Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael are just now finding their way toward working together as a team, but an invasion from beyond the stars will test their wits as never before. “Infestation 2: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reunites the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with writer Tristan Jones, who penned several of the reptilian brothers’ adventures at Mirage Studios. Jones is joined on the series by artist Mark Torres, and together they will bring H.P. Lovecraft’s monstrous gods into the Turtles’ worlds. “Infestation 2” is IDW’s second crossover between its licensed titles — the first saw zombies infiltrate several popular universes, whereas the sequel sees the Great Old Ones spreading madness and horror throughout IDW Publishing’s many worlds. “Infestation 2: TMNT” runs two issues, shipping biweekly in March.
CBR News spoke with Jones about his work on the series, the appeal of Lovecraftian horror, and his enviable workload.
“Infestation 2: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” like the other crossover miniseries, sees the Lovecraftian Elder Gods enter the heroes’ reality, necessarily edging the series’ tone toward horror. “I’m a big, big fan of Mike Mignola — not just of his art but the stories he tells and the way he tells them visually — so anyone familiar with books like ‘B.P.R.D.’ or ‘Hellboy’ has a good idea of what to expect here,” Jones said. “It’s a very visually evocative story, and I’ve tried to stay as true to the nature of both Lovecraft and IDW’s new ‘TMNT’ universe as I can, while also bringing something new to the table. So far, the main ‘Turtles’ book has been pretty classic ‘TMNT’ — action, adventure, laughs and some really amazing character moments — I wanted to go for something a bit more subdued with this one. It’s a chance to tell a Turtles story that you’re not really likely to see in the main book, but without it feeling out of place or tacked on.”
While the Lovecraft angle pushes the story in a certain direction, Jones wants to assure readers this remains a “Turtles” series and he will balance the two sometimes conflicting elements. “It’s predominantly a horror book, but when you put characters like the Turtles in there, things change immediately,” Jones told CBR News. “Like I said before, I really wanted to try and stay as true to Lovecraft as I could with this, because I know as a Lovecraft fan myself that fans of that particular brand of horror are also sticklers for details and accuracy in the take, regardless of what universe it’s stretching into.
“I was also pretty adamant about not using Cthulhu, too. There’re only a couple of ways you could really play out a satisfying TMNT vs. Cthulhu story, and I think it’s too early in the piece to really go down those avenues,” the writer added. “Mirage maybe, but not just yet in the IDW one. What that meant was I had to find something that would work with where the Turtles were at in the overall scheme of things at IDW that also matched up with the kind of story I wanted to tell, and the end result is kind of a different take on another Great Old One.”
Jones said he has long enjoyed Lovecraft’s stories for their more subtle approach to unknowable beings and unspeakable horror. “I’m a big proponent of the less-is-more approach to horror,” he said. “The less you know about something, the more horrifying it is. The less you understand, the scarier it is. Lovecraft did this perfectly, and a lot of my favourite horror films do it as well. ‘Alien’ is a pretty solid example of how to tell a contemporary Lovecraftian story, so is Carpenter’s remake of ‘The Thing.’ I think horror is something that’s difficult to get across through a comic and really make resonate, but hopefully there are a few bits in this that hit the right notes.”
Though he strives to be faithful both to classic Lovecraft and to the new IDW “TMNT” series, Jones said, in the modern age and in a comic book universe, the context for the Elder Gods has necessarily changed. “The thing about writing Lovecraftian monsters in contemporary universes like the ‘TMNT’ one is that a lot of the classic tropes kind of go out the window because we have a much better understanding of the world around us and we’ve had things like movies and comics to expand the scopes of our imaginations; characters would go insane in the old Lovecraft stories, but that was only because they’d never seen anything like what they were witnessing and couldn’t comprehend it,” he said. “There was little available to satisfactorily explain what was going then, but things are different these days, and having something like Shub-niggurath appear beneath New York requires a slightly different approach than it would if this were a period book.”
While the tone may have shifted from the heroes’ normal adventures, the setting keeps the Turtles on somewhat familiar ground — by taking things underground. “The basic gist of the story revolves around something spreading its reach across New York through a long abandoned tunnel system dating right back to Manhattan’s earliest days. It’s fairly straightforward on the surface, but if you read between the lines in the book, there’s a fair bit more going on beneath it all,” Jones said.
“It’s still early days for the IDW Turtles, so they’re still learning about the world around them, and I kind of wanted to find a way to open doors in the characters,” he continued. “There’s a supernatural undercurrent to the main book, but the Turtles themselves haven’t really been thrown up against anything like this before, and I thought seeing how someone like Donatello especially would handle going up against the notoriously mind-breakingly unfathomable horrors of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, so that’s a solid part of it all.”
