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]

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Snippets #36: March 1, 1986

This one is from a March 1, 1986 letter to Mom and Pop typed on our Coleco ADAM computer:

"I'm really sorry to have been such a bum about writing letters… it's just that I have been so freaking' busy! I won't bore you with the details, as I'm sure you heard enough about it in my video letter. Suffice it to say that while we feel great about finally finishing TMNT #7 (three weeks late, but what the heck), we are still under the gun with our next book to finish by the end of May, along with all the artwork for the second turtle role-playing game. So for the next few months, we'll still be insanely busy. C'est la vie!

The weather here has been beautiful lately, except for one bizarre day last week. It just happened to be the very day that we had to drive out to Poughkeepsie to deliver the artwork for TMNT #7 to the printer. Well, that morning it was snowing! I mean, the day before had been sunny and warm, almost 70… and here it was, snow, blowing all over the place! On the way out to Poughkeepsie, it actually turned into a small blizzard, and the driving was pretty hellish, all the way out and all the way back. I thought that we might be in for a relapse of winter, but the very next day it was hot and sunny and all the snow had disappeared. Who can figure…?

Kevin and I are getting ready to leave for FLorida tomorrow, for a two-day convention in Fort Lauderdale. We'll be coming back next Tuesday, probably in a sunburned state. Should be fun!"

        [Fans knowledgeable of TMNT history may realize that the Fort Lauderdale convention mentioned in the last paragraph was the one out of which came the "Turtlemania" collectible -- a small fanzine-type publication featuring a variety of TMNT art. Its various iterations have gone on to demand high prices as collectibles over the years since… I'm not entirely sure why.
I recall that this show was small, held in a medium-sized function room at a hotel, and that Kevin and I came to refer to it as the "Relaxi-Con", due to the very low traffic and light crowds. I remember it was so dead at times that some of the dealers were playing cards with each other to alleviate the boredom. 

       I am intrigued by the mention of a "video letter" -- I seem to recall creating something like this with a rented video camera when we lived in Sharon. I wonder if I have a copy of it somewhere...? -- PL]

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Snippets #35: August 10, 1985 (first San Diego Comicon trip, part five)

San Diego Day 4

     This was our "day off", and we had a lot of fun. First we all went to eat breakfast at the Executive again, and who should be sitting there at another table but Roz and Jack Kirby. I considered going over to say hello again, but decided that I should let them eat their breakfast in peace.

     After breakfast, we took Alison's car to Balboa Park, which houses lots of attractions including the Museum of Natural History and the San Diego Zoo. The Museum was where Monica Sharp and Dave Garcia had told us there would be a dinosaur exhibit, so I was really psyched to see that first.

     The exhibit was on the second floor of the museum, and it was great! I was in seventh heaven. That had these near life-size replicas of five dinosaurs -- Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Brontosaurus, and Trachodon -- and one prehistoric mammal, the wooly mammoth. The modeling of these beasts was superb -- they were done in painted latex rubber -- but what was neat was that they were all constructed with computer-controlled motor-driven armatures which made them move around and make animal noises! It was quite something -- the best one, oddly enough, was the Brontosaurus, which didn't make very dramatic moves or noises like the Tyrannosaurus Rex… but it had a way of snaking its long neck (surmounted by its tiny head) over towards you, and kind of looking you in the eye and cocking its head just so and opening its mouth and roaring… Well, you had to be there, I guess. 

     Of course, you can't have a museum like that without a gift shop, and they had two -- the regular one and one set up specially for the dinosaur exhibit. I went crazy in that one -- Kevin said later that he came in and found me wandering about with glassy eyes, stuffing dinosauria into a little shopping basket. I think I spent a total of about $150 on dinosaur stuff there, including t-shirts with dinosaurs on them, dinosaur tie-clips, pins, etc.. That whole museum excursion made my day.

     After that, we strolled over to the San Diego Zoo, and took the cable car ride over the length of the zoo (much too short a ride, though the zoo is pretty wide), then got off it and walked around. All the animal exhibits there are open to the sky, and there were some neat animals -- though how that shaggy musk ox took the heat, I don't know. A lot of the nocturnal animals were hiding in their enclosures (which usually had plenty of bushes and logs and stuff in them), which made them rather hard to see.

