Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Free Comic Book Day weekend, May 3-4, 2014

      This past weekend was "Free Comic Book Day" across the country, and the putative "30th anniversary of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (they were actually created in November of 1983, but it was May 5, 1984, when we premiered the first issue of the TMNT comic book at a small convention in Portsmouth, NH -- almost exactly thirty years ago), and I was scheduled to appear at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Rochester, NH for Ralph DiBernardo's Jetpack Comics store on Saturday (which is the actual, official"Free Comic Book Day"), and then the following day, Sunday, at my buddy Steve Lavigne's "Shellback Artworks" store in Wells, ME. Steve and my friend and fellow Mirage artist Jim Lawson were also appearing at both venues.

As the weekend approached, I was getting more and more anxious about it. Part of that had to do with what I had been hearing about the event -- that it was going to be huge, with big crowds of people on both days -- but part of it also had to do with the fact that for the first time in a very long time (possibly fifteen years or so, maybe more), I'd be appearing alongside my former partner in Mirage Studios and co-creator of the TMNT, Kevin Eastman.

I wasn't sure how that would go. There has been a lot of water under the bridge, as the saying goes, over the years since Kevin and I first became friends and shortly thereafter created the Ninja Turtles. It's safe to say that over the last couple of decades, we had grown estranged, and had little to do with each other.

Over the past couple of years, however, we have reestablished a relationship though cordial emails, which seemed the best medium given that we live on opposite sides of the country, and I've never been one for talking much on the telephone. We've even recently collaborated artistically again, when I inked a few drawings of Kevin's.

But I was still concerned -- what would it be like to spend time with Kevin, not only in the same room, but at the same table, literally side-by-side, after all these years? Well, I have to be honest…

… I had a great time!

In many ways, it was as if the intervening years just hadn't happened. I once again experienced that warm spirit and infectious, wacky sense of humor that I remembered about Kevin from the early days of our friendship. It was truly a pleasure to see him again.

(Who are those boys? Pete and Kevin in Rochester.)

I wish we'd been able to spend some more time together, outside of the FCBD events, so that we could just talk about life and catch up on what we'd been doing for the last decade or two, but the demands of the weekend and our relative schedules pretty much didn't allow for that, except for one thing which I will get to in a bit. I did also get to briefly meet his wife Courtney and son Shane, which was nice.

Outside of being with Kevin, how were the signings themselves? Two words come to my mind -- exhilarating and exhausting. I think I spent about four or five hours each day along with Kevin signing, shaking hands, and chatting with fans, most of whom had come from neighboring states, but some of whom had traveled huge distances to come to the events. 

(Mirage dudes pose with fans at Shellback Artworks)

(Pete signing in Rochester)

We heard many wonderful personal stories about how the Turtles had touched lives and had great influence in positive ways. One gentleman even brought custom-embroidered honorary black belts for me and Kevin from his Taekwondo school, something he had eventually begun some years after being inspired to take up martial arts as a kid because he loved the Turtles.

We signed lots and lots of stuff, including comics, prints, toys, t-shirts and books, as well as some unusual things -- a samurai sword, two small light-tables, the headrest of a wheelchair, and an iPhone case, to name a few.

I think my favorite moment was when a family came to the table, with the kids dressed like the four Turtles, the mother like April O'Neil in her yellow jumpsuit, and the father like Vernon from the first TMNT animated series. Too cute!

It's a very good thing that the number of things we signed, per person, was kept to three items per person per trip through the lines, as we might still be there signing if it had been more. (And given how much extra time it took to sign everyone's stuff even with that limit, and how many people actually had to be turned away, I think it might have been a good idea to limit it to two items, or perhaps even one.) 

(Two views of the line outside Shellback Artworks... the line also 
wound around the inside of the store and up to the second floor!)

      As it was, we stayed longer than scheduled, and I will confess that during the last hour of each signing day, especially the second one, as fatigue and backache began to creep over me, I was in danger of completely losing my sense of humor. If not for the inspiration of Kevin, who was determined to sign stuff for everybody who'd waited patiently in line, I very well may have left at my scheduled time and headed for the tranquility and quiet of the Maine coast.

One other thing that helped keep my flagging energy levels from dropping too low was the fact that my brother Bruce, who'd traveled to Maine with me for the signings, and my lovely daughter Emily stayed through the whole of each appearance, offering support.

