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SYFY WIRE Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

At SDCC, TMNT celebrates 35 pizza-filled years

By Andrea Ayres
IDW April 2019 31

It's COWABUNGA time! The TMNT-universe celebrated its 35th anniversary with fans at San Diego Comic-Con today. There wasn't pizza, but there were a lot of details about how the Turtle's have changed over the years, and what keeps fans coming back for more.

The panel united co-executive producers Andy Suriano and Ant Ward (Nickelodeon's Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), executive producer Ciro Nieli (Nickelodeon's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and legendary TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman to talk about how they've kept the franchise going so strongly all these years.

Moderator Mike Cecchini asked each panelist how they first discovered the TMNT universe. For some, like Nieli, it was with the very first comic. Andy Suriano said his first brush with the turtles was with the 1989 arcade NES video game by Konami, which inspired him to go back and read all the comics. Ant Ward remembered being in a toy store and seeing the mustard-green color of Donatello. Ward remembered throwing a massive tantrum over not being allowed to buy the toy.

Eastman paid homage to the folks sharing the stage with him for helping to revitalize and bring the turtles back to life. Nieli recalls Nickelodeon's acquisition of the franchise, and the challenges he faced in creating a universe that was ubiquitous and easy enough to follow. This enabled other creators, like Ward, to come in and take the TMNT universe in a weird and new direction.

For Nickelodeon's Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Suriano and Ward spoke about their desire to create something new and different for fans. "We wanted to explore the brothers in a completely new environment and see how that sibling bond can travel," Ward said.

Nieli noted that since the show takes place after the death of Master Splinter, it gave them the chance to take the turtles out of the sewers and into the streets of New York City. Scientist April O'Neil is also portrayed in a different light, now serving as the emotional surrogate for the turtles. O'Neil has always been a vital character to the series, especially for Eastman who said strong female characters were important to him and co-creator Peter Laird.

This concept of family is really the core of TMNT, so much so that Nieli says he used to write "The family that mutates together, stays together" on his early artwork. An exciting (and very recent) addition to the turtle-verse is the new female ninja-turtle who first appeared in issue #95. The future of TMNT is further evolving the family dynamic and putting the turtles into new environments..

Everyone has their favorite turtle, it is law. What makes their personalities work? Eastman recalled being inspired by the dynamic of the characters from the X-Men series: "They may have different personalities, different likes, but they've still got to come together to overcome a foe."

"We wanted to make another reason to love Leo besides being the leader," said Ward while talking about the leadership shift in Rise of the TMNT. "Now, he’s letting Raph be the leader because he’s just not ready for that role yet."

One of 2019's most exciting announcements was news of the Batman and TMNT animated movie crossover. First revealed back in February, the animated film is based on the Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics miniseries by James Tynion IV and Freddie Williams II. It's as clear an indication as any that fans of the TMNT universe want to see the turtles in new adventures with new characters. The panelists promised as such and told everyone to keep an eye out for the Rise of the TMNT Netflix film, which will feature characters everyone knows and loves, as well as some new ones (no word on what new characters they were referring to).

In 2017, TMNT celebrated its 75th issue with an epic release from IDW Publishing. Series writer Tom Waltz and Eastman have been working together since the IDW run began back in 2011. 

Ultimately the TMNT universe has always been about having fun, exploring family relationships, and those bonds that bring us together to overcome the impossible. This fellowship is the magic that keeps fans coming back year after year. Okay, the gratuitous inclusion of pizza doesn't hurt either.

Click here for SYFY WIRE’s full coverage of San Diego Comic-Con 2019, including up-to-the-minute news, exclusive interviews, and videos.