AO*: Mirage Studios TMNT sequence and honest appraisal

*AO = Allison Optional (for future reference, AM = Allison Mandatory)
All articles are mandatory for Scott and Greg – sorry, guys!
Ryan and Natalie are free agents of their own destiny.

This is not an article but rather an honest appraisal for all them Mirage Studioz komix I been writin’ about.  As much as I continue to like the TMNT comics currently published by Mirage, they don’t really hold a candle to the CLASSIC stuff.  Even the later comics from the original Mirage era doesn’t compare.  There are a few things that made the ‘classic’ Mirage stuff (1980s/very early 1990s) so special but primary among these is the immense attention to detail, largely thanks to the greytones and shading.  This technique has still very rarely been used to this day and it really MADE many of these comics. 

Most of the issues were pretty long.  There was no artificial limit on page numbers like you find in DC or Marvel Comics.  Even mainstream comics from 1980s all-stars like Alan Moore and Frank Miller and underground kings like Dave Sim were typically held to specific page counts.  In Mirage’s case, the stories were as long as they needed to be, sometimes up to 50 pages.  Most of the issues were self-contained.  This all resulted in single issues feeling like an event.  TMNT was never a monthly 22-page comic with a regular creative staff – until 1992.

Another thing that made the classic era Mirage stuff so great was the high level of creativity and freshness.  You can just tell while reading these comics that Eastman and Laird were caught up in something much bigger than they ever expected.  Their greatest strength was ideas and they just poured out.  Then, just when things started to slow down, Eastman and Laird handed over the reigns to other artists.  For a couple of years, this worked really well, with many artists presenting wildly varying takes on the TMNT.  Some of these issues were complete farces or parodies, even featuring Mad Magazine artists.  Now-legendary artist Michael Zulli portrayed the TMNT in a very realistic way, complete with beaks and claws and unhumanlike speech.

I now feel that the sum was much greater than the parts and one of those parts was FRESHNESS and EXCITEMENT.  When TMNT Volume 4 started back in 2001 it tricked me.  The first couple of issues had a lot of frenetic action and an incredible attention to detail in the greytones but it seems the new freshness wore off quickly because BAM with issue 3 the greytones were scaled back considerably, the pencils became more rushed and the inks rather sloppy.  I love Mirage artist Jim Lawson like I love my own child (Park) but his current work doesn’t excite me like his stuff from say 1989 did (but hey, at least his style has dramatically evolved unlike so many comic artists).  The good thing about the current Tales of the TMNT series is that there’s a lot of fresh blood involved – either underrated professionals or soon-to-be estabished up-and-comers.  These guys have the freshness but maybe not the style of the CLASSIC issues.

I believe I will compile a list of the really classic Mirage/TMNT stuff.  Mirage is actually very slowly posting each issue of TMNT Volume 1 on their site to view for free.  Most of the classic Eastman & Laird issues are already up but none of the guest issues are available yet.  Here’s a sequence for you to eyeball – pages 23, 24, 25 and 29 of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #10 from 1987, which came out right as the stupid kids cartoon was hitting the air.


In this sequence, the Foot Clan have beaten Leonardo to a pulp and invaded the building in which April O’Neil lives and operates an antiques store.  Casey Jones, familiar at this point only to Raphael, decides to intervene.  You may recall that this whole scene made it into the 1990 TMNT movie, but in that version Raphael received the beatdown and Shredder was not present, replaced by a bald geek named General Tatsu.  I would like to call attention to the inkng and the tones.  Most of these panels appear to have been inked by Eastman.  His lines are so harsh and jagged.  There are few curves or soft lines.  The greytones are not overwhelming still really complete the art.  The panels themselves are unique, with jagged, scratchy lines instead of the typical straight lines.  I’m surprised more artists don’t do this as it’s probably easier and doesn’t look any worse.  Perhaps the strongest aspect of these pages is the general layout.  Notice that three of the pages have spaces that are not covered by panels at all.  On the last page, there are two panels that Casey Jones spills out of as if he’s escaping them.  The arrangement of the panels shows real foresight and creativity.  Even today, there are very very few artists that work this way.  Even the Mirage guys have largely forgotten this art. 


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9 responses to “AO*: Mirage Studios TMNT sequence and honest appraisal

  1. have you read much will eisner stuff? i feel that the greytones and panel layouts are VERY eisner-ish. which is obviously a good thing.

  2. You wish.

  3. As for a more serious reply: I’m not that familiar with The Spirit but I have read a significant amount of Eisner’s 1970s stuff and I don’t see the connection. For instance, those comics never have any toning at all and every space on the page is filled. I haven’t read much spirit at all, though, so I can’t comment on that.

  4. well… check out “the name of the game”, “minor miracles”, and “a family matter”. those are three graphic novels that i KNOW use the washes/greytones. also, “fagin the jew”, but i haven’t read that one.

    and i think most of his stuff involves boarderless panels and extra space here and there. at least the stuff i’ve read.

  5. Okay, if you say so! I just flipped through the books I have on hand, Dropsie Avenue and A Contract With God and there are borderless panels but no greytones and no extra space, so that’s all I have to go off at the moment.

  6. I went to Amazon, and you can flip through sample pages of Fagin the Jew (but not the others you listed, unforunately). It looks great. I’m probably biased because I love greytones but I think it looks a lot better than the books I have by him (even though those are great, too).

    However, since all these books you mentioned came out at least 14 years after TMNT #1 I’m going to have to say that these Eisner books look VERY Eastman & Lairdish. The End.

  7. Thank you for the new codes. Fer realzs, Mom.


    I know yall posted this in 08, but I am just reading it.. So I have the first 4 orginal print, in black and white. I am trying to find a rough guess to how much they are worth. So if you all read this can someone tell me… just guess. Thank you.

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