Tom Waltz talks about TMNT

Interview done in January 2012

Can you introduce yourself first?

Absolutely! My name is Tom Waltz and I am currently the Senior Staff Writer / Editor for IDW Publishing, which is located in San Diego, California, USA.  I’m also a former active duty U.S. Marine, Desert Storm vet, and former California National Guard Military Policeman.  My comic book writing credits include the creator-owned graphic novels CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE and FINDING PEACE (with Nathan St John), as well as various licensed-based titles such as SILENT HILL: SINNER’S REWARD, SILENT HILL: PAST LIFE, LEGION: PROPHETS, THE A-TEAM: SHOTGUN WEDDING, DEAD RISING: ROAD TO FORTUNE, and DUKE NUKEM: GLORIOUS BASTARD.  I am currently the writer for IDW’s TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES ongoing series, and will be co-writing KISS: AVATARS with my recent INFESTATION: OUTBREAK co-writer, Chris Ryall (who is also IDW Publishing’s Chief Creative Officer and Editor in Chief).  I recently wrote a children’s board book called LITTLE JACKIE LANTERN (October 2011) and I have a new creator-owned graphic novel coming out in June 2012 from IDW called AFTER THE FIRE, a supernatural crime drama illustrated by Guiu Vilanova.  I have also written for video games, including as co-writer for SILENT HILL: DOWNPOUR (Konami), and as the script-writer for GHOSTBUSTERS: SANCTUM OF SLIME (Atari). I grew up in Clinton, Michigan, USA and currently make my home in San Diego with my wife and two children.


You’ve been mainly working on comics about big licences with IDW. Can you explain us the process of creation of such stories (that must be differents from ceezator’s owned or big characters of Marvel/DC)?

Well, each situation is similar… and different.  Generally speaking, I will meet with the license owners early on to see what they hope to accomplish with their property, then work to develop a pitch/proposal that meets those requirements.  There is usually some back-and-forth that follows this, wherein the license-holder and I tweak the proposal until we’re all happy with it.  Then I script out the individual issues (which usually require a bit of back-and-forth before they are approved, too), and then we hand it off to the artists to do their magic.  Obviously, some licensors are more heavily involved than others, but, for the most part, I always find the process to be a fun, creative challenge.


Do you have some restraint on how you use the characters and the universes you’re working on?

There are always pre-existing guidelines I have to adhere to—sometimes there are spoilers the license owners want to avoid in our comics (especially with movie-related tie-in titles) and certain marketing restrictions we need to keep in mind, but I’ve been fairly lucky to work on licenses wherein the license holders have been very open to most of my suggestions/ideas.  We might not always agree, but in the end, I’ve always felt like the story presented is one that satisfies all parties involved in the creative process… and hopefully the fans, too!


Do the owners of the licences (such as Duke Nukem) have their words on what you’re writing? Are they reviewing and accepting a script it before? Or do they send you a plot and you have to fit it?

Again, it varies.  The folks at Gearbox (owners of Duke Nukem) were awesome to work with.  Once I showed them my ideas for how I wanted to write Duke, they were very enthusiastic and supportive and let me know early on that they were confident I “got” the character and gave me plenty of freedom throughout the entire process, with only an occasional request for change here and there.  With LEGION: PROPHETS (which tied in directly to the feature film LEGION), I worked very closely with Director/Screenwriter Scott Stewart, who had specific character and plot details established for the prequel stories I scripted for the LEGION: PROPHETS comic books.  Like I mentioned, it varies from title to title, but I’ve never felt suffocated creatively by any of the variations.  I love my job and am always happy to have the opportunity to write, no matter what form that may take.


Which series are you the proudest to work on?

Wow, that’s a tough question because I love all my babies!  I’d have to say my proudest work was my first creator-owned graphic novel, the military/horror thriller titled CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE.  It was my first foray into writing in the comic book form and it was both extremely challenging and satisfying all at once.  I was so lucky to land a fantastic artist in Casey Maloney, whom I still work with on projects to this very day.  It was also the book that brought me to IDW’s attention and, ultimately, to the position I hold within the company at this time.  The book was well-received by readers and critics and its been through two printings so far.  It was just a great experience and it remains a story I’m proud to have created… and one I would love to see it movie theaters someday!


What is the work your are the proudest of ?

I’m very proud of everything I’ve done – and I know how lucky I am to have the chance to write professionally, a cool job I never take for granted.  I’m extremely happy with the work I’ve done on the SILENT HILL series, both in comics and for the video game, and TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES has become a joy in my life.  But, honestly, one of my proudest moments was a series I wrote for IDW (again, with artist Casey Maloney) called ZIPPER.  This was a six-issue urban/sci-fi drama that was part of our SIMMONS COMICS GROUP (an imprint founded by KISS legend Gene Simmons) that was critically acclaimed but, sadly, didn’t sell well.  I truly believe it’s some of my best work, from the characters I helped create with Mr. Simmons to the gritty-yet-fun story being told.  And Casey Maloney’s artwork throughout is stupendous!  Definitely one I always recommend to fans curious about my work to check out – the collected trade is available online at all booksellers like Amazon, etc.  To this day, I consider it my most underrated work.


Adaptations of big licences are mostly not well considered and received by huge fans, considering the support is different. How is it difficult to work on that?

