Friday, February 20, 2015

"My Affection for Four Pizza-loving Turtles. Or: How My English Teacher Gave Me a Verbal Kick in the Teeth." by Niklas Nowak

Niklas Nowak, a TMNT fan from Germany, recently contacted me to let me know that he had translated his lengthy and interesting essay about TMNT, originally written in his native German, and posted it on his blog at this URL:

Check it out! -- PL

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Empty Bowls

       What, you are asking, does this have to do with TMNT? Read on...

In May of 2012, after a roughly forty-year hiatus, I returned to an art form with which I'd had a brief but passionate encounter as an undergraduate: pottery.

I only took one semester of "Ceramics 1" at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst back in 1974, but I loved it -- especially working on the wheel, throwing bowls and mugs and goblets.

So why did I wait forty years before taking it up again? Long story.

Two and a half years ago I began taking private lessons and then classes with local "practical potter" TIffany Hilton, who proved to be a wonderful teacher. I have continued to study with her and in fact will be taking another of her classes soon.

Last year, when I was finishing up a class with her, TIffany surprised me by asking if I would be interested in making some bowls for an upcoming charity event called "Empty Bowls" being put on by the Amherst Survival Center on March 9, 2015. The way it works (as I understand it) is that local potters make and donate ceramic bowls, and local restaurants donate food, and for the price of an admission ticket (proceeds going to the charity), patrons can choose one of the bowls and get it filled with food, taking the bowl home with them after the meal is over.

It sounded like a cool thing, and I was flattered that my teacher thought enough of my skills that she asked me to do this. So I wedged up a bunch of clay in her studio, and in a couple of hours had thrown a dozen bowls of varying shapes and sizes...

… then, a week or so later I trimmed their feet (and signed my name to the bottom of each bowl, complete with my traditional small TMNT head sketch)…

… and sometime after that, once TIffany had done the first (bisque) firing... 

        ... I dipped them in one glaze, adding a few brushstrokes and spatters with a second glaze. 

A few days ago, TIffany told me that she'd done the final firing, and I could come and view my bowls before they went off to their final fate.

I was happy to see that they'd come out just about as I had hoped they would. I'd used two of Tiffany's glazes, "cream" and "olive green", which, when combined, create a beautiful bluish-green color. Here's a group shot of the twelve finished bowls, ready to go:

I don't know if there are any tickets left for the event -- I actually had an oddly difficult time finding information about it online -- but here's a link to the Amherst Survival Center Facebook page which might help if you are interested:

I have no idea who will end up with the bowls I made, but it tickles me to think that maybe, just maybe, someone who is a TMNT fan might get a pleasant surprise when they turn their bowl over and see something like this:

-- PL

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Snippets #41: August 28, 1987

This snippet is from an August 28, 1987 letter to Mom and Pop:

"Now we're back [from the 1987 San Diego Comic-Con -- PL] and back into the day-to-day grind. Right now, I'm working on completing the art for TMNT $12, which I am doing all by myself. I don't know if I told you about this, but Kevin and I have decided upon a new way of doing the turtle books. After three and a half years of intense collaborative effort, where each bit of story we would work on together and have to agree to, we need a change. So now, we will be alternating books -- I'll do #12, Kevin will do #13, and so on. It's kind of exciting, but at the same time scary, because we've each depended on the other for so long. I'm about a third of the way done with #12 right now, but I'm pretty sure that I'll be able to finish it in time for the scheduled September 30 ship date.


Another (hopefully) minor problem is with the animation company, Murakami/Wolf, which is doing the turtles cartoon. We just got the last set of storyboards last Monday, for episode five, in which the disembodied brain character, Krang, gets a robot body built for him by the Shredder. The problem is that the design of the robot body as shown in the storyboards was absolutely dorky -- it resembled a sick Pillsbury dough-boy. When we called Karl at Playmates about it, he said that it shouldn't be a problem -- that the actual  animated robot body would look different, as it is common practice for the storyboard artists to do quick roughs for the purposes of the storyboards. Fine and good… until Karl called us again last Friday and told us that Murakami/Wolf said that they were too far into the production of the fifth episode to change the look of the character. This we found hard to believe, and it was pretty strange because the procedure through the last four sets of storyboards is that we would get concept sketches of any new characters along with the boards, and be able to change whatever needed changing. So we told Karl that we wouldn't approve it, and we called Mark Freedman, and he called Karl, and etc. etc…. the upshot being that I think today (Monday) we'l be talking with Karl again to see what we can do about solving the problem."

