Whether it’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” or “Heavy Metal” magazine; animation or live-action film, Kevin Eastman has had an incredible creative career. Now, he expands his creativity to video games in a special prequel comic for “Strife,” the upcoming second-generation Massive Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game from developer S2 Games.
“Strife” is a fantasy world with incredible character design and a rich, fantasy world that helps bring a depth of story to the competitive nature of MOBAs, an aspect that helps acclimate new players to the genre and attract different types of fans. Using the world and player characters (known as “heroes”) of “Strife,” Eastman has constructed a special preview comic that gives more voice and life to the rich world created by S2 Games.
CBR News had the opportunity to speak with Eastman during PAX Prime, picking his brain about the crossover appeal of the game as a whole, the strength of the “Strife” character designs, the intricate process of helping to expand a world mythology and more. Plus, an update on Jonathan Liebsman’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” live-action film.
Kevin, you have many different creative irons in the fire. What appealed to you about doing a prequel comic for “Strife?”
Kevin Eastman: To me, the most interesting thing is always the creative. Even when I was invited by IDW to come back and work with them on the new “Turtles” series, what I loved most about it was what Tom Waltz was doing creatively. When I was introduced to the world of “Strife” and [S2 Games Lead Creative Developer] Chad LaForce started showing me the entire world, I just loved it, I fell in love with it. I’m a huge “Lord of the Rings” fan, “Game of Thrones,” alternate dimensions, universes, and places they can create new and interesting characters and give them substance. That’s what’s really attracted me — the concept, the visuals and the characters.
Are you big into video games? Do you play any in your spare time?
You know, I’d love to say yes. I love the medium, I look at a lot of the gameplay — I like to read the gaming magazines, we have a 7-year-old that shows me more about gaming than he should know at that age. I had to decide early on, because I know when I started to play games when I was younger, suddenly three or four hours would go by that I should have been drawing instead of playing games, so I had to make the decision: play games or draw. I chose the drawing option, but I like to be in tune with the world because whether you’re talking about comic books, movies or video games, the level of creativity and enthusiasm in each of those is so strong and so powerful and specific and original, it’s a great place to mine a lot of ideas.
You’re obviously a very creative guy, you enjoyed a lengthy creative career, working in so many different mediums. For a creative idea like “Strife,” what’s your approach to building off of this world and creating a story that has your flair? How do you take an existing IP and put your own spin on it?
A lot of it has to do with getting to know the world. I published “Heavy Metal” magazine for 22 years now, and what I love about “Heavy Metal,” because of its moniker, you can have film noir, period pieces, spaghetti westerns, science fiction and each of the European artists that build each of these individual story lines sometimes can take five, six, ten years to build this whole universe. Once you fall in love with a story — like “Lord of the Rings” or even people that fall in love with the Turtles — they come up with their own characters to add to it. “I see you’ve done this, but you haven’t done that.” When I looked at the world of “Strife,” it was the same way. I was trying to digest everything that they’ve done and it’s vast and deep, so I try to find my own little spin — what can I do to bring another interesting idea to a world I think is so well-developed? You really need to know it before you add to it.
Tell us a bit about the actual story you’ve crafted for the prequel comic. Who are the main players and what’s the general story?
The cool part about it is when you build the world, it’s like building “Star Wars.” You want to find an entry point. What we wanted to do with the comic specifically was to try to make a very specific, almost — I don’t want to say “simplified” — but it’s almost a simplified introduction. You get to meet some of the key characters at a very basic level, and that’s what we found with the comic book. We could take some comic fans and bring them to the gaming world. I think gamers sometimes are used to looking at and reading a more massive world very quickly and trying to find their place within that world. We want to give other fans — comic fans specifically — an entry point. Our approach was simplifying, focusing on key characters and giving them an entry point.
You’ve actually cut to the heart of one of the major draws of the game itself: it seems to be very accessible. For comics fans, the character designs are very strong. When you were approached with the character designs, what did you feel were their biggest strengths? What did you think made these characters identifiable?
You almost answered the question yourself. What I liked about it was — to me, you could send me a ream of text, but until I see the visual, until I see what the characters looked like, that to me was what was going to make it click or not click. What I liked about it was it’s period to an extent, but it’s alternate dimensional as well. You can say, “Oh, that’s ‘Lord of the Rings’-y” or “That’s medieval-like,” or, “That’s sci-fi-like.” This has been put into a blender and you get a mixture of all of them. I think that is what captured me initially out of the gate. The character visuals are very individual. Rook is easily my favorite, but Midnight is great, Minerva is fantastic — you look at a superhero costume, you either like it or you don’t. When I looked at these characters, I liked them and I wanted to know more about them. That’s what attracted me, the visual aspect.
