With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles returning to theaters soon in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, their creators have revealed that Marvel Comics once offered to publish the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics. The revelation comes from Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, who created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 1983. They self-published the first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 1984 through their Mirage Studios company, which would continue to publish the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics until 1995 (and then again from 2001-2014 after a few years at Image Comics).
Appearing on Cartoonist Kayfabe, the comics culture YouTube channel run by cartoonists Ed Piskor (X-Men: Grand Design) and Jim Rugg (Hulk: Grand Design), Laird and Eastman recalled a time when Marvel Comics offered to publish Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles through its Epic Comics imprint. That imprint, throughout its lifetime, published titles including Wendy and Richard Pini’s self-published fantasy classic ElfQuest, Jim Starlin’s space opera Dreadstar, and even the first English translation of Katsuhiro Otomo’s seminal manga Akira with cutting-edge colors by Steve Oliff.
The conversation started with Peter David at a comics convention, then progressed to a meeting with Epic Comics editor Archie Goodwin, who offered Eastman and Laird a standard contract. Ultimately, Eastman and Laird passed on the offer, deciding to continue self-publishing the Turtles and controlling their rights entirely.
“We really enjoyed talking with them, and he gave us kind of a boilerplate contract that was for us to look at, and we went back to Sharon, and we looked carefully at the contract,” Laird recalls. “As it as it was written, we would have had to have an editor overseeing our work, we would get paid about half of what we were making for the comic books that we were publishing, and we would have to have given up 50% of the licensing revenue that the property could generate. Wwe looked it over and thought about it for a while and then realized, ‘No way,’ you know? ‘Let’s just keep doing what we’re doing.'”
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles becomes Turtlemania
That turned out to be a fortuitous choice. This conversation happened not long before Mark Friedman discovered the Turtles and negotiated a licensing agreement with Eastman and Laird which led to the creation of Playmates Toys’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy line. That, in turn, led to the 1987 debut of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series. Together, the toys and the cartoon kickstarted the era of Turtlemania, a wave that the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie rode in on, becoming the highest-grossing independent movie ever at the time and maintaining that title for nearly a decade. And because Eastman and Laird didn’t sign with Marvel, they maintained creative control over their creations and took home much more of the profits.
“When we finally looked at it, we said, ‘You know, man, we’re pretty lucky that we’re doing what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” because we also had a pretty decent perspective on things that were going on in the comic market at that time, which is part of why Archie started Epic Comics,” Eastman recalls. “A lot of artists wanted to protect their rights and their creation. The giants we stood on the shoulders of, like Jack [Kirby], that was creator/co-creator of most of the Marvel Universe and were not able to profit from or have any control over characters that he either created or co-created, even to the point where they weren’t giving him his artwork back and things like that, we had had a conversation with Jack about it. And he’s like, ‘Well, that was the nature of the business at the time.’ We were aware enough and careful enough and knew that we were lucky enough to be doing what we wanted to do with our characters because it wasn’t more than a year or two later we were having very serious conversations that Mark Freedman brought to the table to do other things with our characters that we had control over.”
Eastman and Laird eventually sold Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Eventually, the stress of managing what the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had grown into wore on Eastman and Laird’s relationship. Eastman sold his share of the Teenage Mutant Turtles’ rights to Laird in 2000. In 2009, Laird then sold the entire property to Viacom. IDW Publishing obtained the rights to publish licensed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, launching a well-received run in a brand-new continuity in 2011, with Eastman as a creative collaborator. IDW’s ongoing series is now the longest-running Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic ever.
Meanwhile, Laird carved out a clause in the deal allowing him to continue to self-publish Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics. Between 2001 and 2014, he published 32 issues of a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series picking up where his and Eastman’s original Mirage Studios continuity left off. With Mirage’s closure in 2018, it seems the series has come to an unresolved end.
Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Continues
Eastman and Laird’s original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles run is collected in IDW Publishing’s seven-volume Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection series. IDW also recently released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Compendium Vol. 1, which collects Eastman and Laird’s run along with contributions from other Mirage Studios creators in the Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles anthology series that ran simultaneously.
IDW Publishing also recently published Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin from a story by Eastman and Laird, the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles work to come from the creators working together in decades. That story continues in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin — The Lost Years, which is currently releasing, and the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin sequel. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem brings the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back to movie theaters. The film opens on August 4th.