Kevin Eastman Talks Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Calgary Expo
Kevin Eastman, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT), took time to speak with us ahead of his upcoming appearance at the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo this weekend (April 24 – 27, 2014). As we approach the TMNT 30th anniversary this May, Eastman gives us his thoughts on how the turtles got started and their meteoric rise in comics, cartoons, toys and movies.
Listen to his interview now. Hit play on the Soundcloud link below.
*For those of you hoping to see Eastman at the Calgary Expo this weekend, please note that he is ONLY at the show Friday, April 25 and Saturday, April 26.
The following is the audio interview written out for you, transcribed by my cool colleague, Jake Lester.
You were brought in to consult on the soon to be released Michael Bay movie. Now, 30 years ago, if someone had said to you “One day this one shot comic is going to explode into numerous issues, cartoons and not one, but two movie franchises” what would you have said at that time?
Quite simply Peter and I would have laughed you out of the building. Or out of our living room, which is where Mirage Studios actually came from. We never really had a studio for Mirage, it was our living room! Personally I feel like I stand on the shoulders of giants. Guys like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Wally Wood inspired me to draw. So when it came time for me to try and peruse my career and convince my parents I wouldn’t be living in their basement the rest of my life. I had a new set of heroes, guys that are very directly responsible for the inspiration behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, was fellow Canadian Dave Sim, who created Cerebus. With Cerebus he reintroduced the idea that underground comics, black and white comics, they could be published, they could be successful and they could find a fan base in the direct market. He kind of stated out his whole thing with a parody, drawing this cool little aardvark running around like Conan the Barbarian drawn in a very Barry Windsor Smith style of the original Conan comic series. And we were like ‘Holy S**T, if guys like Dave Sims can do it.’ Peter and I were like, ‘let’s stop sending submission to Marvel and DC and not work there. Let’s go back to our underground roots. Let’s self publish our book. ‘ So we drew it, I got a $500 dollar income tax return, we cleared out Pete’s bank account, I borrowed $1000 from an uncle, and we were able to publish/print 3000 issues of issue one assuming we would not sell one single copy. When we got the books back from the printer, we actually made furniture out of them in our living room, which was our studio (laughs). But thanks to some early fans that came along, and got a kick out of our first issue, our parody, they gobbled up the first issue the 3000 copies, we did a second printing. And then, because I grew up in Maine, I went back to cooking lobsters for the summer, because that’s how we made our living back in those days in New England. You work from Memorial Day to Labor Day and try and save as much money as possible to make it through the winter. Then when the fall of 1984 came around we had gotten some calls through the people we distributed through and they said, ‘When are you guys going to put out a second issue?’ And we were like, ‘Well, we never thought about doing a second issue, we probably should.’ So, by the first part of (19)85, preorders on the second issue were enough that we could actually pay our rent, eat all the macaroni and cheese we wanted to and draw comic books for a living. At the point the dream came true. We are living like our heroes and our inspirations, drawing comic books and we honestly didn’t think that it could ever get any better, and we didn’t really expect it to go much farther than that. So, to get back to the original question, you know that was back in 1995-85 and here I am 30 years later still working on Turtles, still drawing Turtles, still consulting on movie projects and entertainment projects is mind blowing to me in every aspect. My first thought is I want to thank the fans that gave me the greatest job on Earth first and foremost, because I’d probably be pushing a shopping cart around somewhere yelling, ‘I use to draw Ninja Turtles.’ (laughs) It was the perfect storm and the perfect combination, and it’s been exciting to be a part of this whole adventure for 30 years now, it’s crazy.
They’re almost bringing the Turtles back to their intended audience, in regards to age, with the movie itself. How do you look at that?
What’s been so cool is throughout the whole process, again things publishers like Dave Sim taught us, is that when you create your own project create your own property, your IP (Intellectual Property) as they call it now days, you’re in full control of everything that’s to be done with it or not done with it. So when we were originally approached to licensed the Turtles for cartoons, movies and that kind of things we were a little a taken back. We never saw it going in that direction. We said well w just wrote this silly little comic book that something we had written for ourselves, it was something we wanted to publish because we wanted to be cartoonists and the fact that it was reaching an audience beyond that is amazing to us. So when we worked on the animated series, we knew just writing black and white comics for ourselves, we were actually taking the series down to a level that is meant for six and seven year olds. And so things like changing the origin a bit, changing the look of the Turtles a little bit, Pete Larid came up with the idea for the different colored bandanas. We contributed it to every aspect of its evolution into animated cartoons, comics and toys. We also had full approval, so we got to approve that final look. Again, foolishly thinking I guess, when we were working the early animated series, we were blown away that this worked as a comic book there is no way kids are going to related to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And when the first five parts animated episode came out in 1987, between Christmas of 87 and New Year, kid’s holidays, the fact that it did very well and got good ratings that gave the animation company the ability to step up and say okay we will fund additional cartoon shows. It gave the toy company optimism (to say) okay we are going to go ahead and make the toys, which came out in June of 1988. From then on it was like, ‘Holy S**T. What have we done?!’ It just kind of took off. Transitioning from the early cartoon show and early toys into the first movies it was a big step for us because we were thinking okay we’ve been very successful in three areas, comics, toys and cartoons, a movie is a whole other ball of wax. Luckily we were so fortunate to work with Golden Harvest, who produced all the original Jackie Chan movies, and Steve Barron, who had directed some of the best music videos at that time with Dire Straight’s Money for Nothing and Billie Jean (Michael Jackson). And of course the icing on the cake was Jim Henson’s Creature Shop bringing the Turtles to life. That was version of the Turtles that was now out there, and the fans came out and embraced it. So we had a comic book look, a toy look, a cartoon look and a movie look. Then you fast forward to all the versions of the Turtles that has been done over the past 30 years right up to Michael Bay and Jonathan Liebesman’s Turtles now, they wanted to bring it into the here and now. They wanted to update it. They knew they had to overcome all these little obstacles, not only with character design, but with martial arts for example. We’ve all been spoiled by so many incredible martial arts movies, so the martial arts has to be believable. The characters have to work, they have to be funny, they have to have all the action that we hope the fans will get a kick out of. I think they have been able to do that. From everything I have seen on the movie, I’m very happy with what they’ve done so far.
You’ve been all over the world, you’ve been to conventions all over America, and you’re coming to Calgary this week. You’re going to be there Friday and Saturday correct? Not Sunday?
Yeah, we’re coming in Thursday and we are doing events all day Friday and Saturday. That’s what been cool with the 30th anniversary (debut of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) my wife and business manager has booked a lot of shows for us this year, but she’s found places that we haven’t really been before. Which is exciting for us, because we get to meet fans that normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to come to San Diego, or see some of the other bigger shows. To me that’s my favorite part, you know like I said earlier, without the fans, the fans from day one the fans that are new the fans from the animated series or the Turtle video games, but they found something that they like about the characters. They are just such cool people, it’s inspiring. You feel not worthy for their respect, but it also energizes me to want to work harder and do cooler stuff that will want them to help keep me in my job.
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