“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” turns 30 this month, making it officially older than many of our Multiversity staff. To celebrate, this week we are featuring a lot of Turtles content, including interviews from many of the creators who have made the Turtles what they are over the past 30 years of comics, all of whom are featured in the brand new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 30th Anniversary Special,” on sale on Wednesday from IDW. Today, we revisit the post-Image, pre-IDW period when Mirage started publishing the series again, utilizing a lot of the Mirage Studios talent from the early days. Jim Lawson is one of the major voices of that series, and we had a great chat with him about his time on the book. We are also sharing some exclusive art from the “30th Anniversary Special,” also drawn by Jim.
So Jim, you became part of the Mirage team pretty early on. Can you tell readers a little about how you came to work with Kevin and Peter, and what some of your earliest work with them was?
Jim Lawson: Absolutely. I was recently out of art school (maybe a year) and was asked through a friend if I wanted to meet these guys who were living locally, whose comic was beginning to get some buzz and taking off. This was probably in 1985-86, sometime around there.
So- I made an appointment to show my work and went over to Kevin and Steve’s apartment with my portfolio. Very fortunately for me, the two of them (Kevin and Pete) seemed to like my stuff and offered me an opportunity to try inking on a new back-up story that they were running in the next “TMNT” issue. That story (series) was called ‘Prime Slime Tales.’
My first actual Turtle work came on book nine, which I assisted a little on and then after that inking over Pete’s pencils on the Leonardo one-shot.
I think it’s interesting how fluid the roles were in those early Mirage days. Your credits shift with every issue you’re in. A lot of times you were a penciler, others an inker or co-writer. How was it decided who did what back then?
JL: That’s a crazy question. That was probably borne from the fact that things themselves were very fluid back in those days. I have always loved work, and been an eager worker – so I’m sure that if Kevin and Pete had any roles that they needed filled, or any assistance that they needed (as far as the book went) that I was pretty much willing to try it.
Maybe it helps to think of it as a family. You’ve got your Mom and Dad, and then all the kids help out. One day you’ll wash the dishes and then the next day you’ll fold the laundry – it was something like that.
In the early Mirage days you worked with a few inkers, each one bringing something different to your pencils. For example: when Kevin Eastman inks you, it’s unmistakably Kevin. But then Eric Talbot really brings out your truer voice. Did you account for different inker’s approaches? Did who you were paired with impact how you worked?
JL: It’s really interesting, isn’t it – how different inkers can bring such alternate results even when inking over the same artist’s pencils?
Honestly – I’ve pretty much always pencilled the same way, no matter who was the inker. I kind of look at them (the pencils) as a foundation. The inker almost always takes the pencils and enhances or flourishes over them, invariably making them their own. But, like you said, I guess there are inkers who adhere a little more to the underdrawing. Either that or their style isn’t as bold or unique to overpower the artist that did the pencils. Actually, a lot of artists will just redraw part of the pencils- it’s not uncommon at all.
You penciled some pretty big stories in those days, particularly ‘Return to New York’ and ‘City at War.’ These issues would go on to influence the movies, be adapted into cartoons, and later be reimagined at IDW. Did you have any sense that these stories would be so lasting as you were working on them?
JL: No – I honestly didn’t think beyond the actual comic that I was working on. With the toys, I think that if you worked on a toy, you had a sense that it was this thing that was going to last. For some reason, and it seems ridiculous to me now, I just didn’t apply that to the comics as much.
Still, it was impossible not to ignore that you were a part of something that was more than just a comic book- you were involved in something that not only was cultural, but something with an unnaturally long lifespan (and now generations of fans).
I’m always kind of surprised and flattered when somebody at a signing brings in an ancient and tattered comic. For some reason, I guess I was brought up to think of these things as disposable and not really something to be treasured. That’s a little sad, actually.
Now, you’ve had a hand in more Turtles comics than probably anyone, so I don’t think this 30th anniversary celebration would be complete without you. How were you approached to do this new story, and how long had it been since you had done a Turtles comic?
JL: Hmm – I hadn’t drawn a Turtle comic since before the time the Turtles were sold, so that would probably put it around 2007-2008. That said though, I actually still draw them quite often as I get many requests for commissions (just penciled one today). Despite being owned by someone else, they are still very close to me.
I’d been doing a bunch of covers for IDW pretty regularly ever since they made the decision to reprint the old Mirage comics so I had a working relationship going on. One day Bobby (Curnow) emailed me and told me about this book (30th Anniversary Special) and asked me if I would be a part of it and contribute a 7 page story. It was pretty much a no-brainer.
On your website you say that your time with Mirage ended when the Turtles were sold to Viacom. After such a significant amount of time with those characters and that company, what was it like having it come to a close? You’d been working in a studio environment for so long at Mirage, I can’t help but wondering what the transition to lone cartoonist was like?
You also launched a successful Kickstarter last year for “Dragonfly,” your original graphic novel. What was that experience like?
Well, first of all, I’m still in the (physical) studio – the very same studio that I’ve worked in for almost all my years at Mirage. Several other Mirage guys are here as well (Berger and Dooney), so I see them every day, if not a couple times a week. That’s nice.
As for the Kickstarter, it was really good. I LOVE doing my own thing, and I have so many ideas that I feel like I’ll never run out of them. Add to that my drawing compulsion and I’m pretty much good to go.
Over this past winter I took a job at a candle store, and one thing it showed me was how absolutely lucky I was to be able to do what I do and be where I am.
As for “Dragonfly” – yes, it met it’s funding and there was one volume published. Following that, I had 4 or 5 more issues already loosely planned. Losing enthusiasm is a dangerous thing for a creative person and I think that’s what happened to me with “Dragonfly.” I’ve heard from the fans though and they’re asking me to do continue so I’m going to revisit that once I’m done with my current project.
This new book is no secret, at least to those who follow me on my Facebook page – it’s called “A Walk Through Dinosaurland.” There is a potential book deal in the works as of this writing so It’s something that I’m really excited about. I don’t want to really give out any details as nothing is finalized yet but I think that it looks good. Stay tuned.Continued below
So now that you’ve got this new Turtles strip done, and IDW has been collecting your work in a number of different volumes, are you getting the itch to hop back in the saddle? Any chance us us getting some new stories from you? Maybe “TMNT” #32?
“TMNT” #32 exists already – and was actually just published by Pete. Issue 32 was the last “official” Mirage book and was penciled by me back in 07 or 08. It languished for a long time until 2 years ago when I bugged Eric to give it to me to ink, which he of course did.
Beyond that , I’m not sure about Pete’s plans to continue the black and white series. He has mentioned it to me on several occasions- would I be interested in again penciling the book and I always tell him yes. I would love it if someday that would happen.