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NOCC: Kevin Eastman in the Creator Spotlight

Company: Wizard World
Product: New Orleans Comic Con 2013 Coverage

The first time Kevin Eastman was in New Orleans, he was 11 or 12 years old and it was pretty eye-opening and he's been wanting to come back. This Wizard World Comic Convention in New Orleans was his first opportunity to get back there, however and on this trip, he was only there for one day. He says he's coming back next year, however, with plans to stay a few days and enjoy the city.

One of the first things Kevin pointed out was that the Turtles are going to turn thirty next year. I was horrified. Has that much time slipped by so fast? Not only are the Turtles turning thirty, but they're still very much alive and kicking, with a very new animated television series on WB. Not to mention the movies, the live action Saban television show, the comics, the graphic novels, the merchandising. It's pretty impressive for a couple of independent artists.

It's amazing that, you know, when Peter Laird and I started doing the original comic books in 1983 was when I did the first Ninja Turtle, which I drew Michelangelo, threw this drawing with the Ninja Turtle logo onto Peter's desk and I said this is going to be the next big thing. He, of course, laughed and had to top my sketch, so he did a sketch, then I had to top his sketch, so I did a sketch with four and he added "Teenage Mutant" to the "Ninja Turtle" and we literally got up the next day and, as I love to say, "We didn't have any distracting paying work going on," so we said, "How bout we come up with a story that got to tell how these characters got to be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." And I always like to say that Peter and I stand on the shoulders of giants in this industry cause we were inspired by guys like Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Richard Corban and lots of artists that - those are the kinds of guys that inspired us to draw and then we wanted to do the Turtles as their own comic books. We picked some of our favorite -isms, like Jack Kirby-isms, Frank Miller-isms, Dave Sim (who did Cerebus)-isms and we took all our favorite bits and rolled it into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so we basically ripped off every popular thing in comics, rolled it into one thing and that's how the initial concept for the Turtles was born.
- Kevin Eastman, on the origin of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Question: How hard was it to make the Turtles more kid-friendly?
Kevin: What was great about when Peter and I started self-publishing and we were the writers, the artists, we were in full control of whatever we wanted to do, so we wrote those first stories for us. We kinda wrote the kind of comic books stories we liked to read because we had no... we didn't know how to do it any other way, so we did make them a bit edgier, a bit older, we were reading - you know, you know... Dark Knight was out at this time, Watchmen was out at this time, you know, Alan Weiss' work on Swamp Thing, there was so much other, you know, edgy material that was going out there, but it was - comics were growing up, here in the States, so we did write the early issues with a lot of edge to them, but not, you know, we didn't go too over the top, but it was a lot edgier. And, when we started working on the idea of making them into toys and cartoons and those types of things, we knew very specifically that we were working... writing the material down for a very specific audience. We knew that we were now writing for six, seven, eight, nine year old, you know... boys, so when there were questions, when we were sitting in a room and it was basically Peter Laird and I sitting with the toy companies and the animation companies and they would say, "Well, how can we solve the origin?" And he said, "How 'bout we do a little of this and a little of that," or things like the toy company I mentioned. Peter had the idea for the different color bandanas, the toy companies - 'cause I did the first meeting of the Turtles and I made all the bandanas red, 'cause I knew who they were - nobody else may know, but I know. So the toy company is like, "We want to sell the kids all four turtles; how can you tell them apart?" And Peter said, "Why don't we give them different colored bandanas?" So, we had that kind of input and control to work with - in tandem with those companies to write it for a younger audience. The years go on, the toys came out, the cartoons came out, the movies came out, we always kept the original black and white comics true to their original origins. We didn't soften or change them, we licensed our true version for the animated series, so we kinda kept the two worlds. You know, interestingly enough, the big success that the toys and movies and cartoons had didn't affect the black and white comics' sales; we had our core little audience of thirty-five, forty thousand people and that's what we sold every month, or every couple of months when they'd come out. It was fun to balance both worlds.

