I’ve been pretty lucky with the interviews I’ve had so far, so wondered who could be next.
Reading the recent ‘Northampton’ arc of the TMNT comic made this a simple choice. I had to try to get an interview with Sophie Campbell. Across my TMNT comic reviews I’ve fallen in love with her designs and take on the characters.
Once again Twitter allowed me to contact someone I admire. I asked if she’d be OK with answering a few questions, which has very kindly been obliged.
Who is her favourite turtle? Does she get in a fluster reconciling the difference between Jurassic Park dinosaurs and what we know now? Read on!
Q1. A nice simple one to start with. How did you get into drawing and writing comics?
Sophie Campbell (SC): It’s pretty straightforward, I wish I had a cool, interesting story for this but I don’t. I usually think of Calvin & Hobbes and Mirage TMNT as what made me want to do comics when I was a kid, but I didn’t get serious about it until senior year of college, believe it or not. It took me a while to realize what I really wanted to do, despite being into comics and drawing comic strips on occasion, I went through phases of wanting to be a novelist or wanting to go into fashion. But for whatever reason it finally clicked, and then I started pounding the pavement and showing my work to publishers at comic conventions. I showed my stuff to Oni Press, who was much smaller back then, and editor Jamie Rich liked my work and I also hounded writer Jen Van Meter who also liked my work, and eventually I got some work on her Oni series Hopeless Savages. Around then I’d pitched my Wet Moon series to Oni but been rejected, so instead they offered me a book called Spooked written by Antony Johnston, so I did that for hardly any money, and then after finishing that they said okay to Wet Moon. And that was that! Most of my bigger gigs, like hooking up with Tokyopop, DC/Vertigo, and Image were thanks to my higher-profile friends like Becky Cloonan and Brandon Graham recommending me or introducing me to their editors.
Q2. Throughout your career you’ve been known for drawing more realistic human forms. Real people you could say. You previously worked on Glory, created by Rob Liefeld. Not to put too fine a point on it, but you’re style is pretty much the antithesis of his. How did that come about?
SC: While the Extreme relaunch was being put together, Joe Keatinge came on board to write Glory and he and Eric Stephenson and Rob were trying to figure the artist out, and Brandon Graham who had signed up to do Prophet and is also buddies with the Image guys, suggested me. Joe contacted me about it, I actually thought it was a joke that Brandon was playing on me at first because of what you said, my style is the opposite of what Glory was. But it was for real, it seemed like we were all on the same page of what the new Glory should be, and I’ll be honest I also really needed the money, so I said yes. I’m glad I did because it worked out well.
Q3. In the past you’ve mentioned that you relate to female characters more than male. Does this ease relate just to writing females or drawing them? Does it make your work on the turtles any more challenging?
SC: Both drawing and writing them, but mostly writing, I kind of draw a blank sometimes when I try to write male characters. I can’t get into their heads a lot of the time, or I don’t have much interest in what’s in their heads and that trips me up, like I have to really focus and figure them out, while female characters I feel like I understand and they flow easily. The Turtles are different because they aren’t human, for some reason that goes a long way for me in identifying with them and relating to them, and it helps in both drawing them in general and writing them for my fan comic.
SuperDuperStuff (SDS): I guess the turtles are in a rather unique situation and aren’t your typical guys, though the issues they face can be of a very normal variety. Struggling with your family and figuring out your place in the world as you grow up.
Sounds as though you find it easier to get in the heads of characters that are further away from yourself? Would that be fair?
SC: It’s not that, really, I feel far away from most guys and closer to women, so it’s more about people who I relate to in some way. Which I guess is pretty standard for writers, right? They write characters they relate to/identify with, whoever that might be. Obviously I don’t go through what women do and I’ll never fully understand that, but I still feel some kind of closeness there.
Q4. Turtle time! Leo has long been my favourite turtle, but recently Mikey has really jumped up in my estimations. Less surfer dude and more empathetic. So I have to ask…Who is your favourite turtle?
SC: Mine changes! Over the years I’ve bounced between Raph, Leo and Mikey, but never Don for some reason, he’s always been my least favorite Turtle in almost every incarnation except TMNT 2: Secret of the Ooze and early Mirage. The Turtles’ personalities can vary so much depending on the version or who’s writing them, Donatello in particular really varies to the point that he can seem like a different character from version to version. When I was a kid my favorite was Raph but I was also a Leo fan but I kept it secret because among the kids at my school it was considered uncool to like him because he was an uptight square or whatever, haha. Overall my favorite Turtle is Leo, but I think my favorite specific Turtle is 1990 movie Raph. Right now I’m really into Mikey though, I love him in the 1990 movie and IDW. I really like IDW Leo and Mikey, I feel like they’re some of the best versions of the characters.
