After eight years of producing the series, Point Loma-based IDW is releasing the 100th issue of the comic today
Arguably one of the most unique combinations of superhero characteristics, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been entertaining fans and fighting bad guys since the 1980s. Co-created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the series debuted at a comic book convention in self-published large-format in 1984. The single issue was intended to be a parody, but it quickly grew to become a phenomenon that continues today with several animated series, live-action movies, toys and collectibles, and franchise partnerships that make the characters household names.
A fantastical and ridiculously funny combination, the turtles, named after four Italian Renaissance artists — Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello — are mentored by Splinter, a mutant rat who serves as their sensei and father figure. The turtles and many of their respective story lines have changed over the years from their darker origins to the pizza-loving teenagers in the original animated series, much to the delight of generations of fans.
While the franchise has experienced several ups and downs over the years, its most recent series is managed by IDW Publishing, which is headquartered at Liberty Station in San Diego. Nickelodeon, a subsidiary of Viacom, purchased the rights to TMNT in 2009 and relaunched the series for a new audience, which resulted in a new comic series by Eastman, Tom Waltz and Bobby Curnow.
IDW is the fourth publisher to hold the rights to publish TMNT and launched its version of the series in August 2011, the first since the Nickelodeon purchase. Waltz was tasked to write the initial pitch for the new series. Soon after, Eastman, one of the original co-creators, joined the team to collaborate on covers, plot and layouts.
“I met Tom (Waltz) and Bobby Curnow for the first time, and Tom laid out this wonderful structure of picking from multiple turtle universes to create a new platform to tell a story,” recalled Eastman about their first meeting.
In taking on such an iconic series, Waltz was concerned with putting his own spin on it: “One of the biggest changes I wanted to do was I wanted the origin story to have the turtles and Master Splinter to have been humans that were reincarnated into this state from Feudal Japan.”
This was a big change to the Turtles’ origin story, but when Waltz pitched the idea, Eastman, Nickelodeon and Viacom were all thrilled.
“I felt that it was so in tune to the original concept that Peter and I did so many years ago that I thought the fans are going to love it!” Eastman said last week at the IDW offices in Point Loma.
While the origin story was changed, much of the traditional aspects of the series remained.
“If something has lasted this long, that means that those characters are beloved and fans want to see them,” Waltz said.
And Waltz is happy with the outcome: “When we started, reincarnation was step one, but I had certain beats that I wanted to hit as long as I was writing it ... and I feel that we hit all those big beats.”
After eight years of producing the series, IDW is releasing the 100th issue of the comic today.
The moment, Eastman said, is not lost on the team.
“It takes a village to produce a book … but it’s a very rare credit to say that (Tom) has written 100 consecutive issues of the comic book. It’s incredible.”
Reflecting on 35 years of the Turtles, Eastman acknowledges that the structural foundation was established by himself and Laird and that nothing can take away from that. At the same time, he believes that “this is absolutely hands down the definitive Turtle series because it covers so much of the different universes ... and it’s my favorite next to the original.”
San Diego also is an important aspect of this story. When Comic-Con celebrated its golden anniversary last year, the Turtles were featured alongside iconic characters like Superman and Batman in the event’s promotional materials.
That was a surreal moment for co-creator Eastman, who said that San Diego has always “meant comic books,” adding that for decades, he’d held San Diego in high esteem, visiting Comic-Con for the first time in 1985.
“California seemed like a fantasy land ... and that was the first time I saw legends and heroes who inspired me as a kid, like Jack Kirby and Frank Miller,” he recalled.
Since that initial visit, Eastman’s summer calendar has revolved around attending Comic-Con each year.
IDW’s president, Chris Ryall, thinks the homegrown aspect of IDW is what makes it special, and the worldwide appeal of the Turtles has made a big impact on the company and the city.
The 100th issue of the TMNT went through dozens and dozens of iterations, with one version featuring artwork from the past 99 issues as a background for the Turtles as they prepare for battle in the foreground. The issue will feature the climax of the “City at War” story arc where the Turtles must come together to end the saga.
Waltz thinks that people always seem to be surprised that one of the premier comic book companies in the world is based in San Diego. IDW, he added, is one of the best-kept secrets in the city and hopes the current milestone will put more eyes on the company.
“Our book, our company, and the city itself reflect each other in that way.”
Daichendt, dean of the colleges and a professor of art history at Point Loma Nazarene University, is a freelance writer.