Had your fill of turkey? How about some turtle? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Hitting comic stores this week is issue #6 of Dreamwave's TMNT as well as a trade paperback collecting the first four issues of the series based on the updated cartoon currently airing on Fox Kids. This full-color series should not be confused with the black & white TMNT title being published by Mirage Studios, which is an update of the original comic book series from the 80s. In this week's column, LeSean Thomas, the artist of the licensed TMNT series published by Dreamwave, updates us on the Turtles and helps minimize some of the potential confusion. That is, until the South Bronx native admits to loving Sarah McLachlan…
TORRES: You got your artistic start in animation, right?
THOMAS: Nah, actually it was in childrens accessories design. You ever see them Disney molded umbrella handles?
TORRES: Uh… no, sorry.
THOMAS: The ones with molded Winnie the Pooh or Little Mermaid umbrellas? Figured you would. Anyways, I did designs for those as well as plush Mickey Mouse backpacks, small leather goods, stuff like that for a kids accessories company called Pyramid Accessories.
TORRES: When was all this?
THOMAS: Back in '97. I was around twenty. That was my first real pro gig.
TORRES: Straight outta school or what?
THOMAS: Nah, no schoolin'. It was there that I learned the art of cartooning. I had to learn how to draw Disney characters.
TORRES: You're one of those self-taught artists?
THOMAS: Pseudo-self taught, if that's even a term. I mean, I learned from producers at Viacom, freelance animators, and artists. They all put a cat on, and I just sponged, nahmean?
TORRES: When did you make the transition into animation then?
THOMAS: It was during the design gig. I was there for three years then I began an interest in animation. It was all due to drawing Disney characters for so long of course.
TORRES: What was your first animation gig then?
THOMAS: I was fortunate enough to meet Joel Rodgers, the Art Director of Showtime's "Whirl Girl" flash animated hit. He brought me on to do layouts, and it was then that I began animating more. After the success of that series with Showtime I was approached by another dot com company called Urban Box Office. It was there that I did my own animated web series, "Battle Seed." Meanwhile, I was freelancing for various animation houses like Nickelodeon/MTV's commercial division.
TORRES: What are some of the "big" projects you worked on?
THOMAS: Most notably, Disney's "Lizzie McGuire" as assistant animator. "Daria." I did an animated promotion for Nissan for MTV.
TORRES: So, you did all that for a few years but all the while you were itching to break into comics?
TORRES: Were you a comic kid?
THOMAS: Pretty much. I didn't read them much, just dug the pictures. But they were always in the picture for me as an artist.
TORRES: Man, when you said no schoolin'...
TORRES: Did you read Ninja Turtles back in day?
THOMAS: Well, you know, it wasn't a preference. I mean, I never read them but I was shown a couple of issues. It was the first violent comic I'd ever witnessed. One with them on the roof fighting Shredder, blood everywhere, it blew me away.
TORRES: How old were you then?
THOMAS: I was like, man, I don't know, Twelve? Thirteen? I have a bad memory but I remember the comics were rare. I never owned one.
TORRES: Did you ever see the cartoon?
THOMAS: Yeah, I thought the cartoon was so gay because they went from these bad-ass sewer dwellers in NYC, to them all sounding like Sean Penn from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." With this unnecessary need for pizza.
TORRES: See, I was gonna ask you if someone like me, who kinda dug that original comic book series way back when I was a teenager would dig the new Turtles comic. Or are you targeting a younger audience?
THOMAS: Well, see I like the new version actually because it's a nice blend of the old and the new. There's still the campy-ness of the original, but it's a nice touch.
TORRES: No Spicolli, no pizza? Just badass sewer dwellers?
THOMAS: Yeah, man. I mean, you never saw them dudes eat NOTHING else. And they don't look like Muppets, nahmean?
TORRES: Ah, the live action movies…
THOMAS: I was in high school when the first one dropped. I'm actually acquainted with Michael Turney who starred in the flick as "Danny."
TORRES: I don't remember Danny.
THOMAS: Remember the cat who took the twenty spot from April O'Neil's wallet?
TORRES: Man, I don't remember what I ate for lunch.
THOMAS: He was misled by the Foot and what-not?
TORRES: Oh, that kid. Yeah. I think. Did you go back and reference all that stuff to prepare for the Dreamwave book?
THOMAS: I just grabbed the "Artobiography of TMNT" by Heavy Metal. Great frikkin' book and reference for me, too. I sat with that and was good to go.
TORRES: Okay, so you didn't really answer my question. Would some old dude who remembers the TMNT from the 80s b/w boom get anything out of the series you're working on? I haven't picked up your book yet because you didn't comp me nuthin' in Chicago.
THOMAS: Ha-ha-ha! You got me with an on-the -spot interview, playa! You shoulda let a brotha know. I'll send you a TPB.
TORRES: That's more like it. So, sell that TPB to our readers right here, right now. Why should people pick it up? Who will dig this incarnation? This is why we're doing this, remember? You wanted to hype your book.
THOMAS: Well, I think this series is a great run for the viewers of the current show. Also, the old the series. Definitely for the kids, too. They've managed to cover the spectrum. Of course, it ain't for everybody. Ha-ha.
TORRES: You're gonna give me some art for the piece, right?
TORRES: Graphics make the column, dude.
THOMAS: Ha-ha. No doubt.
TORRES: People are skimming these words right now and heading for the pictures. So, are you enjoying working on the series?
