The ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 30th Anniversary Special': Eastman And Curnow On IDW’s Celebration And The New ‘Eastman And Laird’ Collaboration [Interview + Art]
Turning 30 isn't everyone's favorite, but when it comes to Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it's nothing but a cause for celebration. To commemorate this mutant milestone, in May IDW will release its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 30th Anniversary Special, an anthology bursting with all-new content from a selection of the comic series' most influential creative teams. If that's not enough, the anthology will come wrapped in the first official TMNT collaboration between Eastman and Laird in years. To get the full scoop, ComicsAlliance got in touch with Eastman and TMNT editor Bobby Curnow. Click through to read the full interview and see the brand new Eastman and Laird art, along with a piece by Eastman, Simon Bisley and Ryan Brown.
ComicsAlliance: Congratulations on the upcoming book and congratulations, Kevin, on your first official TMNT collaboration with Peter Laird in some time. How long, exactly, has it been since you and Peter collaborated on a piece of art?
Kevin Eastman: Thanks, I am very excited about the new TMNT projects coming out this year -- between the awesome IDW projects, to the Animated series, to the New Film -- I KNOW they'll be some really cool Turtles adventures for both fans new and old!
It's funny about how I think about the new work with Peter in many ways -- although I feel like we haven't had a "physical" collaboration in many years, I feel like all the work we did together, on the original series, as well as fifteen years of working on the animated shows and movies, has been a foundation that we have both been inspired by over the last thirty years… which by the way, I can't believe it has been that long!
Personally, it was quite a thrill to work on a new piece with Peter -- made me think back to many fond memories and a much simpler time and place.
CA: What was the collaboration process like for this cover?
KE: Well, it was pretty straight forward -- although Pete and I have been talking about lots of different stuff over the years, when IDW and Nickelodeon wanted to do a special project to celebrate the 30th Anniversary -- I simply asked him if he'd be keen on working on a new piece for the cover, and he was open to it. So I worked up a few ideas, and sent them along for him to play with -- and to me, he really knocked it out of the park!
CA: This project is literally 30 years in the making. When did you guys start brainstorming how you wanted to approach celebrating this milestone?
Bobby Curnow: We started thinking about it a year ago, though we’ve only really started cranking on it since last Fall.
KE: As the 30th Anniversary loomed closer and closer, there were several ideas everyone was talking about, and I think it really came down to which was the most cool -- so when we looked back at the incredible people that have worked on the property over all those years, that seemed the most fun -- and logical -- celebrate it with all the friends we have worked with over the years.
CA: It's not an exaggeration to say that thousands of talented people have had a hand in TMNT lore over the years. How difficult was it to narrow down the creators selected for this anthology?
BC: Not too difficult, I think. With this anniversary, it made sense for us to focus on the legacy of TMNT print comics, which is substantial.
So essentially we have five different short stories, touching on all of the major incarnations of TMNT in the comics format.
Kevin will be doing a story capturing the tone of early Mirage TMNT. Dean Clarrain and Chris Allan are reunited for a story set in the Archie “Adventures” universe. Gary Carlson and Frank Fosco will return to the 90’s Image continuity. We’ll circle back to ‘later day’ Mirage with a story written and drawn by Jim Lawson. We’ll wrap it all up with a new tale from Tom Waltz and Dan Duncan, set in the early days of IDW continuity.
While there have certainly been other individuals who have had a huge, crucial, impact on TMNT comics, these seemed, to me at least, to be the first creators to approach for these stories, as their contributions have been so substantial.
We’ll also have pin-ups from a lot of other notable creators from TMNT history.
Our aim with this approach is to highlight the great journey TMNT has gone through over time, at different publishers. If you’ve ever been a fan of any TMNT, at any point, this book will have something for you.
