FCBD Spotlight: Cosplay to Art

I’ve got a personal feature to share with you all. At last year’s New York Comic Con I cosplayed as Dark Leo. It was a lot of fun getting to pay tribute to my favorite character in one of his coolest new designs. I even got to take pictures with Ben Bishop and Eric Talbot, two TMNT artists, and Ben took a photo of me and sent it to Mateus Santolouco, the originator of the Dark Leo design! All in all, a great Comic Con experience.

Now, fast forward to last week, where out of the blue, April contacts me to let me know that our picture was being used by an artist out in Kansas for a Free Comic Book Day commission! Being a writer for, I had to follow up with him. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Melvin Penner:

DS: I guess I’d like to start off with some general information about you and your art. Where are you based out of? How long have you been drawing?

MP: I live in Topeka, Kansas. It’s a great capital city and I love it here. We have a rejuvenated art district that came about a few years ago. While it mostly represents fine arts and antique stores, I stick to the comic variety. I used to only do traditional work in pencil and ink but have recently started working in digital. I’m a bit behind the curve with it, but when you’re in the latter thirties, some of us have a hard time transitioning. With that said, I’ve only recently started doing pictures as prints. That really just started with me attending my first convention, seeing people selling prints and thinking to myself, “I can do this.” So I went home, worked on my first piece and took it to my local comic shop, Boom Comics and it’s like every one went NUTS! Now that piece has been sold as prints, been put on t-shirts and I guess I have a small fan base. It’s crazy to me.

When I think about art and how long I’ve been doing it, I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t engaged in art. I’ve always had a pencil to work with so either I’m doodling or designing out my next project. I worked my way though every art course I could get my hand on and was inspired in high school to become an art teacher. However due to the politics in Kansas, it just wasn’t a career move that made sense. I’m very passionate about art in our schools and society as a whole. Back to my own work, my desk is full of concept art that I never used and usually a couple projects that I work on concurrently.

DS: Tell me about this piece and your inspiration. Where did you find the cosplay photo that you based the artwork on? What Turtles design elements did you take inspiration from?

MP: This piece is a little unusual. I saw the cosplay photo in a FaceBook group, TMNT Lives 4 Ever, and I thought it was such an awesome April, Shredder and Foot Soldier that I just had to draw it. The colors were vibrant and it was just very well done. So I sat on that idea for a while until I learned that this year on Free Comic Book Day, there wasn’t going to be a free TMNT title. I found it unacceptable and shot out a message to see who I needed to contact to use the likenesses for the print to give away. Long story short, I did several drafts to get the picture right and ultimately decided to do a hodgepodge of everything I loved about the Turtles. I went with the classic Turtle pose, 80’s April and made the Foot Soldier look a bit more traditional. When it was completed, I found out that the Foot Soldier was actually Dark Leo, from a story line I wasn’t aware of. (But now I want to check it out) So really from start to finish, it was all from the idea of seeing something I visually liked and really just wanted to find a way to give back to the comic and Turtle communities that I have loved since I was a child.

DS: What shop are you working with for Free Comic Book Day? What details can you give us for the release? 

MP: If you’re in the Topeka, Kansas area, stop by Boom Comics near 21st and Gage. I did a very small print run and the picture will be in postcard size, 4×6. Even if you’re not local, go to your local participating comic shop on May 7th for the 15th annual Free Comic Book Day. Pick some titles that you aren’t familiar with or get one with characters you already know and enjoy. If you’re not sure where you can find a participating shop, there is a Free Comic Book Day website that has a database. (**)

DS: Alright, I’ve got to ask. What do you think about TMNT: Out of the Shadows?

MP: I’m super excited for it. It looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. To finally see Krang in a movie just blows my mind. Quickly, let me address the big elephant in the room. The look of the Turtles. No, I wasn’t a big fan of it when I first saw them. But I decided to look at it objectively. I came to the conclusion that if this new look was the change that we had to accept to allow them to be passed to the current generation and further, then it was a small price to pay. I much prefer they look like this than to not have them at all. Once I accepted that, everything was okay from there, and I loved the last movie and I am eagerly looking forward to the new one. The look grew on me, I guess. Plus, it became canon in the Turtles Forever movie that there are many version of the turtles. Looking back, no two incarnations of them that we’ve seen have been the same anyways.

Without any further ado: here’s the piece and the photo it was based on side by side:

I’d like to thank Melvin for sharing his art with us and taking some time for this feature. You can catch more of his work at

I’d also like to thank April of April6News! You can catch more of April at and She’ll be live with Donatello for the midnight showing of TMNT: Out of the Shadows, so check it out!

If you’re in Topeka, you can get more information about Boom Comics at

And if you’re looking for more information about Free Comic Book Day, check out!

Happy Free Comic Book Day Everyone!

The Author

Dan Spitaliere

Dan Spitaliere

Dan Spitaliere is a sound designer and engineer, voice over artist, and a lifelong shellhead. He grew up on a healthy diet of Turtles movies, comics, cartoons, and toys, and can recite the first movie in its entirety from memory. He is excited to be a part of such a great team in the middle of this current Turtle Renaissance!

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