The Mutant Town Community – Sophie Campbell Talks ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’
by Scott Redmond
In late 2019, IDW Publishing’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtleshit a landmark 100th issue that saw the world of the Turtles shaken up both on and off the page. Not only did a portion of Manhattan become known as Mutant Town, home to a slew of recently mutated human beings, but longtime writer Tom Waltz passed the proverbial baton to Sophie Campbell to begin a whole new era for the Turtle clan. Campbell has taken over the writing of the series and has also drawn a number of the issues while welcoming other artists to help out on some of the recent story arcs.
With thirteen issues on shelves, following a slight pause in early 2020 when publishing was shut down due to the pandemic, I had a chance to speak to Campbell about the past, present, and future of the series.
Scott Redmond: Thirteen issues of your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles run are now out in the world. Coming onto an ongoing title after a long-term creative direction comes to an end no doubt comes with lots of pressures, even though you were no stranger to the IDW Turtle universe before that, that was compounded by a pause to the new run very shortly in because of the pandemic. Looking back now at this point, how are you feeling overall?
Sophie Campbell: I’m pretty happy with how it’s gone so far. Looking back on it there are things I wish I could’ve done, or done differently, but that’s how every project goes. The biggest pressure I felt was just writing (and sometimes drawing) a monthly book, not so much whether I’d measure up to Tom Waltz’s 100 issues or anything else or how I’d follow it up. I try to just focus on having fun with it and doing something I’m proud of, it doesn’t have to be the best TMNT ever or be as good or better than Tom’s work, it just needs to be something that only I can bring to the table.
SR: One of the big things that has stood out so far has been the willingness to dive into both deep emotional topics as well as making sure to also seed in a lot more “regular” and fun things for the Turtles to encounter as they actually have a chance at a life of sorts in Mutant Town. And there has even been a dive into politics and the natural divides that occur in societies/communities. What made you want to explore these avenues with the Turtles and do you feel it is important to tackle these types of topics when telling stories?
SC: I don’t think it’s necessarily important to tackle certain topics in a story, it depends on what it is and what the tone of the story is, and what the creator wants to say, if anything. When I’m writing I always gravitate toward emotion-driven stuff with a more down-to-earth tone, I really like writing slice-of-life stuff and there’s something fun to me about having weird characters like the Turtles doing everyday things, I could do an entire series about them just doing things like grocery shopping and doing their laundry, haha. When they weren’t doing sci-fi ninja stuff, the original Mirage TMNT comics had the occasional scene or short story with the Turtles doing regular things or lounging around April’s apartment or the farmhouse, and that’s some of my favorite TMNT material and I wanted to bring that kind of earthy, casual feel to my run on the series, and Mutant Town seemed like a perfect place to do it. A lot of what I’ve been doing is also just my natural inclinations brought into TMNT, I’m taking the things I usually do in my creator-owned work and mashing it up with mutants and ninjas.
SR: Often it can understandably be common for many series to spend most of their time with the title characters, but in these thirteen issues, you’ve made sure to really seed in a lot of recurring characters and even new characters to build a very solid supporting cast that fills the streets of Mutant Town. How important do you think a supporting cast is to a title and are there any standout supporting cast members that you find yourself gravitating towards more?
SC: There are probably too many characters in the series at this point, haha. It’s difficult juggling them all and deciding who should show up and who shouldn’t, and with the serialized format it can get weird if a particular character doesn’t show up for a while because then people start wondering where they are and what they’re up to and so forth, while at the same time you’re trying to keep the focus on the main characters. The Mutant Town setting does lend itself to characters popping in and out of the story and it’s not a big deal, like when a character isn’t around for a bit it doesn’t feel as jarring or out of place when they suddenly pop back in because their apartment is right down the street. A supporting cast is only important if it fits with the story. There are lots of great stories that have only a small core cast without the need for minor characters, and lots of great ones that need a sprawling cast. It all depends. Right now the supporting cast is important to TMNT because there’s more focus on the Turtles taking part in some kind of community, so you need some characters to fill it out, even if they’re just minor characters with a handful of appearances. My favorite supporting characters are definitely the Weasels and Sheena.
