Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Exclusive interview

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are back in a frantic new animated series on Nickelodeon, starting on Monday 1 October at 5pm.

A new take on the near three-decade old series, it sports some impressive design work and top voice acting talent including film stars Jason Biggs and Sean Astin.
Turtle power: The classic series has been rebooted for a new generation (Credit: Nickelodeon)We sat down with Kevin Eastman (KE), the original co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Rich Magallanes (RM), Senior Vice President at Nickelodeon Animation, to talk about the series.

Why are you bringing the Turtles back?

KE: “Money! It’s all about money. No, it’s erm, well I’ll let Rich answer that one...”

RM: “We’re bringing back the Turtles because it’s a perfect fit for Nickelodeon, it really is."

KE: “What’s amazing is that even after 30 years there’s an opportunity to bring it back at all! When Peter Laird and I made the first comic book in 1984 we didn’t think it would sell copy number one. Then when we worked on the first animated series we thought, ‘Who’s going to watch this?’.

“We had such fun and we loved the process of doing it but we didn’t think it would actually resonate and work. The fact it worked initially and as an animated series, then as a movie, then it came back in the early 2000s as a Fox series and now here we are again developing a whole new series for a whole new audience. It’s a dream come true on many levels.“

How did you come up with the original idea?

KE: “One night I drew a picture of a ninja turtle standing upright with a mask on and nunchucks strapped to his arm, slapped it on the desk of Peter Laird [the other co-creator] and said this is going to be the next big thing. Tomfoolery and one-upmanship led us to making a picture of the four of them with the title Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

“So the next day we came up with a story for these characters. We basically wrote it for ourselves, played on a lot of parodies and made one issue with a beginning, middle and end because we never thought there’d be a second issue.”

Did you ever expect the turtles to rocket in popularity like they did?

KE: “Just no. Absolutely, hands-down, no. When we were approached originally the comic was working as a comic book, by issue two we were actually making a living, which was where for both Peter and I the dream came true.

“Agents approached saying ‘We think this could work as toys and other things’ and we couldn’t see anything other than the comic book. As we developed it and worked through the process of making toys or doing animation we never really thought it’d work, but we threw ourselves into it with all our heart and soul.”

Is there anything you’d like to change about how the franchise has been portrayed? Any movies or series you wish weren’t made?

KE: “Of all the things we did it was the Turtles pork rinds that p**sed me off the most.... nah I’m kidding! There was actual licensing though. There was a scene in the first movie where Michelangelo and Donatello are in the kitchen. One of them is eating pork rinds and the other goes, ‘Pork rinds?’ This guy who worked for a pork rind company came to us saying his daughter was a huge fan of the Turtles and she’d love him forever if he could get the rights for his pork rinds.  We actually allowed that to happen.”

Have you ever thought about shaking up the basic premise of the series?

KE: “What’s great about the original inspiration for the Turtles, and this goes back to what we did initially and some guest spots, it keeps changing through the animation and films. The heart and soul is always the humour and the characters though and that’s what’s always there. “

Do you understand the fan backlash about the story that Michael Bay is toying with the concept and turning them into aliens?

KE: “What’s fantastic is that we even have fans to give a backlash! It’s an honour. Michael Bay said the turtles would be aliens, the point he was working from was that the mutagen that mutated the Turtles going back to issue one is alien nature. Which may be a point being played up in the movie. So when the backlash happened we had to say, ‘Go back and look at the issue, its right there!’”

The new show seems to blend the look of the TMNT CG movie with more classic cartoon design, was it a conscious decision to meld the old and the new?

RM: “Absolutely. We were inspired by the comic books, the series, the movies and everything. We literally studied everything and wanted to blend those while at the same time hitting the reset button and taking it to the next level.

“It needed to be influenced by what had come before but still different and its own thing. I’m sure it’ll look like nothing else on television right now, because of the different mediums that influenced it.”

Was it nice to go back to Ninja Turtles rather than Hero Turtles? How did you feel about that controversy at the time?

KE: “One of the first times I came to the UK was to promote the first Turtles movie and by then the title of the series and movie had been changed and we were like, ‘Why?’.  There were issues with the throwing stars, nunchucks etc and we were respectful but it’s certainly cool to able to go back to Ninja Turtles.”

RM: “And we’ve been eager to incorporate a lot of Ninja mythology into the new show as well, into the weapons and mindsets of each character. We had a sensei who we hired to come onto the show as a consultant - so our animation team would get demonstrations of ninja techniques, take notes and try to use that in their work, making it as authentic as possible. We still want to be fantastical but we also want to get the hand holds right, the footing and you’ll see that in the show sometimes.”

KE: “When we were first successful we were contacted by gyms around the country who had been overrun with requests for karate and judo lessons. Since then I always tried to read up as much as I can and make things realistic, because the hardcore fans who are clued up need that to be realistic and not just made up on the spot.”

Watch the brand new series of 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles', Mondays from 1st October at 5pm on Nickelodeon - turtles.nick.co.uk