Peter Laird Talks About The Past, Present & Future Of TMNT
Reported by Jay Cochran - 12:33 AM 2008.09.30
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have entertained people of all ages since 1984 in the form of comics, animation, action figures and feature films. Approaching its 25th Anniversary, we had a chance to sit down with co-creator Peter Laird to talk about how it all got started and whatís in store for the future including the possibility of another movie.
ENI: With the 25th Anniversary of TMNT upon us, can you describe to us in your own words how it all began for you? How did you get into drawing comics and how did the idea of TMNT come about?
Peter: I've loved drawing since I was a little kid, seriously started thinking about drawing comics in high school (that's when I discovered Jack Kirby), and eventually ended up getting a BFA in printmaking from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA in 1976. After graduating from UMass, I lived in the area and started to make a career as an illustrator. Admittedly, it was not terribly lucrative, but it was good experience for me. I still really wanted to get into comics, and in fact once traveled by bus down to New York City and dropped in at the Marvel Comics offices, thinking -- naively -- that I could just walk in and interview with someone. Nothing came of that, but I continued to dream about doing comics, self-publishing a few minicomics.
I had moved to New Hampshire in 1982 with my future wife, and it just so happened that where we were living was only about half an hour from where Kevin Eastman was living in Maine. (I'd met and gotten to be friends with Kevin in Massachusetts in 1981.) We reconnected and decided we really wanted to work together, and when two of my housemates moved out, Kevin moved in, and we created Mirage Studios. It was really just the two of us sitting in our old stuffed chairs, drawing and goofing around and watching stupid tv shows. It was great!
One night in November of 1983, we were sitting around watching tv and drawing, and Kevin drew a sketch of a turtle, standing on its hind legs, with a mask on its face and nunchakus strapped to its forearms. He showed it to me, I laughed, and immediately drew my own version, changing a few things. Kevin then proceeded to do a drawing of four of these turtles, each with a different weapon, and called them "ninja turtles". I suggested adding "teenage mutant" to the name, and he liked that. A couple of days later, we decided that it might be fun to do a comic book with these guys, and we started trying to figure out how they became what their name suggests. Within a couple of months, we had written and drawn a forty page first issue, found a local printer to print it, and became self-publishers.
ENI: Itís been said at one point in your career that you got to the point where you actually didnít enjoy drawing anymore. Was that true, is it still a problem and if not how did you overcome it?
Peter: It's true -- sometime in the late 1980's or early 1990's I just got to the point where I had lost the joy that had always been part of creating a drawing. It freaked me out badly -- losing something which had been such a vital part of my life like that was terrifying. What eventually got me out of it was beginning to learn how to do computer graphics, using programs like Photoshop, Painter, Illustrator, Bryce, etc.. After a while, I did get the old joy of drawing back, although honestly the amount of drawing I do these days is minimal. But the good thing is, when I do get around to doing a drawing, I really enjoy it.
ENI: It was said that you just recently completed buying out your partner Kevin Eastman in March 2008, a process that began back in June 2000. Can you talk about why the two of you decided to go your separate ways, why did the process seem to take so long and do you think the two of you will ever work together again, either on TMNT or other projects?
Peter: I think that all relationships go through phases, and evolve over time, often in response to stresses of various types. The huge success of the TMNT put a lot of stress and strain on our friendship, and after a while it began to illuminate exactly how different we were in many ways. Kevin moved out to California sometime in the late 1990's, I think, and I rarely saw him. It's difficult to run a business together under those circumstances, and after a few false starts, we came to an agreement in 2000 whereby I purchased all of Kevin's rights to the TMNT property (he continued to get a small percentage of profits). Then, earlier this year (2008), Kevin decided for his own reasons that he wanted to sell that as well, and I bought him out of that final piece of the deal.
We have hardly seen each other over the last seven years, and haven't really talked either. We've exchanged a few emails, but that's about it.
Will we ever work together again? I suppose it's possible, but I doubt it. A truly sad irony is that, earlier this year, I had gotten to the point where I felt it might be time to let bygones be bygones, and maybe do something together, perhaps something for the upcoming 25th anniversary of the TMNT. I was ready to email him and see if we could get something going, some project which would be the first Eastman and Laird Turtles thing in many years. And then, literally the next day, I had the misfortune (or fortune, I haven't yet decided which) to read his interview on newsarama.com. Reading that insulting crap sucked all the heart out of any desire I had to collaborate with him again. Will it ever return? I really don't know.
