A few questions were asked of a co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Kevin Eastman is an amazing man. He helped create the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who changed the way people see heroes and have existed in many different fashions. Fans can read them in comic books, watch them on TV in a few different cartoon series and they are coming back again this summer in a new movie. Our own Jay Snook was able to sit down and ask Kevin Eastman a few questions about these one of a kind heroes and here is what he found out.
How did the idea of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles come to be?
Kevin: Well I grew up as a fan of martial arts and Bruce Lee and David Carradine and the Kung Fu TV Show. So when I teamed up with Peter Laird we were joining forces artistically trying to sell work and get jobs. One night in November 1983 I thought I would come up with something that would make Peter laugh so I literally did a sketch. I thought it would be funny if Bruce Lee was an animal what would be the silliest animal he could be. A fast moving martial artist as a slow moving turtle was a natural joke so I did a sketch of a turtle standing upright with nunchuks strapped to his arms and a mask on. I put it on Peter’s desk and said ‘This is going to be the next big thing. Ha Ha Ha’. He laughed and did a sketch of his own. With studio one man upship I had to top his drawing so I did a sketch of four turtles each with different weapons and dubbed them Ninja Turltes with a comic book style logo on the top. I did it in pencil and he added Teenage Mutant to the logo and we just thought it was the funniest/dumbest thing we had ever seen. We didn’t really have any distracting paying work going on so to speak so we just said ‘Well look let’s just self publish’. We were fans of a lot of self publishers like Dave Simm and some other underground publishers. We decided to scrape together every penny we could find and print our own book so that if nobody buys a single copy we still got to do a comic book and that is where it started.
How did you build the origins of the other characters?
Kevin: The origins of the other characters came, you know a lot of the foundation of the Turtles history came from Oroko Sake, the Shredder, Hamato Yoshi, Splinter and the foot clan all came out in the first issue. We set up the whole mini universe in an issue that had a beginning, middle and end never expecting to do a second issue. We kept getting calls after the success of the first issue saying you gotta to another one. So that issue was when we added Baxter Stockman who is still a staple in the Turtles universe today and April O’ Neill who is still one of the main characters. So each issue of the Turtles we added a few more characters and a few more things to the Turtles history including Casey Jones who came in pretty early on in early 1985 with a Raphael one shot. Around that time we were building the Turtles family and around that time we licensed a role playing game to Paladium books and to have a good role playing game you have to have lots of characters. So we ended up designing all kinds of additional mutants, characters and bad guys and things.
We built the universe out much larger and added the Triceratons and things like that. So each issue we took the Turtles a bit further like with the Utroms which later became the Krang. So a lot of the foundation over the first sixteen issues that Pete and I did together was a good solid foundation with all of the main characters and main bad guys and that kind of stuff prior to the cartoon show. With that foundation and that base when we redesigned it for a much younger audience as a cartoon show. That was when we adapted all of those characters into the cartoon show and added lots, lots more. In every season of the cartoon show more characters were added and more villains (laughs). That was fun, we had a great universe for the Turtles to play in with a lot of different characters. The concept being Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles you can really go in a lot of different directions because it is kind of absurd in many ways.But we got to build out our own universe and that was awesome.
What was it like bringing the cartoon back in 2003 in a grittier, darker fashion? Was there any good and bad things about it?
Kevin: You know what is interesting when I think of the Turtles being 31 years old at this point and you look at the original Turtles black and white comic books which were much edgier and intended for a much older audience. The first animated series was obviously geared towards a much younger audience. Each version whether it be a Turtles movie or by the time we got to the Fox Kids animation series we are now talking almost twenty years of the Turtles being around and it was time to change it up a little bit, put a bit more of an edge to it. So I think our audiences became more educated if you will. Video games became more intense and edgier in theme so doing that series was trying to change it up and take it in a darker direction which I thought worked for that time.
Now you fast forward to the Nickelodeon series which is my favorite version of the Turtles in the animated series, it is a great team. For contemporary audiences we can kind of split the difference. There is a lot of funny stuff and humor for a younger audience but there is also edgier stuff for an older audience. I think what is great about the new Nickelodeon series is that it relates to both audiences. Kids who are growing up never having seen the Turtles and the older audience that have been following us since the beginning who are now in their late 20s and early 30s who often times have kids of their own. It is a great place to be.
Where do you see the Ninja Turtles going next?
Kevin: Well that is why it has been so much fun. Whether it is the Nickelodeon series or the IDW series which I am more intimately involved in. I still work almost hands on with Tom Walson and the guys at IDW is that this time for the Nickelodeon series, the IDW series and the movies we get to pull ideas from the entire existing Turtle universe. Our favorite parts from some of the younger stuff, some of the edgier stuff and wrap it into a new foundation which we can build on and add more characters and more story lines. Like season four that is coming out, last year we brought in Renet from the original Turtle series and changed her up and added new characters. That was fun and then we brought back the Triceratons. But each time you can pick a flower or a seed from some of the earlier shows it also spring boards you into ideas where you can bring in other characters from other story lines. I think the foundation is pretty wide open and pretty limitless as long as we remain true to the Turtles core which is funny, pizza loving, brotherhood, respect their father and all of that kind of stuff. I think we can put a lot of different ideas in there. We are already working on season 5 and theres some really great stuff coming together for that.
You can see a trailer for the newest Ninja Turtles cartoon series below: