“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” has been many things to many people but the first thing it ever was, was a comic. After the franchise was sold to Nickelodeon in 2009, the next time the Turtles would see a their own comic would be with the launch of the IDW published series in August of 2011. Written by Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman, the series rebooted the story of the 4 Turtles while merging comic, TV, movie and video game history. Now, with over 60 issues under their belt, and with an additional handful of stand alone issues and mini series, the Turtles are going stronger than ever.
To discuss the series as a whole, where they started, and where they are going, we were spoke with writer Tom Waltz and series editor Bobby Curnow. After the interview, we have some exclusive artwork from the upcoming issue #68 of “TMNT,” as well as the exclusive cover reveal for #71, which you can see below.
Did you believe when you worked on that first issue you guys would be 65 plus issues into an already beloved run on the Turtles?
Tom Waltz: Not in my wildest dreams! Honestly, all I was hoping for at that time was that readers would give issue #1 a chance and that I’d at least survive on the series for four issues (enough for one trade paperback collection). But as time passed, and fans stuck around, my four-issue prayer turned into a twelve-issue prayer (the first Shredder tale), and when twelve became a reality, I then started thinking about maybe, just maybe, lasting for twenty issues. Then we started working on the City Fall event and I hoped and prayed I’d be able to write all of that… and I did… and then I started thinking that fifty issues might just happen and, boy, did I really want to write that epic Splinter/Shredder confrontation I’d had in my head for so long… and on and on. Now I spend my days in a fetal position in the corner, freaking out about issue 100! We can do it! (I hope.)
Bobby Curnow: I personally had a hunch that the series would be sticking around for a while. I remembered the endless stories I would make up playing with my TMNT toys in the 80s, and how TMNT had never truly left my imagination, so the potential for a long run was always there. It’s not an easily exhausted property.
What is the biggest difference in writing the series from issue 1 to issue 66?
TW: The biggest and by far best part is the firmly established teamwork. I was pretty much on my own for the first arc story-wise. I’d put together a proposal that had been reviewed and approved by Nickelodeon and Kevin Eastman, but there was an editorial transition taking place at the time, where Scott Dunbier (who stays mega-busy at IDW creating our beautiful Artist Edition collections) handed over the reins of the series to Bobby Curnow. At that point, Bobby, Kevin and I sat down and we realized from Day One that we were meant to do this together. It was absolutely a natural and wonderful transition. It wasn’t just a matter of me putting together proposals for Nickelodeon to approve anymore, but a true melding of minds between the three of us to come up with the best stories before ever sending anything to Nickelodeon for approval… and well before I ever start scripting the actual issues. We didn’t want to fly by the seats of our pants but really wanted to have an organized and long-term plan for all our characters and all our plots. There are still fluid moments (we do make some changes on the fly here and there) but for the most part, when I go into an issue like #66, I already feel like I have a firm grip on what needs to be done in my script in order to accomplish what Bobby, Kevin and I planned for months prior. I always feel the plot is so well set by the three of us that my main goal when scripting is to add my personal creative flourishes to things like character interaction, etc.Continued below
BC: Tom is spot on in terms of the evolution of our creative process. I also would say a big difference between now and then is freedom. We were, rightly, more closely monitored by Nickelodeon at the start. They put millions of dollars into the franchise, and we were the first public offering under their banner. They wanted to make sure we didn’t mess it all up! As time went on, we (hopefully!) proved we could do right by the franchise, and as a result they’ve very graciously given us more and more freedom, while still giving thoughtful and helpful notes along the way. But I also think we’ve gained a different sort of freedom over the years too: self-confidence. We know what we’ve done, and we’re proud of it. That confidence has allowed us to take some chances and push ourselves.
As a creative team is there any hard rules or lines that won’t be crossed for the series?
TW: Amongst ourselves, Kevin, Bobby and I have all agreed that no character from TMNT lore is off limits, the caveat being that we will NEVER shoehorn a character into the mix just because. Any time we bring in someone to our series (e.g. Leatherhead) it has to matter… and it has to make sense to the story being told. That’s a big rule for us and one I’m proud to say we’ve stuck to from the very beginning. As for lines that won’t be crossed, you’ll probably never see any of the TMNT brandishing a gun. But, hey, they’re ninjas—who needs guns, right?
BC: We’ve had relatively few deaths because we’d like dead characters to stay dead. A lot of people assumed Donatello died in “TMNT” #44, but we were very careful to never say that, either in the issue or in marketing, even though we could have got a lot more press and sales had we done so. I’d like us to keep to that.
One of the great things about this series has been the incorporation of the Turtles history in not only comics, but TV, video games and movies as well. Was that a decision that was made early on? What goes into a choice to bring in a pre-existing element of their history into this run?
TW: Yes — from the very start, I wanted this to be an amalgamation of all the best things the long and beloved TMNT canon, across all mediums, had to offer. And Nickelodeon was more than happy to accommodate my wish, allowing us pretty much full access to all that has come before (and believe me, nothing is more fun then “cherry picking” through the massive TMNT Wiki when we’re plotting future stories). And, as mentioned earlier, the choices are based on what works best for the stories we are telling—it’s really that simple.
BC: Tom stated it well. Sometimes a story has elements that are reminiscent of a past iteration of a character we haven’t used yet, so we’ll consider if this is the time or place to use them. We’ve never thought “it’s time to introduce Slash (or whomever). What story should we build around him?” It’s always been “Here’s our basic story beats– is there an old character that would serve it well, or would it be better to create a new character?”
I have appreciated watching the evolution and growth of each Turtle as their own unique characteristics and personalities. How do you think they have changed and is that something that is easy to communicate over this many issues?
TW: It’s funny, but I feel that the evolution/growth of “TMNT” is a mirror image of our own growth as collaborative storytellers over the years we’ve worked on the series. After nearly six years of “TMNT” on a daily basis (literally), we can’t help but to know the characters far more intimately—and each other as creative collaborators as well. It starts with a question like, “What would Donnie do in this situation?” And the answer now is different that six years ago—but just as natural for us all to come to and agree upon because I feel Kevin, Bobby and I are in lockstep with our Heroes in a Half-Shell, growing and evolving right along with them.Continued below
BC: The titular element of “TMNT” that I think is the most ignored is that they are teenagers. To me, a teenager is someone who is caught in two worlds: someone who has been molded by others (their parents, society) and someone who is beginning to forge their own path and develop their own personality. If the TMNT were static as characters, I think we’d be doing them a disservice as teenagers. That’s the time when you grow and change, so it’s naturally baked into the DNA of the series. With our TMNT, that’s a huge part of the story: they grew up in the past, specifically feudal Japan, but they are creatures of the future, heretofore unseen by the human world. That’s an extremely volatile time in terms of character evolution potential.
The series has had a roster of the most amazing artist bringing their take to the Turtles. What has it been like working with so many amazing artists? Does it change your style and approach to an issue? What makes a good turtles artist?
TW: I’ll let Bobby answer this one in more detail, because for me it all boils down to one thing: that I am absolutely BLESSED to have my words presented so beautifully month after month by the best and most talented artists in this business. Blessed! I’m so humbly thankful for each and every artist we’ve collaborated with, including our biggest superstar of all, colorist Ronda Pattison!
BC: We’re artistically lucky for a few reasons. The first is that the Turtles are a ton of fun to draw, so some of the very best artists out there are happy to take a crack at them. The age of the franchise is also important. Being a little over thirty years old, a lot of artists that are now hitting their artistic prime grew up with TMNT, and they’re eager to put their own stamp on the characters. Lastly, Nickelodeon could have been very over-bearing and made us stick to one precise version of the TMNT, which would have limited our artistic stable. But they have been very welcoming of every artist doing their own thing. And that’s been important to me as well. TMNT has a long history of artistic freedom, going back to Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Mirage days. When they would have a guest artist on the book, they let those artists do whatever they wanted! And the TMNT are weird! They should be allowed to be drawn weird on occasion. With that freedom, I’ve found that artists are always eager to bring their A-game.
In short, what makes a good “TMNT” artist is someone who understands the characters, and how multi-faceted they are. “TMNT” is an action book, which requires a strong grasp of movement and panel layouts. But it’s also a character book, that requires lots of different emotions to be drawn. It’d be a tall order, but as I mentioned, there’s so many visually cool things to draw in this world, that most artists we’ve worked with are excited for the opportunity.
There have been some big changes for the series like Splinter taking over the Foot Clan or what happened to Donnie. How much thought and planning go into these bigger events that deal with core elements of the Turtles?
TW: Lots and lots of thought, lots and lots of debate, lots and lots of re-thinks and rewrites. Every event, every change, whether minor or major, is deeply scrutinized by all involved before I ever sit in front my word processor to script. Usually how it works is that one of us comes up with a big idea (e.g. Splinter taking over the Foot) and then we work our brains into a frenzy in order to build a plan that will get us there in what we hope is the best way possible. If we’re going do something like that, we’re going make sure we do it in a way that matters, makes sense, and has maximum impact… even if that ends up being the long way.
How do you keep the series exciting for you guys after so many issues?
TW: For me, the pre-planning is what keeps things exciting. Knowing way ahead of time the big surprises we have planned for readers really drives me to keep churning out script after script. Like our fans, I can’t wait to get there, too!Continued below
BC: A lot of it comes to our large cast: there’s always an interesting character that we need to spend more time with. That’s part of the reason we started the Universe line: there was just too many characters and storylines to be contained by only one ongoing. It also helps that the characters are so flexible, and inhabit such a unique position in the world. We can have a couple introspective, slower-paced character issues, and follow that up with a big world-at-stake storyline. Being able to shift gears like that is important to preventing fatigue, I think.
Where would you like to see it go or ultimately end up? What do you think has been your biggest contribution to the Turtles legacy so far?
TW: Ultimately, I hope we’ve done something that makes TMNT fans around the world proud. This is our TMNT love letter to old and new fans alike and if we’ve consistently entertained and astonished them, then I feel we’ve done the job we set out to do. The team effort is so important to me that I rarely consider my own legacy, but I suppose the reincarnation aspect I brought to our TMNT origin story way back when is something that has legacy implications. But I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve that I think might top that… it’s just a matter of Kevin, Bobby and I turning those tricks into treasures before we hit issue #100. We’ll do our very best!
BC: Through the late 80’s and 90’s, TMNT understandably got the reputation as a kid’s property. But it didn’t start that way. It started as weird, gritty genre mash-up created by Peter and Kevin– something to be enjoyed by a more mature audience first and foremost. I’ve really enjoyed the current Nickelodeon cartoon, and am happy that all ages can enjoy the franchise. That’s as it should be. But I like to think that our TMNT reminds folks of the property’s roots: an exploration of the limits of imagination that can be both touching and fun. I hope that we’ve shone a spotlight on that legacy, and also advanced it into the current day.
Written by Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman
Illustrated by Mateus Santolouco
“Desperate Measures” Part 2! The Mutanimals have been defeated and the Turtles are next in line! Which mutant will turn on his friends to survive, and which will risk everything to help another?
• Bishop’s gambit kicks into high gear!
• Variant cover by Jakub Rebelka!
On Sale March 15, 2017