Exclusive: We Crack ‘Ninja Turtles’ Co-Creator Kevin Eastman’s Shell

Keavin Eastman sits down with our very own Adam Sweeney to discuss sharing the Ninja Turtles with his own son, geek out a bit about Casey Jones, and gives us a stellar update about the Heavy Metal adaptation he’s producing.
By  · Published on June 6th, 2009

If you’re a comic or cartoon fan like myself, Kevin Eastman’s name is up there as one of the cult classic creators. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been going strong for 25 years, a pretty amazing run. You can grab the Season 7 DVD of the animated series in stores now (or just click that link and head to Amazon). Before you do, check out our interview with Eastman as he talks about TMNT‘s past and future, what it’s like introducing his sons to the Turtles and the future Heavy Metal film he is producing that will be directed by David Fincher.

The DVD of the seventh season is out. How excited does it make you to still be involved with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

It’s phenomenal. Just the fact that we’re doing an interview twenty-five years after the original Turtles comic came out is phenomenal. I remember when I told my mother and father around the age of eight that I wanted to be a comic book artist. They said, ‘Well that’s nice, Kevin. Get a real job too.’

The first comic that I did that really took off was so phenomenal back in the day. We did the first issue, we never thought we’d do a second issue. Then we kept getting calls from distributors asking when we’d be doing a second issue, so we were like, ‘I guess we should do a second issue!’ I remember to this day that in January of 1985 we started getting fifteen-thousand advanced orders for a second issue. Pete [Laird] and I were like, ‘Oh my God, if we make 6 of these a year we could make two grand per issue! We could actually pay our rent and survive making a living drawing comic books.’ That was really for us when the dream came true. We fulfilled the fantasy.

I think I was 21 or 22 and we were drawing comics for a living. I didn’t think it could get any better. The fact that it went on a year or so later and we had Hollywood agents telling us it could be a great kids’ show and make great movies, and we were like, ‘No, no. It’s a comic.’ Because of the fact that we owned them, we had the trademark and copyright, we were successful and making some money, so we got a little cocky. So we said the only way we’re going to work with these guys is if we have full say over what these look like, if we have full approval over what they look like, what the stories are like, and what’s done with them period. That’s how we began working on the Playmates toy line and the original five-part episode. The fact we were able to do almost three-hundred episodes of the animated series and do twenty-six episodes for season seven, that’s awesome. (Laughs)

Oh yeah. I love the Turtles. I remember watching them. My friends and I had the Bebop and Rocksteady action figures. We loved Casey Jones. I write and I noticed that whenever you write, there are certain characters you gravitate towards or feel like they represent you. Are there any particular characters you were close to?

Oh, for sure. I always felt like I related to Raphael the best. I was always a little hot-headed. I was very passionate and driven as a kid, so I related to him the most. It’s interesting because Pete is more like Donatello, who is more level-headed and Zen-ish. So we balanced each other. I could get excited and Pete would say, ‘Well calm down. Maybe we can do it this way.’

But Casey Jones was by far my favorite secondary character. He’s obviously one of the main characters with the four turtles, April O’Neill and him. Actually the final story I worked on was a hundred page epic called “Body Count” with Simon Bisley. That featured him and Raphael. I always paired them together because more ideas came together with them. You write so you know that the voice comes to you naturally. It flows and that’s the moment all writers strive for.

Yeah, and with Raphael and Casey there was this take no prisoners attitude. So they work well and it’s interesting to watch the dynamic they have together because one of them is going to have to stand down for a little bit or else they’re going to butt heads, and that doesn’t work too well for Casey or Raphael.

(Laughs) One of the most exciting things is that they were almost more brothers than the other turtles because they were so similar. It’s like putting two Geminis together. One has to stand down and it won’t be an easy process getting there. (Laughs)

For sure. That’s what I loved about the Turtles. On the surface, people can buy into a lot of things, but below that you’re dealing with zen methods. You have the opportunity for rich stories and sometimes you don’t get that in comics or a children’s cartoon.

Well thank you. I think one of the advantages we had is, if you think about it, the absurdity of the story. We had turtles living in a sewer that were ninjas, which isn’t even a remotely honorable art. So we set up an art form where almost anything was possible. You hated to go too silly, and in many cases we did, but it was a pretty wild playground to be creative in. As long as you kept the characters true to a certain personality, you could have a lot of fun.

You’ve had both a live-action and animated film made out of the story. Did you prefer one over the other?

For sure. There were certain enjoyable aspects to each of them. The original comics were so enjoyable because it was two guys in a room drawing whatever they wanted to. When we entered the animated part, it was cool because we had to work with certain limits for the broadcast. But when so many people that had read the original comics, it was essentially a give and take. It was similar in the original sense because you could pace out, have a multi-part story, especially with a thirteen or twenty-six episode season, and have something build to the seventh episode and pay off in the nineteenth episode. That was enjoyable.

By the time we first moved to the live-action movie, the first one especially, that stands out as one of the most incredible moments in Turtle stuff, because it was such an impossible hill to climb. We were like, ‘How will we ever bring these to life in live-action?’ But we had the great fortune to work with Steve Barron, who was the director and such a visionary. Steve brought Jim Henson to the table, who created probably 99.9% of the technology used to make the turtles emote and look real. It was created specifically for that movie. I remember so clearly the first time we came onto the set. It was in New York where they have this street scene and you came around this corner to see the four Turtles in full gear doing jumping jacks in the suits. For a split second you say, ‘Oh my God! They’re alive!’ That was pretty awesome.

