TMNT Celebrates 25 Years, II - Steve Murphy

Archie's Tales of the TMNT #74

In 1987, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series premiered as a five-part mini-series produced by Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, Inc. This version of Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman’s creations differed greatly from the Mirage Studios comic books. For example, Splinter was formerly an honorable ninja master named Hamato Yoshi and not Hamato Yoshi’s pet rat as in the comic book version. New characters such as Krang, Bebop, Rocksteady, General Traag, Lord Dregg, the Punk Frogs and catch phrases like “Cowabunga!”, “Turtle Power!” and “Turtles fight with honor!” were all introduced in the series which lasted 10 seasons with a total of 193 episodes aired, making the longest running animated series in American history at the time of its final episode in 1996.

Meanwhile, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, a new comic book series featuring a more family-oriented, all-ages version was published by Archie Comics in 1988. It started out as a three-issue mini-series before the ongoing series kicked off in 1989. The mini-series and the first four issues of TMNT Adventures mainly adapted episodes of the animated series but Stephen Murphy and Ryan Brown were brought in to introduce characters and create new stories that differed vastly from the show. One of the more memorable storylines was the three-part “The Future Shark Trilogy” from issues #42 through #44 which introduced future versions of the turtles.

TMNT Adventures enjoyed a lengthy run of 72 issues with numerous other special projects, annuals and mini-series.

But fans knew there was more.

There remains a story arc titled “The Forever War” that was originally planned to begin with TMNT Adventures #71 but it was not published at all. In its place, a filler arc, the two-part “How the Turtles Got Their Weapons” story was published in the final two issues instead.

All is not lost, though. According to Murphy on the 5th turtle blog, there are plans for a five-issue TMNT Adventures: The Forever War and trade paperback collection of selected TMNT Adventures as part of Mirage’s 25th anniversary “Shell-ebration” event in 2009.

As promised in our conversation with Mirage Publishing’s Managing Editor Dan Berger last week, we now shift our attention to Murphy, who is also Creative/Approvals Director of Mirage Licensing, to chat about The Forever War and TMNT Adventures.

Newsarama: Steve, both you and Ryan Brown were brought in to the TMNT comic book franchise in the late 1980s by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman soon after first few of Archie Comics' TMNT Adventures issues which basically adapted the 1987 TV series, right?

Steve Murphy: Yes, with issue #5. With issue #3 - and especially #4 - it was clear that the previous creative team was having trouble making deadlines, thus Ryan and I were given the opportunity to take control of the title. This made the bigwigs at Archie happy, as they hate deadline problems.

NRAMA: From there, you guys created new stories and introduced characters distinct from the animated series, correct?

SM: With issue #5, we decided to stop adapting the cartoon show and to develop all new stories and characters, while at the same time working within the universe of the cartoon. With time - not too much time, actually - our universe began to diverge from that of the cartoon (becoming, in essence, "the Archie TMNT universe"). We were simply happy to have a monthly book to sculpt into a shape of our own.

NRAMA: How much of “The Future Shark Trilogy” was influenced by Dark Knight Returns and say, X-Men's Days of Future Past and other post-apocalyptic future-type stories?

SM: Nothing. At least not consciously. I'm a fairly dark person, so it was only a matter of time before some of that darkness began working its ways into the Archie universe. One could argue that it started appearing as early as issue #14, with the introduction of the character Jagwar and our weaving the topic of rainforest deforestation into his origin.

NRAMA: There was also romance in the TMNT comics. Now, who's decision was it to introduce a love interest for Raph in the form of Ninjara?

SM: Me, I think. It just seemed natural that Raphael and Ninjara would fall for each other. Their personalities played off each other so well, they were both so intense.

NRAMA: Despite all those, Archie decided to abandon the TMNT license after The Year of the Turtle, which had Ron Lim on covers and pre-She-Hulk, Avengers: The Initiative, Amazing Spider-Man Dan Slott scripting the three-parter, which tanked in the direct sales market and at the newsstand, correct?

