Shell Game: How TMNT Left A Huge Bodycount
Apr 29, 2018
by Vince Brusio
Not many people can have their cake and eat it, too. Kevin Eastman, however, is one of those people that did, and he thanks the heavens every day because of it. Eastman is one of those rare individuals who had the chance to glance down and see he held the winning lottery ticket. He created a property that not only went on to become a blockbuster TV and media sensation, but it also gave him a career in comics as well. One of those comics was a very hard interpretation of the TMNT universe. It was a series called Bodycount, and it’s being re-issued by IDW Publishing/Top Shelf Productions. In this PREVIEWSworld Exclusive interview, creator Kevin Eastman explains when went on behind the curtain for Bodycount, and how the book has been revered for so long that it pushed IDW/Top Shelf to release Bodycount .
Bodycount HC (APR180323) is in comic shops August 1.
Vince Brusio: The 90s. It is considered the “Grim N’ Gritty” era for comic books, and the gloves were off and left in a trash heap. Bodycount debuted in 1996, and it was the poster child for the grim n’ gritty scene. Yet you made such a monster using the Teenage Mutant Turtles. To the passerby on the street this may have seemed odd, especially if he or she grew up in the 80s seeing how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a cartoon series on television. How is it that you came up with the idea of taking something that was for “kids” and turning it into an R-rated movie?
Kevin Eastman: Very good question for sure! Well, I guess looking back at the earliest issues - although they certainly weren't R-rated - the original Mirage Studios TMNT Comic series Peter and I did (1984 to 1988) were a lot more gritty and edgy than the "Kid Friendly" version that landed with the animated TV series and the toys in late 1988. Even after the younger audience version came out — and became a huge hit — we still kept doing the Mirage TMNT comics in black and white - and kept them tonally the same. We wanted to keep "our" version with all the rough edges. To take it one step further, the success of the younger version, had no effect on increasing sales of the Mirage version — so, in effect, we existed in both worlds.
That being understood, the Bodycount story wasn't a "huge" stretch on the one hand, but on the other, well, even for Mirage Studios’ moral compass, Simon and I really pushed it as far as it could go... and even a bit further.
Vince Brusio: In certain fan circles you’ll learn that Bodycount was initially released as “Casey Jones & Raphael” by Mirage Studios. How did the property evolve, and why?
Kevin Eastman: Originally, it was intended as a Mirage Studios publication, as we had transitioned into a new "full color" version of the TMNT comics (Volume Two as it is referred to now I believe) and this seemed to fit the line, as heavy handed as it was/is. But unfortunately around this time the sales on the overall TMNT series was not strong enough to keep the division going. So everything was cancelled — as I recall — after only one issue of “Casey Jones and Raphael” was published. Fortunately, Erik Larsen had interest in picking it up for Image (thanks Erik!), so we retitled it Bodycount, did four new covers, and he released it as four issues and a collected in 1996.
Vince Brusio: An exercise in John Woo style shoot 'em up movies is basically the formula for how you and Simon Bisley lay out the action scenes in the story. But tell us how Bodycount is also a product that would have found a home at Heavy Metal magazine.
Kevin Eastman: One hundred percent on the John Woo front. Simon was over visiting in 93/94 as we were working on some Tundra Heavy Metal style stories — and at the same time he had interest in doing a TMNT story together. I was obsessed with John Woo around this time and Simon hadn't really been exposed to his work yet — so after a mini John Woo marathon, Simon said "We really need to do the longest running gunfight in comics!" and that was the spark. We rolled that into Bodycount. Interestingly enough, my writing and layouts of the first two issues, like the traditional Mirage Studios approach, had the heaviest action/bloodshed just "off panel," but when Simon sunk his teeth in, he moved it back front and center - and really took a Heavy Metal-style take on a TMNT story.
Vince Brusio: Let us be a fly on the wall, and tell us how Top Shelf Productions approached you in re-releasing this book. What was discussed? What was the rationale for releasing this book now?
Kevin Eastman: It evolved over a series of internal discussions. IDW and Nickelodeon had fully supported re-releasing this classic, twisted adventure for a few years — but at the same time none of us wanted to have it overlap with the focus and intensity of what Tom Waltz, Bobby Curnow, and I were doing in the ongoing TMNT series. On one of Chris Staros' editorial planning sessions to the IDW San Diego offices, the discussion turned to the unique nature of the Bodycount project and how to get it out there again. Chris felt as a historical piece of TMNT history, and that this story seemed to exist "outside" of all TMNT Universes, Top Shelf, with its “auteur” vibe, would be the perfect brand to release it under, similar to the Criterion Collection re-releasing John Woo films. I couldn't agree more — and honestly I’m thrilled to have it back out there, exactly as it was visualized nearly twenty-three years ago. And now in hardcover for the first time!
Vince Brusio: At its heart, is Bodycount satire? Are the collisions/explosions/ultraviolence a time stamp? A 90s tribute to 80s VHS schlock?
Kevin Eastman: Correct on all counts! When I approached the storytelling for this, I wanted to channel two of my favorite film directors — heroes behind the lens — John Carpenter (from his Big Trouble/Escape from NY/The Thing period), and John Woo, (from his Killer/Bullet in the Head/Hard-Boiled period). Simon Bisley was the perfect "cinematographer" to bring it all to life. Bodycount is a TMNT never seen before or since — and will most likely never be seen again!
Vince Brusio writes about comics, and writes comics. He is the long-serving Editor of PREVIEWSworld.com, the creator of PUSSYCATS, and encourages everyone to keep the faith...and keep reading comics.