Fans of 1987’s TMNT animated series must be in cowabunga heaven, thanks to IDW Publishing’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Saturday Morning Adventures Continued carrying on the magic of the cartoon in comics. Taking place in the continuity of the original show, the comic book continues to be playful, fun, and the perfect throwback to an era when deep pan pizza, Walkmans, and Turtles were all anyone needed for a good time.
Fortress of Solitude caught up with two of the bodacious creatives on the series: Writer Erik Burnham and artist Sarah Myer. The pair revealed a little bit more about the inner workings of the series, and what they can and can’t do within the larger TMNT Universe. In addition, they discuss a few of their own favourite moments from the TMNT animated show and which characters they would love to see get their own comic book series.
Judging by the solicitations, TMNT: Saturday Morning Adventures is diving into the furthest corners of the TMNT Universe. As a writer, how do you juggle keeping the stories grounded in New York versus taking them far out? Is there a preference at all here?
Erik Burnham:The characters are the same at their core – but they are informed by the rules and experiences of the world they live in. That sounds like it’d make things more complicated; it doesn’t. Raph is Raph; he has less trauma in the Saturday Morning world, but he’s going to have the same general reaction to nonsense that appears before him. I just have to keep the worlds straight!
And there’s no preference. I love the whole spectrum of TMNT, from the darker, grim and gritty action heroes you see on one side – call it The Last Ronin side – to the goofy and chaotic comedic adventurers that was most recently shown off in Mutant Mayhem on the other. TMNT spans that spectrum, and I enjoy it all. As a writer and a member of the audience.
The art and colours feel like a real throwback to the animated series. How do you find a balance between keeping the smooth linework as well as the colour scheme from the original cartoon and bringing a modern sensibility to the art?
Sarah Myer: Thank you! In these current issues of Saturday Morning Adventures, I can take credit for half of that throwback look in the inks – the colours have been done beautifully and so true to the animated series by Luis Antonio Delgado! It’s been wonderful to see Luis’ colours on my inks for SMA. I started out doing the interior colours for issues #1-4, and my colouring approach was a little more modern with what I would call a “’80s nostalgic lens.” Which wasn’t exactly true to the colour scheme of the show, in that I used more colours which we typically associate with the ’80s through that lens; more lighting and shadows featuring violet, turquoise, and yellow-gold than the grey and browns mostly found in the actual ’80s animation, though I kept the base colours for the characters on-model to the show. Luis’ colours are very much in keeping with the classic look of the show, and it’s been fun to see how his colours tie my line art back to the show. I’ve long admired his colour work, so it’s a huge honour to work with him on this project.
In terms of my inks, I probably modernise some of the character art in so much as exaggerating their facial expressions a little bit more than the actual show did, or could, sometimes due to budget, time constraints, and general aesthetic taste of the time for television animation. I do my best to keep the characters on-model, but I try to give them a little more elasticity in their expressions and emotions because the comics medium does not have the benefit of actual video movement. I try to imagine them moving and acting and just drawing a frame from that motion to keep the art as lively as possible. But it’s super important to me that I keep the characters “in-character” and true to the types of facial expressions those characters would make. For example, if the script calls for all four of the Turtles to be surprised, I have a specific way of drawing each of the Turtles’ expressions depending on what they’re reacting to. But Raphael surprised – maybe slightly irritated brow bone furrowing – is not the same as Michelangelo surprised – a bit more innocent – is not the same as how Leonardo would react – might show alarm but looks determined – etc.
The cover for Issue 10 is the perfect homage to the third live-action film. When taking the Ninja Turtles on time-travel adventures to ancient Japan, how do you create a different but exciting story from the other times the Turtles have travelled to this period?
Burnham: It’s a different society, but the way the Turtles were brought up, as ninjas, gives them a toehold into that time period. Something that connects. Their modern personalities clash, and that’s a fun addition. But the way to create excitement is all down to the context. The things they’re going through, in some cases – like the IDW Turtles in Time miniseries, or even the film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III – or the way they get there and the reason they need to get back – as we’ll see in Saturday Morning. Just little tweaks of context are all you need to go any of a million ways. And the reasons branch uniquely, too. As a writer, that makes it easier than it might otherwise be.
The original animated series didn’t want to show too much violence in terms of how the Turtles fight – which is pretty funny when you think about the fact they are carrying sharp swords. I have noticed the series does keep up with the tradition, which makes complete sense in the context here. Undoubtedly, it forces the artist and writer to be more creative in the setups, so how do you, Erik, and the rest of the team collaborate for these types of action scenes or is it more off the cuff?
Myer: Well, Erik writes very fun and entertaining scripts – fight sequences included. He most often describes something akin to “Leonardo is slicing the spray paint cans in half” or something specific like that. So I have a really direct and clear sense of what action is to be drawn. From there, I have an absolute blast “acting” as the character through my drawing. For example, if Leonardo is frustrated with a situation previously, and the action of slicing something with his swords is tied into dialogue where he’s found a way to win whatever battle they’re fighting, then I might have fun giving Leonardo a little bit of a manic smile in his facial expression as he’s enthusiastically slicing away. As opposed to, say, him recoiling and dodging an enemy and looking a little panicked if the script shows that things aren’t going so well.