ENI: Besides the comics, TMNT have had a very successful run of animated series. Can you talk about how the original cartoon series came about, how much creative control did you have in their creation and did you personally think about them? The tone of the cartoons was very different than that of the original comics.
Peter: The first animated TMNT series came about because we had the great fortune to get hooked up with an energetic licensing agent named Mark Freedman, back in 1986. Mark took the TMNT idea around to various toy companies and eventually got one -- Playmates Toys -- to take that leap of faith. Playmates wanted a tv series to support the toy line, and hired Murakami/Wolf/Swenson to produce it. Kevin and I flew out to California to meet with Fred Wolf and discuss the initial approach for that first miniseries. That was probably the last time we had much influence on the show! As time went on, and the show became more successful and popular, the people at MWS listened to us less and less. It was extremely frustrating.
Kevin and I accepted the fact that the overall TMNT concept would have to be softened somewhat for the tv series, and at first we were happy with the compromise. But the constant silliness and repetition on the show was disappointing. I will never dispute, however, that it was enormously popular and successful, and helped to sell a lot of toys and other merchandise and introduce a vast audience to the TMNT. I just think it could have been better.
ENI: The action figures and toys have also been a very big part of the TMNT property. Can you talk about what steps you went through to get these on shelves? Why did you decide to go with Playmates Toys and how has your relationship been with them all these years?
Peter: Well, as I mentioned earlier, Playmates was the one toy company at the time which had the balls and the foresight to take this leap of faith on this wacky concept from these two knuckleheads out in Massachusetts. And they did a great job on the toys. They have remained our master toy licensee up to the present time and will probably continue for some years to come. They have been a great partner, and have made many cool toys that have a lot of -- to use toy industry jargon -- "play value".
We didn't really have a lot to do with the actual production of the toys, although we did do quite a few sketches for possible toys that we sent to Playmates. Some they used, others they didn't. Of course, a lot of the comic book characters got made into toys -- filtered through the tv show first.
ENI: Over the last 25 years, do you have a favorite comic issue of TMNT? Either one you worked on or one that others may have done?
Peter: I have great fondness for all of the books Kevin and I worked on together, but probably the one I hold dearest is the Donatello "One Issue Micro Series". That was one that I mostly plotted and laid out, and it was our "love letter" to Jack Kirby. I was very happy to see that comic adapted as an episode of the new 4Kids TMNT tv series.
ENI: Who is your favorite Turtle?
ENI: Who is your favorite non-turtle TMNT character?
Peter: Speaking of Mirage characters, I'd have to say the Fugitoid. As for characters from other companies, I'd say the Thing from "Fantastic Four", Etrigan the demon from DC's "The Demon" (by Jack Kirby), and Stan Sakai's "Usagi Yojimbo".
ENI: Do you have a favorite TMNT cartoon episode?
Peter: Probably "The King", which is the aforementioned adaptation of the Donatello "Micro Series"... although "Same As It Never Was", also from the new 4Kids series, comes close.
ENI: Do you have a favorite TMNT toy or action figure?
Peter: I love the first year Turtle figures from Playmates, as well as those extremely cool large resin figures they did a few years ago (though I guess those are not toys per se). I also love the "Star Trek" turtles Playmates somehow got permission from Paramount to do years ago -- they're fantastic! And lately, another of our licensees, NECA, has done some absolutely wonderful TMNT toys based on the original comic book look.
ENI: Can you talk about what it was like bringing your creations to the big screen? How did that come about, how much involvement did you have and what did you personally think of the final outcomes for them - for both the 90ís version and the most recent CGI version?
Peter: It was pretty exciting! The initial process of getting the first movie going was also fairly frustrating, as it was our first experience in that field and we had to deal with some "Hollywood types" who drove us crazy. Fortunately, they picked Steve Barron to direct the movie and he was great to work with. He respected the source material and really saved that movie. It was amazing to see the Henson people work on the Turtles and Splinter -- Kevin and I were both big fans of the stuff Jim Henson and his crew had done on other movies and TV shows. They did a fantastic job bringing the Turtles to "life". And I would be remiss if I did not mention the incredible contribution made by the martial artists who performed ninja fighting and stunts inside those costumes -- not in any way an easy thing to do!
