KEVIN EASTMAN [Exclusive Interview]: Hero in a Half-Shell!
Robert Bexar: Hi there Kevin! This is Robert, from GodHatesGeeks.
Kevin Eastman: (laughter) Oh that’s funny! Great name!
RB: I’ll make sure to tell the founder. We have you on, because this weekend, we have Comicpalooza here in Houston. First off: Thank you so much for doing this.
KE: It’s an absolute pleasure. Thank you! I’m super excited to come down to Houston this week. I haven’t been there in a while; and I’m excited to see all the fans there.
RB: Houston is excited for you! I can tell you that. So I’ve been a huge fan, since I was a kid; and I’m thirty-three, so I go way back. Now 30-years later, what do the Ninja Turtles mean to you?
KE: You know, first, let me say thanks. We just had the Turtles’ 30th Anniversary, and in almost 30 shows, we had diehard fans all over the world [in your age bracket] who now have kids of their own and they’re fans as well. It’s a double blessing, very humbling and surprising! I always think back to [co-creator] Peter Laird and I never thinking we would sell a single issue of #1; and now, here we are 30+years later really we’re still talking Turtles and we’re still doing Turtles’ projects, including all the stuff we’re doing with IDW and Tom Lawson; the guys over there are just the best ever. I’m having such a blast. It’s, again, surprising. With the Nickelodeon series and with the Paramount movies and the IDW stuff, it’s surprising that there’s so much love for the Turtles after all this time.
RB: You’ve kept this humbleness about you. How do you keep that “down to Earth” mentality?
KE: The way I was raised. I grew up in a very small town in Maine and old-fashioned manners: “please”/”thank you”, go to church and we just had a good solid grounding experience in life. Also, the first time I met Jack Kirby at San Diego Comic-Con. I remember just hearing that Kirby was in the building and this was probably ’87 or ’88, just when Peter and I were starting out. And you could hear this kind of hush just go over the whole convention, you know, like “Kirby’s here”, “Kirby’s in the building” and so on. He told us this wonderful story about him and Joe Simon, what they did [on Captain America] and this fan next to him — after Kirby had finished telling his story — asked him the very same question (laughter) about Captain America. Instead of Kirby saying something like “oh you idiot, didn’t you just hear me?”, he answered the question in the same way with the same love and appreciation for his creation and such love and appreciation for his fans. I just thought to myself that if I’m ever lucky enough to have fans, this is how I want to be. The fans have really given me a wonderful life and a great job, and I get to sit here in my sweat pants and draw Turtles all day. What more could you ask for in life?
RB: When did you and Peter realize that you had made this cultural phenomenon in the Ninja Turtles?
KE: You know, there were a couple of moments. The most important one was when we were soliciting for TMNT #2. We received the numbers back from the distributors and it was above 50,000 copies, so Pete pulled out his calculator and he said, “after we pay for printing and all the expenses for these books, we’ll make about $2,000 each pre-tax. If we do six comics a year, we can, at this rate, pay of all our bills, buy all the cheese we want and draw comic book for a living. I think I was about 21, 22 (years old). That was one of the benchmarks of “Holy Smokes! I’ve arrived! I don’t know how long it’s going to last but for right now, this is what I’m doing!”
The other was when we started working on the Ninja Turtles animated series. These people approached us and said “hey, we think this could be a great kids animated show and a toy line”. So, we were like, “oh my God! What have we done?” 1988 is when things really took off, and those small successes led to just everything that seemed to happen with the Turtles from that point on. The first movie which was just a huge hit for everybody and it just kept going and going. Here. we were holding on for dear life to the empire that we accidentally built.
RB: Well, I remember going to see the movies with my parents and asking for all the action figures.
KE: Well, you were part of our success so thank you and your parents (laughs). Although at some early signings, there would usually be a kind of grumpy parent behind them, looking at us going, “do you know how many Christmas Eves I had to stay up putting together that stupid Turtle play set or the blimp or how many turtle toys I stepped on, on my way to the restroom in the middle of the night? You know how much money I’ve spent on your goofy idea?” [Now] funny because it’s the excited parent with their child who’s just discovering the comics, so they’re both happy.
RB: Jumping onto the IDW series that started in 2011. Is the series you’re doing now something that you wished you would have done earlier or is this just something that as you have gotten older this is now how you see the Turtles?
KE: You know, first and foremost, (head writer at IDW) Tom Waltz really deserves most of the credit of the version that exists now. He grew up as a fan. He’s the one who formatted the structure and the attitude; thankfully, Nickelodeon — who’s been extremely supportive this whole series — approved it. Tom said, “I went back and picked up some of my favorite moments, my favorite periods of turtle history”, [referring to] the tonality and attitude of the original black and white series. I threw in some ideas and started navigating with editor Bobby Curnow, who’s an incredibly talented editor, so that the three of us make up the team. I love the Mirage series that Pete and the guys did, the black and white version. Each incarnation of the Turtles has had it’s great qualities and has captured a lot of contemporary-isms.
