Kevin Eastman: The Man Behind the Shell

Kevin Eastman at Amazing Arizona Comicon!

by Durrilion

Mr. Eastman and Durrilion
Mr. Eastman and Durrilion at Amazing Arizona Comicon


When my amazing editor told me Video Jouzu was invited to attend a media only panel with Kevin Eastman, I was excited.  Who wouldn’t be?  The creator of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was coming to Arizona, and I would have a chance to speak with him.  Whoa!  Before we get into the questions and answers, any fans who have not met him yet…Kevin is so friendly, funny, and he took time to really listen to each of us at the media panel.  Judging by the line at every one of his signings I think he did the same with all of his fans.  Okay, on with the panel itself.

After the initial greetings, Kevin walked over and shook everyone’s hands, and joked about spending 4 0r 5 hours with us.  I’m pretty sure it could have happened.

First question out of the gate asked what he thought of the new film.  He hasn’t seen much of it yet, but from what he has seen he thinks director David Greene “put his heart and soul into it” and that “it looks pretty awesome, pretty passionate in its intent, and probably a little more truer to the original”.

His view on the evolution of the Turtles over the years is that “technology has caught up with what is in artists’ heads.  The Turtles have seen different variations, not only in the comic books, but also cartoons and some of the movies.  I love them all, even the Venus de Milo series”.  He and Peter Laird have had “full approval over pretty much everything done with the Turtles for 20-25 years”.  Overall he likes seeing this new vision of the Turtles.

One of the journalists asked about the Turtles’ ability to cross over from generation to generation.  He and Peter put a lot of what they loved about comic books growing up into the Turtles, and drew inspiration for each of the Turtles from their own friends.  Being that they were green mutant teenagers allowed readers of all backgrounds to bond with the characters.  The fact that the Turtles worked in so many different formats in the early days really helped with its popularity.

Kevin was asked about the Batman/Turtles crossover.  How do you feel about someone else taking over your work?  If it’s a really good idea, he joked about stealing it and taking credit.  Why turtles?  He grew up near a lake, and turtles are a funny animal.  Late one night, he wondered ‘if Bruce Lee was an animal what would he be’  Turtles came up, because a fast moving martial artist as a slow moving turtle was hilarious.  The next day there was a drawing of all four Turtles.  Kevin called them ninja turtles, and Peter added teenage mutant.  Rather than sending it to Marvel or DC they worked on the project themselves.  Over 30 years later, it’s still going.

Batman and the Turtles
Batman and the Turtles

How do you feel about being part of people’s lives and their children’s lives?  He said it is “humbling, mind-blowing, incredibly awesome”.  When people tell him how much the Turtles meant to them growing up, he gets it, because he has felt that way about comic books in his youth.  Jack Kirby, specifically, inspired him to draw.  People from around the world have found something in the Turtles with which to connect.  Though it’s crazy, on his first trip to Paris, he saw a Turtles poster near the Eiffel Tower.

After the third original movie, a fourth one was planned, but eventually it went nowhere.  The live action TV series came from that.  They never thought there would be another movie, instead hoping that the fans liked what they’ve done so far.  Given the longevity of the Turtles, I would say the fans love it.

Character inspiration is also a question fans have.  Shredder, Rocksteady and Beepop have an interesting one.  Shredder’s story is his favorite.  When they were working on the Turtles origin story, he and Pete were washing dishes.  Kevin, while drying a cheese grater, put it on his hand and  said “Man could you imagine if there was a bad guy with these on his arms”?  Kevin’s first thought was to call this villain ‘The Grater’.  Pete said ‘How about The Shredder?’.  Donatello is based on a friend who was the first among them to have all the gadgets.  Michelangelo is based on his high school’s version of Robin Williams, and  KC Jones is influenced by Jack Burton.  There was an RPG for the turtles from Palladium Books.  A warthog and rhinoceros were among the mutants in the game.  Shredder needed henchman, soooo…

I asked him “Why NY?  Why the sewers?”  “It’s a good question” he started.  His version of NYC was based on all the comics he read, having never been there before.  Every super hero comic and movie seemed to be set there, or in a city very much like NYC.  It provided story ideas and plot lines.  They moved the Turtles out of NYC at one point taking them to Massachusetts, which was more familiar territory to Kevin and Peter.

What is your creative process?  “Ideas come from everywhere, comic books we’ve read, tv shows”.  When he gets an idea he researches it to make sure it hasn’t been done before.  It starts with a sketch book.  He talked about his projects ‘Lost Angeles’, and ‘Fistful of Blood’, and that post apocalyptic settings allow more creativity as opposed to drawing thousands of windows on city buildings.

