Another big moment in my life was about to happen. David had just finished telling me that Kevin Eastman and his wife were here and would be joining us shortly. I frantically started flipping through my note pad to view the questions I had planned. I was getting nervous. I had just finished interviewing with Sergio Aragonés, a longtime favorite artist of mine, and now I was going to interview the man that had created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
As most people know, I have loved the Turtles since I have known about them. I even went so far as to break open my piggy bank back in the early 90’s so that I could by tickets for my family to go see the TMNT: Coming Out of Their Shells tour. Yes, I was THAT kid.
I had just flipped to my third question when David had informed me that Mrs. Courtney Eastman was out in the lobby looking for us. We got up from our chairs to see her standing right in front of us. As we walked up to greet her, Kevin appeared from the elevator. We all introduced ourselves and then the night became even MORE epic. Sergio Aragonés walked up and introduced himself to the Eastmans, as well as greeted us again. This was the first time the two had ever met. HISTORY!
After few minutes of getting acquainted, we parted ways with Mr. Aragonés again, and headed to the hotel lounge to start our interviews. Once again, we had another intimate setting. We sat at two tables and brought them together to start interviewing.
Red Headed Mule: Thank you guys, seriously, because Ninja Turtles has been a HUGE part of my life SO thank you guys for that.
Kevin Eastman: Thank you, very much.
RHM: My first question is about the recent TMNT crossovers with the X-Files’ character, The Lone Gunmen. Are there any future crossovers you would like to see or, any past crossovers you would like to revisit?
KE: You know, I liked the Lone Gunmen series, I loved the Infestation series, and those were really fun. That one had a bunch of different characters. But one of my favorites was the Ghostbusters. So I think Ghostbusters but, I grew up as a huge, huge fan of Daredevil. So it would be the ultimate dream to have a crossover with Daredevil but I don’t think Marvel will ever let us do that. So yeah, I don’t think they’ll let that happen anytime soon.
RHM: That would be fun though. With you being the voice of Ice Cream Kitty in the episode “Of Rats and Men,” Ice Cream Kitty was based on a character from one of the old series where Michelangelo found a Chrismas cat. How is it that the Rat King will be a part of this episode?
KE: What’s cool about that is when you are talking about the IDW comic series, when you start reinventing after a couple of series’ had past, you can really go back through 30 years of history, because the Turtles are officially 30 years old this year, and you can pick out certain events.
With Ciero (Nieli), he grew up on the comic books first and then the cartoon series and movies so, as he’s piloting the ship if you will, he gets to make up characters that he wants to see so the Rat King was a natural to bring him back.
What’s great is that times are changing, audiences have matured, ratings have become less stringent than we did the early cartoon show so the show can be pretty edgy at times and there version of Rat King is REALLY creepy. And the whole experience has been awesome. It’s been really great.
RHM: That really is cool. Seeing as how a lot of people have grown up on your work, and you have inspired so many, what words of wisdom could you give for those wanting to become part of the industry?
KE: Growing up on guys like Wally Wood and Frank Frazetta, the guys that inspired me to draw, I feel like I’m carrying on a legacy because they inspired me and got me to draw. And if I am able to continue in that and inspire some other people, then I think that’s a huge compliment. It’s hard to think of it like that sometimes but it’s really awesome.
I’d also say thought that, much like the Turtles’ names, I’ve also been a fan of art history for pretty much my whole life. I loved history and I loved art history. In fact, it was funny because, when I was in high school, I created a mural and I dedicated it to Leonardo DaVinci. That’s where all of the Turtles’ names came from. Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, Michelangelo, all those names came from art history. So, I would tell artists trying to get into the business to draw every day.
Don’t be shy. Really look at your influences and look back through history. People have been doing paintings and masterpieces practically since cave painters. So you can be inspired from anywhere and everywhere. Don’t be shy to pull your inspirations from everywhere.
I think that is basically it. Know your talent, work hard, draw better than anyone else and draw all the time.
As far as breaking into comics, it’s a much tougher time, in some ways, because when I started there was a way to publish your own comic books, to control the rights and make money through the commerce of printing the comic books and selling the comic books and making money for it.
These days, it’s the Internet. It’s too expensive to do it as a printed comic book and it’s a much tougher business than it used to be, so I think that it’s (easier to) go to places like Deviant Art, and a lot of other comic book related websites where you can write, draw and create your own comic book, post it and build a fan base. So I try to point people to the internet these days. But, first you have to be able to draw, then you can tell stories and then, you can take it from there.
RHM: Wow. Well, earlier you mentioned Daredevil.
RHM: There’s always been that correlation between Daredevil and the Turtles, that when Daredevil was blinded, the Turtles were “born.” Is there any correlation between The Hand and The Foot–
KE: Oh! TOTALLY! That’s funny because me and Peter (Laird) grew up reading lots of different comic books and one of my favorites was ‘Daredevil’, when I was growing up. I read it long before Frank Miller came on board and I do remember buying those first couple of issues that, when Frank Miller took over, I watched him do stuff in comic books that hadn’t really been done before and it was mind-blowing. But I was a big fan of Daredevil before then and I was also a fan of Heavy Metal magazine and some underground publishers, Richard Corbin, those guys but, more importantly, Dave Sim.
