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.
For Part 2 of our New York Comic Con 2023 interview, I was able to sit down with part of the Last Ronin team to talk about the new characters driving the story, how their own lives have changed, and their favorite adopted child!
Be sure to check out Part 1 HERE!
Editors note: The Escorza Brothers communicated via an on-site translator for this interview.
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?
Tom Waltz: Do you know what? The concept itself is their concept. This idea that there was a last turtle seeking vengeance for his family against the Foot Clan- that’s all there. And certain things like Fugitoid. Fugitoid was something that that Peter had put into the outline that, the way it was presented in the outline we didn’t follow exactly, but we were never gonna let that go. That was always going to be in the story. That was a big part, from what Kevin (Eastman) has told me, Fugitoid is very important to Peter. We’re gonna find a way to make that work. You know it’s funny, going back to your last question, at first I felt like “How do we get this robot in there? How do we make that make sense? But once we sat down and talked about it, we do have a story for Fugitoid that’s different than the Mirage story, but still close enough to know where the inspired by that. So for long time fans, and even casual fans, it’s close enough to where they know who he is, and what he is, and why he is. You don’t have to to be detailed.
But the reality is, there is no “Last Ronin” without that original outline. At all. Because that’s the inspiration. And, whether we followed it to the “T” or we deviated, we wouldn’t have been able to deviate if there wasn’t something over there to deviate from. So that was inspiration. And like I said, we wanted to the original first volume to be that based on that.
The fact that we’ve got sequels now, and prequels, is just a result of us falling in love with this universe, and as it evolved. It doesn’t hurt that fans love it.
Ben Bishop: And having more stories to tell. You’re like “Oh, wouldn’t it be great to tell this story and that story. And even reading the reviews was like, Ronin was finished and they were out- there were a lot of people saying it needed to be longer. “I wish it was longer!” We wish it was longer too! And it’s like, they wanted to see what happened right after they took Raph out of the water. They wanna see the turtles grieving. And we’ve just got to say, “Well, hopefully we do.”
Those stories are always there. How does Casey Marie get the half mask? What’s the circumstances? I think fans want to read them as much as we want to draw them.
Isaac Escorza: Kevin helps a lot. He would lay in the full New York City skyscraper and everything, there are little details he actually put in there that we weren’t aware of. He gave us the basics to think the way the city would materialize. And now with Ronin 2, we’re getting to see a totally new view of Kevin and how he’s seeing the future of New York. His actual vision is what [we] are logging right now. It feels like the turtles, it feels like New York, but it’s him.
TW: That’s one thing I will say, you know, I worked with Kevin for many years on the ongoing [series] at IDW. I was more the main writer, then I was driving story, and Kevin was working with us to create great plots. But when Kevin took over- This is definitely Kevin’s baby. Ronin is Kevin’s baby. He’s is the Batman I am the Robin on this on, without a doubt. There’s a reason he’s a legend in this industry. It’s fascinating to watch someone with such a great instincts. He’ll come with ideas and it first I’ll be like “That seems so specific-“
BB: Donnie’s hat! He showed me what he wanted to do with Donnie and I was like “Can I make that hat look badass?” And it’s the most bad ass! He knew!
TW: Yeah! One thing I will say about Kevin is that, this is a creator in tune with his fandom. I mean, he knows what they love. He knows what they’re gonna notice. He knows what they’re gonna dig, what they won’t dig and I just follow his lead. And he’s been right. There’s been times where I thought “This is cool, I’m not sure if someone will notice it” and it ends up being like the first thing they’re writing about in an article that says “did you see this thing!” Kevin was right again! So, that’s been a lot of fun for me, after all these years in this industry, to be able to still be learning, and be excited by it. To be surprised by things has been one of the best parts of this experience for me.
Esau Escorza: As Thomas mentioned, Kevin really know the turtles.
(Tom Waltz laughs)
He see the story behind the turtles have never been greater. People think that they know the turtles, but Kevin ACTUALLY knows the turtles. They’re like an extension of his being. So particularly for me, when I started working on Ronin, There were certain things that were not part of the story yet. We were like “Why Mike? Why not Raphael? And as soon as we started moving forward on the project, we started to see exactly why Mike was the Ronin. We saw why Kevin chose Mike as the Ronin. It represented all that Kevin knows about the turtles. So, for us, to see something amazing point that Kevin has on the story. That’s part of why the Turtles are such a success and they want to keep going with the story, like Ben said. To keep growing the universe of the Ronin.
TMNT.com: You guys (the Escorza Brothers) got your start at Heavy Metal Magazine, you (Tom Waltz) have been at IDW for years, and you (Ben Bishop) were stuck in the Small Press area for years-
BB: Fake it ‘til you make it! Draw a bunch of fake covers until they give you a real one. And wait years for it to come out. And then maybe they’ll put you on the inside. It really took Kevin saying “Ben is drawing this.”
TMNT.com: So it’s an overnight success.
