After more than three decades, the heroes hang up their half shell.
And comic book author Kevin Eastman—cocreator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) series—was at the American Library Association’s 2022 Annual Conference and Exhibition on June 26 to talk about the final installment of TMNT, The Last Ronin (IDW Publishing, July 2022), and how the original series came to be.
“It was a dream come true,” Eastman said about his career in comics. Even now at age 60, he said he reads, writes, and draws comic books every day. But when he was a kid and told his parents about his career ambitions of being a cartoonist, they “looked horrified,” imagining him living in their basement for the rest of his life, he joked.
Eastman’s relationship with books started “a bit slow,” he said, explaining that he didn’t go into his first real bookstore until he was in high school. He grew up in a small town in Maine, where the “holy grail” was a drugstore where they had a spinner rack in the back with 15-cent comic books.
“It was there that I discovered so many kinds of storytelling,” he said: illustrated versions of superhero, pirate, and horror comics. The genre fed his imagination, serving as a gateway to other books later.
“Luckily for me and for all of us out there, we had libraries,” Eastman said. “School libraries—that was just the greatest thing and the greatest gift.”
Eastman’s dad was a “huge reader” and introduced him to J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which he said was “mind-blowingly fantastic.” But even so, comic books were never far away. Eastman said he drew all the time, “whatever I could imagine … I could go anywhere, past, present, or future, and tell any kind of story I wanted. That was just the greatest inspiration.”
Everything changed for Eastman when he met Peter Laird, who later would become his TMNT cocreator. The two found kinship in their love of comic book artist Jack Kirby’s work. He and Laird became determined to find a job working on comic books and, while joking around, asked each other: If martial artist Bruce Lee were an animal, what would be the stupidest animal he could be?
To make Laird laugh, Eastman proposed a fast-moving martial artist, a slow-moving turtle. They drew out the idea and thought, “This is the stupidest thing we’ve ever seen, but we love it.” And the rest is history.
The two of them went from self-publishing 3,000 copies (with a $1,200 loan from a sympathetic uncle) in May 1984 to soon selling 100,000 copies and then millions of their comic book series.
They thought the excitement would fizzle out, but it continued for more than 20 years.
The new book The Last Ronin was originally written with Laird many years ago. But after the two parted ways, Eastman—with Laird’s blessing—dusted off the adaptation and cowrote it with Tom Waltz. The project has been exciting, awesome, exhausting, and creative, Eastman said. “[It] steadily evolved from the most challenging story I have ever done [to] the most rewarding.”
Decades later, Eastman still seems in disbelief that he’s been able to live his dream: “What a great adventure.”