On October 25, 1989 I received a letter from none other than one of my heroes, Richard Corben. Attached to the letter was the following rough written sketch for “Turtles Take Time” and the adventure began.
You may want to put on a fresh pot of coffee. There is a lot of stuff here including this sketch by Corben, the story outline by writer Jan Strnad followed by his plot outline. I also found a really cool 28 page quickie mock-up and photocopies of the inked pages where the artist and writer go back and forth on whether or not to give Donnie a real peg-leg or a fake one.
TURTLES TAKE TIME
A rough sketch of a TMNT story by Richard Corben.
Leonardo sits polishing his sword as Raphael watches Donatello and Michaelangelo sparring. Leo gets a funny look on his face, a premonition. Raph looks back and says Leo looks funny; he does (dressed in barbarian garb) for one panel. Raph yells to Don and Mich. Don looks up. Mich takes advantage; but, just as he executes a masterful score, Don disappears into thin air. Leo, Raph and Mich are astounded. They hear a loud scream. Leo sees something invisible to Raph and Mich; he leaps drawing his swords, calling: “Renet! Look out!”. He runs at top speed toward a wall. Before he hits, his costume changes again. He goes through the wall. Raph and Mich look at each other, but before they can do anything, Renet appears, bloody and torn.
She turns slowly: “Where in Hell?” Raph: “This isn’t Hell, but-“. Mich: “Where did you come from?”. A nasty tentacle grows from the wall and grabs her. Raph and Mich go to her defense. Raph is knocked back. The others disappear. Raph stands alone for long moments, then the room gets weird, changes to a bizarre landscape.
The Turtles are pulled from the real to intra-dimensional space to aid Renet. She’s there to stand some cosmic trail. Raphael is left behind but paradoxically is there with the others at the center of time. Each has to endure some trial appropriate to his chosen weapon. For example, Leonardo must fight a laser welding robot (laser versus sword) and perhaps he defeats it by reflecting the laser beam off his shiny sword.
Perhaps Raphael must fight a giant double tailed scorpion with his sais. Donatello with his bo (fighting staff) verses a battering ram, pile driver or giant rhino beetle. Michaelangelo verses a robot with flailing ball and chains. Renet’s symbol is time and maybe she’s trapped in a huge hour glass with a giant ant lion (one of those nasty insects that captures its prey at the bottom of a pit by creating sand slides.
They finally pass their tests, save Renet, and leap into a glowing vortex to return to their own space time. Raphael is unable to return because he’s already there. The others force him into the now unstable vortex to endure the adventure the others have already completed. Raph does so but feels a prank is in order. Perhaps he arrives at the vortex before the others and returns to Earth, eats the others ice cream all in a micro-second and meets his friends at the vortex. Then he finally returns to normal Earth time with them. They break out the ice cream, but the sack is empty. They stare at each other in disbelief as Renet thanks them and leaves.
Here is the outline by Jan Strnad…
Turtles Take Time
We open on a pirate ship as it’s attacked by another pirate ship. The Turtles swinging in on ropes from the attacking ship and heads roll. The attack is successful and the Pirate Captain thanks the Turtles for helping recover the gold he stole from the King of Portugal that was stolen from him by the other pirates. They say he’s welcome, and now they have to go. The Pirate Captain sees the King’s fleet approaching and asks if they wouldn’t consider staying, and he advances menacingly on them. They hop overboard.
In the water, Raphael pulls out a small time module–a cube–given to them by Renet. It’s soaked with sea water and they hope it isn’t damaged. Michaelangelo warns: remember what she said about making sure we return to a time after we left to avoid a time conundrum. Right–when’d we leave? About 10:30 a.m. Okay, we’ll return at noon.
The Turtles appear in the sewer, not at home. They check module–it’s 10 a.m.! They’ve reappeared before they left, causing a slippage along the time fault-a Timequake! And now aftershocks are occurring to dissipate the extra energy in the universe, with the Turtles at the epicenter!
They run down sewer toward home but find themselves mutating along the way, turning into Turtle Babies. Same battle gear, but add diapers.
