At Supermegafest held in Framingham, MA I was lucky enough to steal a few minutes with a man who has been a big part of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and success since their inception: Mr. Steve Lavigne
Graphic Policy: So how did your involvement with the Turtles begin?
Steve Lavigne: I knew Pete (Peter Laird) and I met up with him in a small Con in Dover, MA and Pete happened to be there and I had to get his full approval and then within months I started physically lettering the books from fifth Turtle book. From there I did and colored all the graphic novels. I helped Kevin (Eastman) with the first one and I was coloring them all basically by myself when the time the second one hit shelves. I had the task of taking the original black and white books and taking them into full color, as that progressed it got bigger and bigger and I became the licensing artist. So anything from the late mid 80’s, I was kind of the guy. For anything, that meant video game covers, Burger King boxes, so all that art that most people had hanging up, that was all the stuff I did.
Graphic Policy: Wow. I read somewhere that Kevin Eastman said that you were the inspiration for the character of Michaelangelo, I was wondering if you could tell your version of that story?
Steve Lavigne: (Laughs) There’s no story to it, it’s so funny I think that it was just because of my personality around the studio. I was the guy who goofed around a lot and would call anybody on anything. If anyone got a little to uppity I’d give them that call a little bit and check them back into reality. I was that guy. I actually didn’t even realize that it was the case until the Turtle Power documentary came out and everyone says “Oh you’re the guy who’s Michaelangelo” . So from here out I am but I guess it’s just a personality thing that sparked it.
Graphic Policy: To be able to walk into a whole building and have nothing Turtle centric on you and be surrounded by nothing but Turtle memorabilia, how surreal is that?
Steve Lavigne: Oh it’s very surreal, it was surreal as it progressed and even now I’m a big fan of the Turtles cartoon on Nickelodeon. I watch it and enjoy it. I love how they kind of hodgepodged the original Mirage, the pizza eating Turtles, the cowabunga turtles and the 2k all really into this nice package. It’s very strange, I’ll be working at my drawing table drawing a cover for IDW (Publishing) and watching the Turtle cartoon and going “Whaaattt?” At times it will make you shrug and other times it’s oh well, it’s what we’ve been doing for so many years. It’s second nature now.
Graphic Policy: It’s got to be something for sure. I wanted to get your thoughts on the first movie, the very original first movie if you would please?
Steve Lavigne: The very first movie, well it’s incredible. Just incredible. We were very fortunate that we got to go down to the movie set and meet everybody. Brian Henson was the second unit director on a lot of the puppeteer stuff and it was Elias (Kotias) and Judith (Hoag) first movies. They were all very fun to talk to, and one night they were shooting the fight scene between Casey and Raphael and Jim Henson came to see his son shoot the scene so it was kind of neat that we got to meet Jim Henson. We were all overwhelmed in that pre-pubescent kind of crackily voice saying “Hi sir it’s nice to meet you”…
Graphic Policy: (chuckles) Ha ha..
Steve Lavigne: It was that kind of feeling which just was incredible. I mean I remember when we had a con in London after that we all got to go to the Creature Shop. So because of our involvement creatively with the Turtles we all got to experience nice little tradeoffs like that. The first movie was amazing, and I don’t think you can find a better overall version of it.
Graphic Policy: As something that was based as an obvious parody, with humble beginnings right here in New England did you guys ever have the foresight it would be one day where it is now?
Steve Lavigne: No not at all. I mean they killed The Shredder in the first book. So there was no thought process that there was going to be a second book but the first book sold so well that there was an immediate order for a reprint of the first book, we just immediately started getting cooking on the second book. Really The Shredder was dead in the first book. However in the Mirage stories he does eventually come back, and in the cartoon he never leaves. He’s literally in every episode and it’s a very different animal. So yeah, there wasn’t a lot of forethought in that sense. There was however a lot of Ramen noodle and mac and cheese pow wows early on so and all that stuff. I worked a full time job when at the same time lettering the book for Kevin and just scraping by. Pete’s wife Jeanine was a teacher, she had the only real job. She kind of was the reason we went to a few places that we moved to until we got to Northhampton (MA) as the studio’s final resting place.
Graphic Policy: Very interesting stuff. How did you guys land on the concept of we are just going to have the Turtles be so in love with pizza and what brought that on?
Steve Lavigne: Well I think that came from real life. For us that was the treat and if we’re constantly eating Kraft macaroni and cheese or Ramen noodles and at the end of the week you’re fortunate enough to afford a pizza it was a bonus and so it came from there. It’s what we ate and we figured it was good enough for the Turtles too. (laughs)
Graphic Policy: I grew up with the original Mirage black and white Turtles comics and I remember the issue they killed The Shredder, it was issue #10 and they are at April O’Neil’s family house and I fondly remember the black and white art. I loved it. It was so different from anything else being published at the time. It was more raw than DC and Marvel and the cookie cutter stuff they were putting out…
Steve Lavigne: I agree, without a doubt it has its appeal.
Graphic Policy: So with that being said, how did you feel when it transitioned to color with the removal of the all red masks, was it a better choice you think to change it?
Steve Lavigne: Well in the Mirage world within the graphic novels they all had the red masks, but when it got into the toys we found it beneficially. That idea was sort of Pete’s thing. During one of our meetings he suggested we change the bandanna colors and put their initials on the belt buckles. It worked out for the better because you know, parents can’t differentiate if they all have red bandannas. They’d be telling their kids “Hey I got you Raphael” but they kids would turn around and say “No that’s Leonardo”. So in that instance it just made perfect sense.
Graphic Policy: From a marketing standpoint long-term that turned out to be pretty wise.
Steve Lavigne: Sure was.
Graphic Policy: Last question, what is your all time favorite interpretation of the Turtles?
Steve Lavigne: From default for me it’s the Mirage Turtles. It’s the one that brought us all here. Again though I really can’t echo enough how much I’m digging the new Nick show. I really like what they’ve injected into the mythos. I know they grew up Turtle fans so the last couple seasons have been really fun I like the movie references and stuff that we were watching when we were originally working on the Turtles ourselves so it’s very fun to see.
Graphic Policy: Well as a big fan of this property, this time with you was great thank you sir.
Steve Lavigne: Oh yeah, no doubt. Thank you too.
*Steve was a great guy and it was nice to get a lot of the behind the scenes back story. He currently runs a store called Shellback Artworks in Wells, ME if anyone wishes to check his collection and store out personally. I urge you to. You would be hard-pressed to find a more approachable guy on this particular platform. I intend to be making the trip myself sometime in the near future.
1509 Post Rd.
Wells, ME 04090