KE: I couldn't agree more with what Bobby said, it really did seem to make sense that the printed work, and those who were part of it, as the way to go -- and in so many ways, there were so many creative options, although it might have been hard to narrow down the list of who to ask to be part of it -- it was harder to leave out so many good friends we would have liked to include. Maybe for the 35th we can do it again!
CA: What were some of the responses like from artists as you contacted them to participate in the book?
BC: Everyone I talked to was excited and eager to get involved in the project. I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but speaking personally, once TMNT makes itself part of your life, it’s hard to shake it completely. How can you not have a soft spot for it?
KE: Good point and well said! I guess that is what has been wonderful about the people we have worked with over the years, the fond memories, and the only thing I could add to it, and the even cooler factor of the new artists that have told us at shows that we have inspired -- which to me is even a bigger compliment, meaning: The fact that guys like Jack Kirby inspired us, to think we had some influence on a new creator to want to write and draw their own stories is mind blowing! The kind of thing I feel unworthy of, and hard to process at times -- but can't help but feel proud about at the same time.
CA: What can you tell us about your stories in the anthology, Kevin?
KE: Geez, how to answer without any spoilers? LOL! I guess it would be just stripping it down to a TMNT moment in time to tell a little self contained tale of -- with 30 years of options, it left a lot of moments to explore! I guess I'm avoiding answering the question directly a bit, so I'll leave it for the fans to discover...
CA: As a guy who can hardly remember what he had for lunch yesterday, I imagine it must be a pretty big challenge to dig through even the past few years of continuity -- let alone 30 years' worth of TMNT lore. How do the two of you work together to keep the current TMNT series and its relationship to past material cohesive?
BC: For our IDW continuity it helps that writer Tom Waltz and I are huge, diehard fans of all the TMNT that came before us. And obviously Kevin is a vital link to the very core of TMNT. We have regular brainstorming meetings where we discuss where the story is going. If we can figure out an organic way to include a character from the past, in a way that moves our story forward, that’s a good thing.
But the ‘move forward’ distinction is important. If we include a character just to do it, out of nostalgia, it might generate a little blip of interest, but ultimately it would just bog the story down. So we’ve always got an eye on moving the story forward, making it new. Turtles is deep in all of our blood, so finding the links to the past never seems like much work. It’s all a ton of fun.
KE: Good question and great answer Bobby! Personally, I want to place all the credit to the original foundation the incredible Tom Waltz and Bobby came up with for the new series three years ago -- shifting through all that material, and stopping it down to not only a place to build new stories and introduce new characters in -- but carefully choose both fan favorites and my favorites, seemed impossible -- but they did it! When the concept was laid out to me nearly 36 months ago, I was blown away -- and VERY excited to be part of it. I can't express how much fun I have had being part of it -- and am still beyond pumped of what is yet to come.
CA: A lot of upcoming creators grew up with the TMNT comics and various animated series. What's it like working directly with writers and artists who have a passion for the material? How important to you is it to let them bring their own influences into the work while maintaining its principal guts?
BC: As an editor, I am incredibly lucky that TMNT has cast such a long shadow over my generation. It means I get top-notch talent like Mateus Santolouco and Ross Campbell, just to name our two most recent ongoing artists. They both have lots of people calling on them, trying to get their time, energy, and talent. So yeah—the fact that they chose TMNT means l’m a lucky editor over here.
Something that’s been true of Turtles from the start is that it’s very creator-friendly. Peter and Kevin always let guest creators do their own thing. Obviously we have to have some degree of continuity, but it’s important to me that the artists working on the book have the freedom to bring their own style and creativity to the mix. Dan Duncan is very different stylistically from Andy Kuhn, and the same goes for Ben Bates and everyone else who has worked on our books. As a result I think you can see the passion that’s brought to the page. I’ve never once felt like someone was phoning it in. It’s clear the creators working on this book are bringing their "A" game. Which is the best part of my job, seeing that great art come in every day.
