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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles writer/artist Sophie Campbell outlines her second year

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #114 cover
(Image credit: IDW Publishing)

30 years after their debut in the cult-favorite film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Secret of the Ooze, the mutated monsters Tokka and Rahzar are finally being introduced in the main TMNT comic books with January 19's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #113.

(Image credit: Sophie Campbell (IDW Publishing))

TMNT super fan Sophie Campbell says this comic book debut was years-in the making, and it now fits as part of the writer/artist's second year on IDW Publishing's long-running Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles title.

In talking to Campbell, Newsarama learned about what's to come in this arc and beyond, as well as the hesistancy she had early on in taking this gig - and the rewards she has found in her first year on the title so far.

Newsarama: Sophie, you're 11 issues into your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles run. You've written it all, drawn more than half of it, and have even collaborated with an outside artist, Jodi Nishijima, to draw a portion of it. How do you feel right now about the run so far?

Sophie Campbell: Don't forget about Nelson Daniel and Ronda Pattison on issues 106-108! I wrote the story for the 'Slithery' mini-arc and Ronda did scripts based on the outline, she did a great job. 

I feel pretty good overall about what I've done so far, even though there are things I wish I could've done or wished I'd done differently when looking back on it, but that always happens with everything I work on. I mostly try to make having fun the priority for myself, regardless if the end result is good or bad or whatever, if I had fun doing it then that's the most important thing for me at this point in my career, otherwise I just tie myself into knots over worrying if it's any good or not. And I'm definitely having a blast working on TMNT, so that's what counts. 

Sophie Campbell

(Image credit: IDW Publishing)

At first, I was apprehensive about stepping into Tom Waltz's shoes; he did 100 highly-regarded issues of this series and he went out with a huge bang. I didn't think I could measure up to that and just TMNT in general. I actually said no to the job initially when [editor Bobby Curnow] offered it to me; it felt like too much, too much stress, too much pressure. Pressure both from readers and from myself; for me, it's daunting working on something I love, like I'm too invested in TMNT to handle the emotional burden of mixing being a fan with professional concerns, I don't need that kind of stress. 

But, luckily, I ended up deciding that I wanted to do it after all and it was definitely the right decision. I had to convince myself that what I do on TMNT doesn't have to be the best TMNT ever, it doesn't have to be huge and 'important,' it doesn't even have to be as good or loved as the previous 100 issues, it just has to be something I'm happy with that I put myself into, something only I could do, and that's enough.

Nrama: What's been your highlights in the issues released so far, TMNT #101 - #112?

Campbell: Probably issues #105, #110, and #111

(Image credit: Sophie Campbell/Ronda Pattison/Shawn Lee (IDW Publishing))

#105 was super fun because of the metal show stuff and the Turtles having fun and doing 'regular' things for once, that felt important and exciting to me. 

#110 and #111 were really fun to write; I love ninja stealth stuff so writing the sequence where Leo infiltrates the Mutanimals base was super fun, and then seeing the way Jodi put it together on the page was so great (especially her hilarious rendition of Leo in his 'Surfer Dad' disguise). I loved seeing those pages come in. 

#111 was more ninja tactics stuff, like ninja Home Alone, and it was really fun coming up with what ninja tactics the Turtles would use against the Mutanimals spies, and I love the idea of them having secret passages and hatches hidden inside the walls of the dojo. Maybe I should draw some cross-sections and floorplans of the dojo building showing where all the secret doors are.

Nrama: You should!

Campbell: [Laughs]

(Image credit: Sophie Campbell/Ronda Pattison/Shawn Lee (IDW Publishing))

I guess in terms of the experience itself, I loved working with Jodi, she's good at making me laugh with character expressions or surprising me with other little funny things she puts in.

Nrama: In this month's TMNT #113, you're starting a new arc and re-introducing Tokka and Rahzar from the film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. What can you say about this arc?

Campbell: This arc was originally supposed to happen earlier but we decided to push it back and I think that was a good call. 

It's sort of a four-pronged story: 

  1. Lita showing up from the future and the Turtles getting a glimpse of what the fruits of their dojo labor might be, so to speak. 
  2. Tokka and Rahzar of course. 
  3. Jennika grappling with what Karai did to her.
  4. The importance of having a hobby. 

