It's been 25 years since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird got together to sweat out 40 pages of inky, edgy, indie comics. Little did they know in 1984 that that were making an indellible mark on popular culture and that their creation, 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' would still be running strong a quarter century later.
New in the year of the 25th anniversary "shell-a-bration", plans for a new live-action movie have been officially announced. And fans who met the Turtles though the super-popular animated TV series have cause to shell-a-brate too, as Lionsgate releases the seventh season of the show in a unique four-piece set. Out in stores last week, each box of the set features a different Turtle, and comes backaged with a mini-classic action figure.
Kevin Eastman sat down to talk with Mania.com about the phenomenon, the new DVDs and the new movie. We gave you a preview of Eastman's comments last week, as we gave you the scoop on his new 'Heavy Metal' movie. Today we go in-depth on the 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'.
Rob M. Worley for Mania: So...25 years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!
Kevin Eastman: I know. Holy smokes. Isn't that amazing? It's amazing to me anyway.
Mania: Does it even seem possible? That's like having a baby and watching it grow up and be an adult and go to college and start a career --
Eastman: Totally. Looking back 25 years ago and remembering all those crazy days back in the early days. We did the first issue and thought it would never go beyond the first issue. Seriously, it was never really intended to go beyond the first issue.
But it did that and then kind of kept going.
In the comic book stage issue 2 sold more than issue 1 and issue 3 more than issue 2, and suddenly we were able to support ourselves just doing comic books. Since the first Jack Kirby comic I ever saw, that's all I ever dreamed about doing.
Then to have it go into these different universes if you will whether its animation and then licenses and then movies that still seem to resonate with fans, some disgruntled older ones...all the young ones who bought 15 billion turtle toys, bless their hearts. They've given me such a great life.
To launch this thing and watch it go beyond the two-three year lifespan expected of a traditional licensed property, and go to a better than 10 year run that we did initially and then on top of that come back now for a whole new generation of kids. I think it's an even bigger compliment than the first time around.
Mania: It's really phenomenal. So back in 1984 when you guys were sitting there in your living room or wherever you planned this out, you didn't think it would go beyond the second issue?
Eastman: No. Honestly. My background in comics, besides being a huge Kirby fan, but you know, the odd stuff: Kamandi, The Demon and that kind of period stuff. I didn't read that many superhero things. But I quickly found Heavy Metal from the first issue. That lead to underground comics. I love Creepy, Eerie, the Warren comics. Every story was different: a different character, a different kind of story, different possibilities with each.
I thought that's the way to go. Why be tied into doing 100 issues of Spider-Man when every eight-pager or ten-pager or forty-pager you do can be something different with new exciting worlds to create.
So when I did the first turtle comic it was: here's a great one shot. Here's something that we printed 3000 of them, most of them were still in our living room at the time. It was like, if we sell 'em, great. If we don't it was a great experience and I can't believe we actually did a comic that was this big: 40 pages long.
Then it sold and we thought, "Whoa. Now we have to come up with an idea to do number 2 and keep it going."
Peter and I, both of us were learning as much each issue that we approached and got to sort of borrow our favorite ideas from some of our biggest influences and incorporate them into the kind of stories that we like to read.
I'm just thrilled that it worked and it resonates with people.
Mania: It's always had more of a multi-generational appeal. I remember watching the first cartoon with my nephews and we enjoyed it together. Now they're grown up and hopefully sharing the new movie or the new cartoon with a younger generation. Why do you think it lends itself to that?
Eastman: We thought about it so many different times in respect to what is the thing that made it work. First you start with a title and you say, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" – whether you love it or you hate it afterwords – it got people to pick it up. I think that was an element.
And using a lot of parody elements of some of the "X-Men" comics and "Daredevil" and Frank Miller and all these things. We played up the parody things that I think a lot of the older comic book readers could relate to. But then there was a lot of action and stuff that we sort of had done on our own that had made it interesting on another level.
The characters have to be likable to make you want to buy Peter Parker or Iron Man or any of these things every month and I think people grew very fond of the Turtles early on because of their alienation with society – I certainly felt that way when I was younger.
I liked reading comics. I grew up in a small town in Maine and I felt like the only kid in my own little planet that nobody else could really relate to. I really felt kind of alone on planet Earth.
