Irene Koh & Mariko Tamaki on IDW’s ‘Casey & April': Alone in the Desert, Alone in the Car
This Wednesday, IDW will put out the first issue of Casey & April: a miniseries that takes April O'Neil and Casey Jones out the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' supporting cast, and sends them on a road trip of love. Bringing Mariko Tamaki in to script on a huge, established franchise, and giving Irene Koh a chance to reprise her joyful turn on Batgirl's Secret Origins, makes this book a real prospect for excitement. I spoke to both ladies--alarming them at first with lewdness and high nerdery, but I think they warmed to me eventually. Dig in, and enjoy the exclusive preview afterwards!
ComicsAlliance: Now, I confess, I’m not a current reader of IDW’s TMNT books, although I grew up watching the cartoon and have a lot of nostalgic investment in the franchise --- like both of you, I think? I was specifically interested in this miniseries, and I’d assume a lot of other grown, lapsed or ex-fans might be too, because April and Casey are totally a couple I’d go to bat for. My investment is based entirely in the chemistry between Judith Hoag and Elias Koteas in the 1990 live action film, so what I’m wondering is, I suppose, how recognizable am I going to find their relationship? A big terrible nerd question to begin with.
Mariko Tamaki: My goal was to have the relationship be true to what’s been set up in the IDW series, but also feel accurate to anyone who’s coming at this as a new reader. Relationships are complex. You can love someone and hate the way they eat cereal or change lanes on a highway. Casey and April are in a situation where, for the first time, they’re kind of on their own, and they’ve got this sudden chunk of space for experiencing each other without distraction. Which as anyone who’s ever been on a road trip knows, is good times.
What would a relationship counselor say? Maybe that’s for the next issue.
CA: That sounds pretty interpersonally focused, which is exciting. But “interpersonally focused” is just a fancy phrase for intimate, so here’s another important question: how sexy might it get? TMNT comics are all-ages, but you’re a team who knows how to write non-exploitative, integrated sexuality, I think.
MT: Ah. Hmmm.
Well, we’re definitely going for non-exploitative. I don’t think “sexy” is a word that’s come up in this process, any more than it comes up in any TMNT story brainstorming, I’m guessing.
Irene Koh: Yeah. I don’t think there’s anything overtly “sexy” about what’s going on, but there’s definitely something very intimate about the tension and discomfort between April and Casey as they experience each other in a new sort of situation. It’s a little bit uncomfortable, but it’s also a little bit romantic, if that makes sense.
MT: I think the new frontier for both of these characters is just actually being there for another person, possibly a person they care about over and above anyone else.
CA: That does sound pretty essentially recognizable, at least as far as my perspective on the relationship’s enjoyable aspects go. Which is fully a compliment, rather than some backhanded was to say “old hat”! The chemistry that I enjoyed came from both of these characters being essentially stand-offish loners, forced to confront the fact that they’re beginning to trust each other. Does that sound familiar?
MT: That’s so funny. I didn’t really think of them as loners. They’re so busy all the time, I don’t see them as being “alone.” But they’re all really in their own headspace a lot, which I can totally relate to.
IK: This is my favorite part of any relationship exploration — moving past the sort of infatuation/honeymoon stage and into something more mature, truer to their personalities, and I think that’s so fun to investigate and act out. Now that their lives aren’t in constant danger (as far as they know), how do they actually get along in a mundane setting? And do they?
MT: Oh absolutely I mean, typically once you’ve got two characters embracing, that’s where we sort of pull back. Especially with super hero type people, we get them standing over the charred remains of the city, locked in each others arms, then it’s… scene. But what happens when you’re driving for pizza the next day and you find out your new love is all... whatever disgusting thing they put on pizza these days?
IK: Or… vegan….
CA: I feel like discovering your sweetie likes a horrible pizza is a very real danger in this universe.
MT: We are venturing into new real dangers.
CA: But I like that it sounds like you’re aiming to explore… I suppose I would say “mature” parts of romance and romantic relationships, without the characters having been through life events that force them to consider them necessarily.
