The comic book series Drawing Blood details the amazing career of an artist named Shane Bookman, whose self-published comic book becomes a worldwide sensation and spawns TV shows, movies and billions of dollars worth of merchandise. Along the way, Bookman marries a B-movie star, sells the rights to his series and gets involved in a gunfight with murderous thugs.

A page from the Drawing Blood comic book series. Artwork by Ben Bishop

Wait, that sounds an awful lot like the amazing life of Westbrook High School graduate Kevin Eastman, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

“People think it’s about me until they get about six pages in and see that the character is in a gunfight. I have never been in a gunfight,” said Eastman, 57, from his home in San Diego, California. “It’s a little bit of me, and of other artists. It grew out of me swapping nutty stories with other artists about the comics business.”

Eastman’s career and adventurous life has come full circle with the Drawing Blood comic books. The series is partly on things Eastman has seen, heard and done during his more than 35 years in the comic book industry. Eastman helped create the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic series, which spawned six films and four TV series, as well as billions of dollars in merchandise sales. Drawing Blood is self-published, just like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was in 1984. With his collaborators, Eastman’s raised more than $220,000 through two Kickstarter campaigns to fund the first eight issues of Drawing Blood. The first four came out in May, and the second four are due out next year. He created this new comic with a partner, writer David Avallone, just as he created the Turtles with a partner, Peter Laird.

To find the right artist for Drawing Blood, someone who could depict a comic artist’s wild life with dramatic and comedic flair, he turned back to Maine. Drawing Blood is drawn primarily by Portland artist Ben Bishop, who does his own comic books, works on the current Turtles comic series and did a comic book adaptation of Donn Fendler’s famous 1939 survival story “Lost on a Mountain in Maine.”

Unsolicited, Bishop had sent Eastman his graphic novel, “The Aggregate,” about a genetically-engineered “human super weapon”  hard-wired to destroy the Earth and the physical and moral struggles involved in trying to stop it, with a note asking Eastman to write a publicity blurb for it. Then when Eastman was thinking out loud about artists for Drawing Blood, his wife pointed to “The Aggregate” and said, “What about this guy?” Eastman said, “Yeah, the guy’s terrific, but he’s probably too busy.” But he texted Bishop anyway and asked him what he was doing for the next year or so.

Kevin Eastman, left, and Ben Bishop in July toasting with beer brewed to commemorate their Drawing Blood comic book series. Photo courtesy of Ben Bishop

“I was inspired to do what I do by people like Kevin. Before him and Peter (with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) no one had really shown what you could do self-publishing comics,” said Bishop, 32, a New Hampshire native who moved to Maine in 2004. “It’s insane to me that I’m even friends with this guy.”

‘THE MAINE WAY’

Eastman said that, over the years, lots of people in the entertainment business have suggested to him that he write his life’s story, an autobiography listing all his accomplishments. He liked the idea of writing something about the life of a comic artist, and about the crazy things that happen in the industry. But he didn’t feel comfortable writing a straight autobiography.

“I thought it sounded very egotistical,” said Eastman. “I mean, you work hard, you stay focused and you don’t pat yourself on the back. That’s the Maine way, right?”

Eastman spent his earliest years living in a farmhouse in the Groveville section of Buxton, before his family moved to Westbrook when he was a teen. He knew he wanted to be a comic book artist from a young age and was a big fan of action comics, especially artist and writer Jack Kirby, who helped create Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and the Hulk. Most adults in Eastman’s life, including his parents, told him he needed to find a steadier way to make a living. But his art teacher, Jane Hawkes, took his ambition seriously. She told him that, if he wanted to make scenes come alive, he’d have to pay attention to detail. So if he was going to draw a character sitting in a living room, he’d have to be able to draw everything in that room in a believable way, from couches and chairs and televisions down to books or coasters or window shades.

After graduating from Westbrook High School in 1980, Eastman spent a year or so at Portland School of Art (now Maine College of Art), until he ran out of money. He worked as a lobster cook at Johnny’s Oarweed in Ogunquit and tried to get work doing comic art. While talking to publishers and publications about his comic ideas, he met fellow artist Laird. He eventually moved to Dover, N.H., to share a studio with Laird and continued to try to sell comic ideas.

