Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything: Anatomy of Destruction with Ben Bates

anatomy of destruction bates

Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything has a premise that’s just too innately appealing to ignore. There’s something elemental about this pair of boneheads wrecking up the universe, and the pedigree of comics from IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle team suggests that this is going to be some marvelous wreckage indeed. We’re sitting down with five artistz that helped contribute to the mayhem to discuss their approach to action.

This week, Patrick is talking to co-writer and issue 1 artist, Ben Bates about being true to dumb characters, non-linear storytelling and why Leonardo is his favorite turtle (and why all his haters are wrong). 

Retcon Punch: You’ve got a writing and storytelling credit on this whole series – was Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything your baby or how did this whole thing come about?

Ben Bates: This mini series really is because of the editor Bobby Curnow. Initially, Dustin Weaver, the other writer, and I immediately started talking about doing a mini-series when we were working on the [Bebop and Rocksteady Villain] Micro Series back in 2013. We had several ideas and we had told Bobby that we wanted to do a mini-series and we had given him a rough outline. But then he told us the actual future plans… and this was 2013, so issue 50 was still aways out. He was like “Shredder’s going to be defeated and the Foot Clan is going to be defeated.” That’s huge. So we came up with a second idea, revising the first one to compensate for that. And then, I don’t know, I guess we got busy and the idea sat until Bobby catapulted it back in existence. Pretty sure he was the one who suggested time travel too.

Getting the Artists Together

RP: I love time travel as a vehicle for the Turtles to draw from its deep bench of artists. Turtles in Time was basically a show piece for four artists that have been drawing the series.

BB: That’s right. It was certainly meant to mimic that format. It was Dustin who, based on his experience with Infinity, where they broke up sections of story by artist. Which I think is much more beneficial for this story. I read a review today which said the reader didn’t even notice that the art was changing. Which is good because it’s cohesive, but you could possibly be totally oblivious to it, right? Even on a subconscious level the difference must help anchor you in a different time or a different place.

RP: Did you guys have specific artists in mind for specific parts of this story?

BB: Sophie [Campbell] for sure. We knew we really wanted to use her because she had kicked off the last time travel story, and wanted to kick off from there. She was a gamble at first, because she was crazy-busy. Sophie and Giannis Milogiannis were our major picks.

RP: I was was surprised to see Nick Pitarra on that list. I’ve enjoyed his work on Manhattan Projects but haven’t known him to be in the Ninja Turtle family. That five-issue cover feels like straight-up Manhattan Projects.

BB: We had this chain email going… Coming from an artist background, comic books are, in my experience as an artist… creators are so isolated from each other. Like, the writer is in communication with the editor, but almost never talking to the artist until a finished script comes. It’s just not a great system.

RP: Until you work a lot with an artist, how do you know their storytelling ticks? How do you know what kinds of things they’re going to deliver really well? Was this chain email a work-around for that?

BB: Yeah. I mean: I hadn’t worked with any of these people. So from the very beginning — as soon as we had every artist on board — we hadn’t even finished scripting issue one yet, and we were emailing everyone. Here’s the outline, here’s the design of the characters, let’s all start getting this in our brains. I was doing a lot of the design, but also, y’know, I didn’t want to draw everything. So, for example, Giannis designed Bebop & Rocksteady’s cruiser, even though he’s not the first one to draw it in the series. And then everyone’s tossing out ideas, and there’s input along the way from everyone.

RP: Did you know when you were working on it that all five issues were going to come out week-after-week-after-week?

BB: That was part of IDW’s plan from the start.

RP: Does that change your approach to telling this story at all? Because from a fan’s perspective, it’s like a hype-shotgun. BAM! You get this whole exciting thing right now!

BB: Y’know, for me personally, it didn’t – and it was never part of our discussion when Dustin and I would talk about it. I mean, we had to have the whole thing done before this first issue even came out, but that’s all just hitting deadlines. It’s interesting to consider the readers experience… which I hadn’t thought about at all (laughs).

