It may come as a surprise to some, but it’s been 25 years since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird started publishing Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles . As many know, they weren’t the first of the 80s indy titles to shake up comics at that time.
Yet when you ask Eastman, what really surprises him is the profound effect the Turtles had on the animation industry.Cast and crew reunite for a recent Turtles documentary. L to R: Pat Fraley, Rob Paulsen, Coleman, Renae Jacobs, Eastman (back), Brian Tochi, James Avery, and Barry Gordon “Only in hindsight,” says the co-creator of Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael. “Only from what a lot of people have told us. Back in the day, back in ’86-877, when we started piecing together the Playmates/Fred Wolf program, we were pretty naïve. I mean Peter and I were pretty naïve when we started on the publishing side.
“I mean, we started in syndication, which was something we never really understood. Then we went to network. We didn’t realize until much later that was very rare. Usually it was the other way around.
“On top of that, we never believed it ever really would work. The Turtles were always designed as a comic. Then when it became successful we started getting different agents chasing us down. We just didn’t believe it. Then as we started exploring different worlds, even up to the first live-action movie, it was something we had to figure out as we went along. Now it’s pretty fascinating to think about 25 years later. It’s just freaking awesome.”
The foursome’s success certainly caught Townsend Coleman by surprise. The voice of Mikey remembers when he saw the initial script he had serious reservations about the series’ success.
“Fairly so,” says the future voice of The Tick and now the voice of NBC’s Thursday nights. “I started with Inspector Gadget in ’85. I already had a number of series under my belt before the Turtles. I came in to it just after doing Fraggle Rock. In fact, I got the job because I had been doing Fraggle Rock. So I had been doing a fair amount of work.
“The guy who cast and directed Fraggle Rock was the same guy who would do Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I even remember how he came to me. He walked into the office with a brief case and pulled out a comic book. He said, ‘You ain’t gonna believe this! Look what I’m going to be directing!’ We looked at it and all howled and shook our heads. We all thought no way that was going to take off. It was just too out there.”
But in 1987, a five-part special featuring the Turtles was aired in syndication. It was basically a 110-minute ad to push the recently released toy line created by Playmates. It’s dynamic mix of fun, fast lines, great action (for the mid-80s), and comic-book sensibility turned the five-parter into an overnight success. Before Eastman and Laird knew it, they were overseeing a 65-episode production that was not only in daily syndication, but also airing on CBS on Saturday mornings.
“It was really, being able to look back now at how it came together, was a pretty special time,” says Eastman. “It was really a perfect storm of Playmates and everyone else coming up with all these ideas and Fred Wolf, and actually Rudy Murakami who was the front man of Murakami-Wolf, making it the best we could. All the while, Peter and I were always thinking it never really would happen. We thought the TV show wouldn’t work. We decided therefore to just make it a really fun experience and embraced that. We would always have the comic book, and, of course, the fans of the comic book who always remained true to us.”
“It ended up being the biggest show I did,” says Coleman. “I mean I remember Rob Paulsen and I auditioned at the same time because we both worked on Fraggle Rock together. Then they got Cam Clarke and Barry Gordon to round out the Turtles.
“What we were originally booked to do was a five-episode miniseries. It was going to be treated as a pilot. They were going to take it around and see if there would be any interest in it, and then take it from there. So, when we recorded that, we all were certainly hoping it would take off. We had all been part of projects that did take off and ones that we felt should have but didn’t take off. We all knew it was a crap shoot.
“Now I can’t speak for the other guys, but I admit I just had no clue or conception that it would take off the way it did or as quickly as it did.
Yes, as any fans of the pizza-loving lizards know, there were changes done that radically differentiated the TV show from the comic, but Eastman also states they were all done with his and Laird’s direct acknowledgement.
“What’s interesting is Peter and I by that time we were very familiar with the ideas of copyright, trademark and all that,” Eastman recalls. “I mean at that time there were the big fights among various creators to get their rights back. So we came in very protective about rights.
“So we came into every deal, even with Fred Wolf, that we had absolute and final say on just about every aspect of what was added or changed. We first encountered this when we were came up to Playmates, like the different color bandanas and the insignias on their belts. So most of the ideas, ranging from the new characters that were added on to the changes that were done to the existing characters, came from Peter or myself in our studio. We approved all treatments. We approved all uses, likenesses. Yes, it ended up with many a lawsuit with Fred Wolf, who claimed a lot of things.”
As to why the show was such a success? One key reason was the general youth of all those involved. As Eastman and Coleman intimated, most of the cast and crew on the series were in their early 30s at most, with generally less than five years experience. The times were also changing as syndicated shows such as He-Man, Inspector Gadget, GI Joe and Transformers were redefining animated entertainment.
“I was talking to someone else about that,” says Coleman. “Back when I was doing Fraggle Rock, other shows out there were like My Little Pony, Muppet Babies and shows like that. They were tame. Yes, we had Transformers, GI Joe and Inspector Gadget, which I did work on. Yet Turtles just broke the mold on charting new territory.
“The thing is I was fairly new in the business back in 1987. So I didn’t have enough experience to kind of know the history of animation and the path it had taken up to that point. But when I was doing Inspector Gadget, the big thing I learned that was different about that was they were doing 65 episodes season format. That was pioneering.”
“The 80s seem to be really popular again,” Coleman adds. “Any people who find out that I was involved with the Turtles or any of the other shows from back then, are now saying things like ‘Oh my god! I grew up with those! You have no idea the impact you had on me!’”
“All in all, we did 300 or so episodes of the animated series, and all of them were fun,” says Eastman. “Unlike the movie, the animated series was more episodic. In that sense it was more like the comic book. You could do something in episodes #1, #2 or #3 (of the season) that won’t pay off until episodes #9-11. We could also do a simple one-off or a three-episode arc. For instance, in this latest DVD collection, the Turtles going to Europe was just a fun idea. We had a great time playing something like that out. We were constantly coming up new characters, make them fit with Playmates and having fun.”
