“The Last Ronin” changed the entire Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise.
The book shot the Ninja Turtles back in to the spotlight, even for lapsed fans who haven’t kept up with the turtles in decades. Telling a story of revenge for the sole remaining turtle, the tale is a gritty, bloody adventure set in a bleak future with familiar faces, and tragic endings. It’s popularity is spawning collectibles, a video game, and a sequel comic series. The Last Ronin answered the call that fans have been asking for- a dark TMNT book. Similar to their early days at Mirage comics.
At New York Comic Con 2023, I was able to sit down with part of the Last Ronin team to talk about killing their heroes, the potential of future versions of characters, and predicting the future.
Editors note: The Escorza Brothers communicated via an on-site translator for this interview.
TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles.com: Thank you guys so much for being with me! Good morning, everybody. So, I guess my first question is- What was it like to murder the Ninja Turtles?
Tom Waltz: Cathartic!
Ben Bishop: People call me the turtle killer, and I always just say I was under orders! I just do what I was told and sending them out in the most honorable way I could, and doing my best. Obviously, as a kid born in ‘86, grew up with all these guys, it was just as painful for me. Every, every scene I was drawing, I had chills, and it really was just making sure to do it right. And make sure they went out in a way fans would say like, “That makes sense for him.” That was their call, of course, but keeping it you know, respectful and honorable and emotional, and I think that’s why Kevin wanted me to do it. I make people cry in a lot of my books.
TW: That was the challenge, too, because the flip to that was the story what we wanted to tell ultimately was vengeance is futile. There’s no reason to pursue revenge because you’re really hurting yourself. And so, the death were amazing and they were honorable- but at the same time, we wanted to kind of present this idea that, “OK, now they’re dead. Now What? You know? Was it worth it worth this long family feud just to lose everybody? I mean on both sides, really! I think that was the key to us kind of “End-capping” that was the “No Peace” thing. So, the whole idea was, there was never any peace. In the end, Michelangelo, once this family feud was finished realized really, the only thing that matters is having peace. That’s what you should be seeking because- we’re all dead. We’re all gone, and for what? What we wanna do now in the new series is take that a step further. OK, was is it worth it? What comes out of that destruction now? And is it good? Or is it bad? Or is it both? And that’s the thing we’re going to be exploring.
Isaac Escorza: It has been a privilege to work on the project on the project. I think this is the best thing we, as brothers, have worked on in our professional careers. We never imagine that through the death of the turtles. So, actually following a script from Tom and Kevin, was like “Ok, we’re killing the turtles. We’re going to keep killing the turtles.” Kevin sometimes says, “Don’t think of all the designs, the layouts, everything they gave to us to look at. Everything related to the print, what we have experienced has been a complete different experience from what we have experienced before.
And now, we have Ninja Turtles in everything. We know as the story continues, now we have a new family to follow. It’s not over. The things that started two years ago are continuing now, and we have new things to tell to all the people.
Esau Escorza: Working the Turtles is something that was completely unexpected for me. I always followed the turtles. I always liked the cartoons, and the video games. In the 90’s I used to watch the movies, and stuff like. When we’re drawing human beings- actual human beings- some superheroes, we never saw each other drawing something like a mutant. And less- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I have drawn so few turtles, some realistic turtles, I used to draw a cartoon version just for myself. I never imagined that I would be drawing these professionally. It has been something completely surprising for me time. It has been something really nice. It has been a great experience. I learned a lot about it. It was such a short notice that when we were already starting to draw the Ninja Turtles! So we kept working the script and drawing- because we weren’t given a clean script. We were given a few pages here and there. And the story kept changing and moving. So, we were fans actually following the comic! What’s going to happen? What happened here? What happens next? When the story was over, Kevin and Tom already knew what was going to happen. They had surprises for the fans. It was a complete revelation for (us). It was an amazing experience. I was like a fan- reading then drawing. We had a complete year to read, so we had to wait the whole time for it to be complete. So that is something unique for us.
TMNT.com: At the end of the Last Ronin series, we got a glimpse of the next batch of turtles that are now coming out. When you had that teaser- was there already a plan in place? Did you have any personalities ready to go?