Our involvement on those three live action movies was limited to mostly approving the script and the look of the main characters. I wish we could have had more approval rights. When I became sole owner of the TMNT and later had the opportunity to work with Imagi on the new CGI film, I was in a better position to obtain those rights, which made the working experience a lot more pleasant.
ENI: Looking to the future can you tell us what you have in store for TMNT, what comic book projects do you have planned?
Peter: I prefer not to give too much away regarding upcoming projects, but I will say that I hope to wrap up TMNT Vol. 4 in about six more issues. At this time, I don't have any new non-TMNT comics projects going on. (Actually, I do have one ongoing project with which I am having a lot of fun -- my blog at http://plairdblog.blogspot.com/.)
ENI: NECA recently released a line of high-end collectible figures for TMNT. Can you talk about how those came about, what you thought of them and will we continue to see more TMNT figures from them? If we will see more can you also tell us what we might see within the next year from NECA?
Peter: NECA somehow managed to obtain a license to do these "collectible" toys, and I'm really glad they did. Their first efforts, the four Turtles rendered in the style of the original comic books, are some of the coolest TMNT toys ever. I'm pretty sure this next year will see releases of figures of April, The Shredder, a Shredder Elite Guard, and a Foot Soldier, all of which I have seen in prototype form -- they look great. I'm hoping they will also do a Splinter soon, and I would love it if they made a Triceraton as well as the Fugitoid.
ENI: Will we continue to see new TMNT products from Playmates Toys? If so can you tell us what we might see in the next year from them?
Peter: Playmates will continue releasing new products. I'm not really on top of all of what they will be offering, but I know that there will be some toys related to the "Back to the Sewer" season of the tv show, which just recently started airing, as well as a pretty cool comics-related series of Turtle figures.
ENI: Whatís in store on the animation front? Will the Fox series continue into 2009 and if so what is planned for it?
Peter: Right now, the "Back to the Sewer" season is it, as far as I know. We have not had any discussions about another season to follow it, but that could change.
ENI: Recently there have been rumors flying around about another TMNT feature film in the works? Is that true? If so will it be CGI or live-action and why the decision to do one or the other?
Peter: Since the 2007 "TMNT" movie, we have been talking about doing a fifth film. We are currently VERY close to signing a deal to do a new film, and if it happens, the current thinking is to have it be a live action/CGI "hybrid", which is to say that the Turtles and Splinter (and possibly some other characters which we've yet to introduce) would be rendered very realistically in CGI, while everything else would be filmed in live action.
ENI: Do you have anyone in mind to direct?
Peter Peter: Not really. Steve Barron's name has come up in our early discussions, and I would be happy to see him do it, but as far as I know, right now no one has been picked.
ENI: Would this be a total re-boot or pick up from either the movies in the 90ís or the more recent CGI film?
Peter: We still haven't decided on which way to go. There are pluses and minuses to each approach. Really, we are at the very beginning of talking about the story.
ENI: Is there anyone in particular you are looking at you would like to star in the movie?
Peter: I have said that I think it would be cool to try to get Sarah Michelle Gellar and Chris Evans, who very ably voiced April and Casey, respectively, in the "TMNT" CGI movie, to reprise those roles -- but this time in live action. I think it could be the first time something like that has been done. However, I have no idea if either of them would be interested in doing it, and there are also probably a lot of other actors who could do those parts well. Again, it's very early in the process, and I don't think anyone has been formally approached.
ENI: Will Kevin Eastman have any involvement in the movie?
ENI: If there was one thing you could go back and re-do over the last 25 years in regards to TMNT, what would it be?
Peter: Just one? There are many things I wish I had done somewhat differently, and a few I wish I hadn't done at all, and some I didn't do at all that I wish I had. But I think the thing I wish I had done, that would have made some of the more stressful times significantly easier, would be to have taken at least one basic course in business when I was in college. So much of what made me want to tear my hair out in the early years of the TMNT, especially the beginning of the mass-merchandising period, had to do with not really having any experience in or knowledge of the ways of business. For both Kevin and me, it was a real "learn as you go" experience. I actually think a basic business/finance course should be required of all college students... it could help a lot.
-- Peter Laird
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