From Northhampton, Ma to New York City to Hollywood and back to New England here in Wells, ME. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had a most unlikely but remarkable journey. I was lucky enough a few weeks ago to get to speak with the man who helped create everyone’s favorite wise-cracking and shell kicking brothers himself: Mr. Peter Laird.
Graphic Policy: First of all I’d like to thank you for your time today. I work for Graphic Policy. We are an independent press that covers comics and everything to do with the medium. This is an honor for me personally. I have been a life long fan of your work.
Peter Laird: Well thank you.
GP: So I was fortunate enough a couple months ago at a con in New Jersey to get Kevin’s (Eastman) story about the beginning of the Turtles and the early days. I really wanted to create a bookend here and get your insight of that time. I mean you guys came up with this at the time, sort of crazy idea. It was independent from anything the major publishers were doing. I have to ask how scary was that when you first started?
PL: Well it was slightly scary. It was more exciting than anything else. Kevin and I from back in the time we met in 81′ both had the idea that we wanted to do some type of comic book. We meshed together very well and we hit it off. Most of it was because of our shared profound love for Jack Kirby. One of the first things we did was we penciled something over and passed it to the other guy to ink it. That was like a test and it worked out really well. So there and then we knew our styles fit and we had something. A few years later Kevin and I were living together in Dover, NH and we still really, really wanted to do a comic book. The actual act of creating a comic book, the difficult part is the writing and the drawing. Once you have the start-up money for a printer to publish your work, which for us is like $1,300 you are pretty much good to go. However, the scariest step is trying to find places willing to take a shot and sell your work.
We originally thought, that we were going to sell mostly single copies through the mail and well (laughs) that didn’t work out. We only sold maybe 15 or 20 copies. We lucked out though and quickly learned the advantage of solicitation through the comic book distributors like Diamond and Pacific and the others. So truly the only unknown was how was it going to be responded to? How were people going to take this?
GP: Sure, absolutely.
PL: As a matter of fact in a light joking way but not completely, he (Kevin) and I had concerns we would be burning the copies that winter to stay warm since they would be sitting around in our living room. They didn’t though. As fate would have it they sold out quite quickly. We did 3 printings of that issue in the course of the first year. That was the moment we realized we had something going on. That’s when we truly started to go to work, several months after the publication of that first issue. The way it went was something to behold for sure.
GP: I’ll say. As a matter of fact, I always refer to the Turtles as my first taste of comic book rebellion. Up till that point, I had been shown and given all the DC and Marvel stuff and of course the Jack Kirby Fantastic Four run which was probably my favorite. That stuff was incredible but the stuff that you guys were doing there was nothing like it. I just adore that original Mirage run. I got my first Turtles graphic novel when I was just four.
PL: Oh wow.
GP: That book resonated with me for so long. I know people grew up with the cartoon and the movie with the live action big screen Turtles and Judith (Hoag) who is just fantastic by the way. With that being said, the Mirage run is the all-time favorite for me. Everything about it. I loved the red masks and I never wanted that to change but then Steve (Lavigne) told me at a show which made a lot of sense, that you couldn’t have them all in red it would be a marketing nightmare for networks and kids alike. It was so different then what was out there with the Big Two at the time. It was grittier and had a realism to it. As much realism as one can have with giant talking Turtles (laughs) but it didn’t talk down to us as readers. Who would have thought that anthropomorphic turtles running around doing Ninjitsu would be so successful. Even the villains were fantastic. Kevin gave my good friend Dante and I the origin of that when we met him and it is so funny how all these so far out there concepts just… worked. Everything about it was just brilliant. Nuff said right?
PL: (laughs) Ha ha well put.
GP: What I really want to get down to though, is how do you feel being surrounded by all this history, and to us it IS history. What does it mean to have a line of people waiting all out the door for hours on end and coming from everywhere just to see you and more importantly thank you for all you’ve done for them. So when you look back on this at the end of the day, what is it that sticks with you about this creation the most?
PL: Well that’s a good question. Probably one that needs and is worthy of a lot more time to think about it.
GP: Yup it’s my fault I always try to ask the good questions. (laughs)
PL: (laughs) You certainly do. You know when Kevin and I first did the books, we did it out of a pure love and desire to do just comic books. We just wanted to reach the comic book buying public and hopefully have it be enjoyed. We had no conception of it ever going further. We were just so in love with comic books. We were so incredibly happy when the first issue sold out. Then we had the second issue come out and I crunched the numbers and I couldn’t wait to tell Kevin. I called him like “Kev, you’re not going to believe this but we are each going to make $2,000 from this issue.” He was so excited and then came the third issue and gained more steam and so forth. For a long time that was all our concern was putting out the best comic we could in terms of quality and story. We were no way prepared for all to come our way. Looking back it was only three years after the first issue then came along all the major licensing and marketing everywhere. As you said we are surrounded by Turtle stuff here and there is so much more of it elsewhere. That being said it has been over thirty years. So the thing that will stick with me the most is that is has come to mean so much to so many people. One truly fond memory I have and I wish I could contact this person and get her to write this down… we met this one young lady once at a signing and she told me about her autistic sibling. She told me that her sibling never liked to be touched at all. However, she stated that person suddenly came alive when watching the original Turtles cartoon and would allow her to cuddle or hug while they watched the show together and it was a special bonding experience for them. That completely moved me. I mean where do you go beyond that? It’s something so meaningful to have contributed to that person’s life in such a unique way. Lots of things will stick with me, but that always will.
GP: Exactly that’s what I mean. It’s taken such life and splintered off into so many facets…
PL: No pun intended.
GP: (laughs) Oh.. I didn’t even mean to. Back to point though. To touch any person’s life in that way has to be completely rewarding.
PL: It is.
GP: The last thing I’d like to say is that, you have created something. You and Kevin, a universe of its own with so much reach that will continue to live on in some way, no matter who is involved. So I have to ask you in closing, how does it feel to be like Jack Kirby?
PL: Wow. I don’t know if I can agree with you. Jack Kirby was beyond incredible with all he did.
GP: To me there is Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Bob Kane and Bill Finger and Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. So like or lump it you not only deserve but you are part of that conversation.
PL: I am honored and I will take it in the spirit of it but I can’t agree.
GP: As they say, agree to disagree then.
PL: I thank you so much. It’s really touching.
GP: Well this was well worth the trip sir. Best of luck to you.
PL: Cool man. Thank you.