TMNT Celebrates 25 Years, III - Peter Laird

TMNT vol 4 #1

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are truly an American success story. What was originally conceived as a one-off parody in the form of a self-published black and white comic in 1984 is now an international merchandising juggernaut that has spawned three animated series, namely Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which ran from 1987 to 1996), Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation (1997-1998), and the Mirage Studios-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003-present). The 1987 animated series ran for 10 seasons with a total of 193 episodes aired and it held the record of the longest running animated series in American history before The Simpsons broke its record. As for the 2003 animated series, it is now the oldest American animated series on 4KidsTV.

There was also an exclusive two-episode Japanese anime OVA series in 1996 titled Mutant Turtles: Superman Legend (or Myūtanto Tātoruzu: Chōjin Densetsu Hen) and several manga series such as the 15-issue Mutant Turtles (or Myūtanto Tātoruzu) by Tsutomu Oyamada, Zuki mora, and Yoshimi Hamada, the 3-issue Super Turtles (Sūpā Tātoruzu) mini-series by Hidemasa Idemitsu, Tetsurō Kawade, and Toshio Kudō, Mutant Turtles Gaiden (Myūtanto Tātoruzu Gaiden) by Hiroshi Kanno, and Mutant Turtles III, which was an adaptation of the third feature film by Yasuhiko Hachino.

Last year saw the release of the fully-CGI TMNT, the fourth feature film after the 1990 live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, followed by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze in 1991 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III in 1993.

What about on the comic book front? Well, we’ve chatted with Dan Berger and Stephen Murphy over the last few days about Tales of the TMNT and next year’s The Forever War project.

On March 1st, Peter Laird, along with The Mirage Group, completed the buyout of co-creator Kevin Eastman’s “entire right, title, interest and income participation in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles property and the four Mirage corporations involved in the ownership, management and protection of the TMNT.”

Laird, who went on a hiatus from producing TMNT comics in June of 2006, had brought the turtles back to their roots with TMNT Vol. 4 with longtime TMNT artist Jim Lawson in December 2001. The series went on a hiatus after the publication of issue #28 in June 2006 as Laird went on to work on the new TMNT movie and other matters.

In April, the long-awaited issue #29 of TMNT Vol. 4 was offered for free on the internet, specifically at wowio.com and ninjaturtles.com (for non-US residents). Additionally, “collectible” limited editions of the issue are available via mail order from Mirage. Limited to a print run of just 1,000 copies, each issue carries a $10.00 price tag, including shipping cost. The first 100 copies would have an original black and white TMNT head sketch drawn and signed by Laird.

Where do things go from here? In rounding up our special three-part look at the coming TMNT 25th anniversary “Shell-ebration” in 2009, we contacted the main man himself for a chat about the franchise’s comic book, animated series and film projects.

Newsarama: Hi, Peter. Good to have you with us today. What's your typical routine like these days?

Peter Laird: I get up around 9 or 9:30am, eat breakfast (almost always three waffles, some fruits, a cup of green tea, and a glass of water), and then head to my home office to check emails and do various internet related things, one of which lately is to work on my blog, which is a lot of fun. (Maybe too much fun...!)

Then I head downtown to the Mirage offices, maybe talk Turtle business with Steve Murphy or [CEO] Gary Richardson, check in with/say hello to the Mirage artists (Jim Lawson, Michael Dooney, Dan Berger, and more rarely Eric Talbot -- he works at home a lot) and see if I have any mail at my Mirage office. Occasionally Murph will have something he wants me to autograph for one of our business partners -- lately it has been sets of those cool NECA TMNT figures.

Then I'll try to do a bicycle ride for a few hours, eat lunch somewhere, do some errands, and head back home. Or if weather and time permit, I'll go on a motorcycle ride. Then the night is spent reading, watching TV, doing more email and internet stuff (which also includes reading comic plots and scripts submitted via email).

You'll notice I didn't include "drawing" anywhere. That's because, for a variety of reasons, I hardly draw anymore. Occasionally, I will do a piece of Turtle art, but I haven't actually drawn a whole comic book in many years.

NRAMA: Although you're not that involved with the TMNT comics now (except for TMNT Vol. 4, of course... and we'll get to that in a moment), have you been happy with how things have turned out after all these years?

PL: Well, I am a little bit more involved with the comics than that -- right now I am reviewing and commenting on pretty much all of the new ideas being submitted for the Tales of the TMNT comic which is being edited by Dan Berger.

But to answer your overall question -- yes, I am happy, for the most part. There have been more "ups" than "downs", and I like how Mirage Studios runs these days. Things are simpler with one boss.

NRAMA: The current animated series has been revamped and re-titled TMNT Back to the Sewers and is expected to begin this fall. Now, several proposals were turned down by either you and Mirage or 4Kids or Playmates. For you, what did you or did you not see in pitches like “Superworld” and “Overload” and the others?

PL: Basically, the ones that were turned down were rejected because the "silly quotient" was too high. I always try, as much as I can, to keep the new TV show like the Mirage TMNT comics, which were adventure stories with a seasoning of humor.

NRAMA: When did the idea for Back to the Sewers, which I take it as a back to basics approach but feel free to correct me if I'm way off base here, come about?

