The History of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles views: 4495
The TMNT were conceived in 1983 as a tongue-in-cheek joke, primarily as a parody of three comic series that were very popular in the early 1980s. The whole teenage aspect comes from DC Comics’ Teen Titans. The mutant part came from Marvel Comics’ X-Men and the ninja part came courtesy of Marvel’s Daredevil. The turtles part came out of thin air.
Mirage Studios (1984-1995)
The TMNT were conceived in 1983 as a tongue-in-cheek joke, primarily as a parody of three comic series that were very popular in the early 1980s. The whole teenage aspect comes from DC Comics’ Teen Titans. The mutant part came from Marvel Comics’ X-Men and the ninja part came courtesy of Marvel’s Daredevil. The turtles part came out of thin air. So basically these two losers, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were having a very difficult time breaking into the comics industry and it’s easy to see why – their style was really unconventional at a time when there wasn’t a whole lot of variety in comics, let alone alternative publishers to turn to.
Eastman & Laird created the TMNT and self-published a 3000 copy run of their new comic, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in 1984. This comic introduced each of the turtles, plus Splinter, Shredder, and the Foot Clan. On a whim, they typed up a press release to announce the comic, which was picked up by the Associated Press for some reason, greatly increasing awareness of the comic. ANYWAY, it was a huge hit in spite of the fact that it was black and white and only available in comic shops (which were not as widespread as they are today). The comic was unique not only because it was black and white but because they filled the white spaces with very detailed and I might say gritty greytones. This became a hallmark of Mirage Studios comics.
So, what started on a whim as a joke became a hit, even though it was for the most part a really big rip-off of Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil. Splinter gets his name from Daredevil’s mentor, Stick. The Foot Clan received their name from Daredevil’s nemesis, The Hand (Clan). They even tied in the TMNT’s origin to Daredevil’s, implying that the same chemical spill that transformed Matt Murdock also mutated the Turtles.
Now it was all a big hit and life had to go on, which it did in 1985 with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2, which introduced April O’Neil, Baxter Stockman, and the Mousers. This issue was also a hit so it all continued, with Eastman and Laird happily toiling away at their comics. They started to do the comic full-time and by 1986 had released several issues, introducing Fugitoid, Casey Jones, the Triceratons, and sharing crossovers with Cerebus and Usagi Yojimbo. Eastman and Laird jumped at any chance to do TMNT short stories, as well, which appeared in anthology titles or as back-up stories in other indie comics.
Eastman and Laird continue the series
In 1985, Palladium Books became the first TMNT licensees, producing a series of RPG books starring the Turtles featuring brand new character art, and sometimes new stories, by Eastman and Laird. Then Playmates Toys came along in 1987 to arrange a toy deal, followed by a deal with Murakami Wolf Swenson to produce a cartoon, followed by a deal with Archie Comics to publish a mainstream, kiddie TMNT comic, then a video game license with Konami and finally the movie license with Golden Harvest and New Line. Eastman and Laird became more involved with making business decisions than with producing comics.
To keep up with all of the licensing requirements, Mirage Studios slowly became a REAL studio, hiring several artists to draw comics, design toys, and create art for shit like TMNT napkins and party favors. The artists typically focused on designing new toy characters. If a character went into production, it could be worth $30,000 – $60,000 for that artist. In their spare time, they worked on the comics, which were now sometimes written but usually just overseen by Eastman and Laird. With some exceptions, the quality of the comics was typically maintained. Unlike mainstream comics, new issues came out when they were good and ready, not held to any schedules. Some of them were of incredibly high quality and oozed the sort of enthusiasm that can only come from independent publications.
Mirage Studios artists take over
At some point it seems that most of the Mirage Studios artists didn’t feel like drawing comics and many underground cartoonists were given turns to produce issues, including people like Richard Corben, Mark Martin, Matt Howarth and Rick Veitch. These comics were typically very good and usually had better stories than issues written by Mirage Studios staff members. In 1992, perhaps because the TMNT empire was starting to wind down, Eastman and Laird decided to work on the series again. They wrote and illustrated issue #50 and then wrote the next 12 issues with Mirage Studios veteran Jim Lawson handling the art. They continued to publish specials and one-shots by independent artists.
