Less than two years ago, IDW Publishing made their mark on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and began their own TMNT continuity for an all-new audience. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” overseen and co-plotted by Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman, includes a supplement “Micro-Series” of one-shot stories spotlighting the major players in the new IDW Universe. In December, IDW releases “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Secret History of the Foot Clan,” a 4-issue miniseries by writers Mateus Santolouco and Erik Burnham with artwork by Santolouco, which tells the origin of the Turtles’ sworn enemy the Shredder and his ninja Foot Clan in feudal Japan.
By going back in time, the creative team expands on themes Santolouco drew in IDW’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” #5 and Burnham wrote in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Micro-Series: Splinter” #5. Both issues featured past-lives versions of the four Turtles, Oroko Saki (Shredder) and Hamato Yoshi (Splinter), establishing the theme of reincarnation as a key point in the series.
CBR News spoke with Burnham and Santolouco about revealing the secret origin of the Foot Clan, on the central theme of reincarnation in their story, their own fascination with Japanese history, special guest appearances and more.
CBR News: Mateus, Erik — not much information is out there on “Secret HIstory of the Foot Clan.” What’s the core concept and where does it pick up in IDW continuity?
Mateus Santolouco: Oroko Saki is still alive and the Turtles are doing all the research they can to learn how this is even possible. They get acquainted with the work of Doctor Patrick Miller, who has discovered ancient Japanese artifacts which may reveal the origins of this legendary ninja clan — and maybe the secret to Shredder’s longevity. While we follow the Turtles and company in search of these secrets, we dive deep into the Foot Clan’s origins before Hamato Yoshi and Saki, learning how Shredder rose to power and to — immortality?
Erik Burnham: Like Mateus said, this is Saki’s story as much as the Foot Clan’s and we get to see him in ways he’s not typically shown. Have you ever seen the fearsome Shredder as a toddler? I thought not. Mateus came up with a fantastic story, and what I like most is how he shows Hamato Yoshi was not the only person in the TMNT mythos IDW is building who faces a tragic end as a result of trying to do the right and honorable thing. It’s a great bit of dramatic meat to chew on.
Has this other person who pays the price for being honorable been re-incarnated into the modern day story?
Santolouco: No, at least not in this miniseries. It’s up to IDW to use this character again in the future, re-incarnated or not. I will say this — incarnations and re-incarnations play an important part on this story.
How does it feel to write the origin of such a staple villainous entity in the TMNT mythos? Do you feel any pressure?
Santolouco: It feels great! I’m so passionate about this project that I don’t have any room to feel pressure or anxiety. Since my first contact with IDW I’ve tried to push my way into having a creative voice on the TMNT. Luckily for me, [TMNT Editor] Bobby Curnow seems to like my ideas and now that I’m having my shot, I’m just enjoying the moment and having a blast with it as a creator and a fan.
Burnham: I’ve said it before — I’m feeling no pressure at all. This story is Mateus’ baby; I’m just the wacky uncle that gets yelled at occasionally for being a terrible influence on the little tyke. Seriously now, it’s a fantastic story, it’s going to be gorgeous and I know I’m lucky to be involved in such a special project — so no need for anxiety. I’ve been having a blast.
Given the origin of the Foot in the IDW continuity dates back to feudal Japan, how is the time period split? Is the story set mostly in the past or are there present day elements as well?
Santolouco: Yep, we have these two interlaced parallel dramas, although we do spend a bit more time in feudal Japan since that’s where our story is really set.
Burnham It has a good balance — Mateus is pacing it beautifully. That said, I really savor the scenes set in the past. Such great stuff there, none of which I can talk about without spoiling it!
Will the Turtles be involved in any serious action or are their roles merely supplementary to the history?
Santolouco: Serious action is what they are most involved in!
Burnham: Amen to that — Mateus has given himself some killer action set pieces to draw!
To date the IDW series has done a nice job of sneaking in cameos and surprise first appearances of characters into issues — can you tease us on any in your miniseries?
Santolouco: We do have one cameo but I don’t want to ruin any surprises so I’ll keep my mouth shut. What I can say is we have a few new characters, like Tatsuo Takeshi. Tatsuo (ç«œå¤«) means dragon man and Takeshi (æ¦) means fierce, violent and warrior — the founder of the Foot Clan.
Burnham: All I can say is that I’ve been warned if I sneak Cudley the Cowlick into the script one more time, Bobby is sending a legion of ninja after me when I least expect it. (I am, of course, kidding. About Cudley, that is, not about Bobby having the power to send ninjas after me if I displease him.)
Considering the translation of Tatsuo’s name, is it fair to assume he’s got some rage issues?
Santolouco: I guess you can say that — he’s got a temper. Erik tried and insisted on Cudley but unfortunately this is not the story for it. I love the Mighty Mutanimals as well and I think it would be cool to have them in the IDW series, even as an homage.
Erik, considering your desire to see Cudley the Cowlick, is it possible fans will see some Mighty Mutanimals cameo in the series?
Burnham: This isn’t the place for it, no. I eventually came to realize we would need a far grittier storyline to justify bringing in Cudley, and I don’t know that I’m up for working on such material. That kind of darkness, you know, it really sticks with you.
How much freedom were you given to make this origin story your own? Given the nature of the leading players, were there strict editorial mandates you had to adhere to?
