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Having a Cowabunga Time with Tales of the TMNT's Tristan Jones!

Written by Greg Anderson-Elysee on Friday, July 18 2008 and posted in Columns
Recently I've been on a Ninja Turtles high! I've seen the recent movie so many damn times and been trying to collect as much of their books I see in shops. And today I chat with an actually writer of the Turtles! Mr. Tristan Jones visits to give a lil' chat about the Turtles and his upcoming issue #50, a milestone for the series! After the recent movie, Jones' first issue (#36) definitely forced me to become a fan of the Turtles full time! So it's my great pleasure to present to you....

*All Tales of the TMNT preview pages are copyright of Mirage Studios Publishing 2008!

Greg: Mr. Tristan Jones! I'm so excited to have you here at Face To Greg! How are you today?

Jonesy: I'm good, the weather here's a bit on the dull side but the day has been good so far!

Greg: For those not in the know, who the living heck are ya?

Jonesy: Well, my name is Tristan Jones (I'm not a sailor and have never written any books about nautical voyages), I'm a writer from Melbourne, Australia, currently writing for Mirage Studios' "Tales of the TMNT" and Cereal:Geek magazine over in the UK. I'm doing some art for Cereal:Geek as well, which has been fun -- I haven't done any art in a long time, so getting back in the habit has been good!

Greg: Ah, nice. I've really liked the art I've been seeing on your blog. Awesome stuff.

Jonesy: Most of that stuff is just concept art, me scribbling ideas down before I lose them. I'd always loved seeing bits and pieces of the different creative processes of the writers and artists I like reading, and I figured someone out there (or hoped might be a better way of putting it) might get a kick out of it. There are some other things up there -- better pieces -- that I just want to share. Isn't that what blogs are for?

Greg: Heh, you’ve got a point. As you've said, you're a writer of “Tales of the TMNT.” Issue #50 is coming up shortly and you're writing it! Issue 50, is that like a milestone issue? How excited are you?

Jonesy: Yeah! The big five-oh! I guess it's always good to see any independent comic hit the fiftieth issue, so yeah, I'd say it is a bit of a milestone. It's a milestone for me, I'd thought #36 would be it (I'd hoped otherwise of course)! So yeah, I'm really excited! Ryan Brown and I co-plotted it, which was a hell of a lot of fun, and Paul Harmon is back on board as the artist, so I really couldn't ask for anything more! There's also a heavy dose of home injected into this story, so that's very cool for me as well.

Cover for #36Greg: Happy to see that Paul is joining you again for #50. From what I understand, #36 was Paul's first Turtle issue and it's actually your very own first published work! How'd you strike this awesome opportunity?

Jonesy: Yeah, Paul had worked on a few things beforehand - Rick Remender's "Sea of Red" and his own book "Mora". In terms of comic publishing, yeah this was the first thing that went into production. While Paul was doing the art for #36, I'd been given the chance to work on the Turtle comics being put out by Titan Publishing in the UK, which were based on the Fast Forward animated series. A lot of fun to do, but they were only seeing distribution in the UK. I'd heard word there was a chance they'd get picked up in Australia, but I'm not sure what's happening there.

The opportunity came about just through conversation really. A while ago I was reviewing films and comics for www.digital-retribution.com, and we were looking for something different to review for the comics. Anyway, I picked up Steve Murphy's "Umbra" which was, and still is, one of the best comic book stories I've ever read. At the time, Steve was Mirage's Managing Editor for Tales. I reviewed that for the site and out of courtesy emailed both Steve and Mike Hawthorn (who was on art). We shot a few emails back and forth about the book, and about comics in general, and Steve suggested I try putting together a comic script and he'd give me a critique on format and the like. I put together the first draft of #36 and expected it to come back with all these notes ("This is wrong" "this is how you should write these bits" etc.) telling me what I was doing wrong. He really liked what he saw and asked if he could buy it. I was over the moon.

Greg: I can imagine the excitement. Were you always a Turtles fan since childhood like a lot of folks are?

