Friday, March 30, 2007

Influences: Eastman and Laird

In the tradition of the Socratic dialogues, Kevin and I will jointly proclaim our reverence for Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Zander: I was first introduced to the Ninja Turtles by my neighbor, Mike McKenna, who said that 1) they were awesome, and 2) that the first issue was already worth something like three hundred bucks. By the time I started reading the issues, the black-and-white comics and mini-comics boom of the 1980s had begun, and there were tons of imitators and spiritual descendants of the Turtles on the racks. What grabbed me about TMNT was the roughness and rawness of their art style, and the way that you could kind of see how they were done (though the toned paper that they used was awfully mysterious to me). I liked the idea that with some art supplies, some imagination, and fifty years of monster movies, samurai manga, and other comics to crib from, you could create an entire world.

Kevin: I honestly can't remember how I got hooked on TMNT. My earliest memory is of sitting on a bus in New York and reading the "book 2" graphic novel. I'm flipping through it right now (not having done so in ten+ years) and every quip and sound effect is coming back to me. I think what hooked me on these turtles was that they were so REAL, at least compared to your standard superheroes. Flying guys in tights were a joke compared to these reclusive, aggressive thugs who bled when cut. So anyway, once I got the bug, my whole world revolved around the TMNT franchise. I spent a lot of my money on the toys, but I still remember being a snob about the comics, even at age ten. Actually, I don't remember knowing anyone else who read the comics; they all just seemed to be into the TV show and the movies. The thing that moved me about the comics was the perpetual dance everyone was always in during the fight scenes. No one could stay still. And there were so many weapons flying around, there was constant danger. I think that as a reader, I want a visceral connection to the action. So reading about fights involving guns or lasers never did anything for me because I couldn't relate to it. But watching sticks and fists and dirt flying around -- that pulled me right into the action.

Zander: I read somewhere that the paper that Eastman and Laird used (a special paper that would reveal one hatch pattern when painted with one chemical, and another, perpendicular to it, when painted with another) was so expensive that they cut the big sheets in half to save money. The result in the earlier comics was a chunkiness to the art and a slight inconsistency to the lettering that to me gave it a certain special vibe. Its lack of polish made it seem that much more wonderful; basically, it wasn't a quirky but average comic, but rather the very best minicomic that had ever been made.

Kevin: I wasn't savvy enough then to appreciate how the comic was made. But I did appreciate the stocky muscular structure of the turtles. My first ever anatomy lesson was simply drawing those figures over and over again.

Zander: In addition to the fact that it was so accessible due to its amateurish surface, what I appreciated about TMNT was that within the art you could really see a solid understanding of light and shadow, as well as anatomy, architecture, etc. I loved that, like a lot of the other artists we've talked about in the Influences posts, these guys created a solid, weighty, deep world that you could imagine people (or mutated turtles) living in.

Kevin: Speaking of "these guys," I guess we should say a few words about Eastman and Laird themselves. I still to this day can't tell the difference between the two. "Eastman N. Laird" is one man as far as I can tell. Obviously I can see style changes as I flip through this stack of comics, but I can't tell what's Laird, what's Eastman, and what's simply changed over time. In 2001 I traveled with Zander to the San Diego Comicon and he, knowing I grew up with the Turtles, pointed to a guy wearing a black leather coat and said "That's Kevin Eastman." My jaw dropped for a few seconds and then I suddenly realized, "Hey, he's just a normal guy." But of course, I was still too shy to go up and say anything to him, at least nothing that he hasn't heard four billion times already.



At 6:29 PM, Blogger Tad. said...

Born in 1978 as an army-brat, my first exposure to TMNT was via my peers one Christmas. Looking back on it, the merchandising was spontaneous from my perspective.

I don't remember my exact age when I became aware of them, but it was during a Chistmas season I spent in Germany, which means I was 11, 12, or 13. So, 1989-91 are the probable years of exposure. Looking at IMDB I'd assume 1989 was the likely year (though european release date of TMNT may've delayed it to 1990).

It was a bit of a shock. One moment I was completely ignorant of TMNT, the next moment everyone of my friends had some sort of TMNT action figure to brag about. To be honest, I didn't understand the phenomenon... but I did draw the turtles on occasion to impress my friends.

