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Here come the turtles!

Foster’s Daily Democrat, Dover NH
Friday Evening, May 4, 1984Here come the turtles!Bad guys better watch out!By Peter Urban
Democrat Staff Writer

If a comic book titled “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” sounds a little bizarre to you, that is just fine with Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird of Dover, the two artists behind the new venture.

“We lean toward the fantastic,” Laird said during an interview recently at the Union Street apartment where the pair’s Mirage Studio’s is located.

Eastman and Laird began their unusual partnership two years ago, forming Mirage Studios, but it wasn’t until February, after a comic book convention in Portsmouth that they began working on “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Inspired by the excitement of the convention and other entrepreneurs there, the two have worked night and day so they could introduce their 40-page comic book at the next Portsmouth Mini-Con, being held Saturday at the Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge.

“There were a lot of 4 o’clock nights,” said Eastman, who worked days at Horsefeathers restaurant and spent his nights on the comic. But at 21, he hasn’t seemed to suffer any negative physical effects from the long hours.

The idea for the comic book came to him one night when he sketched out a turtle wielding nunchakus, a deadly weapon consisting of two wooden sticks connected by a metal chain.

“I was just kind of doodling around, and didn’t even know why I drew a turtle with nunchakus,” he recalled.

Interjected Laird, “That is Kevin’s basic response when you ask him how he did something. He just says, ‘I don’t know what happened. I just did it.'”

Laird is the one who came up with the name for the turtles as a takeoff on popular comics.

“There are a lot of teen-age mutants, and ninjas (a type of martial arts) are hot,” said Laird, who at 30 has thinning blonde hair and a boyish grin. “It essentially came out of a funny idea, and we decided to do a book about it.

“Turtles fit the absurd nature of the situation. They are the last thing you would imagine as lithe, athletic ninjas.”

Eastman noted that animal comics are very popular, citing Dave Sim’s nationwide success with “Swords of Cerebus”. Sim has produced 59 editions of the comic, which features an aardvark that resembles a mutant Eeyore from “Winnie the Pooh.”

Plans are now under way for an animated movie based on the comic, and there are “Swords of Cerebus” toys for sale all over the country.

“He (Sim) started out about five years ago essentially like us — doing it out of his house,” said Laird.

Neither Eastman nor Laird keeps turtles as pets or is a serious martial arts fan, although recently they have spent a good deal of time researching the martial arts so that the characters have the “right weapons” and use them in the “right sense.”

For the protagonists of their comic adventure tale, the artists settled on four turtle characters that resemble Pogos gone awry: Leonardo, armed with katanas, or Japanese swords; Donatello with bo, a long wooden stick; Michaelangelo with nunchakus; and Raphael with sais, a multi-pronged dagger.

The turtles, as the story goes, mutate after being subjected to an unidentified “glowing ooze,” and are taken in by Splinter, a rat trained in ninja by his master, Hamato Yoshi. The four mutant turtles avenge the death of Yoshi by killing his assassin, Saki Nagi, “The Shredder.”

“It’s a blend of seriousness and humor,” Laird said. “Tongue in cheek, I guess. The humor is secondary. We art trying to tell an interesting story first.”

Eastman is positive comic book buffs will enjoy the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” but he admits that not everyone understands it. “My folks read it and said, ‘The art work is really nice, but we don’t understand it.'”

Along with the long hours spent working on the comic book, the two spent $1,100 to produce it and have 3,000 copies made, which they plan to sell at the convention and by mail order.

“It was touch and go for a while,” Eastman said about the financing, but a generous loan from his uncle, Quentin Eastman of Portland, Maine, made it possible.

The illustration boards alone cost $7.20 a sheet and had to be specially ordered from an art store in New York City. The special paper allows for two-tone shading.

Even if the comic book does not meet with a great deal of success, the expense and long hours have been worth it, the two agree.

“It was fun,” Eastman said, and credits the pair’s working relationship with seeing the project through. “I could never have done the turtle4s by myself.”

“Ditto,” Laird chimed in.

The two spent equal amounts of time on the book, both sketching and inking the drawings. Where one would leave off on a drawing, the other would pick up.

“It was neat working on a drawing and getting it started and then coming home to find it half finished,” Eastman said.

“It was like having elves,” Laird said whimsically. “A page I started would be half finished when I wok up in the morning.

Working together has motivated both to work harder – “not out of jealousy, but inspirations,” said Eastman.

When they began “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” they first created a story and then “roughed out” illustration panels and the dialogue. They started actively drawing about six weeks ago, with the idea of completing the comic in time for Saturday’s convention.

Now that it is finished, its creators hope it will be a marketable item. So far the response from comic book buffs and distributors has been good. The pair has even gotten an order from Alaska for a copy which they promptly pinned to their wall instead of the usual “first dollar” businesses usually enshrine.

They aim to sell “a lot” of copies at the convention and hope distributors in attendance will place orders for more. Depending on how well sales go there, Eastman and Laird will be ready for the next issue of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

I bet I’ve gotten ideas for the next two issues while shooting around playing basketball outside” Eastman said.

Both artist prepped for this career early on, collecting comic books as high school boys. Eastman is a self-taught artist, having no formal training, while Laird holds a degree in printmaking from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

“I intended to be a science major,” Laird recounted. “We had a three-day orientation during the summer to meet all the people in our departments. The first night I was there I went to this meeting with eight or 10 people. After 15 minutes I realized they weren’t talking science but were art majors.”

After getting directions to the science meeting, Laird walked out of the art meeting, but half way there he turned around and went back. He majored in art.

If he had to do it again, Laird said, he would pick a different school because the fine arts program at the University of Massachusetts is geared toward classical works, tot the stuff comics are made of.

The classical training at least, gave him the names for the ninja turtles: Raphael, Michaelangelo, Leonardo and Donatello.

While at the university, Laird published his first comic book, “Barbaric Fantasy,” which “was not a big seller to say the least, but it was fun,” he said.

Both are optimistic that the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” will be more successful.

“One thing that also helped inspire us was a change in the comic book industry within the last five years,” Laird said. “There are three to four alternative publishers challenging the majors with full-color productions.

“Marvel and D.C. aren’t everything these days. There is a lot of competitors entering the market.”

The tow are also hoping the growing direct sales market will make their book a hit.

There are thousands of comic book shops that sell mostly comics, cards and posters. Normally, comic books are sold to stores, but if they don’t move they can be returned for credit. Direct sales bypasses that route; stores purchase books without the return policy.

While alternative publishers are not highly visible, because they are not tied into the major distributors, they are successful. Pacific Comics is one of the biggest direct sales comic book publishers, with 10 successful titles out said Laird. These comic books are available through direct mail or in specialty shops.

For now the two will play it by ear, but don’t be surprised if you soon see “Return on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

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