Review: 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History', by Andrew Farago.
This large, full-color book is published both for the 30th anniversary of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book, which was first published by two comic-book fans at a comics convention in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in May 1984, and for the release of the fifth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theatrical feature opening this Friday.
This is one of those “all you want to know about” books. It is not so much about the characters themselves as it is the official history of the TMNT phenomenon, or franchise, or whatever you want to call it. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the TMNT’s creators, are collectors as much as anything else, and this book is full of original sketches, the flyer for that 1984 comics convention, comic book covers, storyboards and cels from the TV animated series, posters and stills from the theatrical features, photos of all the TMNT merchandising items and so on.
Personally, I would have preferred more profiles of the anthropomorphic supporting characters besides Splinter the rat sensei, such as Bebop the warthog, Ninjara the vixen, or Dogpound and Fishface, who are not described because, with names like that, who needs to? Or plot synopses of the stories in the comic books, the TV series (or selected episodes; I suppose that asking for a synopsis of every TV episode would be too much), and the theatrical features.
Foreword by Peter Laird, San Rafael CA, Insight Editions, June 2014, hardcover $50.00 (192 pages).
Instead, there are the stories of how two young fans created a semi-parody, semi-serious adventure comic book. It became more successful than they could handle. A friendly wannabe agent persuaded them to let him represent the TMNT to toy companies and a TV cartoon studio. They had to hire assistants and eventually staffs. The ups and downs in popularity over the years are covered. Then there was the failed experiment of adding a female fifth turtle. It covers the original creators’ changing interests all the way up to the present.
All the key people are quoted at length, such as co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, agent Mark Freedman who sold the first toy and animation rights, animation studio head Fred Wolf, Rob Paulsen, the voice of Raphael in the first TV series and of Donatello in the current CG series, animation scripter David Wise, Brian Henson of Jim Henson's Creature Shop who did the puppetry and character costumes for the first live-action movies, and more.
The book balances being an adulatory puff piece with some less-than-flattering personal opinions.
"The first movie did fantastic business and was pretty well received critically," he [Laird] says. "Unfortunately, the people in charge of the follow-up completely misunderstood why that first movie did so well, and made some really bad decisions in their rush to ‘fix’ what they bizarrely perceived as the ‘problems’ of the first movie. I remember visiting the set of the second movie early in production, dining with a group of producers and hearing them say things like ‘The first movie was too dark, so we’re going to lighten it up and make it more colorful,’ and ‘Our focus-group tests showed that boys had a problem with Judith Hoag as April, so we’re going with another actress,’ and I would think, ‘Wait a minute – didn’t the first movie make about ten times its budget in profit? How can these things be seen as problems?’ But they went ahead and made a mediocre movie, and because our approval rights were not as strong as we would have liked, we couldn’t do much about it." (p. 114)
In addition to the 192 pages, there are 23 tipped-in “inserts” such as sample script pages, a bookmark, Eastman and Laird’s first business card, a never-used sketch of Donatello as a rap singer and similar trivia, plus a poster of the book’s cover and a complete facsimile of the 40-page 1984 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1. If you are interested in a book all about the BUSINESS of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, here it is.