Interview with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles artist and writer Sophie Campbell
There hasn’t been this much attention on IDW’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” series since, well, ever.
While the events surrounding issue #50 showed that the series was willing to take risks and go in new directions, nothing prepared fans for the addition of a 5th turtle in issue #95. The road to issue #100 took an awesome turn with Jennika, the new female Ninja Turtle.
The issue is long sold out in comic shops and went for a second printing. I got to talk with one of the co-creators of the newest addition to the turtles, Sophie Campbell. We talked about her fan comic, Jennika’s future, and the turtles 35th anniversary.
First, can you tell our readers a bit of your origin story?
It’s nothing spectacular! I was artistic since a young age, I drew Ninja Turtles a lot like many kids growing up in the late 80s, then I went to art college which didn’t help me get work AT ALL so then I hustled a lot until I got my first job in comics doing a book at Oni Press around 2002-2003. That got the ball rolling and it hasn’t really stopped since.
You have a long history with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, beyond your professional work. What are some of your favorite TMNT memories?
One I’ll always remember is when I emailed Steve Murphy out of the blue back in 2006 asking if I could do some work for Mirage, it seemed like a longshot but I had nothing to lose. He was super nice and encouraging and got me a job doing some covers and pinups/frontispieces for them, it was a dream come true. I’ll always be really grateful and proud that I got to do even a small amount of work for Mirage before Peter sold TMNT, since the Mirage Turtles are what really got me into it back in the day. One bad memory is when I foolishly spilled the beans about the TMNT series I was slated to draw at Dark Horse before it fell through and IDW got the license, I got in big trouble and some news outlets took some of my daily sketches of TMNT characters I had posted on my Livejournal and said they were official concept art which was not true at all, they were just goof-off sketches on my blog. Anyway, I got in trouble like I said, it was a huge mess, and one that still bites me in the ass to this day.
You recently shared images of early drawings of Jennika, the new 5th Ninja Turtle. Can you tell us about your involvement in developing the character? How long has she been in the works?
Tom Waltz first approached me to work on the idea in 2017, so Jennika has been in the works behind the scenes for a few years. Tom and I kept it secret at first (you can see some of our email exchanges on Tom’s twitter) and we batted around ideas about Jenny’s design before I did a few sketches. My involvement so far has only been visual, since Tom had introduced Jennika as a human in the series way back in issue #51, I believe, so he’s had tons of experience writing her as a character, he had that aspect covered and just needed me to come up with the design. At the time, I also did the concept art to help pitch the idea to Bobby, Kevin, and Nickelodeon, we wanted to show them how she would look and how she’d fit in with the rest of the Turtles, visually-speaking. Tom already had the idea for a yellow mask for Jennika when he contacted me, but it’s the color I would’ve picked, too, and he liked my pick for Jenny’s signature weapon being the tekkokagi/ninja claws, so we were on the same page right off the bat.
Cat’s out of the bag now, so here’s some concept art I did two years ago (can’t believe it’s been that long) for mutated Jennika, the new Turtle!! @TomWaltz @thedisastrix @IDWPublishing pic.twitter.com/FtrJsK9Deb
— Sophie Campbell (@mooncalfe1) July 9, 2019
How much of Jennika was taken from your fan comic, “Secrets of the Ooze?”
Visually there some aspects of Jennika’s design that are similar to my fan-comic Turtle character Artemisia, especially in the concept art where I drew Jenny wearing a hood and cloak. But beyond a couple design similarities, like both characters having yellow as their color, I don’t think of them as that similar. Concept-wise they’re really different people. Like their weapons for example, I think about the Turtles’ weapons as representations of their personalities; Artemisia’s weapon is the hankyu/bow-and-arrow, she’s shy and nervous so her weapon is something she can use without getting close to people, she can remain hidden while attacking from afar, so it’s a key part of her character. While Jennika on the other hand has no issues with anxiety or anything like that, so she needed a weapon that fits her as a person, too. In that sense Jennika doesn’t owe inspiration to my fan-comic or Artemisia, she comes from a different place as a character and concept.
I read that you didn’t want to take over responsibility for the main TMNT series because you love the series so much, you agonized over every detail. It was recently announced that you will be taking over writing and drawing the main series starting with issue #101. What made you change your mind?
Yeah, I was actually offered the main artist (not writer though) position several years ago but I said no because I had a really hard time working on the Leonardo micro issue back in 2012. I care too much about TMNT and have my own ideas and visions for the characters (like I think most fans do), and I got frustrated with the approval process and the notes I’d receive. I was too invested and I was losing sleep over it when I was working on that issue, I couldn’t imagine dealing with that full-time! Things have really loosened up in the years since the comic’s early days, now everyone kinda knows what the series is supposed to be, it’s established, and there’s way more creative leeway. I’ve enjoyed working on TMNT much more in the past few years and I think I’ve proven myself with the other work I’ve done for it, so taking the reins seemed like a good opportunity.
How does it feel knowing that you play a vital part in the evolution of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, especially during their 35th anniversary?
It’s amazing!! Totally a dream come true. I never thought I’d be making such a big contribution to TMNT, I wonder what my 9-year-old self would think, haha. Sometimes it feels like a lot of pressure, but most of the time I’m just too excited about helping to shape TMNT to worry about it.
Can you tell us anything about where the series is headed after Issue #100?
I’d get in trouble if I told you anything! I’ll say that there’s going to be a little bit of a breather after #100, I’ve read Tom’s outline for what happens in the story and it’s a whirlwind, so the characters definitely need a vacation afterward. I want to put some focus on Jennika and see how she fits in with the Hamato Clan and how she takes to being a mutant now, I think that’ll be fun. But I can’t reveal any plot points or anything, you’ll have to stay tuned.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers and artists?
Artists: take a life drawing class! Writers: when doing pitches or self-publishing, pay the artists you work with!
Thanks to Sophie Campbell for talking with us! Find her on twitter here and don’t forget to pick up the incredible Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic series from IDW.