Jonesy: I was but it was like a weird, reverse process. Most TMNT comic fans my age came in through the 80's cartoon show. Being an Australian, we tend to get these shows anywhere between a few months to a couple of years after they kick off in the United States. This was the case with Turtles. We got the action figures before the show, and as a kid I was a big dinosaur nut. Like a MASSIVE dinonerd. You could point at any dinosaur in any book and I could tell you what it was. Anyway, because I liked dinosaurs, I was a big reptile fan too - like the first place we'd hit everytime we went to the zoo was the reptile house - so as soon as I saw turtles with swords and stuff I was like "Gimme!". My memory on the exact moment is kinda sketchy, but I remember my dad found one of the early TPB's that had the entire Fugitoid/Triceraton story in a bookshop, and I remember being blown away by the fact that A) here were the Ninja Turtles in this really kinda "scary" comic (it wasn't really, but the black and white printing and the style of the drawings was like the opposite of the figures) and B) they were fighting these awesome looking dinosaur men!

From there on out I was hooked on the Mirage stuff. I didn't quite understand most of it at the time because I was young, but I loved the art, and when the cartoon came along soon after it was just a total opposite of what I'd been used to. Ultimately, I dug both, but it was Mirage first.

Greg: Haha! That is too adorable, man. And flash forward to now, you're a TMNT writer!

City at WarNow in your first issue, you wrote about the aftermath of the "City at War" arc, which was from years ago. So, for those just joining the reading and mythology of TMNT, what can you tell us about "City At War" and why focus on the aftermath finally?

Jonesy: The City at War story arc was this incredible thing where, basically New York is being torn apart by warring factions of the Foot Clan. This picks up a fair while after the death of The Shredder, so we find out that the Foot Clan has fallen into complete disarray. Without a leader, they've all splintered off into various territories and are fighting amongst themselves for dominance. The Shredder, when he was alive, had a select group of elite ninja who we really only saw briefly in the comics until this point. These guys are like the best of the best, they were Oroku Saki's personal guard, and they start going after these groups that have splintered off. Anyway, the violence starts getting totally out of hand, and it forces the head of the Foot Clan in Japan, Karai, to come to New York personally to try and put a stop to things and rebuild the clan. Of course, the Turtles are kind of forced into action by Karai, and up until this point they'd been going back and forth with each other as to whether or not they should be involving themselves in this war. The action is pretty palpable towards the end!

We also have these great side stories; Casey and April have parted ways, April goes to LA (but comes back), Casey falls for and marries a girl named Gabe (who's pregnant from a previous relationship) and Splinter has probably one of my favourite arcs of all the Turtles comics, which involves the Rat King.

That out of the way - why focus on the aftermath?

When I was going back over the Turtles comics a few years back, there was this kind of gap. You had City at War, which closed the first volume of the series, and then you had the coloured Volume 2, which picked up some time after Volume 1, but never really dealt with what happened at the end of it, and then you had this huge gap between Volume 2 and the current TMNT comics. The current Tales stories kind of filled us in on what happened between Volume 2 and the TMNT ongoing, but there was never really anything that dealt with what would have been an incredible event, not just for the Turtles and the Foot Clan, but for New York in general. I mean, it's not every day guys sit on rooftops and rain rockets down on the streets as SWAT teams are called in to battle warring ninjas and bloodthirsty robots, you know what I mean? This was some pretty extreme shit, even for the Turtles.

So I'm sitting there thinking all these things like "surely this would've raised alarms for the NYPD", "why aren't they following up on any of this?", "why hadn't they done anything before?" and those questions served as the basis for Tales #36. It's a cop's eye view of New York in the TMNT universe. It was my way of answering some of those questions. We find out that the Foot had managed to infiltrate the NYPD, which allowed them to do their things without having to worry about the police, and we also get an idea of what the landscape is like post City at War.

Ultimately, it's just such fertile ground for some really awesome, really kinda different (but at the same time, still in line with Peter and Kevin's original run) stories.

Greg: ‘K, you've mentioned, the Foot was able to infiltrate the NYPD and issue 36 was told from a cop's POV, Lieutenant Gordon Miller. After spending a wild night fighting Foot Ninja and meeting talking Turtles, he befriends Leonardo and they shake hands, signifying a partnership with the NYPD. Can you elaborate a little on Miller and the relationship he'll be sharing with the Turtles? Is he going to be able to cope with this weird world of ninja, giant talking animals, etc?