RP: Personally, only having a week go by between issues makes it a lot easier for me to just have a handle on what’s happening without a refresher – especially on such a complicated story.

BB: Yeah, that probably is working out. I mean, pitching the outline was it’s own experience. Nickelodeon was like “just tell me that somebody understands this time travel logic.”

A Self-Contained, Logical Story

BB: One of our goals with both the Micro and this Mini-Series – all the information you need is available within this one story.

RP: Yeah and one of the things I find super charming about Destroy Everything is that it almost actively resists being understood. The way the Turtles and Renet talking circles around the time-travel logic, it’s almost like you’re asking “who cares?”

BB: Yes! But Dustin has certainly storytelling tastes and he likes non-linear storytelling, for sure. So the way this story sets up is very much in his style.

RP: It’s interesting that the story can be both linear and non-linear at the same time. Like, it depends who’s perspective we’re in: someone could be experiencing these events linearly, but who knows? Renet’s a pretty good example – like we’ll never know what order she experiences things in.

BB: Yeah, but I want to go back and respond to the “who cares?” bit. That’s definitely my philosophy when it comes to comics – for everything. But when Dustin and I sat down to plot everything out, he made sure that everything made sense. You can plot every version of every character’s individual journeys according to the internal logic of the mini-series. Dustin loves non-linear storytelling, but he also loves time travel, and maybe by coincidence, maybe by luck, he’s worked on a lot of them. Like for this one — Bobby told us it was going to be a time travel story.

RP: Maybe Dustin gives off a time travel vibe.

BB: I’m glad he does love time travel so much, because it means he’s done a lot of thinking about it on his own. So he has ideas and rules, you know? And that creates this different tier of quality, an internal logic. There’s many different kinds of time travel, like in Back to the Future, you go back and it alters…

RP: Back to the Future almost presents two different things: sometimes you go back and change something and it changes the present, but if you change enough you have two different timelines.

BB: Right, and what I’m driving back to that “who cares?” It all works. Our logic is 100% accurate to what this time travel story means. We’re the opposite of Back to the Future in that every time Bebop and Rocksteady open a time portal, they’re creating a new universe.

Why Bebop and Rocksteady?

RP: What draws you to Bebop and Rocksteady? What makes you want to tell a story with these two guys?

BB: Well, it’s a little different now, because Dustin and I have had three years since the Micro. Originally, when we were getting the Micro, we wanted to do Slash. We knew they were going to do a Bebop and Rocksteady, but like “oh, they’ve certainly got that all squared away already.” Those guys are major players. So we presented several Slash stories before Bobby was like “why don’t you try Bebop and Rocksteady?”

RP: It’s weird: Slash is a similar type. You’re drawn to the bruisers!

BB: Oh, without a doubt, it was helpful that we were already thinking of Slash, who’s that similar bruiser type. But even with the Slash stories, we were talking about using Hob (Dustin really likes Hob). We were seeing how far we could reach into the mythology and pull in all these other characters to tell a story with. And the nice thing with the Micro was that we got access to Karai.

But it’s actually helpful that I can remember my own feelings and thoughts about Bebop and Rocksteady when I was a kid. Growing up in the 80s and having the action figures and watching the cartoon, I always like Rocksteady and Bebop as an idea. As visuals. I remember having the figures and thinking “these guys are cool.”

RP: But then being embarrassed of the characters on screen?

BB: Yes! Exactly! They were like two different things, because they weren’t ever cool in the cartoon. So I have that feeling, and I still remember that feeling now, even after developing who they could be in the comics, it’s still really helpful to remember what didn’t work. It makes you ask: what is attractive about them? It starts getting a bit complicated, because “what works” sorta became the guidelines for these comic book versions of the characters.

RP: I think it’s cool that you were responding specifically to their design. You aren’t responding to the stories told about them

BB: That was it. Unfortunately they were really just all visual. But the stories that they did tell about these characters — or the story of them — is that they’re dumb; and that they screw up. And that’s exactly what they are. If you don’t have that, you don’t have Rocksteady and Bebop. That’s the best challenge in the Micro, and in this mini too… (laughs) Okay, so it’s Destroy Everything so their inherent natures needs to come out and make all of this happen. And that’s what’s satisfying.