     We were determined to get to the beach and actually immerse ourselves in the Pacific Ocean. This took longer than it should have, due to our lack of familiarity with the local geography, but we finally made it to a beach called, cleverly, Ocean Beach. The waves were pretty big, and it was quite a kick to frolic in them. The water wasn't exactly warm, but it was hardly as cold as the water back in the New Hampshire ocean.

     After enjoying the beach and getting sand in everything we had carried with us, we took a cab back to our hotel (Alison had left earlier to head back to L.A.), then went out to dinner again at a Jolly Roger restaurant in the Seaport VIllage, and again stuffed ourselves. We did a little more shopping there, then wandered back to our hotel, happy as little clams. It had been a great day, and a wonderful way to end the weekend.

     The return trip was uneventful (and on an airplane, an uneventful ride is what you look for), and we got back into Bradley Airport in Hartford around 6:00 PM Connecticut time (we lost the three hours we had gained). The car started after five days in the parking lot (hurrah!) and it was smooth sailing all the way back to good ol' Sharon, CT.

I'm really glad that we went out to the San Diego Con, and would like to do the same thing next year, but a little differently. I think that next time, Kevin and I will go out by ourselves for the first three days of the convention, and"

(missing last page of letter)

     [I do recall quite clearly my delight in seeing that dinosaur exhibit in the Museum of Natural History at Balboa Park. It was the first time I'd ever encountered those animatronic dinosaurs, which now seem to be a staple of kid-friendly dinosaur shows. But back then, it was a thrill to see these things. It really spoke to the little kid in me. 

       The brief mention that "the car started after five days in the parking lot" might seem odd to anyone who drives a modern, reliable car... but back then, finances dictated that we drive some pretty awful old vehicles, and it was always a question if they would work properly... or at least well enough so that we were not stranded somewhere. 

       I think it was roughly a year after this trip that Jeannine and I bought our first new car -- a base model Honda Civic -- from a dealership in Torrington, and it was wonderful. -- PL]

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Snippets #35: August 10, 1985 (first San Diego Comicon trip, part four)

Note: This is the fourth part of the "group letter" which I wrote and mailed to family members and a few friends to let them know about my first trip to the San Diego Comic Con.

       The photo above -- sorry for the low quality of the image, but it was taken with a cheap film camera -- shows Jack Kirby and his wife Roz surrounded by fans. I'm pretty sure this was taken at the 1985 San Diego Comicon.]

Comicon Day 3

The third day of the con, we agreed, would be our last, as we wanted to take Sunday off and look at some of the sights of San Diego.We tried to finish up all the sketches that we had on our list, but it was to no avail. In addition to the fact  that there were just too many on the list, we were also starting to suffer a little bit of artist burnout from trying to draw so much so fast.

We did take a little more time to look around at things, but still could not really examine all the stuff there. Kev and I picked up a few more neat things, including some more original art and books. But what really made my day was that I got to meet Jack Kirby!!! My main man, Jack "The King" Kirby! I actually shook his hand and talked to him for a few minutes, just like any wide-eyed fan. It was a thrill to hear him say that he liked our books (we had sent him copies of them), and I wish I could have had more time to talk with him, but he was surrounded by lots of people. (Jack Kirby, by the way, was probably my biggest single influence when I got seriously interested in drawing comics. He's done almost every comic character that exists, and he created the Fantastic Four, Captain America, the Hulk, Spiderman, the New Gods, Thor, Mr. Miracle, The Demon, etc. etc.. He is the King.)

We stayed at the con 'til 7:00 PM, and by that time we were really beat, mostly from trying to finish as many drawings as we could. I'm afraid we disappointed several people who ordered sketches -- we had about fourteen on our list that we just couldn't get to. At least we told them up-front that there was no guarantee that we could finish their sketches.

Kev and I said our goodbyes to the various people that we had met at the convention, and trudged back to the hotel. DIane and her friend from Los Angeles, an ex-UMie named Alison, were waiting there, ready to go out and see some sights. I begged off, preferring to mellow out that night, and I think Kev would have liked to, but he was kind of stuck. I ended up taking a leisurely stroll through the Seaport VIllage, going in lots of the different shops there and eating tacos at an outdoor restaurant. It was a relaxing way to end a frenetic day.