Tales of the TMNT #50 preview page

At the moment it's more of a back-watching situation. As a cop, he's got to watch his back constantly. Now that he knows the Foot have managed to get inside the police, he doesn't know who he can trust. It's possible that it could've just been a once off, and now that they've been discovered they'll back away, but it's also possible that the infiltration could be running much, much deeper, so he's got to be extremely careful about what he does from here on out. See, the good thing about the Turtles having an ally in the NYPD is that anytime a police report comes in with witnesses, or thugs saying that there are giant turtles running around, he can make it conveniently disappear, write it off as something else. He's kind of helping the Turtles bring down the Foot Clan without them having to worry about people finding out about them (or trying to at least). Until something drastic happens, it's a very secretive arrangement. They'll trade information that might help the other out with whatever they might be working on at a particular time, maybe provide them with some cool gear, that sort of stuff. He knows they're on the same side, and knows that they can probably do more than he can, so he's helping them out. All these sorts of things are going to come up in the comics. You probably won't see him in person for a while, but there'll be some very clear references and there'll be moments where the reader will be able to go "Ah, okay, that's because of those cops".

I think Miller's going to cope just fine. I mean, he was pretty much thrown straight into the fire. He's been a cop for a long time and seen a lot of shit, the dude even took an acid bomb to the chest, so I'm sure he'll cope just fine! Whether or not he makes it to the end is another story though...

Greg: Damn, now you got me scared for Miller. As you've noticed for a little while now, I've been frequenting your blog and been seeing some kick-ass sketches of characters coming later on in your Turtles story. Can you tell us a bit of what you have planned and how they all squeeze into your story?

Jonesy: Basically I'm picking up on that idea that the post-City at War landscape is very different to what the Turtles are used to. There's this big power vacuum in the underworld now that the Foot Clan are out of the picture (or are they?) and the gangs and the syndicates and all these other criminal elements are all making grabs for territory and trying to assert (or even reassert) themselves in the criminal food chain. We'll be seeing some new faces, a couple of familiar ones too (especially if you're a fan of the Turtles across the other mediums as well).

I've always thought that the Turtles needed some really cool new villains. Outside of Baxter Stockman and the Shredder, the Turtles haven't really had a strong rogues gallery. The Rat King is another cool one, but he's kind of ambiguous and, like both the Shredder and Baxter, kind of dead. So basically that's what those guys are and how they fit in. They're my attempt at bringing some new villains into the arena, and hopefully, if people dig them enough and I get the opportunity to keep telling my stories, they'll be able to stick around for a little while. You probably won't see all of them at once, but they'll gradually make their presence known and when you go back through my other stories (and some other older stories) you'll be able to start connecting the dots (but that said, you won't HAVE to have #X to be able to enjoy them). One I'm really excited about is a big new character coming into play that will have a HUGE impact on a particular character and we'll learn a couple of very interesting things about their past as well through this character's return.
The Baron
Greg: Well, one particular new character I'm excited about is Baron. Can't wait to see him kicking some butt. Maybe cast a spell making them into Turtle soup? Heh.

Jonesy: He's one of those characters that will be more of a presence for the time being. His followers are the first kind of hint of him. He's mentioned explicitly and sent a warning by a character I'm loving at the moment, but he probably won't be seen for a little while yet. Again, it's one of those things, we'll just have to see how people warm to these next stories first!

Greg: So exactly how long is your run? Seems like you have a lot of stories planned for us.

Jonesy: At the moment, I'm looking at three stories next year, all of which are connected in one way or another. I've been loving what Paul Dini is doing with Detective Comics at the moment, and I've kind of been using that as a model. You can pick up these stories on their own, but if you have all of them then you're going to get more out of them. The number of issues could change, there could be one or two more, but at the moment it's definitely three. The thing is though, in planning these stories, you've got to look at why certain things are happening inside, what sort of things they affect and what affects them. So again, while just about all of the aforementioned elements come into play at one point or another, the extent to which they're used varies depending on what's happening in each particular story. It's a way of kind of solidifying and expanding things in the Turtle universe without having to devote entire stories to them (...yet).

[Note from Greg: It's been officially announced that our dear ol' Jonesy will be scripting 4 issues]

Greg: Will we be getting some character developments with the individual Turtles themselves, for example some tension between the team, or some Turtles having a bit more of a rivalry between some of the newer villains?

Jonesy: I don't think Mike has ever really been given a proper spotlight in the comics. See, Volume 4 is great because each Turtle is getting fleshed out really well, but with Tales, unless you decide to completely devote an issue to a particular Turtle, then it's kind of hard to really develop them beyond what they already are. There are some things that I'm playing with though. Splinter spends more of his time in Northampton now (as we see in City at War, Volume 2 and Volume 4), and this affects Leo a bit more than the others. In my mind, Leo feels like the Shredder has become something of a curse. Since the loyalists reappeared in #36, he's been a bit on edge. And the point that's brought up in the City at War story -- that the war with the Foot Clan was essentially Splinter's fault, as was everything that followed -- is something that gets brought up. Donatello's a better warrior now, having spent the time between Volume 1 and 2 training with Splinter in isolation (which is something we see in the last issue of the first volume and the first issue of the second volume).