KE: Man, I don't know if I could answer that any better -- I think we have all been spending to much time together! LOL! I guess to repeat what Bobby said so well -- that really has been one of the coolest things over the years, working with some of the original series guys like, Eric Talbot, Jim Lawson, Steve Lavigne, Mark Bode, and Michael Dooney (to name only a few -- and I could go on for a while here…) who brought so many wonderful and interesting stories into the TMNT Universe -- many things Peter and I never saw in our creations before!
I guess you could relate it to the way we grew up reading mainstream comics, each new creative team that brought their own personal vision to existing characters we knew and loved, kept it fresh and exciting -- and always coming back for more. Frank Miller's take on Daredevil and Batman were some of the biggest influences to me -- but they were guys building on the incredible work of guys like Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, and Steve Ditko that came before. What a wonderful creative world to play in for us all.
CA: Even through all of its multimedia incarnations, TMNT has managed to retain a kind of core in comics with fully independent storylines on a more or less continuous basis. Even between animated series, live action shows, video games and movies, the comics have kept coming with either you or Peter Laird involved. How important do you think that's been to the success and longevity of the TMNT up to this point?
KE: I feel like this relates to a bit of what I was carrying on about in the questions above, I strongly believe so many of us working in all these "entertainment" fields today, stand firmly on the shoulders of giants that have come before us -- but as times change and we all grow as storytellers, we update many of those original ideas that inspired us, make them our own if you will, and take the characters to new, and often personal places.
I guess it would be equally important to say, creativity breeds more creativity -- and although Peter and I tried to keep as true to our original creation as possible over the variety of different mediums that the TMNT have been explored in -- the incredibly talented folks we've had the good fortune to work with over the years have brought a freshness to build on, so in theory, keeps it fresh for us and the fans that choose to follow… and that is what it comes down to in the end, the fans, who have given us the chance to have, and keep, the BEST job ever.
CA: One of the things fans seem to love about the TMNT is that it has core concepts that thrive no matter how malleable the lore becomes between different series. What are some aspects that you consider true "musts" for any incarnation of the series?
BC: What’s truly wonderful about TMNT is how much ground it covers. It can be funny, it can be deadly serious, it can be sci-fi, it can be noir. Beyond that, I think the basics are covered in the title. I think a healthy dose of action is a must. They are ninjas, after all. It should be a little weird. They are mutant turtles, after all. And the story should be overwhelming and sometimes confusing for our heroes. They are teenagers after all.
But the one thing that anchors it all together is the bond between the Turtle brothers, along with Splinter, Casey and April. They are a family, and the meaning and importance of that family has always been at the heart of TMNT.
KE: Seriously Bobby, we've been spending too much time together in this TMNT Universe -- I actually think you know the characters and their worlds better than I do! LOL! Well said, and correct -- although there are many basic storytelling structures you want to stick to with these adventures, you want to build on the core characters and THEIR world they need to exist in, and the elements that got fans to pick up the original series -- as well as keep them excited to come back again and again to enjoy the vibe they felt the first time around.
CA: The history of the comic book business is a textbook of turbulence, but -- and I don't want to sound too corny -- as a TMNT fan I've always enjoyed that there's never really been any public drama between "Eastman and Laird." After 30 years and more success than perhaps any other team in comics, what's it meant to you, Kevin, to have maintained a solid relationship with your co-creator?
KE: Well, I guess respect and history are my first thoughts. Peter and I have had a relationship you could relate to a couple that has been married for 30 years, if you follow, we have had more than our share of ups and downs, trials and tribulations, differences of opinion on how to "Raise our Kids" as well as time apart to stretch our wings creatively -- but for me, especially over the last five or six years, is fully realizing, without each other, there would have never been any TMNT -- and I would bluntly say, Peter is the coolest creator I have ever had the good fortune to work with, know, and call my friend -- even when I have been off doing the most insane things in my life -- he's always been there for me -- a true gentleman, beyond a stand up guy, and will always have all my respect.
I hope I continue to deserve his.