Toy-Lines interviews Andrew Farago, author of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Ultimate Visual History

Toy-Lines – Were you a turtles fan as a child?

Andrew Farago – Absolutely. My younger brother and I watched the first television mini-series when it aired in December, 1987, and we were hooked immediately. I started tracking down the early comic books right away, and we began collecting the action figures as soon as they hit shelves the next year.

Toy-Lines – Can you explain how the idea for this book came about?

Andrew Farago – Chris Prince, an editor at Insight Editions, was familiar with my earlier books and wrote to me asking, “what do you know about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?” I told him I was a fan and I wrote up an outline for how I’d fill a 200-page book. He liked my approach and I got the assignment.

Toy-Lines – Were there times where your were writing that you discovered something you didn’t know which you knew you had to include in the book?

Andrew Farago – Definitely. Almost everyone I interviewed was very generous with his time and very willing to share stories about working on TMNT, and I could have written a 400-page book with all of the information I gathered during two years of research.

Toy-Lines – Was there anything you wanted to include but didn’t get to?

Andrew Farago – Plenty. Despite all of the time I spent researching, some TMNT projects didn’t quite fit into the book’s narrative, and in some cases, I just wasn’t able to talk to enough people who worked on a particular project before the book had to go to press. And sometimes I wasn’t able to get enough artwork to illustrate a particular chapter, so we had to take a different approach to make things work. I’m really pleased with the book that we produced, but the perfectionist in me wishes that we’d had another year and another 100 pages.

Toy-Lines – What was it like meeting Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird?

Andrew Farago – I haven’t met Peter in person yet, but had a great time trading e-mails with him over the course of a year while I was doing my research. Kevin’s a lot of fun, and I got to hang out with him a bit at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con. He’s a very cool guy, and I was really impressed with how he interacted with his fans–hundreds of them! He was thrilled to meet each and every person who came up to him for a sketch or an autograph, and that was great to see.

Toy-Lines – While interviewing did everyone have fond memories of the turtles?

Andrew Farago – Just about. There were a few people who had less than ideal experiences while working on TMNT, but that usually related to individual projects that didn’t quite work out for one reason or another.

Toy-Lines – How important is family & friends when under taking a task such as this?

Andrew Farago – Very important. My wife has always been the primary editor on everything I write, and she’s the one who keeps me going when I’ve got to spend a full day transcribing tape-recorded interviews, or piecing together ten sets of e-mails into a coherent chapter, or frantically tracking down missing artwork for a chapter. My friends were very understanding of the weird schedule I had to keep when the book was getting into crunch time, too.

Toy-Lines – What is it like writing a book on the history of something that’s been around for so long? Exhausting?

Andrew Farago – It was pretty overwhelming at the outset, since every person I interviewed seemed to lead to another three people, and the sheer number of TMNT projects and products created over the years was staggering. I always had at least five e-mail chains going at a time, usually more.

Toy-Lines – How do you not verge off topic & did you ever worry you were forgetting something the turtles were a part of?

Andrew Farago – That’s why you have an editor. Chris Prince did a great job of making sure my narrative was focused, and was able to tell me when the book needed more information on a particular subject, when something should be dropped for the sake of the overall narrative, and when I’d gone completely off the rails.
If something wasn’t included, it was usually because it started derailing the rest of the book, or in some cases, I just didn’t have enough access to people or resources to make for a great chapter. The people who worked on the Turtles video games, for example, generally didn’t have much to say about it other than it was a standard work-for-hire job, and I limited my discussion in that area as a result.

Toy-Lines – How long have you been writing?

Andrew Farago – I’ve been writing (and making comics) since I was a kid, but not professionally until around 2001. It’s always been a part-time thing for me, since my day job at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco keeps me very busy, but if a project interests me, I’m glad to fit it into my schedule.

Toy-Lines – Let’s talk about your Looney Tunes book for a second (Looney Tunes Treasury). I take it you’re a Looney Tunes fan?

Andrew Farago – I’m a big time Looney Tunes fan, and have been as long as I can remember. My dad grew up on them in the 1940s, and it was fun sharing them with him when I was growing up.

Toy-Lines – Was writing that book more difficult than the turtles one or did they each have their own difficulties?

Andrew Farago – Each book had its own unique challenges. Just about all of the major players in TMNT history are still around and willing to share their stories, so that book required lots of interviews and tracking down people involved with the Turtles. Very few creators involved with the Looney Tunes are still alive today, so that required a lot more archival research and time spent in front of the television.

Toy-Lines – Did Warner Brothers let you tour their archives for footage?

Andrew Farago – No, but I didn’t pursue that for The Looney Tunes Treasury, since the DVD box sets and previously published history books by people like Jerry Beck provided me with all of the source material I needed. The publisher tracked down all of the art for that book, too, so it wouldn’t have affected the book much if I’d been able to go to Burbank and root around the WB Archives.

Toy-Lines – Mel Blanc is such an integral part to Looney Tunes. Have you ever read the book Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices by Ben Ohmart?

Andrew Farago – I haven’t, but it’s on the long list of books I intend to read one of these days.

Toy-Lines – What was a day in the life like for you while writing the turtles book?

