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 artists that helped contribute to the mayhem to discuss their approach to action.
This week, Drew is talking to artist Sophie Campbell about dinosaur designs, Turtles minutiae, and making demands of her collaborators.
Retcon Punch: I’m curious about the dinosaur that Rocksteady is riding. The one with the huge claws.
Sophie Campbell: Yeah, the Therizinosaurus. That’s what it’s called.
RP: [laughs] Is that a favorite dinosaur of yours?
SC: I think Ben and Dustin, in the script, had Rocksteady riding a different type of dinosaur. I think it was a Triceratops or something, but I wanted to draw the long claws [laughs]. That’s why I gave the dinosaur a Triceratops skull on its back and a Styracodon skull on its head. But yeah, I just like that it has those giant claws [laughs].
RP: The reason I asked is that I noticed you had drawn that same species a ton in Turtles in Time 1.
SC: Yeah. I mean it fits, because it’s the Cretaceous period — it fits with the time period.
RP: Are you a huge dinosaur buff, or is this knowledge from research you did for these comics?
SC: I’m not a buff. I did do research before Turtles in Time. Like, I know a lot of the names and stuff, but I couldn’t tell you the time period or what location they were from off the top of my head. The only reason I know this one is because of Turtles in Time.
RP: I’m also interested in the feathers in your dinosaur designs. Are those called for in the script, or are those details that you added?
SC: Yeah, that’s just me. I like dinosaurs with feathers. I know a lot of people don’t, so I try to do it in between a little bit. If it was up to me, the Tyrannosaurus would just have like fur all over the place. Nickelodeon was pretty cool with the feathers in Turtles in Time, but they had me scale back a couple of the dinosaurs. Especially the colors. I think Turtles in Time actually has some of my sketches in the back.
RP: It does, yeah.
SC: I wanted them all to have these kind of Easter colors, but Nickelodeon didn’t like it. So, the colorist, Bill Crabtree, they had him — I think he made the Triceratops grey or something. But, yeah, they were a little weirder at first.
RP: I also wanted to know about Pepperoni’s little raptor friend.
SC: Anchovy, yeah.
RP: You have this skill for drawing adorable dinosaurs — is that something you’d been doing since you were a kid?
SC: I did draw dinosaurs when I was a kid, like all the time. I think a lot of people are really into them when they’re kids and then kind of drop out of it for a while. And then Jurassic Park came along and everyone was like, “oh, dinosaurs!” again. That was kind of how it was for me. I feel like I kind of forgot about them for a while, but it feels like there’s this dinosaur critical mass happening or something, so I just got back into it.
When Bobby [Curnow], my editor, said “Hey, we’re doing Turtles in Time with dinosaurs,” I was kind of like, “Wow, I haven’t drawn dinosaurs since I was a kid. I really want to do this.” After that, I got back into it. I went to my parents’ house and dug out all my old dinosaur books and stuff. So, yeah, it’s not like a lifelong hobby or anything.
Drawing Ninja Turtles
RP: I have a similar question about your relationship with the turtles. Did you draw them as a kid?
SC: I have some really old Turtles art I can show you.
SC: [laughs] Oh god, it’s so horrible. This was like 1990 or something, when I was ten. So, yeah, I’ve been drawing them since I was little. I got into the Turtles around, I guess, when everybody did. But I got into the Mirage comics really early.
RP: Yeah, these look really Mirage-y.
SC: Yeah. An older friend of mine down the street had the first colorized books — they were all collected into one book and colored. He showed me those, and I was like “Oh my god, this is so different from the cartoon!” I had mostly gotten into the Turtles through the toys — I was really just into toys in general — and I was never a big TV-watching kid. I was always outside and playing with toys and drawing, so when I saw the Mirage comic, it just completely got rid of my already tenuous connection to the cartoon. I just didn’t care about the cartoon anymore. It was the Mirage stuff, the toys, and the first live-action movie. So I drew the turtles kind of Mirage-y, with like the red masks and everything. And all of the other kids were like, “What are you doing? Why are they all Raphael?” Stuff like that. They’ve been with me ever since, I guess.
Kind of like the dinosaur thing — in college, I took a step back and was into other things. And then Peter Lairds volume 4 started in 2001. You know, when he picked up comics again. I kind of got back into the Mirage stuff all over again, and dug out all of my old black and white Turtles comics. I just kind of got back into it. Then I was doing covers for Mirage for a little while, and it’s been there ever since.
RP: It’s interesting seeing you draw in this really Mirage-inspired style, because your Turtles now are so distinctly yours. How did you develop that approach to the Turtles?
