In 1984, I had just graduated high school when my brother Marc and I chose to go to Forbidden Planet in New York City on a Saturday excursion to pick up some comics and books. For those unfamiliar, the Strand Used Bookstore is across the street from Forbidden Planet. We would usually spend about $20 bucks each at the comic shop and another $5 at Strand.
In the world-renown comic shop, a display had been set up for this new book which to my eyes appeared amateurish, but still caught Marc’s eye. I could always rely on my brother to see the diamond-in-the-rough. He did that with comics; he did it with the youth he counseled; and he did it with the people he hired at Old Navy. Clearly, regarding the TMNT comic, he was not alone.
Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird founded Mirage Comics in 1984 in effect to produce and distribute one comic, their own. The legend goes that Kevin was messing around one evening. While he and his buddy were chatting, Kevin drew a comical picture of a turtle with nunchakus.
This was the first of many brainstorming discussions where the satirical idea of a slow-moving beast would actually by contrast have the rapid fighting skills of a ninja. As the ideas began to amplify, the creators decided to make a superhero team of four brothers each with a different weapon.
Because the creators are both comic book fans, it is clear where they “draw” some of their inspiration. Almost every comic artist will initially credit Jack Kirby as an artistic influence and in some of the initial splash pages, that leaning becomes evident. As the original comic begins, there is an action sequence that transpires in order to get the reader ensconced fully in the story.
The writing and story were clearly influenced by Frank Miller’s Daredevil and both Eastman and Laird tie the series origin to Daredevil’s origin story. The first issue TMNT story is told in first-person narrative by Leonardo ala some of the Miller stories where Ben Urich the reporter tells of his friendship with Matt Murdoch and what it costs him, credibility-wise.
It is difficult to imagine that the initial names for the turtles were going to be Japanese, but Laird suggested that a Western audience might have difficulty with authentic Japanese, so they opted for Renaissance artists most people would be familiar with. Hence, were birthed: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Donatello.
The first issue contained the origin of the Turtles which as I have communicated was reflective of Daredevil’s origin. In that origin, a blind man goes to cross the street and is about to get hit with a truck carrying canisters of radioactive waste, when a young boy, Matt Murdoch, saves the blind man and gets hit with a radioactive cannister that blinds him.
In the Turtles’ version, that cannister bounces a couple more times hitting the fishbowl carried by another boy containing four baby turtles just purchased at a pet store. The turtles fall into the sewer only to be gathered by a rat, Master Splinter (in Daredevil the Master is called Stick) who is also affected by the radioactive ooze.
In a brilliant bit of serendipity, the villains in Daredevil hail from a Japanese group called the Hand attempting to rule the criminal underworld. Laird and Eastman called their criminal underworld coveting group the Foot Clan who actually moves in clandestine circles by mostly traveling underground.
The comic book was dynamic with a tremendous amount of kinetic action sequences. The panel design was right out of the Jack Kirby school, which means innovative camera angles with cinematic sequences storyboarded in the most creative ways. Another feature that does not get considered often enough is the fact that every single page was drawn collaboratively.
Most comics are written by a writer, penciled by one artist, then inked by a second artist. In the case of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, both Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird could draw well, and they adopted a way to fuse their work so that every page was worked on by both artists.
Sometimes Eastman would lay out the pages, Laird would go over the layouts with full pencils and then Eastman would go over the pencils in ink; sometimes the reverse would be true. Whatever the case, the comics were very successful as evidenced by the fact that the comics continue to be produced today by IDW.
Although the pandemic has been hard enough on sales that Mirage had to close its offices, Viacom owns the rights to the TMNT empire. We can look forward to more movies, cartoons, videogames, and continuous merchandising of the brand.
Although, I find it a little sad that the Turtles’ creators are no longer in complete control of their creations, I understand how the business works. Luckily, Laird and Eastman were able to witness their children grow up into a huge revenue stream. Not all properties are so fortunate.
All righty, then. I hope you enjoyed a stroll down memory lane. I was feeling a bit nostalgic. So, after a search, I came across “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: the Ultimate Collection, Volume 1” which collects the first seven issues of the comic plus a Raphael one-shot issue. It is wonderful. I give it 4 Grey Geeks and suggest you take a look at it. Take care. See Ya. Peace.