PL: When the Fast Forward season of the TMNT show was being aired, we started talking with 4Kids about where we should go after that. I always felt that while Fast Forward was a viable experiment, it wasn't exactly the direction in which I preferred to go. My preference would be to get back to the continuity and spirit we had established in the first five or six seasons of the 4Kids TMNT show, and when I got together with Lloyd Goldfine (head writer for the show), we batted around a bunch of ideas before deciding that the thing to do would be to keep the "Fast Forward" adventures in the show's continuity, but bring the Turtles back to the present... and back to the sewers.

NRAMA: Any teasers with regards to the new direction? At the very least, why do you think Back to the Sewers would make old and new fans happy?

PL: Well, it's making me happy! Seriously, I think there are some really cool things coming up in this season. I don't think any of the episodes are adapted from any of the issues of the comics -- they are all new material. There are a few key elements from Fast Forward that find their way back along with the Turtles, and play a big part in the overall story arc. But more than that I cannot say!

NRAMA: On the film development front, how's it going with Imagi and WB on the sequel?

PL: I'm not sure that we will be working with Imagi on the sequel -- I'd like to, but we're looking into other options. I can't really talk about it in detail, but there are several interested parties we're talking to. One of the things which seems to appeal to everyone is this idea of doing what people are calling a "hybrid" movie -- one where most of it will be live-action, but the Turtles would be very realistically rendered CGI characters. I think that could be, if done correctly, incredibly cool. One thing that I would love to see happen is to try to get Sarah Michelle Gellar and Chris Evans (who performed the voices of April O'Neil and Casey Jones in the 2007 computer-animated TMNT movie) to reprise those roles in a sequel... but as live-action versions of April and Casey. I think that would be wicked cool! As far as I know, at this point they have not been asked, and I have no idea if they would be interested in doing it. I can hope, though!

NRAMA: Coming back to the comics, are things more manageable now?

PL: Well, the Tales of the TMNT comic that Mirage publishes is going well mostly because Dan Berger (who took over from Steve Murphy as editor) is a very organized dude who is keeping that book on track and on time.

NRAMA: And on the subject of comics, you'd put TMNT Vol. 4 on a long hiatus as you concentrated your efforts on the film and animated series, right?

PL: Pretty much. There were a few other reasons, but they were personal.

NRAMA: It's since made its comeback as a free downloadable comic. And you're doing it on your own terms, your own schedule. How has the experience been to TMNT Vol. 4 #29 so far?

PL: It has worked about as well as I had hoped it would. It's great for me, as it allows me to work on my own schedule.

NRAMA: What does digital distribution offer to a company like Mirage?

PL: Probably the best thing is that now pretty much anyone with an Internet connection (with some overseas restrictions which we hope to iron out) can get to read not only any new issues of TMNT Vol. 4, but all of the old issues, for free! How can you beat that? I really like the fact that people in areas of the US which don't have a convenient comic book shop can easily get to read the books. And with the way wowio.com is doing it, you download a pdf file which can make a nice quality printout if you want to have a paper copy for yourself.

NRAMA: At the same time, a limited edition with a cover price of $10.00 is available for purchase and you even sketched and signed at least the first 100 of the 1,000 copies. Have they all sold out by now?

PL: No, and I didn't expect them to all go quickly. I think we've sold about four hundred so far. I'm probably going to bring a box of them to the Heroes Convention we're doing in Charlotte, NC in June.

NRAMA: Any regrets about not distributing TMNT Vol. 4 via Diamond?

PL: Probably the only regret is that I wish I still had the energy and desire to work within their solicitation system. I appreciate all that Diamond did for TMNT Vol. 4, and continues to do with Tales of the TMNT. As I have said before, my choosing this new way of distribution is not in any way a criticism of Diamond. I just needed to find an alternative method which matched my changing work habits.

NRAMA: With TMNT Vol. 4, you're writing, lettering and toning it with veteran TMNT comics artist Jim Lawson on penciling duties. It sure isn't easy for you with your hectic schedule and all. So, when can fans expect the next issue?

PL: I'm hoping to get the next issue (#30) out sometime before the end of July. That issue is actually all drawn -- I just have to finish toning and lettering it.

NRAMA: You'd mentioned in an interview that there're plans to wrap up TMNT Vol. 4 in another 12 issues or so. What do you have in store for the remaining issues then?

PL: Lots of stuff! Sorry -- I can't really talk about what is coming up.

NRAMA: On March 1, it was announced that you and The Mirage Group had completed the buyout of Kevin's interest in the TMNT property and the Mirage Group of businesses. Now that you have full control of the franchise, where do you see the franchise heading in the next few years?

PL: Well, first I have to correct what is perhaps a misapprehension on your part, i.e. that up until that "completed buyout", I didn't have full control of the franchise. That is not the case -- I've had that full control ever since 2000.

That said, I hope that the next few years will see another movie, more episodes of the 4Kids TV show, more Tales of the Turtles comics as well as more of TMNT Vol. 4, and lots more toys and other licensed products. I am especially encouraged by the success of NECA's initial release of their TMNT figures based on the original comic look of the Turtles, and hope that they continue on and expand that line. I hope to keep doing what I can to keep the TMNT spirit alive and thriving, much as I have tried to do these last eight years, in collaboration with all of our licensees and with the help of all of my great coworkers here at Mirage Studios, without whom all this wouldn't be possible.

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