Turtle Power: A conversation with comic book creator Mateus Santolouco

Chris Cooper chats with Mateus Santolouco, creator of the four-part miniseries Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Secret History of the Foot Clan

The Internet is a wonderful thing. No, not just for that (get your mind out of the gutter you’re better than that!). It’s wonderful due to its ability to bring us all closer and give us opportunities we never would have had even 10 years ago. For creators, it’s given them a new way to create and share content. The rest of us are not only treated to that content, but are able to interact with the creators and get to find out what makes them tick.

For my second interview (the first being with Yale Stewart), I’ve had the chance to speak to Mateus Santolouco. Mateus came to my attention with his work on IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, and more specifically his series Secret History of the Foot Clan. The four part series has been immense, so I was very excited to get to ask a few questions. A massive thanks to Mateus, as I know he’s been extremely busy! A top man.

Chris Cooper: When did your interest in comics begin? Were you reading as a youngster or did it happen later? If so, was there anything that stuck with you? Any inspiring work?

Mateus Santolouco: I started to read comics with my father’s collections of Asterix, The Phantom and Uncle Scrooge. Growing up I used to read comics from time to time, but I would only read special issues or Graphic Novels, never ongoing titles. With only one exception: The ‘Nam from Marvel. I only really became addicted to it later in my teenage years; first with The Incredible Hulk by Peter David and Dale Keown, and soon after with the X-Men by Chris Claremont and several artists such as Mark Silverstri and Jim Lee. But along with the superhero stuff I’ve discovered Metal Hurlant, Moebius, Akira, Otomo, Goseki Gojima, Kazuo Koike, Lone Wolf and Cub!! These were the books and authors that changed my way of thinking about comics forever.

CC: Looking around I can see that you’ve done some work for the big 2. How does that compare with working with IDW?

MS: It’s hard to compare that. In the end one is working for companies, and the job is pretty much the same. I think the difference shows up in the people and the project you are working with. Looking at that angle I could list lots of differences between every single gig I did so far, you know? It was great to work with Karen Berger and China Miéville in such crazy book as Dial H. And it is great to work with Bobby Curnow, Erik Burnham and the Turtles for IDW. But I don’t think this was the answer you were looking for. So let me put this way; DC offered me five more issues of Dial H late last year and I chose to work with IDW, even though I knew I was going to make considerably less money with it. But! First, I had my first work for hire as a writer. Secondly, this is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, man! Do I really need to explain why I made this choice? :D

CC: How did working on TMNT come about? Did you chase it or did they ask? Who had the idea of going into the history of the Foot Clan?

MS: This is an interesting story. It was January 2011. I woke up one morning with an idea for a TMNT illustration. Before I could get to the studio Rafael Grampá, who is an old friend, called me asking if I would like to work with the Turtles. I said –What?! Are you freakin’ reading my mind? — So he explained he had mentioned to an IDW editor what a great TMNT fan I was, and that the guy (Bobby Curnow) knew my work from American Vampire. Later that day I got an email from Bobby. At first he was looking for an artist, but for me all that was too much of a coincidence to be ignored. I immediately replied to him saying something like – I want to draw, but I want to write as well. I did send a proposal, which everyone liked, but Nick was already setting things up with Tom Waltz, Kevin Eastman and Dan Duncan. Still, Bobby told me he really wanted to give a TMNT book for me to write and draw in a near future, so we kept in touch. They invited me to work with Duncan on issue 5 and even before that issue was finished Bobby asked me to write a proposal for Secret History of the Foot.

CC: How does an issue come together? With you working on both writing and the art it must be extremely busy!

MS: Busy as Hell! Good thing I was working on the first drafts during my Dial H run AND I had the amazing help of Erik Burnham after that. So at the time I was done with the DC gig, things were almost half way through for me so I could just sit in front of the table and draw. Almost. I had to refine those drafts, and then Erik worked over my scripts, where I pointed out specific dialogs and scenes that needed to stick, but he had leeway to come up with new scenes and lots of genius dialogs. Art wise it is interesting to mention that João Azeitona (colorist) is my studio mate, so we handled everything here in Porto Alegre and I think my constant demands on how the colors should look like gave him more headaches than Nickelodeon’s occasional edits.

CC: You’re Deviant Art page shows an earlier design (very cool I might add, especially Mikey’s eyes), which then evolved into this, before coming into the book. How much input do others get into your design? Are there Turtle guidelines?

MS: No guidelines and little to none outside inputs. I’ve changed the designs because I wanted to. The earlier one is pretty old already, but it essentially holds my goal with this concept that is to make them look individuals. Every aspect, from body and facial structures to their masks was thought to enhance the characteristics of their personalities. The only thing I had to change on my recent design was their heights. I was hoping to make them even shorter compared to humans and with more contrasting heights between themselves but Nick doesn’t like this idea. Still, I’m happy with the outcome.

CC: In my reviews I’ve compared the quality of SHOTFC to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s current work on Batman. Since then I’ve discovered you worked on Snyder’s American Vampire! Did you interact much? How was he to work with?

MS: We interacted as much as the workflow demanded. He is a great guy to work with though, very open to artists suggestions on the storytelling.

CC: I’ve got to ask…who is your favourite turtle?

MS: For a long time Donnie was my favorite. But I think I had a phase for each one of them. I can’t pick up one!! I love them all!

CC: We know that after SHOTFC you’ll be turning your attention to the main TMNT title. Great news! What can we expect to see? Are there big changes ahead? How much input have you had? Lots of smaller questions there I know but I’m excited to hear more.

MS: Yeah. I’m already working on it. So far my inputs on this one are limited to the designs. The guys always ask my opinion, but I didn’t have much to add, really. The thing looks great. I’m having some cool opportunities to give my own tweak on some old school TMNT characters, villains especially, and we will slowly note this throughout the whole thing. From what I have seen the events on this run will resonate for a while on the following story arcs and even I am starting to have ideas about it :).

CC: If you had to suggest I go out and buy one comic right now what would it be? You can’t say your own!

MS: I would suggest for you to buy an old one! Something from Alberto Breccia or Sergio Toppi. The thing I eagerly wanna buy is the whole Dark Horse Akira edition, that one in black and white. But if you want a more contemporary tip I would say buy BPRD Hell on Earth: The Long Death by Mignola, John Arcudi and James Harren.

Chris Cooper