Gary Carlson, Writer of TMNT
Question: Gary, please tell us something about yourself, your family life, your schooling etc.
I'm 41 years old, and I've been married for twenty years. I have two kids, aged 15 and 12. I was born in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (that's right, I'm a Yooper) and grew up all over Wisconsin and northern Illinois. My Dad worked for Social Security, and we moved every two or three years due to his promotion/advancement up through the ranks. We eventually settled down in Hanover Park in the northwest suburbs of Chicago when I was 12. It was tough leaving friends behind, but I could take my comics with me. Maybe that's why they're so important to me and I never gave them up.
I graduated from Elgin Community College with a major in English, got married and started working for RR Donnelley & Sons, the largest commercial printer in the free world. I started in the paste-up department on third shift, hated it and vowed to quit. I was there for 15 years.
Two years after I started at RRD, I enrolled at Columbia College in Chicago and earned a Bachelors degree in art. My goal since age 5 when I started reading comics had always been to be a cartoonist. I set out to be an animator at Columbia, but I didn't have the time to spend on it to do it right, since I was working 25 hours a week and going to school full-time. I changed to an Illustration major and finished up.
Just before graduation, I won the first John Fischetti Scholarship. He was a noted editorial cartoonist in Chicago, and even though it was technically a journalism award, they wanted the first recipient to be a political cartoonist and I was elected, even though I'm not a political animal.
I ended up dropping out just short of my thesis (a show in the gallery). My partner Chris Ecker and I had a comic strip that the LA Times Syndicate was interested in. That eventually fell through, so I turned my attention to writing and publishing a black & white comic book called MEGATON.
Question: What was the first comic book you ever read?
Probably a Superman. DC was all that I was aware of in 1962. I remember having real trouble pronouncing the Composite Superman's name. However, my brother always said that I'd come home from kindergarten with drawings of the Atom and Hawkman, when other kids were drawing their families.
Question: How did you get started in writing stories for comic books?
In 1981/82, artists were having a hard time getting pro work. There was only Marvel, DC, Archie, Charlton and one or two other publishers then. I'd see what I thought were great artists at conventions who couldn't get work. I decided that somebody could sign up all these great artists and compete with Marvel and DC, and that maybe I was that somebody. I asked Mike Gustovich if he was interested in drawing a story, and he said yes, so I had to write a story. I sort of drew it out, breaking it down. He must've regretted saying yes.
Then I signed up the best guys I could find: Erik Larsen, Jackson Guice, Sam de la Rosa, Dan Reed, Frank Fosco, and some others and out popped MEGATON #1. It broke even, so we started work on issue two, but many of the guys had used their pages as samples and were working for Marvel and DC now, so it was time to look for other artists: Bill Reinhold, Clarke Hawbaker, Angel Medina, Tim Dzon, Rob Liefeld. Some, like Bill R., went pro before even finishing stuff for me.
We never did become the next big thing and I finally quit beating my head against the wall trying to get noticed during the big glut in 1987 and shut down.
Question: How do you like writing for TMNT?
I love it. I have a lot of fun and am very proud of what we've done.
Question: TMNT starts off where Mirage ended, are you glad it went this way or would you rather started it off where Archie ended?
The Image series was set up to be a direct sequel to the Mirage stuff, and I've always been comfortable with that. I was never a major TMNT fan, so I bought all the back issues, did my research and told Erik yes, that I'd like to write the series. The Archie series was supposed to run concurrent with ours, but I understand that they cancelled the book when our deal was announced.
Question: There has been some exciting changes with TMNT, can you elaborate on some of them?
We've put the guys through Hell. Donny almost died and became a cyborg. Raph's face was half blown off. Splinter mutated into a rabid bat (a big bat). The artificial intelligence in Donny's tried to hijack his body. A New York mob nearly wiped out the Foot Clan. Mike's got a girl-friend. Raph saved their butts by donning a suit of Shredder's armor that he discovered and the Foot made him their new leader and he's still wearing that damn armor. And Leo just had his hand bit off.