RP: I think it’s a point well-taken that they don’t set out to destroy history, but you give them a time-traveling scepter and that’s what’s going to happen.

BB: Yes and that’s what’s fun about it. I don’t know of other time travel stories like this where the main characters don’t care about time at all. I mean, they time travel on accident in the first place and then their first impulse is to repeat the exact same thing they did anyway.

RP: Oh, man and I love the psyche-out at the end of the first issue:

dudes if only it were so simple

RP: Especially knowing that Sophie’s issue was coming next, I thought for sure they were going to prehistoric times. But that’s a great subversion and perfect for those guys — it’s like they fucked up their own story.

Fight Scene

RP: So when the Turtles do finally encounter Bebop and Rocksteady, you’ve got Bebop and Rocksteady firmly planted on the left side of the page.

B&R on the left

BB: It’s something that — now that I’m a storyboard artist — that I appreciate about comics. I was liked what I thought of as subconscious manipulation of the reader’s experience. This is a good example on page 16 here. A basic rule I learned at Periscope Studio, in Portland Oregon — which was just a bunch of comic book artists hanging out in a room together — the  rule is that heroes enter from the left because that’s the readers’ perspective, and villains enter from the right. That’s opposition. Because we read from left to right, there’s a free-flowing easiness to following the hero, so when the villain comes in from the left, that villain is literally pushing against the reader’s experience. In this case though…

RP: The villains are our heroes?

BB: Exactly, yeah! And remember the turtles are suddenly appearing here — they’re invading Bebop and Rocksteady’s space here.

RP: I like that, even as the Turtles advance on them, Bebop and Rocksteady don’t give up any of that space. Because they’re enormous. And they always seem really big on the page.

BB: This is something that I have been excited about since the Micro: I really wanted to have Rocksteady and Bebop face the Turtles because I wanted to highlight just how small the Turtles are in comparison. It’s always been — the artist interprets how big the Turtles are; and I’ve always wanted to see how they’re like half the size of these dudes. There’s a moment in issue three where all four Turtles jump on to them… I’ve been waiting years to see that: just crawling around on these monsters.

RP: And you definitely are selling their size here. I mean, look at poor Raph — he’s the size of Bebop’s head.

Raph is so smallRP: The last panel on this page has a cool little bit of background that’s sort of echoed on the first panel on the next page. That’s a cool way to unit these panels even though they’re separated by a page turn.

connecting pages

BB: Oh, that’s cool. That was not intentional. The first one was definitely meant to anchor the image, but that’s it. It’s cool to know how it’s working for you, the reader, but it wasn’t my conscious intention to sync up the experience of the two panels.

Getting the Turtles Right

Raphael

BB: But on the subject of Raph and size, I was talking to Sophie about the Turtle designs and she suggested the idea that Raph was smaller than everybody else. And that immediately blew my mind. He’s got a Napoleon complex! He’s not the enormous bruiser of the team. I was never into that idea — I mean, I had these figures and they were all the same size. Throughout the years there’d be fan art or whatever where Raph would be like three times as big as everyone else. Even in the new movies, Raph is bigger than his brothers. But, when Sophie said he should be smaller, it just clicked. I want him to have a complex. Part of his anger comes from literally being smaller than his brothers. I’m not a super tall dude, but I’m not small either, so I don’t understand that potential for inferiority that a man might feel from just being shorter.

RP: This may be a silly question, but: who’s your favorite Turtle?

BB: Oh, Leonardo. Always Leonardo. 

Leonardo

BB: And I will add that I was at a convention when I fully thought this out… another artist said something I didn’t like… I don’t know if your experience was similar to mine, but when I was young Raph was most people’s favorite. That makes sense — particularly in American culture. Americans will always gravitate to the more aggressive character. Which is totally fine. But I was stalking to this guy at a convention and he said that he didn’t like Leo because he was a goodie-two-shoes, and too stuffy or some shit like that. And I was just like “that’s not why I like him.” I am the eldest of the kids in my family, so like, I understand that point of view. I’m not saying that I ever lead my siblings.

