Andrew : It's great to see you on the Empire, Tristan, and a privilege. Can you fill us in at all on how you got started in your writing career and what attracted you to the comic book form?
Tristan : No probs - As far as actual "career" writing goes, it probably got it's first real kick start when I finished high school. I wanted to do something creative, like screenwriting or film-making or something like that, and was offered a place in what many consider to be a fairly prestigeous art school here in Melbourne, studying Production for stage and film. I sat that out for a while before realising that everything we were being taught or doing wasn't at all what I wanted to be doing (or what they'd told me I'd be doing). I think the actual point I decided to leave I'd spent nearly a week repainting the inside of one of their buildings for no other reason other than them wanting it black!
Anyway, got out of there and enrolled in a Professional Writing and Editing course and studied screenwriting for a year while I worked out what it was I wanted to do. Did really well there, which got me into film school, studied there for a further three years, made a couple of short films, but my interests lay mainly in screenwriting. Around that time Marvel started really pushing their "Director's Cut" books, which I loved, and after reading some of those I started thinking "This doesn't really look all that hard..." and had a crack at the format myself. So I started writing comic scripts just for myself until I was comfortable with the format. Around the same time I was also writing comic book and film reviews for a website (www.digital-retribution.com) and eventually came into contact with Steve Murphy, who had released just released Umbra (which everyone should check out, as it's easily one of the best books you've never read).
After some emails back and forth just discussing the industry and Umbra, Murph offered to take a look at one of my scripts and give me some pointers regarding format and structure and whatnot. As it was, he liked what he saw and encouraged me to submit something for a potential Tales issue. The end result should be on the shelves in July!
Andrew : It's remarkable and gratifying to see a genuine TMNT fan growing up to become a true creative power in the TMNT world at large. How did you originally discover the TMNT? How did you discover the Mirage comics?
Tristan : I think like most people my age the original toon was the starting point, but being Australian, the distribution and airing of the cartoon was a little behind the U.S., so we actually got the figures and comics before the show actually kicked off. I remember really early on though that I picked up one of the early collected editions in a bookshop and I was just completely stunned by what I was looking at. It was dark, it was violent, and - best of all - it had Triceratons (I was a dinosaur kid)! After that, the toon universe kind of took a back seat to the Mirage one. What I saw in that book was pretty much burnt into my mind and I'd be comparing the Mirage characters to the 'toon ones all the time.
Andrew : How has TMNT impacted your life at large?
Tristan : Not as much as I think people may assume. Don't get me wrong, I always have been and always will be a massive fan of the turtles, but it's not something that's sort of altered me as a person in anyway. The cartoon probably had a somewhat detrimental effect on my vocabulary, but as you get older you start to realise there aren't too many ways you can fit "cowabunga" into regular conversation and just how odd it is to say in response to anything really (especially with an Australian accent)!
Andrew : True enough! Guys like you and I are coming up from roughly the same generation of TMNT fans -- I'm certain all of us have our own fond, perhaps bizarre TMNT memories from our childhood. What are yours?
Tristan : Seeing the first movie was a pretty exciting experience. It still rings to me as being one of the best comic to film adaptations to date, but when that came out I was just totally amazed by it - it was just like the comic I'd read, nothing like the cartoon (which I remember put a lot of my friends at odds with it). But it was definitely seeing the first movie in the cinemas.
Andrew : At the risk of asking an embarrassingly obligatory question, do you have a particularly favorite Ninja Turtle and why?
Tristan : I don't think you can have an interview about the TMNT without asking it! Donatello - I've always found him to be the most relatable personally, but in writing I've found myself really loving Leonardo which is odd, because he was probably my least favourite back in the day! I think Michelangelo has a lot of untapped potential in the comic universe too.
Andrew : Do you have a favored TMNT universe?
Tristan : Mirage's comic universe is always going to be the "real" one in my books, although I think if the Dreamwave books had've kept going, then we probably would have had a pretty awesome one there too.
Andrew : From your familiarity with the different universes/incarnations of the TMNT (cartoons, Archies, films) apart from the source material of the Mirages, what aspects from each one do you have an affinity for? It's a loaded question, but many fans I've come across over the years -- and I lump myself in here -- seem to like different elements of one universe or another. Examples being, some have an affinity for the MutAnimals from the Archies, Keno from the films, or even Venus from NT:TNM (hey, there's a few fans out there!). What are yours?
Tristan : Alright here we go:
The Tooniverse: I remember just losing my shit completely when Usagi came into it. I thought that was one of the coolest things ever! It was just a great way to cap off the day for me then. I'd come home from school, grab some snacks and watch some Turtles!
The Archies: It's been a long time since I read one of them (a really, really long time actually) but I remember really digging the spotlight Leatherhead seemed to get. He was a favourite character in the toon, and seeing him in the comics was always fun.
