Wednesday, April 11, 2007


A new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is out. That gives me a chance to examine their origins.

The Turtles have been through so many media it is hard to remember that they started as an independent comic.

A sidebar on independent comics - they started in the 1960s as "underground comics". These mainly featured drug and sex jokes and were sold through head shops. By the 1970s, some comic fans were beginning to publish out of their own pocket. Between falling costs for printing and the rise of comic book stores, these turned into a minor industry by the 1980s. Many titles had decent sales and a long run. The longest, Cerebus the Aardvark, is still running. To save printing costs, most of the independent comics were printed in black and white on cheaper grade paper.

This is where the Turtles began.

The Turtles were part joke, part homage, and part serious comic.

The joke came from the top selling comics at the time. These were dominated by the X-Men and its spin-offs. The top selling comic was Frank Miller's version of Daredevil. At the time, Daredevil was fighting a group of ninjas alongside Electra who was a ninja herself.

The joke was that a comic book featuring ninjas and teen-ager mutants would be an automatic best-seller.

The homage was a sly tie-in with Daredevil. Daredevil was blinded when he saved a man from being hit by a truck. Daredevil was struck in the face with a radioactive isotope that fell off of the truck. It seems that the isotope drained into the sewer where it mutated some turtles.

Daredevil's other senses were enhanced by the isotope and he learned how to handle this from a ninja called Stick. Later Daredevil and Stick fought a group of ninjas called the Hand.

The turtles learned ninjitsu from a rat named Splinter and later fought the Foot.

All of that was the draw, what sold the first issue. What kept people coming back was the storyline. It was intense. The original movie did a fairly good job of adapting the comic book but even that was toned down a bit.

The Turtles quickly became a sensation, setting sales records for independent comics. The first few issues were reprinted several times with total sales surpassing most mainstream comic books.

No comments: