At the recent MCM expo, Nickelodeon held a preview event for their new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. There’s a write up on it on our website, which you might enjoy reading. In attendance were Nickelodeon’s Senior Vice-President of Animation Rich Magallanes and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman. I was lucky enough to get some time to speak to them about this new series.
That’s my professional introduction, which is cool and brief, and represents the charade I had to perform on the day. I was so excited. I’m a Ninja Turtles nerd and have covered a bunch of Turtles stuff on this site. Seeing some of the new series already had me wanting to jump around, fighting invisible foot soldiers and pretending I know karate.
Rich Mallaganes would have made an interesting interview subject on his own. Nickelodeon cartoon series, such as Rugrats, Spongebob Squarepants and The Penguins of Madagascar, not to mention this new Ninja Turtles series, all bear Rich’s fingerprints.
Of course, I wasn’t just interviewing Rich. I would be speaking to him alongside Kevin Eastman.
That I would be getting to meet Kevin Eastman, well, that was a big deal. Kevin Eastman, along with Peter Laird, created the Turtles. Together they wrote, drew and self-published the first comics and between them they’ve had involvement in almost everything Ninja Turtles there has ever been. While I appreciate that he may not be on the top of everyone else’s list, I’d sooner interview Kevin Eastman than just about anyone in the world.
I went into this interview feeling as much like an eight year old competition winner as a proper grown-up with a job to do. Here’s what was said.
So, Kevin, you’re back on Ninjas Turtles everything now – comics, TV series, movies. How is it? Is it good to be back?
Kevin Eastman: It’s awesome. When Viacom purchased the property, it started with my friend Ted at IDW, who licensed the right to do the new comic book series. He asked me to do some covers and then he showed me some of the story and I just fell in love with what they were doing. Then we started talking about this and that, and it’s almost like I inserted myself in there. Suddenly I’m doing covers, working on the plot points and doing layouts.
For the animated series, I came in more as a fan. I’m a huge fan of Rich and everything Nickelodeon. Having two boys I’ve seen just about everything that he’s produced. When they invited me over one day to see what they were developing with the Turtles I just flipped out. I fell in love with the visual, the concept, the take, and it was their credit and me as a fan looking in. The more this carried on they brought me in more and more. We have some surprises we’ll reveal eventually.
Rich Magallanes: Yeah! We can’t really tell you too much right now.
KE: So right now, with the series, I’m more of a fan than a hand on kind of guy. With the Turtles movie, I’ve been behind the scenes on that for about three years. And then, working more specifically with Jonathan Liebesman, Michael Bay and Paramount on the new reboot. They’ve got a great team with John Appelbaum and Andre Nemec from Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol writing.
That was reassuring, when they brought in a decent screenwriting team.
KE: They did. You know, it’s funny, as much as it’s played up in the press, the things is that you’ve got Bay, who’s a great producer and a great director, you’ve got great writers. I’ve seen the story and all that I can say is, much like the animated series, it’s fantastic. Wait and see, you know?
You know, you could have told people the Turtles were aliens in this. People would have gone mad and the amount of press you’d have gotten would have been terrific.
RM: Right? That’s good publicity. Good PR.
KE: What’s funny, and not to carry on, we were kind of worried when Tom Waltz and I were working on the IDW series. We changed things like, we put April back into the lab, but she’s the one who names the Turtles, not Splinter. We changed some of the origins, with the reincarnation aspect. We changed a few things and expected more fan reaction. But I think they embraced the tone, the take and the whole visual experience so much out of the starting gate.
Rich, how is launching the new take on Ninja Turtles been different from your series like Penguins of Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda, where you have not only existing but active properties?
RM: You know, they’re great characters. So, I guess actually the similarity about them is the fact that all of them have great characters. That’s what lends itself so easily to Nickelodeon from the Dreamworks movies. Po from Kung Fu Panda, what a great character. I don’t want to say easy, but what a joy to work with that character. Then the same thing with the Penguins from Madagascar. Lifting them out of that series and giving them their own spotlight.
With Turtles, they’ve had their own shows; they’ve had their own everything. But we didn’t have to reboot Po or the Penguins, it was just shifting the spotlight onto them. Whereas this was; what can we do to take this to the next level? Because it’s been to so many different levels, and so many different versions have been put out there. We don’t want to replicate anything, we want to make it new and fresh and exciting for the fans. That was the challenge with this and I guess that’s the main difference.
It looked great at the preview and the voices all seemed to work. You wouldn’t normally see guys like Jason Biggs (Leonardo) and Sean Astin (Raphael) working on cartoons. How easy was it to get guys like that? Did you go to them or do they come to you?
