SDCC: Turtle Power Energizes TMNT

At Comic-Con International in San Diego, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman took the spotlight during IDW Publishing's Turtles panel, alongside ongoing series writer Tom Waltz, "Secret History of the Foot Clan" co-writer Erik Burnham and editor Bobby Curnow.

The big announcement was the latest installment of the "TMNT Villains Micro-Series" line featuring the Turtles' arch-nemesis, The Shredder, written by Paul Allor and featuring art from the artist who launched IDW's TMNT revival, Dan Duncan. Then, following the fan-favorite "City Fall" storyline in the ongoing TMNT title, "Northampton" will launch, with art by "Glory" artist Ross Campbell.

Tom Waltz opened the day's Turtles discussion, touching on how the events of the ongoing series have led to the surprising and dramatic transpirings of "City Fall," where Leonardo has been seduced by Shredder and the Foot Clan. "We spent a lot of time bulking the backstory of the characters, which is a distant separation from past backstories of different Turtles iterations -- we fit certain parts in," Waltz said. "The family dynamic in our series is different, especially regarding conflicts between the brothers. We had Leo and Donnie bumping heads, where in the past it was Leo and Raph. It had us thinking about Leo more and his place in the pantheon. He's the Cyclops of the team -- the straight and narrow, by the rules kind of guy, so we thought, lets shake that up a bit and manipulate his psyche and -- forgive me for saying this -- bring him over to the dark side.

"Leo and his demeanor is something Shredder in the modern world is attuned with and it appeals to him," Waltz continued. "In being resurrected from Feudal Japan, Shredder has an old school attitude and he isn't too keen on Karai. She's female and he does not believe she's able to lead, even though she's capable of doing so -- and Karai knows that. So bringing Leo into the fold changes things in not only what he's doing in the mythos, but in adding conflict -- family conflict. We have two families at war with one piece, Leonardo, being tugged back and forth."

"Something I love about this series is Tom's original vision of picking parts from the black and white series, the movies, the TV shows, the Archie Comics run and hitting the reset button," Eastman said. "Nickelodeon approved it and embraced it, allowing us to keep the edge we had in the black and white books. 'City Fall' embraces Peter and my 'City War' story, but puts it on steroids. This IDW series embraces my original vision of being a cartoonist and storyteller, and working with all this talent and all these artists is so much fun. I am literally having the best time of my life on this book."

Erik Burnham spoke about his upcoming "Villains Micro-Series" issue starring Karai, Shredder's granddaughter, several generations removed. "I got to write Karai in 'Secret History of the Foot Clan' and had a lot of fun with her. She's frustrated and that's what the story is about. The Foot Clan isn't going the way she wants it to with Leo in the picture, and the antagonist of the one-shot is Dark Leo."

Referring to his double page spread in "TMNT" #23 Eastman said, "I got to draw zombie Turtles! We didn't know what the other artists were doing for the issue, and I wanted the page to flow in a weird way -- not doing my usual Frank Miler riffs!"

"Kevin always does about two or four different layouts and we can only pick one," Curnow said.

"To me, the layout process is the most fun," Eastman acknowledged. "I control the lighting, the acting and I get really excited to do Tom's vision justice. This is the creation process I've loved from day one -- me and Peter [Laird] would talk about a story, write it down, then shuffle off to work on it. I always worry about my terrible spelling... that's from doodling in English class when I should have paid attention. Research is a fun part, too -- I love it."

"Once I knew Kevin was doing the layouts for 'TMNT' #25, I brought in some characters from the Annual he wrote for us whom we haven't seen since," Waltz said.

"In 'TMNT' #25-28 we're going to see more of the war on the streets," Curnow added.

"The conclusion of 'City Fall doesn't happen if what happened at the end of the Annual didn't happen," Waltz continued. "Especially with the Savate. When it came out, people were confused how it all tied into the main ongoing -- now that Annual is going to really matter."

Curnow hinted at the fallout of "City Fall," touching on the events of "TMNT" #29, the beginning of the "Northampton" arc. "[Artist] Ross [Campbell] is the perfect guy for this arc," Curnow said. "He loves quieter scenes and pastoral stuff -- he's bringing a beautiful sense of artistry to the book. There's a lot of friction between the brothers. They're at a really bad place at the end of 'City Fall.' We're not having the villains be defeated. They're set back, but their goals keep advancing for the first 50 issues. The Turtles realize they're out of their element and are being out classed."

"We want to paint the line that this is violent and they are fighting," Waltz said. "Even if you win the fight, you're still fighting, and that's not a good thing. The best way to have a good life, according to Splinter, is to avoid the fight. But they can't in 'City Fall,' so they're at a low point at the end, questioning their own thought process of how to approach this war. It's a war they don't want but have to be in. So they escape to Northampton for peace and figure it out, but the damage is done. I always laugh when a guy says he won a fight, but he's bleeding too. You can find victory in defeat and defeat in victory and that's for both the TMNT and the Foot. We will see a brand new, original mutant in this arc designed by Ross Campbell."

Curnow then added a bit of news to excite TMNT fans -- "Mateus Santolouco is on board to be the main 'TMNT' artist up to issue #50. To stay on schedule, we'll have to swap him out once in awhile, but you'll be seeing a lot more of Mateus for the next two years."

The panel then shifted focus to the "Micro-Series" issues, which spotlight individual characters in one-shot stories tying into the main ongoing.

"We were cherry picking from the various TMNT iterations of the past," Waltz said, "but now we have ancillary stories in the 'Micro-Series' books -- we're cherry picking from those, too, as we move along. Like in the case of Brian Lynch's Alopex character, who becomes an important part of the ongoing story. This road we're paving tends to fork off due to all these great new creations."

