Andrew : Hey, Dan. You've been my sounding board for the past ten years, answering all of my TMNT fanboy questions -- even agreeing to some outlandish requests -- and have never been anything but kind, warm, cordial and... cool. I'll tell you it's a big honor for you to allow me to ask these questions in a public sense. Thanks again!
Dan : You're most welcome.
Andrew : I know you grew up in Ohio and are a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art back in 1989... can you tell us how you subsequently hooked up with Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird and company?
Dan : I was working on an independent B&W comic book that Ryan Brown had painted the cover for ("Colt the Armadillo"). The crew from that comic drove to a comic con in Detroit to promote the book. It just so happened that Kevin and Peter were also at the show, so while Ryan and I had some downtime we did a TMNT pin-up to give to Kevin and Peter. We waited in the huge line to get to talk to them and Kevin really liked how Ryan had inked the drawing. Later, Kevin mentioned meeting Ryan in one of the TMNT comics and eventually Ryan was hired as an inker for Mirage. A few years later I graduated college and moved up to Massachusetts to room with Ryan (we had been roommates for a short time in Cleveland). My big plan was to work in a factory and do art on the side, but thanks to Ryan and Steve Murphy lobbying Kevin and Peter on my behalf, I ended up getting work on the TMNT, and the rest is history.
Andrew : In the beginning what attracted you to the idea of contributing to something like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as opposed to another property, or even something of your own design?
Dan : In the beginning I was just looking to break into comics. I did self-publish one issue of a comic book entitled "The Boogie-Man" before I ended up working on the Turtles - but it came out right as the "B&W Bust" occurred, so while it sold well (everything B&W did at the time), most of the distributors went out of business and I never got paid. What attracted me to working on the TMNT was that they were utterly cool and it was an extreme honor to be able to work on something so popular. I was a fan of the Turtles as soon as I picked up volume one #3 (#1 and 2 were impossible to find, although I tried). I remember Don Thompson at "The Comics Buyer's Guide" raving about the book, and I liked everything else he recommended, so I was hunting for the Turtles for months before I finally found #3. Looking back on it, I should have just mail-ordered copies from Kevin and Peter - but I'm not that bright a bulb, I guess.
Andrew : Can you tell us about your very first project for the TMNT?
Dan : I began by inking "TMNT Adventures" #8 - which was totally cool as well because I was a fan of Ken Mitchroney's "Space Ark" comics that he did before he became the regular penciller on the Turtles comic.
Andrew : How did you end up working a bit on Archie's "TMNT Adventures"?
Dan : Deadlines were hurting the book, so Ryan and Steve wanted to get someone local to Mirage to do some inking to cut down on the production time. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and had friends that were looking out for me.
Andrew : In your long history with not only the folks at Mirage, but the Archie gang as well, do you have any particularly fond memories that stand out after all these years?
Dan : Lots more good ones than bad, that's for sure! One of the most exciting things we did was take a rock 'n' roll tour bus to the Mid-Ohio Con. Kevin decided it would be a fun thing to do and so he splurged on it and we went to the con stylin' all the way. It was a total blast getting to the show (just imagine a tour bus full of goofy comic artists and beer) and then the con itself was busy as all get out. It was the first show I attended as a TMNT artist as well, so that's a very special memory.
Andrew : What's the latest on Gutwallow, Dan?
Dan : As far as it looks now, stick a fork in the poor little bugger.
Andrew : I know you did mention the possibility about a mini-series a couple of years ago.
Dan : I did do a three issue mini-series with Digital Webbing because my buddy Ed Dukeshire was into giving it another go, but sales just weren't good enough to warrant continuing.
Andrew : Any non-TMNT projects brewing, or potentially that you can tell us about?
Dan : I've got six projects that I have to put proposals together for, but none of them are comics (well, one of them might be, but that depends on some mighty big "ifs"). I'm going to try to break into the children's book industry because it's been a goal since I read "Where the Wild Things Are" as a kid... and I'm not getting any younger. From what I've read it's nearly impossible to sell a book, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Andrew : On a personal level, do you follow any other comic books?
Dan : Not much anymore - I was really into Bone, Cerebus and Poison Elves, but they're all gone now (R.I.P. Drew Hayes - what a tragedy!). I love Skottie Young's art, so I buy whatever he's working on. Michael Gaydos is an old college buddy, so I pick up whatever he's doing. I was buying the new Moon Knight book while David Finch was doing the art, but I think he's off it now. Typically I pick up random books with art I dig - I don't tend to follow anything anymore now that I'm old and have a bazillion comics cluttering up my wee little house.
Andrew : Into any particular franchises or TV shows?
