July 10th 2016, while I was attending Garden State Comic Con in Morristown, NJ with Dante Moon Productions who were in the middle of filming a segment for his “Try Harder” documentary which allowed me the distinct pleasure of interviewing a man that I have wanted to speak with since I was 7 years old. Now many years later, it finally happened.
To give you a backstory, this man was responsible for giving me my first taste of comic book rebellion in the form of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. At the time I had been collecting comics since I was two years of age. (My dad gave me my first one which was Amazing Spider-Man #254)
Ever since I could read, I collected comic books. Now I had only been exposed to the big two which were DC and Marvel up to that point. However one summer day in my friends basement in the small town of Rockland, MA I got introduced to something truly special.
I remember picking the book up. It was issue #10. I looked at the cover and it had such amazingly cool artwork. I loved the foldout. I was enamored by it. When I opened it up I remember the black and white format. It was something so different to me, yet it was completely elegant. To see the pencils stripped of the colors it gave the comic a raw, unhinged quality that I had never at that point seen before. I breezed through the issue and soon begged my dad to take me to comic book and hobby stores everywhere to collect whatever else I could get my little hands on.(I also bought the issue I just read off my friend then and there for ten bucks) The Saturday morning cartoon had already been out a year in my time, but this was my introduction. I remember watching the cartoon wondering why all the Turtles didn’t have red masks? A simple yet obvious question another Turtle creator Steve Lavigne would fully answer for me years later.
I still have the first print copy of this issue in my possession all these years later. I looked through it yesterday and I can safely say it hasn’t lost its luster. Now I will take the time to give the man behind it to share some insight on his life long journey and how these fictional characters has changed not just so many lives, but his as well.
GP: First off it’s an honor and a pleasure to speak with you. I want to ask what is your advice to young independent creative people out there who are trying to find their voice as an artist?
Kevin Eastman: Well I think it’s something very interesting. Any time taking your first step creatively, it’s a brave step and a bold step. Sometimes it comes from very young, and you don’t even know why you’re pointed in that direction. It has a lot to do with what you are exposed to as well. I think that is an important factor. If kids are exposed to sports at young age, they might tend to gravitate that way. If they are exposed to art, and I was very lucky in that way as my grandmother was a painter and my dad was a master doodler. Always doodling and drawing. So when I discovered comic books at a young age the family was always very supportive, although they were very scared. I think they feared at the time that I was going to be one of those kids who always lived in a fantasy world and drew comics and wanted to be the late Jack Kirby (The King of all Comics) who would never move out of the basement. (laughs)
I was lucky however in that they encouraged me and exposed me to the things that I liked. So initially it was this inner drive from me to want to become this person I idolized which again was Jack Kirby. For those who don’t know Jack Kirby co – created most of the Marvel Universe with Stan Lee. He was what made me want to draw everyday, even in English class when I should have been reading, or in math class when I should have been solving math problems, I’d be doodling and trying to follow my dream. I was very fortunate that at that time I had the support of my art teacher in not only Jr. High, but High School as well. Those folks were some of the few that when I said I wanted to be a cartoonist and draw comic books, they didn’t laugh at me. I mean with comic books, now I’m 54 and when I was younger it came across to many people as a foolish idea. I’d here ” Oh you’re not going to be able to make a living at that.” or “How are you going to support a family?” However this one art teacher said, “So you want to draw comic books?” “Well that’s very admirable.” She stated to me the value of artistic quality in comic books and gave me some advice. She told me that I could draw a great picture of Captain America or Batman or any other character all day long, but if you want to draw a comic book and tell a story you have to be able to draw everything you see in the world around you.
For example let’s say in one of my stories, I’d have to draw you in this room talking to me, I’d have to draw this table and this computer, these lights and all our surroundings, but do it in perspective. So she would give me these extra assignments to improve my skills. I’d get many assignments from her but not allowing me to draw any cartoon characters. I would have to draw cars, buildings, houses, furniture, even trees in my backyard. In the end that really clicked for me. Since I wanted to tell the story I had to be able to enhance everything visually. I wanted to be able to get to the point where I could get people to read the story and act and react as if they were watching some of their favorite movies. In any event that was how and what inspired me.
The advice I’d give to any inspiring creative young persons out there, that if you find something whether it’s a sport, or it’s music or if it’s art, grab and take what you like about it. Use what has inspired you from where it comes from, and don’t be afraid to replicate it because at first doing that, helps you learn the basics and it will eventually develop into something that is your own. Then just work at everyday. Just spend time whether it’s ten minutes, twenty minutes or an hour. The more you do it, you will see noticeable improvements.
*GP: So true. This image here (points to the picture of the Shredder on the desktop screen beside him) of the Shredder, who happens to be my favorite villain of all time ..
KE: (looking at the image) Love it.
*GP: What does that image mean to you?
KE: Well it means a lot. It brings back a lot for me. Do you know how the Shredder was created?
*GP: Oh you can tell me this story..
KE: You should love this. So, with the Turtles since they came about because I was a big fan of Bruce Lee, I was sitting around with Pete (Peter Laird – ed.) one night and we were in our studio called Mirage Studios. Funny thing is, it wasn’t really a studio it was just our living room, and I wanted to make Pete laugh. I thought to myself if Bruce Lee who was a fast moving martial artist was an animal, what would the silliest animal to make him be? So the Turtles were born out of a spoof on that thought. I decided to make a slow moving turtle be a martial artist.
To further the joke I did a sketch of what was then to become Michaelangelo with numchucks strapped to his arm and I plopped it down on his desk and said very sarcastically “This is going to be the next big thing.” He looked at the sketch and changed somethings. Then we went back and forth in a game of studio one upsmanship and he drew one more so I said to myself why not four? A lot of superheroes are part of groups like Fantastic Four, X-Men, Avengers etc.
