“Raphael is your FAVORITE Ninja Turtle? Are you shitting me?”
~U.S. Astronaut John Glenn
Ask any member of Generation X or Generation Y one question, and you’re guaranteed to see a lively debate. “Who is your favorite Ninja Turtle? Who is your least favorite?” There’s brave Leonardo, wielding Katana swords and serving as the leader of the group. There’s Michelangelo, the comic relief with his nun-chucks. There’s Donatello, the smart one, wielding his bō staff, and Raphael, the team’s bad boy that no one gives a shit about because a pair of sai is a bullshit weapon and he knows it.
But The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are the most glorious thing to come from a night of smoking pot in the 1980’s this side of most white-person-bar music. They are a force for good in a world of evil, and they remind us that turtles can be American too. And if you doubt the cultural significance of the Ninja Turtles, next time you find yourself in a crowded public place, say loudly, “Donatello was the best Ninja Turtle, by far.” You’ll notice everyone under the age of 40 just turned their head towards you, half of them with a look of agreement on their face, and half of them with a look on their face that screams, “Are you fucking crazy?” Actually someone might actually scream that as well. Such is the mystery of the glorious American invention, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
TMNJ sounds like the combination of two stoners saying random words, putting them together, and then deciding to make a goddamn comic book about it. If you think about it logically, none of those words go together. Don’t believe us? Read it in reverse order, and do a word association of the first thing that comes to your head when you read each word.
- The chubby dude in Entourage
- Wait, really? Ninja? How does that have anything to do with turtles?
- No, don’t just skip me over, I’m really honestly wondering how you went from “turtle” to “ninja.” It makes no sense! Turtles are slow for fuck’s sake!
- Fine, fine, uh, samurai. I don’t know. Japan.
- What? What’s going on here? Are you stoned? Are you stoned right now?
- Oh, you’re stoned. But still, even by stoned logic, thinking about mutant ninjas is…not normal, man.
- No, I’m not going to even give you the satisfaction of doing a word association for Mutants. I don’t know where you’re going with this but I don’t like it one bit.
- I’m serious, I’m not going to do it.
- I don’t care how long you pester me, I’m done with this game, it’s going to weird and twisted places.
- Stop it
- You’re just embarrassing yourself
- Not gonna do it
- OKAY FINE JESUS CHRIST! Uh, X-men. Comic books. Radiation.
- Oh fuck my life.
How the turtles came to be, and how they affected a whole generation, is a true tale of American inspiration, luck, talent, and blind devotion to massive commercial merchandising. In 1983, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird where two artists, and close friends. Eastman drew comics in his spare time while working as a short order cook, and Laird was making a living doing editorial illustrations and advertising art. One night, the two were hanging out, watching TV, and sketching. They were also probably taking a hit out of a bong made out of discarded LSD squares, because Eastman drew a picture of a turtle with nunchukus attached to its arm, and said (probably while laughing his ass off), “Ninja Turtle. Laird then said, “Dude…Teenage MUTANT Ninja Turtle.” Once the weed wore off, they began drawing a small black and white comic, giving the turtles names of Renaissance artists and sculptors, and giving it a surprisingly dark origin story. Like, just cold blooded killers, and a distinct lack of pizza references or surfer talk.
After writing the comic, they published 3000 of them for $1200, due to a combination of loans from Eastman’s uncle and a $500 tax refund Eastman had received. That’s right, the American Government helped subsidize the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This is the best use of government money since that time the Government actually tried to develop real Mutant Ninja Turtles, eventually scrapping the project when it created Vin Diesel.
Ha, the internet is awesome.
They had enough money to put out one ad in a Comic Book Magazine, which got the attention of distributers, who got the TMNT to a wider audience. But the Turtles really broke through when they grabbed the attention of licensing agent Mark Freedman, who saw the comics and thought, “Kids would buy the shit out of a ninja turtle action figure.” In 1986, Dark Horse Miniatures made a set of small lead figurines, because the only thing more American than blindly making figurines out of weird mutated reptiles is to make them out of a material that will poison you. They eventually chose to take the turtles to a small (at the time) toy maker called Playtime Toys, deciding to make the turtles just a little less poisonous to children. They put together a creative team to create a miniseries of the Ninja Turtles, coining such badass phrases as, “Heroes in a half shell,” and, of course, “Turtle power!”
The Miniseries eventually became popular, and the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle TV Series brought forth the much more family friendly characters to a large audience, and created a pop culture phenomenon.
To show how American TMNT are, you need to look no further than one of the two founders, Kevin Eastman, and let’s see what he’s been able to do because of the Ninja Turtles (and also the millions of dollars he has raked in).
Here’s what Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird looked like in the 1980’s. Eastman is the one on the right.
Yeah, the guy who looks like Weird Al’s unemployed younger brother? That guy? This is his ex-wife.
Dayumnnnnn boyyyyyyy. That’s right, because of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a stoner short order chef was able to marry a woman who’s damn Wikipedia profile picture is borderline NSFW. Seriously, that’s her Wikipedia page, we didn’t know that women’s shirts came in small, medium, large, and boob sizes. Is that a tank top, a swim suit, or body paint? Either way, it’s hard not to stare. Now look at those, erm, her again, and look at Mr. “It’s the 80’s, it’d be a crime NOT to have a mustache” up there. Yeah. Pretty jarring.
That’s Julie Strain and she is known as “The Queen of the B-Film.” She also is well known for appearing on the show “Sex Court” on the Playboy Chanel. This is an upper echelon of Americanness right here. Eastman married a woman who people will go out of their way to do a google image search to find naked pictures of her. The only thing more American is if you marry someone people will go out of their way to search for naked pictures of, but they can’t find anything. THAT is the power of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
That and Rule 34
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have spawned an empire, a series of films ranging in quality from “It was great when I was 7” to “What the hell is going on?” To this date, TMNT remain the only superhero team to successfully defeat a foe with a keytar at full volume. There were three animated series, one live action series (with the comically bad addition of a female Turtle named “Venus de Milo” because, at this point, who gives a shit about being subtle), as well as three live action films and an animated full length film. There are over twenty TMNT video games, including the classic, “Turtles IV: Turtles in Time,” widely considered to be the best TMNT game ever made, which featured such unforgettable lines as, “Bury my shell at wounded knee.” That’s right, this is a game that combines the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, time travel, and references General Custer’s Last Stand!
Holy shit, awesome, right!?
So whenever you see a jar of plutonium, an empty pizza box, and four box turtles, just put them in a jar and shake them up, just to see what happens. Worst case scenario, you have some dead turtles, to which we say, “Meh.” But, but, best case scenario? Fucking. THIS.