Underground creators to the fore
In 1993, the series was “cancelled”, though only to give way to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 2, which was NOW IN COLOR. This series was written and illustrated by Jim Lawson and features an admittedly aimless and slow plot that ends rather ambiguously. In 1995, Volume 2 was cancelled and Mirage Studios ceased the publication of comics. This was caused by a few factors: 1) the collapse of the TMNT empire 2) the huge comics industry market crash of the 1990s and 3) a flood that ravaged the Mirage Studios offices and printing facility. ‘Twas the end of an era.
Eastman and Laird return plus Volume 2
Mirage Studios TMNT Publications Guide:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1-62 (1984-1995)
Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1-7 (1987-1989)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (second series) #1-13 (1993-1995)
Turtle Soup #1-4 (1991-1992)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Flaming Carrot Crossover #1-4
Casey Jones: North By Downeast #1-2
Turtle Soup (1987)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie (1990)
Green-Grey Sponge-Suit Sushi Turtles: The Parody (1990)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Challenges (1991)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Times Pipeline (1992)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Haunted Pizza (1992)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Maltese Turtle (1993)
Casey Jones & Raphael (1994)
The Savage Dragon/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1993)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/The Savage Dragon (1995)
The Kids’ Stuff – Archie, Welsh, Creators (1988-1997)
After the TMNT cartoon debuted in 1987 it became clear that the property would become the next toy/cartoon/media fad. Mirage Studios worked out a deal with Archie Comics and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures was born in 1988. There is a widespread misconception, even among TMNT comics fans, that Archie was the creative force behind this series. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While Archie handled support functions like distribution, editing, lettering, and coloring, the writing and the art were provided by Mirage Studios.
Things were kicked off with a 3-issue mini-series to test the waters. When this was successful, a regular series was launched. Originally, the stories were based on episodes of the cartoon series but with issue 5 of the ongoing series, original stories were used. Soon, the stories and the tone of the comic veered wildly away from both the cartoon and the indie Mirage Studios series. Many, many mutants, heroes and enemies were introduced. The story was a true serial, with most issues leading straight into the next. There were spin-offs, particularly a new team of mutants known as the Mutanimals who had their own series.
The early days: alternating artists
The character development was surprisingly deep, although sometimes cheesy. Raphael had a long-term relationship with a fox-lady ninja thing. April started to train under Splinter. Perhaps the main downfall of tis series was a very, very heavy-handed theme of ecological responsibility which often felt more like preaching than informing. Early on, the series split art duties between Mirage Studios regulars like Jim Lawson and hand-picked indie guys like Ken Mitchrony, best known for providing the character design for Tiny Toon Adventures. Writing was provided by Mirage regulars Dean Clarrain and Ryan Brown. After a few years of this alternating format, Brown left the series and Chris Allan became the (almost) full-time artist on the series.
Later years: regular creative team
Another series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Special, was launched. This series was released quarterly for three years and featured stories by underground artists like Stan Sakai and Don Simpson. Characters like April O’Neil and Leatherhead received their own mini-series. By 1995, all things TMNT were winding down and the series was quietly put to bed but not before Archie tried their hand at taking direct control of the series, with poor results.
In 1990, Welsh Publishing launched a quarterly Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Magazine (printed in Des Moines, Iowa, I might add). Each issue featured a short comic story produced by the Mirage guys that had a tone similar to the Archie series. This magazine lasted for 13 issues.
Also in 1990, Creators Syndicate began syndicating a nationwide newspaper strip. Originally, it was produced by the same pool of talent that worked on the Archie series. The stories were rather serious and attempted to convey serious messages. After about a year, all responsibilities on the strip were assumed by Mirage regular Dan Berger. Under Berger the series kept its serial story element but also became gag oriented, a very difficult balance to maintain. The newspaper strip ended in 1997 and would be the last Mirage-produced TMNT comic material for almost five years.
