Finally, the time has come for the Anthropomorphism Week entry I’ve been waiting to present you with all this time. I’ve hinted at it, and now it’s here. I have but two words for you: “Cowabunga, dude.” Now join me and an illustrious guest writer in an extra-sized extravaganza!
The archive is here.
166. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Turtles are certainly the most popular anthropomorphic animals since Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. Naturally, I had to do a piece on them, but I wanted to make sure it was special. A pal of mine, Bry Kotyk, who did some pinch-hitting for me and wrote a great column on Seth for us, is the greatest fan of the heroes in a half-shell that I know, and I promised to let him help out with the inevitable TMNT column ages ago. So you’re getting some awesome Bry goodness– and then, after his piece, I’m going to chime in with some of my own material. It’s a special double-sized super-Turtley spectacular!
Though most are probably familiar with the Ninja Turtles from the goofy late ’80s cartoon, or perhaps the video game series on the NES, the true origin of the Turtles comes from an apartment in Northampton, Massachusetts, where aspiring comic artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were tossing around potential concepts and eventually struck green gold.
Building a story around a sketch of a humanoid turtle with nunchuks strapped to his arms, Eastman and Laird toiled away at their idea and eventually printed “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1” in 1984, self-published under the company name Mirage Studios (itself a joke, as their supposed “studios” at the time consisted solely of their apartment’s living room). The first issue served as a parody of Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil (The Foot Clan = The Hand, Splinter = Stick, etc.) and featured an inside-cover dedication to Miller and Jack Kirby, Eastman and Laird’s major influences.
The comic was a huge success, and is today considered by many to be the book that got the ball rolling on the 1980s black-and-white independent comic scene. Only a few short years later, Eastman and Laird were approached about launching a toy line and a cartoon show. And before long, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were household names.
The comics were a far cry from the more mainstream adaptations of the series – they were far more violent and serious. Ninjas are trained assassins, after all, and the Turtles weren’t afraid to get their weapons bloody. And while the Foot Clan were a continuous threat for the run of the series, the Shredder certainly wasn’t – the Turtles battled and killed him in their first issue, to avenge the murder of Splinter’s family.
From there, the series went off in various directions, helped along by a growing stable of artists and creators at Mirage. The Turtles went on sci-fi adventures, traveled to the past, encountered creatures of myth and legend… From poignant, introspective “smaller” tales to multi-part ninja epics (“Return to New York” and “City at War” are must-read TMNT stories), the mutant reptiles have seen a rather diverse and exciting run of comics.
In 2002, years after Mirage ceased publishing, Peter Laird resurrected the series, writing a new volume along with long-time Mirage artist Jim Lawson. The newer series caught up with the Turtles several years later, with the brothers now in their 30s and getting back into the ninja game. “Tales of the TMNT” was also launched – an anthology title featuring stand-alone stories by various writers and artists, as well as new talent. Both comics are still self-published by the Mirage gang in Northampton, sticking to their black-and-white independent roots.
The TMNT also have enjoyed something of a “second renaissance” of late in the mainstream, with a new animated series launching in 2003 (this time based far more strongly on the original comics) as well as a recent CGI-animated feature film released by Warner Brothers and the Weinstein Company (which was quite good, if you don’t mind me saying).
In the end, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are the ultimate example of the comic book dream – two guys who had an idea, put it to paper, and created a phenomenon. And if that’s not a reason to love comics, I don’t know what is.
If you want to check out some of the earlier Turtles comics, Mirage has several issues available to read for free on the “comics” page of their official website. Go check ’em out!
Awesome, Bry. Thanks for joining in!
I’d have to say that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a driving force in my love of the comics medium. One of the first comics I was ever given– possibly the first– was an issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, from the Archie series. It was #6, to be exact– the one that introduced Leatherhead. I’ve got plenty of other issues of the series, and I remember everybody– from Wingnut and Screwloose to Cudley the Cowlick to dragons and Rat Kings and alternate costumes and aliens and Mutanimals and more. And I can’t forget the gorgeous art style of Jim Lawson. The Turtles ignited my desire for comics, and I thank them for it.
I remember the merchandise. My God, the merchandise. Somewhere, I had the action figures, and the van, and the pizza-shooter-mobile (not the blimp, though, or Krang. This made me a sad little boy). I had the bedsheets and the storybooks and even the rock concert cassette tape. Heck, I probably still have most of that stuff. I’ve got all three of the original movies on VHS. I was Leonardo for Halloween one year. I never owned any of the video games, but I’ve certainly played them, and they’re ridiculously hard, man. I have lived and breathed the Ninja Turtles.
Yes, the cartoon. Oh boy, the cartoon. And I mean the original, dangit. Not the new one. And let’s all forget the live action series that introduced Venus, the Turtle sister. No, the original, the best, the classic, with the theme song that no one could ever forget. And because I still can’t get a YouTube video to bloody embed, I’m going to link you to it.
Turtle power, baby. (And the new movie? It’s the fastest-paced thing I’ve ever seen, but it’s darn good.)
I’m pretty sure TMNT is at least partially responsible for my lifelong love of comics, ninjas, and funny animals. Donatello’s my current favorite Turtle, because he’s the smart one with the underrated bo staff. I went through all stages of the Turtles throughout my life, however. I liked Leo as a young’n because he had swords and was the leader; then I liked Mikey, because he was funny and crazy and nunchucks were cool; then I liked Raph, because he was the badass. Now, though, it’s Donny. He’s great. But then, they all are (and let’s not forget Splinter, April, and Casey Jones, of course!) Long live the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! My eternal thanks go to Mssrs. Eastman and Laird for creating such a wonderful phenomenon.
Now, dear reader, the spotlight turns on you. What do the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mean to you? And, just for the record, which one’s your favorite?
Remember… in the immortal words of Vanilla Ice… Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go!