SR: Writers are one part of an equation needed to bring the glory of comics to life and while you have drawn a portion of this run so far, you’ve also been joined by the likes of Ronda Pattison, Jodi Nishijima, Nelson Daniel, and Shawn Lee. What has it been like collaborating with all of them to bring these stories to life?
SC: I love working with all of them! I’d only done a small amount of writing for other artists before this, and it’s always super fun seeing the interior art come in and seeing how an artist draws a scene I wrote. I like when artists change things and surprise me and suggest their own ideas, I’m pretty loose with the scripting and as an artist myself I like a lot of leeway so I tried to give that to Jodi. She would always find fun things to put into her pages that made me laugh or surprised me, I loved working with her.
SR: The hearts of 90s Turtles fans were no doubt beating in excitement with the announcement of the arc that is set to re-introduce Tokka and Rahzar from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. What made you want to bring them into the book and what can you say about this arc as a whole?
SC: I’d been trying to get Tokka and Rahzar into the IDW series for a while, and for a bit early on it seemed like it might not happen. I didn’t really like them that much when I was a kid, I didn’t like the comedic silly Turtles stuff at the time, until one time I revisited the movie when I was older and the characters finally clicked with me, then I was a diehard Tokka and Rahzar fan. They’re interesting to me because since they’re children, they don’t really understand what they’re doing, they don’t understand that the Foot Clan is bad, they don’t understand that Shredder (or in IDW’s case, Karai) is the bad guy, all they know is that they want to make their mama proud of them. They aren’t yet capable of having their own morality, and IDW TMNT has had a lot of morality and ethics on the part of the villains so I thought it would be fun to change it up and have a couple of antagonists who are amoral. Also the fact that they’re babies makes them a bit tragic and you don’t really want to see the Turtles (or Bebop and Rocksteady) beat them up because they don’t understand why they’re getting beaten up! And finally, they’re just really fun to draw!
SR: Without spoiling anything of course, do you have any other old school Turtles related characters or concepts that might make the leap into the pages of the series in the future?
SC: Nothing planned at the moment, Tokka and Rahzar were the big ones. In my loose original outline when I first signed on, I did have some other ones I’d planned on introducing like Shadow Jones and Armaggon, but they either fell by the wayside or were scrapped because they didn’t fit with how the story ended up coming together. Maybe we’ll get a glimpse of the Punk Frogs at some point, we’ll see. One character I still keep thinking of how to introduce is Muckman, he doesn’t really fit with IDW TMNT at all but I love a character made of slime and garbage.
SR: Continuing to look forward, what are some of the goals or big themes that you would like to tackle going forward with the series?
SC: One goal is figuring out how to have Hob get some sort of comeuppance, I can’t let him off scot-free before I leave the series! Other than that I’ll be trying to further the storyline of the Turtles becoming part of the Mutant Town community, that’s probably the most important thing.
SR: Wrapping things up, is there any specific media out there right now that is inspiring you or has fully caught your attention?
SC: I recently saw the really amazing kaiju short film Howl From Beyond the Fog directed by Daisuke Sato, that’s been on my mind a lot. I’m still listening to Blackguard’s new album from last year, Storm, it’s soooo good.
SR: Is there anything TMNT or other work-related that you have coming up that you would like to let folks know about?
SC: I have a story in Batman Black & White #2 which is pretty exciting, and I’m designing a sofubi kaiju figure for Max Toy Co so that’s also a huge new thing for me.
Comicon would like to thank Sophie Campbell for taking the time to share with us. All the current and upcoming issues of TMNT and the aforementioned Batman: Black & White #2 can be found at your local comic shop or through digital comics platforms.