CBR TV @ SDCC: Kevin Eastman on His “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” Odyssey
For the very first CBR TV interview at Comic-Con International 2014 in San Diego, Jonah Weiland sat down with legendary comic creator Kevin Eastman, best known as the co-creator of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” along with Peter Laird. The writer/artist talks about the ups and downs of three decades with the heroes in a half shell, the many parodies and ripoffs and how the first movie captured the fun and stories of the early “TMNT” comics. Eastman comments on his involvement in the new movie, including a possible cameo, working with Michael Bay and the filmmakers and his contribution to an animated sequence. The discussion ends with Eastman’s praise for IDW’s current “TMNT” comic book series, written by Tom Waltz, and how it made him fall back in love with the franchise as well as whether success with his own creations prevented him from working on some of his favorite Marvel and DC titles.
On the lowest moment in his 30-year journey with the TMNT: If there was a sad moment, I guess it was — we got into this to draw comic books. Writers, editors, publishers, we’re spending 90% of our time drawing the comic books and creating the work and 10% of our time on the business. When we transitioned into managing an entire property, a domestic and then an international property, it so quickly switched to 90% of our time doing the business and 10% of our time doing the physical creative. We oversaw all the cartoon shows, we oversaw all the movies — and we knew how lucky we were. Guys like Jack Kirby and so many other creators never got to have that control over their characters. We wanted to manage our characters and do everything with them, everything the world saw with a turtle on it, we saw it first and we approved it or worked on it. But it was the transition of ‘got into for the love of comic books and wanting to draw comic books’ and then not being able to draw comic books was probably more frustrating than a low point.
On the moment he thinks of as the turning point for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and his and Laird’s careers: I usually pinpoint a couple of big points for me and Peter, of course. When we got the pre-orders on “Turtles” #2 it was 15,000 copies — the first issue was only 3,000 copies. I remember Peter calling me, excited and saying, “You know, I’ve just done the math — if we do six of these a year, we can make about $2,000 each pre-tax in profits, so we can pay our rent, we can eat all the macaroni and cheese we want, and we can draw comic books for a living. To me, that was it. The dream had come true. We, literally, became full-time comic book artists at that time. So that was one of my favorites, and the most important one.
On how the story of the first movie came together and how it holds up after more than 20 years: Steve Barron, when he came onto the project as director, he brought on a writer named Todd Langen, and Steve had read all of the “Turtles” material. He had one of those big hardcovers that we’d done, the 500-page collections, and he picked out his favorite scenes in issue #1, then the “Leonardo” one-shot, “Turtles” #10 and #11, and he said, “The movie’s here. This is what I’m making.” He really wanted to go right to the source and do it as true to the original series as possible, and then when he brought in Jim Henson to bring them to life, it was one of those things that it made a good solid movie — I remember I watched it with him at the Tribeca Film Festival about three or four years ago, they used it to open the festival. Neither of us had seen it on the big screen in since it originally came out, so we’re sitting there going, “Wow, this holds up really good!” And the lighting’s great and the jokes aren’t too badly timed for that time period. It was neat to see it again on the big screen.
On falling back in love with the Turtles via his work on the IDW comic book series: My work with IDW has been so fantastic. It’s a great company, I’ve known Ted Adams for a long time, and when they got the license to do new “Turtle” books Ted asked if I’d do a few covers and if I’d do some stuff. I came down and I met the incredible Tom Waltz and he told me what he wanted to do with the series — and that was three years ago in August and I fell in love with the Turtles all over again. Not that I wasn’t, but I hadn’t done hands on work on the Turtle books since the last book I did in 1996 with Simon Bisley. So I was back doing covers, doing layouts, and working on the stories. It’s just been fantastic. I remembered how much I missed drawing the Turtles, how much I loved drawing the Turtles and how much I loved drawing comic books all over again.