About a year and a half ago, cause I had sold my interests to Pete (Laird) ten years ago, Pete sold to Viacom five years ago and IDW picked up the rights to do the Turtles comic book about two years ago and they invited me back to, uh, they said - my friend Ted Adams, who is one of the founders of IDW - said, "Hey, would you be interested in doing some Turtle covers, and seeing what we're up to," and I said, "Yeah, I'd like to do that, what have you got in mind for a story?" And this guy, Tom Waltz, who's really the guy who deserves all the credit for the success of the new Turtles IDW series, for sure, I went down to lunch and he rolled me out with what he wanted to do with the series, and he had literally gone through and picked his favorite parts of the black and white comic, of the animated series, of the Archie series, of some of the movies and he created a new timeline and this new foundation of Turtle-isms, of Turtle history, reinvented the Turtle universe, and I got so enamored by it that I literally pushed my way through it, was able to do layouts and start consulting on the stories and start doing covers and, the coolest part about that was I suddenly went back to Peter Laird and I sitting in a tiny little studio in Gover, New Hampshire, and remembered how much I loved drawing comic books, how much I love drawing Turtles, how much I miss drawing Turtles. So it's really kinda come full circle and now I just finished and shipped in October a 60 page annual, which is the first Turtles story that I've written and drawn in twenty five years, so I'm doing covers, I'm doing layouts, I'm working - we've plotted out the entire next year's issues and I'm literally having the best time of my life, doing what I started out in this business to do, which is draw comic books and I have, again, all you guys to blame for that; if you guys didn't step up and didn't buy 'em and didn't appreciate what I was doing, I would be pushing a shopping cart, so, again, my thanks.
- Kevin Eastman, on his recent return to the Turtle comics

Question: What drugs were you and Peter doing when you came up with the Turtles?
Kevin: I always love to say this, and this was the truth, actually, we couldn't afford any. We were broke, man. ...The delay in the issue between Issue 1 that we put out in May of 1984 and we started work on Issue 2 was because I cooked lobsters in a restaurant in Maine, and so, when we put the first issue out, I had to go back to work for the summer and we worked. You know, up in that part of the country, you work through the tourist season and try to get enough money to make it through the whole winter, so that was the delay is I had to be back cooking lobsters before the book. But, no, we couldn't afford anything recreational. I think we were already a little twisted on our own.

In addition to his work on the Turtles, Kevin Eastman owns Heavy Metal Magazine. As he likes to say, "Heavy Metal Magazine helped me create the Turtles so I could buy Heavy Metal Magazine." He goes on to explain what, exactly, he means by that...

In 1977, I was still a fan of comic books, but they were very, you know, um... I was in my Junior year in high school and they were kinda juvenile and, you know... skin tight suits and uhh... I was kinda losing heart with... the meaning of the comics I loved so much. And along comes Heavy Metal and Heavy Metal Magazine, I bought the first issue off the newsstand in 1977 and what was amazing about Heavy Metal was that, besides it published mostly European artists in English here, but also published a lot of American underground artists, Richard Corben, Vaughn Bode, folks like that, and I suddenly realized when I saw Heavy Metal that you can tell any kind of story that you can imagine in comic books. You know, it wasn't just relegated to superheroes, it wasn't relegated to one certain genre, that anything could be told. If you could think it, you could do it. That really changed my perspective of comics. I fell more in love with it than ever and also what was cool about guys like Richard Corben and people that I discovered in Heavy Metal - it was a lot of these guys are self-publishers and they would, you know, publish these low press run black and white comics, you know, bad print jobs, bad color jobs, but they were self-publishing and making - eking a very menial living doing what they love the most, so that really caught my eye, as an inspiration, like, you know - nobody can stop you from creating; nobody can stop you from publishing - whatever you can imagine, you can do. So when we started doing the Turtles, I didn't want to sell the Turtles - Peter and I didn't want to sell the Turtles to Marvel or DC, we wanted to self-publish, so discovering these guys in Heavy Metal led me to self-publishers, which allowed us, you know, when we did the first issue of the Turtles, we self-published, so we were also in full control of ownership and rights to our characters, so we benefited from the success of our characters, and so the money that I made from the Turtles, when Heavy Metal came for sale, I bought it. So, Heavy Metal literally helped me create the Turtles so I could buy Heavy Metal.
- Kevin Eastman on the Heavy Metal / Turtles connection

