ECCC EXCLUSIVE: "Ninja Turtles" Co-Creator Kevin Eastman Talks IDW Exclusive Deal

Kevin Eastman and IDW Publishing have had a close relationship for a few years, but now they're making it official. As announced Sunday at Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is now under an exclusive deal with IDW effective immediately, complete with an office in its San Diego headquarters.

Eastman has been working with IDW since the publisher's licensed "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" comics launched in 2011, working closely with head series writer Tom Waltz and providing multiple covers. Under the new deal, Eastman will continue his "Turtles" work while also releasing new projects, starting with "Lost Angeles," a collaboration with Simon Bisley originally announced in 2012.

CBR News has the exclusive first interview with Eastman on the deal, discussing how his work with IDW helped him rediscover his love for drawing, writing and creating -- something he had a lot less time to do in the past couple decades as he focus turned more towards business ventures. "IDW gave me this homebase, and gave me this opportunity that brought me back to my youngest stage of dreaming about being Jack Kirby, and drawing comic books for a living," Eastman told CBR.

CBR News: Kevin, the news breaks today that you've gone exclusive with IDW Publishing, which will involve sticking with what you've already been doing, but also some new projects and original material. What prompted the decision at this point in your career?

Kevin Eastman: I started comics with Peter Laird, and we were completely naive self-publishers, not really having a clue of what we were doing, following the inspiration of the underground publishers, and guys like Dave Sim, who was a huge inspiration to me. The Turtles did what the Turtles did, and that was one of the most concentrated periods of drawing and creating for me. I think the last Turtles graphic novel I did was in 1996 with Simon Bisley, "Bodycount."

[In founding Tundra Publishing,] I wanted other creators to have the same kind of inspiration that I had, with the opportunities that I had, in creating their own ideas and getting them out there. I ended up spending so much time between running "Heavy Metal," the Words & Pictures Museum, Tundra... I was still drawing some on my own, but not like the early days.

About four years [ago], I got a call from [IDW Publishing CEO] Ted [Adams], my longtime friend at IDW, and he said, "Hey, we just picked up the license for the 'Ninja Turtles,' do you want to get involved in the series? Do you want to do covers?" I said, "Yeah, absolutely, I'd love to do covers -- what do you have in mind for the story?" He said, "Why don't you come down and meet Tom Waltz, who's the head writer, who's absolutely fantastic, and Bobby Curnow, the main editor. I came down, and they showed me what Dan Duncan was doing for sample art, and they told me the story they had put together -- basically Tom picking his favorite parts of all the Turtle universes. I just got super, super excited about not only comics again, but Turtles. I did the layouts for the first four issues, I've been doing the covers -- issue #50 comes out this year -- plus working with them on the collections. I love Ted, and I love [IDW President] Greg Goldstein, all the guys at IDW, the kind of books that they put out.

I was drawing again for a living. I wasn't dealing with stupid people in Hollywood, I was drawing comics again, full time. "Man, this is why I got into the business." Three years after working for IDW, I started showing Ted these other comics that I've been working on, either in script form, or they're fully developed -- I said, "Why don't we just make IDW my homebase? I'd love to be exclusive. I won't work for any other company, I'll just do all my stuff at IDW."

Besides the Turtles stuff I do, my next project, that I'm actually working on now, is "Lost Angeles." It's a post-apocalyptic retelling of "The Warriors," if you will, all set in LA. That's the first one I'm working on now, but we looked at the stuff I wanted to do -- there's one story I developed 10 years ago, and drew 200 pages on, and just got frustrated with, and it wasn't working the way I wanted it to, so I put it on a shelf, and it sat for five or six years. [Laughs] That's another project that will probably find its way into the IDW schedule.

It feels like home. It's a great bunch of people, really creative. I buy all of their Artist's Editions. The first time when they did one of the "Turtles" collections -- such a beautiful package.

It sounds like your experience at IDW has helped you rediscover your love for creating, and not business deals -- it seems like a liberated period in your career.

That's so accurate. I loved what Tundra was, and all the artists I got to work with, but I was spending 80 percent of my time on business, and doing very little drawing. Even with "Heavy Metal," it's still a lot of work. I've been Publisher for 21 years now -- I still pick all the covers, I pick all the content.

When I got back to working on the Turtles again, I was just moving out of Hollywood. It was like a complete revelation -- IDW gave me this homebase, and gave me this opportunity that brought me back to my youngest stage of dreaming about being Jack Kirby, and drawing comic books for a living.

The Turtles have been at a lot of different publishers over the years -- have you found IDW to be the best fit for them?