The first pitch I did for it was more like The Terminator: two characters from the future with conflicting goals and the Turtles mixed up in the middle and there's a causality loop and so forth. It was darker and more somber, but it ended up being lighter which was the right way to go. Also there's a lot of music and metal, even more than issue #105. I always find myself going back to music-related storylines in my writing, and it feels natural for TMNT to include that, both as a whole and because of the Mutant Town community-building aspect.

(Image credit: Sophie Campbell/Ronda Pattison/Shawn Lee (IDW Publishing))

Nrama: And how about re-introducing Tokka and Rahzar, and pitting them against Bebop and Rocksteady. This is like something out of my toybox in the '90s - how long has this been an idea for you?

Campbell: I'd been trying to get Tokka and Rahzar introduced into IDW TMNT for years, I'm so happy they're finally showing up! 

The original idea didn't involve them encountering Bebop and Rocksteady at all, but when I started fleshing out the musical aspect of the story, Bebop and Rocksteady made a lot of sense since Ben Bates and Dustin Weaver had given them a music-heavy backstory in Bebop & Rocksteady Destroy Everything, they seemed to fit perfectly. So then, naturally, it made sense for the two duos to run into each other!

Nrama: Tokka and Rahzar are even more monstrous, to me at least, that Bebop and Rocksteady. As someone who fondly remembers your Mountain Girl stories, is this a chance for you to dig more into the monster side of TMNT mutantkind?

(Image credit: Sophie Campbell/Ronda Pattison/Shawn Lee (IDW Publishing))

Campbell: Definitely! I wanted to make Tokka and Rahzar the biggest, most monster-like mutants thus far, and drawing Tokka scratches my kaiju itch. Tokka and Rahzar's main appeal for me is that they're children - babies who don't really understand what they're doing, they don't have full sapience yet or whatever you want to call it, so they literally don't know their own strength. A baby with the ability to unwittingly crush a car while throwing a tantrum is really fun, that they aren't evil, just unaware, and that's something that separates Tokka and Rahzar from Bebop and Rocksteady, who are malicious jerks who wreck things on purpose.

Nrama: TMNT #114 promises Jennika will finally get a second chance with Karai, who almost killed her last time. What's coming up in this?

Campbell: It won't be the showdown you expect. I can't spoil too much but Karai isn't in a position to do battle with Jenny. Jenny's portion of this arc is mostly about her having a ton of resentment and trauma over what happened, and in some ways, she actually was murdered by Karai. Jenny basically died and woke up as a mutant; Karai took away her previous life as a human. So Jenny has a lot to grapple with!

(Image credit: Sophie Campbell/Ronda Pattison/Shawn Lee (IDW Publishing))

Nrama: Heady! Can you tell us about Jennika's overall mission in this arc, forming that band to save the future?

Campbell: Again I can't spoil too much, but the band thing isn't that big or simple as that. It does have an effect on the future timeline but it's more of a personal obstacle for Jenny, and ties into the paths the other Turtles and Alopex might end up taking in the dark future that Lita comes from.

Nrama: This is all coming out as ANOTHER TMNT future story, TMNT: Last Ronin, is underway. You drew a variant to #2 -- but what do you think of what Kevin, Tom, and the others have done in this series so far?

Campbell: I love the Last Ronin so far!!! I can't wait for #2, I'm going to bug my editor for the PDF as soon as it's done. I'd love to do my own future timeline series like Last Ronin someday, it's very inspiring.

Nrama: Along those lines, what are your big goals for TMNT going forward?

Campbell: I'm working on the next story proposal right now which will probably wrap up my time on TMNT, so I want to go out with something I'm happy with. My main goal is to give Hob what he's got coming to him! Also maybe an issue where Jenny, Mona, Sally, and some of the other ladies go out for Mutant Town makeovers.

Don't let the Turtlemania stop there - check out Newsarama's list of the best TMNT stories of all time.

Newsarama Senior Editor Chris Arrant has covered comic book news for Newsarama since 2003, and has also written for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel Entertainment, TOKYOPOP, AdHouse Books, Cartoon Brew, Bleeding Cool, Comic Shop News, and CBR. He is the author of the book Modern: Masters Cliff Chiang, co-authored Art of Spider-Man Classic, and contributed to Dark Horse/Bedside Press' anthology Pros and (Comic) Cons. He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards, and the Stan Lee Awards. Chris is a member of the American Library Association's Graphic Novel & Comics Round Table.