Although everyone is used to The Turtles having different colored headbands, in the comics they were originally black and white, and once color was added, they only had red bandanas and their weapons were the only things to differentiate them from one another as far as appearance.
The first idea was actually just a sketch and both Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman drew one. The original drawings are what would become Michelangelo (my personal favorite). After the initial sketches, they decided to use this idea for a one issue parody. These initial sketches and first comic has now inspired 30 years of comics, television shows, movies, toys and almost anything else you could slap a Ninja Turtle face on. Eastman’s Turtle is on the left and Laird’s Turtle is on the right.
The run of the four volume series was mostly published by Eastman and Laird’s own Mirage Studios, but Volume 3 was published by Image Comics and is widely considered as one of the worst versions of the Turtles (I enjoy them all, although this one is rather odd). In this version, Splinter became a Bat, Leonardo lost a hand, Donatello became a cyborg, and Raphael has his face burned and actually became the Shredder. Thankfully Mikey at least is able to get out of this series still intact and fairly normal.
Once Volume 4 started, the series went back to Mirage Studios and completely omitted the Image Comics run. This series actually picked up fifteen years after Volume 2 and was simply titled TMNT although “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” was still written under that title. This series has never officially had an ending. There was an issue released this year, four years after the last issue, which was an official #32. It is still not official whether that story is over.
Up until the Volume 4, Michelangelo’s name was spelled Michealangelo and was corrected in the last volume of this original run to match his artist inspiration’s name Michelangelo Buonarroti. Even the comical cartoon version of Michelangelo decided to start reading the books when this changed happened.
With the Turtles outstanding success, especially among independent comics, they had many crossovers with other independent characters. A couple of these included Flaming Carrot (who also had the introduction of the Mystery Men who would later be included in the film of the same name) Usagi Yojimbo (who also has been in all but the most recent animated series) and Savage Dragon during their Image Comics run.
The comic has very close details connecting it to Daredevil from Marvel Comics and it even has been stated this was the intention as it was a parody issue at first. The ooze that created The Turtles and the toxic waste that blinded Matt Murdock are supposed to be the same thing along with the foot clan mimicking The Hand, and Splinter being a parody of Daredevil’s mentor The Stick.
This series technically ran from 1984 to 2010 making the whole series last 26 years in length. Only if you count the issue that was released this year makes the series run “30 years.” After Image Comic’s 1996-1999 run, Volume 4 at Mirage started back up in 2001, and ran for 9 years.
The first issues of the series had such small print runs, at about 3000 copies an issue, that they became instant collector items among all comic collectors. Within a couple months the comics escalated in price so much they were selling upwards of 50 times the original price. They continue to be some of the biggest collectors items among a lot of comic fans reaching prices over $5,000. The picture above shows an issue displayed at Denver Comic Con in a case with a ton of $100 bills.
Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird both worked on the series only up to issue #11 together. They worked again multiple times in the future, but their complete creative control did not last long when looking at the complete 30-year history of the franchise.
The Turtles may have had color on their covers for a while, but the whole comic did not get color until Volume 2 started in 1993. This volume did not last long, as it only went 13 issues with a two year run, but it finally gave us a better idea of the setting and characters by adding color.
Kevin Eastman sold his rights to the project to Peter Laird in 2000 and then Peter Laird sold the franchise to Nickelodeon in 2009. The Mirage Comics run would end the next year and Nickelodeon would start work on rebooting the franchise in TV, comics, and film. Both Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman continue to work with The Turtles to this day. Eastman is a main contributor to the IDW published comics running now.
A classic way of publishing TMNT is to have one main series and one off shoot series. The original series started with a one off issue of each Turtle, as well as Fugitoid, a Casey Jones mini series, a crossover with Flaming Carrot, and many others. This tradition carries on today with the IDW series. With this we have gotten some great background to the main stories any fan would enjoy. It also makes the universe much larger!
Images belong to Mirage Comics and all other owner entities.