"There will be repercussions from Alopex's 'Micro-Series' issue," Curnow said. "All the creators are TMNT fans and everyone's bringing their A-game to this Universe. Mateus was working on the character Kitsune in 'Secret History of the Foot Clan' and Tom and I thought it'd be a great idea to bring her into the present day to corrupt Leonardo. She wasn't even intended to be in the series but she worked so well in the story. 'TMNT' #25 is the first time we see Leo's new Foot Clan look.

"We'll be debuting our version of Hun from the 2003 cartoon series in 'TMNT Villains Micro-Series' #6," Curnow continued. "If we had any complaints with this series, it's that we were leaning too heavily on the Fred Wolf cartoon -- there's great stuff in that show and the Archie series, but we want to look everywhere. So there's real fun stuff coming with Hun and his first hint comes in 'TMNT' #25. Mike Henderson is on art for the issue -- he also drew the 'Krang' and 'Casey' one-shot. It's more noir in style and we get into the origin of the Purple Dragons."

On the subject of the 1980s/90s TMNT cartoon, Curnow expanded on the role of Bebop and Rocksteady in their newly announced "Micro Villains" issue. "We had teased both characters in the 'Raph Micro' and again in this past week's 'Alopex Micro.' We're going to be showing a lot more of them. They're huge threats -- not the smartest guys, but also not pushovers. They're humorous but they're no joke."

"Bring in Tokka and Rahzar!" a fan blurted out.

"That's a good idea," Curnow replied.

"If we find down the line where using Cudley the Cowlick makes sense, then we'll bring him in. But right now it doesn't make sense," Waltz said.

"We talk about Cudley more than we should," Curnow admitted.

"Characters are being seeded throughout this series -- if you have a keen eye you can see them," Waltz said. "I love Baxter. He's my favorite character to write. Once Erik created the cyborg flies, combining them both, we knew what we wanted to do."

Next came the big reveal -- a Shredder "Micro-Series" issue to cap the "Villains" run drawn by Dan Duncan and written by Paul Allor, who also penned the "Micro-Series: Fugitoid" story.

"Dan Duncan shaped this IDW history -- all these artists impress me so much and make me want to up my game to draw as good as they can," Eastman said.

"We're not coloring the 'Shredder' cover," Curnow said. "This story came from back when Dan did the first 12 issues of the ongoing and received a job offer in animation he had to take. He told me his idea for what happened to Shredder in-between his lifetime in feudal japan and the present day when he was 'dead.' The issue's a spiritual journey inside Oroku Saki's mind with a fun twist at the end. It's an epilogue to 'City Fall.'"

"I love seeing what you guys are doing with these characters I created with Peter," Eastman said. "I can't wait to see all their modern versions."

"But no characters from the Nickelodeon cartoon appear in the main series," Curnow confirmed.

"We didn't know what it was going to be like, but the new show kicks butt!" Curnow said as the topic switched to the based on Nick's animated show, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles New Animated Adventures.". "I'm there every Saturday morning with my bowl of cereal waiting for it to come on. My wife comes in the room and shakes her head.

"Issue #2 pits the Turtles against Snakeweed," Curnow continued. "We've never seen a mutant plant, so it was a fun idea. The first two issues are written by Kenny Byerly who wrote some of the animated episodes of the new series. He loves space heroes and is eager to transcend that to the Turtles. Issue #3 sees some Kraang action and then issue #4 is written by Erik."

"The Foot Clan comes in and Raphael rushes into a fight and gets taken out," Burnham explained. "And there are hallucinations -- Raph's hit with a poison dart and things go wacky from there. Most of the stuff I tend to write leans toward comedy, but the ongoing book is more serious. With 'New Animated' I get to be more goofy and fun."

"I get the best of both worlds -- seeing what Tom comes up with in the comics and seeing what they're doing at Nick," Eastman said. "They hit the reset button with the new show and I absolutely love it. The brotherhood dynamic is there. The Turtles are going to be 30 years old next year , but we're still talking about them as something new."

Waltz briefly commented on Activision's upcoming "TMNT: Out of the Shadows" videogame, releasing for Xbox 360 and PC August 28 and Playstation 3 September 24. "The writer for the game is Jason Henderson. He's an influence on me and is going to be doing some of the Cartoon Network comics IDW has coming out," Waltz said.

Fielding questions from the audience, Eastman addressed a fan's request to bring artist Simon Bisley into the IDW fold. "Simon's the godfather of my son and a best friend, but he's out of his mind. I'd get drawings back from him and be like, 'What the hell is this?' and I'd make him redo it. We'll try and get a cover out of him, at least."

When asked if the female Turtle Venus from 1997's live-action TV show, "Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation" would appear in the ongoing series Curnow answered, "People ask about her a fair amount, but honestly? No. Maybe in a dream sequence or another dimension down the line."

This prompted a near-universal groan from the crowd and numerous shouts of "No!" and other phrases of disapproval.

Eastman made a lone statement regarding Michael Bay's controversial 2014 "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie. "To address the 900 pound gorilla in the room -- you guys are going to flip out. It's fantastic. The movie is going to blow your mind."

To conclude, a little girl asked the panelists to reveal their favorite Turtle. Burnham said Donatello and Curnow claimed Leonardo. "I want to say Leo, but deep down I probably act the most like Michelangelo," Waltz said. "He's in my heart."

"Michelangelo was the first Turtle I ever drew," Eastman said. "So he's special to me, but Raphael has been my favorite since day one."

"Can we all agree it's a great time to be a TMNT fan?" Curnow asked the crowd who responded with cheers that would rival a group of ten year olds at a pizza party.

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