With the animated movie we did with Imagi, that was a whole different enjoyable level. The technology had advanced so much that we could highly stylize the Turtles and give them a new look, new movements that weren’t possible in traditional cel animation at the time. Both had their pluses and minuses but the pluses far outweighed the bad.

It makes sense. You watch the live-action films and it’s amazing given the time you made them. It still holds up. A few weeks ago I was watching The Dark Crystal and you see things Jim Henson did. He was so far ahead of his time. You are producing Heavy Metal. What’s it like working with David Fincher?

Well first off, he’s cool as fuck. He’s really an amazing guy. I look back and I bought Heavy Metal, the first edition comic, in 1977. Back then U.S comic books were getting boring. It was the same old comic book approved rehash of Batman and Spider-Man. I still loved comics with all my heart but it was the first time I realized you could do more with it. You could do adult, science fiction, edgy. You could go all over the map. It led me to discover the European artists and lots of American artists that were self-published. I didn’t want to work for Marvel or Disney. I wanted to be a self-publisher. Heavy Metal helped me reap the benefits of the success of the Turtles, which oddly enough allowed me to buy Heavy Metal. (Laughs) I got the first Heavy Metal movie, the Ivan Reitman classic, re-released. Then Heavy Metal 2000 was a single storyline and the technology was up to what I had hoped, so it’s been a long seven or eight years waiting for the opportunity to do justice to the Heavy Metal brand. Along comes David Fincher and he’s like, ‘We’re going to make a fifty million dollar epic Fantasia story. This is going to be the coolest movie ever.’ His excitement is as big as Tim Miller’s from Blur Animation Studios. We tried to get another Heavy Metal anthology for years before Fincher came on board, so the fact you can get us three in the same room, it’s great.

I’ve got breaking news that Fincher and James Cameron are going to be Co-Executive Producers on the film. Fincher will direct one. Cameron will direct one. Zack Snyder is going to direct one and Gore Verbinski is going to. Mark Osborne and Jack Black from Tenacious D are going to do a comedy segment for the film. Three other directors have agreed but we haven’t signed them, but they’re equally as jaw-dropping. So we’re on cloud nine to be working with such an amazing amount of talent.

Awesome. It’s basically a who’s who of badass directors. You could do worse than James Cameron. (Laughs) But you’re like, ‘We will balance it out by having Uwe Boll in there too.’ It’s amazing the way Fincher can handle such dark subject matter but can also have a poignant story. It sounds like it’s going to be great. Have you had a chance to introduce the Turtles to your children?

(laughs) I have and it’s sort of a weird thing. My oldest son is eight and he has been around me so long that he’s like, ‘Well that’s what Dad does!’ It’s not until his mates come over from school and are like, ‘Oh my God, your Dad drew the Turtles!’ that Pete’s like, ‘Well yeah!’ I think he gets excited that other kids are excited about it. We have guy time every night between 7 and 8 after he does his homework. We put on Clone Wars and he gets out his sketchbook. We sort of, I draw clone troopers and battle droids and he draws battleships, so we just fuck around for an hour. It’s fun. He’s like, ‘That’s what Dad does. He draws.’

Most kids are like, ‘What’s your Dad do,’ and you say, “He’s a construction worker. Your kid is like, ‘Well my Dad only created one of the most badass comics for an entire generation. No big deal.’ What are the next big plans for TMNT? Where do you go from here?

We went to the Tribeca Film Festival and the original film was shown for the first time on the big screen since the early 90’s. This cool remembrance and that it still resonates with the fans. To see dads coming to Comic-Con with their kids and they say, ‘I love it as a kid and my kid does now!’ It’s a compliment, then you feel old, and then it’s a compliment again. (AS and KE laugh.) Galen Walker and Scott Mednick just announced that they’re doing a new live-action Turtles movie. They’re going to go back to the real suits, obviously they’ll be enhanced suits with CG. I mean look at Iron Man. I am excited to see how it turns out.

Maybe you can get Corey Feldman some more voice work. That’d be a plus.

(Laughs) You never know. I’ve lived in Hollywood for a while and I’ve run into Corey at The Playboy Mansion. I keep thinking of him as the guy who did Lost Boys, then I’m like, ‘Oh right! You did Donatello and then heroin!’ No, but he’s a funny guy. Funnier yet, Elias Koteas played Casey Jones in the first movie and I joined this new gym ten or eleven years ago, and I see Casey Jones on the treadmill. I was like, ‘Elias!’ It’s neat to run into the characters. Elias is one of the sweetest guys ever and was like, ‘Casey Jones was one of the most fun characters I ever did.’

And he did Zodiac, which Fincher directed, so it all comes full circle.

Yeah. He’s the clockmaker in Benjamin Button and I asked Fincher what it was like to work with him. He told me it was so frustrating to work with Elias because he offered him one of the main roles in Se7en and Elias was just Elias. He takes the roles he wants and doesn’t take the ones he doesn’t like. He is a phenomenal actor and should be much bigger and more famous than he is.

It’s interesting. You have so many people killing to get the big roles, but you have to respect guys who enjoy character work. Sometimes those are the people you remember the most. In the first live-action Turtles film, I still quote one-liners like, ‘A Jose Canseco bat? Tell me you didn’t pay money for this.’ That line holds up even more now.

(Laughs) It’s so true.

Well thanks for the interview, Kevin. We wish you the best of luck and hopefully will get to talk to you again.

Absolutely. Any time, please feel free. I don’t know if you can make it out to the San Diego Comic-Con but come by and say hi. We’ll have the Heavy Metal area set up and the 25th anniversary of the Turtles. It will be an awesome show, so you should make it out.

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