IDW scored itself a massive coup when it gained the rights to publish a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic line, especially considering that co-creator Kevin Eastman was involved. And yet, a huge part of this title's success came not just from Eastman or Tom Walz or editor Bobby Curnow, but from artist Mateus Santolouco, whose work redesigning the Turtles and the characters in their universe has been revelatory.
I was lucky enough to be able to chat with Santolouco, who I found out was just as big a Turtles geek as I was, over email about his career and his dealings with the Green Machine.
(Editor's Note: Santolouco provided the pictures and links and gifs that are in this piece...which made me love him even more)
Well, to kick things off I have to say this: I'm 34, so it's safe to say I've been reading Ninja Turtles for the bulk of my life (Archie Comics, Mirage, Image, IDW). I'm confident in saying that your Turtle art and design is far and away my favorite, and interprets the characters perfectly.
Thanks a lot, man! I really appreciate you saying that.
How did you go about approaching the TMNT, and how long did it take you to settle on a design for each character?
I think I'm still adjusting my take on the turtles - there are always tiny details that I keep improving here and there. The idea of having them with a different body shape as individuals is relatively old, this concept came to me on a quick sketch I did back on 2005.
In general, for IDW, I've built a concept using elements that I have always missed (like the different heights), or enjoyed in other incarnations of the characters, and mixed that with the take of several artists who worked previously to me on the current ongoing series, like Sophie Campbell and Dan Duncan. As for how long it took me to settle, as I said, I think is still a work in progress.
How were you approached to work on this book?
This is an interesting and curious story. Go grab a drink and relax, big text ahead.
Early in 2011 I was pretty much without job; I had some small editorial illustration gigs going on for Brazil's local market, but nothing more than this. My latest works for the US comic industry were a short two-issue run for Vertigo's American Vampire, and two short stories for special issues of X-Necrosha and JSA, all done in 2010.
So I was keeping myself busy doing mainly two things: illustrations to send to editors and keeping my work on their minds, and playing that classic TMNT arcade game on my computer. One morning, in February I think, after stumbling on some pretty good TMNT fan art on DeviantArt, I was in the shower thinking of an idea for a Turtles fan art of my own when my phone rung. It was my old friend Rafael Grampá. I called back and he promptly asked me, "Would you be interested in drawing a Ninja Turtles' comic?" It blew my mind!
I mean, I was literally just thinking of drawing the Turtles minutes ago and now the dude comes out of nowhere to ask me this?
Well, coincidences aside, he told me he was just talking to an IDW editor about some covers he would possible do for them, and the guy brought up that they had just acquired the rights to produce a TMNT book. Grampá mentioned my name and the editor told him he already knew and enjoyed my work from American Vampire and asked him to introduce us. In that same afternoon Bobby Curnow sent me an email checking for my interest on being the artist of an upcoming TMNT comic, but in the same email he also mentioned that everything was pretty embryonic at that point and that they had absolutely nothing defined for the new series.
Okay, now let’s see: I was playing TMNT daily for almost a month; I woke up and decided to work on a TMNT fan art; a friend calls to see if he could introduce me to a TMNT editor and the TMNT editor tells me they will do a new Ninja Turtles comic but they didn't have anything planned yet. It was too much alignments to be ignored - it was the universe telling me to take action. And so I did. I wrote back to Bobby and told him I didn't wanted to draw… I wanted to write AND draw the hell out of it! At first I think he just liked my bold move and allowed me to send him a pitch.
Two weeks later I sent him the outlines for 3 story arcs of 5 issues each and several small synopses of possible continuations for an ongoing project. Along with the pitch I sent these sample pages (TMNT 1 & TMNT 2) and this pinup, which was the fan art I woke up thinking about doing in the first place, and some rough character sketches to show I intended to make the Turtles with different anatomies and head shapes. Bobby really liked my pitch and told me he was going to defend my proposal with Nickelodeon. Now it was time to wait.
Two months later he wrote me saying that I had started to compete with some BIG names, and that, although people at Nickelodeon had demonstrated appreciation for my ideas, it was going to be really difficult to win against the powerhouse who had joined the run to take the lead of the new title. I remember my response was something like "Bring it on! I will make the greatest TMNT comic ever!" (I told you I was making bold moves) but as we all know by now I was competing with Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman. Man, when I found out about that, I had lots of mixed feelings, you know? How great is it to discover that you were competing with one of the creators of the very thing all along?
I was sad for losing the opportunity, of course, but I was also so amused with all of it that I was feeling more proud than anything. I said to Bobby that if daddy wanted his kids back then I was not going to be the one to stand in the way, even if they had allowed me to. And so, I was out of the picture, for the time being anyway. Bobby kept in touch and promised to fit me into something Turtle related in the future.
