||This article may require copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone, or spelling. (July 2012)|
May 30, 1962 |
Springvale, Maine, USA
|Area(s)||Comic book artist, writer|
|Notable works||Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles|
Kevin Brooks Eastman (born May 30, 1962) is an American comic book artist and writer, best known as the co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Eastman is also the owner, editor and publisher of the magazine Heavy Metal.
Early life 
Eastman was born on May 30, 1962 in Springvale, Maine. He attended Westbrook High School in Westbrook, Maine with comic book illustrator Steve Lavigne. In 1983, he worked in a restaurant while he searched for publishers for his comics. He met a waitress who was attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst and followed her to Northampton, Massachusetts. While searching for a local underground newspaper to publish his work, he began a professional relationship with Peter Laird and the two collaborated for a short while on various comics projects. In May 1984, Eastman and Laird self-published the first black & white issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The forty-page over-sized comic had an initial print run of 3000 copies and was largely funded by a $1000 loan from Eastman's uncle Quentin. It was published by the duo's Mirage Studios, a name chosen because, as Eastman says, "there wasn’t an actual studio, only kitchen tables and couches with lap boards." By September 1985, that first issue had received a further 3 printings.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 
Laird's newspaper experience led to the two creating a four-page press kit, that included a story outline and artwork. They sent the press kit to 180 television and radio stations as well as to the Associated Press and United Press International. This led to widespread press coverage of both the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mirage Studios itself, creating a demand for the comic. With their second issue, Eastman and Laird's Turtles comic began a quick rise to success, bringing in advance orders of 15,000 copies - five times the initial print run of the first issue. This earned Eastman and Laird a profit of $2000 each and allowed them to become full-time comic book creators.
The Turtles phenomenon saw the duo invited to their first comics convention at the tenth annual Atlanta Fantasy Fair in 1984, where they mingled with the notable comic creators like Larry Niven, Forrest J Ackerman and Fred Hembeck.
Their fifth issue was released in November, 1985. With it, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles downsized to the more common American comics-format and size. The previous four issues were also reprinted in this size and format with new coloured covers. Also in 1985, Solson Publications released How To Draw Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Solson would follow this up with the six issue Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Authorized Martial Arts Training Manual as well as one issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Teach Karate volume in 1987.
Mirage's Turtles comic led to a widening media presence for the heroes. Eastman and Laird began to widely merchandise their property. Dark Horse Miniatures produced a set of 15 lead figurines for role-playing gamers and collectors, Palladium Books produced a role-playing game featuring the Turtles, and First Comics reprinted in four volumes the first eleven issues as color trade paperback collections.
Palladium's role-playing game brought the Turtles to the attention of licensing agent Mark Freedman and the Turtles phenomenon took off, with the various characters soon appearing on T-shirts, Halloween masks, mugs, and other paraphernalia. December, 1987 saw the debut of a five-part televised cartoon mini-series based on the Turtles. The half-hour episodes were produced by Osamu Yoshioka and the animation was directed by Yoshikatsu Kasai from scripts David Wise and Patti Howeth. The success of the mini-series was swift, leading to a full series, with the mini-series forming the first season. The series had a 9-year, 10-season, 193-episode run. Bob Burden writes:
- "within days of it airing it was apparent that the TMNT would prove every bit as popular for the television audience as it had been for the comic readers. From there, Surge Licensing formed an unstoppable creative marketing powerhouse that set a new standard of excellence in the licensing and merchandising industries."
In January 1988, Eastman and Laird visited Playmates Toys Inc, who wished to market action figures based on the comic book and animated cartoon series, further cementing the Turtles' place in history and making Eastman and Laird extremely successful
Multiple other Turtles comics, toys, books, games, and other merchandising items have subsequently appeared, overseen and sometimes fully created by Eastman and Laird. Among these are three live action films: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993). Two more television series were also created: - Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation (1997) and the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003). There was also an animated feature film: TMNT (2007).
Eastman & Laird: separate ways 
Creative differences began to strain Eastman and Laird's partnership. In an interview in 2002, Laird noted that the two hadn't spent much time together since 1993. Eastman moved to California while Laird stayed in Massachusetts.