Question: Without giving away the future of TMNT, will TMNT always be a team?
Yep. Unless - - - unless we start killing them off one by one until there's only one left: Raphael, of course. Seriously, they're a team and also a family. Nobody in a family gets along all the time - - but you're always part of it, no matter what you do.
Question: What do you think of the TMNT movies?
I haven't seen them in quite a while. My kids and I enjoyed them at the theatre when they came out.
Question: What do you think of the TMNT - Archie Series?
To be honest, I haven't read more than one or two issues. I don't want to be influenced by them in any way.
Question: Do you consider the Archie TMNTs, like on a different reality level, from the Image TMNTs?
Question: TMNTs don't go ape over pizza anymore, how come?
We wanted to distance ourselves from the cartoons, so Erik said no pizzas and no cowabungas.
Question: The TMNTs have been through many crisis and probably have more ahead, has this effected their humor?
No, although I think they're more cynical and the humor is sometimes pretty dark.
Question: What's in store for the future of the TMNTs? (As if you can answer that).
More action, more fighting and in-fighting, more romance and more characterization.
Question: What are your favorite hobbies and recreational activities?
I love to read. I love rock & roll (but mostly oldie stuff now). Collecting old toys. Mostly though, I'm working. It's pretty unhealthy. I am a big Green Bay Packer fan. I live 25 miles from Lambeau Field and it's like a religion up here.
Question: What are your favorite books?
Dune and its sequels, hard-boiled mysteries, Tolkien and other epic-science fantasy.
Question: What are your favorite movies, tv shows and cartoons?
I've always enjoyed the James Bond movies, old musicals, Star Trek, Pulp Fiction, half of Four Rooms, Fargo, and almost anything with Sean Connery, John Travolta, or Kevin Kline.
My favorite TV shows of all time are the old Superman & Batman series, Banyon (starring Robert Forster), the Avengers, the Simpsons. I really don't watch too much TV these days. I worked too many years on second shift and got out of the habit of watching prime time. Besides, if I really like it, it gets cancelled.
I like all sorts of animation. I've always been blown away by the old Max Fleischer Superman cartoons, and that studios' Popeyes. The new Batman and Superman shows are great - - better than the current comics. Simpsons, King of the Hill, South Park (some episodes really stink, though - - like Terrance and Phillip), Astro Boy was a big influence on me, Disney movies.
Question: What comic books do you read now?
Sin City, Astro City, HellBoy, Savage Dragon, Shazam, 300, Avengers. Superman For All Seasons is great. I finally gave up on the Legion of SuperHeroes after 30+ years. I'm looking forward to the upcoming Teen Titans series.
Question: What do you think of the comic industry (pro and con)?
I've always loved it, but I've always been an independent. I hope it's still here in five years. I think we have to figure a way to get kids back interested in reading them again.
Question: If you could be doing anything besides comic books, what would that be and why?
Drawing a comic strip or possibly writing novels.
Question: Where do you want to be 5 years from now? 10 years?
I'd like to be right here, writing TMNT #83 and BIG BANG COMICS #100 in five years. I really enjoy writing, so I hope to be doing more of it, and find new outlets for it.
Question: What comic conventions will you be appearing at and where?
I'm not doing too many Cons at all for the rest of 1998, although I may be at a small one in Elgin Illinois on November 22. I'm always at the ChicagoCon, and sometimes I pop up at the Motor City Cons, both in Chicago and Detroit.
Question: How can someone contact you? Do you have a website?
Question: That winds up the interview, is there anything you would like to add?
If the readers like my TMNT work, they should check out some of the other stuff I've written, if they can find it: VANGUARD 6-issue series, VANGUARD: STRANGE VISITORS 4 issue mini-series, SUPREME (issues 24, 26 thru 31), all from Image.
BIG BANG COMICS, which I edit and sometimes write is tons of fun, but isn't as representative of my style as TMNT and the others are.