San Diego

Your Corner: The Night a Ninja Turtle Came to Life

Kevin Eastman says it all started as an attempt to get a laugh

It’s been almost 34 years since a ninja turtle was born in a house in Dover, New Hampshire one November night.

That is 2,600 miles, and a lifetime away from where Kevin Eastman is today.

Sitting in his studio in San Diego, Eastman told NBC 7 about what started as nothing more than an attempt to make his friend, Peter Laird, laugh that night in 1983.

“So, I had this thought, if Bruce Lee were an animal, what is the silliest animal he would be,” said Eastman.

He chose a turtle and sketched it standing upright, dressed as a Ninja. It worked. Laird laughed, and the two worked together on a drawing with a group of turtles and titled it The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

“We looked at this drawing and said this is the dumbest thing we’d ever seen. We really need to come up with a story that tells how these characters came to life,” said Eastman.

The rest is history.

In 1984, the pair emptied their bank accounts and self-published 3,275 copies. Every one sold. By 1985 there were three more printings. In 1987, the first Ninja Turtles cartoon premiered. It aired for 10 seasons and 193 episodes which led to three live action movies.

Fast forward to 2017, Kevin Eastman has sold his rights to the Turtles, allowing him to focus on the creative part of what he created. Eastman still draws for the franchise, now owned by IDW which also publishes some of the biggest names in comics like Spiderman, Superman, and Batman.

“You know, I’m 55 years old and I still get that awesome feeling when I sit down and start drawing,” said Eastman.

Eastman worked with IDW’s Ted Adams to create the San Diego Comic Art Gallery at Liberty Station.

“When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, comics weren’t cool at all,” said Adams.

That has all changed.

“The value has just exploded. There was a piece by Robert Crumb that recently sold for $750,000,” said Adams, “It’s pervasive in pop culture, and certainly if you look at tv and movies, every other movie is based on a comic these days.”

San Diego’s Comic Con is the perfect example of that growth. This year the event sold out of more than 100,000 tickets in minutes.

In Eastman’s carefully cluttered studio at the gallery, there is an impressive collection of comic memorabilia acquired since he was a kid. It includes the 1985 Comic Con program. That was Eastman’s first year at the event. He’s watched it change and grow over the years but also stay very much the same in some ways.

“It’s like this really is the happiest place on earth for fans like myself and so many others that come from all over the world to celebrate themselves and their favorite things here at Comic Con.”

Few comic artists will ever enjoy the success Kevin Eastman has had, but he insists he would have followed this path with or without his turtle friends.

“I would have found a way to write and draw comic books, hands down, that was all I ever wanted to do.”

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