On June 1, 2000 Laird and the Mirage Group purchased Eastman's ownership in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles property and corporations. Eastman wanted to move on to other projects. The buyout was completed on March 1, 2008.
While co-managing Mirage Studios, the Eastman and Laird often spoke of the difficulties in maintaining creative control of their work. Eastman decided to address this problems by using his own personal knowledge and connections to help other creators. Approaching Laird with his ideas, Eastman met with a less than positive response:
|“||[M]y first thought was to expand the publishing arm of Mirage. But the more sane of the two partners said, "What are you, nuts?" ...[w]e were working pretty much full time just on the Turtles. Pete told me, and I agreed, that he didn't want to have anything else on his brain in terms of publishing at the time. So with his blessing, I started Tundra Publishing.||”|
Intentions & output 
Eastman founded Tundra Publishing in 1990, to realize personal and other projects. He joined with others like Scott McCloud and Dave Sim to form the Creator's Bill of Rights. Eastman felt obligated to expand it beyond theory and into practice, providing a forum for comics creators to work for a publisher while maintaining ownership of their work.
Rick Veitch has written that:
- "One of the plans was for Tundra to act as an exoskeleton for an existing self-publisher; offering marketing muscle, higher production values, printing costs paid and a page rate up front for half the action no strings attached."
|“||"Basically, I'd meet them at conventions and they'd said they're stuck doing Spider-Man, they had a wife and a kid at home, and they had to make ends meet. But if they really had a chance, they said they'd really do this [at Tundra] and I'd hear this repeatedly. So, I went back to those artists because I had the money and said I'd give them the chance. I asked them what they'd like to do. They could pick their dream projects that they'd wanna do and I would provide the funding so that they could survive and they didn't have to do Spider-Man for a year and I'll fund the projects and I just wanted to make my money back from the profits to keep my company going."||”|
Projects (part-) realized by Tundra included: Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz's Big Numbers, Moore & Eddie Campbell's From Hell, Moore & Melinda Gebbie's Lost Girls (these last two original serialised in Stephen R. Bissette's Taboo anthology, which was also part-published by Tundra), The Crow, Mike Allred's Madman and Dave McKean's Cages, and others.
Eastman initially thought that his experience at Mirage gave him "a pretty good grasp of what a publisher should be, and what a publisher needs to do," although he swiftly realised that "Tundra was not like publishing the Turtles."
As part of Eastman's designs for Tundra were to produce personal projects of a more adult nature than the Turtles-oriented Mirage was geared towards, this saw Tundra fitting in the dubious middle-ground of being "too rock 'n' roll for country, and too country for rock 'n' roll," as their intended product sat somewhat awkwardly between the comic shop and the book shop. Eastman says that he "thought that the audience was a lot larger than it actually was," citing his personal assumption that readers would "grow up through X-Men and discover The Sandman and then Dark Knight and Watchmen and beyond." The relatively fledgling in-roads of comics and graphic novels into bookshops at the time, worked against Tundra.
Eastman swiftly became aware that Tundra and the Turtles differed considerably, not least since the latter was successful enough to effectively run itself, with a few 'nudges' "to keep it moving along." Tundra, on the other hand, dealt in new properties, which required "building from the ground up," and was "a lot more work" than Eastman had anticipated, growing far too quickly for comfort, and requiring considerable injections of time and money, rather than being profitable itself.
Speaking in 1992/3, Eastman was optimistic that the company had "finally reached the point where [it had] slowed up enough... to be giving individual projects the time and attention they require[d];" Shortly thereafter, Tundra was bought out by Kitchen Sink Press, closing its (solo) doors after just three years, losing Eastman between $9 and $14 million.
Despite heavy financial losses, Eastman remains philosophical about his work with Tundra, drawing the analogy that:
- "doing the Turtles was like going to college and doing Tundra Publishing was like getting my Master's degree. So I learned a lot with the Turtles and I learned the rest of what I needed to know.. when I did Tundra."
He makes mention of the multiple award nominations Tundra received during its first and second years, including Harvey Awards and Eisner Awards, but notes that despite critical acclaim, the company was not making money on its titles, and had to cease production. He notes that Tundra was one of the earlier creator-owned companies, "before Image really took off" and before Dark Horse Comics' "Legends line."