SDS: Some versions seem to work better for each character. Raph worked really well in the first film, with his anger issues and clear affection for Splinter. I think that is the best he’s been handled. What made Donnie stand out TMNT 2?
Hang on…..Leo wasn’t cool?! Blue, leader, swords. I’m not sure how it gets cooler!
Mikey might be naive at times, but he’s the one that pulls them together. Plus I love the hats he’s been wearing lately!
SC: I liked TMNT 2 Don because he’s much more sensitive and seems softer-spoken, and I like his enthusiasm. In the first movie, other than that I didn’t like Corey Feldman’s voice for him, Don’s personality was kind of confusing and ambiguous. He’s the only Turtle in the first movie that you could remove from the movie and it wouldn’t be that different. It’s weird. Leo was a SQUARE! Haha. He was a straight-laced goody two-shoes! At least that’s what a lot of the kids I went to school with thought.
I don’t know if I’d say Mikey was naive in IDW at least (I’m assuming you’re talking about IDW because of Mikey’s hats, haha), there are moments when he shows he knows what’s up, I guess he comes off that way but he’s just as capable as anyone else, and I think he’s the most perceptive Turtle in the IDW version. He knows what’s going on.
SDS: Now that I think about it, Donnie is an odd one in the first film. He doesn’t do much in the way of tech and doesn’t add much bar good banter with Mikey. I’ve been looking at it so differently!
Leo is a goody two-shoes I’ll give you that. But one of them needs to be disciplined!
Maybe naive was a bad choice of words. His more light-hearted nature and place as the ‘little brother’ leads to him being left out of the big decisions and actions I find. But he does step up and bash Raph and Leo’s heads together, and is the one to make friends with Slash. A great relationship there that I’m hoping isn’t changed too much with Slash’s recent change.
SC: Yeah! 1990 Don is really strange, isn’t he? He has a few nice character moments, they made him more of a regular non-genius nerd, which I like actually, I like that better than him making crazy gadgets, like the part where he’s winning at Trivial Pursuit, he always seems to know big words, stuff a normal smart person would know. I think Don varies the most between incarnations and can go in some weird directions because writers don’t really know what to do with him. Being “the smart one” isn’t a personality trait, liking technology and building gadgets isn’t Don’s personality, so I feel like writers do the tech nerd thing and then they fill in whatever other personality they like. I hope the Mikey/Slash thing doesn’t change too much either! I hope they’re even better friends now. I’m such a sucker for heroes and villains becoming friends.
SDS: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there Sophie. All too easy to just him some tech and say techy things rather than have a personality. I’ve always had him down as more an observer, but highly skilled. Just like a bo staff.
My idea is a mini-series starring Mikey and Slash, touring the country tasting new foods/pizzas. Crazy hats and ‘candee’ is where I’m at with that one.
SC: The bo staff is the key! Nick Don and 1990 movie Don don’t feel to me like their personalities are reflected by the bo. Although Nick Donatello has the blade that pops out the end of the bo, so that works a bit better for him.
I love your Mikey and Slash idea, I would totally write and draw that! I had an idea for a joke issue where some of the characters have an eating contest, maybe that’s how the Mikey and Slash story could end, haha.
Q5. Speaking of the turtles you’ve created your own – Artemisia – as part of your own TMNT story on deviantART. How did that begin and what prompted her creation? I’d ask if you felt you could do better than Venus de Milo, but that wouldn’t be tricky!
SC: Part of it was I think there’s a lot of potential in a female Turtle being added to the group, and another part is I started to notice how a lot of TMNT fans, usually the older and/or male fans it seems like, have a huge problem with the basic idea of a female Turtle like it’s the worst thing that could happen and Venus is the lowest TMNT has ever gotten (she isn’t), and it got me thinking about what it would take to do it right. I kinda turn into a stubborn 8-year-old when faced with things like that, I go “Oh yeah?! We’ll see about that!” and it makes me want to do the idea even more. For me, Venus’s biggest problems are that her personality is basically “the girl,” her origin is a huge retcon, her abilities are different than the other Turtles, she has plastron/shell boobs, her mask color is blue which makes her seem like a weird Leonardo offshoot or something rather than having her own color, her weapon doesn’t reflect her personality the way the other Turtles’ weapons do, and she’s named after an object rather than an artist (Mona Lisa from the old cartoon had the same problem). Those were the main things I wanted to avoid, I wanted a female Turtle to be on equal footing with the 4 usual Turtles, so I put a ton of work into Artie, who’s named after Artemisia Gentileschi, and figuring out who she would be and how she would fit into the group. It’s hard because the Turtles’ personalities are so archetypal, coming up with a new personality that isn’t in some way covered by the other 4 characters or that wouldn’t be redundant was tough, I went through a lot of scrapped ideas and made lots of notes and bounced ideas off of friends. I think it’s paying off, though, I love Artie and she’s gotten a really great reception so far, I’ve been happy and surprised!
