From a Simple Sketch to Action Film: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have evolved as characters countless times from their accidental creation to their newest summer blockbuster.

In November 1983, artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird had a competition between themselves to continue a drawing Eastman had started of a standing turtle. When the overall drawing was complete there were four turtles in all, with masks and an overhead title: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” (TMNT). They fleshed out the drawing to create a comic book and named their characters after the Renaissance artists Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael. Laird said those names, “Felt just quirky enough to fit the concept.”

Together they created a company known as Mirage Studios and combined the only money they had to print 3,000 copies of their first comic book, while using their leftover money to run an ad in Comics Buyer’s Guide Magazine.

Mirage was able to sell all 3,000 copies within only a few weeks and printed 6,000 more. Though the comic was originally supposed to be a single issue, in January 1985 a second issue was completed, and orders for 15,000 copies were received. The Turtles had a major surge in popularity, thanks to the comic’s creative plot and addition of other popular characters.

Mirage Studios continued to run TMNT from 1984-1995 for 75 issues and Archie Comics from 1988-1995 made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures. However, that all changed once the Mirage Turtles moved to Image Comics in 1996. Only running for 13 issues, it was canceled in 1999, since Image had completely changed the characters: Donatello became a cyborg, Leonardo lost a hand, Raphael became the new Shredder, and Splinter had changed to a bat.

Laird was able to bring the Turtle license back to Mirage in 2001 completely ignoring the Image years and disregarded them as part of the TMNT franchise. His new series ran until 2010 with 30 issues in print but the 31 issue is available only online. Since August 2011, publisher IDW has been running a new TMNT comic featuring artwork from Eastman.

The original comics were not made for a younger audience, due to some action violence and occasional cursing; but in order for Playmates Toys to produce TMNT action figures in 1986, the comic would have to be changed to be suited for an audience of 4-to-8-year-olds. Some additional changes were made, making them similar to what we are familiar with today. The turtles became jokers infatuated with pizza, Shredder became a clumsy villain and instead of cuss words catchphrases such as “Cowabunga” were used.

A change also came in how the turtles dressed. Originally, they all wore red masks; in order to put emphasis on distinguishable traits other than their weapons, they were given colors and belt buckles with their initials.

A five-part animated miniseries was aired in December 1987, but once an audience was established, a total of 188 episodes aired from 1988-1996. The Turtles returned in another animated series produced by 4Kids Entertainment airing from 2003-2009 co-produced by Laird for a more accurate version. In 2000 Eastman sold his share in the Turtles to Laird, who sold the rights in 2009 to Viacom. In 2012 through Viacom, Nickelodeon released a CGI cartoon of the Turtles which has been ranked top five in animated shows for audience viewers ages 2-11.

In 1990 the turtles had their first film called the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” inspiring two sequels: one in 1991, “The Secret of the Ooze” and 1993’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III.” In 2007, the computer-animated film TMNT was aired and Aug. 8 the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” was released. The Turtles appeared much larger than in previous movies with a more human-turtle hybrid aspect, which has been met with diverse responses from fans.

The Turtles have been prominent throughout history, as well-loved characters, fun to watch at all ages and viewed with a never ceasing interest.



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