Santoluoco: Lots of freedom! I can honestly say the origin of the Foot Clan in the IDW series is completely my creation. I almost feel as though I’m working on something of my own. Of course, in my first drafts I went crazy and walked down some paths which I had to give up. Probably because, at first, I may have focused on a more mature and complex story. Bobby is a fantastic editor and really helped me understand the weak spots in my text and that we are dealing with a wider public with this story. In the end, I’m glad we all met in the middle and having Erik on board helped even more. He added his own spices to my story and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
Burnham: Mateus and Bobby let me tinker, and I can’t thank them enough for bringing me in and then letting me have as much creative input as they have — no, that’s not the way things usually go, and yes, it is awesome to be given that kind of leeway.
What are your fascinations with Japanese History and how did this interest influence “Foot Clan.”
Santolouco: Japan itself always had some power over me. I love samurai cinema and obviously “Lone Wolf and Cub.” It was from these mediums that I learned most of what I know about the history of the amazing people from Japan. However, I researched to be sure I was not fantasizing too much over it and in the end I took some poetical liberties to make the story work the way I wanted. I hope “Foot Clan” paints an accurate but also fantastical portrait of Japan’s feudal period.
Burnham: I love the period as well and was stoked the “Splinter” micro issue went there, so getting to go back and play in that sandbox again is awesome. My interest started when I read a book about samurai as a kid and just grew from there — it’s a fascinating setting, and Mateus has a real gift for tapping into the period. Which, when you look at the art, is pretty much a colossal understatement.
Mateus, talk to us about your designs for the Turtles and April — your approach to their unique look and the choices made on how to make them individuals.
Santolouco: I’ve been playing with this idea for quite some time now. It always bothered me that the green guys looked exactly the same, despite the colored bands or weapons. I first drew the Turtles with different characteristics in a quick sketch back in 2005. After that every time I think about the Turtles I imagine them with singular looks, unique to each other. This new version is probably my favorite — I’ve mixed my Turtles with small elements of other versions I enjoy, including some bits from the new Nickelodeon animated series.
About making them individuals, it was not too hard to find the singularities once you know the characters. Leo is the applied student, eldest brother and born leader, so he must be more serious and introspective with smaller eyes and a mouth that works perfectly. Raph is the “Wolverine” of the Turtles and needed to be more muscular, short and grumpy. Since Don is the brains, I thought he should be taller as if his mutation into humanoid form was a bit more advanced than the others, also reflecting his weapon of choice. Mikey is the funny and childish one, so a round face, big eyes and a slimmer body with a subtly more prominent belly would be the magic touch for him. In my mind April never looked like a teenager — she was more like this sexy redhead. Dan Duncan already changed this image but I wanted her to look even more like an everyday cute girl, the girl next door so to speak. Beautiful and sexy but not vulgar, with elegant charms and a strong attitude. I hope I’ve managed to convey all this with the designs.
Similarly, can you point out items on Tatsuo Takeshi’s costume and their significance? What made you decide to keep certain items and symbols?
Santolouco: Tatsuo appears in our mythology as the main Yuu Clan’s assassin and then he becomes the founder and DaimyÅ of the Foot. To give the impression of one thing becoming another, I made his Yuu armor (the Kanji on his chest and forehead represents Yuu or higher, superior) to look slightly like a previous version of the Foot Clan armor, just as his Foot costume is a previous version of the armor shown in IDW’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” #5.
When you were working on your flashback scenes for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” #5, was the history of the Foot Clan already made up in your head? Was this miniseries the plan all along?
Santolouco: Not really. Maybe that was Bobby’s plan all along — as I said, I have sent him a TMNT pitch before. I was missing two pages or so to finish my contribution to #5, which in a way set the tone for the whole feudal history angle of the series. Bobby then sent me an email inviting me to write and draw the origins of the Foot Clan.
Have you been working with Kevin Eastman on this miniseries?
Santolouco: No. I would love to have, though. I only briefly talked to Kevin when I was doing the feudal concept designs for “TMNT” #5.
Burnham: It would definitely be fun to work with Kevin directly one day, but he is one incredibly busy guy.
Whenever one asks a TMNT fan what made them fans of the Turtles, the answer is always different. What was your favorite era or incarnation of the Turtles?
Santolouco: I met the Turtles through their first animated series, but here in Brazil that cartoon was aired as a morning show. I think it was “Show da Xuxa” (a children’s show hosted by Xuxa, a hot, half-naked blonde — aw yeah, Brazil!), but I was in school in the morning so I didn’t have many chances to watch. Also “TMNT” comics were not largely published here, so no chance there as well. What really made me addicted to TMNT was the arcade game, the best one, before “Turtles in Time.” I’ve spent a huge amount of my parents’ money on those arcade machines. I’m glad this addiction is finally bearing fruit. Oh, and I love the live action movies — Vanilla Ice can dance, dude!
Burnham: I discovered the Turtles with the ’80s cartoon and the toys, with sporadic Archie and Mirage comics filtered through to whatever rural hinterland I happened to be in at the time to show me just how adaptable and interesting these characters were. I do love the middle-ground Turtles (around what they used for the films; an even blend of the grittier Mirage elements and the sillier elements from the cartoons and Archie stuff). I have several.
Any closing thoughts on “Secret History of the Foot Clan” or your work on the IDW run to date?
Santolouco: I’m going to repeat myself here — I’m having a blast! It’s a child’s dream come true and I can’t thank IDW enough for the opportunity. This is a fan making TMNT comics and I hope other fans enjoy the ride.
Burnham: I couldn’t have put it better myself — so I won’t!
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Secret History of the Foot Clan” #1 is scheduled for a late December 2012 release from IDW Publishing.