SDS: You’re right there are worse things than Venus. But the combination of her mishandling, compounded by the quality of the show, has solidified girl turtles as being bad. You’ve just summed up why she didn’t work, and I think you’ve touched on things that I only subconsciously knew. You saying them has brought them to mind.
The thought you’ve put into Artie shines through though; worth the effort. She feels like a natural part of the group in the world you’re creating. I’ve seen complaints (it is the internet!) about a bow and arrow not fitting, but that is frankly rubbish. That’s one of the most ninja weapons you can have!
SC: I agree, I think Venus was largely a victim of circumstance, EVERYone on that show sucked. I’m glad you like Artie so far, thanks! It’s encouraging to hear. I remember when I posted my first sketches of her and my fan comic stuff (you can find ‘Secrets of the Ooze, Sophie’s fan comic re-imagining the second TMNT live action film, here), like two years ago, there were some complaints about her bow/hankyu. It’s so weird though, even historical accuracy aside, there are ninjas in so many versions of TMNT that use a bow-and-arrow. Like the Foot in the Mirage comics, Splinter in TMNT 2, the Turtles themselves in the Nickelodeon show, like if we’re using TMNT itself as the benchmark, how is a bow-and-arrow not a ninja weapon? Silly.
Q6. I loved your work on the Leonardo Micro. Was it your work on that that lead to the Northampton arc and then Turtles in Time? Personally I’m hoping that you and Mateus can get into a rhythm on story arcs.
SC: I’m glad you liked the Leo issue, thanks! I think the Northampton thing was a few different factors, mostly that my editor Bobby knew I loved the TMNT farmhouse setting, I think I actually suggested it to him a way before the story arc, before anyone knew we’d be doing it, and another reason is that he knows I’m good at quiet emotional stuff. They’d actually offered me the regular artist gig I think mid-2012 but I turned it down for both personal reasons and because I had to finish Glory, but then Bobby contacted me again when they were putting Northampton together and I just couldn’t resist. The farmhouse stuff is my biggest weakness, I couldn’t say no! Maybe my work on the Alopex micro also helped them make their decision to approach me, too, because there’s some similar emotional character drama stuff in that.
SDS: In my reviews for the arc I keep coming back, like a broken record, to how well your work fit the tone of that story. Sounds like the love for the first film (and the original stories that came from) shining through again.
Maybe you can’t say, but what are the chances of you getting back on the main title? When you’ve got Bobby Curnow seeking you out it can’t be a bad sign!
SC: I’d say the chance is high! Bobby said the door was open, so hopefully I’ll be back next year. I should bug him soon to see what’s up and see if there’s spot for me. Keep your fingers crossed! I want to do something rougher and darker, I think, after I did Turtles in Time so light. Maybe something spooky…
Q7. You’ve created two characters that resonated strongly with me and other readers, Koya and Pepperoni. I’d love to see more of both of them. Though I’m sure we’ll see Koya again has there been any talk regarding Pepperoni?
SC: Koya shows up again in issue #37! I’m glad you like both of them, Koya and Pepperoni are my babies! I haven’t talked to my editor about Pepperoni coming back yet, no, but maybe they have their own plans, I’m not sure. I have a couple ideas for how to bring her back, I might try to pitch something. I’d love for her to be a permanent addition but I’m not sure if they’d spring for that. And maybe she’d wear out her welcome, too, like sometimes less is more, I don’t know. We’ll see! I have some ideas I want to pitch for a mini-series and one of them involves Koya, keep your fingers crossed!
SDS: Yay! Be good to see her again. Did you notice how so many mistook her for a man? I loved her theatrical statements regarding what she’ll do to the turtles. IDW are pumping out the mini-series so hopefully you’ll get a chance as I’d like to know more about her back story and her thoughts and ideas.
I see what you mean about ‘less is more’. The way that story ends and the final panel leaves a lot of possible futures for that little dino. Lets hope they at least get the Pepperoni plushie sorted out. Oh, was it you or Paul Allor (writer on Turtles in Time) who thought up the prehistoric pizza?
