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|Updated||October 14, 2013|
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (often shortened to TMNT or Ninja Turtles or just Turtles) are a fictional team of four teenage anthropomorphic turtles, who were trained by their anthropomorphic rat sensei in the art of ninjutsu and named after four Renaissance artists. From their home in the storm sewers of New York City, they battle petty criminals, evil overlords and alien invaders, all while remaining isolated from society-at-large.
The characters appeared in comic books before their expansion to cartoons, video games, films, toys and other general merchandise. During the peak of its popularity in the late 1980s through early 1990s, the franchise gained considerable worldwide success and fame.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was created in an American comic book published by Mirage Studios in 1984 in Dover, New Hampshire. The concept arose from a humorous drawing sketched out by Kevin Eastman during a casual evening of brainstorming with his friend Peter Laird. Using money from a tax refund together with a loan from Eastman's uncle, the young artists self-published a single-issue comic intended to parody four of the most popular comics of the early 1980s: Marvel Comics' Daredevil and New Mutants, Dave Sim's Cerebus, and Frank Miller's Ronin. The TMNT comic series has been published in various incarnations at various comic book companies since 1984.
The Turtles' mainstream success began when a licensing agent, Mark Freedman, sought out Eastman and Laird to propose wider merchandising opportunities for the offbeat property. In 1986, Dark Horse Miniatures produced a set of 15 mm lead figurines. In January 1987, they visited the offices of Playmates Toys Inc, a small California toy company who wished to expand into the action figure market. Development was initiated with a creative team of companies and individuals: Jerry Sachs, ad man of Sachs-Finley Agency, brought together the animators at Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, headed by award-winning animator Fred Wolf. Wolf and his team combined concepts and ideas with the Playmates marketing crew, headed by Karl Aaronian, VP of sales Richard Sallis and VP of Playmates Bill Carlson.
Aaronian brought on several designers, and concepteur and writer John C. Schulte and worked out the simple backstory that would live on toy packaging for the entire run of the product and show. Sachs called the high-concept pitch “Green Against Brick”. The sense of humor was honed with the collaboration of the MWS animation firm's writers. Playmates and their team essentially served as associate producers and contributing writers to the miniseries that was first launched to sell-in the toy action figures. Phrases like “Heroes in a Half Shell” and many of the comical catch phrases and battle slogans (“Turtle Power!”) came from the writing and conceptualization of this creative team. As the series developed, veteran writer Jack Mendelsohn came on board as both a story editor and scriptwriter. David Wise, Michael Charles Hill, and Michael Reaves wrote most of the scripts, taking input via Mendelsohn and collaborating writer Schulte and marketing maven Aaronian.
The miniseries was repeated three times before it found an audience. Once the product started selling, the show got syndicated and picked up and backed by Group W, which funded the next round of animation. The show then went network, on CBS. Accompanied by the popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 TV series, and the subsequent action figure line, the TMNT were soon catapulted into pop culture history. At the height of the frenzy, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Turtles' likenesses could be found on a wide range of children's merchandise, from Pez dispensers to skateboards, breakfast cereal, video games, school supplies, linens, towels, cameras, and even toy shaving kits.