SC: My favorite Turtles ever are the issue #1 Turtles, where they’re tiny. And I really like issue 4 — the one where they discover the Utroms and everything. They’re kind of muscly, but they’re kind of small. Like, when you see them next to April, they’re really short. I really like when they’re small, I guess. I feel like they started being drawn like Superheroes really fast in the old days, and that’s fine, but I feel like it’s more distinct from other action/adventure comics when they’re these little kind of goofy-looking things. But they’re also drawn in this dark, gritty way, and I like the juxtaposition of that. As opposed to when they just look like Superheroes, which isn’t really that interesting to me.
RP: I’m also curious about how you distinguish the turtles from one another. Can you talk about your approach to that?
SC: The different looks to the turtles wasn’t really a thing until the Nickelodeon cartoon, and I took a lot of inspiration from that. But also, one of the things that really got me into Turtles back in the day was the Palladium Turtles & Other Strangeness RPG book. Have you ever seen that? I think it was the first licensed Turtles thing ever. It was like in 1985. It had all this Eastman and Laird artwork and stuff. And it was like this Dungeons and Dragons thing, so the characters had like these stats. And it had the Turtles stats in the back, so even back in 1985, the Turtles were listed as having different heights. Donatello was the tallest, even back then, and Raph was the shortest, which is why I draw my Raph as the shortest. Not so much for IDW, because I try to keep them slightly more on-model, but when I draw the turtles on my own time or in my fan comic, Raph is always the shortest.
RP: Yeah, when we talked to Ben Bates last week, he mentioned that it was through conversations with you that he realized how smart that is as a character choice.
SC: Yeah! He’s got like short man syndrome or whatever. [laughs] So he has to compensate. I remember he had the highest strength rating of all the Turtles in the old game. You know, he’s really short, so he works out all the time to try and bulk himself up. You know? [laughs]
RP: You mentioned staying on-model, but I’ve always been struck by how different each artist’s Turtles feel on the IDW series. How do you strike that balance?
SC: I mean, it’s still me. I try to meet it halfway, you know? It’s also a tone thing — the IDW Turtles have a different tone from the Mirage Turtles or the cartoon. If I was drawing the Mirage Turtles — though I did draw the Mirage Turtles in Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything 1 — they have a different feel, so I try to draw them differently. I wouldn’t draw the IDW Turtles like I draw my fan comic Turtles, for example, because it’s a different version. But early on, like when I was doing the Leonardo issue — that one, specifically, there was a lot of back-and-forth between me and the two Nickelodeon editors. They were like, “Your Turtles are too short. They have to look like Dan Duncan’s Turtles.” You know, stuff like that. But they’ve gotten more lenient as time has gone on and the series has kind of found its footing. But yeah, early on it was a big pain.
I was actually offered the main Turtles artist gig, like before Mateus [Santolouco] got it, but I turned it down because I just couldn’t handle it. I was too much of a fan to do it at that point. I couldn’t handle the pressure and the criticism. I couldn’t set aside being a fan to do it as a professional. So I turned it down, and they only managed to get me back with the Northampton stuff. That’s like my favorite thing — in almost every version, they have to go to the farmhouse, you know? That’s always my favorite thing. I love Turtles in the woods. So they’re like, “Hey, we’re doing Northampton!” Which I had tried to get them to do a year or two earlier, but Bobby was like “Yeah, I don’t think we’re going to do Northampton,” because the Nickelodeon people want every issue to have action. At first, he didn’t think they were going to do Northampton because it needs at least an issue or two of nothing happening, really. So when I found out they were going to do it, I was just like, “Oh, I have to do this. I can’t be a little bitch about this anymore. I have to do Northampton.” So I came back for that and the Alopex issue. They roped me back in.
RP: And now it seems like you’re the go-to artist for any prehistoric stories they do.
SC: [laughs] Yeah, I do all the prehistoric stuff. I think Dustin [Weaver] does all the present-day stuff. Ben does all of the Rio de Janeiro stuff. Every artist has their own time period. In issues three and four, they don’t go to the prehistoric at all, so I just don’t have any pages in those ones. But then, in number five, they go back there again, so I show up in that one.
We tried to do it as a stylistic thing, but it was also a logistic thing. Like, there was no way a weekly series was going to get done by one artist. So we had to juggle it through all of these different people.
RP: Ben had mentioned how difficult it was getting everyone’s schedules to line up for this.