Calling back to a different version of these characters again, as I recall Peter Laird’s 2000s work had Casey be a widower step-dad before he and April really got together, and I admire that it sounds like you’re almost striding right over the “we have so many years to get the characters to that point” aspect of monthly comics and endless continuities to take a stand and get your characters to address grown-up matters. Why did you decide to (or were you asked to?) work on a book that put the mutant side of speculative fiction in the bonus box? Why a relationship story, specifically?
MT: Bobby Curnow at IDW approached me with this particular storyline --- that is, an issue that focused on April and Casey. So it came to me as an opportunity to write about this relationship. It was more a question of where they would be and what they would be playing out. Reading the comics it seemed to me like the place to put them would be somewhere quiet. I liked the idea of these awkward, like almost first date, conversations they could have. This idea that they’ve kind of had this long relationship but they also don’t really have a lot of, just, talk under their belts. And what better place to talk about these things than the desert?
CA: Irene, were you at any point like, "Oh… just people? I’m working on TMNT and it’s just normal human people that I draw?"
IK: Haha! So, here’s a confession: I went into this knowing very little about TMNT as a franchise. I didn’t grow up in the US so I didn’t have much exposure to it, but when I did get here, it was that cartoon that all my friends’ older siblings loved. I do remember having a bit of a crush on Casey, so things have come full circle I guess! Ha. Turtles or not, I think what really hooked me was that I was asked to draw a quiet story about a relationship going through the motions. It could’ve been any of the characters, but it doesn’t hurt that Casey has some nice arms….
MT: Casey’s looking pretty good.
CA: I KNEW THERE WOULD BE SEXY!
IK: HAHA I mean…….
CA: Nice. Okay, so talking recognizability, which is an integral thing when you’re working on a branded fiction like this one; how much leeway did you have re: what the characters can wear?
IK: I was given a lot of freedom. Reference was given for April and Casey’s new hairstyles (RIP Casey with long hair; really wanted to give him a man bun), but otherwise, I could do what I wanted.
MT: Oh. Snap.
CA: Legit mourning the man-bun now you’ve said that. What could have been!
IK: Right? I’m glad we’re all in man bun camp. I love fashion, but I kept it simple because, honestly, on a hot road trip, I feel like I’d piss off April and Casey putting them in clothes I’d want them to wear instead of what they’d actually wear, haha. I did want to keep April’s signature yellow in there, though. And Casey’s rocking some Timberlands because… Casey, and he needs something to stomp around in when he’s grumpy.
MT: I believe we’ve avoided the athletic sandal. Which are terrible for stomping.
CA: I am excited. I am excited to see some outfits. This is a four-issue mini-series, correct?
IK: Yes! And the first issue is out on the 17th.
CA: So I think it would not count as fishing for spoilers if I were to ask if there was anything that you wanted to do with this story that you couldn’t --- that you didn’t have time for, or that you were editorially guided away from for whatever reason. What would you have loved to do, but didn’t?
MT: Oh. I don’t think there was actually anything I didn’t get to do. There was definitely one thing I did that I never thought I would do. I’ll let readers guess what that is. I did think yesterday, “I wonder if Irene wishes there was a puppy in this?”
IK: Other than man buns, puppies are pretty much at the forefront of my thoughts regarding this comic, always. (How did you know.)
CA: Something to guess about! Excellent. What do readers win if they guess correctly, Mariko?
MT: I will assemble a loot bag for the first correct guesser.
CA: If that’s not a reason to read, what is??
MT: Yeah I make excellent loot bags.
CA: Okay, last question: if this four-issue relationship mini was to be reprized, which two other characters would you like to cover together? Or apart… And why, of course.
MT: Hmmm. Well, I’m kind of dying to do a Jem and the Holograms side trip relationship extravaganza. I’m waiting to see how the different relationships pan out though.
IK: Man, I would kill to do a Jem story like this with Mariko. So much drama! Exploring this sort of relationship with queer characters would be great, too.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Casey and April is on sale Wednesday June 17.