Preview PageThe big two for me are Raph and Mike. They're both really dynamic characters, but Mike is just such a naturally flowing character to write that I can't leave him alone and I just love writing Raph. They both leave the door wide open for some really great moments of dialogue, and I'm one of those people that is really kind of fussy about character dialogue and characters sounding the way they should.

I think the biggest piece of character development belongs to Casey Jones right now though. Something happens to him because of a certain someone else that really messes him up.

Greg: Whoa. Sounds intense! So, of the Turtles, who is your favorite anyway?

Jonesy: I always used to be all about Donatello, but Michelangelo has probably taken the front seat these days. He is to them what Spiderman is to the New Avengers, and I'm a massive Spiderman fan! Donatello still rocks in all the games though!

Greg: Heh. I’m a Leo fan, myself.

Let's talk about your partner in crime, Paul Harmon. His stuff is very fluid, but dark and gritty. What's the working relationship with him like?

Jonesy: Paul's incredible. He's got this visual style that's all his own, but what's really cool about the way he does the Turtles and the world they live in is that it really fits in nicely with the classic stuff. It's different, but still feels totally at home. It was kind of funny actually, when I was told he'd be doing the art for #36, I was reading Sea of Red at the time, so I geeked out a bit at the time. What was really awesome though was seeing all the art coming together. Each morning I'd be getting up and I'd have new pages in my email, and every single piece was mind-blowingly cool. Everything he was doing was exactly the way I'd pictured it, like he was some kind of wireless printer connected to my brain. The other thing that was really cool too was the fact that whatever he did change was always totally for the better. Paul works as a storyboard artist and he's done his own comics as well, so he knows how to progress a story visually and knows exactly what to do if he sees something's amiss.
Preview Page
He has this very grounded, realistic approach to things visually which I think contributes to that fluidity, but he's also a master of those digital tablets which I think gives his work this really almost unique feel to it. He manages to blur the lines between traditional and digital techniques really, really well, blending them perfectly. He did some life drawing with his tablet that blew me away, which I'm pretty sure is up on his deviantart site (http://dogmeatsausage.deviantart.com/).

Every time he comes up with something I'm blown away by it. I just saw his rough designs for April and Casey and I think people are going to be really pleased!

I think the other thing that makes working with Paul so awesome is that before we started working on anything, we talked about this and that, how we saw this character and how they fit into the greater scheme of things, and found that we were both seeing things from exactly the same points of view. We were seeing eye-to-eye on everything, which was really, really cool! Even just talking about other things we were interested in, totally on the same level.

Greg: Damn, sounds like you guys are a pair. Maybe a creator owned project from the two of you? Heh, can we expect some other stuff from your noggin outside of the world of Turtles?

Jonesy: That's on the cards! We started talking about it just after we began work on #50. We've both been wanting to do a sci-fi story, so that's what we're looking at now. It's early days right now, but hopefully it'll start moving along after #50 is done. I'm really excited by the prospects -- his sci-fi concepts are ridiculously cool!

I've got a few things lined up to keep me busy outside once these Turtles stories are done (of course, I'd love to do more!) -- I'm putting together my own horror graphic novel, but that's going to take some time as it looks like I'll be doing the art myself. I'm also working on a relaunch of the COWBoys of Moo Mesa for Ryan Brown which is a lot of fun! I'm also doing some art and some writing for this great mag called Cereal:Geek which is published in the UK. Any fan of cartoons from the 80's HAS to check this mag out! I can't begin to describe how cool it is!

What else...? I've been working on a mini-series revolving around a group of astronauts who find themselves stranded on a planet similar to prehistoric earth, and a friend of mine from college has been self-publishing these anthology comics which I contributed a few crass little strips to (if you're going to check it out, it seriously is adults only stuff though...http://www.pleasant-productions.com/).

I've got all these ideas I need to exorcise, but I'll always drop whatever I'm doing to do more Turtles stuff.