Erik’s scripts stay really true to the show in that he does keep their weapons used for non-lethal means, sometimes more slapstick, occasionally to deal legit – if temporary – damage like in the instance of the Pizza Monster being cut by Leonardo’s sword in the Halloween Special. When it makes sense, and as long as it’s not opposing or contradicting anything written in the script, I try to generally draw them holding their weapons in a “ready for battle” way when there’s an action sequence, and try to switch up how they’re depicted holding them depending on the situation. If Raph’s been irritated by something, I’ll draw him holding the sai more action-ready with his fingers through the tines, for example. I try to look up references for the examples of how one might hold certain weapons and for what purpose when it’s necessary. But I recognise that the way the Fred Wolf turtles handled their weapons is not quite as “expert level” or deadly as several other iterations, including the original Mirage turtles, so it does feel a little more relaxed and gives some room for small visual improvisations.
With the TMNT world being fluid between comics, movies, video games, and shows, what are the chances of seeing a new character such as Superfly from TMNT: Mutant Mayhem making his way into this corner of the universe?
Burnham: All of the different versions of the Turtles are their own little kingdom, and everything requires permission to cross over. Sometimes, a new kingdom stands on its own for a while – which is at the discretion of Nickelodeon. All that to say: If I asked to use Superfly, they could say, “No, because Mutant Mayhem is hands off at the moment.” It may not be later. They may give a conditional yes on something, too. But for now, I haven’t asked about new characters – or new versions of characters – from Mutant Mayhem, which is solely caution on my part. I’ve asked about using characters or Easter eggs from across the spectrum. Sometimes I get a yes, sometimes a no, and sometimes a not yet. I think we’ll have some surprises in the book as it goes along, and I can only hope the surprises aren’t entirely predictable.
Which is your favourite episode from the 1987 animated series and why?
Burnham: My answers will change in 10 minutes, but I’ll go with both the opening miniseries as an introduction of the concept — or, if it’s one episode, I’ll go with Night of the Rogues. It might not be in everyone’s top tier, but we had a good mix of classic villains all in the same episode, which I always love, as well as Raph just destroying the fourth wall by asking Shredder if he’s leaving the show.
Myer: Asking the toughest questions of all. No one can deny the first five episodes done by Toei were incredible. But, for a variety of reasons, I’d give “Turtles on Trial” from Season 2 the title of “favourite overall,” because the plot is interesting and explores prejudice against the Turtles, and the animation is beautifully done – it’s especially a treat to watch the fight in the natural history museum and to get a rare glimpse of Donatello actually going into his shell when he’s grabbed by one of Krang’s machines! Not to mention the amusing bit where the Turtles finally get to say their piece on TV in response to Clayton, but they’re too nervous to say anything articulate.
In terms of favourite humorous episode? “Cowabunga, Shredhead” – that fluid animation when the Turtles are baffled by Michelangelo’s lack of interest in pizza is hilarious and pure gold. Plus, James Avery’s vocal performance as Shredder pretending to be Michelangelo is just peak ’80s TMNT goodness. I’m partial to “Donatello’s Degree” because Donatello and Irma going on a comedy of errors trip together is hilarious to me. The character art style in that episode is some of my favourite, not necessarily because of how the characters move, but how some of the facial expressions are depicted. Donatello sometimes resembles Keroppi or Doraemon, and I suspect that episode as well as “Leonardo Vs Tempestra” were partially animated in Japan but not necessarily by the same Toei team who animated the first five episodes. “Donatello’s Duplicate” and “Too Hot to Handle” are also amusing episodes for a variety of reasons – mainly, to me, Donatello being stressed beyond reason.
If someone gave you the chance to create a spin-off based off anyone in this part of the TMNT Universe, who would you choose and why?
Burnham: An Ace Duck miniseries would be a hoot… and folks will see why this spring.
Myer: I don’t really want to say too much, but I would never ever say no to being able to work on a ‘87 Donatello centric mini-series. I’m just happy to be working on TMNT as a lifelong fan, so I won’t be too greedy! [Laughs]
The double-sized Halloween Special was a treat! What other type of holiday themed TMNT stories would you love to explore if given the opportunity?
Burnham: Arbor Day is the clear winner here, I think. But seriously, there’s always the pull towards doing the major “greeting card” holidays – and I understand why – but they’ve all been done to one degree or another over the years. I think a fun story might centre around a surprise Father’s Day celebration for Splinter. Would I put money down that that’s been covered and I just spaced it out? No, I would not. Arbor Day it is!
Myer: I really enjoyed drawing the Halloween Special‘s Creepy Eddie story, and the ShredderCon issue [#7, coming out later in November], which takes place around the winter holiday season. I would love to do another Halloween issue, because it gives the opportunity to make things really wacky and creepy in ways that I don’t normally draw for the series. Fingers crossed for more fun with Halloween!