It's funny -- my wife and I, we traveled a lot last year. For the 30th anniversary of the Turtles, we did like 25 shows. To me, it's amazing that we're still talking about the Turtles, 30 years later, and the fan response has been such as it is. And the timing seemed to be just right -- it's now become this generational thing.

I've worked with the guys at Nickelodeon while they were developing the new animated series, I think it's just fantastic. It's such a great series. I really love the creativity. With IDW, they said, "We want the comics to be the way you guys originally did them, to be for an older audience." When Tom came up with the idea of taking the attitude and the intent from the original Mirage black-and-white stories, and that'll be the foundation, but then we can pull in characters from the old animated show and the different movies -- to me, I think it's one of the most exciting periods in the Turtles.

At the same time, I loved what Peter Laird did when he was running the series. There's been different versions of the Turtles over the years, and each one has its own qualities. Even the Image series, I was a huge fan of what Frank Fosco and Gary Carlson did. I'd love to see that recolored and put out there. Maybe we'll make that happen one day.

I always tell anybody I work with -- I can have the greatest idea in the world, and I can put blood, sweat and tears into it, but if the fans aren't there to buy it, and they don't find it interesting, I don't have a job. That's what's been so great about the new Turtles series -- the fans have really turned out. It's been such a strong following.

And some bold things have been happening. As of the last issue, it looks like Donatello might be... something? I don't want to say dead.

It might be something. [Laughs] They killed Superman a bunch of times, right?

What has been fantastic about when we do these "mind meld" sessions when we plot out the next number of issues, you can have the dramatic intensity of each arc, while you're still making the Turtles, Turtles. You have all the action, you try to put in as much humor as you can, and you put in that soap opera storytelling, character-building.

When we did what happened in the most recent issue with Donatello, the fan reaction was even more overwhelming than I expected. We have them emotionally involved in the series, and they're enjoying the stories we're telling, so that's even more pleasing than I could ever imagine. When people come to the shows, and they're like, "Thank you for signing my comic," I always say, "Thank you for giving me the coolest job ever."

And it was quite the reaction -- for a lot of people, Donatello and the rest of the Turtles is an ingrained pop culture figure that they grew up with, and still feel a connection to, even if they haven't been keeping up with the comics.

It's surprising that 30 years later, there's still that following, but so many of the fans now are late 20s, early 30s, and they discover the Turtles in some fashion -- whether it be the original comic books, or the video games, or the cartoon series, or the movies -- we'll go to the shows, and they'll bring a toy that they had when they were 6, and I'll sign that for them; they bring very personal things. Now it's so weird, and cool, and mind-blowing, that it's now generational. To see dad and mom coming in, both fans of the Turtles, and now their son or daughter discovered the Turtles, and they're wearing a Turtle costume -- it's humbling. It's awesome.

Right now is a fruitful times for creator-owned comics -- there are a lot of hit creator-owned comic book series, creators who were working for Marvel and DC and then chose to focus on creator-owned comics, the huge media success of "The Walking Dead" and regular news of creator-owned books getting TV and film deals. For you as a guy who is an old-school creator-owned proponent, what's your take on the current state of the comic industry?

The Turtles is one of the biggest, earliest creator-owned series, and that was what I wanted to happen with Tundra. "From Hell" that we started publishing went on to be a movie. We did "The Crow," and a bunch of other things. But right now, it's just a fantastic time -- just going to the shows. There's going to be what, 60-70,000 people here? Like I said, we did 25 shows [last year], we did one in Argentina, New Zealand, Melbourne, they were 60, 70, 80, 90,000 people. It's almost like this pop culture cross-section that's in a bit of a perfect storm.

Mike Allred, he brought me a comic years ago called "Madman," and I just absolutely flipped out and fell in love with it. We published a lot of the early [stories]. To see someone like that, who is not only one of the nicest people on the planet, is just a great creator -- it's great to see them now have some success in entertainment [with "iZombie."]

Really, it's a wonderful time. We come to these shows, and these fans support what we want to do. There's just going to be more. I remember years ago, when Hollywood started discovering there might be a business at Comic-Con -- you're going back 10 or 15 years or so -- now half the people walking the convention floor are studio executives, looking for the next new thing.

I've always said comic books are really a simplified director's chair in so many ways. I remember many, many years ago, sitting in a executive's office, talking about comic books. He said, "It's a comic book, how is this going to translate into a movie or a TV series?" I said, "Typically, what's the first thing a director does when he gets a script? You storyboard it. You make a comic book out of it." Now you can see how things come together and see it work in comic book form, especially if it builds a fanbase. Then it just makes easier for executives to keep their job by pushing it up the ladder. [Laughs]

Catch up with all of CBR's coverage from Emerald City Comicon 2015!

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