Kevin Eastman co-created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with Peter Laird in 1984, and has been the co-plotter and layout artist in IDW Publishing's new "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" since its inception a year ago. This October in the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Annual 2012," Eastman is embarking on a project he's never attempted in the near 30 year history of the TMNT: writing and drawing a full length story solo. "Honestly I've never done a Turtles story of this length and this size all by myself, ever," Eastman told CBR News. "It's really, really, really exciting and it's really freaky.
"Working with Peter was awesome because he was such a great craftsman, and I think we learned a lot from each other. Working with Simon Bisley or any other artist I worked with -- I love the give and take, I love the back and forth. When you hit those low spots in the storytelling, or those late nights when you need to keep pushing through, you'd have another person on the other end helping prop you up a bit or fill in some of the gaps. So now it's all on me."
The annual's story is one Eastman has had in mind for a while. "We've been thinking about this story for many months, so in issue six we seeded this one character I developed," he explained. "I said, 'Why don't we have this story I want to tell in the annual -- center it around a new gang trying to buy their way into the city, around the Shredder and what he's doing. Shredder's evolving in our storyline, and some of the other characters are too, so let's introduce a new gang that sets up somebody who I think can give the Turtles a run for their money.'"
The story's main characters are Raphael and Casey Jones, although it encompasses a range of familiar faces and new characters Eastman created specifically for the annual. "I love stories like 'Pulp Fiction' or 'Snatch' or 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,' things that have multiple characters all interacting and intersecting at different times," Eastman said. "It changes the dynamic of the story every three or four pages to something else. Even from the earliest days [of the Turtles], I've loved centering around Raphael and Casey. They were always kind of my go-to guys in the Turtles when I wanted to do short stories."
He continued, "Besides the Turtles and some of the continuity tie-ins we wanted to make sure were in there based on what we're doing with Shredder and Karai, most of the characters in the annual are new. I created them with [ongoing series writer] Tom [Waltz], and then we restructured the story so they worked."
Since Eastman is also drawing the entire 48-page issue, he still prefers to do it the old-fashioned way. "My preference is still blue pencil, pencil and ink and Sharpie and toothbrush for spatter and that's it," he said. There's one more special tool he's using for this issue -- a discontinued paper stock called Grafix DuoShade. "It's just a texturing paper where you pencil and ink your page like normal, but sort of built into the paper is a hidden texture that when you apply a chemical to it, it brings the texture out," Eastman said.
He and Laird made extensive use of the paper in early Turtles comics. "When you look at those early Turtles issues, you'd see not only black and white, but a couple shades of gray," he said. "I bought the last 300 sheets of this tinting paper before the company went out of business about 10 years ago. I'm actually drawing on the same paper we used back in the earliest days of the Turtles, so that's kind of cool and nostalgic. It'll be this sepia-toned, black-and-white homage to the earliest days of the Turtles with all the nutty Kevin Eastman panels."
Beyond the annual, Eastman is still working on the ongoing IDW Turtles series, which released its 12th issue in July. "It took 12 issues to get to the point where Shredder's back in full glory, and Karai's there and all the elements are there," he said. "We head down these three-, four-issue arcs, each one setting up and tying different elements of the universe to where the foundation is complete, and now it's time to really turn up the volume. I think between what's been laid out in the first 12 issues, to what's been done in the individual character 'Micro-Series' one-shots, it's been building the universe, and some of the stuff we're doing with it -- I would like to say we have a few surprises and a few twists I hope fans will embrace."
For Eastman, working with Waltz and IDW has been a fabulous experience. "Tom grew up a huge Turtles fan, and I think what's interesting -- but makes me feel old -- is some of the guys I work with, what inspired that relationship is they grew up reading the material. Tom had such a love and passion and knowledge for all of the different [TMNT] versions," Eastman said, adding, "He in my opinion had the formula down, and I just flipped. I loved it. I got to come in at the end and go, 'You know what, if you just put that piece over there, and that piece there a little bit -- connect it better, but you're already there.'"
Eastman is just as enthused about the people heading up Turtles projects in other media. He's thrilled with Ciro Nieli, the executive producer of the new animated Turtles series on Nickelodeon. "The new animated Nickelodeon series is hands-down, knocked-out-of-the-park fantastic in every way, shape and form. I just love it. It's one of my favorite versions of the Turtles in cartoon form ever," he said.
Despite the online controversy, Eastman remains firmly in support of the upcoming Turtles live-action movie produced by Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes. "I talked to [producer] Scott Mednick yesterday, and he's seen the most recent 50 [script] pages and said it's as good as the last version -- they've really knocked it out of the park," Eastman said. "I've seen a chunk of it, and it's going to be a great movie, despite what everybody thinks." As for the studio pushing back the film's release date to 2014, Eastman states there were good reasons for it. "Essentially they pushed it back for two reasons: One is the director, Jonathan Liebesman, wanted to make sure he could do the effects to the level he wants them at, and the fight scenes to the way they should be. Also, their release date is almost exactly on the 30th [TMNT] anniversary. May 5, 1984 is when the first Turtles comic came out. May 16, 2014, is almost exactly 30 years after. So basically it's an anniversary movie now."
Eastman is busy working closely with Liebesman, Mednick and writers Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec. "Doing sketches, drawings and character designs, bouncing stuff around with the writers, talking with the director and the producers -- I'm actively involved," he said. As with all of the Turtles projects going on right now, he assures fans they have nothing to worry about. "When you see what Ciro's done with the TV series, and obviously what the fans have seen us do with the IDW series, what they're doing with the movie is creating its own story, but it has to be true to the source material or we'll get fucking murdered. To be blunt."
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Annual 2012" is available from IDW Publishing this October.