the end, but I’m very proud to be part of it. A lot of people are going to be surprised.
Any parting words for fans?
I’d just like to say I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for 30 years. May 5 is the official 30th anniversary of the first “Turtles” comic. It’s such an honor and a blessing and it’s pretty fantastic.
“TMNT Annual 2014” by Kevin Eastman is out this June from IDW Publishing.