Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Mirage Studios)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

TMNT #4, 2nd print. Cover art by Michael Dooney
Publication information
Publisher Mirage Studios
Main character(s) Leonardo
Creative team
Creator(s) Kevin Eastman
Peter Laird

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an American comic book series published by Mirage Studios, featuring the characters of the same name, with a 26-year run from 1984 to 2010. Conceived by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, it was initially intended as a one-shot, but due to its popularity it became an ongoing series. The comic inspired a franchise of four television series, six feature films, numerous video games, and a wide range of toys and merchandise.

Over the years, the Turtles have appeared in numerous cross-overs with other independent comics characters such as Dave Sim's Cerebus, Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon, Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot and Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo.

In 2009 Peter Laird sold the Turtles to Viacom, the parent company of Nickelodeon, and as a result Mirage Studios had to shut down. At WonderCon 2011, it was announced that IDW Publishing had secured the rights to publish a new series and reprint the older comics.

Origin of the concept

The concept originated from a comical drawing sketched out by Kevin Eastman during a casual evening of brainstorming with his friend Peter Laird. The drawing of a short, squat turtle wearing a mask with nunchakus strapped to its arms was humorous to the young artists, as it played upon the inherent contradiction of a slow, cold-blooded reptile with the speed and agility of Japanese martial arts. Laird suggested that they create a team of four such turtles, each specializing in a different weapon.[1] Eastman and Laird often cited the work of Frank Miller and Jack Kirby as their major artistic influences.[2]

Using money from a tax refund together with a loan from Eastman's uncle, they formed Mirage Studios and self-published a single-issue comic book that would parody four popular comics of the early 1980s: Marvel Comics' The New Mutants, which featured teenage mutants, Cerebus, which featured anthropomorphic animals, Ronin, and Daredevil, which featured ninja clans dueling for control of the New York City underworld.[3]

The Turtles' origin contained direct allusions to Daredevil: the traffic accident between a blind man and a truck carrying radioactive ooze, a reference to Daredevil's own story, (indeed in the version told in the first issue, Splinter sees the canister strike a boy's face). The name "Splinter" also parodied Daredevil's mentor, a man known as "Stick." The Foot, a clan of evil ninjas who became the Turtles' arch-enemies, likens to the Hand, who were a mysterious and deadly ninja clan in the pages of Daredevil.[1]

After conceiving the Turtles' mentor as a rat who had come from Japan and was a ninja master, Eastman and Laird thought of giving the turtles Japanese names, but as Laird explained, "we couldn't think of authentic-sounding Japanese names". Instead they went with Renaissance artists, and picked the four they were most familiar with, with the help of Laird's copy of Janson's History of Art.[1][4]

Publication history

Volume 1: 1984–1993

The first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was advertised in issues #1 and #2 of Eastman and Laird's 1984 comic, Gobbledygook, in addition to the Comics Buyer's Guide, issue 545. The full page advertisement in CBG helped gain the attention of retailers and jump-started their early sales. Because of the CBG's newspaper format, many were disposed of, making it a highly sought-after collector's item today. The book premiered in May 1984 at a comic book convention in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It was printed in an oversized, magazine-style format using black and white artwork on cheap newsprint and had a print run of only 3,275 copies. It was a period of intense speculation in comic book investment, with especially strong interest in black and white comics from independent companies. The first printings of the original TMNT comics had small print runs that made them instant collector items. Within months, the books were trading at prices over 50 times their cover price.

The success also led to a black and white comics boom in the mid-1980s, wherein other small publishers put out animal-based parody books hoping to make a quick profit. Among them, the Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, the Cold-Blooded Chameleon Commandos, the Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung Fu Kangaroos, and the Karate Kreatures were obvious parodies of TMNT. Most of them were sold to comic shops in large numbers, but failed to catch on with readers. This speculation led to financial problems with both comic shops and distributors, contributing to a sales collapse in 1986–87.

The "Return to New York" story arc concluded in the spring of 1989 and by this time the Ninja Turtles phenomenon was well established in other media. Eastman and Laird then found themselves administrating an international merchandising juggernaut, overseeing a wide array of licensing deals. This prevented the two creators from participating in the day-to-day work of writing and illustrating a monthly comic book. For this reason, many guest artists were invited to showcase their unique talents in the TMNT universe. The breadth of diversity found in the various short stories had the adverse effect of somewhat disrupting continuity and gave the series a disjointed, anthology-like feel. Some of these artists, including Michael Dooney, Eric Talbot, A.C. Farley, Ryan Brown, Steve Lavigne, Steve Murphy, and Jim Lawson, continued to work with Mirage Studios for years to come.

Issue #45 kicked off a major turning point, as Mirage made a concerted effort to return the series to continuity. A 13-part story arc entitled "City at War" began with issue #50, which was the first issue to be completely written and illustrated by both Eastman and Laird since issue #11. Both "City at War," and Volume 1 concluded with the publication of issue #62 in August 1993.

Volume 2: 1993–1995

Mirage Studios launched Volume 2 with much fanfare in October 1993, as a full-color series that maintained the continuity of the first volume. Written and illustrated by Jim Lawson, the series lasted only thirteen issues before ceasing publication in October 1995. The cancellation was due to declining popularity and lagging sales as well as a flood at Mirage Studios.

