Kevin Eastman, the co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, is set to appear at this year’s Baltimore Comic-Con as guest of honor.
The recognition is a humbling opportunity, Eastman said, offering a chance to connect with fellow comic fans and share space with some of the living legends that inspired him to create new worlds through art.
Growing up in a small Maine town in the late 1960s, Eastman said comic books were his chosen form of escape. He knew early on that he wanted to write and illustrate stories for a living.
“When I was growing up, I’d write comic books and whatever I could dream up in my head.”
Many years later, he came to share a studio with writer Peter Laird, and in 1984 the two young artists developed the now iconic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters—an experience he describes as a “happy accident.”
Eastman said the turtles started off a joke inspired by Bruce Lee.
“I was a fan of Bruce Lee,” he said. “I thought as joke, if Bruce Lee was an animal, what would be the silliest animal that Bruce Lee would be? I thought of a turtle, you know, fast-moving martial artist, slow-moving turtle and it made me laugh.”
Laird and Eastman collaborated on the drawings and christened the four pizza-loving, sewer-dwelling turtles—Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael—after famous Italian Renaissance artists. (Eastman said Donatello was almost named Bernini after Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a sculptor whom he thought was a much better artist.)
The pair printed 3,000 copies of the first 40-page oversized comic book issue on May 5, 1984 and crossed their fingers.
The issue turned out to be a hit to their surprise and morphed into a global phenomenon that spawned comic books, a television series, merchandise and movies with storylines that continue to captivate fans 32 years later.
Eastman said he’s still in awe of the turtles’ far-reaching success.
“To see it come full circle and be generational now, where some of the original fans are still fans and now those people are married and have a significant other and they have children who’ve discovered it and think it’s cool too, that’s mind blowing,” he said.
Now the publisher of the sci-fi magazine Heavy Metal, Eastman said he still consults on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stories and films, and still has a blast writing and meeting his readers. Comic book conventions, he said, are the happiest places on earth.
“When I go to comic conventions what I’m most grateful for is the fans. I would not have the coolest job on the planet if I didn’t have people who were interested in reading and looking at what I write and draw.”
Follow Andrea Boston on Twitter @AndreaFromABC2.