Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Co-Creator Kevin Eastman Interview
It was 2:15 pm on a Thursday when Kevin Eastman, the co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, called. It was a surreal moment: the co-architect (he teamed with Peter Laird) of one of the fondest memories from my childhood was appearing on my phone’s caller ID.
And when I say “one of the fondest memories,” I’m not exaggerating. My dear mother, Odessa Belcher — despite working extremely hard for ever penny she earned for us (she was a house cleaner by trade) — saw to it that I had every parcel of Ninja Turtles merchandise known to man. (And the Christmas Day picture of me wearing the original Ninja Turtles costume with the complete set of TMNT toys surrounding me on the living room floor proves it.)
I’ll admit it: I was intimidated. As I lifted the phone to my ear to answer the call, it was hard to maintain a tone of professionalism. I probably sounded like a kid meeting one of the Ninja Turtles in real life, but Kevin graciously indulged me. We talked about the history of TMNT, his experience on the Kevin Smith show “Comic Book Men,” the new IDW comics, the new Ninja Turtles movie from 2014, Paramount’s upcoming sequel, and, because RGH tries to ask every celebrity we interview a faith-related question, Kevin and I even talked a little about religion and the importance of loving others.
But before I share our fascinating conversation, I have to say: it’s truly amazing that just one person could create something that has had such a huge impact on the formative years of millions of people. And even though TMNT has been around 30+ years, both my daughters — Hannah 14, and Sierra 10 — share my diehard love for the TMNT Fab Four.
I once asked my youngest daughter Sierra who her favorite turtle was, and without hesitation she said, “Donny.” (She had shortened his name from Donatello, which I loved immediately.) Out of curiosity, I asked her, “Why do you like Donny?” She said, “Because he is purple.” (Purple’s her favorite color.)
Hannah, my oldest, likes Leonardo. She didn’t explain why, but, just from observing my 14-year-old, it’s obvious: she is strong, compassionate, and always thinking of others before herself — unless you try to take a slice of pizza from her. So Leonardo makes perfect sense.
I’m a Michelangelo fan myself, because he and I have the same goofball personality, and I secretly wish I could hurl nunchuks the way he does. Cowabunga! (Sorry — couldn’t resist.)
With a revamp in the TMNT cartoons on Nickelodeon, the IDW comics, and the reboot TMNT movie already hitting the big screen in 2014 (and hitting DVDs recently), the legacy is very much alive. You can learn more about Kevin’s new IDW Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic series at the official IDW page. You can also learn more about the Ninja Turtles history and find out when Kevin (#kevineastman86) is coming to a town near you at his website www.kevineastmanstudios.com.
I really appreciate that and thanks for being such a great fan and a supporter. Without folks like you I wouldn’t have the great job that I have, so I really appreciate you as well, so thank you for the kind words.
Did you expect the Ninja Turtles to still be this popular with a new generation after 30+ years?
Oh my goodness, absolutely not. In fact, I will start my answer to that question by saying, you know, back when Peter Laird and I published the first issue of the Turtles, we didn’t think we would sell a single copy. [laughs] So the fact that I am here, nearly 31 years later, still talking about Turtles and talking to you about Turtles is still pretty mind-blowing, and it’s quite humbling, and a compliment, and I am just so grateful. It’s so amazing, you know, 31 years later, and they are still out there finding new fans, and we are still doing stuff that some of the original fans are really enjoying.
As a father of two daughters, there is no greater thrill for me than sharing the love of the Ninja Turtles that they both have now as well, with the new series on Nickelodeon and the movie — mixing the old and the new all together.
That’s great. And what I find interesting is that — and I’m glad you brought up you have two young daughters — is that back in the early stages it was mostly boy fans, and girls were a smaller number of fans. They were there, but I’ve noticed that with most of the new fans today it’s almost as many girl fans as there are boy fans, and to me that’s even a bigger compliment. We are doing something right, you know, and that is great to reach across both genders.
It was an awesome surprise to see you on an episode of AMC’s “Comic Book Men.” Could you discuss that with us?
Well, I have been a long time fan of Kevin Smith, and we have met over the years during conventions, and he did some work with the Turtles back with the 2007 movie and some other stuff, and we have been friends, and so when “Comic Book Men” came on I just started watching it and really got a kick out of the guys — Brian and Mike and Ming and Walter — and my wife Courtney and I were doing a couple of conventions in a row and the comic book guys were there. One of them hosted a panel, and they said to me, “Would you ever like to come on our show?” and I said, “Oh yeah, of course, you guys are great.” And so that was a real treat for me as well. I am a real fan of their show, and it was a lot of fun to go on and do that.