Jones has previously written Turtles comics for the series’ original publisher Mirage Studios in “Tales of TMNT” and, later, for Titan’s all-ages “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Comics.” For the latest series, he’ll be working with yet another iteration of the Heroes in a Half Shell — in the new continuity recently launched by IDW — and in doing so will be dropped into the middle of a major crossover event. “It’s kinda strange to be honest! This is the third incarnation I’ve written of the characters and it’s probably the most interesting,” Jones said. “The dynamics are all slightly different and coming into things this early in the piece meant that certain sides of the characters I was used to at Mirage and Titan hadn’t been explored yet or were being developed in a slightly different direction.
“It’s much tougher than it was at Mirage and Titan, I can tell you that, but still very fun!”
Jones’ track record with the Turtles did offer the writer a few unexpected perks. “I managed to slip two characters in there from my Mirage stories,” he joked. “Even if I never write the Turtles again, I can sit smugly knowing that those two will continue to live on in the grander Turtles universe!”
If it feels odd for Jones to script another new version of “TMNT,” that’s not the only thing that puts him in a unique position: Jones is also the artist of IDW’s ongoing “Ghostbusters” series, tackling another major property but from the opposite side. “This is actually stranger than being back on the Turtles for me! It’s a spot I never really even dreamed I’d find myself in but it’s definitely made me rethink my approach to how I work,” Jones told CBR. “It’s pretty much forced me to start taking things a little more seriously career wise. When Mirage closed its doors, I was pretty much back to square one. I had to reassess where I wanted to go with things and I knew that if I was serious about staying in comics, I’d have to start drawing again — as well as writing — just to get my own projects off the ground, but I was playing it pretty loose because I was working on my own things, and now working on two high profile projects simultaneously has really taught me a huge amount about various aspects of both disciplines in the industry very quickly. [Editors] Tom Waltz and Bobby Curnow have both been tremendous support, though, and I don’t think I’ll be able to thank them properly for taking the gambles they did.”
Even with the greater responsibilities, Jones acknowledged he has a pretty good thing going. “I kinda have to keep pinching myself and holding my tongue anytime I think about complaining about workloads. Not everyone can say they spend all day (and sometimes all night) working on some of the most universally recognised and loved properties out there, and I’m also extremely fortunate to be working with not only very talented people but really creatively welcoming and supportive people which makes both gigs a hell of a lot more exciting,” he said. “We’re also gearing up for an event in ‘Ghostbusters’ come May, which I’m writing and drawing a chapter of, so I finally get to combine the two which I’m both crazy excited and really nervous about. Should be interesting to see how that goes!”
For “Infestation 2: TMNT,” Jones handles the writing side while teaming with artist Mark Torres, who most recently illustrated “Zombies vs. Robots: Undercity.” “Mark (amongst a ton of other things) has a really incredible amount of control over lighting, which was a really important part of the script, and I made some perhaps unnecessarily explicit lighting instructions in there before I even knew I was working with him. He knows exactly how to light something and present it the way it should be for maximum effect and absolutely nailed every key moment,” Jones said of his artist. “There are a couple of pages in this book set in total darkness, and I honestly don’t think there are too many people out there that could’ve done this as well as Mark has.
“He’s also got a really wonderful sense of how stories work on a visual level,” Jones continued. “When he sent through his roughs, I remember being amazed at his takes on particular sequences, because they were totally different to how I’d imagined them playing out in my head as I was writing it, but therein lies pretty much exactly why I love writing and working with other artists.”
Jones also praised Torres for a versatility in style, which proved necessary for a series that draws on both encroaching horror and high adventure. “Mark’s got this great ability to switch energies. There are a lot of kind of slow, brooding pages in ‘Infestation,’ and then things hit the fan and it’s game on for the Turtles for the next few, and Mark manages to jump back and forth between the two exactly the way it needs to,” Jones said.
Even though his story takes place in the midst of a multi-license crossover, Jones said “Infestation 2: TMNT” would be accessible and enjoyable on its own. “I think Turtles fans will really dig it; I think it stands really solidly on its own legs, so if you’ve never read any Lovecraft, Turtles or even any of the other ‘Infestation’ books, you’re not going to get lost reading this book, or bogged down in the continuities or mythos surrounding anything else it’s tied to,” he said. “I know it’s something a lot of people say, but it’s true. If you’re just interested in seeing the Turtles go up against otherworldly horror but not so much the other main ‘Turtles’ book or the core ‘Infestation’ book, then you’re not going to have any problems with that, but at the same time, any Turtles fans thinking they can ignore it because it’s just an event tie-in are going to be doing themselves a serious disservice, so make sure you get in when you next go to your comic shops and put your pre-order in (and give ‘Ghostbusters’ a look in too)!”
“Infestation 2: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” hits shelves in March.