THOMAS: Yeah, I have to say for the first four issues people were kinda skeptical 'cause some readers didn't follow the cartoon.
TORRES: What do you mean?
THOMAS: The first four issues were based off the first four eps of the series so it was tough to get into the references they weren't familiar with. You'd only follow if you knew the show for the most part. Peter David (writer of the series) did his best to make the stories original, but they still pretty much were connected to the cartoon eps. But with issue #5, and the great story Peter's cooked up, it's being received extremely well
TORRES: It's a big TMNT week at the comic shop, huh?
THOMAS: Issue #6 will be on shelves this week, along with the TPB, so it's double the TMNT this week! In fact, triple, if Mirage drops theirs too. It's interesting that there's two TMNT books out there now and the DW version is moving better than the b/w. I'd gather due to the commercial appeal of the revamped cartoon, plus the fact it's in color helps it too.
TORRES: What's in this TPB?
THOMAS: Collected issues of the sold-out #1, sold-out #2 and issues #3 and #4 including a cover gallery and new sketches by myself. Also, some promos of the next few issues and what's to come. It's a pretty well-rounded TPB and definitely worth picking up. The design is great, too.
TORRES: Does the story wrap up in the trade? Or will I be mad at you because I have to pick up #5 to finish the story? Not that I mind actually paying for it…
THOMAS: Nah, issues #1-4 are each self-contained stories actually. You'll be good.
TORRES: Okay, if that won't get people to at least take a look, I don't know what will.
THOMAS: It's issues #6-7 and #8-9 that are two-part stories. Issue #5 is self contained, too.
TORRES: How long do you think you'll be on this book?
THOMAS: I'm currently crankin' away on issue #8 and will be on issue #9 next week. Twelve issues in total is what my original run is for.
TORRES: How'd you get the gig in the first place?
THOMAS: Well, it was shortly after my pages for "Arkanium" #1 started to come in. The new business development guy at DW, Adam Fortier, contacted me asking if I'd be interested in doing TMNT.
TORRES: How'd you get the "Arkanium" gig?
THOMAS: I got "Arkanium" through an Internet hook-up. I was actually posting some concept designs for "Cannon Busters" online at the time to get some thoughts from comic fans on what would be best in terms of publishing. I was working on "Lizzie McGuire" at the time, actually. I dropped by various forums - Joe Mad, Top Cow, Studio XD, and Dreamwave. Pat (Lee) saw my stuff and called me up the next day asking if I'd be interested in publishing "Cannon Busters" under DW, as they just formed their own publishing company. I wasn't done developing it so Pat offered me freelance work until I was ready to push it. That freelance was "Arkanium." I agreed. It all happened pretty fast.
TORRES: You're planning to move on to "Cannon Busters" after Turtles? Or working on them at the same time?
THOMAS: I intend to work on both at the same time. "Cannon Busters" will be released by ComX now and will not be penciled by me. I will just be handling story chores and designing so TMNT will not be a prob.
TORRES: What happened to DW publishing "Cannon Busters"?
THOMAS: They decided on a new direction for the company so it was turned down to focus more on their popular licensed projects, which is totally understandable. Luck knocked on my door again as Neil Googe at ComX saw the potential and took the risk in publishing it.
TORRES: Let's talk about "Canon Busters" then. What's it about?
THOMAS: It's pretty much "Wizard of Oz" and "Alice in Wonderland" with a shot of hip hop and a lime twist of anime. It's the story of a royal droid, whose kingdom comes under attack and finds herself on the outskirts of the kingdom for the first time. Never having seen anything outside the kingdom, she winds up lost, desperately in search of a way back home and to her owner, the heir to the kingdom, a young boy. She is befriended by three individuals who agree to help her back home 'cause they wanna see the king for their own selfish reasons. Some want him dead while others want answers about something while others are simply looking for a master.
TORRES: "The Wiz." You're redoing "The Wiz."
THOMAS: Wasn't that shit hot-to-death?
TORRES: No. But Nipsey Russell is the man.
THOMAS: Ha! So, yeah, that's pretty much it. Lots of action and straight forward fun, and the penciller, Corey Lewis, is a phenomenal talent.
TORRES: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists? About submissions? What and what not to do?
THOMAS: I'd say do your own comics. I think working for Marvel and DC are great opportunities, but I just feel younger heads should get out there and try telling their own stories. Even if it's an ashcan, or whatever, get it out there. Newer readers are taking notice of the medium and I think the more variety, the better.
TORRES: What are you reading these days?
THOMAS: "Native Son" by Richard Wright. "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison.
TORRES: Oh, you one of them book reading people. All the comic artists I know only read comics and art books.
THOMAS: That's because I don't read comics, yo.
TORRES: What do you listen to when you draw? What are you listening to these days?
THOMAS: Right now, I got Jay-Z's "The Black Album" on repeat. This is his swan song, and his best album. Also copped Sarah McLachlan's new joint, "Afterglow."
TORRES: Sarah McLachlan?!
THOMAS: Yeah, man, I love that woman. I got all her albums.
TORRES: Okay, this interview is done.
Next week: Andi Watson on the end of "Namor" and the start of "Love Fights."
Meanwhile, another comic book based on a cartoon based on a comic book hitting stores this week is Teen Titans Go #1 written by yours truly so please check it out and then drop by the OYM forum and tell me how you liked it.
Thank you for your attention.