(Kevin, Emily and Pete)

Near the end of the second day, I was taking a brief break and chatting with Isaac, Randall and Mark, the gents doing the TMNT documentary, who had made the long trip down from Canada once again to see if they could capture some interesting footage from the FCBD events. I told them I'd had this idea -- something I had mused about for some months, perhaps years -- that it might be cool if at some point Kevin and I had the opportunity to return to the site of the house in Dover, where we'd created the Turtles back in 1983, and just reminisce about the experience and the years since. The documentary dudes thought that was a neat idea -- in fact, I think Randall said he'd had a similar one -- and we almost got it together to do the thing that afternoon, but the extra time we put into the signing at Shellback Artworks and the lengthening shadows of late afternoon put paid to that idea.

However, Isaac told me that they would be willing to extend their stay a bit longer and, if the weather cooperated, and Kevin and I could fit it into our schedules, they could be available to do it the next day. So we made a plan to meet in Dover the following morning at 9:30, unless it was raining.

Well, the weather gods were on our side, as Monday morning was crisp and sunny. Bruce and I drove to Dover, pulling in after the documentary crew had arrived. Kevin and Courtney showed up a few minutes later, followed by Emily, who had wanted to be there for the filming. Kevin and I got miked up, discussed what we might do, and then just started talking as we wandered around the small empty lot which once held the equally small house in which the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had come to life.

It was really nice to kind of free-associate with Kevin as we recalled various details about our time there, each of us remembering different things, which sparked other memories. Most of the details of our day-to-day lives from that time are long gone, but some were quite sharp and clear. Kevin recalled how my wife Jeannine (to whom I had gotten married in that tiny back yard in 1983) used to make great muffins (she still does), and I recalled Kevin's practice of rolling up socks and putting them on the arms of his stuffed chair under his lap board, to get just the right angle for drawing. And we both recalled the moment when, after a shared supper, while we were doing the dishes, Kevin stuck a cheese grater over his forearm. Waving it around, he opined that it would make for a cool villain, who could just grate you to death.

Thus was born Grateman… uh, the Shredder.

(from left to right: Randall, Kevin, Pete, Isaac, Mark.)

Soon we had to take off the mikes and say goodbye to our Canadian friends, wishing them good luck in getting the last pieces of the documentary together. I know I have said this before, but I really think their documentary is going to blow the minds of any real TMNT fans out there, given all of the time and talent and love they have lavished on it over the last five years or so, traveling all over to talk to people who had been involved with and/or been influenced by the TMNT. Keep an eye out for it!

     Bruce and I drove back to Maine to pack up our stuff and pick up my dog Parker, who'd come with us on this trip to the seacoast, then headed back to Massachusetts, stopping once more outside of Concord, NH for a giant dish of ice cream.

So ended my 2014 Free Comic Book Day weekend. -- PL

       (Photos by Bruce Laird. Thanks, dude! Thanks also to Ralph and his crew from Jetpack Comic, and Steve and Denise and their helpers at Shellback Artworks, and to all of the great fans who showed up for these events. And special thanks to the man himself, Kevin Eastman, without whom I would not be writing this today. -- PL)


  1. This is really great, Pete!

  2. It's really great to hear that you and Kevin had such a good time! I really enjoyed my weekend at Jetpack Comics and Shellback Artworks too! I appreciate that you were able to come out to see us fans. It was great to share in TMNT and all that it means to me with my son over the weekend. Though he's probably too young to appreciate meeting you, we both had a great time.

    I really appreciate that you printed issue #32 of volume 4 too! I hope we'll be able to see #31 printed someday soon too.

    The TMNT documentary sounds amazing. I imagine the final editing is going to be really tough since there's so much good video to choose from!

  3. Seeing you guys back together again really makes me smile. I hope you both keep in touch after the anniversary thing dies down. Miss ya both.

  4. That sounds like an awesome weekend Peter! It is great to see some pictures of you and Kevin Eastman. I love the first picture. It shows what I have always believed. Eastman & Laird will always be cool! Thanks for sharing your exhilarating and exhausting weekend with us and, the great pictures taken by you brother Bruce. That picture of the family dressed TMNT style is great. The little girl dressed as Mikey is adorable!

  5. Pete, I seriously can't thank you enough. Not only for you staying for everyone until the very last hing was signed (you really didn't have to do that). But for everything.

    In the last couple of years of meeting you, I have some amazing sketches (I keep everything I have ever received from you, Kevin, and the rest of the Mirage crew, you should really see my collection sometime), and some great stories too.

    I also must thank you for helping create one of the key things that made up my childhood. The turtles have been across every single medium that I can imagine.I have so many great memories of the TMNT toys, drawing the turtles (I'll have to show you them sometime too), playing the video games and pretending to be Leo when I would go outside and play.

    Now as an adult, I still love the turtles for many reasons. I love the art, the stories and characters (especially Zog, hahaha). But most importantly, that 2 people can create something that's so magical it captures a child's imagination and brings happiness to their life.

