April 14, 2011

Turtle Talk with Artist Dave Rapoza

More articles by »
Written by: Andy
Tags: , , , ,

While surfing the web last week I stumbled upon the artwork of Dave Rapoza and his collection of absolutely stunning Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles portraits. He’s selling a limited print run of the set, so after purchasing a Splinter for myself (because Shredder and April were sold out), I inquired Dave for an interview opportunity. Plus, I felt it wrong to not do my part in sharing these striking images with the TMNT fans of Read on as Dave talks all things Turtles, and opens up about what inspired these life-like renditions of the most popular franchise to come out of the 1980s!

COMIC ATTACK: Tell us what inspired this TMNT portrait project you’ve undertaken. The character depictions are phenomenal!

DAVE RAPOZA: First of all, thanks for doing this, I appreciate it! Well, I was born in ’87 so I wasn’t right in there when all the comics were coming out, but was more about the cartoon (at first). Back then I probably owned every single Ninja Turtle toy there was [laughs]. So I was all about the Turtles for most of my childhood. The main reason I decided to do these portraits now was because when I was little, I remember telling my dad how I wished the toys looked and how I thought I could make them cooler.

I really wanted to show how I felt every kid saw the series, super serious and full of action. Most of the time when you look back at the things you loved you just see how dated it is and how it only appeals to kids. What I wanted to show is the reason why the kids love it, and maybe what we’ve forgotten about being a kid. It’s more about keeping it the same in essence, but trying to show why it’s still so cool. At least that’s what I’m hoping to accomplish :). Obviously it’s not some super deep meaning or anything, it’s just trying to show that the series with all its original designs can be done in a cool way if handled right.

CA: The TMNT comic books have been re-booted plenty of times in their 20+ year career: from the original Eastman/Laird stuff, to Archie’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures series based on the cartoon, to Image, Mirage, and now an upcoming series from IDW Publishing. Which comic run is your favorite, and why?

DR: Well, when I was growing up I remember seeing the film adaptation and being really excited. It felt like how I wanted the show to be: darker and more realistic. Like most kids, I still watched the show anyways, but I remember when I was at the comic shop right up the street from me and I saw my first TMNT comics. They had the original comics as well as the Archie run. I was really into the original Mirage version with the gritty artwork and serious tone, but I can’t say I really stuck to reading them. Back then I was a little too hyper to read through an entire series, but I do recall just sitting there in my room staring at the artwork. Basically I would look for fight scenes and pictures of Casey Jones [laughs].

CA: What are your thoughts on IDW rebooting the comics?

DR: Personally I’m not a huge fan of the sort of reboots that have been going on lately. Most of the time it’s just to cash in on the brand without any real passion for the content. That being said, I don’t really enjoy fan made books either; they generally play by the rules that were already laid out for the series and tend not to do anything new. It’s usually just a ‘grittier Dark Knight version’ or whatever else. But that’s mostly me being jaded from all the new reboots around. I’d much rather see another couple [of] passionate people with their own unique ideas. That’s when you get the real creative energy, as opposed to a comic artist just working on another title from whatever franchise they happen on next. But maybe I’m wrong and this title will bring about a true new look at the Turtles…

CA: The new Nickelodeon cartoon debuts in about a year from now- what’s your take?

DR: Well, all I’ve seen so far is the poster they’ve released and that didn’t really get me excited. I mean, I really don’t understand trying to constantly recreate past series in hopes that they’ll catch on again. It just looks like something that may as well not have the Turtles in it. If you’re going to remake a show over and over, you should just start a new IP with some really passionate people. The idea of sticking to what’s safe just to make a profit and have a recognizable brand is ridiculous. Nobody is willing to take a chance, so we end up with awful rehashed ideas over and over. Honestly, I think if you’re gonna cash in on the TMNT audience, just make a new serious live action film that appeals to everyone who grew up with the Turtles, and isn’t super fast and goofy like the cg one. Keep it the same in tone to the original comics without changing everything.

CA: Yeah, the first live-action film feels like the one most TMNT fans can still appreciate. What are your thoughts on the other two live-action movies: Secret of the Ooze and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III?

DR: As a kid I enjoyed Secret of the Ooze, but now it’s a bit too much I’d say. The first movie really captures the mood and atmosphere I always imagined around TMNT. Secret of the Ooze was a bit too kiddish, although Tokka and Rahzar are awesome. The third movie is just the worst. I don’t know of anyone who likes that movie.

CA: What’s one of the many stories you’d tell if given creative freedom with a 12 issue Turtles run?

DR: If I absolutely had to do a Turtles story I would go back to the original and pick up where it left off. But I’d also want the original team working on it just to see what we could do. I really love the old look and wouldn’t mind mixing it with a darker ‘streets of rage’ kind of vibe. Other than that though I wouldn’t really enjoy working on any other style I don’t think.

CA: Are you a fan of any of the TMNT video games?