SC: I can’t believe it came together, honestly. At first, it was just me, Dustin, Ben, Giannis [Milonogiannis], and like one or two other people. We had this huge group email thread, and new people were constantly being added to it. I was like “Who are these other people? How is this going to get done?” Like, 60% of comics artists can’t meet their deadlines; how is this going to happen? You know, I was working on Jem at the same time. It seemed like it was going to be a nightmare, like everything was going to be late, but apparently everything was on time, so it worked out.
RP: Can you talk a bit about Dustin’s scripts. Coming from an artist’s background, are they any different to work with than any of the other writers you’ve collaborated with? Is he giving you more direction? Less direction?
SC: Much less. He and Ben, they’re really open to different ideas, really loose. When I came on board, I was like “I have this other dinosaur, this other sidekick character I want to draw named Anchovy.” And they were like, “Sure! We’ll write him in!”
RP: [laughs] That was you?
SC: Yeah! That’s how it was with Pepperoni, too, with Paul Allor. I had this list of demands. One was like “Raph gets an adorable sidekick named Pepperoni.” You know, stuff like that. So Anchovy was my idea. They wrote him in, and were really cool about it. And I would change their scripts and stuff if the paneling didn’t work, or if there was something I wanted to draw — or didn’t feel like, I would just delete stuff out of the scripts. [laughs]
RP: That was actually something that jumped out to me about your pages in this issue. There’s a lot of mid-page scene-breaks. Like, this Pepperoni/Anchovy fight scene is just half a page. So you pack in just a ton of stuff into each of these pages.
SC: I kind of had to, in some respects. You know, there’s not a ton of wiggle-room, but at the same time — with the Pepperoni/Anchovy stuff, I was like “I really want to draw this part, so this is gonna be like half the page.” Or, you know, if Dustin would only write one or two panels of Pepperoni and Anchovy stuff, I was like “No no no. It’s gotta be more than that.” [laughs] So I’d add more panels to it.
The panels that I had drawn would get passed back to them, and sometimes the panels that they had dialogue in, I would delete or change, and then they would change the dialogue to fit what I drew. And vice versa. It was really fluid. We were always going back and forth. I would change stuff and then they would rewrite stuff based on what I did. And then they would have ideas and then I would put stuff in or redraw something based on that. Yeah, it was just really fun.
RP: I’m curious about the time tunnels — did the script call for this kind of continuous layout?
SC: No, it was just panel by panel, like usual. But I was like “Yeah, I’m not going to put any panel borders in this. I’m just going to do this splash page, continuous thing.” And they said “Yeah, that sounds cool. Do it.” That was my idea.
Oh! And on this page, where Rocksteady gets zapped. Dustin and Ben kind of made a mistake, because their dinosaur friends just kind of disappear from the story. And I was like “Guys, you just forgot the dinosaurs. Where did they go?” And they were like “Oh my god, you’re right!” So that’s why they’re peeking in in that top panel. [laughs] There’s no room to add them to what’s happening, really, so I just stuck them in the back, and Dustin and Ben were cool with it.
RP: Does that mean that they had given you really strict beats for that fight scene?
SC: Kind of. It was pretty loose. You know, like “Rocksteady punches Renet. Renet zaps Bebop. Savanti uses his magic on Renet.” That kind of thing. It was very back-and-forth, so I try to both spice it up and simplify it, I guess. Make it readable. I felt like, since Dustin and Ben, since they’re predominantly artists — and this isn’t a knock against them — in their scripts, they would lose track of where the characters are. So I would try to add the characters to place them geographically, so you don’t lose track. In the panel where Rocksteady is hitting Renet, I put Bebop in there because, in the script, he just appears in the next panel. And I was like “Well, he should be there, or something, so we know where he’s coming from.” And then you see him later lying on the ground. That kind of thing. It didn’t always work out — sometimes there just wasn’t room to keep track of the characters — but I think it worked out pretty well.
RP: You mentioned the opening of Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything 1 as being in the Mirage style. What was the thinking behind that?
SC: I think it was Ben and Dustin’s idea to do it black and white, because the original Tales issue was in black and white. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Ninja Turtles Tales #7, which is where that scene comes from, but yeah, this whole thing is like a sequel to that story. Which is an odd choice, because it’s kind of an obscure issue, but that scene with Leo and Savanti on that big bone thing comes from #7. And I wanted it to look like it was that universe, you know? Those Turtles, where it’s a little looser, and the Turtles aren’t quite as cute. Anyway, that scene picks right up from the end of the issue, where Savanti gets zapped by the lightning and falls into the water. In Bebop and Rocksteady, we follow him down into the water. It’s like this big, weird time-loop.
Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything 2 is on sale now. Check back next week for Spencer’s interview with artist Damian Couceiro about issue 3!