SM: The owners and managing editor of Archie did not like the story arcs that we were coming up with. At the same time, the TMNT phenomenon was crashing, and also overall sales of the title were down. When I decided to leave Mirage to pursue other ventures, the Archie guys stepped in, cancelled the title and then came out with The Year of the Turtle mini-series, which, like you say, tanked, thus ending the Archie TMNT franchise.

NRAMA: And with that, fans and readers never got to see The Forever War, which was previewed at the end of issue #70 of TMNT Adventures. Instead, a two-issue story arc dealing with the adolescent TMNT was published and that was it from Archie. How did you manage to convince Peter Laird and CEO Gary Richardson back in July last year to green light The Forever War as one of the "special event projects" to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the TMNT?

SM: Peter actually green lighted the project several years ago. Since the creative team has been slow in getting the project underway - and since the May 2009 anniversary is coming up - it seemed like the perfect time to release the title, while also giving the creators both more time and a strict deadline.

NRAMA: Will it be released as an OGN or will you guys be putting out the five issues on a monthly/bi-monthly basis? What's the publishing plan here with The Forever War?

SM: The current plan is to release it as a monthly black and white story arc under the original Archie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures title. The first issue would come out in May 2009.

NRAMA: As I understand it, the entire first issue of The Forever War was scripted, penciled and lettered, and script and rough pencils were completed on the second issue. All five covers were also penciled/inked, correct?

SM: Right.

NRAMA: And Chris Allan's coming back on board to finish off the first two issues, right?

SM: Right.

NRAMA: What about Dean Clarrain? Who else is giving the planned five-issue arc the finishing touch now?

SM: Yes, Dean will be back as well. At this point I'll be helping Dean out on the script, and Peter Laird has shown a strong interest in doing some of the inking, perhaps on flashback scenes or something. We still have to work it out. Otherwise, Chris will be handling his own inks.

NRAMA: What was the purpose of The Forever War back then? To simply reinvigorate the franchise back then?

SM: It was just the next story arc in the TMNT Adventures title.

NRAMA: Had it continued to be published as planned, it would have brought back Ninjara, Rat King, Al'Falqa, Katmandu, Wyrm, Scumbug, and Sarnath, right?

SM: Right. Plus some of the "future" characters - like Future Turtles, Armaggon, Verminator-X.

NRAMA: How different would the updated version of The Forever War be from the original?

SM: Hard to say just yet but I would hazard that it will have many elements of the original storyline, while at the same time cutting the cast down a bit.

NRAMA: So, for the record, what is The Forever War?

SM: Another "Future Turtles hook up with today's Turtles" story arc, one that features the final battle with the Shredder. I don't want to give too much away (other than that the scenes depicted on the five covers will not necessarily be occurring in the revamped story line).

NRAMA: Apart from The Forever War, there are also plans to collect TFW-related issues into a trade paperback. Specifically, what issues will be collected? When is it due out in stores?

SM: I haven't finalized which issues yet but it will include between 9 and 12 issues of the original Archie TMNT series, but in black and white. Release date would be April 2009, the month preceding the first issue of The Forever War story arc.

NRAMA: Last few questions before we wrap this up. Are there plans to tell more stories based on the Archie continuity?

SM: The intent was never to bring the Archie continuity back in series form. However, at our most recent "25th anniversary" meeting, the possibility of resurrecting the TMNT Adventures title did come up, but could only be justified if sales on the 5-issue Forever War story arc sold well. The door's open, I'm happy to say.

NRAMA: Will fans get to find out what's happened to Null and others?

SM: Let's hope so!

NRAMA: What else is planned for the 25th anniversary “Shell-ebration”?

SM: In terms of publishing, Mirage plans to also put out a sourcebook of characters that have appeared in the official Mirage continuity comics, as well as a TPB reprint of the first TMNT TPB. Our French publisher, Wetta, has also indicated wanting to do something special for the 25th anniversary and we've begun tossing preliminary ideas back and forth.

Newsarama’s pre-“Shell-ebration” of TMNT25 concludes tomorrow with a very special Q&A with TMNT co-creator Peter Laird. Don’t miss it!

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