By Jarrod Jones. On August 24, 2011, IDW Publishing brought Turtle Power back to comics.
The publisher had launched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, an ongoing saga that would capture the essence of the characters created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984. As far as tone was concerned, the all-new TMNT felt like a spiritual successor to the original Mirage Comics series, and for longtime fans this was the beginning of something special.
It was an ingenious plan: harness the energy from those gritty black and white days, imbue it with the colorful, more out-there concepts from the nigh-legendary animated series, and task a group of creators to wrangle the Fearsome Fighting Team — Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael — into a book that was both exhilarating and heartfelt. With longtime IDW editor Tom Waltz at the helm, the enterprise seemed complete. But the publisher had an ace-in-the-hole: TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman.
For someone who co-launched a juggernaut franchise, Eastman is a refreshingly down-to-earth person, one that proudly holds his co-conspirator in high esteem. “Over the nearly thirty-four years I have been involved with the TMNT’s on a wide variety of mediums and projects, I feel I have been blessed to have had the chance to work with a number of incredibly talented people,” Eastman tells me. “This latest comic-based resurgence […] could be summed up as: ‘Tom is solidly driving this awesome beast, I am a thrilled passenger… helping with some ideas and directions here and there, but mostly just completely enjoying the ride!’”
Pairing Eastman with Waltz seems to have been a successful endeavor. This week IDW releases Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #75, a full six years after the comics publisher began a bold new era for the property, one that has seen dozens of iterations since the Turtles’ creation over thirty years ago. Needless to say, IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been every Turtle fan’s best-case scenario. It’s a synthesis of love, fun, and respect.
To mark this anniversary I spoke with Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman about their six-year journey with Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, and Donatello, the creative harmony between IDW and Nickelodeon, and what they believe to be the most shocking moments of the series so far.
1. IDW published ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ #1 on August 24, 2011. That’s six years ago. What has changed creatively for you during this time? What’s changed in the way you perceive these characters?
Tom Waltz: I like to think my understanding of the characters has grown and as a result, my ability to write them has improved. After six years of working on TMNT daily, the cast has really become a part of me and I find that it’s become much more natural to convey their personalities and emotions in my scripts, which, I like to believe adds a level of confidence to the ongoing story. And if I do get off track at all, I’ve got fantastic collaborators in Kevin Eastman and [TMNT editor] Bobby Curnow — and the awesome Joan Hilty at Nickelodeon — to keep me honest.
Kevin Eastman: When I first met Tom, after Scott Dunbier invited me down to IDW to see if I had any thoughts on what they wanted to do with the newly acquired TMNT license, I was beyond impressed with what he had in mind – and today, hell, I’ll flat out tell you I am his biggest fan! Yes, as Tom said above, series editor, and insanely creative in his own right, Bobby, with Joan’s always spot-on creative guidance are important to the mix – as are the brilliantly talented artists that bring these tales to life – but Tom has written every script. Besides it being an unparalleled feat – each and every one of them, at least in my humble opinion, is perfect. Peter Laird and I might be the biological TMNT’s Dads, but Tom is easily the coolest “Step Dad” on the planet!
2. With issue #75, you’ve surpassed the longest running Turtles series by at least two issues. Spending so long with these characters — especially you, Mr. Eastman — does it feel like the Turtles are running this ship at this point, or are you still in control of how these stories unfold?
KE: Over the nearly thirty-four years I have been involved with the TMNT’s on a wide variety of mediums and projects, I feel I have been blessed to have had the chance to work with a number of incredibly talented people, all of the experiences positive and enjoyable, all of them building on what Peter and I originally envisioned. This latest comic-based resurgence, specifically the last six years of the IDW TMNT Universe, my direct involvement could be summed up as: “Tom is solidly driving this awesome beast, I am a thrilled passenger… helping with some ideas and directions here and there, but mostly just completely enjoying the ride!”
3. With “The Trial of Krang” you’ve introduced a new character from Dimension X, Hakk-R, a lethal assassin here to royally disrupt the lives of the Turtles as they attempt to put Krang away for good. What inspired Hakk-R, and what kind of insanity can we expect from him in the future?
TW: Hakk-R started as an idea by editor Bobby Curnow — we needed a new foil for the Krang story arc (especially considering Krang is cooling his tentacles in jail) and he suggested a cool, futuristic bounty hunter/assassin. From there, we all got together for one of our ongoing “mind meld” meetings to further develop both Hakk-R’s design and personality, as well as his role in the current arc. We spit-balled a lot of concepts before we finally arrived at the character that we first unveiled in the 2017 TMNT FCBD issue. As for Hakk-R’s future? No spoilers!
KE: What has been so great about the IDW TMNT comic universe is that under the foundation Tom originally envisioned, lots of characters could be pulled in from all the previous TMNT universes, tweaked and nudged a bit or a bunch – but with plenty of room for new ones. Hakk-R, is the perfect example – right down to Cory Smith’s final design, very, very cool.