RP: I mean, you sorta do literally just by being first.

BB: Right. And you feel a responsibility to them. That’s cool. It’s a self-sacrifice on Leonardo’s part. He can’t just let himself be the party dude…

RP: …or cool-but-rude…

BB: That’s right. And it’s not just the sibling thing — I like that kind of character that’s willing to do what’s right, even if that’s really hard.

RP: I think he does get a bum rap. People rag on him the same way they rag on Cyclops for being the boring, honor-bound square. But someone’s got to do that job! That’s not easy for him.

BB: Yes! I’ve been making an effort to read old comics lately but before that I also hated Cyclops for all those same generic reasons: he’s the the goodie-two-shoes, he’s the downer, and he’s a dick in the cartoon. But back and read Giant Sized X-Men from 1975 where it launches the new X-Men for the first time. And it was fucking amazing — it was so exciting. And then those first ten issues after with Chris Claremont writing, for the first time ever I liked Cyclops. But I really want to hammer home here — we’re talking about 1975, and two comics legends — Len Wein and Chris Claremont — working together. That’s what it took for me to finally like Cyclops. That character type can easily be abused and used by lesser writers. And that’s what happened by the 90s, and that shitty version of him in the cartoon. And then all of those character-types get lumped together as “dicks” and that’s not what Leonardo is!

You go back to that 1990 movie, which, in my opinion is the only good movie….

RP: I’m right there with you. I love that movie. It does hold up absurdly well.

BB: They have an awesome take on Leonardo. After they rescue April, y’know, Raph gets pissed and is like “I’m outta here.” The other Turtles are having a good time and Leonardo is dancing! Like, he’s not a kill-joy. Later on, you see him taking the heavy blow when Raph gets beat up. He gets the impulse that lets them all mediate and connect with Splinter. In a single movie, they present a multi-layered Leonardo. They’re not just like “he’s the dick who spoils everyone’s fun.”

RP: Do you get a chance to do any Leonardo servicing later on in Destroy Everything?

Michelangelo and Donatello

BB: Y’know, Dustin and I agreed early on that, as far as the Turtles were concerned, we wanted to focus on Michelangelo and Donatello. I despise it when people treat Michelangelo like a fucking idiot.

RP: Yes! He’s got more social intelligence than the rest of the Turtles put together.

BB: Exactly. And if he’s a jokester — that’s fine. Maybe he needs to be a little more serious, and that becomes a bit of a problem — that’s fine. But sometime he’s intolerable; dangerously stupid. Again, another great thing from the 1990 movie that we wanted to capture in this series, is that Donatello and Michelangelo riff and make jokes together. They actually like each other.

fun turtles

BB: And that’s a point for all the Turtles. They’re not these rage-machines that are incompatible just because they’re not all the same. I wanted a genuine sibling vibe between them. And for Donatello and Michelangelo, they can make a joke together and it’s like: Mission Accomplished.

And again, with Donatello, we wanted to make sure he’s not just the lame-o, not just the stupid nerd that no one likes. No one’s going to say “speak English!” to him — that’s like the worst kind of joke.

RP: Especially because it’s always preceded by Donatello letting out absurd techno-babble. As if he’s too tone-deaf to dumb it down to communicate to the only three other people he talks to.

BB: Exactly.

Bebop and Rocksteady ARE Scary

RP: Plus, to your point about making sure the Turtles aren’t rage monsters — you’ve already got rage monsters in the form of Bebop and Rocksteady.

BB: That’s an interesting point. As one of the two dudes that has to determine how they function, we did decide that they do go into Rage Mode. And Rage Mode is interesting because it happens earlier in this issue, when they’re chained to the anchor. They’re being shot at and they’ve been fighting for a while. They just don’t want to be kicked out. They only go into Rage Mode when they get hurt or threatened in a bad way.