One of the things you did so well with the original design of the Turtles was giving four distinct personalities with characters that looked very similar to each other. In “Strife,” there are many character that are very visually distinctive in their own way. What about these characters can you really latch on to in order to help distinguish their personalities beyond the character sheets you were given?
Besides the visual aspect, I grew up and read the “Avengers.” That was my comic book growing up. I loved the X-Men, I loved the Fantastic Four, I loved the superhero groups. What was intriguing about those and what Peter [Laird] and I put into the original Turtles story was — Wolverine is our Raphael. Cyclops is like our Leonardo. There was always a leader, there was always a rogue, there was always a mechanic and there was always these different personalities. You can find that whether you’re talking about a comic book or a playground. There’s kids that hang together that have these personalities and make up a group, and I think they have their own specific style and their own specific look, but it ends up being the strength of character that brings out the full personality. That’s what I liked about “Strife.” The characters have distinctive looks, distinctive characters and distinctive personalities. It gives you the opportunity to mix and match combinations and come up with a unique group that works as a whole dynamic, and you need that dynamic. People have families in their own right and that’s how they work together as a unit. They don’t always love each other — they don’t even like each other, but they still have to work together.
That’s an interesting parallel to gaming groups — specifically, the type of groups that might get together to play a MOBA.
[Laughs] It does.
Does your son play MOBAs at all? Is he at that age?
He’s 7, but I’m constantly stunned at watching the stuff that he plays. We were camping this weekend and he was showing a friend of ours some things on his iPad, and all I could think of was “Minority Report.” He’s just like that far away from running the whole universe in the air from our living room. He can already outdo me with what he has in his ability. We need him to learn Spanish and we’re set for life.
He’s always like, “Dad, look at this,” and I’m like, “How did you do that?!” It’s a long way around, so [he hasn’t gotten into MOBAs] yet, but I’m scared for when he does.
Speaking of technology, you’ve had a chance to see storytelling mediums progress from printed paper all the way up to the digital medium. As the technology has progressed, how do you feel storytelling has risen to match it?
You know, I think what’s been fantastic is — I have been around long enough to see the technology sort of outgrow the ability of people using it, but much like the first guys painting on rock walls or the guys that figured out oil paints, you have a spurt and people catch up. I’ve done work with animation studios — my favorite company in the world is an animation studio called Blur Animation. When I see these guys do what I can only try to do with pencil, ink and paint — what these guys are doing on a tablet just blows my mind because it’s so fantastic. To them, it doesn’t matter if it’s a pencil or a brush or a Wacom tablet, it’s still a tool and if you have it in the right hands of the right artist, it’s shared genius and it’s shared magic. When I look at some of the stuff they’ve done on “Strife,” I can’t draw that well, but I love that there are guys that can do that and make the world come to life and be believable.
When you look at movies like “X-Men” when it first came out and you evolve to “The Avengers,” we couldn’t have done that until then. It wasn’t believable until technology allowed us to tell the story in that way. It’s everything we’ve ever dreamed about. So these guys are fulfilling those dreams and those fantasies and it’s cool.
Does it excite you to keep telling stories as these new technologies keep evolving?
It’s a very exciting challenge, but my process hasn’t changed. Even being introduced to the world of “Strife,” I had to learn the world, understand the world and figure out a way to tell a story within that world. Much like the Turtles or anything else I’ve done, you have to create a universe that you know better than anybody else. Action creates reaction, creates action. It’s an ebb and flow. Once you understand the environment and the characters and you set these things in motion, the story almost tells itself. So my mechanics of storytelling haven’t really changed very much. I’m a consumer of all kinds of entertainment, which gives you more ideas to feed into the machine and make more interesting stories.
How are things progressing on the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie?
I think it’s fantastic. I was just in New York, I did my cameo in the movie, it was fantastic and exciting. When Michael Bay took the project on on behalf of Paramount and they brought in Jonathan Liebsman, Jonathan sought me out and wanted me to explain the Turtles universe to him and help him understand the universe and try to tell a good story in it. His concern was telling a good story, but also, he’s a big geek like me. We were all, “What’s your favorite martial arts movie?” “‘Fist of Legend!'” “‘Great Redemption.'” Our audience is so sophisticated, they’re consumers of all that same stuff. We have to find our same but different approach, but make it more interesting; try to show them something they haven’t seen before. That lent it to that concept of what we could do to create a new and interesting look, a new way to show respect for the marital arts form — because you can’t make shit up, fans know all that — and still tell a great story. It was a challenge. That fed the whole rest of the creativity for the movie. They embraced it, they wanted to make it a great movie with a great story and I think they’ve done an incredible job.
Stay tuned for CBR’s hands-on with “Strife” and interview with S2 Games CEO Marc DeForest later this week.