Turtles comic continues to mutate, entertain

Andrew Gaug

With the release of TMNT Friday, a new generation of viewers and fans will be exposed to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ world that began in 1984.

According to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Web site, the comic book started from a loopy idea between creators Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman when they drew turtles with cloth over their eyes and weapons in hand. The idea stuck and, according to Ninjaturtles.com Web master and occasional comic book writer and animator Dan Berger, was a hit.

“Back in the day, it was two black-and-white comic books. Originally it was a huge success,” he said.

Berger said the first thousand prints of the comic sold out immediately followed by subsequent reprints that sold out just as fast.

Originally a comic book Berger described as “grim and gritty,” it featured the four Turtles wearing the same colors fighting bad guys without the fluffy catch phrases and overall childlike tone.

Berger, an Ohio native originally from South Amherst, and fellow artist Ryan Brown, a resident of West Salem, said while at a Michigan comic book convention in the mid ’80s, they decided to give Laird and Eastman a drawing of their rendering of the Turtles comic.

After being so impressed with what they had seen, they hired Brown while Berger finished up his time at the Cleveland Institute of Art. When both came on board to Laird and Eastman’s studio, Mirage Studios, they helped with the comics, along with Berger creating a comic strip that ran in over 250 newspapers up until 1998.

After the animated series was created in 1988 by a different company, the Ninja Turtles were transformed into the wise-cracking, pizza-loving icons that became pop culture staples.

Though Berger said he didn’t like the series because it was too geared toward children, it did give the comic books a tremendous amount of publicity.

From that exposure came three movies that, according to boxofficemojo.com, grossed more than $250 million.

Of the three films, Berger said the first one was his favorite.

“I come from the old school so I love the first movie,” he said. “Steve Barren, the director, did an awesome job and the costumes by Jim Henson’s people — for that time — that stuff was cutting edge.”

Problems occurred when parents deemed the violence and profanity of the film too harsh for kids.

“Unfortunately, a lot of parent groups didn’t like the first movie. So when they went to do the sequel they tried to lighten it up and make it a lot more like the cartoon,” he said.

Even though the current film only received a PG rating, Berger said writer/director Kevin Monroe didn’t face as many problems.

“Imagi, the company that animated the movie, hired Kevin Monroe,” he said. “They were told by the studio to keep it a PG-13 or lower, which I believe was their only constraint.”

It should also be noted how much time has passed since a new Turtles movie has been shown in theaters. The last one, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, was released on March 19, 1993 — more than 14 years ago.

Outside a new animated show that began in 2003, Berger said there were constant rumors and deals that were being brought to the table that never panned out. In 2000, Face/Off and Mission: Impossible 2 director John Woo had the idea to bring a computer-animated version of Turtles to the big screen, but it fell apart as it was to correspond with a computer-animated TV series that was never picked up. A planned live action miniseries by Hallmark also didn’t make the cut as there was no interest before the latest animated series was picked up.

Berger said Mirage Studios is hoping the new TMNT movie will do well so it can continue the Turtles’ long history.

“We’re all hoping everyone will love it. We hope it does well so there will be a sequel,” he said.

Currently the studio has five prequel comics to be released in three weeks that will fill fans in on what happened prior to the film. A 64-page adaptation of the film, inked by Brown, is also in the works.

Whether the franchise will continue relies solely on how much Turtle power its fan base still has.

Contact ALL assistant editor Andrew Gaug at [email protected].