Wally Wood is regarded as one of the great comic-book artists of all time. He was with Mad magazine from the very beginning; he created Daredevil’s red costume; he (probably) drew the Disneyland Memorial Orgy and (definitely) didn’t get sued for it. But he killed himself at age 54 — not too long after saying, “If I had it all to do over again, I’d cut off my hands.” Making comics ain’t kid stuff.
Wood and the skullduggery of the comics world are two of the reasons behind Kevin Eastman’s forthcoming graphic novel Drawing Blood, recently funded via Kickstarter. It tells “the completely fictional true story of Shane Bookman,” a comic-book guy whose creation, the Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls, made him a fortune — years ago. Now he’s broke, burned out, and beset by bad mojo. Not quite Wally Wood, but not quite Kevin Eastman, either.
Eastman’s made and lost millions over the Turtles’ 34-year history. He’s heard a few stories along the way. “It always seemed that at the end of a comic convention, [industry people] would all end up in a bar, and that’s when all the best stories would come out. Experiences with fans, good and bad, experiences in Hollywood, difficulties with publishers, shop stories. Things that were almost too strange to be true.” Those stories, combined with his own history and a longtime interest in the artists who paved the way for the Turtles’ success, led to another barroom chat, this time with writer David Avallone, who suggested the title.
“It’s a combination of Breaking Bad, Spinal Tap, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” offers Eastman. He’s guessing the moment is right — now that comics have given rise to “the most popular movies over the last 10–15 years,” a comic creator is no longer “an alien thing to the general public.” Eastman lives in town, but travels to between 12 and 15 conventions a year, 30 percent of them overseas. “I don’t speak Russian, but I can go to Russia and get a lot of hugs. Convention groups often consist of parents who were Turtles fans when they were kids and their own kids, who have discovered the Turtles for themselves. It’s mind-blowing and humbling. Because you can’t tell a child what’s cool. They tell you.”
The original Turtles were “a parody of what in comics was popular at the time,” says Eastman — Daredevil’s Ninjas, Spider-Man’s radioactive teenager, etc. Shane Bookman’s corresponding team of samurai cats came from the slew of homage/ripoffs that followed, and the Bad Kitties who share a home with Eastman and his family. “They’re actually good kitties, but they’re fucking terrors. We love our cats, but we hate our cats. And how many goofy cat videos have you seen on the internet?” It’s probably not surprising that the Kickstarter campaign raised the extra $25K needed to actually publish the Ronin Ragdolls’ origin story.”
Also probably not surprising: “If I could do it again,” says Eastman, “I would.”