A few weeks ago, it came to my attention that we were not properly celebrating a new “National Day” designation. Not to be confused with Free Comic Book Day, which happens the first Saturday of May each year, National Comic Book Day is one of those arbitrary days of observation that was seemingly birthed thanks to the Internet and the ability to generate buzz with a hashtag or flash sale. We should put a National Day of Idleness on the calendar. I think our pals at Idle Times SF would get behind that.
Regardless! Far be it from us to miss out on a chance to celebrate one of the key pillars supporting our clubhouse of frivolity. So I started asking various Idlers to share a comic or comics that stand out in their memory as personal game-changers, formative issues, or books that set them on a path of irrepressible obsession. We’re starting with RF’s recollections on TMNT. – MMDG
The first thing I ever obsessed over was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I was only four or five, but I had already had strong, nerdy inclinations and everything in my life had to be TMNT, including birthday cakes, a sleeping bag, turtle pajamas (colored headband included), and my prized collection of action figures. Of course, the cartoon show was part of my fix, as I spent hours watching rented VHS tapes on a daily basis. Everything stemmed from this show, and if something had a picture of a ninja turtle on it, I had to be a part of it. And I suppose, that’s how I ended up possessing volumes three and four of the original Eastman and Laird comic book series.
Coming from the cartoon show, the comic is radically different. The cartoon is aimed at a child audience, so the characterization is binary. Stories weakly segue from youthful skateboard, pizza antics to trying to stop Shredder and his maniacal brain alien, Krang. Of course, in the show the good guys always win, so the stakes were pretty low. The comics show the turtles as more human; they argue and struggle, and they even fail. There’s a sense of true danger when they’re threatened by the Foot Clan, which seems ridiculous, but it’s ridiculously awesome. Much of Volume IV is the second act of the first ninja turtles movie, right when the Foot are burning down April O’Neil’s repair shop, there’s this centerfold of Shredder that is intimidating and so striking, because I had never seen that kind of thing before (I guess comic book centerfolds were big in the 80’s). However, the violent world of the comic didn’t match up with the cartoon world I knew, I just didn’t get it.
Volume III is a bit lighter and more unusual; it’s the spirit that the show tried to capture. The Turtles team up with a valley-girl sorcerer’s apprentice who accidentally sends them back in time to the Dark Ages. There they team up with a gray donkey-warrior named Cerebus, and they stop a half-goat from using the time traveling rod for evil. Sounds pretty great, right? Though the story is just fun fantasy, it’s the pictures I remember. Everything is sketched with thick dark lines and shadows, the grittiness of the characters and the medieval landscape left a strong imprint on my imagination. I know I must have got something out of them, because they are battered and worn from heavy thumbing.
Even though I didn’t seek out more volumes, those books were my introduction to the world of comics. I remember figuring out how speech bubbles work, and how stories progress through the panels, and how it was so much different from other books that I had read, ninja turtle or otherwise. I can’t say I’ve read all of Eastman and Laird’s seminal stories, but the pieces of it I have are little treasures. While most of my collection sits in a closet, the turtle volumes get bookshelf treatment.
And a bonus “first comic” from my nostalgia toybox:
Avengers #189 and Uncanny X-Men #128
Before I had memorized a single multiplication table, I was reading and collecting comics. My grandfather used to leave me loitering in the magazine section of a cigar store he frequented on Chestnut Street, and then let me come home with one book of my choosing. These two are the first ones I can remember. The Avengers made me a lifelong fan of both the series and of Hawkeye, and the X-Men issue scared the shit out of me. It was years before I came around to what Claremont and Byrne had been doing during the early 80’s. – MMDG