The Image Universe: I really, really enjoyed the Image run, I wasn't a huge fan of the artistic approach, but it worked, and I think some of the ideas, such as the involvement of the Mob, the Triceraton invasion towards the end of the series, there were even elements of the Raphael Shredder idea that I liked, but they were more to do with the relationship between the Turtles and the Foot at that point and what something like that did to it. Still, if I had the opportunity to tie it in, there'd be some fair retconning happening!
The Next Mutation: I thought the design of those Turtles rocked, and Dragon Lord would probably make a pretty damn good villain in the comics if he were handled properly.
2K3 Universe: I think it did a great job of reintroducing today's world to the TMNT, and the fact that it was as dark as it was was a good thing in my mind too. Being the Mirage purist I am, I thought the early seasons were absolutely brilliant!
Fast Forward: Heck, I love it, it's like the old show - but new, and it's definitely grown into something significantly different to what it was when it started out. Too many people poo-pooed this too early on in my mind. It's also a Hell of a lot of fun to write for (shameless Titan comic plug, sorry)!
The First Movie: Everything about it!
The Second Movie: Back then, it was all about Tokka and Rahzar, but I think Mikey and Don have some great moments in that film, particularly Mike.
The Third Movie:...It's still kinda painful. Sorry!
The new movie: I'm looking forward to seeing where they go with it actually. I think the characterisations of the Turtles were spot on in this, and I LOVED Mako's Splinter!
Andrew : What are your thoughts on the short-lived colorized Volume 2 of Mirage TMNT?
Tristan : That period of time is actually where I've set my first Tales issue! Don and Splinter are still at the farmhouse. I think it's a fantastic period of time in the comics - there's so much potential for drama around that era in the Turtles' lives along with Casey's and April's, and outside of what was revealed in Vol.4 by Pete, I don't think enough has been made of particular elements of that story. The Triceraton invasion, Area 51, Stockman working for the government... there's so much untapped potential! I think the progressions it made with the characters was great too, having them all go their own ways early on, Baxter's return... I really dug it! It carried the tone that Kevin and Pete re-established with City at War really effectively (at least, until Casey went all "Ahnuld").
Andrew : Any comment on Gary Carlson's 23 issue Volume 3 of TMNT at Image? Were you a fan? Gary has been a dear friend of mine over the years and it's a shame he wasn't afforded the chance to really wrap things up appropriately. (see my 2005 interview with Gary here)
Tristan : As I said earlier, I really, really enjoyed the Image run, and there were some really great ideas that I don't think were given enough time to come full circle. There were a couple that I wasn't a big fan of, namely cyborg Donny, though from what I understand , the boys were all going to return to normal eventually. As it stands at the moment, with Vol.4 and Tales Vol.2 around, it would probably mean that the it would have to change significantly from what was originally intended (hence my retconning comment earlier!) to be considered continuity, but still, I would kill to see what that originally ending would've been like!
Andrew : I'm of the mind that Laird's decision to stricken Volume 3 (Image) from the canon (at least as far as Vol. 4 and Tales Vol. 2 are concerned) is absolutely his call, and even Carlson himself has given the move his personal blessing. More as a fan and less as a writer, do you have any comment on this decision?
Tristan : Personally, I'm of the mind that if the creator of something is unhappy with his original product, he has the right to go back and make the changes he wants to. Yes, I'm a George Lucas fan! As a fan, I was kinda bummed initially, because I did have a lot of fun with the Image books, but also as a fan AND as a writer, I kind of have two continuities - one were I can include just about everything, and fill the gaps between books or write off inconsistencies in my own mind, and the "official" continuity. But in all honesty as both a fan and a writer, it's not something that phases me all that much. The books are still there and they can be read and enjoyed by anyone, just like the Dreamwave books, and the non-continuity books Mirage put out. Soul's Winter is still one of my favourite Turtle arcs. I think it comes from having a lot of Elseworlds DC books...
Andrew : When Laird started up Volume 4 in 2001 it was a time of celebration for many Turtle fans. What do you make of Volume 4 thus far?
Tristan : I love it. Pete cops a lot of flack over some of the decisions he's made in the way he tells his tales, and think it's pretty unfair. He's put some really fantastic ideas forward (some that he hasn't yet followed up on) which offer a whole range of growth for the Turtles and the Mirage universe in both Tales and Vol.4. I'm really looking forward to seeing what comes next...
Andrew : Any thoughts on the new CGI film from Kevin Munroe?
Tristan : I was genuinely surprised by what I saw. I don't particularly like CG animated films as they all seem to have pretty much been the same old thing since the first couple of Pixar flicks, but this was something different and I think it did a great job of taking the visuals of the books and the toons, rolling it all together and giving it that extra something new. I think the vocal work was fantastic, especially Raph and Casey. Hopefully a sequel goes ahead, because I think it's a great refresher for the franchise and I think the potential for sequel stories are limitless in with CGI. Triceratons and Utroms would be cool...
Andrew : What are your favorite comic book stories directly from Eastman & Laird?