Fast forward to September 2011. I was still without any comic jobs and my line of thinking had changed from, "I need a job in the comics industry" to "I will not wait to be hired, I will make my own comics and self-publish them here in Brazil" and I was doing so. This was when I received another email from Bobby inviting me to draw the cover and half of issue 5, presenting the reincarnation aspect of the new origins of IDW's Turtles. I said yes, of course. Soon after, Karen Berger calls me and offers me to illustrate the first arc of Dial H for DC's New 52. Again, I said yes. I had two pages of inks left to finish on the 10 pages I did for TMNT #5 and Bobby wrote me saying everybody was really pleased with my work and that now they wanted me to write AND draw the origins of Shredder and the Foot Clan. Mind blown once again. That pitch had served for something after all! In the end of 2011 I started to draw Dial H while I was writing The Secret history of the Foot Clan, and once I was done with that I drew the first comic I also wrote for the American comics industry. Fans were pleased, the rest is history and here I am today. Magic!
Did you reference any previous Turtle titles to get a handle on not just the Turtles, but the HUGE supporting cast of characters?
Not really. I pretty much go with my guts. I am a long time Turtles fan after all. Every now and then some character that I didn't even know existed (like Nobody for example) comes along and I'm forced to do some research. TMNT is big here in Brazil, but most of the less famous stuff haven't made it all the way here. Still, just by watching the TV shows and playing the video games I got acquaintance with most of the supporting cast. Also, I have my back covered with the Tom, Bobby and Kevin on the team, so if I don't know something very well they provide the background and I try to introduce a fresh look to it.
I LOVE how passionate you are about the Turtles, and I have to assume that as much as you love those characters you have to have a favorite. So who is your favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle?
Well, this is probably one of the most frequent questions I’m asked, and the truth is I don't have a favorite. To put it another way, my preference for the Turtles vary from time to time. I remember when I first met them Leo was my fave, and soon after while I was addicted to the arcade game Donatello was always my choice. Last year and during most of my IDW run so far I was more fond of Mikey, and nowadays it’s Leo again, probably due to the fact that I think I finally nailed some minor adjustments on his design or I'm at least closer to what I'm looking for. So, funny thing is that as much as I understand how iconic and powerful his presence is on the team, Raphael was always my least favorite.
(Editor’s Note: HOW DARE YOU)
How did you as a fan feel when you came on to the title and learned that one of the co-creators of the Turtles was tweaking their well-known origin to something so new and different than what came before?
From the day I've learned that Kevin was involved in the project I felt that this new take on the Turtles were in safe hands, and when Bobby called me to work on issue 5 and presented to me the reincarnation plot and the feudal Japan stuff, I immediately knew that this was going to be one of my favorite TMNT series ever. That aspect is without a doubt one of my favorite things of IDW's Turtleverse. Also, it’s so cool to witness how well these guys are blending all other versions into one cohesive storyline.
It’s funny you should mention your writing for TMNT earlier, because your Secret History of the Foot Clan showed that your storytelling skills go far beyond just your art – the story was thrilling and layered as well! How did that miniseries come to be?
I like to think that this opportunity was a direct result of the previous TMNT proposal I had sent to Bobby, which gave him the trust that I could contribute to the series with more than just art. As I mentioned before, Bobby offered me the miniseries while I was still inking the last pages of issue 5, which in a way was sort of a prequel to the events that take place on Secret History.
IDW gave me two simple briefings to work with: "the origins of Shredder and the Foot Clan" & "Shredder is kind of immortal," and I've created everything else on the story using what had being published on the ongoing and micro-series as a starting point. While I was illustrating Dial H for DC I'd produced something like 4 drafts with subtle variations between each other until we got something that everybody, IDW, Nickelodeon and myself, were happy with.
As soon as we were ready to jump to the final scripts Bobby suggested that we could bring someone on board to help with dialogue. You see, as much as I can perfectly communicate sufficiently well in English, to write a script I wouldn't be able to write dialogues that feel authentic to native English readers, and that was when Erick Burham joined the team. Erick is a great writer with far more experience than me, and I quickly realized we could all benefit from having him co-scripting and not just helping with dialogues. The co-script process worked like this: I would write a first draft of the script and then Erick would work his magic over it and we would go back and forward it a couple more times to get everything set, which almost wasn't necessary since our chemistry worked pretty well from day one.
HUGE thanks to Mateus for taking the time to write me - dude's set up in Brazil, had some con work to do, and also slaying it on IDW's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!