Dan : I really like "Avatar: The Last Air Bender" but have gotten hopelessly behind in the story line, so I'll have to buy the DVD sets to catch up. Most people seem embarrassed to admit it, but I also like "American Idol" just because it's harmless fun (well, usually - some of those production numbers and commercials they do can be really painful). Other than that, I pretty much watch sports. I'm a big NFL fan (which is much easier now that I live in Massachusetts rather than Cleveland) and watch just about anything sports related. I even watch poker games now (never thought I would), just because I usually only sit in front of the TV for 10-15 minutes and can see a few hands before getting back to the drawing board.
Andrew : I'd always been a big fan of your Vol. 1 #45, "Leatherhead Too." A lot of fans may get unnecessarily bent out of shape about questions of continuity (hell, maybe I'm guilty myself!), but is it true that Laird himself considered this issue outside of the continuity for a time?
Dan : The last I heard, that issue is considered part of the canon, but Peter hasn't set anything in stone yet.
Andrew : Tell me, what was it like, so many years later, coming back to the table to do "Tales of the TMNT" Vol. 2, #8 ("Virus") and quite literally pick up exactly where you left off over a decade previous in art, writing, and all?
Dan : It was totally awesome - definitely weird to go back to something that had begun so long ago, but it was really fun and nice to address the looooooong dangling loose threads (sure made me feel old, though). I never thought I'd have the chance to do another TMNT book, so it was a real thrill. Working on comics is pretty frantic as you have to do so much in so little time, so the actual work is a blur. My studio was filled with the aroma of burning midnight oil and Mineral Ice (to rub on the aching old bones in my drawing hand). But it was a blast!
Andrew : A year after that we have Tales #23 ("Attack of the Replicants"), a damned entertaining romp that takes the action to the Utroms. Any reflections on this one?
Dan : I can't draw Utrom exo-suits! One of the reasons I wanted to do that issue was to work on machinery (a very weak part of my art), but in the end I once again fell back on old bad habits. That said, comics do have deadlines, and for me to get the robots right, it would probably have taken me ten years to do the art. I really respect the guys that can draw all that mechanical stuff in perfect perspective. Jim Lawson is an amazing perspective guy - and he does it all freehand! My worst nightmare would be to have to draw a Transformers comic - that would kill me!
Andrew : Can we expect a fourth installment to your Leatherhead saga?
Dan : Doesn't seem too likely at this point. I've got two proposals in for Tales at this time, neither deal with ole LH.
Andrew : Really dug your mini tale within Digital Webbing #24, and what a great surprise it was at the time. How did this come about?
Dan : That's getting back to Ed Dukeshire, who thought it would be cool to do a full-color TMNT story based on the Mirage universe (and he was right!). I also think Andie Tong, the penciller, was interested in drawing the Turtles. So Ed called me up and I pitched the idea to Peter Laird and after many moons of back and forth it finally came to be. I love that story and I'm very happy to say that Andie has pencilled an issue of Tales that I wrote (I think it's going to be #39 or #40) based on the sorcerer character from Tales of the TMNT volume one #3. I'm going to try to ink it if I have time.
Andrew : Secondly, can you clear up the somewhat fanboyish continuity question as to when it's supposed to be set (at a glance it seems to be either sometime directly after Vol. 1, #1, but could even be between "Return to New York" and "City at War")?
Dan : I didn't envision a definite timeline when it took place (I know that drives some fans crazy - sorry!) - but if pushed I'd say it was during the "Return to New York" timeframe.
Andrew : Any comment about the number of similarities that have popped up -- intentionally or not -- in both Tales Volume 2 and Volume 4 of the regular series from the Image Volume 3 (no longer considered canon)? i.e., Don is now inside a robotic body, Raph being disfigured, Mikey getting an alien girlfriend, even Leatherhead destabilizing a bit?
Dan : Well, I'll take credit for LH destabilizing in TMNT #45, thankyouverymuch. ;)
The other stuff is very interesting and I really don't know if it's something Peter has done intentionally or if it just worked out that way. Maybe the Fates or the Muses have plans for the Turtles that the creators just can't control?
Andrew : For the record can you shed any light on which issues within Vol. 1 are, in fact, within the current continuity that you're aware of?
Dan : This is by no means an official list, but it's the most unofficial list that I have:
TMNT volume one #1-15, 17, 19-21, 27, 28, 45-62
The four micro-series: Raphael #1, Michaelangelo #1, Donatello #1 and Leonardo #1
Tales of the TMNT volume one #1-7
TMNT volume two #1-13
Andrew : I'm also curious about the little things... what of the mini-stories within things like "Turtle Soup," or "Gobbledygook" and such? The non-Volume 3 Savage Dragon crossovers with Dooney, even?
Dan : I haven't heard a peep about any of those, sorry.
