As part of the road to issue 100 of TMNT, each issue features an Oral History with the TMNT creative team, compiled by Patrick Ehlers. Ehlers shared with us his own history with TMNT and how he compiles the eight years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles history at IDW!
You talked with the TMNT comic creative team about how they got into TMNT. How did you get into TMNT?
I wish I could remember what Turtles media I first responded to. In my memory, the ‘87 animated series, the ‘89 NES game, the 1990 movie, the playmates toy line and the role-playing game were all kind of rolled into a single holistic multimedia experience. All of that stuff come out before I was even 10 years old, and I think it was really important for me to have access to so many different takes on the Turtles all at once. Like, I think I always knew them as this malleable property, capable of so much imagination and iteration. It also helped that both the role-playing game and the toys kind of let me in on the storytelling. I wouldn’t have to wait for a new episode or new movie to come out, if I could just play in that universe myself.
How was it being a part of the San Diego Comic-Con TMNT panel?
It was great! The cornerstone of these Oral History pieces has been this series of interviews I did with Bobby Curnow, Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman. We’ve got almost 10 hours of tape of the four of us just talking Turtles, so I knew exactly what kind of awesome insights and stories they have to share. Plus, Turtles fans are amazing, and so welcoming that it was just an extremely comfortable panel. We were there to talk about exciting developments in a story we all love – nothing wrong with that.
For people who want to know more about TMNT, where do you recommend they begin?
Is it too much to say “issue #1?” I know that with all the side series and crossovers and micro series, the full run of IDW’s Turtles ends up being over 5000 pages, but there’s just so much gold in them-there hills. I’ve been through the whole series a couple times since this project began, and every time I try to limit myself to a different critical path, and it’s basically impossible. There are so many passionate creators, and so many amazing stories in these series.
But if we’re looking for great jumping-on points, you could do a lot worse than issue #51, which sets up the new status quo which Tom and Bobby are still paying off on the road up to #100. That’ll give you all the context you need to really get City at War and Jennika’s transformation (provided that you also pick up the excellent Brahm Revel story ‘What is Ninja?” from TMNT Universe.)
If you really, really, really just want to jump right in, “City at War” starts on issue #93 and is going to be one heck of a ride. As an added bonus, that is also where the Oral History pieces start, which have a ton of background information, and walk you through some of the bigger plot developments in the series.
What are your favorite story arcs that have impacted TMNT history?
I love any time the Turtles are up at the farm in Northampton. Those are usually the healing arcs, the ones that let our heroes rest for a little bit after being defeated. I don’t know what it is about these characters that make them so well-suited to explore trauma and recovery, but it just works every time. There’s a line from the original Mirage comics Northampton story arc that always gets me. April’s writing in her journal, and one of her entries starts, “Everything is so strange… I feel like I’ve never looked at myself or the guys before: we’re all so different now. I try to identify the people I used to know with those that surround me now… and it’s hard.” It drives home that healing isn’t returning to a previous state but just another kind of change. You can see that in IDW’s Northampton arc as well, where all of the social dynamics between the brothers need to be re-examined. I love science-fiction craziness and ninja action too, but Northampton is one of the stories that makes Turtles special.
What is it about TMNT that you think will catapult it into the next 35 years?
Every iteration of the Turtles since the original comics has been able to cherry-pick characters and stories and elements from everything that came before. The 2003 animated series did that, the 2012 CG series did that, and the IDW comics do that. The thing is that none of those creators were content to just rehash and repackage old ideas. They all introduce new concepts while building on familiar adventures, creating this satisfying seesaw between wild and comfortable. Change is a part of the character’s identities, it’s a part of their stories, and it’s part of the meta-narrative of the franchise.
Another thing that will keep Turtles going is that the series has radical invention built into its DNA. So many of the original Mirage issues were self-contained stories, and the Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cemented the concept that, for one issue anyway, anything could happen to these guys. It’s a freedom that I don’t see in too many other properties. So even in a series like IDW’s TMNT, which is so strongly anchored in long-form storytelling, there are all these opportunities for crazy one- or two-issue stories. It makes the whole thing feel extremely vital.
Catch up on the TMNT Oral History in the back of each issue of the latest TMNT! Pick up the latest issue at your local comic shop!