TMNT 25th Anniversary Interview
In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I took the opportunity to conduct an interview with TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman. Kevin took time out of his busy schedule to reflect on the history of those four half-shelled wonders and the empire built around them, as well as discuss his recent work as publisher and editor of “Heavy Metal” magazine: the United States’ premier adult fantasy and science fiction magazine.
- It’s hard to believe that you and Peter Laird created the Ninja Turtles twenty five years ago, how does that feel—is it a milestone for you, or do you just feel old?
**Nope, don’t really feel old—but I will admit at times, at the age of 47, I do have my days! LOL! Honestly, it is beyond amazing to me that I am here answering such cool questions about the TMNT’s after 25 years. I have to thank our amazing fans for that!
2. Did you ever imagine that four little half-shelled creatures would become such a pop culture phenomenon?
**Never. The characters were born out of our sheer love of comic stories, and it was comic stories we did. The fact that the comics drew so much interest; to become other things, like cartoons and toys, that we decided to work with the interested parties to see if they would sell in those kinds of places too—and of course that they did, was really cool as well.
3. I’m sure you get asked this a lot, but who’s your favorite turtle and why?
**Raphael is my favorite TMNT, mainly because he is the most like me. I’m kind of that guy, as Peter is the most like Donatello—the fact that we could make these characters into “real personalities,” whether original or based on people we knew—the most important thing was to bring them to life for us, and everyone interested in them: a lot of fun overall.
4. One can see countless influences on the TMNT including Star Wars and Samurai films, are there any influences that fans of the Turtles wouldn’t expect fueled your imagination?
**Dave Sims “Cerebus” and Frank Miller “Ronin” were the biggest for me, but I think we used a little of everything that was popular in comics at that time—“X-Men” and the “New Mutants,” of course everything Jack Kirby from our past, as well as some underground comics influences like the work of Richard Corben and Vaughn Bode.
5. The original TMNT comics, although funny, do have a darker more mature tone than that of the late eighties early nineties animated series that most people commonly identify the Turtles with. Were you happy with the changes made in the animated series?
**Yes, and mainly because we owned and created everything with the TMNT’s and we had full control and say over what was to be done with them. So, when it came time to decide what would work for a younger audience, we worked with the toy and animation companies to come up with ideas that would make them work for kids. We created or approved all changes made at that time. We are very happy with the end result.
6. The TMNT have been a merchandising powerhouse, including being prominent on everything from school supplies to ingredients in Chef Boyardee. What’s the most bizarre item ever created under the TMNT brand?
**Honestly, if you think about it, all of them were bizarre and, the fact that all; from TMNT toys, belts, cereal, PJ’s, or anything else created around the brand, ever sold was amazing to me. Twenty-five years after I drew the first turtle, I still get to dress my 3-year- old son in TMNT pj’s at bedtime and, although he has no clue I created them, he thinks they are pretty cool to wear while he sleeps.
7. What about the TMNT makes them so accessible to interpretation by other writers and artists, as well as to virtually all forms of media?
**Hard to say in many ways, but I do think there is a common denominator in a group of this type—the leader, the funny one, the hothead, the geek that resonate with most kids—but if you consider the outcast nature, and the father figure of Splinter; as well as the desire to be teenagers first and heroes when called upon (pretty much everyone’s dream) I think that is what draws and keeps people comic back: Again, just a guess.
8. Besides the comics, which incarnation of the Turtles are you most proud of—the original animated series, movies, the modern animated series, videogames etc.?
**TMNT movie one by Steve Barron and Todd Langdon. Besides the original work Peter and I did, this is our favorite hands down. Although we enjoyed working on all the other comics and animated and video games—all of which were cool—that I think will always be our favorite.
9. The TMNT wasn’t always the biggest thing since sliced bread, it started out incredibly small. Do you have any advice for independent comic creators just getting started?
**It is difficult for me to really give solid advice to newcomers today, as things have changed so much since we first did the TMNTs 25 years ago. The direct comic market has changed and is nearly impossible to launch a new comic and, back in our day, there was no such thing as the internet. Today, I think if a new comic storyteller wants to try and find a following, they need to build a following online, and build from there. Otherwise it is just too expensive, and really hard to find an audience the way we used to.
10 . Where do you see the TMNT headed in another twenty five years?
**Couldn’t even begin to guess! The fact that we have made it this far thanks to amazing fans like yourself speaks for itself, the first time around was a dream—the second time it worked for the young fans was a bigger fantasy—and where it will be in ten to twenty years is anybody’s guess—let’s find out together!
11. After the success of the Ninja Turtles you purchased Heavy Metal magazine, was this something you always wanted to do?
**No, buying Heavy Metal was nothing I set out to do, much like creating the TMNT’s. BUT, thanks to the TMNT’s, when I heard HM was available for sale, I had enough money from the success of the TMNT’s to jump in and buy it. Seems like it all worked out great, especially considering I was such a huge fan of HM long before the TMNT’s were born.
12. Although Heavy Metal contains adult content it has never gone hardcore, why is this the case? Would you ever consider a hardcore sex driven comic for the magazine, if the art and story lived up to H.M. standards?
**Don’t really need to. There is plenty of hardcore HM kind of comics out there if people want them—many other publishers that focus on that kind of work, much of which I buy for my own collection but, Heavy Metal has been know for a certain kind of work;the kind of work I would like to read, that is full of adventure, different genres, and a great mix of art styles that works for me, and what I pick for our readers—seems to work, we have our crowd—and they can find something edgier elsewhere if they want to—but were are glad they are with us every issue, from issue to issue.
13. There are a large number of HM fans who love the old material from the seventies and eighties, yet a great deal of this remains out of print. Has it ever crossed your mind to start something like a Classic Metal line that would specialize in publishing these lost treasures of comic history?
**Yes, we have tried to do this in a number of ways, but the rights cannot be gotten in most of the situations. When we buy the rights to publish we buy one-time English language rights, and nothing else—when we have gone back to try this, the right are now in control of someone else, or we cannot come up with enough money for them, so we have decided to keep our focus on the new work, and get collection rights when we can.
14. What’s the status on the new Heavy Metal movie, and whatever happened to the production of the “Fist Full of Blood” film?
**The new Heavy Metal film has grown into quite a project, with David Fincher and James Cameron co-executive producing, with Blur Animation doing all the animation, and a number of other REALLY cool directors coming on board to do a few different segments of this new $50 million dollar animated anthology 3D feature film—time and history will tell where we take it from here. As far as “Fistful of Blood,” it was shelved when Fincher came on board for the first new big budget film, but we are trying to get it off the ground as a separate film, as film without the HM banner—but solid none the less. Let’s see if we can come up with a deal to bring that to life as well.
15. Has having children changed your mind in regards to the kind of comics you publish? Do you plan on giving up the adult stuff in favor of more kid oriented fare?
**Nope, I think for myself, as well as what my children like, or what I decide they should see and know about me, will be on a “time is right” situation. Most of the comics I wrote before the TMNT’s were edgier than the TMNT’s; some of the work I did during the TMNT’s were the same, and some of the things I am doing now are more adult (although I have other kids projects I am working on). It is not so much what I think my kids will think about what I am doing now, it is more what my kids will think when they look back and see what I did as a total picture. Like it or not, it is what their Dad did—but I do hope they will think fondly of it.