Well, the biggest challenge is knowing that big licenses have a big fan base, and all those fans have developed strident opinions about the license over time.  You really need to have thick skin if you are going to work in this business, especially when it comes to working on licenses, because you’re never going to please everyone, and those who aren’t pleased usually aren’t afraid to let you know of their distaste, especially in a world where people can strike at you anonymously via the Internet.  The flipside to that, though, is that there are also many positive, supportive fans who are quick to send kind words about the work, and that kind of excitement is infectious and never fails to put a smile on my face.

When writing, which public do you want to seduce first : fans of the licence, or trying to enlarge the public of the licence ?

Honestly, I write to please the established fan base first, but always keep in mind that what I create should be accessible (and entertaining) to folks who are new to whatever license it may be I’m working on.  My philosophy is that, if I endeavor to stay true to the elements that made each license popular in the first place, things will work out for the best, and fans – both old and new – will respond positively.  In other words, if I love what I’m doing, others will love to read it.


You’ve just relaunched the Teenage Muntant Ninja Turtles with Dan Duncan and one of their creators, Kevin Eastman (the other is Peter Laird). How did you feel about writing such greats characters that most people do not know it’s a comic book creation (and not an animated serie) ?

It’s been an absolute honor to be a part of the TMNT relaunch!  I love the team we’ve built—artist Dan Duncan, colorist Ronda Pattison, editor Bobby Curnow, and, of course, Kevin Eastman, who is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.  And, Nickelodeon, who owns the TMNT license, have been fabulous to partner with on this adventure—they’ve been supportive of our efforts from the beginning and have given us a lot of creative elbow room to tell the stories we want to tell.  Sincerely, I’ve enjoyed every second of my time in the new TMNT universe!

How does the collaboration with Eastman work ?

I will write up a proposal describing what I’d like to accomplish in certain issues/arcs (and with certain characters) and will present that to Kevin, my editor Bobby Curnow, and the folks at Nickelodeon.  Everyone, including Kevin, will provide me with comments and, after a few tweaks here and there, I’m set loose to script out the individual issues.  After each new script, I again pass my work along to the folks mentioned about for further comments, etc. Then, I make changes to the script (if necessary) and we then pass the final version along to Dan Duncan so he can make it all look pretty.  Kevin has been tremendously open to, and supportive of, my vision for the new TMNT since the very beginning and I couldn’t be happier with the guidance he’s given… and continues to give to me.  He’s a bright light and positive force within the comic book industry, no doubt about it.


You’re also writing video games scripts. Is the approach of working different from writing for comics?

It is different because I always have to be aware that video games are limited by budgets, so I have to be very selective about where I choose to include big, expensive scenes.  I’ve learned (and am still learning) that there is a time and a place for fancy cut scenes, and for everything else I need to work with the directors/developers on finding ways to provide the player with needed information through other means, whether it be in-game dialogue or side quests or item retrieval/rewards, etc.  And there are A LOT of people involved in making a video game – producers, directors, developers, etc. – so it’s definitely the kind of job where it’s best to be a team player with an open mind because your original story vision isn’t always what makes it to the final product.  You have to be flexible and patient, otherwise the process (which is a long one) will drive you nuts.


Aren’t you interested on writing a creator owned serie?

Definitely!  As previously mentioned, I’ve had two creator-owned graphic novels published before – CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE and FINDING PEACE (which, by the way, includes a very dramatic scene with French peacekeeping soldiers).  I’ve got a third coming out in June called AFTER THE FIRE (which is also currently available on iTunes for the iPad), and I’m currently working with artist Casey Maloney on a new project, a sci-fi/military drama called THE LAST FALL.  I hope to do a lot of creator-owned work in my career – just gotta get folks buying and reading ‘em!

While writing on a big licence, do you immerse yourself by watching all the movies (Ghostbusters, Jurassic Park for examples…), playing all games (Duke Nukem, Dead Rising, Silent Hill…)? Are you in contact with the creators of those universes?

Oh yeah!  The best part of this job is the “research” I have to do, which usually involves watching movies, playing video games, surfing the Internet for info (Youtube and Wikipedia are like second homes to me), and chatting with my fellow fans on the different fan forums.  I also work directly with the license owners, too – recently I worked very closely with the wonderful folks at Capcom while writing DEAD RISING: ROAD TO FORTUNE.


Despite the big relaunch of DC, TMNT’s relaunch found its public and had been sold out. How do you feel about it, about generally, about the place of smaller editors in front of DC and Marvel?

I couldn’t be happier with the success TMNT has had so far, and the sell outs are great!  But I’m happy any time a comic book is successful these days, no matter who is publishing it, because that tells me we still have fans out there supporting the industry.  I want nothing more than for more and more people to take part in what I consider to be the greatest popular culture medium in the world – comic books!


Do you have plans or any breaking fresh news for your future for french fans?

Mainly, I want to say thank you to all the wonderful fans in France who continue to support comic books and video games and the work I’ve been fortunate to do in the medium.  For a kid who grew up in a small farming town in Michigan, it blows my mind to know I have cool people all the way in France reading and analyzing my work, and I will continue to do my very best to provide satisfying and entertaining stories for my readers – old and new alike!  From the bottom of my heart, merci!

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