They barely have time to ponder this development when they’re attacked by sewer gators. The Turtle Babies fight valiantly and win. They check a newspaper floating through the sewer–it’s 1971! So it ‘s not just them, but the whole world–maybe the entire universe!–that’s regressing!
Suddenly they’re hit by another time shock. They regress into even younger forms–eggs with feet. They stumble around blindly and fall into the sewer water, are borne away…
… and spewed out of a rocky crevice to plunge into a medieval river. They are now their normal ages but dressed like knights. They’re set upon by the Knights of the Round Table and battle them to the death. Why were the Knights so belligerent? All they were carrying was a stupid cup. As Raphael reaches for the Holy Grail, another timequake hits.
The Turtles are deposited in the middle of a Aztec city, decked out in Aztec garb. A sacrificial ceremony is in progress, with a beautiful woman tied to an altar. They break up the ceremony and free the victim but she turns on them, saying that they’ve spoiled the whole ceremony, and now the gods will destroy their whole civilization. A fantastic monster appears and begins to do just that, another quake hits and the Turtles disappear.
They reappear on a prehistoric plain, desolate, littered with dinosaur bones, the end of the dinosaur era, the sky obscured with dust. They are now NeanderTurtles , and they’re set upon by prehistoric humans, missing link types. A furious fight ensues. The Turtles win, but have they now wiped out the entire human race?
Another timequake hits and they ‘re sucked into an interchronological vortex, this one propelling them out into space.
They fly through space in distorted, amorphous embodiments as the universe whirls by them in reverse, collapsing onto itself, until they approach a grotesque. turtle like protozoid (like William Hurt in Altered States) that lies at the very beginning of Creation. It reaches out to them, pulls them in, and there is a blinding flash of light.
And the time module appears in a smaller flash on their table in New York. Michaelangelo picks it up, along with a note from Renet that this is a time module that they can use to travel anywhere in time. The only warning is, reappear after you leave to avoid time conundrums. They pass it around, discussing where they want to go, and Raphael says, as he holds up the cube. “I know! Let’s go back in time and be pirates!”
And the full plot that followed on December 7, 1989. As a fun exercise, we’ll include the mockup pages Corben did from the plot.
TURTLES TAKE TIME
(plot) by Jan Strnad
Full page splash with CREDITS
A classic illustration of pirates swinging in from one ship, attacking pirates on another ship. but in this case it’s the Turtles dressed as pirates, and behind them are Portuguese soldiers . The colors are bright and vibrant almost Maxfield Parrish in their intensity and the sky is bright blue –it’s a fine day for a slaughter! The Turtles are having a great time. smiling through clenched teeth, as they swing and leap to the attack with pirate-type cutlasses and knives and guns . Clearly the pirates who are being attacked are panicked and desperate, while the Turtles are on the offensive, bloodthirsty and grinning. Even in this very first scene, there ‘s no doubt about the outcome of this battle!
Stripped of their distinctive weaponry, the Turtles would be virtually indistinguishable from one another, so let ‘s give Michaelangelo an Errol Flynn-type mustache, give Leonardo an eye patch. Donatello can have a wooden leg, and Raphael gets rotten teeth.
One of the pirates, whom I’ll call WRETCHED turns away from the attack, throwing up his hands to protect himself; he’s frightened out of his wits. A second defending pirate, BONES, holds his sword with both hands, taking a crushing blow on the blade from Raphael.
HAIIEE! THESE BE NOT ORDINARY MEN!
THEY BE NOT MEN AT ALL! THEY BE TURTLES! HARRG!
CREDITS STORY BY JAN STRNAD
ART BY RICHARD CORBEN
CREATED BY KEVIN EASTMAN AND PETER LAIRD
Now, we ‘ re going to have lots of scenes of the Turtles in battle in this book, so I’d like to make each battle sequence distinctive visually, I ‘ll do what I can with dialogue but it won’t be much, so we ‘ll depend on weapons and visual style to make one battle distinct from another.