Eastman admits that Tundra tried to do too much too quickly, and ran into difficulties accordingly. He also suggests that "[n]ot one book made any money". He also believes that part of Tundra's downfall was tied to his offering Marvel and DC employees the chance to work on creator-owned and personal projects. He has stated in interviews that:
- "In my personal opinion, we took away so many creams of the crops artists like Dave McKean, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, Mike Allred... [that] the two big companies had the power to go to the key distributors and made them short shell, under ship and ____ing bury these guys because now that Dave McKean is doing stuff at Tundra, the big publishers were losing money because Dave's not doing Arkham Asylum 2 and Alan Moore's not doing Watchmen 2, he's not doing Swamp Thing, but instead he's doing From Hell with Tundra...
- Basically, we got the raw end of the deal."
Heavy Metal 
Kevin Eastman has been a longtime fan of the science fiction and fantasy magazine, much of whose content was translated from the French, and appeared in the original Métal Hurlant publication of which Heavy Metal is only the American-licensed incarnation. He cites it (after Jack Kirby) as bringing to his attention the "second greatest influence" on him as an artist, Richard Corben. He saw in its pages European art which had not been previously seen in the United States, as well as an underground comix sensibility that nonetheless "wasn't as harsh or extreme as some of the underground comix - but... definitely intended for an older readership."
Discovering that Heavy Metal had been put up for sale, and with one of Tundra's stated aims being to bring a more adult sensibility (and mature, adult readers) to comics overlapping with the magazine's target audience, Eastman decided that Heavy Metal was "the final piece of the puzzle", and looked into purchasing it. Noting that:
- "In my life, too many things have happened in a weird, sort of shit-luck sort of fashion," Eastman purchased the magazine in January 1992.
Despite the audiences for Heavy Metal and Tundra's intended product (as well as more mature-themed comics in general) being of a broadly similar demographic, Eastman recognised from the start that "most of the audience who read Heavy Metal buy it off the newsstands; they're not going into comic book stores," and stated early on that his intention was to produce "numerous crossovers from the cutting edge of comics creators" to expose the magazine's readership not just to the comics industry, "but anything from the visual media that can cross over."
Eastman also attempted to bring some European hardcover comics to America, using Heavy Metal to help serialise them and both defray the costs and boost readership. Initial interest, however, was "fairly cool."
Art collection 
Eastman purchased his first piece of original artwork ("a couple of pages that were penciled by Michael Golden and inked by Bob McLeod for Marvel Comics' Howard the Duck") at the Atlanta convention he and Laird attended in 1984. Collecting subsequently became "quite an addiction" for him, and, combined with his experiences in getting his (and others') comics work recognised as "Art," led to him founding the Words & Pictures Museum.
Words & Pictures Museum 
Eastman cites his personal interest in art collection as a primary reason for his foundation of the Words & Pictures Museum, a museum dedicated exclusively to comic book art. His interest in art collection was twofold: both "for the sheer beauty of it, but also for what [he] was learning" about different techniques and modes of working from seeing the original work up close. His personal interest was also reflected in his friends, who he notes would often visit ask to see his collection, leading him to think that:
- "[I]t was a shame that the only time these beautiful drawings and paintings got seen [was] when people visited [his] house."
In addition to perceived interest, he recalled the reaction to comic book art in his portfolio (specifically his "best Jack Kirby homage") being considerably less than positive, an attitude which has:
|“||..always bothered me. I can go into any museum in the country and look at a lot of different things that people interpret as art that don't even come close to what I would interpret as art! And yet these kinds of critics who were calling that material "Art" always pass judgment on what I call "Art."||”|
Combining these thoughts (personal interest and wider snobbery), Eastman recalled that "the French government has a state sponsored museum dedicated to comic books," but that America did not, and decided to rectify the situation by "open[ing] a museum that would be dedicated to a little bit of what brought us here, a lot of what's going on today, and also a look to the future of comics."