Greg: Whoa, I wasn't expecting all that, haha! You gotta keep me posted, especially with that horror graphic novel! And I'm not letting you off the hook entirely yet! You're also an artist, as you've mentioned, and when we met you drew me a Turtle head on my issue. When can we expect an issue with your art? (Heh, told you I'm not letting you off the hook yet...)

Jonesy: Haha! I don't know about that... I love drawing, having recently got back into it, but if I don't know if I'd be able to keep it up across an entire issue. My big problem is consistency. I could probably draw whatever you asked me to if I sat down and put my mind to it, but I don't know if I'd be able to make it look as consistently good as the initial image from panel to panel. I'd really, really like to, which is why I'm playing around with doing my own interiors on my own book first.

I'd actually started another rather uniquely Australian horror story that I put on the back burner, at least until I could find an artist who wanted to come aboard as well. That, next to the dinosaur story are my two dream creator-owned projects.

Tristan at the NYCC
Actually, you mentioning that head sketch just reminded me of how bizarre New York Comic Con was. I had people asking me for sketches in their books which was crazy! I was totally happy to do it, but the whole time I'm like "You realise I'm not an artist right? I just wrote this!" I just didn't want them looking down at it going "What a piece of shit!" and wondering why it wasn't any good. There were a couple where I was like "Damn! I should've got a photo of that!"

Greg: Haha! After all that, I'm so getting you to sketch me something in my sketch book next time I see you! Was the NYCC the first time you been to the big city? How'd you enjoy your time and did you meet anyone interesting?

Jonesy: It wasn't the first time I'd been to New York, but it was my first New York Comic Con. I did San Diego in 2007 with some friends and that was insane, but New York is great! Last time I visited was in the middle of this massive heatwave, so I was kind of over it after a week, but I loved it this time around! I got to see all the parts of town I didn't get a chance to last time and had some of the best meals I've ever had in my entire life! People can say what they want about New York, but you can't deny how good the food is!

NYCC was great though, I enjoyed that more than San Diego. It's more comic based, which I really liked. I got to meet Dan Slott again, who I met at San Diego, he's a dude I really look up to as a writer (but down on in person, because he's a little dude!). I also met Dan Buckley while waiting to get into a panel which was really cool! The other thing is that this was the first time I'd met all the Turtles guys. Eric Talbot, Jim Lawson, Mike Dooney, Steve Lavigne and Peter Laird -- these were all dudes whose work I'd been devouring for years, so meeting them was incredibly cool for me. I also got to meet Kevin Eastman again, who invited me to write something for Heavy Metal, which was really cool.

I also finally got a chance to meet fellow Aussie Andie Tong, who worked on the recent Masters of the Universe comics and also does art for Cereal:Geek and Marvel UK's Spidey comics, so that was cool, along with some other fellow Cereal:Geek artists. Who else... I had a brief chat with Joe Quesada, who I'd met at San Diego the year before, and also got to meet Axel Alonso, who edits the Marvel Knights stuff among other things.

Greg: Haha, from all that I can imagine you being a giddy school boy all excited, heh. Now you have me interested in the meals you've had. What the heck did you eat?!

Jonesy: Jeez, that's a good question... best meal I've ever had was at this tiny Italian place called Nocello, on West 55th just near Broadway. We also had a really nice meal at Crema Restaurante which I can't recall the location of (I think it was West 17th) and at Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village. Also had a lot of awesome sushi there! Oh! And Yeungling Beer! That is the most amazing beer I've ever tasted. It's most likely the beer gods would drink.

Greg: Heh, I guess we can say we're coming to a close. I've had an absolute blast chatting with you, man!

Thanks for this too, man. It's been sick catching up again!

Greg: Heck yeah! Anything you'd like to add before leaving my awesome column?

I suppose all that's left to say is "buy our books! Let us know what you think!"  Oh! And be sure to pick up Tales #48 at the end of the month! It's written by Jake Black, and I've got a back-up story appearing in there, with art by Kennon James. It's looking very slick, and knowing me, I'll probably find some way of fitting it into what I've got coming up!

Other than that, thanks again and peace to everyone out there!

Greg: And a great peace out to you too, good brutha!

Cover for #50

Posted originally: 2008-07-18 00:44:51

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About the Author - Greg Anderson-Elysee

Gregory Anderson-Elysee is a Brooklyn born and based filmmaker (director and editor), playwright, comic book writer, model, and part time actor. He was one of the first writers and interviewers of The Outhouse. He is the writer and creator of the upcoming book Is'nana the Were-Spider. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

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