     [I still remember where Kevin and I were when we had the discussion which resulted in our doing separate issues -- we were sitting in Pulaski Park in Northampton, near the Academy of Music, on a sunny, warm day.
     It was unnerving doing a whole issue of the TMNT comic (except for the lettering) by myself, but ultimately it was fun, and liberating, in a way. Still, all things considered, I think I would have preferred that Kevin and I had kept working in our traditional collaborative style. I never did another full issue of a TMNT comic by myself. I have great respect for people who can do issue after issue of a comic book series -- it's a lot of hard work. 
      But we were under a lot of pressure, mostly related to the rapid expansion of Turtle business, and that way of working together just wasn't feasible anymore. We never really had that level of collaboration again, and I missed it. I still do. But I treasure the memories of working with Kevin on those early TMNT books -- it was a unique experience.
       Contrary to what I said in the first paragraph above, Kevin did not do issue #13 after my issue #12 --  issue #13 ended up being a Mike Dooney book. I can't recall why, exactly, that shift occurred, but I suspect it must have had something to do with the press of business and personal life disrupting Kevin's ability to make the deadline for publication of that issue.

       The "minor problem" with the animation studio doing the new Turtle cartoon was, in retrospect, a harbinger of problems to come. As anyone familiar with that first TMNT animated series is aware, the stupid design for Krang's robot body never got changed. If we had been more on top of things, and been more willing to risk doing stuff that might have delayed -- or even canceled -- the animated series, it might have turned out differently. But this was all new to us, and we really wanted this stuff to happen, and we let a lot of things slide, this included. We were also focused on the comic books Mirage was doing at the time, and didn't have a lot of energy to devote to the animated series... and, truth be told, as could be intuited by the fact that Kevin and I had decided to stop collaborating on the comics, we were not as in synch as we could have been, and did not present the united front which might have made dealing with other business people significantly easier.
       As my brother Bruce might say, "It is what it is." What happened, happened. I can't go back and change it now, as much as I wish I could.

       I'm a bit sad to say that this is the last "Snippet" I will be posting, unless some other old correspondence with bits of Turtle history shows up. I doubt that will happen, but you never know. Thanks for reading these, and I hope you enjoyed them! -- PL]

Monday, January 19, 2015

Snippets #40: June 28, 1987

       This one is from a June 28, 1987 to Stan Sakai:

       "Greetings from the East! Yesterday I picked up the new issue of Usagi Yojimbo, but i didn't read it 'til today. I gotta tell you, Stan -- I was impressed! You already know I like your stuff a lot, but this book was great! You're really developing the character of Usagi in a fascinating manner… the gradual exposure of his history is tantalizing to say the least. And I love his tense friendship with the rhino ronin.

       Reading this book today got me so worked up that I had to do something… so I sat down at the drawing table and roughed out this eight-page story featuring Usagi and Leonardo. It's based around an incident lifted form the Robin Hood legend -- how Robin met (and befriended) Friar Tuck. I'm sending you copies of the roughs (and believe me, they are rough!); I hope you can follow the story. I'd really like to get your OK to finish this, maybe as a backup for your book or one of ours. Please let me know what you think… any suggestions would be appreciated.

       I can't remember the last time that a book inspired me to such immediate (drawing) action… thanks muchly for Usagi Yojimbo!"

       [TMNT fans may recall the short comic book story which came out of the idea of mine mentioned here -- "The Crossing", which I believe appeared in "Usagi Yojimbo" #10. I wrote and drew that one by myself, on Duo-Shade board. Steve Lavigne lettered it.
       I remember having a lot of fun with that piece. There is a post on my blog about it here:

      -- PL]

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Snippets #39: January 29, 1987

       This is from a January 29, 1987 handwritten postcard to Mom and Pop:

"Well, we (Kevin and I) just had our first meetings with Playmates Toy today. Yesterday, we drove up to L.A., along with the president and v.p. for marketing of Playmates, to meet with the president of Marvel Productions, the company that Playmates wants to do the TMNT animated series. It was an interesting meeting -- hearing talk of millions of dollars in production cost being casually bandied about. And it looks really positive.. I think they're going to do the animation. But Kev and I aren't counting on anything until it actually happens.

Tonight we might be going out to see some sights in Los Angeles with the two Playmates design people, John Handy and Karl Aaronian… and hopefully we'll be going back home. Can't wait!"

       [As it turned out, Marvel Productions never got the job to do the TMNT animated series... another one of those intriguing "forks in the road". What would have happened if they HAD produced the series? How would it have differed from the MWS version? Would we have been happier with it, or vice versa? Would the mass-market TMNT phenomenon have exploded as it did?