    You, Kevin, Jim, Steve, Eric, Dan, the rest of the Mirage crew, and your families are great people. I truly am thankful for all that you have done not only for me, but for the rest of the TMNT fans. We all sincerely appreciate it.

    1. Chris, thanks for all those kind words.

      And congratulations to you and Katie on your engagement! -- PL

    2. the young lady is Kelsey and the two guys are Mike & Adam (in green).

    3. Yup! And Mike and Adam have a company. Broken Lens Films. and I am a photographer

  6. Happy 30th Anniversary! I am a fan who is permanently grateful for you/Mr Eastman, and the Turtle Power-ed three decades that I shellebrate; I welcmoe the next three decades with a heartfelt 'COWABUNGA!'

  7. Awesome, and a great way to end every mission......with ice cream! I hope you enjoyed the drawings I sent up to everyone and I hope to catch you guys next year! As chet said "Cowabunga says it all!"

  8. I am SO pleased you enjoyed your time and time with Kevin!

  9. Quick question. Who are the people in the second pic? I can make out you, Kevin, Lawson, and Lavigne but who are the others?

    1. I don't know. They were three fans who asked us to pose with them, but I did not catch their names. -- PL

  10. I love the pictures of you and Kevin standing side by side. It is amazing to see the two of you having a good time together and thinking of all the good times you shared when you first met. It goes to show you that true friendships can brave even the darkest storms, and even after all these years you and Kevin are great pals.

    It makes me wish you guys always worked together throughout the 4kids and Volume 4 years, although I realize Kevin was busy with Heavy Metal magazine at the time. If anything though I hope this is a sign of great things to come!

  11. You know Pete, I still have a piece (about an 8 inch piece of siding) of the Dover house. I'd be happy to slice off and inch or two for you if you're feeling nostalgic.


  12. It's events such as these that make me wish I wasn't on the wrong side of the pond and could attend. Still, a mate was able to grab #32 and the print for me, so that will have to do. I've met everyone important from the Mirage era bar yourself Peter, so hopefully one day I'll make good on that as well.

  13. hi peter!
    thanks for sharing the story from your point of view with us!I have been eagerly awaiting your words on that mayhem(hi, by the way!;)) I live on the other side of the world but there was a special feeling in the air for me around these past days knowing that you and kevin and jim and steve would get together for a comic book signing again!...and thank you so much for printing vol 4 issue#32, I am overjoyed about this!
    lastly I wish that the two of you can get together privately perhaps in the near future to exchange these missing years worth of history from your families.

  14. This is great! I actually had the pleasure of meeting you all at FCBD in Rochester. I am the Creator and Mod of You requested I give you the link when we spoke at the convention. I wish I could have made it to Lavigne's store in ME on sunday too, but my 1 month old daughter takes priority.

    I was wondering if you would ever like to do a Q&A over on the TMNT sub-reddit some time?

    Thank you for everything you did this weekend and for creating something I have loved my entire life.


  15. I'm crying reading this :( so beautiful! :'(

  16. Hey Pete,
    Just read issue 32. I was unable to attend the Shellback Artworks event so, I had to grab a copy off eBay for 40 bucks. Awesome job! I enjoyed it. It really came out great. Over the past few years I have forgotten some of the details. It was very courteous of you to remind the reader of the major plot points in the introduction. Your writing is fantastic and, you really hooked me at the end. (I will not give any details that will spoil it.) I hope you don't leave us hanging for another five years but, I do know that if you do, I have the patience to wait. (wink) I enjoyed the writing and seeing Lawson's awesome stylized TMNT pencils again. Michael Dooney did a great job with the cover as usual. I just wanted to say thank you to all the Mirage folks for another great read. They say good things come to those who wait. I don't really believe that saying is always true but, in this case, I will agree with it. Again, I just want to say thanks for making this happen Peter. As I am sure you witnessed over the weekend, You are making a lot of fans of the TMNT very happy!

  17. That looks and sounds like it was an awesome weekend. Can't wait to see the documentary!

  18. Peter,
    Would you mind letting us know more information about this documentary as you receive it? It sounds really cool and I would like to know more about it. Do you know if Isaac, Randall and Mark have a website with more information?

    1. I found it with the help of good ol' Google.

      It looks awesome. Can't wait to see the finished documentary!

  19. Todays there is going to be small TMNT gathering to celebrate the anniversary here in México. It made my day to see you both together again in this pics, thanks a lot for keeping the turtles alive beyond the big networks by being in contact with your fans.

  20. That was great!! I am so glad Peter and Kevin were reaquainted and had fun together remembering their turtles and how they came to be.