The kid's cable television channel "Nickleodeon" (owned by Viacom) has struck a deal today to buy all the rights to the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" for $60 million from the co-owners The Mirage Group and 4 Kids Entertainment. According to the "Los Angeles Times" today, Nickeloden has made this deal because they want to attract more boys to its channel. A new cartoon series is apparently planned, as is a feature film.
If you remember the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" at all, you probably think of their huge popularity in the early 1990s in the wake of their successful cartoon series, which inevitably spawned a seemingly ubiquitous line of action figures and other merchandise. There was a year or two there around 1990 where if you happened to be in a shopping mall or an airport, you couldn't go 10 minutes without seeing a young boy wearing a "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" t-shirt, or with one of the dolls dangling listlessly from one hand.
It all started much more humbly, however, as a black and white comic book first published by "Mirage Studios" in 1984. Mirage Studios was actually just two guys, the creators: Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. They wrote, drew and published the early issues entirely themselves, using money borrowed from family. (They called themselves "Mirage Studios" because there was no "studio" really, just them.) They had only 3,000 copies of the first issue printed, and sold it at a comic book convention being held at a Sheraton hotel in their home state of New Hampshire. The comic book was initially a somewhat crudely drawn parody of the two most popular comic books at that time: "X-Men" (thus the "Teenage" and "Mutant" in the title) and "Daredevil." (The image above is from those early days.)
But it was the Saturday morning cartoon, which started in 1988, that really popularized them. What followed was a textbook case of the power of cartoon marketing to kids. (A vintage commercial for the dolls, featuring clips from the cartoon, is embedded below. See how the artwork and the entire concept itself has been softened from the original black & white image above?) The "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" became an unlikely household word there for a time. Eastman and Laird made millions. Imagine what the property would have sold for in those days? A lot more than $60 million, I would have thought.