Kevin Eastman posed for a Portland Press Herald photo holding two early editions of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics in 1985. Photo courtesy of Kevin Eastman

One night while watching a lot of “bad TV,” the two started to get goofy. Eastman, who was a fan of martial arts movies with Bruce Lee, asked the question, “What kind of animal would Bruce Lee be if he were an animal?” He immediately answered with “turtle,” thinking it was funny to make a super-quick martial artist into a slow-moving turtle and did a sketch. Then Laird did a sketch. Eastman drew four  turtles, with masks and nunchucks, and Laird put the title Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles over the drawings. Both said it was the dumbest thing they’d ever seen.

But they decided to self-publish a comic based on it, with a $1,200 loan from Eastman’s uncle. They began selling it at a comics convention in Portsmouth, N.H., in May of 1984. The stories focused on four teenaged turtles, named after Italian Renaissance painters, trained in martial arts. As baby turtles, they were rescued from city sewers, where they bathed in a chemical ooze, causing their various mutations. They went on to battle evil-doers and act like surfer dudes, popularizing the term “cowabunga” and becoming well-known for their love of pizza.

Within a few years, companies were lining up to license the characters and create action figures, backpacks and dozens of other products. In 1987, the first animated TV series on the Turtles began in syndication, appearing on stations around the country. In 1990, the Turtles got their own Saturday morning cartoon, and some version of their story has been on TV just about ever since. Last year, cable network Nickelodeon debuted the newest Turtles cartoon.

While the Ninja Turtles empire grew, Eastman and Laird spent 90 to 100 hours a week working on the comics and overseeing films, shows and merchandise. Eastman also lived a rock star life, to a point. He bought his favorite science fiction magazine, Heavy Metal, in the early ’90s and still owns it today. He was married to Julie Strain, an actress dubbed “Queen of the B-Movies” and a former Penthouse Pet of the Year, for about 10 years beginning in the mid-90s.

INSPIRED TO JUST DO IT

By the end of the 1990s, Eastman decided he need a break and wanted to focus on different things. He said, by that point, most of his work was on the merchandising end of things, and he wanted to get back to drawing comics. So, in 2000, he sold his interest in the Turtles to Laird, who later sold it to Viacom, which controls the rights to all things Ninja Turtles now. Eastman began drawing some of the current Ninja Turtles comics about a decade ago, and continues to consult on films and shows. He works mostly form home, where he lives with his wife, Courtney, and his 13-year-old son, Shane.

Ben Bishop of Portland working on the second volume of the Drawing Blood comic series. Photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

There are several very apparent similarities between Eastman and Drawing Blood’s Bookman. Bookman helped co-created a comic sensation out of four fighting cats called the Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls. At one point, Bookman’s characters star in a movie directed by someone named Morgan Harbor, while the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film was directed by Michael Bay. And Shane Bookman married a B-movie actress, though Eastman but as he points out, he knows other comic artists who did that. But some of the series is purely fictional.

Eastman says he feels “extremely privileged and lucky” to have had so much commercial success with the Turtles and to still be working on comics. He’s especially happy to be doing a self-published comic again, where he and his collaborators call the shots. He said he had been keeping notes about his experience in the business, and of fellow artists, for about a dozen years, thinking he’d use them at some point. About three or four years ago, he decided to go ahead with Drawing Blood with Avallone, who has worked in Hollywood as a film editor, director, writer and actor. Then he began looking for an artist.

Like Eastman, Bishop grew up in a small town – Weare, New Hamsphire. He began drawing his own comics at the age of 11 and as youngster was surrounded by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on TV, in movies and with the toys on his shelves. In his studio today, he has a picture of himself as a boy in a Turtles sleeping bag.

Ben Bishop of Portland flips through a volume of the Drawing Blood comic series. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

And like Eastman, Bishop attended the Maine College of Art for a while but essentially ran out of money. He tried hard to get his work published to no avail. Then, inspired at least partly by Eastman and Laird’s self-publishing success, he decided to just go ahead and publish his own work. Since about 2008, Bishop has been drawing full-time. He works on his own comics and books and also has been drawing for the current Turtles series, something he started doing before he ever met Eastman.

With Drawing Blood, it’s Bishop’s job to take the stories Eastman plots out and then add his own artistic flair.

“I can draw turtles and ninjas and stuff, but I couldn’t do a series like this justice,” said Eastman. “Ben has a very unique style, and he can really make the characters act and emote. He can make these characters believable.”


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