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Comic Legends: Was April O'Neil Originally Intended to be Black?

Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the seven hundred and eighteenth installment where we examine comic book legends and whether they are true or false.

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COMIC LEGEND:

April O'Neil was originally meant to be black when she debuted in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics.

STATUS:

I'm Going With False

Reader Lyle M. wrote in to ask, "After reading your article about when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first ate pizza, I notice that they first ate pizza in the comic in front of a white red headed April O'Neil. I guess this could be an 'Urban Myths of Comic Books' question, then. I never read the original comics, but a friend of mine did and said April was originally a black woman."

This is a tricky question that is a bit tough to answer, Lyle.

Mark Pellegrini addressed the topic on his awesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles website, TMNT Entity.

Mark put a whole lot of work into the topic, so please, go read his full article. I'm just including some highlights.

He opened up with the basic, common sense argument that her boss, Baxter Stockman, is clearly black and so if Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird meant for April to be black, they would have just made her black like Baxter Stockman...

Also, on a comic book cover (before Eastman and Laird made any deals with a cartoon, so you couldn't say that the cartoon was influencing them), April was clearly white...

Right around this time, April got a makeover...

In a 2002 retrospective, Eastman noted about April, "Originally created as an Asian character in Pete's notes, but named after an African American woman I once knew, the character of April O'Neil was introduced in issue #2, and would have a bunch of different 'looks' throughout the TMNT history."

Laird, for his part, has said, "As the co-creator of the character of April O'Neil, and as someone who has always imagined her as white, and very likely of Irish/Scottish/English ancestry, I was not at all "unsettled" by the depictions of her as such in the various adaptations. Kevin may have had a different view, and I can't speak for him, but that's the way I always saw her. As for the coloring of her skin in the color reprints of the Mirage comics, Kevin always had a lot more input on that end of our business than I did, and in fact I'm pretty sure he did the colors on the initial such reprinting from First Comics, the one in the graphic novel form. Make of that what you will."

I think the character's depiction was definitely treated as a bit "in flux," but in general, I think Mark is probably right to say that April was at least not ORIGINALLY intended to be black.

Anything after that is fair game, depiction-wise, but initially, no.

Thanks to Mark Pellegrini for his excellent article! Really, I only touched upon the highlights of Mark's work. There is so much more there!

Check out my latest Movie Legends Revealed - Did a teenage Tony Hawk really choreograph the skateboarding in Back to the Future?

Check back later for the final part of this week's Christmas-themed Comic Book Legends Revealed!

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