So okay, let’s imagine this situation: it’s crowded, it’s chaotic, there’s no such thing as a battle plan or formation–it’s just every man (or Turtle) for himself on a heaving, rocking galleon with boons(1) swinging and ropes snapping and twisting and sails flapping and water splashing over the sides of the ship and men killing and being killed. Besides the cutlasses, knives, and pistols, everything becomes a weapon: barrels, booms, ropes, cannonballs used to bash brains, belaying pins(2) — anything! The guns aren’t much use after one shot since there’s no time to reload, but they add a nice visual touch with the poof of smoke from the barrel and the resulting explosion of flesh, and this is our only chance to show guns.
The heaving of the ship suggests angled, Gil Kane-like panels to me, which would also add to the sense of chaos, though of course it’s up to you. Just have fun for a page and then we’ll get into a more choreographed battle as:
Leonardo and Michaelangelo get a moment’s pause after fighting back-to-back and they look in the same direction: Leonardo points off frame at something alarming.
Amid the broken, battered, and dead bodies, Donatello stands with a length of broken spar(3), surrounded by three pirates I’ll Call BILGEWATER, SCURVY, and CROTCH-ROT. The pirates close in menacingly muttering some kind of piratey threats.
THEY’VE GOT DONATELLO THREE-TO-ONE, AND ALL HE HAS TO FIGHT WITH IS A BROKEN SPAR!
MICHAELANGELO, 2 (OVER)
IF THERE’S ONE THING I HATE, IT’S AN UNFAIR FIGHT.
(1) The horizontal beam that juts out from the mast and holds the bottom of the sail. –Sailor Jan
(2) A removable metal or wooden pin in the rail of a ship around which ropes can be fastened. — Popeye Strnad
(3) Any pole supporting or extending a sail — The Footnotin’ Fool
ME TOO, DON’LL MURDER ‘ EM
GEE–MAYBE WE SHOULD WARN ‘EM.
Donatello smacks one of the pirates.
Leonardo and Michaelangelo look at each other and say in unison.
And Donatello smacks the second pirate, and then the third.
Meanwhile Raphael’s found the treasure hold, and what a treasure it is: piles of doubloons, fancy goblets, jewelry — the works. He calls out to the others and soon they all stand in the treasure hold along with a Portuguese duke who’s dressed in the silly way all those guys dressed back then. The duke is very pleased. The duke identifies the treasure as that belonging to the King of Portugal, stolen by these rotten pirates.
The duke shakes hands with Leonardo and congratulates him on a job well done. How would the Turtles like to join the King’s army on a permanent basis? Leonardo passes up the offer, saying. “We have to get back home.”
They gather in a circle and Leonardo asks if Donatello still has Renet’s cube. Donatello holds a cube studded with buttons, like something you’d get from the Sharper Image catalog — or what was a cube; now it’s kind of battered and dented, which he points out. As we close in on our quartet and Donatello begins to press buttons on the cube, Leonardo asks if he remembers the warning in Renet’s note and Donatello says, “Yeah, yeah–”
The scene changes to the Turtles’ New York apartment. The coloring tones down into a more “real” saturation. The Turtles are dressed in their usual garb but without their masks, looking supremely bored, reclining on the sofa, nearly-empty pizza boxes littering the place . Raphael’s reading a comic book, and Michaelangelo’s trying to find something on tv, flipping channels with the remote control and griping.
Suddenly there’s a brilliant flash that leaves them all seeing spots. Donatello points to something off-frame on the floor and says “What’s that?” and Leonardo responds, “What’s what? All I see is spots!” and Raphael says, “I just know it’s gonna be something weird.” The cube has appeared on the floor and they surround it cautiously, concerned that it might be a bomb; a note’s attached to it, which Leonardo points out.