Tristan : City at War, Return to New York are both big ones, but I'm a big fan of the good guys being defeated, and I think when the Shredder came back they executed that idea and story really well. There's also a story by Pete in Shell Shock (New York Ninja I think it's called...) about a Chinese boy being harassed by gangers which I have a soft spot for. Same with "Stompers" from that same book. Oh! And Shades of Grey and Dome Doom!
Andrew : Any favorite Mirage/Image TMNT stories not from Eastman & Laird directly? Myself, I love Veitch's "The River" and Jenkins/A.C. Farley's "Hall of Lost Legends." "The Ring" as well.
Tristan : Hall of Lost Legends is a lot of fun (and Paul Jenkins is also one of my favourite writers), as is "The River". Masks and Soul's Winter are also great stories. I love Usagi as well, so anytime there's some sort of crossover there it's always gonna be good!
Andrew : What types of TMNT stories most interest you as both a fan and a writer? More the urban gritty-type fare, the Miller-esque Ronin style, the sci-fi angle, the comedic type of stories? One of the great things about the Mirage comics (and I'd even go so far as to say Vol. 3) I feel has always been its versatility, that you can literally put them in almost any genre of story and not miss a beat, creatively.
Tristan : Admittedly because I'm a big Bat-fan (I think people will see the influences in Tales #36), I do like my comics a little on the gritty side, and I think the Turtles being urban and gritty is the perfect juxtaposition. They're so outlandish as a concept, and I think when you mix that with the hyper-real NYC of the TMNT universe, it all seems to balance itself out so well. That said, I do have a couple of idea's for stories that aren't anywhere near as grounded as #36. I'd kill to write something involving Triceratons and I'm sort of working something out involving a lot of Chinese mythology... but right now I'm focused on #36 doing the best it can and writing the Fast Forward stories for the UK is letting me flex some silly muscles and tell some more outlandish stories. I've had two scripts picked up so far with another five stories given the nod, all of which are pretty diverse in nature but still a lot of fun to write. There's one in particular I'm looking forward to, and I think Transformers fans will get a kick out of it if it goes ahead ;)!
Andrew : Now the big question many of us are wondering about. Can you tell us anything about how you came upon the awesome opportunity to write "Tales of the TMNT" Vol. 2, #36?
Tristan : Well, as this is my first comic with Mirage, you can refer to your first question for the answer to this. In a nutshell I have Murph to thank for literally everything!
Andrew : While we can look forward to your Tales #36, if given the opportunity, is there a particular TMNT story you would like to tell? A particular blank in the continuity you'd like to fill in?
Tristan : There are a couple. If things go well with Tales #36, I have some ideas I'm really excited about that would follow-up on some loose ends I deliberately left in #36 (which also involves some from other continuity stories), but outside of that I would love to do something about Don and Splinter in the time between City at War and Vol.2. I have a couple of ideas for things set before the Turtles came into existence, but I think the best period in terms of story potential is that period around Volume 2. You could get some great "urban grit" stories in there, and the "teen Shadow" period is also a good one for those sci-fi stories I think.
Andrew : Without knocking on wood, do you anticipate being able to work on any future TMNT-related projects?
Tristan : As a comic writer, the Turtles are on the top of characters I would want to write for, so hopefully I'll be able to keep writing Turtle stories until the Reaper comes calling! That said, I'm just thankful enough that I've had the chance to write this one! As I said earlier, I'm in to write the Fast Forward stories for the next while though, and I've just pitched something I'm pretty excited about for a future Tales story, but once again, nothing's in stone yet, so I'll just see how everything goes with #36 first.
Andrew : If you were asked, where would you see the TMNT as a franchise in 5 years? 10 years?
Tristan : It's a hard one to answer. I think the Turtles will always be around, but they seem to come in waves of popularity every so often. I would like to see the comics get given the attention they truly deserve, seeing as they're essentially what started the whole thing. It still surprises me how few people are truly aware of the Mirage comics.
Andrew : It's been an honor to have the opportunity to ask you these questions, and hopefully we can do it again sometime. Beyond the forthcoming Tales #36, is there anything else you have brewing that we should know about?
Tristan : Thanks! It's been a blast! Outside of the Fast Forward books for the UK fans - and I think Aussie fans might be able to find them in good Newsagencies - there's not really much to say! Everyone should check out Paul Harmon's Mora though! His work on Image's Sea of Red was great, but Mora is fantastic! I've also contributed a couple of 'mature audience' comedy shorts to an Aussie independent book called "Modern Gentlemen" and I'm putting together something of my own called "Tiki: Warrior of Stone" which I'm going to be publishing online myself somewhere in the near future and is an outlet for my fascination with those gigantic stone heads on Easter Island! I'm sure other things will pop up from time to time, and if people want to stay in the know then I welcome all to my myspace (www.myspace.com/tristanhuwjones). I'm going to be putting some of my film work up there soon, so keep an eye out!
Thanks again to everyone for reading and dealing with my rambling!
My thanks to Tristan for allowing this interview. Best of luck to him -- this guy is truly one of our own, folks!
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
it for you!) you can order it directly off the official TMNT site, www.ninjaturtles.com,
at this location.