The History of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Comics Part III: Image Comics (1996-1999)

When Mirage Studios decided to stop publishing in 1995, Erik Larsen of Savage Dragon fame swept in.  The Turtles had crossed over with Dragon twice before and Mirage artist Michael Dooney was a former associate of Larsen’s.  In 2008 it’s a bit hard to understand what the parties hoped to gain by the new arrangement, under which Eastman and Laird loaned the TMNT to Larsen and Image Comics.  The following is 100% conjecture.  I’m guessing that Larsen felt that Mirage had mishandled the series and he probably disrespected the artists working on it, like Jim Lawson, whom he once referred to as “another artist” rather than by name in a letters column.  I imagine Larsen probably thought he could produce a better and more accessible series that would bring in big sales and bring new readers to his Savage Dragon comic.

So why did he just hire his pals to work on the series instead of the best talent available at the time?

Larsen kicked everything off by finishing off the Casey Jones & Raphael mini-series that Mirage had started, now under the name Bodycount.  This mini-series boasted art by Kevin Eastman and industry heavy-hitter Simon Bisley and featured a very violent story, just what Eastman had always wanted to do.

The Bodycount mini-series
Bodycount #1 art by Kevin Eastman and Simon Bisley

When it came time to launch the regular series, Larsen hired friends from his fanzine days to serve as the creative team.  Gary Carlson, best known for his very obscure Golden Age pastiche/tribute series Big Bang Comics, was hired to write.  Frank Fosco, a Jack Kirby wannabe known for his work on Superman, was hired to provide the art.  I should make something clear: I enjoy their work on the series BUT what resulted was a series that would really only be of interest to a small, niche of readers, just like the Mirage TMNT series.

The new series begins
TMNT (Volume 3) #1 art by Frank Fosco with Erik Larsen

The Image series’ greatest strength AND its biggest weakness was that it had no respect for the Sacred Cow that was the Mirage series.  Donatello became a cyborgRaphael’s face was brutally mutilated.  On the other hand, Carlson has a good knowledge of the old continuity and used it.  At the same time, Image Comics characters were constantly forced into the series, including Savage Dragon, Vanguard, Knight Watchman, and Mako.  For some reason, the series was published in black and white, which Larsen claimed was to be consistent with the Mirage series.  But the Mirage comics had greytones and shading and this book had none.  Without color to hold it together, Fosco’s very heavy inkwork was occasionally incomprehensible.

TMNT Volume 3 #13 art by Frank Fosco

In the end, the series was really a failure, sales-wise.  I suspect that Larsen only kept it going as a favor to Carlson and Fosco.  Fans of both the TMNT and Savage Dragon were somewhat alienated by it and it ended unceremoniously in the middle of a story arc with issue #23.

Image Comics TMNT Publication History

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1-23 (1996-1999)

Bodycount #1-4 (1996)


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3 responses to “The History of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Comics Part III: Image Comics (1996-1999)

  1. let me borrow bodycount. that’s where ice-t got the name for his band.

  2. robeana everett

    i am doing research on tmnt, please give me the history of how the tmnts got their names.

  3. robeana everett

    please send me info about how the tmnts got their names.

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