As for the careers of Eastman and Coleman? Well, the voice actor just celebrated his 55th birthday and has achieved his ultimate goal, to follow in the footsteps of announcer icons like Danny Dark and Ernie Anderson. He still does animation work, and loves the attention he gets whenever a fan discovers he was the voice of Mikey.
“It does surprise me yet it doesn’t surprise me,” says Coleman. “Early on, they just developed a life of their own and became self-perpetuating. Now they did have a pretty strong marketing machine with Playmates and all that stuff. Yet it does surprise me that it’s lasted this long. They keep having these rebirths. I mean how many animated series have there been now? That it continues to morph, change quite dramatically, says something.”
As for Eastman, since the Turtles he acquired the rights to the mature readers comic book magazine Heavy Metal. He is now hard at work at producing a third Heavy Metal animated feature…and has some HUGE guns to help him get it done.
“It’s taking me about seven years, but I think I found another perfect storm for Heavy Metal,” says Eastman. “I’m now working with David Fincher and James Cameron. They are co-executive producing a new Heavy Metal movie. It will be an anthology like the original movie. Fincher and Cameron will each be directing a sequence. We also have people like Zach Snyder directing one episode. We’re also talking to guys like Gore Verbinski, Mark Osborne, and Guillermo Del Toro, who have all expressed varying degrees of commitment, depending on how they can juggle their schedules and what not.”
DISNEY XD LAUNCHES NEW SEASON WITH SPIDEY SEASON TWO
Disney XD will present a 'Night of Premieres' featuring new episodes of its top-rated series for kids and families, including Aaron Stone, guest-starring world champion wrestler Chris Jericho; Phineas and Ferb," featuring "High School Musical" star Corbin Bleu; plus the new comedy Zeke and Luther, Monday, June 22 (7:00-9:30 p.m., eastern. The night also marks the Season Two debut of The Spectacular Spider-Man.
The programming lineup is:
• 7:00 p.m. - The Spectacular Spider-Man – In the season premiere, "Blueprints," Peter wants to talk to Gwen about their first kiss, but before he gets the chance, Spider-Man has a run-in with the sorcerer Mysterio. Following in the additional brand-new episode, "Destructive Testing," Peter wrestles with his feelings for both Gwen and Liz, but in the meantime, Kraven the Hunter has arrived to make Spider-Man his prey. TV-Y7-FV.
• 8:00 p.m. - "Phineas and Ferb - In "Let's Take a Quiz," Phineas and Ferb produce their own TV game show, and Candace uses the opportunity to get herself on the airwaves, to the surprise of Jeremy and his friend, Coltrane (voiced by Corbin Bleu). Following in "At the Car Wash," Phineas and Ferb help Isabella and the Fireside Girls meet their car wash fundraising goals by building the world's most elaborate automatic car wash. Meanwhile, Dr. Doofenshmirtz has a device to make everything bigger, and he starts by making mountains out of molehills. TV-G.
• 8:30 p.m. - Zeke and Luther – In "Donut Jockey," Zeke and Luther take jobs delivering donuts to earn money for skateboard repairs, but Luther gets into trouble and must find a way to resolve the situation without Zeke's help. Meanwhile, one of Zeke's customers develops a crush on him. TV-Y7.
• 8:58 p.m. - Next X - In this reality sports series developed by Disney XD in association with ESPN, five of the world's top professional action sports athletes mentor promising young amateurs in their chosen sport, showing them how to crank up the action, hone their technical tricks and skills and to go "big time," imagining, learning and growing to be the next action sports superstar. Eight short form episodes culminate with a half-hour special in August. TV G.
• 9:00 p.m. - Aaron Stone – In "Xero Control," Xero captures the world's most feared fighter, World Champion Billy "The Body Bag" Cobb (Chris Jericho), to learn the moves necessary to program his combat suit. Aaron Stone is enlisted to rescue Billy Cobb and destroy the combat suit. TV-Y7-FV.
ADULT SWIM GOES LIVE
Adult Swim goes live from New York starting this week when they present the Summer at Santos Series. It includes six live shows featuring a different musical and comedy performance each time. To host and create these shows, Adult Swim tapped into the best resource they know – their talent. Talent comprised of show creators and stars of Adult Swim series like Delocated, Metalocalypse, Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! were called on to curate their own slices of comedy and music heaven that will feature an array of unique talent chosen by each of them.
Here is the current line-up for Adult Swim Presents Summer at Santos Series:
* June 11 – Andrew W.K. - Opening sets by: Cherie Lily, Aleister X, Bad Brilliance & Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head
* June 25 – Jon Glaser (Delocated!) - With The Woggles, Cheeseburger, A.C. Newman and masked burlesque dancers, The Pontani Sisters* July 9 – Brendon Small (Metalocalypse) - With Paul Green’s School of Rock * July 30 – Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim (Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! ) - With DJ Douggpound, Gildon Works, The Party Animals and Beat Jams * August 6 – Dave Willis (Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Squidbillies) With special guests * August 20 – Christy Karacas (Superjail!) - Featuring a night of local New York bands *Line-up subject to change Adult Swim first teamed up with the acclaimed Santos Party House earlier this year and treated fans to a live show hosted by Delocated! star and creator Jon Glaser, with music from Andrew W.K. and Cheeseburger. The response was huge, so Adult Swim and Santos Party House are working together again to give fans more of what they want all summer long. Up-to-date information on the ADULT SWIM PRESENTS SUMMER AT SANTOS SERIES can be found at www.adultswimpresents.com.