4. Between “The Trial of Krang” and the five-week event series, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Dimension X’, we’ve spent quite a bit of time surrounded by wildly conceptualized aliens and the intrigue surrounding Krang. Is there anything you can tell us about the trajectory of your story beyond “The Trial of Krang”? Are the Turtles going back to street-level once the dust clears?
TW: After “The Trial of Krang,” the Turtles will make a quick detour to pay another visit to the Ghostbusters in TMNT/Ghostbusters 2 (a five-issue weekly event in November). Then it’s back to the TMNT’s NYC to deal with a Triceraton invasion (which kicks off the “Invasion of the Triceratons” arc). And then, yes, we’ve got some street-level business to take care of… in a big way!
KE: And even that is an understatement! Hah! Hah! Knowing what is in store for the fans over the next five issues has me biting my tongue in extreme frustration over the last five Comic Conventions I’ve attended! I always get a lot of questions from fans asking “What’s Next” in the series and it kills me not to spill the beans!
5. How in the world did you guys make Krang — of all the creatures in any universe — such a complicated character? When you started work on “The Trial of Krang”, did you know out of the gate that Krang’s guilt was going to be far more complicated than it seemed?
TW: I’m proud of a lot of the characters we’ve developed during our run — both existing and original ones — but General Krang, in particular, is a character I feel we’ve been able to take to a new level from his original incarnations, and a lot of that is owed to the fantastic help we’ve gotten from guest writers like Erik Burnham and Paul Allor in various mini-series connected to our ongoing. We laid the groundwork and these writers built up so wonderfully from there, giving us the multi-faceted and, as you say, complicated character we have now in “The Trial of Krang.” The very fact that the character has been well developed made it almost mandatory that we plot his trial in a well-developed manner as well.
KE: I couldn’t agree more. When Peter and I transformed the original Utrom Race from the black and white series, into “Krang” for the cartoon series – I, for one, would have never imagined he would have eventually evolved to the “Ultimate Universal Evil” he has become in the IDW series. Like so many of the other “original” TMNT characters that have been adapted and tweaked so beautifully by Tom and the guys – Krang and the Neutrinos rank at the top of my all-time favorites list.
6. With issue #75, it feels as though you’re clearing the path for the Turtles to move on with their story, to face new enemies and new threats. Is there anything on that front you can tease here?
TW: My one hint is this — old enemies and animosities are lurking and festering.
KE: See – this is what I’m talking about! As mentioned above, right now I’m jumping around the room and pitching a fit because I want nothing more to let a cat, or two, or three – out of the bag! Frustration! Hah! Hah! Trust me readers – it will be worth the wait…
7. You’ve brought in characters from the ‘Dimension X’ event into the main story. Are there any you can see hanging around the book for an extended period of time?
TW: I love all the Dimension X characters and I really hope they all stick around. TMNT Universe gives us an opportunity to invite other creators to explore them further and I bet Bobby’s already gotten plenty of story pitches. The world needs more ACE DUCK!
KE: I think we all have a “short list” of characters we want to bring in the mix, but what is so great about this series – we all agree story first. The careful evolution of bringing old or adding new characters has never been forced, it has its place and time and it is almost as if the story guides us with respect to this kinda stuff, as we do it at times. Personally, I’m hoping we can get another Usagi Yojimbo crossover on the schedule one day soon!
8. One of the more fascinating parts of reading issue #75 was that, during Krang’s trial, you bring in Leatherhead to recount his experiences with Krang, citing events that go as far back as issue #58. It shows that you guys are really in this for the long haul. Are there any lingering plot threads from your run that you may revisit in future issues?
TW: Oh, yes… every thread matters… and every character (EVERY. SINGLE. CHARACTER.) is important.
KE: And he’s not kidding. As mentioned above, story first – adding (or removing) characters throughout this series is always with great thought and purpose. The road to issue one hundred is going rock.
9. I think I can guess the answer to this question, but what, for each of you, has been the most shocking moment you feel you’ve gotten away with on ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’?
TW: Spoiler Alert! The execution of the human boys the TMNT once were pre-reincarnation in Feudal Japan (TMNT #5) has to be number one. Donatello’s brutal beat-down in TMNT #44 and Shredder’s death at the hands of Splinter and Splinter subsequently taking over the Foot Clan in TMNT #50 are right in the mix, too. And we ain’t done shocking you yet, folks!
KE: The tweaks to the Origin Story with Old Hob — When Shredder attacked and nearly gutted Casey – Dark Leo’s/”City Fall” run – Hun as Casey’s alcoholic and abusive Dad – Bebop’s chain saw and Rocksteady’s sledge hammer! So many edgy things Joan and Nickelodeon have supported and pushed for since the beginning – they really let the series have some room to “GO THERE” when the story called for it. I always tell fans the IDW TMNT series is the closest we’ll ever get to the original black and white series – and in some cases, this one pushes further than we ever did.
10. Final questions: what needs to happen to get an ‘Ace Duck’ spin-off series, huh??!
TW: HA! See my answer above — you know I’m on your side!
KE: I’m just hoping we can get the series out before the Ace Duck feature film! It’s going to be our TMNT equivalent to the Rogue One Star Wars film…
‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ #75 is in stores today.