TW: No, honestly. This is how that came about. So, as we were coming to the end- it was a long process, as mentioned, there were delays- and then we wanted to make sure we had this kind of epilogue. The epilogue obviously dealt with Casey training, kind of that idea was more of Casey Marie was the one carrying the traditions and the torch. Kevin (Eastman) said, “Oh you know what? Let’s blow everybody’s mind and have a terrarium with 4 turtles in it. I said “OK.” (Tom shrugs this off)
We weren’t even sure! We had talked about sequels, and we had ideas for sequels- again, a lot of the stuff is kind of centered on Casey and her story. So he (Kevin) says “Let’s just throw those four turtles in there and see what happens!
But, again, it’s the kind of thing where ideas beget ideas, right? And sometimes, teasers beget ideas. And once we did that, and Last Ronin has been amazing to us, and we start to feel like this is its own universe. This Ronin-verse can be something bigger than than what we actually initially had planned. Then we started talking about “What we can they be? Who are they? What are they? Then we got really hyper into the weeds looking at different different species of turtles, all kinds of things. But the original idea was more of this kind of cool Easter egg that maybe fans go “OH!” and it maybe filled in with their own headspace and their own fan fiction in their mind. This is what would happen if they were four more turtles! But the idea grew on us too, and then the rest is history.
TMNT.com: Are there any versions of current villains that might make an appearance?
BB: We maybe can’t say.
TW: Nothing is off the board! One of the things that we want to do with Ronan that we’ve always done with turtles at IDW is- Nothing will happen in serves the story. For long time I wrote the ongoing series and we would never bring in characters, like big villains and guys like Leatherhead, until later in the series when it made sense. I mean, when we created Jennika, Kevin and I wanted to make a female turtle from the very beginning. She didn’t become a female turtle until issue 9! And we didn’t even know who she was going to be until [issues] 50’s 60’s when we realized “Oh! Jennika’s our turtle! How do we make that happen? And it took us 30 issues to make it happen. Same approach for Ronan. We’re not gonna force feed anything. We do you want there to be, the same, this new world and new characters. At the same time, we never forget about the four original turtles. We don’t forget about the history that has inspired these new turtles. So, I’m hoping that we do have some cool flashback stuff to take a look back and maybe some of those those classic villains or characters will appear.
TMNT.com: Were there any ideas that- I know it’s a very collaborative process- but were there any ideas that maybe Kevin through out that was a little bit too far gone?
BB: Things that didn’t make the cut?
TW: There were things we talked about that didn’t happen.We thought we were gonna go left and we went right with certain storylines and certain characters, but to be honest, it’s been a pretty grounded experience because it’s such a serious story. If anything, I think it’s the opposite was true. When Kevin showed me the original outline, and it was written ‘87 and it was like 30 years in the future? The future wasn’t futuristic enough! In 1987 it was! Peter Laird (co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) is Nostradamus, is what I call him because he just predicted things that happen!
BB: Flip phones that run on batteries- It says in the script “It would be able to last a whole day! And you would watch your sports on it!
TW: It looked like a modern flip phone! It blew my mind! There are diagrams and-
BB: It was right under a drawing of Fugitoid’s head and I was like “Is Fugitoid coming? Is this real?
TW: So what I said to Kevin was, “We’re going to have to make it a little more futuristic because everything exists that’s in this story! We had to go in the opposite direction and get a little more crazy! As far as like the other characters themselves and the concept, we’re trying to stay in an area that’s grounded. We don’t want to get away from graphic storytelling or the excitement of comics and in action adventure. But, at the same time, it’s a very serious story of a family that’s gone and the family that’s come, you know? And what problems do they deal with the other ones didn’t, but what are some of the same issues? It’s never been a thing where I felt like like “Nope! You can’t have robots from Mars on this thing!” Does that mean we can’t later on? Maybe we will. Only if it makes sense to the story.
The truth is that I will always felt like all of us have had this kind of weird synchronicity- all the way through our colorist, Luis Antonio Delgado, where we we know the mood we’re trying to set, we know the story we’re trying to tell, and we’ve all come together, both story-wise and design-wise to make that happen.
TMNT.com: Speaking of the original script, which was originally conceived by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, how much of that original script continued in to the Final Cut?
Stay tuned for part 2 of our interview with this part of the Last Ronin Team where we tackle the original script and how their own lives have changed!
Huge thank you to Gregg Katzman and IDW comics for the opportunity to talk to the team, and thank you to Tom Waltz, Ben Bishop and the Escorza brothers for their time!
Be sure to pick up “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin” collection in bookstores everywhere now!
“The Last Ronin: The Lost Years” collection is also available now, and “The Last Ronin 2” issue #1 will release in comic shops everywhere December 13, 2023.