Two Sticks And A Chain: Paul Allor And Damian Couceiro On The Launch Of ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe’
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live in a complicated world. Actually, now that I type that out, it seems like it might be underselling it a bit --- they not only have to deal with seemingly immortal ninja masters and an endless army of (surprisingly toyetic) mutant enemies, but they also spend a lot of their time fending off an invasion from Dimension X or literally traveling back to dinosaur times. They have a lot going on, and now, it's finally gotten to the point where it's spilling out into a second ongoing series.
This week marks the launch of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe, a new spotlight series that kicks off with Paul Allor and Damian Couceiro for a story about the Turtles under siege. To find out more, we spoke to them about their favorite Turtles, the challenge of designing a new mutant, and the importance of battling evil with #TwoSticksAndAChain.
ComicsAlliance: Since it started at IDW, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story has been spread out over the main series, the spotlight-driven Micro-Series, and even a handful of events. What sets TMNT Universe apart? Does this represent a streamlining of the story?
Paul Allor: I think the cool thing about TMNT Universe is that it isn't any one thing. Instead it's an opportunity to bring in different creators, and let them cut loose in this universe. The only consistent element is awesomeness. And probably fighting. I'm guessing there won't be a six-issue TMNT Universe arc inspired by My Dinner with Andre. Except the one I'll now be pitching.
CA: Paul, you’ve written a handful of TMNT stories that have focused on things beyond the main cast. What draws you to those characters?
PA: The folks at IDW and Nickelodeon have done an amazing job at building up this huge, rich, diverse cast in the main TMNT book. But the main focus of the book is the turtles themselves, and their immediate circle of family and allies. So I really relish the opportunity to take an established character and go even deeper with them. It also gives you the opportunity to portray these characters in a new light: Krang as the hero of his own story, or the Mutanimals straddling the border between terrorism and freedom fighting. It's a huge, fun opportunity.
CA: What are the TMNT stories over the past five years that have resonated with you, aside from your own?
PA: A lot of them, honestly. Like... a lot. But limiting it to just a few:
Secret History of the Foot Clan went incredibly deep into the Turtles characterization, and managed to latch that deep character work onto an incredibly propulsive and thrilling action story. That's tough to pull off, but Mateus Santolouco and Erik Burnham made it look easy. I also really loved the recent Bebop & Rocksteady Destroy Everything mini from Dustin Weaver and Ben Bates and a rather large crew. Just a crazy-wacky-gonzo story, with real heart. It was also nice to see Pepperoni brought back for the first time since her debut in Sophie Campbell and my Turtles in Time issue!
Another one is April and Casey from Irene Koh, Mariko Tamaki, Paul Reinwand and Brittany Peer. Irene's art is always gorgeous, and I'm a huge fan of Tamaki's work. To see her bring her kitchen-sink relationship dynamics to the TMNT universe was really awesome, and really demonstrated how much faith IDW and Nickelodeon put in their creators.
And I have to mention the main series, which I truly believe is one of the all-time great ongoing comics runs, in terms of the structure of setup and payoffs, the way it juggles several plotlines at once, some simmering and some boiling over, and the way it uses its longevity to just go deeper and deeper into its incredibly cast of characters. Some of my favorite arcs would include "Leatherhead," which was a really incredibly example of how to pay off a big part of your long game --- and then keep building on it. "Northampton" also has a special place in my heart, for Sophie Campbell's incredible work in it, and the way it subtly tied in to Andy Kuhn, Bill Crabtree and my Utrom Empire mini.
CA: Has being the person behind that spotlight changed the way you think about those characters? You mention Krang, and I think it’s safe to say that he’s generally pretty difficult to sympathize with.
PA: I have no idea what you're talking about. Krang is a straight-up hero, as I think Utrom Empire definitively proved.
More seriously, yeah, that's an interesting question. I don't really subscribe to the whole "everyone sees themselves as the hero of their own story" thing --- but I do think that everyone has motivations that are clear and reasonable to them, even if to no one else. And writing for these characters really does cause you to dig deep into those motivations, whether you're working with an established character like Krang, or a new (to IDW) character like Mutagen Man, from Mutanimals.
Seriously, though, someday soon, rebellious Utrom teenagers are gonna walk around wearing T-shirts saying, "KRANG WAS RIGHT."
CA: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” can, by its very nature, be a pretty goofy concept. How do you balance out the drama and action without getting too silly --- or is “too silly” even a concern in a world like this?
PA: I try to play the goofy elements just a little bit straighter than the reader might expect me to. I think those goofy elements really work if the characters themselves don't realize how goofy they are. But yeah, there have definitely been times when I've put in a certain gag or a moment and thought, "Is this a little too broad, even for a book about teenage mutant ninja turtles?" And then I go, "Naaaaaaaah," and leave it in.
CA: Damian, there have been a lot of artistic interpretations of the Turtles. Who do you look at to influence your own take?
Damian Couceiro: I haven't looked at any specific artist to influence my take on the Turtles, I just took the image I had from when I was a kid and was a big fan of the Turtles and added my own style. I did watch a lot of the main series art for references and I love Santolouco's work so I probably have some influence from him too.
CA: With TMNT Universe #1 introducing a new villain, how do you go about designing a new mutant? Is it just as simple as reading a description like “Tactical Scorpion,” or is it a longer process?
DC: Paul provided me with a more extended description than that, but more focused on her personality traits rather than physical look. He left a lot of room for my own designing, from which we then adjusted a few details.
CA: How did you translate personality traits into a design? She's very striking, but it seems like a tough task.
DC: Knowing the character's personality, motivations or skills gives me more to work with. She is a skillful spy, deadly and stealthy, cold and cunning; so trying to translate those features into the character I went for a sleek appearance, black and red colors and a sharp contour. I'm very happy with the result and hope the TMNT fans like it too.
CA: I don’t want to get too deep into spoilers, but I was hoping you could talk a little bit about the premise of this first arc, and maybe make everyone understand why I got so excited when I realized I was basically reading “Die Hard with the Ninja Turtles.”
PA: Oh, man, I am so excited to hear you describe it that way! The initial pitch was basically "Assault on Precinct 13 with the Ninja Turtles," but there's definitely a lot of Die Hard influence in there as well, along with The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, The Raid, Rio Bravo, 3:10 to Yuma and a ton of other siege stories. And, true to the genre, the whole thing takes place in one night, and features some very uneasy alliances.
Put simply: the Turtles and April find themselves stuck in an office building under siege, and forced to work together with enemies old and new. This isn't a story about the turtles executing some complex plan, or taking down an enemy, or working to protect mankind; this is a story about the turtles just fighting to survive, against overwhelming odds.
CA: Obviously, I need to know both of your rankings for the turtles, Best to Worst. Settle this for me and my friends: Michelangelo reigns supreme, right?
DC: I wasn't a very big fan of Mikey before working on this series, I remembered him as very goofy from the '90s. I can’t help getting fond of him now, but since I started this series I placed Raph right at the top. He's irate and rough all the time, plus with the sai, he's kind of a Wolverine. I would then place Donnie and Leo as 2nd and 3rd.
PA: Boy, that's tough. Raph is at number one, obviously (and, sidenote: if you like Raph, you are gonna love this story). The other three are all pretty close together, and the order would probably vary depending on how I was feeling on a given day. But at this moment? I'd have to go Donnie, Mikey, Leo. Sorry, Mikey.
Wow, what a brutal question! I need to go lie down...