Interview with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Peter Laird

First issue of TMNT. Image from Wikipedia.

 Peter Laird is the co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Today we talked with him about creating the first comic book featuring the TMNT and what advice he has for other Indie creators.

Can you describe the creative process that went into the first issue of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? What inspired some of the elements in the first story?

It began when Kevin Eastman drew what he called a “ninja turtle”, and showed it to me. I did my own version, then Kevin did another drawing of four of these characters, each with different weapons. I suggested adding “teenage mutant” to the title.

We liked this bare-bones concept enough to try to write a story which explained the title. We shot ideas back and forth (across the small living room/studio of the house in which we were both living in Dover, New Hampshire) and banged out a plot. Then Kevin did thumbnail breakdowns for the pages — all forty of them — which we then blew up to about 9 by 12 inches, and drew the art on these small sheets of Duo-Shade board. We tried to each pencil about fifty percent on each page, and also ink and tone that way as well, attempting to get a nice blend of our drawing styles. Kevin did all of the lettering at the pencil stage.

We were both fans of martial arts movies, so a lot of inspiration came from that, as well as from comics we’d read which featured mutants and teenage heroes.

Do you think the fact that the first issue was in black and white helped enhance the darker tones of the comic?

 Probably. Doing it with the grey tones on the Duo-Shade paper also added something.

After the first issue was completed, how did you go about promoting the book?

I put together a press release with some art from the book and a cover letter briefly explaining what we were doing, and sent it out to about 180 different newspapers, magazines and radio and TV stations in the New Hampshire/Vermont/Massachusetts region. One of the press releases was sent to United Press International, and someone there thought it intriguing enough to do a whole story on it, even sending a photographer to take a picture of us. That story went all over the country, and was an amazing bit of publicity.

We also sent out the same press release to the various comics-related media of that time, and bought a few ads in the “Comics Buyers Guide”.

Of course, this was pre-Internet!

Is there anything that you learned during the creation and publication of the first TMNT comic that you think every indie comic creator should know?

 Probably the key thing we learned was the importance of having distribution for your product. You can have the greatest comic book ever created, but if you can’t find a way to get in front of potential buyers, nothing will ever happen with it. We had originally planned to sell all 3000 copies of that first printing as single copies through the mail… but we quickly realized that it made much more sense to go through distributors, even though that meant we would be selling the books at wholesale to them.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

As Jack Kirby once said to us, “Have fun with it!”

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