But in this series, we have the best of all turtle universes; this is the best time I’ve had working on the Turtles since the original series with Peter Laird– it’s that same kind of excitement. I get excited about going to the story meetings and the writing sessions; I get excited about working on the next cover. I’m having an absolute blast, and thankfully the fans have really embraced it. It’s been a fun ride and we’re just wrapping up issue 50 now and we’re plotting out the direction for the next 50 issues if the fans will hang in there. One arc at a time, so to speak.
RB: Is it difficult for you, with you walking the fine line with the black and white and edginess like you said, is it difficult walking that thin line with action and violence and still being able to have kids can read it?
KE: Yeah, that’s a great question and there is. There really is a delicate balance because the IDW version is meant for an older audience; but at the same time, kids are much more mature these days. Even when we feel we are pushing it a little bit, we have our own self-regulation. We don’t show someone getting a head cut off full on; you can tell an edgy story in a sophisticated way so you don’t alienate some of the younger readers. Even when I look back at the turtle stories I’ve done over the years, I think only the Bodycount series that I did with Simon Beasley went too far. So yeah, you do have to check yourself at times. It’s not to sexy, it’s not to violent; you can tell a great story without all of that.
RB: You’ve have had a few jaw-dropping moments. They were issue 3 or 4 were we get the backstory and you see the Foot decapitate the four sons and the recent Donatello story.
KE: You know what? Especially that first run of 12-issues with the art by the amazing Dan Duncan. What was tricky, was the foundation we were putting out there– when you see the whole reincarnation issue;even stuff like Raphael getting separated from the other Turtles; Casey’s dad [being] an alcoholic, abusive father; how the brothers were finally reunited, with Raphael and Casey always having that strong connection. Nickelodeon let us go to those edgier places, but none of it was just to do it; it was stuff that was to be done because it was critical of the story.
RB: Moving outside of the Turtles. I know you’ve done Heavy Metal, but say that DC and Marvel come to you and say, “okay, Kevin, you have complete and utter control over one of our main characters. Who do you take and why?”
KE: Two immediately come to mind. One Marvel character would be Daredevil, of course. I was a huge fan of DD from pre-Frank (Miller) with Gene Colin and all the different artists and the Miller series was of course mind blowing. So Daredevil would be one of my favorites from Marvel. Although what Mark Waid is doing, it would be hard to compete with a guy who does it oh-so-well. The DC character, my number one favorite is Kamandi. And Kamandi was the first movie I ever went to in my life. My sister took me to go see Planet of the Apes and although we were probably a little bit too young to see that it left an impression on me. Kamandi was always my number one comic when I was growing up. It was the last boy on earth and you have leopards, tigers, apes and all these neat characters.
RB: Do you have any projects coming up?
KE: I have a project called LOST ANGELES, which should be a 6-issue series I created with Simon Beasley. Simon did all the covers. I’m doing all the final interior art, and all the writing. I have two other original series lined up after I finish Lost Angeles which should take me through to the end of the year. I’m super excited to be doing original projects all myself– I’ve always been able to work with guys like Peter Laird, Simon Beasley, Eric Talbot and many different artists over the years. Now it’s all up to me, which is scary and exciting at the same time.
RB: Final question. Who was your favorite Ninja Turtle when you started and who is your favorite now? Has it changed? Is it still the same?
KE: (Laughter) Well, it’s funny cause the very first Ninja Turtle drawn — although he wasn’t named Michelangelo at the time — was Michelangelo. I was a huge fan of Bruce Lee and the scene with the nunchucks, so I drew this ninja turtle to make Pete laugh. So, I’ve always been partial to Michelangelo the character, but also, keeping in mind, you never love any of your kids any less than the others. I always liked Raphael as a storytelling vehicle or character because Donatello‘s a very specific personality, Michelangelo is a very specific personality, Leonardo as well; Raphael is our Wolverine or our hot headed character, our most unpredictable character and that’s what kinda excited me to gravitate, that’s why I tend to gravitate to Raphael whenever I can team him up with Casey. I love to tell stories with the two of them cause the unpredictability of it; we can go places with Raphael and especially when we team him up with Casey we can go places that we maybe couldn’t go with the other turtles. [Although] Raphael is my favorite storytelling vehicle, I love them all dearly. They’re a team.
Kevin Eastman was in Houston at Comicpalooza this past weekend, May 22-25. Hope you didn’t miss him!