40 Years of TNMT: From Comic Books to Adaptations and Action Figures

How can it have been 40 years since the crime-fighting ninja turtles hit the bookshelves? Read on to discover the history of the pizza loving sewer dwelling heroes.

Adaptations Comics & Graphic Novels Pop Culture
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in action with their weapons out.

Coming up on nearly 40 years, the infamous turtle brothers, Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michaelangelo, have had their comic book license renewed by IDW and Paramount. According to The Hollywood Reporter, with this renewal, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans can expect some new releases in 2024, such as the continuation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Saturday Morning Adventures and the 150th issue of the TMNT series.

With this great news, I feel it’s appropriate to go over the history of those sewer-living dudes!

The Beginning Sketches

Two artists from Massachusetts, Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, created the comic back in 1983. The comic actually started off as some kind of joke when Eastman drew a turtle wearing a ninja mask. From this, Laird and Eastman went back and forth sketching the turtles until they eventually came up with the iconic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Their names were originally Japanese but soon after got changed to renaissance artist names. The turtles captured the ’90s incredibly with their street smarts and laid-back personalities. In other words, they had swag.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Compendium Comic Book cover
IMAGE VIA BOOKSHOP.ORG

First Issue

In 1984, Laird and Eastman opened up Mirage Studios. With the $200 from Laird’s bank account, Eastman’s $500 tax return, and a borrowed $1300 from Eastman’s uncle, the two illustrators published 3,000 copies of the first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The comic originally sold for $1.50. They sold all 3,000 copies and decided to print another 6,000. The next year, they published their second issue and were so successful that distributors demanded even more prints of issues one and two. Issue three was also extremely successful, and the popularity of TMNT kept growing from there.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first edition book cover

Evolving with the Times

As time went on and the popularity of the comic grew, new offers came along. An offer from Playmates Interest in 1986 to create action figures along with an animated cartoon led to the comic changing course a little bit.

four Ninja turtle action figures
CANVA / DANIELA PELLERITO

Before this offer, the target audience for the comics was PG-13. The target audience that Playmates Interest was aiming to reach was 4 to 8-year-olds. Turtles went from being vigilantes to a couple of turtle dudes who shouted things like “Cowabunga.” The biggest noticeable change was in their face masks. With this new deal with Playmates Interest, each turtle wore their own signature color. The animated show was aired from 1988-1996. In 2003, another animated show was aired and ran until 2009. Action figures were sold by Playmates Interest from 1988-1997, generating $1.1 billion dollars.

Moving to the Big Opportunities

The movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit movie theaters in 1990. Directed by Steve Barron, the movie brought in $200 million. The movie resulted in two sequels, Secret of the Ooze in 1991, making $78 million, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III in 1993, making $42 million. All three were live-action movies.

TNMT movie cover

In 2007, the animated movie TMNT aired. On a budget of $34 million, it made $95 million. The turtle brothers returned once again in a live-action movie in 2014, but people left negative feedback after finding out the movie would just be called Ninja Turtles and the turtles would be from a different planet. After a new script was created and the original title was reinstated, filming of the movie began in 2013.

The shell wearing brothers also had success in other departments throughout their years, such as video games as well as touring with Pizza Hut.

The Turtles Today

In 2016, the last live-action TMNT film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, was released. Combining it with the five movies before, they have raked in $1.2 billion. The most recent TMNT movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, was released back in September 2023, which was a computer-animated film.

With their 40-year anniversary coming up, fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can expect new releases that will only add to all the memories the comics have already brought us.


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FEATURED IMAGE VIA CANVA / DANIELA PELLERITO