It’s hard to understand the hype surrounding the anthropomorphic martial arts practicing reptiles known as the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’, and why they are still around, unless – that is – you actually go back and read the original comics.
Only by appreciating the vitality and freshness of the original Mirage Studios comics can the later phenomenon that became the ‘TMNT craze’ be properly understood.
Created by the duo of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the Turtles were originally a joke shared between friends.
Laird, while doodling on a sketch pad, thought the image of a turtle holding nunchucks was funny, Eastman wrote “Ninja Turtle” on the top of the page, to continue the joke, and the rest is history.
The Turtles first appearance can be found in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 published with a print run of slightly over 3000 copies in the Spring of 1984 by Mirage Studios (with a May cover date). After selling out the second printing of 6000, a second issue (January 1985 cover date, with a 15, 000 unit print run) was released. That issue also earned a second printing. TMNT was a bonafide hit.
Almost as soon as they appeared, the vitality of their comic hit a nerve among fans and stirred a hunger for the continuing adventures of the sewer dwelling martial arts masters.
What few later fans understood was that the original comics were meant to be a parody of the most pronounced trends of the comics of the early 1980s. Titles like Daredevil, the X-Men and New Mutants, Cerebus and Ronin, all at the height of popularity in the early eighties, were taken as a target for the social satire the original Turtles comic promoted.
The Martial arts meets street-fighting aspect was drawn directly from 1980s Marvel comics. Splinter the rat, the Turtles’ sensei and trainer, is an obvious homage to Stick from the Frank Miller Daredevil run. The origin of the Turtles is likewise completely taken from Daredevil. Later, Dave Sim’s Cerebus character, even makes an appearance in the title.
Instead of a one-off parody therefore, the Turtles became their own brand and this, unfortunately, is where the creative decline of the comic set in.
By 1986, the Turtle’s popularity had spiked to levels so high that marketing forces wanted to extend the audience beyond the young adult demographic. If you’ve read the original Mirage Studios comics, you’ll know these funny Turtles were not aimed at kids. The physical encounters were frequently brutal and bloody. Casey Jones, the goalie-masked vigilante companion of the Turtle’s, was frequently and violently beating suspected criminals to a pulp with a hockey stick or baseball bat. Despite the edgy content of the original comic, profit was calling.
By 1987 a more kid-friendly version of the Turtles was demanded with a cartoon show lined up, so the pizza eating, wise-cracking kid friendly ‘cowabunga’ shouting version of the group was born.
Promotional Appearances: Before the official launch of the comic, and certainly a factor in its later popularity in those pre-internet days, was the appearance of promotional teasers featuring the TMNT. The original version of the Turtles appeared in various magazines before the release of their first issue. Among these promotional materials, if you’re a Turtle’s completest, you’ll want to look out for: Gobbledygook #1 a fanzine style magazine, published January 1984. Comics Journal #89 (March 1984) and Amazing Heroes #45 (April 1984) [featuring pictures and a full ad for the comic]. And the Comic Buyer’s Guide #547 (May 1984) also featured a promotional ad.
Originally meant to be a one-shot, this comic is currently on at least its sixth printing as I write this. It’s the first four that are the most valuable, with the scarce first printing a veritable goldmine of a find. With a current FMV of a staggering $46, 000.00 in certified 9.8 grade, a Heritage Auction from one year ago (05/10/2018) ended at an impressive $38, 240.00. If there are any surviving copies of the first print, given its larger magazine size and cheap newsprint material, it’s a good bet they have survived in lower grade. Currently a tattered 2.0 grade is worth $1, 200.00. Subsequent printings, especially the second and third printing are also valuable. Cowabunga Indeed!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2 (January 1985) – First appearance of April O’Neil; First appearance of Baxter Stockman; Second appearance of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; Second appearance of Splinter
The TMNT world is fleshed out in this comic. Once Eastman and Laird realized that the Turtles were a hit, they expanded their universe. Hence the introduction of April O’Neil and other new characters. The second issue is not as valuable as the first but, with a FMV of $525.00 in 9.8, it’s still worth seeking out. Although easier to find than issue #1, this is- once again- more common in the Second Printing. The cover of the reprint is exactly the same as the original, however if you open it up you’ll see a ‘Second Printing’ note on the inside cover next to a crouching Leonardo.