Andrew : Here in Washington and the greater Seattle area, it's been a bit disheartening to see the current state of the comic book scene. Just about every sprawling comic store I'd frequent as a kid have all closed their doors (because everybody knows we need a Starbucks on every block). What's wrong with the comic scene today?
Dan : Competition and price. This is an old example at this point, but a kid can rent a Spider-Man video game for $3 or buy a Spider-Man comic for $3. The video game allows him to "be" Spider-Man, to personally control what that character does - it's an active role whereas reading is passive. To a kid with $3, it's apparently more fun to be in control. So more and more kids are playing games rather than reading. We're at the point now where some children have never even heard of comic books! Fewer retail stores carry them due to the price point - they can stock a $3 comic or a $6 magazine - they're making more on the magazine, so that's what they're going to carry. Comic prices have gotten dramatically higher, but they're still not very attractive to stores due to the lower price point. So fewer and fewer kids see comics and thus the audience is steadily declining by attrition, with little hope of reaching new readers.
Andrew : Is there a solution... or even a light at the end of the tunnel?
Dan : I don't know. It's easy to be cynical based on what we've seen these past 15 years, but there's always hope. Lots of folks think the future lies in graphic novels. Manga is selling huge numbers at Barnes and Noble, so it looks like mainstream comic books may cease to exist at some point over the next 2-3 decades and will be replaced by trade paperbacks... but I think that there will always be comic books because there will always be cartoonists that want to make 'em. Comic shops may disappear over time, but artists will find other avenues to sell their books (like the web). Scott Kurtz of PVP fame is the perfect example, he built a following online that later translated into selling comic books and trade paperbacks of his strip.
Andrew : Equally disheartening is a pilgrimage I made to just about every comic store in the state looking for old school TMNT comics and Archies alike. I'm sad to report that only the ever-reliable Zanadu Comics and Comics Dungeon in downtown Seattle as well as Action City Comics in Federal Way seem to carry the newer Volume 4 or "Tales of the TMNT" Vol. 2 outside of special order. The owner of Spy City Comics in Federal Way laughed when I asked about why he doesn't carry new TMNT comics, telling me, "I couldn't PAY to give those away when I still carried them!" (ironically, he also mentioned I was something like the fourth or fifth person asking about TMNT comics that week and he speculated it was because of the new movie).
Dan : Yeah, it's very tough for comic retailers to carry B&W books due to the discount structure they receive from Diamond Comics Distributors. Retailers get a smaller percentage off B&W comics than they do from Marvel, DC, Image and Dark Horse - so in a risky business, who wants to take bigger risks?
Andrew : Do you think this is symptomatic of the comic book scene at large, or the general public moving away from TMNT?
Dan : Seems like both. The TMNT were at their peak in the direct market when Kevin and Peter were doing the comic and have never regained that popularity (and never will - a big part of the allure of the TMNT is that Kevin and Peter were the guys creating it. Their story was part of the Turtles' story and their combined vision was the big draw). The Image series never came close to the sales Kevin and Peter experienced and neither did the Dreamwave title... so I'd say that the TMNT will only do well in the direct market if both Kevin and Peter are working on it together, because they're the guys the majority of people want to see doing the book.
"TMNT Adventures" used to sell like 450,000 copies, so that illustrated that a TMNT comic not written/drawn by Kevin and Peter aimed at the general populace could do well (if based on a phenomenally popular cartoon series) - but the newsstand has really dried up since "TMNT Adventures" was at its peak and the cartoon is no longer unbelievably popular.
Andrew : Could it be just comic store owners with no foresight?
Dan : Clearly some comic retailers have no foresight, but most of the guys left in the business know what they have to do to stay afloat. It is frustrating to receive so many e-mails reporting the inability to find our books in shops, but everyone's gotta pay their mortgage and put bread on the table the best way they know how.
Andrew : Is it just that there's just too many damned comic books out there?
Dan : Looking at an average issue of Previews, there definitely seems to be almost as many titles as readers - but everyone has the dream that their work will break through, and so it continues. I've added plenty of fodder to the pile, so who am I to talk?
Andrew : I'd like to talk a little bit about the new movie. As more of a fan and less of a person involved in the day-to-day affairs of the TMNT behind the curtain, where do you stand on the movie?
Dan : I thought it looked terrific but the story was sorely hindered by the editing. I saw an early draft of the film (long before anything was rendered and lots of stuff hadn't even been modeled), and the story worked much better. Max Winters seemed like a real villain. It wasn't revealed until the end that his plan was to end his life rather than take over the world - so that was much more dramatic and cool than how it ended up. That version also did a much better job explaining the 13 monsters and why they were in NYC at the time of the convergence.