Regarding the Turtles video game, the first one from Nintendo, he had people coming up to him saying the game was so hard.  This was during a time when there was no saving one’s progress on a video game.  If you died, you had to start over.  Kevin did say that one person came up to him and said he made it all the way through.

One of my fellow journalist asked what Turtle represents you?  He always asks fans that, but for him its like trying to pick a favorite child.  He is partial to Michelangelo because he was the first, but Raphael is a wildcard, who unlike the other Turtles can be taken down different story line paths, whereas the other Turtles have pretty clearly defined personalities.  So Raphael is his favorite.

What do you think of the new Shredder? Kevin felt it seemed more Transformer like, and it’s a direction he would not have gone, preferring  something more traditional, low tech in a high tech world.  Sometimes studio execs aren’t familiar with the source material and go more with what they think fans want to see.

original Shredder
original Shredder


new verison of Shredder
new verison of Shredder

What is your motivation for creating?  Do you do it for yourself or the fans?  He still goes to the comic book store, and lots of the ideas he works on are ideas that he would love to see in the shops.  Satisfy yourself first, and hopefully it’s not “too stupid”.  ‘Ronin Blues’ is a project he’s working on, after almost scrapping it a few years ago.  He dug it back out, after 5 years, and found some stuff he liked.  So over the next couple of years, he’s going to re-work it, and hope for the best.  “Keep true to yourself, and hope for the best”.

Why those names?  Is there a significance to the mask colors?  A really good question that I myself was going to ask, but one of my very clever fellow journalists beat me to it.  While putting together the origin story, traditional Asian names were discussed, because of the obvious Asian influences.  It didn’t work because ‘teenage mutant’ needed something silly.  Eventually they went with Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael because it was such an extreme difference.  Donatello was almost named Bernini because Kevin prefers Bernini over Donatello as a sculptor.  Donatello was chosen  because of the ‘O’, and a coin toss.  The masks were originally all red (in the color version of the comics), and the turtles were distinguished by their weapons.  The animators and toy makers wanted something more distinctive.  It was Pete’s idea to use the colors:  Orange-Michelangelo, silly, Purple-Donatello, monk like, peaceful, Blue-Leonardo, a noble color for the leader, and Red-Raphael, rageful, the wildcard.

the Turtles
the Turtles

Do you have a Turtles room?  Yeah, he said with a laugh.  He has a studio outside the house filled to the brim with at least one of every thing Turtle.  In the house his wife is thrilled that there are only a few pieces. “She doesn’t have to dust 15,000 Turtle pieces of memorabilia”.

Did you expect the fan reaction to ‘killing’ Donatello?  “No.  We write stories we want to read.  The internet killed him, telling a good story you want to have a cliff hanger”.  At fan signings, they would come up with issue 44, and comment on how Donatello was their favorite.  Kevin had to let them know that two more issues had come out after that one, and that Donatello’s not dead.

When asked about the Daredevil tie-in he said “I was a huge fan of Daredevil.  A young Matt Murdock jumps out to save a blind man crossing a street, while this truck’s barreling down the street filled with radioactive waste.  Truck slams on it’s brakes, a radioactive canister comes loose, and hits young Matt Murdock in the eyes, and blinds him and enhances his senses.  That’s how Daredevil was born.  To me they never tell what happens to the canister after it hit Matt Murdock.  So in the Turtles, the origin gets the same story but we have the canister continue bouncing down the street and this poor boy standing above a sewer hole, grate, with a terrarium with four turtles in it.  The canister smashes the terrarium, and they all fall into the sewer, where there’s a rat down there, and they all get exposed to the mutagen.  Splinter came from Daredevil’s mentor, named Stick; Daredevil writer Frank Miller, designed the Hand, the evil ninja’s they were dealing with, so the Turtles have to fight the Foot… [laughter] Stan Lee said “Yeah I was going to sue you guys, but I didn’t”.

The older you get is it harder to keep the turtles young?  Having younger people around creatively brings a younger energy.  So does having a ten year old son, and spending time with fans.

How do you get introduced when you’re not at a con?  Depending on the situation he’s either “an artist who draws comics” or “an accountant”.  His son’s friends didn’t believe dad created the Turtles.  He has been recognized at Bed Bath and Beyond, the clerk saw his name on the credit card, and asked  “You’re not the Turtle guy are you”?  He only uses his celebrity status when there’s a long line at customs, and his tattoos are getting eyeballed.  He and his wife are pretty involved in their community.  So being behind the shell provides a good deal of anonymity that many others celebrated by the ‘nerdverse’ may not have.

My experience meeting Kevin Eastman was fantastic (and yes I’m comparing it to meeting Denise Crosby, Alaina Huffman, and Sean Maher)!  Turtles fans who haven’t met him should also follow him on twitter @kevineastman86.  In the meantime “Cowabunga Dudes!”, and keep the pizza coming!


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