       [It's quite evident that the highlight of my third day at the 1985 Comicon (maybe the highlight of the whole trip) was meeting -- albeit only briefly -- Jack Kirby. That was the icing on the cake.
        Rereading this now, I see that to be more accurate, I should have said Jack was "creator or co-creator"  of all of the mentioned comic book characters. -- PL]

Monday, January 12, 2015

Snippets #34: August 10, 1985 (first San Diego Comicon trip, part three)

[Note: This is the third part of the "group letter" which I wrote and mailed to family members and a few friends to let them know about my first trip to the San Diego Comic Con.

The photo above shows Kevin Eastman posing across the street from the old convention center where the San Diego Comicon used to be held. -- PL]

"Comicon Day 2

The second morning of the convention, we decided to bypass the yucky Hotel San Diego breakfast fare and go instead to the Executive Hotel up the street, which Norman had suggested as a better place to eat. It was… the breakfast was great (albeit more expensive) and we had a nice view of the city and the bay, as the restaurant was on the 9th floor of the hotel.

Thus fortified, we made out way over to the convention hall at about 9:00, only to find that no one was being allowed in until 9:30, and the public at 10:00. I guess they were afraid if they let some dealers in earlier than others there might be some pilfering. (We didn't worry about that because we took everything with us when we left the con.) Finally, we were let in, and proceeded to set up and get down to work on the list of sketches that we had accumulated the previous day. It was getting pretty long… I think we had about sixteen people on the list at that point.

The day went pretty much as the first day. We were kept very busy selling books, signing books, talking to fans and friends, and drawing. We also actually got a chance to look around at some of the multitudinous tables full of wonderful merchandise, though there was no way we could look at it all. I picked up a couple of really neat robot models, and a few comics. I also found a table where they were selling original art by Russ Manning from a book called Magnus, Robot Fighter which appeared in the sixties, and which was one of my favorite books and a great influence on my drawing. I bought two of these pages at $65 each, though I would have liked to have bought more.

The was so much neat original art there that it's a wonder that I came home with any money at all!

We left the convention that day a little earlier than the first day, because we had made reservations to take a harbor dinner cruise. So we zipped back to the hotel, got freshened up, and walked down to the dock where the boat, a cute paddlewheel job, was moored. We had a fun time on the boat -- the dinner was mediocre, but it was neat to see the sights around the harbor, and to go up on the open top deck and catch the ocean breezes. The cruise lasted about three hours, so it was getting dark by the time we returned. One really cool thing that happened was that just after sunset, we were on the top deck when we saw a bright orange and white vapor trail appear over the western horizon and rise in the sky. When it was about 45 degrees above the horizon, it suddenly stopped and then just as suddenly fanned out in a huge bright white plume of vapor or smoke, which lasted for about another two minutes, then stopped. It was really quite dramatic, and everyone was trying to guess what it was. I thought is was a missile or rocket of some sort, and found out the next day that I was right -- it was a rocket carrying upper atmosphere sensors that had been fired from Vandenburg Air Force Base."

        [I wish I had bought a few more of those Russ Manning pages! Prices sure were different thirty years ago. -- PL]

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Snippets #33: August 10, 1985 (first San Diego Comicon trip, part two)

       [Note: This is the second part of the "group letter" which I wrote and mailed to family members and a few friends to let them know about my first trip to the San Diego Comic Con.

     The photo above is of Kevin and me at our little table in "Artists' Alley", showing Kevin hard at work on a TMNT sketch, and me taking a little break to at least look up from doing a drawing in someone's convention sketchbook.]


       The first morning of the convention, Kev and I got up fairly early (7:00 AM) and had a lousy breakfast in the hotel restaurant (our first and last there). Then, shouldering our suitcases and portfolio packed with Turtlebilia, we mosied over to the convention hall, where all the dealers were busy getting set up. Just outside the hall we ran into Norman Witty (remember Omega books?), who helped us find our table, which just happened to be across from his in the dealers' room. The dealers' room was huge, and just crammed with tables filled with all the kinds of things we would have liked to have spent all three days just looking through. But such was not to be. Shortly after we had our table set up, they opened the doors to the public, and from then on we were busybusybusy!

