While covering the 2011 Detroit Fanfare comic book convention, I had the opportunity to sit down with Kevin Eastman, one of the co-creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He is also known for being a fan favorite at any convention that he is able to attend. Eastman opened up about the popularity of the Turtles, why he left, and what he's up to now.
[PHOTOS: Costumes and guests at 2011 Detroit Fanfare.]
L. Vincent Poupard: "When did you come to the realization that the bubble had broken for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and it had started a downturn in popularity?"
Kevin Eastman: "I think that the peak years for the Turtles were 1980, 90, and 91. You could probably start to see something going on in 1991. The absolute end came in 1997, when we did our last live-action TV show, but it was a steady decline before that. The whole time, though, was fantastic.
To be honest, I remember when we first started out with our agent Mark Freedman being told that if we were lucky, the first year would be our introduction year. The second year would be our peak year where we would make all of our money, so we would have to save what we could. In our third year, we would be in all of the discount bins. He told us to watch our money and watch our investments."
Poupard: "Were there any specific products that cause you to look back and wonder what you were thinking at the time?"
Eastman: "[Laughing] How long have you got?"
Poupard: "How about some of the top ones, then?"
Eastman: "To be honest, it was not so much wondering what we were thinking. It was more along the lines of wondering if someone was going to buy this [specific product]. You look at some of the Turtle toys like the Turtles' Pizza Thrower and wonder. Then there was the Turtles' Blimp, which I thought was the greatest thing ever. Then we had to wonder about what kid would by a Turtles' Blimp. Of course, though, they did.
The two funniest things that were turned down by the licensing agent were Turtles condoms and Turtles yarmulkes. We actually had someone pitch us to do both of those things. We said, 'No.'"
Poupard: "The other co-creator of TMNT, Peter Laird, stated that he believed that you severed your business connection with the Turtles because you had gotten tired of the property. Would you say that this was entirely true, or were there other aspects that caused you to sever your ties?"
Eastman: "I would say that it had more to do with nuances. When Peter and I first started out, we did the first issue and I thought that this was the greatest thing, and it was awesome. I was already thinking, though, about the next thing. I was one of those guys that wanted to be like Jack Kirby that did 50 great ideas and not just one. When the Turtles caught on and kept going and going, it was as much of a surprise to us and anyone else, including our parents, so we stuck with it.
It came to a point in about 1988 that we were doing art about 90 percent of the time and doing business about 10 percent of the time. By 1989, it was the complete opposite. It got to be that the more that we got into it, the less we were drawing and writing. We got away from the reason that we got into comics in the first place.
I was getting tired of it. I owned Heavy Metal magazine at the time. I was doing a lot more animation with that and a lot of different things. This is what I realized that I wanted to do."
Poupard: "What are you doing right now to try to bring back some of the cult readers to Heavy Metal and bring in new readers?"
Eastman: "We have kept many of them. It is kind of interesting. You grow up reading the magazine and you continue. When I was growing up, you had superhero comics, underground comics, or Heavy Metal. There was no middle ground, as it was that definitive at the time and that delineated. Over the years, the market began to bridge so that you had edgier mainstream Marvel books, mainstream DC books, and mainstream Dark Horse books that brought other styles out.
We find ourselves reaching out to readers so that maybe when they are done reading superhero comics that they will take a look at Heavy Metal. We still buy a lot of European material. We still do a lot of the edgy sci-fi stuff from artists all over the world. Those are still the staples that I buy, and I buy them from all over the world. I would say that about 70 percent of what I buy is from European publishers. There is a lot of French publishers in there."
It should be noted that Eastman did what he could to make every single fan in his line at Detroit Fanfare 2011 as happy as possible. He knew that many of these fans waited for hours in line to meet him, get a signature, or have a special sketch done. He made them all realize that he was as honored to have them as fans as they were to meet him. He made himself one of the most approachable people at the convention.
L. Vincent Poupard is a former political/business consultant who specialized in helping businesses gain a foothold in their communities. He is a writer who spends as much free time as possible enjoying all that Michigan has to offer.
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