Andrew Farago – Most of the “typical days” were normal workdays where I’d fit in a little bit of time for e-mail interviews and occasional phone interviews, going home at night and reading comic books or watching cartoons or movies, and jotting down notes about design and the book’s outline. When it got time to really pull the book together, I took a few extra days off from my day job so that I could spend a full eight hours fitting my interview responses into a book-length narrative.

Toy-Lines – Did you travel for the interview or were they all done from the comfort of your own home?

Andrew Farago – Interviews were mostly done over the phone or via e-mail. I think the only in-person interview I did was with Ken Mitchroney, who illustrated a lot of the TMNT Adventures comics published by Archie, since he lives in the area and knows me through mutual friends.

Toy-Lines – Do you have a favorite Ninja Turtle?

Andrew Farago – I’ve always been a Donatello guy.

Toy-Lines – Do you have a favorite Ninja Turtle cartoon series?

Andrew Farago – Nostalgia makes me pick the original series, although I’m a huge fan of the current series on Nickelodeon.

Toy-Lines – Do you have a favorite Ninja Turtles movie?

Andrew Farago – I saw the first live-action movie in the theater when I was 14, and it’s hard to top that. That one’s still my favorite.

Toy-Lines – What are the challenges one faces when writing a book like the turtles?
Andrew Farago – Leading up to the book’s release, I finally got a sense of just how big the franchise is, and what it means to its fans. I was really nervous about fan reaction to the book, since they’ve got such strong feelings about the Turtles, but they seem to really like it, which is a huge relief.

Toy-Lines – When completed did Kevin Eastman or Peter Laird have comments?

Andrew Farago – Kevin loved it, unconditionally. Peter was also really impressed, although he had a detailed list of suggestions and revisions for the second printing. I think once those are implemented, his opinion of the book will go up several notches.

Toy-Lines – How did Peter Laird get chosen to write the foreword to the book? Did he volunteer or did you ask?

Andrew Farago – I asked. Once I had Kevin lined up to work on the cover, with Mirage artist Ryan Brown, it was a no-brainer asking Peter to write the foreword.

Toy-Lines – One thing that is really cool is all the inserts on the pages. How did you decide what to use & what not to use & were there more you wished you could have used?
Andrew Farago – I’m really impressed with what the design team did on the inserts. It’s like getting 20% more book for your money, and was a great way to solve the problem of having access to more great art than we could use otherwise. I wish we’d had even more pages, though, and another few months to track down even more artwork.

Toy-Lines – One of the inserts was a comic strip from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic strip from Creators Syndicate. I’ve always wanted to read the strip. Did you get to read them all?

Andrew Farago – I haven’t yet, but I’m hoping that IDW Publishing will get around to collecting the whole run eventually. The strip wasn’t widely syndicated, so many of us never got to see it in our local newspapers.

Toy-Lines – How did it work with Mirage including all the inserts they provided or art work?

Andrew Farago – Most of the work included in the book came from artists and individual collectors, as opposed to the Mirage archives. Nearly everyone I contacted was very enthusiastic about sharing art for publication, though.

Toy-Lines – What made you choose the Ninja Turtles as a follow up book to your Looney Tunes Treasury?

Andrew Farago – TMNT was actually the first book offered to me by a publisher after Looney Tunes, and I was happy to take it.

Toy-Lines – You work for the Cartoon Art Museum, have they ever had a show on the art of Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

Andrew Farago – We’ve got a TMNT 30th anniversary exhibition on display right now, through September 28, and the show includes all of the original artwork from the very first issue of TMNT from 1984. Visit cartoonart.org for more info.

Toy-Lines – Did you get to interview folks from Playmates Toys about the turtles lines?

Andrew Farago – Yes, I spoke with Karl Aaronian, who was part of the team that first produced Turtles action figures, and he was very knowledgeable about the entire history of TMNT and Playmates.

Toy-Lines – With Nickelodeon owning the Ninja Turtles now, were they enthusiastic about the concept of the book?

Andrew Farago – Definitely. We couldn’t have done the book without their full cooperation, and they were really big supporters every step of the way.

Toy-Lines – I enjoyed the fact that not only you covered each Ninja Turtles movie, but each cartoon series & comic series, as well as the Next Mutation live-action TV series. Was there any research that went into this, like having to watch them all?

Andrew Farago – I didn’t have time to watch every single episode of every series, but thankfully I’d watched a lot of it prior to writing the book. I spent a lot of hours catching up as I wrote, though.

Toy-Lines – As a whole, what was the experience of writing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Ultimate Visual History like for you?

Andrew Farago – It was a lot of fun, probably even more than I expected. Getting to talk to Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman was great, but I also got to interview some amazing people like Rob Paulsen, Vanilla Ice, and Brian Henson. Getting to talk puppeteering with Brian Henson is something that I’ll always remember.

Toy-Lines – Do you have any other books in the works that you can talk about?

Andrew Farago – I’m talking to a few publishers right now, but don’t have my next big project lined up yet. The best place to keep up on my work at the moment is http://www.amazon.com/Andrew-Farago/e/B00JVVPKR2, and I’ll list new projects there as they’re published. https://www.facebook.com/andrewfaragocartoons is another place to keep track of me, and I’m gradually building a site at http://andrewfarago.wordpress.com, too.

Toy-Lines – Andrew, thank you so much for the interview & for writing this book. It’s truly worth every cent & is a great read. We here at Toy-Lines wish you the best of luck in your career.

 

The Toy-Lines Crew

 

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