       We did a brisk business in books (we had brought with us 50 copies of each book), but were kept even busier doing sketches. We were charging $8 for a pencil sketch, $8 more to ink that in, and an additional $9 to color it. And we had more business that we could handle. I think at our next convention we will have to raise our prices even more… even though we'd like to keep the prices low so even the little kids can afford one.

       That first day we got to meet a bunch of people who we had known only through their work and/or correspondence with us, including Brad Foster (who inked the first pin-up page in issue #2), Clay Geerdes (publisher of lots of "newwave" mini-comics… Kevin's first published comics work was done for him), Par Holman and David Miller (also newwave artists), Larry Marder (does a comic called "Tales of the Beanworld"), Walt Simonson (does a lot of stuff for Marvel Comics, including Thor), Dave Garcia and his wife Monica Sharp, who draw and write, respectively, a comic story called Panda Khan which is finally seeing print as a back-up story in a book called "A Distant Soil" (Dave and Monica also clued us in to the ongoing dinosaur exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Natural History… more on that later), and last but not least, Frank Miller, who came to our table to tell us how much he liked our book. (Frank Miller was one of the guys that the first book was dedicated to, and it was his style that we emulated in that first issue… the cover was in fact a parody of Miller's cover to his first Ronin book.)

       We stayed at the convention 'til about 6:00P.M., then packed up and went back to the hotel. Kev and I were beat but happy (meeting Frank Miller made our day), but had enough energy to take a fifteen minute stroll down the street to a neat little place called Harbor Village, which was a collection of little shops and restaurants located right on the edge of the harbor. We ate dinner at the Harbor House, with a view of the ocean as we pigged out on seafood and other great stuff. I could barely walk when we left to go back to the hotel, I was so stuffed.

        [I've forgotten a lot about our first San Diego Comicon trip, but one thing I do remember is how busy we were doing sketches. It was crazy! We would go on, as the years passed, to become more realistic and organized about doing sketches at shows, and not put ourselves in that awkward position of taking on too many sketch commissions, with full and honest intentions of drawing all of them... and then running out of time because it was impossible to predict how busy we would be doing other things, like talking with fans and selling our other merchandise. I always hated disappointing people who had asked for sketches, and I know Kevin felt the same way. 

       Eventually, as the TMNT thing became huge, I realized that there was never going to be a way for me to do full sketches for all of the folks who wanted them, and on top of that, there was no way I was going to be able to adequately enjoy the convention experience if I was constantly busy doing those sketches (I'm definitely NOT the fastest convention sketcher out there). 

       So I created a compromise which has worked pretty well -- I developed my signature TMNT "head sketch". This is exactly what it sounds like -- a quick sketch of a Turtle's head, either smiling or snarling, typically, and sometimes (especially if it is not a really quick free sketch done in someone's comic or sketchbook) with a little bit of the shell showing.

       When I first started doing this, I offered them for free, as a way of letting everyone who wanted a TMNT sketch to get a small piece of art.

       That quickly proved to be unworkable, because -- as I think most people who have appeared at conventions as guests or vendors (or both) know -- whenever you start offering stuff for free, the lines get long really fast. So I had to start charging for sketches, even those little ones. I think I began at one dollar per head sketch, and went from there. -- PL]

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Snippets #32: August 10, 1985 (first San Diego Comicon trip, part one)

       This is from an August 10, 1985 letter to various.

Note: This letter is a kind of "group letter" which I wrote and mailed to family members and a few friends to let them know about my first trip to the San Diego Comic Con. I obviously didn't take my ADAM computer with me, nor a typewriter, and laptops were far off in the future… so how did I include all the daily details? It's possible my memory was much sharper back then, but I suspect I actually made some handwritten notes while out there, so I could later put together a letter like this.

This was not my first airplane experience -- I think that must have been either the Detroit convention or the Atlanta convention -- but it was definitely my first trip to the other side of the USA.

