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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Back to the drawing board for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles creator Kevin Eastman

Kevin Eastman, co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, at the Middle East Film and Comic Con at the World Trade Centre in Dubai. Christopher Pike / The National
Kevin Eastman, co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, at the Middle East Film and Comic Con at the World Trade Centre in Dubai. Christopher Pike / The National

When media giant Viacom bought the rights to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 2009, it may not have attracted quite the same fanfare as Disney’s 2012 purchase of the Star Wars franchise. However the company nonetheless acquired a property with a similarly loyal fanbase (the animated TV show currently airs in 170 countries), a three-decade history of consistently producing popular comic books, TV shows and movies (including the latest incarnation, Out of the Shadows, which is in cinemas now), and even a Manga adaptation. Mercifully, this series had no dark history of prequels that had led to loyal fans ceremonially burning their memorabilia in despair either.

TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman is in no doubt as to what has led to the franchise’s long-running success: “It’s definitely one of the longest running independent comic properties out there, and I blame the fans totally,” he says. “It’s all their fault, and I thank them because if you don’t have the fans you don’t have a job, so thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Eastman also seems happy with the way the new business arrangement has allowed him to refocus his own work: “When Viacom bought the Turtles, the programme they put together was perfect for me. We had the black and white comic books that were a bit darker and intended for an older audience, and they licensed that to [respected comic publisher] IDW. That’s 90 per cent of my world now, working on the comic book.

“Then with the cartoon series for Nickelodeon they brought in [executive producer] Ciro [Nieli] and the team and said ‘this is going to be written for kids mainly, but with room to touch on the original fans through the kids’ property.’ Then with the movies it’s a combination of the darker edge of the comic books, but also paying respect to the cartoon. There are almost three different universes that intersect in little ways, but they’re all different planetary systems.”

Eastman, it transpires, is a big fan of his new TV producer’s work: “I felt Ciro took some of his favourite parts from the early comics, the old cartoons and the movies, and reinvented it and claimed it as his own. That’s what I love about it. Yes he pays respect to the source material, but it really is his and would not be what it is without his vision.

“I love the fact the very first episode has the turtles coming out of the sewer for the first time and eating pizza for the first time. Even for the long term fans it’s like ‘oh my, here we go.’ The reset button was hit and it was perfect. I enjoyed the series so much.”

With the new cartoon series already a hit on Nickelodeon, and a new movie in cinemas now, Eastman seems pleased to get back to his comic book roots: “When I was growing up, I just wanted to be [Captain America co-creator] Jack Kirby. He told so many different kinds of stories and created so many different characters. I’ve always had stacks of notebooks full of ideas stashed away, and now I’ve signed exclusively with IDW

“I’ll still be working on the Turtles, but they want me to do some new stuff, so I pulled out a few sketch books and dusted them off and I’m doing a new series called Lost Angeles. It’s a kind of a post-apocalyptic warriors love story with lots of martial arts action, zombies, I kind of threw the kitchen sink in there. That’s what I love about comic books. With what Ciro does with the TV shows, or with movies it’s a team effort with an army of people.

“It’s amazing a movie ever works because it takes so many people, so many moving parts. With comic books it’s just me sitting in a room and thinking of whatever I can draw. It’s the best job ever.”