Then I finished the drawing of all four Turtles and put the Ninja Turtles logo on it and then Pete inked it and added Teenage Mutant to the title. We looked at each other like this is the stupidest drawing ever. However it was fun so we decided not to submit it to anyone and just make a comic book for ourselves.
As we were working through the origin and all the parts, the rat and the turtles, how they get exposed to ooze and many little isms from our favorite comic books, things started to come together. Then one night we were doing dishes, and Pete’s wife was a fantastic cook, so Pete would usually wash and I would dry. As we do the dishes, I spot this long metal cheese grater on the counter. It was the kind that was shaped like a bell with the long handle. I start drying it and I slide my hand up inside it and said out loud “Man could you imagine a bad guy with this as a weapon and he would literally like grate your skin off.” “We could call our bad guy like The Grater or something.” Then Pete looked at me and was like “How about The Shredder?” Both of us thought that was so cool. So the origin of The Shredder came from two guys doing dishes. (laughs)
*GP: That is such a great story. (laughs)
KE: Thank you.
GP: Now I’ve been a die-hard Turtle aficionado since the first Mirage run and I am thoroughly enjoying the current IDW run. I have to ask, with what you are doing, did you always have the reincarnation aspect in the back of your minds or is that something new that you wanted to do?
KE: Actually that is something that is completely new. Tom Waltz who I work with at IDW Publishing is just a genius and he grew up as a big fan of the Turtles and added that. He told me he liked the aspect of the different Turtle universes that have been created across multiple franchises. He loves the original black and white stories as well as parts of the animation and the movies. He came to me with this idea to use bits and pieces of them all to come up with a new foundation which we call the IDW Universe now. In on of our first meetings, one of the things he spun was the concept of reincarnation. I thought that was great and we started revamping many parts of the origins. It led to us taking April’s character back to being a scientist and the Turtles were her pets at the lab. Little things were tweaked like Splinter was a lab rat and April gave the Turtles their names. So many isms where we took a step to the left, a step to the right but still remained reflective and respectful of the original Turtles black and white and previous origins.
I thought that this would either be fantastic because I got so excited about it with all the story possibilities or this would be the end. I figured the fans would either crucify us or jump on board because it will be a great time. The changes let us tell some fantastic all new stories with these characters and man the response has been overwhelmingly positive to the point where we have just finished issue number 62 and we have issues plotted all the way through the big issue 100 right now. Most of it is all Tom Waltz and Bobby Curnow who is an editor at IDW, we sit and have these long “mind melds” and since it’s (IDW) is now a Turtle universe on it’s own we are able to cherry pick from so many continuities and come up with some really great stuff without being beholden to one particular iteration.
GP: So it becomes a part of a vast Multiverse so to speak?
KE: Yes, exactly. It’s so great to work with all these guys and these artists who are all younger than me and can draw Turtles better than me. It really is energizing to be part of the whole process. I’m still learning through them everyday.
GP: Well I feel the original, the black and white will always be the best version of the Turtles bar none. The new stuff is very cool and enjoyable though.
KE: I greatly appreciate that.
GP: Now I know you are an avid comic book fan and you follow the big two (DC and Marvel) so you see the stuff they are doing right now with diversification and gender changes as well as the revamps with sexuality. To that point does IDW or yourself feel like that is something that you feel pressured to incorporate into your comics or your characters?
KE: You know I say no. At least not right away. It’s very much the same process with the folks at IDW as it was when Pete and I wrote those original stories for ourselves. We have everything approved through Nickelodeon and Viacom who own the Turtles. They are fantastically supportive in that they know the edge of which we story tell and the direction that we want to go. They know that we write the stories for ourselves. Our thinking is rather than just follow each popular trend, lets stick with the basics and do stories that are exciting and organic and are paced thoughtfully across all aspects, i.e. the action, the drama, the character building and interpersonal relationships are the best we can possibly make them. At the end of the day these characters are all part of a misfit family that we tell fun stories with and show appreciation to our audience by giving them a honest portrayal.
GP: One last question. If you could play with any other toy in the “sandbox” meaning any other established character or franchise, who or what would it be and what would a Kevin Eastman run on that look like?
KE: Oh man, I go immediately to Kamandi.
GP: Really? The last boy on Earth?
KE: That was to me when I was nine or ten years old and had a paper route I was buying my own comics at the time, Kamandi had just come out and it was by Jack Kirby so of course and Planet of the Apes was one of the first movies I ever saw. I was so taken by it. So if I could do a story with the Turtles and have them go in time and meet Kamandi it would be great because there are so many dynamics and story possibilities for it. That would be first and foremost for me. That’s the dream project for me hands down.
GP: I absolutely hope you get that dream someday. Thank you for completing a dream for me personally today. It was an absolute pleasure.
KE: Thank you so much.
So there you have it. Just an awesome meeting with a such a nice and supremely creative person. The professional in me was thrilled at the opportunity, but the 7 year old in me was so overjoyed. You know what that old adage says about being one to every rule. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with many folks in this line of business and I can say that Kevin Eastman to me, was the exception.
*Graphic Policy would like to take the time to thank Dante Moon Productions as well as their very talented camera crew for their assistance in this interview as well as Garden State Comic Con for their utmost professionalism and help scheduling this event.
Please note that questions marked with an * were asked by Dante Luna of Dante Moon Productions and may be used on his Try Harder documentary. You can check out his page and work at Dante Luna on YouTube for much much more.