Cerebus first came out in 1986 and he draws this funky little aardvark character, like Barry Windsor-Smith was drawing Conan, and he’s running around hacking people, almost like a parody. But then, 300 issues later, you can tell he’s been up to these ground-breaking, amazing comic book stories. So when Peter and I started pitching around to all these different publishers, trying to get work, when we came up with the Turtles we said “let’s just do what Dave Sim did.” Let’s self-publish it and kind of make it a parody, because no one is going to buy a single issue anyways, so let’s have fun with it.
So, we came up with “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” It’s like teenage mutants, you had The New Mutants and X-Men, the Fantastic Four and all the different comics that came before. You had Chris Claremont and what he was doing with the X-Men was a big inspiration. You had characters from Hong Kong Phooey to Cerebus to animal characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. We grew up on all that stuff so we sort of rolled all of our favorite things into one comic book and then just did it as a joke.
So that is exactly where Matt Murdock’s — Daredevil’s — trainer, Stick, Splinter came from. Right down to the origin because it always bothered me that when young Matt Murdock got hit in the eyes with this radioactive canister by this truck going by, no one ever said what happened to the canister. I just said we’ll continue to have this canister continue to bounce down the street and, well, that’s where the Turtles came from (laughs). We were having a good time with it. We were having fun telling the kind of story we’d like to see.
RHM: (laughs) Excellent. Would you mind telling us about what is coming next for you Mr. Eastman?
KE: Oh, sure. What’s super exciting is that we’re up here in Sacramento and the episode I’m a part of is coming on tomorrow. It’s funny because I’m also doing a cameo in the new Turtles movie coming out sometime between the 10th and 18th of August. Yes, the Michael Bay version which no one hast to worry about. It’s going to be a great movie. It’s coming out right after San Diego (Comic-Con) this year.
I’ve been working the IDW comic series and, actually in August, it will be three years for me that I’ve been working on it and I’ve got a new Turtles annual coming out. I did a 60-page that came out last year and I am working on another one right now. That should be out by San Diego (Comic-Con) as well.
We have three seasons of Turtles, I think there might be more…more toys because the Turtle’s business is booming. If the movie does what we think it will do, I think there will be a second movie and a third movie.
At the end of the day, you can make new comics, you can make new cartoon shows, you can make new movies but it’s going to be the fans that decide whether they work or not. You know, when we started the new comic series three years ago, we could’ve quite easily failed miserably. And that’s the same with the cartoon show. It’s amazing that we’ve been able to find old fans and new fans for all of those series. But it’s pretty great.
RHM: Well sir, I know it’s getting pretty late so I’ll just ask this one last question. First off, I’m loving the new IDW series. I got it for my son. So far I have the first four paperbacks and I’m trying to get caught up with the single issues.
KE: Ha, that’s awesome.
RHM: (smiles) One of the things I have been trying to explain to my son about the series is about how, in the series, you actually touch upon domestic abuse between Casey (Jones) and his father.
RHM: How did that come about? I only ask because that is a lot different from my introduction to Casey Jones as a seven year old.
For comparison, here’s a highlight reel of Casey from the 1987 animated series uploaded by YouTuber MrAndyCretin. -Ed.
KE: Yeah. You know it’s interesting because, much like when we did the Turtles’ black and white series back in the old days, that series was much edgier and catered to a much older audience. The cartoons were for a much younger audience and the movies were somewhere in between. But, even some of the themes we touched upon in the original comics were edgy for us at THAT time.
So, when we started working on the new series now with IDW, the approval process has to go back to Nickelodeon. So when we pitched some of these ideas, Nickelodeon was very supportive of us taking it into some of those places that we didn’t think they really wanted to go. We thought they wanted to really water it down and make it for the kids. They said “No.” They wanted the comic series to be intended for the older fans with us taking it back to the roots.
So you take Casey’s origin story, which was kinda goofy. You know you just watch too much bad TV, put on a hockey mask and then you go around and beat bad guys up. So when we dug into his story, we tried to make it a little deeper and it just seemed kind of fitting that we can touch on that without digging too deep. Child abuse, alcoholism, and how that played into another character like how Hun became Hun in another series.
Like even where we do an issue where Shredder stabs Casey and almost kills him, and some of the stuff we’ve been able to do in the series, especially some of the themes and the violence, is stuff that we can get away with because it isn’t gratuitous violence. Not just doing it for the sake of doing it. Everything is well-rounded in a very important plot point is going to be made.
I mean, we’ve been planning out all the way to issue 50 at this point and beyond, so it is almost like everything that has been done is with thought and with the intention to tell the best story that we can. Limbs flying off all over the place (laughs).
RHM: (Laughs) I really appreciate your time sir. I loved every minute of this.
KE: Well thanks for waiting around the whole time. It was very nice meeting you.
RHM: And you as well, sir.
At that point, we all said our goodbyes and I walked out of the hotel. I started to update my Facebook page when I felt a hand on my shoulder. Startled by this, I turned around to see Sergio Aragonés! He was out to stretch his legs and I was now there to keep him company. We walked and talked for a few city blocks and then parted ways at 8th street.
I had just ended my day by literally walking the streets of Sacramento with a living legend. These were the best interviews I’ve ever had the pleasure to conduct.
Interview conducted and written by Roshawn. Editing, media placement, and captions are done by Clarence.
Image of Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo are public domain. Photo of Donatello statue is taken by Italian Wikipedia user Frieda under Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 license. Thus, the collage is CC-BY-SA 3.0.
Screenshots of the current Ninja Turtles cartoon are copyrighted by Nickelodeon.