They gather around Donatello as he reads the note, saying “It’s from Renet. She says it’s a Time Cube she ‘borrowed’ from Lord Simultaneous,” (In the background Leonardo holds his forehead and thinks, “Oh, great — more time travel.”) Raphael and Michaelangelo puzzle over the note while Donatello fiddles with the buttons; Raphael says, “Hey, what does this part mean? Something about–” and Michaelangelo finishes the sentence, “‘ –anamorphically autosynchronous;?'” Donatello says, pushing a button, “We’ll find out in approximately… 3.2 seconds–”
There’s a special lighting effect as the Turtles begin to vanish into time. Leonardo says, “Hey, where are we going?” and Donatello says, “1500 A.D.! Hang on, guys– we’re gonna be pirates!” And we get a panel of the Turtles flying rather gracefully through a time corridor.
NOTE: This will be a repeated panel, but each time the journey will get a little rougher, the Turtles will tumble more, and their expressions will go from pleasure (as here) to surprise to fear to [nothing, actually, as you’ll see] to panic to horror.
They appear on the deck of the Portuguese ship in full, glorious color with energy still sparking around them. They look at themselves and their weapons and point out the obvious : Michaelangelo: “Look! Our weapons have become cutlasses… knives…!” Donatello: “I’ve got a wooden leg!” Leonardo: “Something’s wrong with my eye!” Raphael: “I’ve got rotten teeth– ” Raphael goes nose-to-nose with Michaelangelo, who pinches the area where his nose would be if he had one; in this close-up, Raphael’s rotten teeth are obvious; Raph says to Mike -” Hey, Mike — how come we get disabled and all you get is a stupid mustache?” and Mike says, “Phew! I hate to tell you, Raph, but something died in your mouth !” and then adds, “And it’s still there!”
The duke and a priest gaze in awe and wonderment at the Turtles practicing on the fore deck with their new weapons. Duke: “What are they, Father?” Priest: “Angels, come to help us retrieve the King’s gold!” and the priest thinks to himself, “Or demons, in which case we’ re all fish bait.”
The next panel gets a caption saying “Soon–” and we see the Turtles fighting the pirates. Then we’re back in the treasure hold and Donatello’s working the cube and Leonardo’s asking him if he remembers the warning in Renet’s note and Donatello says, “Yeah, yeah–” and in a second balloon says, ‘”Be sure to return to a time after the time you originally left to avoid a conundrum. ‘” As they fall through the time corridor, less gracefully this time (because the cube’s been abused), Raphael says “I thought we were supposed to use conundrums.”
They reappear in their New York apartment, looking like their normal selves; the angle does not reveal what is around them. In a closer shot they stand in a circle and Donatello says, “Uh-oh, Looks like the old Time Cube got knocked a little out of whack,” and Leonardo says, “I think we’re in trouble– “. A full shot of the room reveals them surrounded by themselves, but the “other” Turtles all have their weapons drawn, grimaces on their faces, ready to attack. The rest of the room looks as it did before the Time Cube originally appeared.
Okay, this has the potential to get very confusing, The Turtles we’ve been following so far, who are trapped in the middle of the room, I’ll call the “Original Turtles,” And the other Turtles are the “Angry Turtles”. Okay.
The Angry Turtles are closing in and the Original Turtles are bunching closer together. The Angry Leonardo says, “Okay, you’ve got ten seconds to explain yourselves!” Original Raphael says to Original Leonardo, “I think we can take ’em!” and Original Leonardo says, “Don’t be crazy — they’re us before we went back in time!” A closer angle on the Original Leonardo, menaced by the Angry Leonardo (who says, “Five seconds–“), as the Original Leonardo continues explaining: “If we did kill them, we might cease to exist! And we can’t all live because of the law of conservation of energy! Therefore, we have to… have to” and in a small balloon, ” … die … ” An off-frame voice adds: “Zero.”
The room gets shakier and begins to fill with a time travel energy effect. Donatello exclaims: “It’s a timequake! We’ve upset the natural forces! They’re trying to realign. Michaelangelo says, “I just hope it doesn’t–”
continues as the Original Turtles are ripped violently apart, exploding in a brilliant flash of light, and the Angry Turtles shield their eyes : “–hurt!”
The time corridor is now a twisted, hallucinatory thing, irregular and awful, and the Turtles tumble awkwardly. They are now in the “fear” stage. They scream “AAAAAAA!” as they tumble.