       Impossible to say for certain, but interesting to speculate upon. -- PL]

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Snippets #38: January 17, 1987

       This is from a January 17, 1987 letter to Mom and Pop:

       "Guess where I'm going to be on my birthday? Give up? California! Yes, the trip to meet with the Playmates people is now scheduled for the week after next. We'll be leaving on the 27th, meeting on the 28th and 29th, and coming back on the 30th. I'm not really looking forward to it -- I'd much rather be home on my birthday, and regardless of my birthday, I don't like to be away from Jen that long. I just have to look at it as an irritating necessity of my business life, I guess.
       I'm enclosing a couple of books that I don't think you have yet -- Leonardo #1 and Gobbledygook #1. Gotta keep your collection of Mirage Studios pubs up to date, right?"

       [I think this was the very first visit Kevin and I made to Playmates Toys at their headquarters in La Mirada. Mark Freedman of Surge Licensing joined us out there. We met two of the major players working on the TMNT toy line at that initial meeting -- John Handy and Karl Aaronian.

      Given what was to follow, which of course I could not fully envision at that point, it's a little amusing to see me describing this trip as an "irritating necessity of my business life"... which, I suppose, at that point it was. Taking four days out of our schedules when we were going great guns with the comics and struggling to keep up with our self-imposed deadlines probably did seem annoying at that time. And I really didn't like being away from my wife for that long.

       It's funny -- during the time between the date of my last entry in these "Snippets", which was from June 7, 1986, and this one roughly seven months later in January of 1987, a lot of really important stuff happened -- we moved from Connecticut to Massachusetts, set up actual office space for Mirage Studios, lost one secretary/office manager, then hired another... and probably most significant, we got contacted out of the blue by Mark Freedman, met with him in Northampton and signed a deal for him to be the licensing agent for the TMNT property. I can't say for certain, because the dates are a little fuzzy in my brain, but it's also possible that both Jim Lawson and Mike Dooney moved to the Northampton area from Connecticut and New Jersey, respectively, during this period.

       I really wish I'd written more of this stuff down when it was happening.
        If memory serves, for some reason I ended up coming back by myself from sunny, warm California, and found my car covered in more than a foot of snow... which I had to dig it out of, with no shovel, in the unplowed parking lot at the airport. Not a pleasant experience. At least by this time I had a reliable new Honda which I would not worry about so much in terms of starting when I needed it to and having an actual working heater for the cold months.
        It's possible that I am conflating this with some other winter trip which ended the same way... regardless, not fun. -- PL]

Friday, January 16, 2015

Snippets #37: June 7, 1986


       This one is from a June 7, 1986 letter to June Brigman (a very talented comic book artist):

"Dear June,

This letter is about a month late, but then, that's the way things have been here since January. I had meant to write earlier and thank you for your hospitality to myself and MIchael Dooney when we came down to White Plains for Ted's show. The meal and the company were excellent, and I thank you.

Thanks also for the "Demon sketch -- it's a prime addition to my growing collection! As you requested, I'm sending along a copy of it for you. Again, I'm sorry it's late, but Kevin and I have been insanely busy these last several weeks, getting the artwork for Donatello, our latest micro-series, done, and doing the pencils for TMNT #8 (the Cerebus/Turtles crossover issue), along with a hundred other things… including getting ready to pack up and move to Massachusetts, which we will be doing on June 20. Yow! So much to do…

I hope you and Roy are doing well… Kev and I are looking forward to seeing you at the June 15 show in NYC. Take care!


P.S. I'm also enclosing a couple of copies of Gizmo #2, hot off the presses! and possibly some information about a new project for next year that you might be interested in."

       [The drawing at the top is the aforementioned "Demon" sketch by June Brigman, originally posted on my "palblog" site, at this URL:

       There are other sketches of Jack Kirby's "Etrigan the Demon" character by various artists on that blog, if you care to see them. 

       The show in White Plains, NY was notable for meeting June and her husband Roy, but I also recall another thing which happened there -- I saw my first attempt to create a counterfeit TMNT #1, first printing. 

       A kid came up to my table and asked me to sign his first printing of our first issue, but when I opened the front cover, I had to give him the bad news: Someone had sold him a second printing, with the word "second" whited out (with actual "White Out" correction paint!) and "first" written in its place. 

       The kid was crestfallen. I felt bad for him, but... how do you miss something like that? I mean, it was a pretty obvious, crude attempt to make a second printing look like a first.  Fortunately, that's the only time I ever ran into skullduggery like that regarding a TMNT #1 first printing. -- PL]