I find it interesting that I made no mention of Stan Sakai -- I thought for sure he and I met out there on this trip. Maybe it was the next one, in 1986? Hard to say, and I have not run across a letter about that trip yet, if such a thing exists. 

Also, I should note that in my excited description of Jack Kirby later in the letter, I think I should have said "co-creator" for some of those characters referred to there. 

        Unfortunately, the only copy of this letter which I have so far been able to find is missing the last page. But I don't think there was likely much on that last page, as the last paragraph of the penultimate page finds us back in Sharon, CT, after the Con. 

        Because this letter is somewhat lengthy, and also because it is conveniently broken up into each day's experiences, I think I will post one day per day, beginning with the trip out, as follows. -- PL]

        "Yow! Here I am, back on the east coast after five fun-filled and exciting days in San Diego. What a trip!

        Everything went well, for which I am grateful. We left Sharon two Wednesdays ago (July 31) at 9:00AM, because we didn't want to miss our 12:05 flight from Hartford. We got there on time, and checked in without any problems, then boarded the plane and headed off to Pittsburgh, PA, where we changed planes. Then from there is was on to San Diego, with one stop in Phoenix, AZ. It was neat flying over the desert -- it looks like such an alien landscape, so unlike New England. There was so much flat, open space with very little vegetation, and where there were hills they just kind of rose abruptly out of the earth, with no thick growth of trees to soften their contours. Pretty wild-looking! But basically the flight was pretty boring… took about six hours to get to San Diego form Hartford.

        Actually, it was pretty neat landing in San Diego, because the airport is almost in the downtown! Really, I' say the landing and take-off strips are no more than a mile or two from the center of town. So we got a pretty good aerial view of the city on our way down. We got our luggage (crammed with all kinds of valuable stuff!) with no problem, and grabbed a cab to our hotel, which was just a short distance from the airport. It was strange to think that we had just gained three hours by flying to California… it was about 5:30 when we arrived at our hotel, the Hotel San Diego. Not a bad place -- a nice hotel that had obviously seen better days, and was a little run down, but well-staffed.

        Kevin and I took advantage of the fact that it was still so early to walk around a bit. The hotel was right in the downtown, and was (thankfully) a pretty short walk to the convention center where the comic con was being held (about three blocks). We cruised around a bit, taking in the sights and marveling at the lack of traffic on the streets and sidewalks. It all seemed very mellow, even on the strip in front of our hotel. Curiously enough, the Hotel San Diego was directly across the street from the last strip of "adult" entertainment facilities in downtown San Diego -- a few adult book stores, some strip joints, and several tattoo parlors. It became clear later that this was a pretty small strip considering that there were tons of sailors from the nearby naval bases roaming around the town. It was all strangely mellow, though -- nobody hassled you. The same area in New York would have you fearing for your life. What was really odd was that on our side of the street, there were all these nice hotels and further down all these beautiful condos and even further a complex of little Yuppy shops called Seaport Village.

        Kevin went back to the airport to meet his girlfriend Diane, whose flight was scheduled to get in at 8:00. While he did that, I wandered around the hotel and strolled down the sidewalk a ways. I was standing out on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, eating a Chipwich, when Kev and Diane pulled up in a taxi. We were all too tired to go out to dinner that night, so we had a drink at the hotel bar and shuffled off to bed."

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Snippets #31: August ?, 1985

       This one is from an August ?, 1985 letter to my brother Don (not dated; date approximated from context and content of letter):

"Since you last visited (which was the last time I communicated with you), we've done two store signings and gone to Detroit for a two day convention.

Not only that, but we've done two more books -- TMNT #4 and Fugitoid) the latter to see print in the first week of September). Have you got a copy of TMNT #4? I can't remember if I sent you one or not… so I'll include one with this letter. 