Real danger

BB: They don’t have a choice about it, it just happens. They’re not thinking at all, and they’re just acting on instinct. So that Rage Mode idea is something that kicks in every now and then.

RP: That’s interesting and I want to pull us back to the pages here — I think that’s what makes this panel so goddamn chilling.

Turtle Soup Moment

RP: That doesn’t appear to be them going into Rage Mode. This is some calculated, terrifying violence.

BB: Yeah, that’s exactly it. We always knew that we wanted to make sure that they were violent. I’m a bit aggressive when it comes to storytelling in general. There’s a trend I see in storytelling where people want to make their bad guys likable and by doing that, the bad guy typically takes a hit. They’re not really so bad. But, no, these guys are truly bad. You don’t want to be anywhere near them. Ever. The reality of these guys hurting you would be overwhelming.

Anything we ever changed, we changed for the better. This is a Nickelodeon licensed product, so they get to tell you what you can and can’t do. So as the creator, you present your idea that you might care about a lot, and they can say yes or no. And if they said no to something, we’d always try to make it better instead of throwing it away. The way the Micro opens is the same way this opens: with them getting kicked out of a gang. So you get this whole history of their life…

RP: (laughing) …just getting kicked out of everywhere they go.

BB: Yes and that’s the better idea. Initially we wanted to let you see how bad they were, which lead to this scene in a bar… one of them had just mugged someone, so he had a lot of money and they’re like “let’s go party.” And then all we wanted to have was a bunch of random panels and images tinted red. Y’know: them laughing, blood splattered across the sidewalk, somebody screaming, fists.

RP: Just a montage of violence.

BB: Yes, like: what is their idea of “partying?” Obviously: really terrible. And then we cut to them in their super shitty apartment and Rocksteady is vomiting and being like “do you have more?” (laughs)

RP: (laughing) And Nick said no?

BB: If this wasn’t their exact words, it’s close. They said “Jesus Christ, tone this down.” I mean, we weren’t really showing anything. But it worked! Nickelodeon saw something horrible. And this Turtle Soup moment here, that’s tapping back into that idea. Yeah, these guys are super fun to read, and just for a moment you look at them from a different angle and you remember that they’re horrifying.

RP: And that lighting cue sells that hard. There’s no other stylized coloring on the page, and then this one just sorta screams.

BB: And that’s just it, we want to give them a single moment to be actively scary. I don’t think it would be interesting at all if they were scary all the time. Because then you’re trying too hard to make them “bad ass.”

RP: Yes. If they’re scary all the time, then they’re not scary. It has to be a moment that pops out and is novel. Otherwise they’re just monsters.

Time and Motion

RP: I always wanted to talk about Bebop swinging this chain around. There’s a page break in the middle of the chain wrapping around Donny’s staff, so you can feel the tide of the battle turning. Previously, we’ve got this awesome panel of the Turtles just throwing themselves at him.

rush in rush out

BB: When the Turtles fight Rocksteady and Bebop, they are rushing in and rushing out as much as possible.

RP: They can’t stay close and engage.

BB: That’s what Donatello is trying to do here — he’s immediately backs off.

RP: And it looks like it’s going to be a successful advance-and-retreat, but that’s where the page turn within the action helps let that moment sink in — you’ve got that little bit extra anticipation.

BB: In this case, this is totally intentional. That’s what’s so excited about comic books. How to manipulate the reader to have them experience motion and time. That’s exactly it. I need something to help sell that time is passing. So I’m super glad to hear that it’s working. I’m just drawing shit and hoping it works.

Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything 1 is on sale now. Check back on Monday for Ryan and Taylor’s discussion of the first issue. And then come back next week for Drew’s interview with artist Sophie Campbell about issue 2!

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10 comments on “Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything: Anatomy of Destruction with Ben Bates

  1. One thing that occurred to me while talking to Ben was that the TMNT really are an artists’ property. Not to dismiss Waltz, Curnow, Allor and Burnham, but I think this series is really at its best when it’s being lead by the imagery. Santoluoco has a writing credit on Secret History and both Bates and Weaver have writing credits here, and it just makes every feel a little more vital. You can really trace it all the way about to Eastman and Laird who were both writing and drawing the first issues. I can’t really think of another franchise that has that kind of tradition.