Eastman established the Museum in his hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts in 1992, and "[k]ept it open for as long as [he] could afford to keep it open." Ultimately subsequent cash flow problems with Tundra, and the ebbing of the TMNT fad, led to the closure of the Museum in 1999. It maintains an online presence at WordsandPictures.org, but the website has not been updated since 1999.
Personal life 
Julie Strain, photography and acting 
Eastman was married to B-movie actress and model Julie Strain. This relationship saw Strain star in the animated film Heavy Metal 2000, based on Eastman's magazine property Heavy Metal and the graphic novel, The Melting Pot, written by Eastman, Simon Bisley and Eric Talbot, and the direct to video sequel to the 1981 feature film Heavy Metal.
Being married to a model led to Eastman experimenting in photography himself, producing images (primarily of his then wife) which are available on the Heavy Metal website, in galleries entitled "I Shot my Wife". This led to Strain taking up the camera herself, with some success, resulting in a number of books published by Heavy Metal Magazine of and by Strain-Eastman.
Eastman himself has also acted alongside his then wife in a small number of films since the mid-1990s onto the twenty-first century; notably Guns of El Chupacabra in 1997 and The Rock n' Roll Cops in 2003.
He also had a supporting role in the 2004 Troma film Tales from the Crapper. Before that, he had a cameo in the 2000 sequel to The Toxic Avenger called Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV, alongside Julie Strain in both films.
Eastman and TMNT co-creator Peter Laird voiced together in Turtles Forever, where one says of the first TMNT issue, "boy, I sure hope this thing sells."
Other comics work 
Aside from his work on multiple Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles projects, and as publisher of Tundra Publishing, Eastman has done little other comics work. One of these projects was Fistful of Blood, a black and white graphic novel featuring a blend of influences from spaghetti western and horror. The book featured art by Simon Bisley and was published by Heavy Metal.
He is a featured interviewee in the movie Independents.
- McGill, Douglas C. (December 25, 1988). "DYNAMIC DUO: Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird; Turning Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Into a Monster". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-07.
- Greenberg, Harvey R. (April 15, 1990). "Just How Powerful Are Those Turtles?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-07.
- Mcdermott, Deborah (December 8, 2012). "'Ninja Turtles' artist shares 'mind-blowing' story". Seacoast Online. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
- Wiater, Stanley & Bissette, Stephen R. (ed.s) Comic Book Rebels: Conversations with the Creators of the New Comics (Donald I. Fine, Inc. 1993) ISBN 1-55611-355-2
- Bob Burden's Mysterymen Presskit: Kevin Eastman. Accessed April 22, 2008
- ComicBookDb: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1. Accessed April 22, 2008
- Pages from the Press Kit can be seen here on Eastman's Heavy Metal website.
- David Merrill "The Atlanta Fantasy Fair". Accessed April 22, 2008
- Don Markstein's Toonopedia: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". Accessed April 22, 2008
- IMDb: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (1987) (mini). Accessed April 22, 2008
- Daniel Robert Epstein interview with Peter Laird, c2002/2003. Accessed April 22, 2008
- the 5th turtle: A final release
- Jeff Smith, "Remembering the Self-Publishing Movement: Rick Veitch, part 1", February 17, 2008. Accessed April 22, 2008
- "Talking to Kevin Eastman 1: Turtle Days, Turtle Nights" by Benjamin Ong Pang Kean, August 31, 2007. Accessed April 22, 2008
- From Hell would continue to be published by Kitchen Sink Press after Tundra's demise, and both From Hell and Lost Girls are now published by Top Shelf Comix.
- Eastman notes, that the initial black and white comic was considerably more 'adult' than what followed.
- "I Shot My Wife" background on Eastman's photography. Accessed April 22, 2008 Archived February 23, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- N.B. The converse method of stopping at the time limit without the comic having been completed is known as "the Gaiman variation." Scott McCloud's 24 Hour Comic dare. Accessed April 22, 2008
- Kevin Eastman at the Internet Movie Database
- Gary Groth interviews Kevin Eastman pdf download (270kB) from the Heavy Metal site; this piece appeared originally in The Comics Journal No. 202
- Official Heavy Metal website
- Kevin Eastman interview[dead link] from Newsarama