I do feel that I should at least get this short missive out to you so that you will know that I am thinking of you… and I really won't have an opportunity to write you again until next Tuesday (August 6?) which is when we will be getting back from the San Diego Comic Convention. We're leaving this Wednesday, taking a noon flight out. The con starts on Thursday and goes through Sunday. We'll be leaving on Monday morning to come back to Sharon. But you might ask why I can't write a letter between now and Wednesday… the answer to that is that we are currently working feverishly to finish the artwork for the TMNT role-playing game, which is due to hit the shelves in October. Our deadline to finish everything for that project is August 19, and it will be tight! Then, right after we finish that, we have to jump right into doing TMNT #5, which is supposed to hit the stands in the first week of November. Wish us luck!"

Monday, January 5, 2015

Snippets #30: May 29, 1985

This is from a May 29, 1985 letter to my friend Stan Wiater:

"Dear Stanley,

Before any more time slips by, I want to thank you for the wonderful interview/article; Kevin and I think it's the best one yet. Very clear and concise and, best of all, sympathetic to the subject matter and the interviewees. We particularly appreciate the fact that you made us sound halfway intelligent, unlike what some other writers have done. So… THANKS!!! Thanks also for sending along the copies; we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of at lest one copy after we heard it was out. We finally did get several copies not only from you but from other friends in Amherst, and from my sister in Hartford. And get this, Stan -- your writing was so effective and engaging that it made a fan from Hartford call us up and drive out from Hartford the same day because he had read the article and just "had to have" those little metal figures of the turtles for a fantasy gaming convention that weekend. It takes all kinds, don't it…?

Kevin and I just made our biggest office equipment investment, plunking down five grand for a Canon copier. That's a hefty amount of the old green stuff for a fledgling operation such as ours, but we think it will prove to be a worthwhile choice. I think I have already bent our ear with sad tales of the difficulty in finding a copier locally -- driving 50 miles (round trip) to make good copies, etc.. So this will virtually eliminate that kind of wasted time and effort. This particular copier is set up to do almost everything we need -- it copies on 8 1/2 by 11, 8 1/2 by 14, and 11 by 17 size papers, and does reductions and enlargements from 65% to 121% -- in 1% increments. Fantastic! It will be hard to avoid just playing with it… but I'll try.

Right now, we are in the middle of getting the artwork for book #4 done for a June 15 deadline; it's going to be tight, but I think we'll make it. Our new printer finished shipping off 52,000 copies of the Raphael special issue last week, so that should be hitting the stands across the country pretty shortly. I can't tell you what a joy it is to think that all those copies went out without our lifting a finger to help pack them. After doing all that work for the first three issues (six printings in all) we deserve a break!

Well, we're definitely heading out to the big San Diego Comicon in August. Kevin spoke by phone with the organizer of the event, and we will be getting a free table or part of a table in the artists' room. We'll be paying our own airfare and everything, but I think it'll be worth it. This is the big convention of the year, and we'll probably be lost among the crowd of big names.

By the way, I am enclosing a signed first edition of TMNT #2 and a signed first edition of Raphael for your collection. I mean to do this for as long as we publish the book, so if I forget, let me know! Things have been known to slip my mind.

That be all for now… oh, wait -- I just remembered something else. Kev and I are scheduled for another signing in MA, this time at That's Entertainment in Worcester. It will be July 14, so if you're interested…"

     [Getting that copier made our lives SO much easier -- it was well worth the money we laid out for it. And it was the biggest expense we'd ever incurred as far as office equipment. I recall that it felt great that with the money we were making on the TMNT comics, we could not only afford to buy one of these things, but we could buy it outright.

       As referred to in the letter, one of the big reasons we loved having the new copier is that prior to purchasing it, to make good (i.e. print-quality) black and white copies of our TMNT comic book artwork (which we always did right after inking, before applying the grey tones, so that if we ever did color versions in the future -- which, in fact, we DID do -- we'd have clean, open black and white line work copies onto which to apply color), we would have to make a roughly thirty-five mile round trip to Torrington, CT to make said copies, there being no such facilities in or near Sharon to do so. And with the crappy cars we had at the time, that was not often a relaxing experience. Having our own copier, and one which could do ALL of the things we needed in that regard, was bliss.

     I know I've mentioned it before, but I was so happy that we were able to hook up with John DeSanto and the crew at Southern Duchess News in Poughkeepsie, NY, who became our third printer and the first one to do our shipping for us. What a treat that was! -- PL]