In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, at New York Comic Con, artist Michael Dialynas discusses the “City At War” arc within Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #98 (IDW Publishing). As the popular series heads towards its 100th issue, find out what this upcoming milestone event means for the TMNT legacy.
In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #98, power in New York City’s underworld has been consolidated. The populace has gone to the polls to potentially elect Baxter Stockman as Mayor. A devastating act will change the city forever. Raphael must now choose which side he’s on!
Before Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #99 arrives in stores on October 30th, 2019, Michael Dialynas talks about the emotional performance behind his illustrations, the underdog tale of Jennika, and the political themes behind his artwork. Check out our review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #98 before we head out to the actor’s studio to discuss the craft of making comics.
Villain Media: Very few comic book titles are able to hit 100 issues and still be able to continue. Tell me about being a part of the Turtles legacy as we hit close to #100.
Michael Dialynas: It’s very hard to process. I finished drawing issue #98 less than a month ago. I still haven’t felt like I’ve done it because it’s been so fast. I was supposed to end my run on issue #92, but then Jennika happened. I really feel like it magically happened. It’s like an outer-body experience when drawing those pages! It’s a childhood dream! When I was a kid, this was the only thing I wanted to do. Like drawing comics for me, I wanted to draw Turtles comics. And I cannot believe I’m here right now!
VM: The illustrations capture the emotions of the sibling rivalry between Raphael and Leonardo, Karai’s wrath, and Casey Jones’ breakup with Jennika. What are the challenges of capturing such a raw emotional performance on the page?
MD: That’s a good question! For some reason, I had a feeling that IDW brings me in to do the emotional stuff. When I started working on Turtles four years ago, they brought me in to do Mikey’s spinoff after he left team in issue #50. That was all heartbreak; he couldn’t see Splinter the same way after killing Shredder. In those issues, I also had Casey breaking up with April O’Neil. Generally, when they tap me, it either has to do with Mikey or something super emotional. I’ve worked on The Woods with James Tynion IV for four years. So I’ve done 36 issues of emotional drama. It’s a part of me now!
VM: These previous issues featured Jennika in her origin story as she becomes the fifth Turtle. She started out as the underdog before really finding her place amongst the Turtles. Tell me about illustrating her coming-of-age tale.
MD: I got the script. Before I started drawing, I realized, “Oh! She becomes a Turtle now! Oh! How am I going to do this?”
The only thing I can say that helped was that I saw Sophie Campbell’s designs. She drew a badass Jennika Turtle. I drew her one second after she had broken up with Casey. I can’t draw that Turtle. I have to draw the one in-between. There has to be an in-between of her being human and full Turtle. She has just been mutated. She has a shell on her back. She has outgrown her clothes. It’s all different for her now.
The main thing I wanted to do with her acting was that I didn’t want her to feel 100 percent comfortable until issue #97; when she gets her bandana. Up until then, she’s cowering and feeling vulnerable. She doesn’t want to show herself to the world. One or two issues later, she’s got the support of her team; these new people she has befriended.
On my part, I was trying to get her there to becoming the person with her colors and becoming part of Turtles history.
VM: The subplot about Baxter Stockman’s election campaign reminds me of ‘70s political/conspiracy thrillers, like 3 Days At The Condor. And now we’re at a time where we see debates on TV for the upcoming presidency. Are the political themes coincidental or on purpose?
MD: Oh, I was aiming for that! [Laughs] Especially with #98 with all that political imagery. I live in Greece. I don’t know what it means to live here right now. I watch it everyday. It’s become the best and worst TV series to watch what happens to America everyday. It’s funny and sad. What’s going to happen tomorrow? Is there going to be a twist in the story? I’m like, “Stephen Colbert, let’s go!”
There’s a lot of embedded stories that you could see happening in the next few issues. I’d sit down with Bobby [Curnow]. And for the first time, I got a hint of what happens in the next five issues. And you’re going to be surprised! It’s going to be exciting! As all with good stories, they’re rooted in reality. This story has a lot to do with what’s been happening in the last couple of years.
VM: How did Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles change you as an artist?
MD: It broke me! [Laughs] As an artist, I started drawing comics seven years ago in the American scene. Working for Dark Horse was my big breakthrough. It took me a while to drawing a page. I had a five issue series, and when I was finished with that, Bobby started contacting me about Turtles stuff. We could never figure out when I was going to work. And this was back in 2013. Whenever he would ask me, I was doing something else. I started drawing The Woods in 2014, he kept asking me if I was free. He kept asking me during the wrong time and it was my childhood dream. I really, really wanted to draw the Turtles.
When he asked me for a third time, I could not say no. I said to Bobby, “I’m going to do this. We’re going to have to sync our schedules because I’m going through two series at the same time.”
And that’s when I lost my mind! [Laughs] I drew six issues in three months. I was doing Turtles and The Woods at the same time. Ever since then, I could not leave a month off my schedule. When I’m not working on a creator-owned book, I’m working on Turtles. Turtles has destroyed my life! [Laughs]
I had done 15 issues in a year. That’s three issues more than I should have. Any normal person would say 10 issues is normal for a year. Turtles made me fast and I can think on my feet. Thanks to them, I wouldn’t be in this situation. People always come to me for my speed. So, I should be drawing Sonic the Hedgehog! [Laughs]
[Writer’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Links are highlighted in bold.]
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #99 arrives in stores on October 30th, 2019.