Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were one of the pop-culture rages of the 1980s and early 1990s. With their origins in a little-known comic strip, the Ninja Turtles gained mass popularity as a television Saturday morning cartoon (see entry under 1960s—TV and Radio in volume 4) series. The characters then appeared in movies and video games (see entry under 1970s— Sports and Games in volume 4) and as popular toys. The key to the Turtles' success was their funky combination of muscle-bound heroism and downright goofiness.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first appeared in 1984 as a black-and-white comic strip coauthored by Kevin Eastman (1962–) and Peter Laird (1954–). According to the story the pair devised, the Turtles were born when a load of "mutanagenic" material spilled onto a quartet of pet turtles, giving them super powers. The Turtles—named Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Raphael, and Donatello, after the famous artists—were soon befriended by a mutant rat named Splinter who was a master of the Japanese Ninja martial arts (see entry under 1960s—The Way We Lived in volume 4). Splinter taught the Turtles to be Ninjas. The team battled the forces of evil, especially the evil Ninja, Shredder. The comic strip soon became a cult favorite, known for the Turtles' hip, rebellious attitude.

The popular comic was converted to a syndicated television (see entry under 1940s—TV and Radio in volume 3) cartoon series (that is, the series was sold to independent TV stations) in 1987. In the cartoon series, the Turtles were made more muscular and were given traits that would make them funny to children: Michaelangelo, for example, frequently said, "Dude," and loved to party. The show was immensely popular and, soon, the Turtles were everywhere. The first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie came out in 1990. The TV series became a Saturday morning hit on CBS, where it aired until 1997. Two more movies came out in 1991 and 1993. The merchandise followed close behind: toys, lunchboxes, hats, T-shirts (see entry under 1910s—Fashion in volume 1), and so on—all bore the Turtles' images, and kids purchased them by the truckload. By the late 1990s, the Turtles' popularity had faded, but the ten-year endurance of these unlikely "heroes" makes them one of the youth-culture sensations of the era.

—Tom Pendergast

For More Information

Perez, Michael E. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.http://www.mikeystmnt.com (accessed April 3, 2002).

Robie, Joan Hake. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Exposed! Lancaster, PA: Starburst, 1991.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.http://www.ninjaturtles.com (accessed April 3, 2002).

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." Yesterdayland.http://www.yesterdayland.com/popopedia/shows/saturday/sa1302.php (accessed April 3, 2002).

Wiater, Stan. The Official Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Treasury. New York: Villard Books, 1991.