RM: You know what? I’ve gotta say, everybody who works on Turtles is a huge fan, so it wasn’t actually as difficult as you could imagine. Everybody from the PAs all the way to the storyboard artists to the EPs, everybody was just a huge fan.
It was almost like we had to turn people away versus trying to find certain people for certain roles. When it came to the voice-over casting, it was just a matter of putting the feelers out there and immediately people were like ‘oh, you’re doing that? I would love to be part of that’. People really got attracted to it and came on board without any problem. It was just making sure that we’re putting the right voices in the right characters.
KE: Man, I’m saying, I so love the voices. To me it’s that when you’re writing the stories, back in the earliest days, I’ve always had certain voices in my head that I would think about when I write the Turtles. When you finally hear the voices, and it’s like ‘yeah, that one matches’, and sometimes it didn’t and sometimes it did, but with this casting here, right down to my favourite, which is Gregg’s…
RM: Gregg Cipes!
(faces light up when Gregg is mentioned)
That’s one that looks like it really works.
RM: That guy’s just, he is Mikey! You know, like I said at the show earlier, you actually want to hang out with this guy, you want to give him a hug, you want to party with him. He’s just fun to be around. He is that character, and he brings a lot to it. That’s what some of the voice-over actors do when they get in the booth, they might switch things up a little bit, or they’re just playing around and they might say something and we say “Oh, we’re gonna keep that.” Because, after a while, their characters come alive and start growing on them, as well.
So, Kevin, this is your fourth TV series for Ninja Turtles. You didn’t do the 4Kids series…
KE: No, that was Peter (Laird). Peter and I did the first 280 episodes (laughter) with Fred Wolf animation, and then Peter was taking a short break when I did the Saban live action series. Then I sold a lot of my creative interest to Pete, and I went on to do Heavy Metal. Pete went on to do the 4Kids series, which I also thought was fantastic. I thought they did a great job on that particular take.
How has this one been different from the others?
KE: To me, it’s like they’ve stripped away… there were bits and pieces I didn’t like from the other ones, and it would be nitpicky, but they’ve stripped away all those and gone back to the core, the very root, the origins of the stories. This was their jumping in point, and they brought it into a contemporary setting, so it’s really rebooting it in a way that’s taking the best of the old and making it new and fresh again. But, taking care in a way that older audiences and hardcore fans are gonna embrace the new version of the Turtles. I think they’re going to find an overwhelming amount of new fans. I think people are going to find this thing so wonderfully paced and so story-centric and fantastic.
I was horrified by the number of people of my age, who were from my generation of Turtles fandom, who have brought their kids and are introducing them to it. I say horrified because I’m not mature and the idea of them having children is frightening. But, I’m sure it must be nice for you guys to have that.
KE: It really is. It’s a huge compliment. To have one fan is great, and to see that room of people full after nearly thirty years is overwhelming*.
(At this point, one of the lovely people from Nickelodeon informs me that I only have one question left)
Do we have any idea of a UK broadcast date?
RM: Are we allowed to say when?
(Nickelodeon respond – all they can say is that it’s Autumn this year, and that I am welcome to another question.)
Thank you, because that one didn’t work out at all. All right, so, asides from this current one, what’s your favourite iteration of Ninja Turtles?
RM: And I can’t pick this one?
No, that’d be cheating.
RM: I don’t like that question. I actually liked the last movie. I thought the last movie was really well done.
KE: I would say, hands down, the original Steve Barron movie. It was the perfect blend of the original black and white comics and the animated series. I saw it recently, within the last couple of years, on the big screen. I hadn’t seen it since the 90s, since when it came it out, and when I saw it again so many parts of it still hold up. Steve’s visual sense, his storytelling sense, what Jim Henson did with the creatures, with the costuming to make them actually work; that’s my favourite.
I watch it regularly, because I’m cool, and what’s great is that in the first ten minutes, you have everything in there. They clear everything through to get straight into the story. It doesn’t get the credit it deserves, I don’t think.
KE: I’ve kept in touch with Steve over the years, and he has, I’ll have to talk to some bosses at Nickelodeon, he has a cut that he’s done which, he was able to save a lot of original footage, and he’s asked a couple of times to do a director’s cut and he kind of gets turned down. But I think it would be great to see. Back in those days they still sent us dailies, they sent us some fantastic stuff.
Kevin Eastman and Rich Magallanes, thank you very much!
*Kevin is referencing the hall where the preview event took place, which was indeed packed full of Turtle fans of all ages.