Question: What was it like seeing the puppet versions of the Turtles from the movies for the first time?
Kevin: When we started working on the movie, we were so thrilled that we had a director like Steve Baron, who had worked with Jim Henson and Steve Baron really put together this awesome vision of collecting his favorite parts of the black and white comic and marrying it with the animated thing and he brought Jim Henson and Jim Henson's main creature shop was in the U.K. We didn't go over there while they were sculpting them, but they would send us photographs all the time, so our first experience of seeing the Turtles in full puppet form; in full costume form was when we went down to the the location set in Wilmington, North Carolina and I remember, clear as... today, going onto the back lot, coming around this corner and there's all four Turtles in full costume and they're stretching getting ready for a scene and you just... $#!t your pants, cause they look so real and they look so fantastic - you couldn't... it was a moment that you can't... you're going, "Oh, my God, they look real." And that was our big worry through the whole thing, because if you guys didn't believe, or we didn't believe that the Turtles were real on the screen, then it wouldn't work as a movie, so it was a pretty incredible experience.

I've been writing Heavy Metal Magazine for almost twenty one years, now it's a five-person staff, it's me, I pick all the covers and all the stories and it's still the same kind of magazine that I like to think I discovered in 1977, but one of the cool things we're doing in Heavy Metal these days besides our regular publishing and the different things we're doing is we started development on a new animated movie with Robert Rodriguez, about fourteen months ago. You guys think I'm a big geek - Robert is, I think, even a bigger geek than I am and he has such love and passion for comics and heavy metal, all things Heavy Metal, that I think this project's going an absolute blast. I was eager to work with Robert, but I think it's going to be a fantastic homage to the original Heavy Metal comics, so it'll be fun.
- Kevin Eastman on Heavy Metal Magazine

When Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird started the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book, they both decided to share the different chores as evenly as possible, with both artists contributing to writing and artwork. This not only kept tasks evenly divided, but helped both artists stay intimately connected with the material. Later, when the Turtles were licensed for different projects, that close synergy wasn't always there...

The cool thing about Venus De Milo was a lot of people don't realize that after we finished the third movie with Newline, we started developing a fourth movie and the fourth movie, the idea was to have a fifth Turtle discovered and, originally, we had came up with this male turtle named Kirby, named after Jack Kirby, we developed it. Down the road quite a bit, came up with the origin, came up with a concept, you know, how to make it work and then, the movie didn't go forward for a number of reasons and this was at the same time that we were developing this live action series with Saban for Margaret Letch at Fox KIDS and the thing that Margaret said one day, she said, "I love the idea of a fifth turtle, how bout if we make it a female?" Personally, I didn't a problem with it at all. I thought it was, we'd already sorted out the basic source material for Kirby, you know, making a fifth turtle as a male, why couldn't it be a female and it be just as interesting? I was always very proud that we had with the turtles a strong female audience, I mean, half the people at half the shows I go to are female fans, which I think is fantastic. In these days with anime and so many things and then even at that time, so I like that series a lot and what a lot of people don't realize is we were very lucky that the writers were great, the production level quality was great, we shot it up in Canada and, the series didn't get canceled for bad ratings, it got canceled because Saban wanted more of our back end. We were sharing royalties with them. We were steadily beating in the ratings, Power Rangers, Battle Borgs, all the top-rated Fox shows, but Saban came back and said, "Okay, we've done 26 episodes, we're going to do another season, but I want most of the royalties instead of just half the royalties," and uh, we said no. So he said, "Fine. I'll just create something else, cause I'm a genius." So, he pulled the plug on the series. So the show was not canceled because of bad ratings or anything like that, but that series is kind of the lost series. And I know Peter Laird hates that series, but he was kind of on a sabbatical while I was doing that, too. But, I enjoy the series very much.
- Kevin Eastman, on Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation

The last question asked was concerning the (horrifying) rumor that in the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, the Turtles would be aliens. He happily denied that rumor and explained that the source of the rumor was based on the fact that the radioactive ooze that transmuted the turtles into the Turtles was, in fact, from Krang's facility and that it had an alien aspect to it... which, when talked about, became shortened into "The Turtles are going to be aliens." This caused a lot of controversy, which, to Hollywood is simply looked at as free advertising, so at least it served to get people talking about the movie, but no - rest assured, the Turtles will not be aliens in the upcoming move.

Kevin Eastman was delightful and personable and obviously appreciative of his fans and I look forward to his return to the next Wizard World New Orleans.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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