As the years past I eventually owned all of the TMNT movies, though I never owned any of the comics or the action figures. The first movie was clearly the best as far as I was concerned, but the sequels were nice enough as far as that sorta thing goes. I enjoyed them in the same way as I enjoyed the Back to the Future sequels (the third TMNT movie was a massive disappointment, though... if I may make a comparison to a film that came after it... it was bad in the same way The Last Samarai was bad-- in fact, if memory serves me, and I doubt it does-- the plots strike me as identical ^^).

I wouldn't count TMNT among my influences, per se, but they certainly affected my childhood-- in a way that superhero comics couldn't, and that Cerebus wouldn't have a chance to affect me for several years to come.

Shad: how are you? and what're you up to?

Kevin: your style is really accessible but, imo, you "work" puns a bit too much. Don't let this criticism stiffle your output (please!) but can you stretch a little?

Zander: what would it require to persuade you to expose your imagined conclusion to The Replacement God? I'd love to see it as a comics story, but I'm also quite certain the effort necessary to pull that off may not be something you're interested in expending. I loved The Replacement God in concept and execution and I'm still curious about the ending as well as the seperate plot threads despite the amount of time that's past. I haven't followed your work into Top Ten and whatever you've done (if anything beyond bigtimeattic) following that... so I may not deserve a careful answer, but I'm still curious......

In the meantime, thanks for these blogs. There's not only entertaining, but they're useful and somewhat educational. I look forward to reading them.

Take care!

At 2:01 PM, Blogger Shad said...

Shad: how are you? and what're you up to?

Fine. Not Much.

At 6:01 PM, Blogger maris said...

hello. maris here. I was wondering if anyone had ever been to the Words and Pictures Museum (now defunct) in Northampton, MA. It was founded in the early 90s by Kevin Eastman. This "Influences" post brought back how much of a gem that musuem was (at least for the teenage me).
I happened on it by accident; my family was visiting Northampton and I walked by a MUSEUM with COMICS in it (my 13-year-old mind was blown). It was small; there was a permanent exhibit on the top floor, changing gallery in the middle, and 'doodle-area' and gift shop on the first level.
I was like a kid in a candy shop; it was amazing to see the ACTUAL pages from tons of comics (even if I didn't have that expansive of a comics vocab...yet). I made a decision to return every year, and check for upcoming exhibits. I got to see a show of all the painted covers for Sam Keith's "the Maxx" (which I totally dug in early high school), along with a show of a bunch of Dave Sim's pages from Cerebus (which I still have never read). It was just such a treat (and inspiration) to see comic artist's work so up close. And the gift shop: comics I had never seen or heard of, and lots of them. All throughout high school, I would take an annual pilgrimage to the museum (it was the only place I could buy indie comics, other than mail-order).
During my first year of college, I decided to take a day trip out to visit the museum. Alas, it was closed. Forever. (They made it a 'virtual museum' online...just not the same.)
So when you guys mentioned the Turtles comics, I thought, "Huh, that's funny...I've never read any TMNT comics, but Kevin Eastman is inadvertently responsible for my interest and later drawing of comics." So thanks.

P.S. I know I mentioned this in a previous post, but I'm addicted to Blog Time Attic.

At 6:26 PM, Blogger Kevin Cannon said...

I haven't been up there, but I bet Zander has. I love the idea of a "doodle area."

... also, we're glad you like the blog!

At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Wil said...

That 'tone' paper looks like the same sort of effect John Severin used to have on his superb parody stuff in Cracked magazine in the 70s but I could never work out how it was achieved. Looked like a tone pattern but somehow painted on! I just figured the artwork was watercoloured in grey and then run through some sort of halftone screen, like a newspaper photo. I guess he could have used the same thing.

Great blog by-the-way. I only found it today and already I've wasted a whole afternoon at work!

At 4:15 PM, Anonymous Greg said...

That gray tone was achieved via "Duo-Shade" illustration board. The lines are pre-printed on the board. And yes, it is applied with brush (and developer solution).

At 5:14 AM, Blogger jaime said...

yeah words and pictures museum! I was so happy to see an actual richard corben painting. I interned at kitchen sink press that was also located in the area. good times.


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