SC: The thing with people assuming Koya was male is because male is the default, sociologically-speaking. Male is neutral, but to be female a character needs extra markers/signifiers attached to them to mark them as female. Usually stuff people use are eyelashes, lips, a bow on a character’s head, long hair, things like that, like stereotypical indicators of femininity. But when Koya didn’t have that and appeared androgynous, people just assume male (even though she’s referred to as she in the comic). I didn’t set out to make a point or anything, but the point kinda makes itself, I guess. All the mutant characters are androgynous, even the Turtles, they don’t have any conventional markers of maleness, so I wanted Koya to be like that and be feminine on her own individual terms. Whew! 😉 I have some pretty good ideas for her, I hope I get to do it. Tom Waltz and I discussed Koya’s way of speaking a little bit, some of my ideas were too intense and didn’t make it into the comic, haha. I thought Koya should seem kind of unhinged as well as being really enthusiastic about being a villain.
Aside from Bebop and Rocksteady, and I suppose Hun, all the Foot villains are stuffy and reserved, so I wanted Koya to be different. Haha, the prehistoric pizza was my idea. When I came on board I had a short list of things I wanted to include, one was Pepperoni and another was the prehistoric pizza (which started out as a prehistoric picnic and got scaled down into a single pizza).
Q8. You seemed to have a blast drawing dinosaurs for Turtles in Time. Are dinosaurs of much interest to you? Does the size and name of Raptors in Jurassic Park annoy you? As I grew up with JP I struggle to reconcile dinosaurs and feathers but you seemed to jump straight in!
SC: I liked dinosaurs a lot when I was a kid, and I love Jurassic Park and everything but I’m not a huge dinosaur nerd or anything like that. My interest in dinosaurs increases as they’ve gotten weirder, like the more we realize how feathered and fluffy and weird dinosaurs are, the more I’m interested. The Velociraptor thing in Jurassic Park doesn’t bug me because I think at the time the name was correct, wasn’t it? The dinosaurs in the movie are supposed to be Deinonychus, but I thought the name mix-up was because when the book was written “Velociraptor” was the genus name or something like that, but then right after the movie came out scientists had changed how the name was used… or something…? I don’t know, haha. I’ll have to check Wikipedia later. Anyway, I love feathered dinosaurs! I’ve always loved that idea since I was a kid.
SDS: We could both disappear down a wiki hole figuring this one out. I always thought that the Raptors were like Deinonychus too, and that they’d swapped the names because it sounded cool. But now I see that they’re more like Utahraptor, and there’s a story about a palaeontologist discovering it and telling others that he’d found the dinosaur that Spielberg/Crichton had made up.
SC: I read up a little bit on this, and I guess around that time there was a paleotologist who named Deinonychus ‘Velociraptor antirrhopus’ and in the Jurassic Park book, a character says that Deinonychus was now classified as a Velociraptor, so I think that’s where it comes from. I only skimmed the article, though. Utahraptor is HUGE, isn’t it? Like taller than humans? The raptors in the movie weren’t that tall, were they?
SDS: Wiki has me thinking that Raptors were in-between Deinonychus and Velociraptor, judging by the size comparisons against a human. I said we’d get caught up in this!
So you’ve read the book? I’ve always enjoyed it (more so as I got older), but it would easily have been an 18 (R) certificate. Hopefully the series gets back to where it should be with Jurassic World.
SC: I think you’re right, it seems in-between. I never really thought about it! I did read the book, yeah, I remember liking it but I think the movie is probably better overall, it’s more nuanced. Everyone in the book is really black & white as I remember. Jurassic World sounds super cool, I hope it’s good! It can’t be worse than Jurassic Park 2 and 3, right?
Q9. Have you seen the trailers for the new film? Do you have a favourite version of the TMNT?
SC: I have seen them! I went from not caring in the slightest and regarding the new movie the same as I’d regard TMNT bedsheets, to being super excited about it. At first I thought the whole thing looked ugly and harsh and way too serious and the Turtles looked like grandpa dinosaur people, they were too humanoid, but the thing that turned me around was the clip of the Turtles dancing in the elevator. I have a huge soft spot for when the Turtles juxtapose back and forth between serious and funny, like one moment they’re being serious ninjas and then the next they’re goofing off, and that elevator scene totally sold me. I feel like I almost even love the movie designs, I can’t believe I did such a 180. Obviously the movie might still completely suck, the director Jonathan Liebesman has a terrible track record, but we’ll see, the trailers look really great so far. I guess my favorite version of TMNT is the 1990 movie, the early Mirage comics, and I’ve really come to love IDW TMNT, it was kinda rocky for me at first. I also really love the Nickelodeon character designs, those are my favorite Turtles as far as designs go, but the show itself isn’t my favourite.