Andrew : As of writing, the new movie has garnered $54 million domestically and $36 million internationally for a total of $90 worldwide. Factoring in for things like the production budget of $34 million, marketing budget, distribution, and licensee fees, can we consider this movie a success and how does all of this bode for a sequel?
Dan : Warner Brothers initially wanted it to make $100 million domestically, so it fell far short of that goal. That said, there has been some discussion of a sequel, so it's possible that one may be made. I'd like to see it happen because I thought the CG was so damned cool - seeing the Turtles move with that speed and dexterity framed inside all those crazy camera angles was a true delight. Gimme CG over foam latex any day!
Andrew : What would you say to those that criticize the direct influence and/or slipknot things like toys and other markets (i.e., the wariness of nunchuks) seemingly has on the mass media representation/incarnations of the TMNT?
Dan : I'm not sure I understand the question - but I'd say it's unavoidable. Either you play by the rules of the big corps or they take their ball of money and go home, leaving you with nothing but a personal game plan and no field to practice it on.
The general populace seems to have no idea just how little say creators have in their properties. Peter has done everything he can do to maintain as much control as possible, and I imagine he's still not happy with how everything turns out. This stuff is big business with partners risking megabucks... and when a company is ponying up piles of cash, they generally want a lot of say in what happens.
Andrew : In an honest sense -- and maybe that sounds funny, since that would seem to be as opposed to a dishonest sense, but bear with me -- in the future, even a decade from now, do you ever foresee a mass media representation of the TMNT, be it in film, a mini-series, or whatnot that is a more mature, accurate/faithful representation of the Mirage universe of the TMNT?
Dan : I've been asked this a lot and I think we've already seen it. The first movie was pretty close as were the first four seasons of the current cartoon. I'm not of the mind that blood has to spill for something to be "mature" (quite the contrary really - now that I'm a geezer, blood-lust strikes me as adolescent).
Unless Peter wants to personally foot the bill (no pun intended) for something that is an exact duplication of the Mirage TMNT, it will not happen for the reason mentioned above: in partnerships, all partners want their say. Even if Peter did want to risk hundreds of thousands of dollars on that type of project, he'd still need a distribution partner who would want a say about the content. So in short, this stuff ain't all that simple.
Andrew : To ask a blanket question, where do you see TMNT at large going from here?
Dan : I gots no clue. If Imagi doesn't make a sequel to their film, things will wind down over the next year or two and the TMNT will be back in limbo. How long that will last in anyone's guess.
Andrew : Many of us old school fans wonder about Mark and Molly Bode. Can you shed any light on what they're up to these days?
Dan : Molly is working for the city of San Francisco, and from what Mark told me, she loves the job. Mark became a tattoo artist years ago and is still doing that, but he also has numerous irons in the fire with his various projects - from Cheech Wizard merch to a Cobalt 60 movie deal. Their daughter Zara is having a lot of success with her band The Sweetback Sisters. So I'm happy to report that things are going great for the Bode clan!
Andrew : Any response to the rumors that "Fast Forward" will be ending its run prematurely to make way for the cartoon to rewind to present day stories, perhaps taking a cue from the new movie?
Dan : All I've heard is everything is on hold until decisions are made at this year's Licensing Show.
Andrew : According to Steve Murphy we'll know both the fate of "Fast Forward" and whether or not a sequel to Kevin Munroe's "TMNT" film will be getting greenlit or not during the NYC Licensing Show on June 19-21. Can you confirm this?
Dan : Dat's the same thing I've heard.
Andrew : Would you be willing to make any personal predictions at this time?
Dan : I predict a movie sequel will get the greenlight and the cartoon series will return to the 2003 format. The sequel will feature the Shredder and make $350,000,000 at the box office, shattering everyone's expectations.
If I'm gonna make a prediction, it's gonna be a positive one! :)
Andrew : "The Forever War" : is it to be closure for the Archie fans, or dare we think a possible new beginning for the Archie universe?
Dan : From what I've heard, it's closure... but if it sold like gangbusters, Dean and Chris might be convinced to do more.
Andrew : Can you shed any light on the status of it at Mirage?
Dan : Last I heard Chris is still busy with the art.
Andrew : Any word as of yet on Peter Laird continuing Volume 4?
Dan : He wants to return but he doesn't know when he'll have the time - so no guesstimate on when that may occur.
Andrew : Again I want to thank you for your time and candor, Dan. You're still The Man, and I really appreciate you taking the time to go over these questions.
Dan : It was my pleasure. Thank you for the kind words peppered throughout the questions!
If you're not already doing so, please support Mirage Publishing's "Tales of the TMNT" Volume 2.
If it is unavailable from your local comic book store (don't know where your local comic store is?
check here to find it -- support the TMNT comics! they would be happy to special order
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at this location.