  2. I had never heard that before, about heroes always entering from the left. What a really cool little tidbit! Great job on this one Patrick, loved reading it — and really loved seeing how much Bates loves this franchise! Turning childhood fantasies into actual comics is such a magical idea.

    • The tradition of heroes entering from the left is most likely a left-over from Medieval mystery plays, when the right side of the stage (from the audience’s perspective) represented the entrance to Hell, and thus became the “sinister” side!

      • I think it is really as simple as the fact that we read left to right, which means that we read an image left to right as well. Therefore, having the main characters in the left of the image and moving/punching/shooting towards the right of the image suggests progress. This is especially important in comics, where progress is literally a panel to the right of the panel you read, so characters moving towards the right are literally moving towards the next panel/progress.

        Also, if you compare the way we read an image to the way we read a sentence, think of what it means to have the ‘heroes’ at the very beginning. I’m trying to remember my grammar to remember the name of the specific term, but by placing the heroes at the start of the ‘sentence’ is to emphasize their active presence in the image’s story.

        Every visual medium uses this trick. Left is backwards and Right is forwards, and therefore characters progress towards the right. Even film uses this, despite the fact that film can use motion to control the viewer’s eye, unlike comics and paintings (if you want to see a fantastic example of how film can control a viewer’s eye, watch the chase scene of Tintin. https://vimeo.com/43573548 A masterpiece of film making, and proof why Spielberg is the best)

        • It’s important, however, to note that the left-to-right is cultural — you get the reverse in cultures that read right to left. This is why I tend to be in favor of reversing Manga in English translation (otherwise, the culture AND the text within the comic are pushing against the “flow” of the storytelling), and kind of wonder if the same should be done with Japanese cinema.

        • Of course. I didn’t discuss the cultural norms, but while English and many languages with similar roots are read left to right, these rules change depending on how you read. It is honestly fascinating how what seems like such a small cultural difference actually has a large impact.

          I’ve never heard of the idea of reversing Manga, but it is a fantastic idea. The art of localization is more than just translation, it is about contextualizing the work such that it can be engaged with by people who lack the important cultural contexts. Which means that reversing Manga and Japanese film actually makes a hell of a lot of sense

        • I also think it’s important to emphasize that this technique is most effective in comics because we are actually reading them. You don’t read film.

        • I’d say it still has advantages in film. While, as I stated, film works differently as it uses motion to control the eye, it still uses many of the same tricks as other visual tricks. There is the old line about ‘Every Frame a Painting’ for a reason, because you still need to compose a shot.

          It is a bit difference, because you have a lot more control over the eye, but left-to-right symbolism is still a useful tool, if only because every other visual medium uses it and therefore viewers subconsciously understand that

          Watch Snowpiercer and tell me that Left-to-Right doesn’t exist in film

        • The Lord of the Rings films did similar left-to-right motion (though, obviously, not as strictly as Snowpiercer), but I’m not convinced they’d lose anything if the direction was switched. That is, the direction of “progress” or whatever might stem more from the context of the film than the cultural inclination to read images from left to right. I may be remembering it wrong, but I don’t think Fury Road used left/right directionality in any fixed way, but I never lost the sense of progress.

        • Of course, you don’t have to use left-to-right. Fury Road was a movie that had too much focus on spatial positioning in all three dimensions to use it as a constant tool (and the reason you never lost progress was because Fury Road combined such a fantastic use of spatial positioning with a cinematography choice that allowed for quick cuts without confusing the eye so you never lost track of their spatial position). On the other hand, the ‘Coming Back’ scene certainly uses it, secretly having the camera move around the cast so that the right of the screen stopped representing their old destination and instead represents their new destination as the characters get persuaded by Max.

          A filmmaker doesn’t have to use left-to-right, but it is an established tool, and it is a tool rooted in how we read

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