BB: (Laughs) Yeah! Yeah, just thinking, like, since I met Kevin, right around when I turned 30. And I’m 38 now, it’s been going like 1,000,000 miles an hour. I realize it’s been the entirety of my 30’s! My life is flashing before my eyes. But I’ve made all the stuff! And it’s going well! It’s like, “OK, well I’ll give it a couple more years before I slow down.” It’s been amazing.
TMNT.com: How else has your lives changed since, now Last Ronin has become a New York Times Best Selling book?
BB: Still! It’s been out for like three years now!
TW: We were just talking- I think this month was the first month we weren’t number, we were number two in a more than a year on some graphic novel list, or whatever. Which is pretty amazing, in general, but for $29.99 book competing against cheaper manga volumes and stuff. And that’s been exciting. We can thank the fans for that. The video game announcement didn’t hurt! For me personally, it is like Kevin said. I’m kind of like a 20 year overnight success, I guess. So, yeah, I’ve been in the trenches for many, many years. We talk about turtles- Turtles is interesting because, all the success, you see our name on lists above Batman and the other big ones, and they still consider us like that little indie book that “Oh yeah! There’s also turtles in this industry!” Do you know we’re selling more than you? But thats part of the fun.
BB: It’s the most successful indie thing. And it’s the most successful main stream thing. So, I feel like the comics community as a whole is just like “Yeah, that’s happening.” But they don’t necessarily- it’s not like it’s Spider-Man. It’s not like it’s Batman. For whatever reason we’re still just a turtle guys.
TW: But I love that! I’m not gonna lie, you know, my situation at IDW has changed. I was an editor for many years and now I’ve gone freelance. There’s been jobs that have opened up for me that I’m currently working on. Some stuff for the “Big 2” that I can’t talk about. But the reality is, as exciting as that is for me personally, it’s always fun and broaden your horizons and try some new things creatively- I’ll always be turtles first. Because I know those things aren’t happening without the turtles.
It’s like the new turtles. The new turtles don’t exist without old turtles. So, whatever Tom is doing now is happening because all those years the turtles been so good to me. I still get excited when we have meetings, creative meetings, not just about Ronin but about turtles in general. I’ve done video games. I’ve done other comics, and it’s still a property that means the world to me and it feels like this team is my family. Turtles is my family. It’ll always be turtles first. It certainly has, I think, given me attention I didn’t have before. But, you know, it’s like Ben says, when you’re in the middle of it- you’re just working. I think someday maybe when I’m an old man, and if I ever do stop, maybe I can look back on it and say “Oh, that was pretty cool!” but right I’ve got four deadlines and that’s all I’m thinking about right now.
BB: The most like visual, like oh yeah, slap in the face of how big all of this has gotten, how fortunate and grateful I am, is all the toys that I get to draw the packagings for. I’m going to play with those toys on the floor in front of the cartoons like I did when I was 10! It’s just- I’ve got drawings at Target! I’ve got drawings at Best Buy- so that part has been, very obviously, a big wow moment for me.
But, we talked about how every other comment online has been , “This book got me back into comics!” “This is the first time I’ve even read a turtle comic!”
TW: That means more to me than anything!
BB: And you’ve still got people just still discovering it! Every hardcover I’ve sold at this show, there’s still people who haven’t read it yet. “I can’t wait to read it!” and I’m like “That’s crazy. It’s been out for 3 years. It’s huge! I think that’s why it remains on the list. All these new people finding out about it and having to pick it up.
IE: For me personally, it has been a complete game changer after the turtles. Now it a constant presence. There may come a day where we actually dress up as turtles. We have a lot of Turtle games, and toys, and things like that. People close to us, our friends, call us “Turtle Guys”. Our family thinks we’re turtle guys now.
Everything around us looks like turtles. Our lives are turtles right now. We have bandanas, the weapons, we have some real props. We’re now appearing that we’re appearing at a convention, and as Ben mentioned, we see our drawings. We see our covers, and people coming to us asking for a picture or an autograph. Our lives are completely different now. It’s all thanks to Kevin and the Turtles team.
The success, I think, no one was expecting. We’re really grateful.
EE: Our life completely changed. We have a lot of work that we didn’t have before!
We are always working on the next turtle, the next page, my life became a complete Turtling. (The translator let me know that Esau used Turtle as a verb, so they didn’t have a translation)
We have breakfast, dinner, lunch, and everything related to turtles. We have a new fame that we weren’t expecting. We consider ourselves as hands working on the comic.
Before turtles, no one recognized us. No one knew who we were. We think we have something we don’t deserve. We’re here now, and people recognize us. Hearing people come to our table saying “You’re a great artist” or “You did a great job.” I just say “Thank you” and keep drawing because I don’t believe you. But we have to believe now. We do our best to give something back to the fans. Because of the love that they have passed on to us.
BB: One more story on that- I was on the phone the other day with AT&T support for my cell phone. I was having issues, and we were waiting for an update to go through, and the guys like “So, what are you doing this weekend?” I’m like, “Hopefully working. I think I have the studio all to myself.”
He’s like, “A studio? What are you do, music?” And I was like “No, I’m an artist. I like to just zone out on the weekends and get the pages done.” And he’s like, “Oh pages? What are you doing?”
And said, “You didn’t do the Last Ronin, did you?” And I was like, “What?!” And I was like, “I’m one of the guys that did that!”
Then he goes “Oh my God! I was just talking to my-“ and it’s the AT&T guy about my cell phone, and then it turns out, he’s like “I was just talking about it with my friend. I haven’t got it yet but I think it’s coming out here in Mexico soon!” And I was like “Oh, well did you know the other two artists and Luis Antonio Delgado (colorist) are in the same city as you? The guy was in Mexico City. And I was just like, “What a crazy moment! That this random AT&T call, knew the book, and then I was able to tell him half the team is in his- around him! It was amazing!
TMNT.com: Did he fix the problem?
BB: Yeah. AT&T support is pretty damn good.
TW: What I love about the universe, is that it has a way of humbling you. And I think that’s important because if people ask you like to be famous, I go “I don’t know, ask Taylor, Swift.” But the thing is that-
BB: She probably thinks that way about some other people.
TW: Yeah, the thing is that there’s always an imposter syndrome. I think everybody kind of deal with it in their own way. Because we know how unglamorous it is behind the scenes. It’s a grind. You don’t get days off, doing comics. You just don’t. And you feel guilty when you do take a day off! I was in the store with my daughter, and we happen to see this display. It had one of the variant covers on sale that Kevin and I had signed somewhere along the line, I don’t remember. It was going for like $400. The store owner came over to me and he said, “Oh, yeah? You like that?” I go “Yeah.” He goes “You should read it, it’s pretty good!”
That’s the universe saying “Don’t get too big of a head, dude.”
TMNT.com: Before I let you guys go, who is your favorite of the new turtles?
BB: So hard! I can never answer this. I try to think of it like, maybe who’s my favorite to draw? And I think as a baby, Oden was definitely my favorite to draw. I think that was the first one where I was like, “That’s the cutest thing I could ever draw.” And then Yi now, I’d say, is my favorite to draw because she could be serious, and she’s got the markings, and I like her costume- it’s got all these nods that I won’t get into, but I think she’s fun to draw.
TW: Yeah, it’s tough. It’s kind of like the four originals. I get asked that a lot and I always feel like, I don’t know. The originals feel like my step children and I love them all. And then these feel like my babies now. But I don’t know if I could pick a favorite! It’s fascinating to me because this is really an opportunity for me to kind of explore even my own personal quirks through these characters. So I have a favorite at different times for different reasons. But right now, if you said today, because we had some really neat plans for Moja. Moja’s been in my mind a lot.
BB: (Under his breath) That’s ironic.
TW: That is ironic. But, you it’s funny in my house- I will say it’s Uno. Uno is the favorite. My wife loves Uno, know that’s that’s her favorite. Seeing that she has a favorite shows me the fans will have favorites. I thought for sure my wife would like Odyn. He’s like, the cute, goofy one. I go “You know, he’s kind of a bastard.”
And she was like “Nope, I still like him!” I think what that showed me was- This will be a new generation of Turtles where, we will have, and I’ve always seen this during signing, we will ask fans. And it’s almost 25 percent, 25 percent, 25 percent, down the line. There’s never a lot of Leo fans and nobody else. There’s Leo fans, and Raph fans, Donatello, Mikey. They all have their favorite, and it’s pretty much equal. And I think that’s gonna happen with these new characters as well.
IE: My favorite is Odyn. Same as Ben. Because, this turtle, everything is difficult for them. And that extra effort, has to be put down by Odyn, to be different. So you feel empathy with them. It’s big, it’s a little fatty. So, it’s harder for them than anyone else. So we notice the extra effort to keep the peace. That’s why I think Odyn- right now.But we’re still getting to know the others. Maybe that will change in the future.
EE: I may sound like a simple guy, but Uno is my favorite. There are a lot of things around, but it looks like the leader. But, mainly because of the graphic design. The actual design. The color being so- white, it’s easy to contrast everything. You want a dark background? Uno in Front! Uno will shine! If we need, Uno can change color and we can do something different! So we can contrast Uno well. The actual shell is completely different from the others. It looks like there is a wrap around it. So that’s my favorite right now. Especially, Spanish, Uno is my language- so, you know.
TW: One thing I will say that I am really enjoying, is this continuation of the April and Casey Marie story on. And there’s gonna be a lot that happens with them in this. We kind of set the table in “Lost Days” and then we’re definitely picking up from there. It’s not gonna be- this is not an easy journey, for either one of them. This is not rainbows and unicorns bringing these new turtles in existence, and in the aftermath of what happened in the Last Ronin. April in particular, April is such a mainstay, obviously, in turtle world this is really going to be a chance, I think, to really expand, not only her role, but I think I saw her overall importance to this to this brand, and this title. It’s a fun challenge. I’m really excited about that and I think fans are gonna dig it I really do. I hope so.
Once again, a huge thank you to Tom Waltz, Ben Bishop, the Escorza Brothers, and Gregg Katzman for putting this together!
Last Ronin 2 is set for release February 28, 2024. Add it to your pull list at your local comic shop!