So that had a lot to do with it, and I think at the end you put all four of them together they made up this family. They had their own little band of brothers that offered some protection and likeness and a place to belong.
I guest lastly, to babble on even further, I think at the end of the day that everybody would like to think we have that hero inside. We want to be teenagers first, kids first but when the chips are down and you really need to man up, that you have it within you to be able to do that. To step up to be the hero that we all dream of being.
Mania: The Turtle Power!
Eastman: Straight from the sewer!
Mania: Now the DVD of the seventh season of the original show just came out. Have you had a role in that?
Eastman: I think that's what's really exciting about this particular release and this collection, the way that Lionsgate is rolling them out with the individual characters and the discs, but also that all the extras including interviews with some of the creative people, including myself, and Fred Wolf a lot of people that worked on that in various stages.
As a comic fan and a movie fan, that was the beauty of DVD was when somebody came up with the idea to put behind-the-scenes footage and director commentaries, so you really got to get inside the minds of people who brought these amazing visions to life.
A lot of the early Ninja Turtle discs didn't have that much. "It's just for kids. Let's just put out the DVDs." When you realize it goes much much deeper than that, I think the timing is right and really hit the series in mid-stride and show the behind-the-scenes stuff.
Mania: How many seasons did the original show run?
Eastman: I know we did about 26 episodes per season. We did just under 300 episodes, including the very first season which started out as a five-part mini-series. We did five episode which were shown between 1987 and 1988.
Then we did later in 1988, eight more, which gave it a full fall season. Then after that everyone seemed to step up from every corner of the globe. So we then jumped into full 26-episode seasons.
That was cool. I think back about the pace you had to work at. Fortunately we worked with multpiple writers. Multiple designers, including a lot of guys within our own studio, that did a lot of creating new characters for new episodes. The pacing was really cool because you could explore a wider variety of themes, where you could do one, two, three four one-offs, beginning, middle and end that all takes place in one episode. Or you could do a multi-part. Or you could do things in episodes 5, 6 and 7 that don't play off until episodes 17, 18 and 19 and finish up in 22, 23, 24 kind of thing. You really looked at it as a bigger block of storytelling.
It was fun to work with the guys that we worked with because they were so in tune to what had come before, and they didn't want to repeat ideas that had been done before. They had a lot of their own ideas of what they thought the turtles were, which were sometimes really interesting and sometimes really, really interesting. Like, "where did that come from?"
But it was always fun and Peter and I were always excited to see what other writers and other artists actually saw within the characters that we didn't see or didn't even realize was there. Some thread in the original black and white comics that was able to fit into the animated universe.
Mania: It seems like the Turtles have been running in some form almost continuously over the 25 years. Has there been much down time?
Eastman: Not really. We started in syndication and then went to network. We were at CBS for a long time and then Fox for a while. From then it spun into syndication all over the place, willy nilly, all over the world.
There was a time where it wouldn't be on for a year or two here in the states, but it would be on in 20 other countries, then it would come back on here.
Then Peter started developing the new version of the Turtles with 4Kids and ever since then I know the new stuff has run simultaneously with the old.
Mania: Right, and in between there have been the three live-action movies and a live-action series.
Eastman: Yeah, exactly. We did three live-action movies and the last one that I seriously worked on with Saban, we did 26 episodes of the live-action series. That was the last network version of the turtles until they came back with the new series.
Then, of course, is Imagi's new animated movie, 'TMNT' which I thought was absolutely fantastic.
Mania: I love that movie.
Eastman: Way before the Turtles movie, Kevin Munroe, the guy that wrote it and directed it. I knew him back when he worked at Shiny Entertainment and worked on a video game called "Wild 9". Every time I'd run into him he was working on something different and pitching all these interesting ideas. When Galen Walker, one of the producers of the animated series, told me that he brought in Kevin Munroe to write the new move I was like, "YES!"
You know, someone who was a big geek like me and totally got it and would do an outstanding job.
Mania: He sure did. And now they're coming back again in a new live-action movie...
Tune in tomorrow as we quiz Kevin on the new 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' live action movie and talk casting, directors and more!
Look for the season 7 of the classic 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' series on DVD and in stores now!