The Turtles now look like four eggs with holes punched in the bottom for their legs to stick out and with eye holes. They stand there as the energy field around them fizzles out and one says, “Oh, great. Just great.” The eggs group together, looking at each other, and discuss the situation: They’ve gone farther back in time and regressed. They have to grow up all over again, and one points out: “Yeah, and you know what a baby turtle’s chances are in a hostile environment!”
We get a shot of the alligator licking his chops, smiling in that insidious way they do. In another panel three of the eggs look at each other and one of them says, “But we’re ninjas, damn it! And we’ve got weapons” to which another replies, “All I’ve got is a pacifier,” while a fourth egg looks at the approaching gator and says, appropriately, “Uh, guys–”
The Turtles run along the edge of the sewer with the gator in hot pursuit. They yell, “YAAAAAAA!” in unison. We get a few panels of them avoiding the gator’s snapping jaws, then one yells “Dive” as he plunges headfirst into the water, springing off the gator’s nose. The others follow as the gator tries unsuccessfully to snatch them in the air.
Underwater, the Turtles (still eggs) swim desperately as the alligator slips smoothly into the water after them. One yells, “Swim for your lives!” As the gator closes in, the water begins to roil and the Turtles are tossed around under water and the gator twists around and one Turtle yells, “Hang on! Its’s another quake!” and one replies, “Hang on to what?” and another asks, “Hang on with what?” The gator, twisting in the churning water, belly up, opens his mouth just under one of the Turtles — an easy target. Energy is building up around the Turtles. And the jaws snap shut on empty air as the Turtles warp out.
They’re back in the new, more hideous time corridor, still shaped like eggs, and the accompanying scream is now “AAAAAAGGH!” Three of the Turtles blast into a thick layer of autumn trees exploding with the yellow and reds of fall, and when they fall out of the trees we see that they’re dressed in suits of armor. Each has a distinctive weapon: Leonardo has a big, heavy broadsword; Raphael has twin maces ; and Michaelangelo has a pair of morning stars.
They don’t really have time to figure it out since they are immediately set upon by a sextet of knights: Gawaine, Percival, Hector, Tristram, Galahad, and of course, Lancelot. Gawaine’s leading this group; his outfit has a Celtic look to it and he speaks with a Scottish brogue that will be fun to write, so make sure he’s out front and in a position to say something like, “May God presairve us! I dunna ken what beasties these be that stand in our path, but if it’s battle they’re wantin’ , I say we give it in full measure!” That’s enough talking, then they fight.
NOTE : Galahad, the youngest knight, carries a sack with the Holy Grail in it, though we don’t see the Grail just yet.
Compared to the chaos of the pirate battle, I see this one as almost a ballet. Movements carefully planned and executed, a little Ninja action worked into the slower medieval moves.
Leonardo’s fighting sword-to-sword with Lancelot. The other Turtles notice that. Leonardo is having a hard time and one of the knights says, “Your friend is doomed — none has ever prevailed against Lancelot!” The Turtles react in surprise to the name, Lancelot takes advantage of Leonardo’s surprise to get him down and is about to deliver the death blow when zip, he’s shot through the visor by a well-placed arrow.
The Turtles explain to Donatello that apparently they’ve wiped out six of the Knights of the Round Table. They wonder why the Knights were so aggressive, as if they were protecting something, and Raphael pulls out a glowing, silver goblet from the sack: the Holy Grail. Light streams down on it from on high, then the ground starts to shake, and this time trees are toppling and the Turtles are bounced off their feet. One of them remarks, “This is getting worse!” and another one says, “Here we go again!”
They fly through the awful time corridor, really end-over-end and still dressed in medieval garb, and the sound effect is “EEEEYAAAAGGGGG!”
Then we see a barren plain of hard-packed dirt cracked with drought. There’s no vegetation, just rocks scattered here and there (which we may not even see until we get a longer shot). The whole plain is illuminated (in my mind’s eye–you’re the final arbiter of color, natch) with a dusty, red glow that implies “Dawn of Man,” A dozen or so missing links huddle in the distance, gathered around something. They are scrawny, bony beings with bloated bellies (say that five times real fast).