Archie Comics TMNT Publication History
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1-72 (1989-1995)
Mighty Mutanimals #1-9 (1992-1993)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Special #1-11 (1992-1994)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1-3 (1988)
Might Mutanimals #1-3 (1991)
April O’Neil #1-3 (1993)
April O’Neil: The May East Saga #1-3 (1993)
Donatello & Leatherhead #1-3 (1993)
Merdude #1-3 (1993)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Year of the Turtle #1-3 (1996)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie (1990)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Meet Archie (1990)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie II – The Secret of the Ooze (1991)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Meet the Conservation Corps (1992)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Movie III: The Turtles Are Back . . . In Time (1993)
Image Comics (1996-1999)
When Mirage Studios decided to stop publishing in 1995, Erik Larsen of Savage Dragon fame swept in. The Turtles had crossed over with Dragon twice before and Mirage artist Michael Dooney was a former associate of Larsen’s. In 2008 it’s a bit hard to understand what the parties hoped to gain by the new arrangement, under which Eastman and Laird loaned the TMNT to Larsen and Image Comics. The following is 100% conjecture. I’m guessing that Larsen felt that Mirage had mishandled the series and he probably disrespected the artists working on it, like Jim Lawson, whom he once referred to as “another artist” rather than by name in a letters column. I imagine Larsen probably thought he could produce a better and more accessible series that would bring in big sales and bring new readers to his Savage Dragon comic.
So why did he just hire his pals to work on the series instead of the best talent available at the time?
Larsen kicked everything off by finishing off the Casey Jones & Raphael mini-series that Mirage had started, now under the name Bodycount. This mini-series boasted art by Kevin Eastman and industry heavy-hitter Simon Bisley and featured a very violent story, just what Eastman had always wanted to do.
The Bodycount mini-series
When it came time to launch the regular series, Larsen hired friends from his fanzine days to serve as the creative team. Gary Carlson, best known for his very obscure Golden Age pastiche/tribute series Big Bang Comics, was hired to write. Frank Fosco, a Jack Kirby wannabe known for his work on Superman, was hired to provide the art. I should make something clear: I enjoy their work on the series BUT what resulted was a series that would really only be of interest to a small, niche of readers, just like the Mirage TMNT series.
The new series begins
The Image series’ greatest strength AND its biggest weakness was that it had no respect for the Sacred Cow that was the Mirage series. Donatello became a cyborg. Raphael’s face was brutally mutilated. On the other hand, Carlson has a good knowledge of the old continuity and used it. At the same time, Image Comics characters were constantly forced into the series, including Savage Dragon, Vanguard, Knight Watchman, and Mako. For some reason, the series was published in black and white, which Larsen claimed was to be consistent with the Mirage series. But the Mirage comics had greytones and shading and this book had none. Without color to hold it together, Fosco’s very heavy inkwork was occasionally incomprehensible.
In the end, the series was really a failure, sales-wise. I suspect that Larsen only kept it going as a favor to Carlson and Fosco. Fans of both the TMNT and Savage Dragon were somewhat alienated by it and it ended unceremoniously in the middle of a story arc with issue #23.
Image Comics TMNT Publication History
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1-23 (1996-1999)
Bodycount #1-4 (1996)
Dreamwave Productions (2003)
After the new cartoon series started in the early 2000s, someone decided a tie-in comic series was required. Enter Dreamwave Productions. Dreamwave was a real comics-industry success story in the early 2000s, a small Canadian firm that came from out of nowhere to land some big licenses, like Transformers, and produce some of the best selling titles on the market.
Editorial time: Dreamwave was basically a gigantic sham company, a true piece of shit. The art style they employed was, while technically proficient, an extremely generic anime-style delivery. The company spent huge amounts of money on office space and vehicles for the core staff while often bilking their creative talent out of their pay. Fuck Dreamwave. End editorial.
