Strip Talk #05: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were animated heroes, advertising juggernaut all rolled into one

Lyn­d­sey Mosley, editor-in-chief

The Teenage Mutant Tur­tles have dual per­son­al­i­ties, quite frankly. They are among the few, if not the only, ani­mated char­ac­ters to have mul­ti­ple ver­sions within the consumer’s grasp that make them seem like the same old Tur­tles dressed up in the same old sto­ries with dif­fer­ent looks to them.

No one can dis­pute the jug­ger­naut that was and still is the TMNT. Sure, they’re nowhere near as preva­lent as they once were. Nowa­days, you can’t walk down the street scream­ing “Cow­abunga, dude!” with­out get­ting laughed at or pos­si­bly being eval­u­ated for Bull Street or Patrick B. Har­ris. No, you can’t say you love being a tur­tle any­more with­out accu­sa­tions of being stuck in a 1980s time­warp. But there was a time in Amer­ica where it was hip to be a lean, green, turtle-loving pizza-eating machine. Those were the days when TMNT was king.

The fran­chise seem­ingly came out of nowhere with the comics book in 1984. It was as if there was noth­ing and then there were the Tur­tles. They were seri­ous, starkly drawn char­ac­ters who would fight and kill just as soon as they would be teens on the streets of New York look­ing for a lit­tle action. These are the clas­sic times of the TMNT, where you could get a lit­tle blood mixed in with the cul­ture of a gritty 1980s New York City scene rife with crime. And then it all exploded.

Cheesy on the one hand, wildly pop­u­lar and inap­pro­pri­ate on the other, the 1987 ani­mated show hit the scene and made mince­meat out of nearly every other fran­chise. The Tur­tles gained indi­vid­ual char­ac­ter­is­tics and with them came an increase in pop­u­lar­ity that hadn’t been antic­i­pated. The show took off with witty writ­ing, superb voice act­ing and plots that made a lot of sense. The show worked hard to estab­lish a base with chil­dren, though the seem­ingly innocu­ous writ­ing is even risque for car­toons these days. Where else can a vil­lain call a hero­ine of the show a bimbo?

Both pieces of the TMNT tale left a last­ing impact. There’s a gen­er­a­tion of grown folks that sang along with the open­ing theme of the ’87 show. Mil­lions of “chil­dren of the ‘80s” sink back into a coma of nos­tal­gia now and then as they remem­ber get­ting home from school, throw­ing off an acid-wash denim jacket, fix­ing a snack and plop­ping down in front of a TV to watch the four green dudes from Brook­lyn take on a ninja mas­ter who “never has to look for a can opener” before tack­ling mul­ti­pli­ca­tion and long-division problems.

I am a child of the ‘80s and I was once upon a time a pre-teenage mutant ninja turtle.

Lyn­d­sey Mosley is edi­tor of Gam­ing Insur­rec­tion and one of the biggest Teenage Mutant Ninja Tur­tles fans on the planet. She can be reached by e-mail at gicomics@gaminginsurrection.com.

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