You presented your original Ninja Turtle artwork on the episode; do you still own the piece?
Yes, it is one of those things where somebody once said to me, “If you ever sold that piece what would you sell it for?” It was the first drawing of the turtles ever. And I said, I just blurted out a totally stupid number, you know, “Oh, 2 million dollars.” [laughs] So it was one of those things where somebody said, “If somebody actually paid you that, would you do it,” and I said, “Well yeah, I could do a lot of good with that.” We could help a lot of charities we support and some other things we do and that kind of stuff, but I never in my wildest dreams think that anybody would pay that for the artwork. It was just in fun, and the fun thing about bringing that drawing on “Comic Book Men” is that it hasn’t been seen that much in public, and then bringing in original layouts for the first issue and stuff, so that was kind of a fun thing to do.
I was having a conversation with my friend Jeremy about the artwork the other day and discussing this interview, and we both agreed that if we had the two million dollars we would buy it in a heartbeat. We wouldn’t even blink an eye.
[laughs] Thank you, that is so awesome to hear.
Is there a second movie in the works? What do you think about Michael Bay’s adaptation, and is it true that Beebop and Rocksteady will finally make their way to the big screen?
I was involved in the first movie with the original producers Mednick and Galen Walker, the original producers, and still part of the production team for the final movie, but I worked on the movie for probably two years, two-and-a-half years; and then when Micheal Bay’s Platinum Dunes took over the production, they hired a director named Jonathan Liebesman. And Jonathan called me pretty much Day One or Day Two taking over as director and said, “You know, I want you to be involved. I want you to tell me everything I need to know, and I want to make the best turtle movie possible.” Jonathan was a great guy that worked really really hard to do a great movie, and so I got to have a bunch of say and, you know, I thought there were some moments in that movie that were really awesome, and there were some moments that weren’t as great as I wished they could have been, but I think Johnathan felt the same, and our hope and goal at the end of the day was that when the movie came out, the fans would like it. And so I guess they liked it enough to go see it and give us a chance to make a second one. So let’s see what happens.
I am not working on the second one at this point, but Paramount has talked about getting me involved; but at this point I’m just wishing them good luck and hope they have a great success with the movie. So we will see. As far as Beebop and Rocksteady, that is new. What is that? I know the same thing as most of you guys. I read the trades and at the same time I am glad they did that because bringing characters like that not only to the IDW comic series — and I am having an absolute blast working on that — but some of the old characters we are bringing into the IDW comic, and the same characters into the Nickelodeon series. [It] has been completely joyous just to bring them in and tweak them a little bit and make them a little more edgier and different and still have fun with them.
Is it true you do a voice on the Nickelodeon cartoon series?
Yeah, [laughs] actually from the early days I was doing some consulting for the Nickelodeon series, and they said, “We want to get you to do a voice. We want to get you to do the voice of some cool bad guy or good guy or something.” And one time at Comic-Con they were showing pictures that they wanted to add to the series and one of them was Pete that I did back in the early days — a Christmas special where we introduced a cat. Michelangelo found a cat called Klunk, so they wanted to bring a cat into the story, and when they said they had this cat that accidentally eats this mutagen on this ice cream and becomes Ice Cream Kitty, I was like, that’s it, that’s the character I want to be, and they were like, no, no we want you to do something else, and I was like no [laughs] that’s it, that character is cool. So yeah I have been doing the voice of Ice Cream Kitty and having a blast. It’s not a lot of work trust me; it’s mostly, “Meow, Rarrrw, Ba Dum, RARRW, MEOW,” so, [laughs] it’s so much fun.
Do you consider yourself a Christian or spiritual person?
You know, I was lucky enough to be raised in a Christian family, and my aunt would take us to church every week, and one of the things I loved about the church environment and what I love about — and I say mostly spiritual now — is that within Christianity the main message is love everybody, treat everybody with respect, and help whenever you can, however you can. And just to me, love is the bottom-line. So I feel like with any religion — there are a lot of religions that are the same — they just want you to be loving and supportive and caring about your friends, family, and values, and treat people how you would like to be treated. So definitely I would say a combination of Christian, and I would say I am spiritual now, for sure.