The links are gathered around a hole in the ground about as big around as a softball. A link sticks its hairy arm into the hole. It reaches deep, deep down, while other missing links look on. The missing link that’s reaching into the hole suddenly YELPS, and then we see why: a vicious, mangy mammal with wicked teeth has fastened itself onto his hand by the teeth. The other missing links react in shock.
The missing link pounds the animal against the ground, the others watching, until everyone’s attention is grabbed by a brilliant flash of light from behind some boulders. They run over to the boulders.
They peer cautiously over the rocks, and then we see what they see: four hunched, hulking figures. The links don’t know what they are. The figures turn: it’s the Turtles, devolved to primitive, ancestral forms that can only be called NeanderTurtles! Leonardo has a club, Raphael has something resembling his two sais but made of saber tooth tiger fangs, Donatello has a long stick, and Michaelangelo has a stone ax.
The Turtles gesture and point at their weapons; their actual dialogue is just grunts, but I’ll translate the speech in footnotes, maybe we’ll want to run those underneath the panel borders (?). They ‘ re saying, roughly, “We must be back at the very Dawn of Man!” and “Our every action could have resounding consequences! Don’t even step on a plant!” and another, looking around, says “What plant?”
Suddenly the missing links erupt over the boulders, screaming and throwing stones. A fight ensues, during which you really don’t need to leave room for foot notes, in which the missing links are of course wiped out by the NeanderTurtles’ superior fighting skills and weaponry.
Donatello is anxious, paces around, hands thrown in the air, saying, “Fine! Obviously the timequakes are progressing exponentially! Where’re we gonna end up next?” A quake hits, this one accompanied by actual rupturing of the ground and erupting geysers, and Leonardo says, “You had to ask–”
The NeanderTurtles hurtle through the time corridor, a couple of them actually hugging each other, and the scream is “AAAAAAAI II IIEEEEEEOOOOOOO!”
And they reappear in outer space, a swirling cosmos not yet fully formed. They are in distorted, twisted shapes like William Hurt in Altered States, starting to stretch out, pulled into a swirling stream of energy that twists toward a bright spot in the far, far distance. Michaelangelo screams, “Where are we? What’s happening?” Donatello says, “In the center of chaos! Time hasn’t even been invented yet!” Leonardo says, “Everything’s happening at once!” “Raphael says, “Looks like we’re going for a ride!”
I think we need some sweep, here, so I’m imagining a two-page spread that has the Turtles distorting as they spin down into a kind of cosmic whirlpool, merging into one being but still separate enough to have separate dialogue balloons. They swirl down into a bright spot in the center. Leonardo says as they swirl, “There’s only one place we can go from here!” Michaelangelo : “Back to the birth of the Universe! Back to Creation, to the beginning of Time itself!” Raphael asks, “And then what’ll happen?'” Donatello replies: “Everything!”
The Turtles materialize in their New York apartment, looking normal, and Leonardo says. “Hey! We’re back home!” They look around and Michaelangelo says, “Things look normal. I guess it all turned out all right!” We get a three-panel progression, close-ups of Donatello only, pulling the Time Cube out of his belt, shaking it beside his ear to see if there are any broken parts rattling around inside, and then fiddling with some buttons on it and saying, “So… where do you guys want to go next?” And the final panel shows Donatello completely oblivious, looking just as he did in the previous panel, while all three of the other Turtles leap at him, weapons drawn. grimacing.
This could be my favorite part. There was a debate between Corben and Jan Strnad about whether or not to give Donatello a peg leg as a pirate. On page 2 of the gallery that follows, you’ll see a note from Corben in black that says, “I felt odd giving Donatello a peg leg. I don’t think I’d like anyone to do such a thing to one of my characters.”
If you look closely, you see that he drew Don’s leg tucked behind him with his knee in the peg. Strnad wrote in red, “See note on reverse.” HERE IS THE NOTE!