DR: I’m a huge fan of Turtles in Time and the first arcade game. I remember staying up all night with my friends playing Turtles in Time on Super Nintendo, such an awesome game. Also, for the last 2-3 years I lived up in New Hampshire right near Fun Spot (world’s largest arcade), where I’d get to play those games again and all the other awesome games like Contra, Space Harrier, etc. It’s funny how there are so many successful translations of the TMNT universe, films, comics, tv, video games, merchandise. There really wasn’t anything (until recent years) that completely bombed.

CA: Lets talk some more about these killer portraits you’re creating- about how long does each piece take you to complete, and what’s the process involved in creating them?

DR: Well, on each one I generally spend between 3-6 hours. Usually I just go online and grab a screen from the show/toys or from the comics then grab some photos of the real life counterpart (snapping turtle, wild pig, rhino). After that it’s just combining the two references with my own love and interpretation of the series; although I don’t use any real direct reference unless it’s for a human character. In that case I like to get it as realistic as I can. For instance, I took this really stupid image of myself with cardboard taped to my face for Shredder [laughs]. But sometimes you just have to be willing to look really stupid for better results.

CA: How many TMNT portraits will complete the collection? Can you give us any teasers on who’s made your short list?

DR: I’m thinking around 14 altogether including the ones I’ve already done. At the moment I’m finishing up a Foot Soldier and then I’m onto Baxter. I usually don’t like talking about who’s next, but there’s really not much stopping me from finishing the series, I’m already so far in.

CA: Do you have any plans to do a similar project, but with non-TMNT characters?

DR: Yes, I’ve got a few planned out, like G.I. Joe as well as a few others I haven’t mentioned yet because I want to remain excited. But its been a lot of fun doing this series; I did the main character from Samurai Pizza Cats already, just to deviate from TMNT for a day or two.

CA: What medium do you use?

DR: All of the TMNT stuff was done in photoshop with my Wacom Intuos 4 tablet. Basically I just use my knowledge of drawing and painting in photoshop with simulated brushes and whatnot. Makes it easier to show the work live and I don’t have to wait for the paint to dry. All of my client work is done this way for quick turn arounds and I can usually get a TMNT piece done in about 2-3 days between my regular jobs. Helps a lot!

CA: What do you do in real life?

DR: I’m a freelance Illustrator and concept artist full time. When I’m not doing fun stuff like TMNT, I’m doing more fun stuff like Magic: The Gathering, World of Warcraft cards, Dungeons & Dragons, album covers, and concept art for film and games. Along with that I run a livestream program where I answer questions from artists regarding the industry and improving their work called Crimson Daggers. I’m always looking to move forward in what I do and have as much fun as I can while studying, and learning more about fundamentals in art. But yea, other than that I go out, get drunk and dance [laughs].

CA: Which MTG cards have you illustrated?

DR: By now I’ve done quite a bit, I think I’m at like 22-23 cards since the beginning of 2010 when I started. Problem is they come out a year after you pass in the final artwork. But the ones I’m probably most known for are the Skinrender card and Go for the Throat. That being said, Magic is the best job ever.

CA: Are there any other jobs you’re currently working on you can tell us about?

DR: Hmm, well I’m finishing up some work for this guy Kavinsky who makes awesome music. Also doing some stuff for the new Warcraft card set and just finishing a series of 6 book covers for the Paizo Pathfinder rpg series. It’s kinda hard to talk about jobs when they’re all under NDA, so can’t really mention anything else specific. Lots of cool things are on the horizon though.

CA: Where can fans check out your work and purchase those awesome TMNT prints?

DR: They can go to my website – and check out the current work, as well as pick up prints. Also they can email me directly at for more info on what’s still available from the current set. I’ll be offering up another batch of new prints soon with new characters, just have to finish’em up. But I’ll announce that on my blog/twitter/deviantart and wherever else you can follow my stuff.

CA: Any closing words on the TMNT, or anything else you want to say?

DR: Well, aside from my obvious love for TMNT, I do have some words for any aspiring artists who may be reading this. Work your ass off. Study everyday working at all your fundamentals and don’t just paint what you think people will like. Paint what you know and enjoy yourself and can have fun with. Make sure your personality comes through in your work and hopefully you’ll start producing better artwork. If you do make it but find yourself at a studio painting floor textures, then it may be time to work harder than ever at those fundamentals and escape. Just don’t give up or give in to something that’s comfortable. Also, thanks for having me on here!

Listen to our podast interview with Dave on our news show, The Comics Dispatch, or for more TMNT, click here.

Andy Liegl



  1. thanks for the interview, dave rapoza undoubtedly a great artist !

  2. Dude, this guy needs to be on a monthly book, or he needs to be doing covers. That Slash pic is incredible.

  3. Slash and Splinter look fantastic (not that the others don’t lol) Great interview guys!

  4. Aaron

    This was great. Great interview. Great artwork.
    This is amazing. Totally diggin’ this art!!!

    Great work everyone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Website Protected by Spam Master