Volume 3: 1996–1999

Volume 3, issue #10. Cover art by Frank Fosco and Erik Larsen.

Erik Larsen came to the series in June 1996, with the publication of a third volume under the Image Comics banner. The 23 issues were written by Gary Carlson and drawn by Frank Fosco, and marked the return to black and white artwork. This volume was notable for having a faster pace and more intense action while inflicting major physical changes on the Turtles themselves; Leonardo losing a hand, Raphael's face being scarred, Splinter becoming a bat, and Donatello becoming a cyborg. In a startling plot twist, Raphael even took on the identity of The Shredder and assumed leadership of the Foot. With Volume 3, the Turtles were incorporated into the Image universe, which provided opportunities for a few crossovers and guest appearances by characters from the The Savage Dragon series. The series ceased publication in 1999, and it was no longer considered part of the "official" TMNT canon due, in part, to a lack of desire by co-creator Peter Laird to follow up material with which he was not directly involved nor fully approved. Raph's depiction as the Shredder however, was referenced in an episode of the third season of the 2003 animated series, "The Darkness Within", where Raph was exposed to his fear of giving into anger and becoming the very thing he hated.

Volume 4: 2001–2014

Karai on the cover of Volume Four No. 4 (art by Jim Lawson and Michael Dooney)

Peter Laird and Jim Lawson brought the Turtles back to their roots with the simply-titled TMNT in December 2001. Published bi-monthly, the series took the opportunity to correct a persistent error: Since the first issue of Volume 1, Michelangelo's name had been misspelled as "Michaelangelo." It is now spelled correctly, consistent with his Renaissance namesake Michelangelo Buonarroti.

Picking up fifteen years after the conclusion of Volume 2 (and omitting the events of Volume 3), the Turtles, now in their early thirties, are living together in their sewer lair beneath New York City. April and Casey have been married for some time and remain in contact with the Turtles from their nearby apartment. Splinter continues to live at the Northampton farmhouse, where he has become a "grandfather" of sorts to Casey's teenage daughter, Shadow. The Utroms return to Earth in a very public arrival, subsequently establishing a peaceful base in Upper New York Bay. Since the arrival, aliens and other bizarre life-forms, like the Turtles have become more accepted within society. No longer forced to live in hiding, the Turtles can now roam freely among the world of humans, albeit under the guise of being aliens.

The series continued until the acquisition of the TMNT franchise by Viacom in 2009. As part of the sale, Peter Laird was allowed to continue Volume 4, but issues were released sporadically, as they had been in the months before the sale. Issue no. 31 was originally released as an online comic only, while issue no. 32 was released for the 2014 Free Comic Book Day, almost 4 years after issue no. 31 was released on line. Issue no. 31 was released in print for the first time for Free Comic Book Day 2015. It is unknown if or when Laird will continue the series.

During the early days of the franchise, each of the four turtles received their own one-shot (or "micro-series"), plus a one-shot featuring the Fugitoid. There was also a one-shot anthology, Turtle Soup, released in 1987, which led to a four-part series of the same name in 1991–92. The Turtles had a four-issue mini-series co-starring Flaming Carrot (the Turtles previously guest-starred in issues #25–27 of the Carrot's own Dark Horse-published series), and the Fugitoid teamed up with Mirage regular Michael Dooney's creator-owned character Gizmo for a two-issue limited series. Kevin Eastman and Rick Veitch created a story starring Casey Jones, which was initially serialized in the four issue anthology series Plastron Cafe, and later colorized and released with a previously unseen conclusion in the two-part Casey Jones mini-series. Eastman then collaborated with Simon Bisley on a mini-series that was supposed to be released by Mirage under the title Casey Jones & Raphael, but after one issue, it was released by Image under the title Bodycount as four-part mini-series which began with an expanded version of the sole Mirage-published issue.

Collected books

There are a few trade paperback collections of the series and there does not appear to be any forthcoming collections in the future. As part of the 25th anniversary celebrations, a new trade paperback Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Collected Book Volume 1 was released in July 2009, unlike previous editions, this new edition included reprinting Fugitoid issue #1. A new hardcover deluxe reprint collection was published by IDW Publishing, who had been given the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rights from Viacom in 2011, including reprinting the older comics.

Mirage Publishing

First Publishing

Image Comics

Heavy Metal

IDW Comics

Appearance in animation

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series that debuted in 2003 ended with "Turtles Forever," a crossover movie with two other Turtles properties: the 1987 cartoon and the universe of the original Mirage comics. A similar idea was used for the 2012 cartoon's episode "Transdimensional Turtles," with the 2012 cartoon iterations replacing their 2003 counterparts. In both specials, an interdimensional plot-launched by the 2003 Utrom Shredder in Forever and 1987 Krang and the 2012 Kraang in Transdimensional-involved the Mirage Comics world. This reality is referred to as Turtle Prime or the Primary Turtle Dimension, the destruction of which would set off a chain reaction wiping out all other Turtles and potentially their realities.


  1. 1 2 3 The fascinating origin story of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Week
  2. John Morrow (26 May 2004). The Collected Jack Kirby Collector. TwoMorrows Publishing. p. 202. ISBN 978-1-893905-32-0. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  3. "I Was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle". 2007-01-26.
  4. Peter Laird Interview

Further reading

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