So for their new series, Dreamwave hired Peter David to write, an ironic choice given the fact that he’s Erik Larsen’s archenemy. A talented unknown by the name of LeSean was hired to provide art. David’s writing was usually very, very slow and boring, probably driving away most of the interested fanboys that would have picked up the series. The series was colored using computers with mixed results. While the images could sometimes be striking they also come across as rather stale.
Unlike the Archie series, Dreamwave had no mainstream distribution. Their comics were sold exclusively on the same comic book store shelves as the concurrently running Mirage series, likely confusing many nerds. In spite of that, sales were very strong but not strong enough for a piece of shit company like Dreamwave and the series was cancelled after 7 issues, in spite of averaging about 22,000 in sales per issue (aka $66,000 in revenue per issue). It’s just as well that it was cancelled. BORING.
Dreamwave Productions TMNT Publication History
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1-7 (2003)
Mirage Studios Returns (2001-present)
Here’s a brief summary of what happened with Mirage after they stopped publishing TMNT comics in 1995. Kevin Eastman bought the semi-erotic science fiction comic magazine Heavy Metal and moved to Los Angeles to focus on that. He also launched a new, live-action TV show, Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, in association with Fox and Saban. The new show was actually the ratings leader in its time slot but was cancelled after its lone season, 1997/1998. Playmates finally stopped producing TMNT toys in 1999. With the end of the Image Comics series in 1999, the Turtles were basically dead.
Surprisingly, even without TMNT projects to keep them together, most of the Mirage artists remained in Massachussets, working on various independent projects at the Mirage Studios facility. In 2001, Eastman sold his share of the TMNT to Peter Laird, who immediately set out to restart the entire franchise. Just like in 1984, his first step was to launch a new comic series, TMNT (just the initials, not Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). In spite of the acronym, in the new series the Turtles are no longer teens but rather in their 30s.
Laird writes the series (it’s still in publication) and originally he provided inks and fucking INCREDIBLE tones. Apparently the workload was too much for him because the tones were scaled back after the first couple of issues and now it’s barely there at all, unfortunately. Unlike the classic series, there’s an ongoing narrative but it seems to have dozens of loose ends and frequently hit brick walls. The most interesting story aspect of the new series is that aliens have landed and become a fairly common site on earth, so the turtles are able to walk around in broad daylight.
TMNT Volume 4
The new series went on hiatus in 2006 but finally returned last month with a unique distribution plan. New issues are available to read online FOR FREE. Print versions of the new issues are limited to 1,000 copies and cost $10 each. Back before the hiatus, this series was only selling about 4,000 copies per issue. Now that issues are limited to 1,000 copies it almost seems like a vanity project (but I don’t mind).
In a way the main series has almost become a sidenote to the more popular and widespread spin-off series Tales of the TMNT. This series is published on an almost-monthly schedule and is about to reach its 50th issue. Stories published in this series can take place at basically any point in time, meaning sometimes we see little kid Ninja Turtles, sometimes old men, whatever. Indpendent or underground comic creators are given the chance to create issues and sometimes Mirage Studios members take their turn, much like the middle years of the original series.
The new Tales of the TMNT series
The current publication regime is much more satisfying than the Archie, Image or Dreamwave runs but in most ways it falls short of the original Mirage run. The main TMNT series is somewhat aimless and the inks really vary in quality. Many of the indie artists hired to work on the Tales of the TMNT series are just not nearly as interesting to me as those that worked on the old series and most of them make little to no attempt to co-opt the “Mirage style”. Still, I generally like and I’m glad it’s around.
Mirage Studios 2nd Generation TMNT Publication History
TMNT #1-29 and counting (2001-present)
Tales of the TMNT #1-46 and counting (2004-present)
Leonardo: Blind Sight #1-4 (2006)
TMNT Movie Prequel #1-5 (2007)
Raphael: Bad Moon Rising #1-4 (2007)
TMNT Official Movie Adaptaton (2007)
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