Get Graphic: Trick-or-Treating With The Ninja Turtles
Oct 09, 2023
Interview by Troy-Jeffrey Allen
It is indeed time for Halloween. This means that candy isn't JUST up for grabs, but comics are as well! Several comic book publishers are getting in on the festivities throughout the month, and IDW is not excluded!
As a matter of act, IDW artist Vernon Smith (Bigfoot Frankenstein) is bringing spooky season to the Ninja Turtles with a one-shot special dropping this week! Get an exclusive first look at the process behind Vernon's cover for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Saturday Morning Adventures Halloween Special in this week's installment of "Get Graphic."
Firstly, what is your name and where did you hail from?
Hi! Actually, my name is Vernon Smith. I don’t know who this “Firstly, what” guy is, but if he’s trying to impersonate me he must be pretty cool! As far as where I’m from, rumor has it I’m from New Orleans…
How did you get into comics as a reader?
When I was a kid I mostly read comic strips and would later get the book collections of those strips, either from bookstores or ordering them through school. As far as actual comic books, that didn’t happen until seventh grade. I got them randomly as a kid but really got into them when I was around 12-13. My stepdad had a bunch of old Adventure Comics from the ’60s featuring Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, I loved that stuff and then got into the Legion comics from the ’80s and '90s. Which led me to one of my favorite artists of all time: Keith Giffen! Giffen’s Legion work, plus other comics like Watchmen, and Hard Boiled by Geof Darrow and Frank Miller, made me start drawing my own comic books in high school.
But before all of that, when I was still in 7th Grade, this kid Chad in my art class started telling me about this comic called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But we’ll get more into that later.
How did you get into comics as a pro?
I drew my own comic books in high school, sometimes single issues, sometimes graphic novels (I made them in hardcover sketchbooks). I continued to do so in college but didn’t really know what to do with them so I just stopped. I wanted to draw comics but had no idea how. I didn’t know where to look and was too shy to ask around at comic shops. Several years later I became friends with a local artist named Derec Donovan who was working for Marvel and DC. I still wanted to do my own comics but I thought it’d be cool to draw Legion comics for DC or maybe X-Men or Spidey for Marvel so I started sending in samples. After several polite rejections, I ran into a friend of mine that I used to make comics with in high school. He gave me the Cerebus Guide To Self-Publishing, a book about making and putting out your own comics. “Cerebus?” I’d heard of that guy! He was in one of those black-and-white Ninja Turtles I’d gotten years earlier! But we’ll get more into that later.
So that got me into reading indie comics which got me into making my own! In 2008 I self-published The Adventures of Dexter Breakfast through Diamond. I put out two graphic novels of that title and then later put out books called Return of the Lovin’ Dead and HiDE and then wrote and drew some children’s books for Pelican Publishing. Then I put out a comic through Action Lab, with writer Mark Bertolini, called Bigfoot Frankenstein, am currently working on a graphic novel called Tad Caldwell and the Monster Cult, and have another book with Mark lined up called HappyLand! that just got picked up by Scout Comics!
When was the first time you encountered TMNT?
We’ll get into that later! Oh wait, it’s later now. So yeah, it’s seventh grade, and I'm just getting into comics. A kid in my art class told me about this book called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! This was right after the cartoon had come out so I’d heard of it, but I knew it was something for little kids. He told me it was originally a black-and-white comic made by a couple of guys, not Marvel or DC. The next time I was at one of my local shops I see some Turtles comics. The first few issues were either way expensive or on their, like, 27th printing, haha. But I find a copy of Issues 8 and 9, first print, for a decent price. I picked them up and was blown away. It was weird and different and even though it was made by a couple of guys who weren’t “professionals” (whatever) it looked really cool! The art was insane! it had this…FEEL…to it that was just so unique. And the best part was, I wanted to know what happened next. And I wanted to know everything that was going on in that world. That’s the sign of a really great comic.
How did you get involved with IDW on this cover?
A buddy of mine, Tim Lattie, was brought on to draw TMNT: Saturday Morning Adventures when it was a mini-series. Something happened with their original color Flatter so I just threw it out there that I’d be happy to do it. So I flatted the first 2 issues and told the Editor that I’d love to do a cover for the book. He was cool with it and told me to hit him up in a few months (it had just been announced that the book was going to be ongoing). I hit him a few months later and they got it to where I was not only doing a cover but (to my surprise) a stand-alone issue AND (to my definite super surprise) it was a HALLOWEEN issue!! So yeah, pretty freakin cool. Hopefully, they liked my cover and would want me to do more. And maybe spread the word to the folks at Star Trek and My Little Pony comics because as a superfan I’d love to do covers for them as well!
What medium/tools did you use on the cover?
Normally I’m all digital, unless it’s a commission or special occasion. This was definitely a special occasion. This is a mix of traditional (pencil and ink on illustration board) and digital (Procreate on an iPad). The rough layouts were in pencil, and then the tight “pencils” were done digitally, as were some of the line art inks, some of the inks, and all of the black ink fills were traditional.
What were you trying to convey with this image?
I wanted to capture the happiness and fun of the cartoon on which this series is based. That show and that time mean so much to so many people, I really hope I was able to make something that not only meant something to them but also showed how much it means to me. For the art style, when I was younger and used to draw Turtles, I knew there was no way I could do the Mirage/Eastman black and white comic style, so the way I taught myself was by studying and redrawing the Archie Comics Turtles series. I actually still have one of my old notebooks with some of those drawings in it! So for this cover, that’s the direction I went. It was such a great supplement to the cartoon back then so it just made sense. There’s also meaning behind what’s actually drawn. For example, Raph is dressed as Shredder because, in the old comics, he actually became Shredder briefly. Leo is a Sheriff because both are leaders. In the old toy line, Donny was Dracula and I’ve seen a lot of fan art showing that so I thought I’d switch it up and have Mikey be Dracula, and in my head I imagined him draining the sauce from pizza as blood! Donny in a Cobra Kai skeleton costume was just funny to me since the two are just about as opposite as you can get. But what really cracked me up was having Raph-Shredder holding a Krang candy bucket. Oh and since they’re trick-or-treating at Shredder’s house, where else would his house be but in…Dimension X! Hence the pink and purple background.
So yeah, hopefully, I was able to capture the fun and happiness of the old cartoon and show my love for the property as a whole.
If you want to discover more of Vernon's work, be sure to check out his Instagram.
The TMNT Saturday Morning Adventures Halloween Special (APR220344) is available now from IDW Publishing. Look for TMNT Saturday Morning Adventures monthly at your local comic shop!
Troy-Jeffrey Allen is the producer and co-host of PREVIEWSworld Weekly. His comics work includes MF DOOM: All Caps, Public Enemy's Apocalypse '91, Fight of the Century, the Harvey Award-nominated District Comics, and the Ringo Awards-nominated Magic Bullet.