With a new hit comic series, an equally successful reissue of the original, and an upcoming television series to be aired on Nickelodeon, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are poised to make a comeback.
But this time is going to be a little different, as the title is, for the first time in its history, no longer owned by its original creators.
The Ninja Turtles were created in 1984 by fledgling comic artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. Thanks to its bizarre premise and some crafty marketing, the self-published first issue sold out of its 3000 copy print run. But that was just the beginning. The second issue sold out 15,000 copies, and the exponential growth only continued with the introduction of the toy line, animated series, and live action movie. Through all this success, the turtle’s ownership remained with Eastman and Laird and the publishing company they owned together, Mirage.
The early issues were written and drawn jointly by the two, As Eastman said in his TMNT Artobiography (Heavy Metal), “Pete and I shared pretty much equally the penciling, inking, and toning of the issues by passing them back and forth.”
But by 1987, and the completion of issue 11, the stress of managing a global licensing juggernaut took its toll on the team. Peter Laird said in the liner notes of the Ultimate Collection Vol. 2 (IDW), “Kevin and I had gotten kind of sick of working with each other.” The two continued to work on the franchise, mostly separately, except for issue 50, the first part of the ‘City At War’ storyline, which marked their final collaboration.
In 1990, the animated series ended, and the franchise declined in popularity. The writing and drawing of the comic, which was relaunched in 1993 as ‘volume two,’ was left to long-time Mirage employee Jim Lawson. That series lasted 13 issues before Mirage ceased all publication of turtle comics, and the series was resumed by Image Comics (the makers of Spawn) under the auspice of comic creator Erick Larsen. In 1991, Kevin Eastman acquired the long-running adult comic anthology Heavy Metal, which he continues to run to this day. Laird remained with Mirage, mostly in hibernation.
In June of 2000, Kevin Eastman sold most of his ownership of the Ninja Turtles to Laird and Mirage, save for a small cut of future income from the property. About this same time, a deal was struck with 4Kids Entertainment to create a new animated series. Peter Laird played a much bigger role this time around, and crafted the new series into a fairly accurate adaption of the original comic.
Laird relaunched the TMNT comics with the help of Jim Lawson in 2001. Volume Four (Image’s issues being volume three) was published by Mirage, and was soon joined by an anthology series called ‘Tales of the TMNT.’ Neither series caught fire in the market, and limped along with the support of its die-hard fans.
In 2008, Eastman sold the final remnants of his interests in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Peter Laird.
After 28 issues of Volume Four, Laird put the series on hiatus, ostensibly to work on the fourth Turtle film, but the hiatus mysteriously continued after that film’s completion. In 2009, Laird announced that he had sold all his intellectual property concerning the Ninja Turtles to Viacom and Nickelodeon, thus ending 25 years of creator-ownership. Laird retained the rights to publish 18 black and white TMNT comics per year, but has yet to publish a single one.
Nickelodeon is preparing a new animated series to air next season, while a live action movie is in the works from producer Micheal Bay (though it’s currently on hold due to script issues). Nick sub-licensed the comic book rights to IDW Publishing, who, ironically perhaps, hired the prodigal son Kevin Eastman to work on the page layouts and the plot for the rebooted series.
So there you have it. What started as a self-publishing phenomenon is now a small cog in a corporate machine. But even now, part of the original team remains, if only in a diminished capacity.