SDS: You’ve been through a very similar process to me. Not keen at first, then seeing them in action changed it around. They might not be my favourite but I’m on-board with them at least. Ultimately they are teenagers, and kids that age muck around and do silly things. So I think in that respect they’ve got it right. Very true on the director, I hope this is him breaking a streak. I’m not expecting Oscars; I just want an enjoyable time.
I’ve not seen much of the Mirage turtles. Is there a good place to start or a particular story that would sum up its feel?
Do you like the gap they’ve put in Donnie’s teeth on the Nick show?
SC: You should definitely check out the Mirage stuff! A lot of them have been reprinted by IDW so they’re easy to get now, although they’re expensive. You should get the Ultimate Collection volumes 1 and 2, that’s issues 1-11 with the 4 solo Turtle micro issues. That’s my favorite stuff, TMNT #11 and the Leo issue are the best. And then Return to New York and City At War are the other stories you should check out, those are Ultimate Collection volumes 3-5. I like Don’s tooth gap, yeah! I like the little things they did with their designs to differentiate the Turtles, like their heights and the shape of their heads.
SDS: I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for the advice!
SC: Mateus mentioned that he really wanted to push the differences between the heights and builds of the turtles, and it seems to be the done thing now. Raph is the biggest, Donnie very lean, with Leo and Mikey in the middle. Can’t see how any of them would be able to retract fully into their shells, but I guess they aren’t fully Turtles now with their human qualities.
I love when they completely go into their shells on the Nick show, it’s so funny. It makes no sense but I love it, I wish we got to do stuff like that in the comics. I actually almost drew Mikey going into his shell in issue #32 after he hits Koya with the motorcycle, I wanted to draw him pulling his limbs and head in when he hit the ground, but it was just too silly for the scene. Sometimes I wish I drew the big Northampton fight less cartoony.
Mateus also wanted to do different outfits for the Turtles, I believe, I think he said that to me when we were emailing one time, but he either couldn’t get it greenlit or didn’t think he could, so that’s part of why I did the different gear/outfits in Northampton. It was also something I really wanted to do before that, too, so it worked out. Sometimes I feel like the IDW Turtles don’t have a distinct visual identity of their own, not like Mirage or the Fred Wolf show or Nick show or the new movie (like them or hate them, they are really unique and identifiable), so I thought it would be cool if they had something to differentiate them.
SDS: Where there have been so many artists already the series is lacking one strong identity. For me it’s yours and Mateus’s work. But others may have preferred Duncan or Bates for instance. That’s why I’m hoping that IDW can settle on a team for the main title, and then use the others for the mini-series. Settle into a groove and then those involved can just get into a flow and be the best they can.
I grew up with the Fred Wolf cartoon first, and to me bar the colours and weapons it was all very samey. But I was 5 and I didn’t care. Just made it easier to draw them all. Now though I love seeing different pads and wraps, as well as the differences in build.
SC: I don’t necessarily mean a stylistic identity, though, I feel like that’s different than a visual identity. Like the Mirage Turtles were drawn by tons of different artists, way more than the amount who have worked on IDW TMNT, but the Mirage Turtles are almost always recognizable as being from that version. IDW is approaching that, though, it’s getting better and better all the time as the artists all play off each other. I love the different pads and wraps and stuff, too, and especially the different heights. Another thing that would be cool is if the Turtles have different gear for different sorts of missions, like on super stealthy adventures they’d wear hoods or something, or cloaks and ninja ponchos when they go somewhere that’s cold, I don’t know if that would be silly but I love the Turtles changing outfits like regular people do. Like Mikey’s hats!
Q10. If I had to go out and buy one comic right now what would it be? You can’t say your own!
SC: This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki.
Q11. Last one. My blog’s name is Super Duper Stuff. In keeping with that, what is super duper to you? Name one thing and why.
SC: Ice cream! I don’t think I have to explain why, it’s pretty obvious if you’ve ever had ice cream.
SDS: Oh definitely. But which flavour?
I can’t thank Sophie enough. Not only was her openness and honest a delight, but she’s been immensely gracious with her time. To talk to someone with such knowledge of the characters was a joy. I wish her all the best.
Sophie has plenty of work that we haven’t touched upon, which you can check out here. It updates weekly and there are plenty of pages for you to catch up on! Or you could head on over to her devianART page.